Rigorous Reading; Or, Son of SOFT is the New Hard

A long time ago, I promised a second part to my blog on rigor.

Well, here it is. Finally.

A long time ago, I promised my wife I would clean the garage. Still haven’t done that, so this blog is a step in the right direction.

My previous blog discussed rigor as it applies to writing instruction. I said then that narrowing, focusing and clarifying are rigorous tasks for a writer.

Today’s topic is rigorous reading.

In the Common Core universe, it’s tempting to associate rigor with text complexity. Hand students a complex text, then their reading automatically becomes rigorous.

Flat out, that is the wrong way to think about rigor and and reading.

Rigor doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with complexity. In fact, it’s best to keep rigor and complexity in separate conversations altogether. So, I’m done with text complexity for today except to say this: rigorous reading has nothing to do with students struggling with texts that are too hard for them to grasp.

Asking a fourth grader to perform a close reading from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t rigorous…

It’s ridiculous.

Rigor describes a readers engagement with a text. A rigorous reading is an enthusiastic, head-first dive into the text. A rigorous reading calls for deep thinking. Rigorous reading is about connecting and commenting, rereading and reviewing, criticizing and creating.

Virtually any text can be read rigorously. I model rigorous reading every time I read aloud and think aloud from Cynthia Rylant’s magnificent children’s book When I Was Young in the Mountains. I model rigorous reading for students when I gross kids out with the chapter “Eating the World” from Ralph Fletcher’s autobiography, Marshfield Dreams.

As much as I love lyrical rhythm to Melville’s Moby Dick and the slow, comfortable pace of To Kill a Mockingbird, I don’t need these great books to model rigor.

I only need to show my kids how I think as I read. I only need to share with them that thinking voice I hear in my head as I read.

To teach my students to read rigorously, I need to get them to stop and think and listen to their own thoughts as they read. If they read slowly enough and intently enough, they will find the space to read and to think.

That’s a thinking kind of reading.

That’s real rigor as Cris Tovani describes it in her works and her presentations.

That’s rigor as I apply it in my classroom.

Students can rigorously read Charlotte’s Web, Hatchet, the Hardy Boys or The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. If they make connections, draw conclusions, interpret the language, find a character’s motivations or see the author’s intentions, then the students are reading rigorously.

As teachers, we can encourage rigor with meaningful and authentic discussions about texts. As teachers, we can encourage rigor by asking students to write critically about their texts. As teacher, we can encourage rigor by asking students to write creatively about their texts.

As teachers, we need to make rigor a habit for a readers.

Rigorous reading should become the nature of all the reading we do.

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