Readers Read

To: Tim Shannahan

RE: Readers read

Let’s all take a minute to thank Tim Shannahan.

Over the last few weeks, a new fire kindled beneath the Great Silent Reading Controversy and flames erupted.

On behalf of literacy bloggers everywhere, let me say, “Thanks for lighting the match, Tim.”

Shannahan has argued over the last couple of decades that research doesn’t the independent reading practice known as sustained silent reading (SSR) or drop everything and read (DEAR).

I won’t argue research with Shannahan. He’s far more qualified than I am.

I’m going to take up this argument on my own with a slightly different approach– the logic of everyday reasoning.

First, I need to disclose a couple facts about myself. I’ve read The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. I love Book Love. I’ve met Penny Kittle. Penny has a great Youtube video that celebrates how much she gets students to read in her class. Penny breaks the fake reading epidemic. I like that most about her.

Therefore, as you have probably guessed, I’m biased on the silent reading issue.

Full disclosure complete.

Now, on to argument.

Sometimes answers are just this simple: kids should read silently and independently because reading is what readers do.

That simple.

Readers read.

You can circle your arms over your head for hours while kicking your feet furiously and never become a better swimmer.

In fact,you won’t become a better swimmer until you get in the pool and swim.

Swimmers swim.

Sometimes I feel like we do a lot of things that are called, perhaps euphemistically, reading instruction but don’t actually add up to reading. Those might include reading from a basal, working in a vocabulary workbook or a website, practicing skills like cause and effect and compare and contrast with worksheets.

Those things might… maybe, maybe, maybe… might help a child read better. But they aren’t reading.

Readers read.

They pick up books.

They get comfortable.

They get lost in a story.

If you are looking for the best justification for independent, sustained, silent reading, there it is.

Readers read.

Independent reading is authentic. I’m a huge believer in doing what Ron Ritchhart calls for in Making Thinking Visible. That is, closing the gap between what happens in the classroom and what happens in the real world.

Readers read.

In our classrooms, reading should not be just a tool for school (thank you for that phrase, Cris Tovani). Our goal should be to develop successful readers who will become lifelong readers. I don’t think many literacy-minded folks would disagree. To develop successful and lifelong readers,  teachers must model reading as a real world, lifetime habit of the mind.

I’ve always loved Nancie Atwell’s analogy from In the Middle. She compares reading workshop to sitting around a dining room table talking about books. That’s real world. Our classrooms should have a dining room atmosphere when it comes to reading discussions. Minus that one kid throwing mashed potatoes, of course.

Readers love to talk about what they read.

But mostly…readers read.

So thank you, Tim Shannahan.

You are wrong, I believe, but you ignited an important discussion about how we should handle reading in our classrooms.

It may not look the same in every room, but we all need to agree on one thing:

Readers Read.

The Value of Quiet

When I was a child in grade school— sure, we’re talking about the ‘70s and ‘80s— quiet was a rule in school. You walked in quiet through the halls. You sat in quiet in the classroom. I guess we were allowed to make some noise at lunch and in the gym.
Quiet assured the dominance and control of a single voice, the teacher’s. Learning was a teacher-centered affair. The student’s role in the class was limited, listen and do work. Between listening and doing the work, we got debatably smarter.
The early years of my teaching career weren’t much different. My voice was dominant. I assigned work. The kids were supposed to get smarter.
But the paradigm shifted. We recognized the value of collaboration, cooperation and student talk. Then we took it further and began to differentiate instruction with packages of activities. Five concurrent activities to meet the same learning objective for various types of learners assures everyone has a voice, even if no one exactly gets heard.
If your classroom is quiet, your students can’t possibly be learning anything. At least that’s what the conventional “wisdom” says.
The other day on social media I ran across this quote by author John Green, “Reading forces you to be quiet in a world that no longer makes a place for that.”
The quote reminded me of an end-of-year survey a teacher friend of mine gave her kids. Several students commented on how reading workshop provided much needed quiet time during the day. It was the only time they could be alone with their thoughts.
As educators, we are right to value student voices in our classrooms. The problem is, we’ve lost track of an important voice.
In each of us, teacher and student, there is a voice in our heads, a thinking voice, the voice of our own cognition and metacognition, the voice we talk to ourselves with, the voice we work things out with, the voice of our conscious and the voice of our conscience, a little voice, a quiet voice, a loud voice, the voice we hear writing, the voice we hear reading.
We need to honor that voice most in our classroom. But we are drowning that voice out with poor imitations of the sound of learning.
We honor students thinking voices by giving them time to write and time to read. We honor thinking by giving students time to think about answers.
There can be a little talking with the thinking. Students can share thoughts. But they need time to listen to the thoughts first.
I remember the first time I heard Cris Tovani talk about annotation. She spoke of it as means to get students thoughts about reading onto the page as they read. Since then, I’ve been amazed, but never really shocked, when students say they don’t hear any voice in their heads when they read. They don’t think about their reading. They just quietly say the words to themselves.
If you read, but don’t think about it, are you reading at all?
However, why should we expect students to attend to their thinking voices when reading if we don’t ever teach them to listen to that voice at other times.
Learning occurs when students have time to process their thoughts. That won’t happen in a noisy, chaotic environment.
It’s time that we honor the value of quiet.