They Gotta Wanna Read

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When a learner’s family and community commit to developing full literacy for everyone, there are at least two principles that guide efforts in that development:

  1. The community must ensure its literacy learners have ready access to abundant good books to read (“good” meaning relevant to each learner’s life).
  2. Those closest to literacy learners must ensure they are enthusiastically encouraged to self-select from the spectrum of available book choices.

And it’s important to note that full literacy doesn’t develop in learners who don’t have an interest in reading. Learners cbangla-kids-readingertainly can be dragged forward in attaining measurable reading skills by family members and teachers dedicated to that goal. However, if others are the only ones with any interest in an individual’s reading development, meaning that the individual learner is uninvolved in her own reading, then the development of that person’s literacy to full proficiency is only a remote possibility.  For full literacy (avid reading and the lifelong learning that results) to become part of who a learner is, a strongly felt value of reading must be intrinsic. The value is evident when there is a willingness to independently select material to read.

We see this personal motivation dynamic most clearly in public performance where individual athletes, artists, musicians and engineers show up as talented youths, and begin to blaze their own trails to excellence and beyond. Unlike these talented few, however, the conventional wisdom is that every kid can and should grow up to be an accomplished reader. Why? It is because literacy alone provides the most predictable and enduring path to lifelong learning—the ultimate goal of education. Proficient reading, however, is not accomplished for someone else’s approval. Proficient reading reflects a learners personal satisfaction in doing it.

Simply stated, kids who don’t get anything from reading won’t care to do it and so quite predictably won’t get any better.

Most children who become infatuated with skateboarding or playing tennis or building rockets find there is a ceiling on personal fulfillment with these delights and over time they move on. Reading, on the other hand, in the presence of expanding choices of potentially appealing books, presents no ceiling for growth…for anyone.

This idea undergirds what is often termed a culture of reading. This culture provides the social context within which readers are constantly taught by example and invitation to love reading. This occurs through consistently being offered personally compelling reading engagements. The presence or absence of this culture of super choices will above all else determine whether those new to literacy either do or do not grow to become fully proficient in reading.

Each of us may contribute to the culture of reading by generously displaying our personal examples of reading’s value and, of course, by ensuring that the young learners we know never run out of exciting choices to read.

The result will be self-determined learners who grow into living fully literate lives…cuz they just wanna.

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8 Responses to “They Gotta Wanna Read”

  1. Tracy Roman September 30, 2016 at 9:26 pm #

    Thank you, Mark for writing down what I have been telling parents for years. It is all too true by the only way to improve a child’s reading is by catching their interests.

    • Mark Condon October 3, 2016 at 6:21 pm #

      And you and I are not alone, Tracy. I think that if we don’t sell the reasons for a child taking up and growing in reading our admonitions are just so much background noise. Creating a culture of reading is something families can do to provide an unparalleled benefit to their kids’ futures. But if it’s just those eggheads telling them what to do it falls on deaf ears. We have to SHOW them what difference it makes in the rest of children’s lives when they become readers at home and school. Thanks so much for being part of this chorus. We just need to work on our songs.

  2. James S. Davis October 2, 2016 at 10:18 am #

    I certainly agree, Mark, and believe the same points can and must be made about writing. Developing writers must be surrounded by others who value writing and show it by writing, and by opportunities for their own writing to contribute – to do things in their worlds. Both reading and writing must enact personal choice and exercise personal power. JSDavis, Iowa Writing Project

    • Mark Condon October 3, 2016 at 10:26 am #

      Writing! Yes of course, James. The combination with reading forms the literacy equivalent breathing in and breathing out. NOT that breathing has to be nurtured like a culture of reading (and writing) of course. However, both need to become as essential to learners as their learning life’s breath. Thanks for that huge contribution.

  3. Kindra S October 5, 2016 at 11:28 am #

    I’m currently taking a Literacy class, and at last night’s discussion the topic of text structures came up. We definitely know that children who are read to at a young age have better experiences in literature, but we should also be encouraging parents to read texts outside of the traditional narrative structure. Doing this at a younger age can help students more quickly identify text structure, which can aid in comprehension and meaning. I wonder though, how do we make more parents aware of this? It’s often a struggle to encourage parents to read with or to a child to begin with!

    • Mark Condon October 5, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

      Thanks for sharing, Kindra. You raise an important point about non-fiction’s place in reading to littles. Some kids really get into science and nature and historic stuff. Offering them choices that include all text structures (don’t forget poetry and drama and essay) will embolden them to explore other kinds of books than fictional story books.
      Now, getting parents to read to kids is a very tough nut to crack. Kids can sense if reading for their parents is a duty and not a joy. Everybody tells families to read to their kids. Few educators help the family understand WHY and HOW to READ. Parents need to be led to understand that joyful READING TO is the richest resource for early language development and that strong, fluent language is a primary driver for school and life success. If we can make that sale, parents WILL read to their little guys and gals in captivating ways. Then, being thrillingly read to will draw those children toward becoming avid, lifelong readers themselves.

  4. Jenna Rowland October 18, 2016 at 7:48 pm #

    I truly enjoyed reading your blog. I am a middle school language arts teacher, so I know what a challenge getting kids interested in reading can be. Your insights are completely accurate, though. In order to really get them involved in reading we have to encourage them to read books that are interesting to them. In the past my students have participated in DEAR, Battle of the Books, and other initiatives to get them interested in reading. The past few years has been a struggle, though. Even when my students do read they tend to check books out from the library that are well below their reading level. Often the books are meant for elementary school kids, rather than middle school. While I am aware that some of their reading levels are very low, I find my self getting frustrated at seeing the ones who have the ability to do more only checking out books on a first or second grade level. I completely agree that we should encourage them to read what interests them, but should we make sure the things they are reading are on their level? Or, should we just be happy that they are reading?

    • Mark Condon October 18, 2016 at 8:45 pm #

      This is such a common dilemma, Jenna. We want to give them choices but we fear they won’t make good ones. It’s hard, I know. The small bit of research I’ve read about this indicates that children who read what they want to read slowly but surely read more and more advanced material. It’s natural. Kids grow tired when there’s no challenge. That primes them to take a risk and just see if something else might be more interesting. We have to be patient and to trust them. This is not a race and they are not all the same of course, so we can’t expect them to choose how we would. The best we can hope for is to nurture kids into developing a self-determined habit of lifelong reading. That’s the absolute very best outcome for all of them.