It REALLY Matters

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Each week I write for parents, teachers and teacher educators about the very basics of reading. I address the ultimate reason why as a culture we should spend so much time, energy, and money on it.Avid

Sadly, the ultimate goal I refer to is rarely uttered in school board meetings. It is seldom discussed by teachers, and too few parents are worried whether their children are likely to reach this goal. That’s because the central tenet of maximizing productivity…what gets measured gets done… is at work and schools don’t systematically measure progress toward this highest goal.

To clarify…by “teaching our children to read” I don’t mean teaching them to read short passages and successfully answer someone else’s questions. That’s teaching our children to do well in classes or on state assessments. That’s ONE focus. That’s an easy way to assess how teachers and schools are doing in preparing kids…for the test. School districts delight in reporting to their employers and communities about “how well we are doing in teaching children to read.” However, full information on that specific result is not available through these tests.

Tests measure short term reading growth in the skills of processing small bits of print and taking something from it that adults find valuable. That’s a common goal, but it certainly isn’t the ultimate goal for our children.

avid 2The ultimate goal is to teaching our children to be lifelong, avid readers of self-selected BOOKS.

Lifelong. Avid. Self-selected. Books.

That doesn’t mean teaching them to be able to read passages on demand that they would never choose to read themselves, though that capability may be a by-product of good teaching. Teaching children TO AVIDLY READ SELF-SELECTED BOOKS means teaching children to choose to read books and to prioritize reading them as a natural part of every day. For teachers and parents, this ultimate goal must include:

  • Teaching them why and how to comfortably find a storybook that will please them and expand their understandings of the rewards and perils of life;
  • Teaching them why and how to locate an informative book easily, to supplement their knowledge in some area of inquiry that they find personally fascinating;
  • Teaching them why and how to embrace daily reading as the ultimate path for delightfully and continually building a fulfilling life, long past schooling and testing.

If we want these ultimate outcomes for our children how might they be measured? I offer three questions to ask and answer … maybe monthly:

  • When each child finishes a book, does she already know which books she might want to read next?
  • When each child enters the library or bookstore, does he already know what he’s looking for?
  • Is reading self-selected books a daily part of children’s learning lives in every classroom and in their recreational lives at home.

Schools could institute these measures informally and relatively easilyAvid 1.

They just don’t.

Consequently, lifelong, avid reading of self-selected books doesn’t get regularly taught. As a result we perennially shake our heads about the abysmal statistics on library circulation, about pathetic book sales data, and about the embarrassing results of  post-graduation reading habit surveys.

That matters.

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10 Responses to “It REALLY Matters”

  1. Kathy Mansfield August 17, 2017 at 12:13 pm #

    The value of a certified school librarian in each school and a well-stocked library media center is so often overlooked. School librarians are leaders in promoting self-selected reading materials and reading for pleasure. Thanks for a great post that emphasizes the type of reading culture schools must develop. Hopefully that’s with the leadership of a full-time, certified school librarian!

    • Mark Condon August 17, 2017 at 12:44 pm #

      I couldn’t agree more, Kathy! …and I’d add that the local children’s library professionals have the same role for the family.

  2. Nancy Patterson August 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

    Mark, you are absolutely right. I was talking about this with a nurse this morning. We had been talking about the fact that nurses do not have as much autonomy as they once did and I mentioned that many teachers are not allowed to use their professional knowledge to make decisions about instructional practices. She said that reading was so important because students needed to read in college.

