I’m a reader, what are you?

How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work. What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ his own powers in activities that have meaning.

John Dewey

Democracy and Education, 1916



Recently I attended my daughter’s school’s PTIO meeting and left with a heavy heart.   A  chunk of the conversation revolved around programs being implemented to work with below proficient, proficient and advanced readers.  From what I understood, these ratings were decided by the yearly TCAP test as well as the computerized MAPS test.  (I have never understood how a multiple choice test of any kind could determine a person’s reading ability.)  It was also my understanding that kids that were below proficient met before school to do a reading program implemented by advanced readers in the upper grades.  It was then that I wanted to turn to each parent and teacher in that group and ask them what kind of reader they were.

As a teacher who implemented a reading workshop model, I truly wasn’t smart enough to determine a child’s reading ability and because of this, we were all readers in our classroom.  We were not advanced, proficient, or below proficient.  Instead we talked about various skills, strategies, and thinking processes that would enhance our reading processes.  These artificial labels restrict literacy achievement and very seldom empower a reader to reflect and grow.  But when we’re all readers, the possibilities are limitless.   And I still wonder how and who determines what questions are asked on these high stakes tests that determine a person’s reading ability. 

And while I get that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a little more complex than Bill Martin Jr. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You You See?, I get that beyond that, the ability a reader brings to their reading is all about opportunities.  The best opportunity for every reader is to be immersed in literacy through choice reading, quantity of reading, and writing.

My overall reading goal was to addict readers to reading.  In this addiction all would continue to reflect on their reading and grow as even I continue to grow as a reader today.   I often told students there is nothing passive about reading.  You don’t sit on the sideline passively watching the game.  Reading involves getting in the game and there are times when your brain can be quite sore from the activity.  And for my musically invested students, I told them readers aren’t in the audience watching the concert but instead are playing many different instruments.

Due to a manufactured need to collect data, reading has become defined in a linear and numeric way, which tells us absolutely nothing about the reader.  The reading process is much, much more complex than this, and I can’t help but wonder what damage we are doing to readers by using such a simplistic, error ridden model to label them as readers.
The more I think about it, I don't know what my reading ability is, but I do know one thing. . . . I'm a reader.  How about you?


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10 responses to “I’m a reader, what are you?

  1. Wonderful. You took a great first step. (Suggestion: Fill in the “About” section ASAP. It does not have to be very long or extensive, but a face behind a blog is always more credible. You might even want to include. “My overall reading goal was to addict readers to reading.”)

  2. Brian Cambourne

    While I read lots of books and professional articles I’ve noticed that I’m also a compulsive, almost obsessive silent reader of all the print that I encounter as i move around; billboards, signs, posters, graffitit, car license plates, notices, adverts, neon signs, all the stuff in airplane sea pockets, the stuff on the back of plane tickets, boarding passes, receipts from Macdonalds, and so on. I also find I’m continually looking for intentional and or unintentional hidden meanings (Like license on the very expensive sports car a young teenage girl was driving which simply exlaimed to the world: “SPOILT”).
    I don’t know why or how I became this kind of reader. Perhaps it’s some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder?
    Anybody else suffer the same affliction?

    • Brian, if that is a disorder, I am likewise afflicted. Not a bad “club” to be in, in my opinion.

    • First of all, Brian, can you imagine the rich conversation your personal reading observations could bring to a classroom?
      And my question to you is when you are reading all of this environmental print, is it as an outsider just gathering information or do you read it from your personality/perspective?
      Example. . . in reading your comment, I think about what I read. When I read bumper stickers, I’m amazed at how emotional I can get. They can make me happy, sad, or very angry. Sometimes I think I’d like to wait outside until the car owner comes back to have a conversation around their thoughts. 🙂 And when I read the stuff in airplane pockets, I’m also very selective to my personality. I only read what interests me whether it be an article about traveling to a warm destination. I don’t read about Alaska etc. as that’s not my interest right now. My husband, however, would read about that.
      Just in this conversation alone I have grown as a reader without any direct instruction.

      • Brian Cambourne

        On reflection I do a quick scan read to identify its “about-ness”, and that determines whether or not I engage any more deeply.
        If there’s nothing else around I’ll re engage at a deeper level and find something to do with the text-like count and/or classify different types of words or letters.
        I think I have a very strong need to make sense or construct meaning around symbol systems-when Nature selected meaning-making using symbols as a human survival attribute I think I must have gotten a triple dose.
        Solitary confinement without access to symbols of some kind to play around with would kill me.

  3. Barbara Bernhard

    I must say that I am glad I am at the end of my teaching career. I feel for the young teachers who are just starting. Teaching feels like playing football. One must learn the play book word for word.

    • I understand what you’re saying, Barbara. It’s hard to influence learners in the classroom these days with so many outside sources forcing us to teach against what we know to be best for learners.
      All I can say is that I hope there is a day when we can show our peers another way to approach learning.

    • John Viall

      Tutucker, first, let me say, “nicely done.” I’m a retired Ohio teacher and fear that standardized testing is killing our schools. Ms. Bernhard, I fear you are right; but I think it’s worse. We are giving every coach and every team the exact same playbook and telling them, regardless of differences in personnel, “Run this play, or else.”

      I express similar fears on ateacheronteaching.blogspot.com

  4. Excellent post Stefanie! The same applies to writing. My goal is to get my high school kids passionate about writing by saturating them with models and then making them write, write, write, their little hearts out. This strategy does not guarantee they will do well on short or long constructed responses on these new assessments (SBAC and CCSS ELA Curriculum guides) . Actually, they can get the whole response wrong (they didn’t understand the passages) but if they write in a certain way, they are “above proficient.” Totally awful and inaccurate and a disservice to our young people!

  5. Congratulations, Stephanie, on a timely, interesting blog on an exceptionally important topic.

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