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We have to make reading more public

 It’s typical for young people to love writing and hate reading. Writing is expression; writing is communication; writing is art. On the other hand, reading is boring; reading is private; reading is lonely.

This year, my students wrote 16 essays and read 12 books. They all said they became better writers. Only a few said the same thing about reading.

How is this possible?

It’s because writing is more public than reading. It’s more out there. You write something, and it’s on the computer screen or on a piece of paper. Even if you don’t want help on your writing, it’s in the world, all your thoughts and grammar mistakes right there, ready for a teacher or a peer or a writing mentor to critique, ready to talk about in a writing conference.

Because writing is more public, students feel they can improve their writing skills more quickly than their reading skills. Writing is a craft, while reading is just something you’ve done forever. It’s easier for students to have a growth mindset with writing than with reading.

That notion has to change. If we’re going to push our students to read challenging texts, we need to convince them that reading is a complex intellectual skill that involves much more than decoding and comprehension.

To do that, we need to make reading more public, more out there. We must challenge students to talk about their reading, both to us and to each other. We can’t be afraid to ask students to read aloud and process how they’re making meaning of a text. We have to build classrooms that celebrate reading “mistakes” as examples of growth.

Most of all, reading needs a product in schools that is equal to writing’s essay. Right now, there is no equivalent artifact. Sure, teachers have their reading questions and their Socratics and their book reports and other fancy projects. But very little exists that documents a student’s reading process and understanding of a text. Annotations come closest to achieving this purpose, but few teachers have taken them seriously (yet).

This summer, I plan on thinking about what can be done to make reading more like writing for my students. I want them to feel like they can track their growth as readers and to show evidence of their reading journey.

Please let me know if you have ideas. 

2 comments

  1. Lois

    I think annotations are great. I also had wonderful engagement from lit ctrcles. Groups of four could discuss each others thoughts and questions endlessly. Just a thought. Can’t wait to hook up and hear more about all your ideas!

  2. Mark Isero

    Thanks, Lois! I’m working on a common system of annotation, especially of non-fiction texts. (Fiction is harder, I think.) I know that people have different ways of marking up their reading, but especially for ninth graders, who haven’t done it much before, I think it’s a good idea to give them structure.

    I also like your idea of lit circles — especially if they’re recorded. That ipadio.com site, which allows you to podcast and post online using your phone, will make it easy to record students’ conversations.

    Almost summer!

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