    I tried to explain that when we merely think of reading as a tool for future success, we do ourselves and our students a disservice. We want children to be life long readers because reading is a transformative act. Reading changes us, sometimes ever so slightly. We want readers to vicariously experience what it means to live in the world, to empathize, to celebrate, to be angered, to know that others struggle and sometimes lose. The western world dramatically changed when the printing press was invented and the amount of text existed in the world. In fact, whole languages died out in places where there was no printing press. But the printing press also provided a glimpse into the lives of others. Indeed, when novels arrived on the scene, they found an audience with women. The church was alarmed that women were beginning to learn that they were not alone, that other women felt the same as they did. The church feared that once women tapped into the inner lives of other women, they would neglect their wifely duties. In other words, novels had the power to transform the lives of women. Of course, this happened slowly. But with the printing press came the Enlightenment. And with the Enlightenment came an explosion of literacy. It is an explosion that is still reverberating. Our children are adopting new literacies, new textual and visual experiences that change them. Too often, though, we fear those literacies and even attempt to stamp them out in school environments.

    So, yes, we want children to become life long readers. We want them to self select not only books, but electronic texts, to digitally annotate a primary document, to find the ugliness of hate disguised as patriotism and the beauty of a eulogy. And, yes, we want them to read and compose in whatever digital environment comes along, even Twitter, not because they will need these literacies for a job, but because reading allows us to touch another soul.

    • Mark Condon August 18, 2017 at 10:39 am #

      Wow Nancy! You took us on a terrific ride there. Though there is enduring, cumulative benefits from lifelong avid reading, we don’t have the time here to lists all of the good that comes with self-selected reading…right now… in the present. Thanks so much for your contribution.

  3. Carol Lauritzen August 18, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    Mark (and Nancy),
    What a valuable message to remind us of the real goal of literacy, especially as we start a new school year.

    • Mark Condon August 18, 2017 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks, Carol. Starting today with that mindset will make a huge difference in how the year begins in any classroom or school.

  4. Magdalena Bobek August 21, 2017 at 5:11 am #

    Reading literacy has to become a part of an individual’s education at a very early age, perhaps even before he/she enters the school system. Bedtime story-telling where listening evokes the child’s imagination or having a child tell a story on his own or paraphrasing a story that he/she likes, to his friends or parents is the beginning of reading motivation.

    Unfortunately once a child has entered the school system it is usually only the teachers who are aware of the importance of reading literacy as a fundamental part of an individual’s life because it is connected with all subjects being taught and reflects the learners’ knowledge and how he/she perceives knowledge in a certain subject area which in turn influences how he/she sees the world and on his lifelong learning. Getting reading skills into the curriculum is another problem due to the over- load of curriculum material that has to be covered during each scholastic year. So, it is usually up to the teacher as to when and how to go about doing this.

    Here are two articles I’d like to share that might come in handy to whoever needs some ideas on how to motivate young learners as well as teenagers to read.

    Magdalena Bobek

    • Mark Condon August 22, 2017 at 4:21 pm #

      Thanks for the share, Magdalena!

  5. Mark Condon August 22, 2017 at 1:35 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Carol. I’ll look forward to reading Paul Thomas’ piece

    that impressed you.


  1. A Message From ORA President Elect: | Oregon Reading Association - August 21, 2017

    Today I read two blog posts that were wonderful reminders for the start of the school year. It is so easy to be caught up in the details of organizing a classroom, putting up decorations, and getting our physical surroundings in order that we may not take the time to consider and reconsider our goals as teachers, especially teachers of literacy.
    As Mark Condon reminds us, our goal is to have students who choose to read as a lifelong endeavor. While we often feel the pressures of Common Core Standards and scores on state assessments, these are short term goals. What we really want is to create citizens that use literacy as a way of being thoughtful participants in our democracy. We need to be cautious so that we do not sacrifice this long-term goal for short term results.
    Paul Thomas reminds us that the opening day of class is to learn who we are and to develop the concept of why we are here. As teachers, we need to remind ourselves that the relationships with our students are of prime importance. As much as we teach what we know, we teach who we are and what we value. If we value literacy, we give time in our classroom for read-alouds, time to talk about books, and time for students to read self-selected books. These books need to be ones that engage the students at a difficulty level that matches their abilities. May your year be rich and fulfilling as you help students find just the right book that continues them on their paths to lifelong literacy.