Avid, Fluent, Readers. What LESS could you ask for?

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Bringing children to be fluent readers is a laudable goal for any school. However, the sad truth is that so few children actually get there. That’s not even news anymore.

Is reading that odious an activity that we can’t get kids to be good at it?

Well, no. We have just been trying to do it without recognizing the importance of educating so that kids LIKE to do it.Avid Fluent Readers - UML State Diagram

Recently I made an attempt to change the conversation around how we measure success for readers. The idea being that with all of our energy focused upon teaching children to be fluent readers, classroom, school and district-wide, no attention is paid to whether kids actually like to read, thus few of them engage in reading sufficiently and with enough enthusiasm to become avid readers. That in turn frustrates our efforts at developing fluency.

Avid readers can read well AND they choose to read. Avid readers become lifelong readers. Lifelong readers are lifelong learners –  those people who are contributors to themselves, their families and their communities.

The diagram shown here is designed to suggest several things to those of us interested in the development of such contributors. (Click the diagram for  a better look.)

Most importantly, it indicates that there are two dynamics in the development of avid (fully successful) readers. Fluency is cognitive and choice is emotional.

This diagram illustrates my point that individuals have to be excited about reading before they will ever put in the necessary hard work to get good at reading. Secondly, and a natural extension of the first, it shows that the path to full achievement in reading is not linear.

Sorry, but here’s the sports metaphor. Kids who love to play basketball, play it as much as they are allowed… they are AVID about it! No surprise, those who play a lot get better at playing basketball. If they don’t love basketball…or reading, there is a kind of ceiling on how good they will get, regardless of coaching and coaxing. I don’t think I know anybody that would argue otherwise.

This is another way of putting Dick Allington’s question posed 30 years ago, “If they don’t read much, how they ever gonna get good?” If children don’t like to read, they opt out …They may grab a book. They may open it, but they just don’t DO it. It’s what virtually all adults do when faced with something they don’t want to do.

So how might one measure a child’s excitement about “DOing reading?” Well, as the diagram illustrates, the most obvious answer is how often the child chooses to read (or if not presented with the option to actually read, wishes to read).

Even the most dedicated fan of reading fluency will admit that teaching children something they don’t want to do is 100 times harder (I could actually argue that it’s impossible) than teaching a child who is eager to learn it.

This begs the question, “Why don’t we see discussions of avid reading in the news alongside discussions of fluent reading?” That brings us back to my efforts to change this whole conversation.

If we can engage teachers in formatively assessing growth toward avid reading there might be instructional adjustments that would ensure more kids choosing to read.

That would be a good thing.

3 Responses to “Avid, Fluent, Readers. What LESS could you ask for?”

  1. Dick Allington March 12, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more or have said it better!

    • Mark Condon March 14, 2014 at 9:55 am #

      Given that YOU have been saying something very much like this for 30 years that’s a very nice thing to say, Dick. Thanks!

  2. Bill Zimmerman March 14, 2014 at 6:52 am #

    Dear Mr. Condon,
    You might find MakeBeliefsComix.com a useful literacy resource. It’s a free comic strip generator where youngsters (and adults) can create their own comic strips online, print or email them to teachers, family and friends. It’s been used in many educational programs to encourage writing and reading, and to learn English. We’ve also just released a free app at the iTunes store where it can be downloaded.
    Bill Zimmerman
    Creator, MakeBeliefsComix.com