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An Attitude Adjustment: Understanding secondary readers

Last week we launched into a new series that looks at secondary readers...or maybe it's better to say reluctant secondary readers.

Actually, I'm not a fan of the label "reluctant." I actually prefer "latent." In kids that struggle with reading, I believe the desire is there. It's not that they don't want to do this thing we're asking of them; it's just that for so long it's been so hard. They're waiting for that moment of ignition - the spark that sets the whole thing aflame for them.

They're not reluctant. Far from it. They're just tired of trying so hard and still falling short.

By the time students reach the secondary classroom, they've acquired a wealth of experience with and exposure to text - even if they are considered a "struggling" reader. During the course of their 7+ years in education, they've also gradually developed personal attitudes about and toward reading. These attitudes stem largely from experience with text as well as experiences surrounding reading. It's a complex, deeply-ingrained way of thinking about a simple act, compounded by societal expectations, educational standards, and cultural practices.

Admittedly, during my own time teaching, I spent little time exploring these attitudes with my students. But now as a parent of a budding teen and having had hundreds of conversations with other parents whose kids dig in their heels when it comes to reading, I'm convinced that taking time to learn about the attitudes kids bring to the page is, not important, vital.

As a teacher, I want to encourage you to spend just a little time (I know that your year is packed!) allowing students to think about how they view the act of reading. Reflecting on reading this way does three things:

  1. Uncovers personal practices that might hinder progress. For example, a simple reading inventory might reveal that Marcus only ever reads at school and doesn't have any print material at home. In this situation, it might be helpful for the teacher to find out what Marcus likes to read and get some extra materials into his hands to keep at home.

  2. Reveals potential areas of false thinking about personal abilities. Xiomara thinks she's a terrible reader, so she just avoids it. Teachers can use this information to set kids up for success, slowly building upon what they're good at and working to increase confidence.

  3. Provides insight useful for tailoring differentiated instruction for all students. Once you have students fill out a reading inventory, you can use the information to help personalize instruction for every student.

So what's the takeaway here? Whether we acknowledge it or not, kids are bringing attitudes to reading that, in part, influence their success. Making time to uncover and address those preconceived notions is important; it will likely pave the way for reading progress. Separating fact from fiction when it comes to reading attitudes will be as much an exercise in encouragement and confidence-building as it will be in skill-based instruction. last thing...and it's a shameless plug, so I'm warning you ahead of time. Skip this part if you want - it won't hurt my feelings.

This summer I published Reading Workshop for the Secondary Classroom through Teacher's Discovery. In the first unit, entitled "I Belong Here," (you can actually purchase it as a stand-alone unit - I love that!) I've created a reading inventory for students that address this very topic. It allows you as the teacher to see how students view themselves as readers. I think it's a great tool.

But my attitude toward that may be a little biased.

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