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Enacting the ACTS of Reading

By Deborah Hollimon
 | Nov 17, 2015

042015-12-14-stk95273corIf we know nothing else about reading, we know that the way to become good at reading is to read.  A lot. Volume is important. And because reading is learned best through reading, and reading is a voluntary act, it is vital that students are motivated enough to begin to read and engaged enough to keep on reading for a lifetime.  It is not enough just to teach our children how to read, we must teach them to want to read.

Nancy Atwell, Donalyn Miller, John Guthrie, and others know what it takes to “teach” students to want to read. There really is a proven formula which, when practiced with fidelity, consistently produces lifelong readers. I call this four-part formula the ACTS of Reading:

Access:  All students have access to a rich supply of good things to read.

Instead of buying that “silver bullet” commercial reading program, use those funds to prepare for pleasure and voracious reading by stocking classrooms and libraries with beautiful and intriguing books and magazines. Entice students with accessible displays of curated books of high interest at appropriate reading levels. Incite the motivation to read by first and foremost providing a plethora of engaging age-appropriate materials that meet the diverse needs and interests of all our students.

Choice:  All students are allowed to choose what they would like to read.

If the point is for students to enjoy reading enough to want to keep reading, then they must be allowed, even encouraged, to read for pleasure—not just for information, not just closely or critically, but for fun! Allow students individuality and autonomy. Motivation and engagement soar when students are free to read what is of interest to them. Let them forage around the book buffet you’ve provided (Access!) until they find something they really want to read, then give them time to settle in and simply read.

Time: All students are afforded time during the school day to read.

Why is free reading, independent reading, pleasure reading, or whatever we call that magical time spent in “The Reading Zone,” as described by Atwell, not important enough to be prioritized in schools? We can provide a wealth of good things to read and allow students to choose what they want to read, but unless we schedule time in the school day to read we risk losing them to the lure of technology. Once that bell rings, video games and social networking become the default leisure activities and pleasure reading is displaced. U.S. students, on average, spend 7,800 hours a year outside of school and only 900 hours a year in school, according to The Read-Aloud Handbook. We must intervene strongly on our students’ behalf. To hook students on reading, they need substantial, uninterrupted time to read. During school.

Socialize: All students are encouraged to socialize with others about what they are reading.

Students who are avid readers generally come from homes where books are valued and reading is seen as a normal thing to do. But for many kids, talking about books seems unnatural and reading for pleasure is not the norm. Yet when they are allowed autonomy and time to relax and read they become more comfortable. They begin to feel like readers. They are suddenly eager to talk about what they are reading. Socializing with and around books not only builds reader confidence but also creates an inclusive culture of literacy all can enjoy.  Let’s continue to find ways to advertise and talk about what we’re reading, and to make reading cool—too cool for (just) school!

The Knowing–Doing Gap

We know that enacting the ACTS of Reading motivates students to read and to keep reading.

We know what to do, but is there a knowing–doing gap? If so, let’s mind the gap and commit to doing what we know works. Let’s provide all our students’ access to lots of great books, choice in what they read, time to simply read during the school day, and opportunities for socializing around books. Let’s not just build a nation of kids who know how to read, let’s build a nation of kids who choose to read—for a lifetime.

Deborah Hollimon headshotDeborah Hollimon is currently the Reading Program Director at the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School. She is a longtime ILA member and the 2015 recipient of the Nila Banton Smith Award for translating research and theory into practice in developing content area literacy. Deborah has worked in the field of literacy for over 30 years, first as a speech and language pathologist, then as a secondary English teacher and districtwide literacy coordinator. She holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the Louisiana Education Consortium.



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  5. deb hollimon | Dec 07, 2015

    Victoria you have hit on the Achilles Hill of the whole idea of ACTS! There is only so much "intervention" that can be done at school. The real change will come when we can include parents and care givers of young children in enacting the ACTS. Here are a few ideas:

    Partner with your local library:

    We have a program called "1000 books before kindergarten!" We keep track of books read aloud to preschoolers and even hold a graduation ceremony when the parents and child have share 1000 books! If you thing about it that is not a ton of books- that's 2 or so bedtime stories every night :) What a different world it would be if every child heard two stories read aloud every night before entering Kindergarten! That would be a smart kid!

    Develop a culture of reading at school that incluces the entire family:

    Make sure parents understand how important their role is to their children's academic success and future!Convince parents of the absolute necessity of growing their children into readers. The best way to do that is to limit screen time and to push books.  The love of books and joy of reading is essentially not taught; it is caught, therefore parents must commit to being readers themselves. You can do this type of "recruitment" through positive parent training and mentorship. Again, see that everyone has library cards and becomes comfortable with using the library as a source for engaging and age-appropriate books. Then include the family in the school's expanding and inclusive culture of literacy in as many ways as possible!

  6. deb hollimon | Dec 07, 2015

    Cheryl Ritani please share! Let me know how it goes! Deb

  7. Cheryl Ritani | Dec 05, 2015
    Hi Deb. I too, would love to share this with other teachers and also post it on my class page. 
  8. Victoria | Nov 20, 2015
    I very much enjoyed this piece. I love that the formula is clear and actionable. Would love to hear your thoughts on how we can best include parents and families in this process. What kind of supports might we provide them with so that they can apply the formula at home? 
  9. Suzi | Nov 20, 2015
    Wonderful article, Dr. Hollimon!
  10. Deborah | Nov 19, 2015
    Good for you Angelica! Keep spreading the word! 
  11. Angelica Humphreys | Nov 18, 2015

    when I was a student teacher, my cooperating teacher had her students select their own personal reading books, and she gave them approximately 20-30 minutes each day for reading (out of a 90 minute period).They were required to give verbal reports to her when they were done, and they would get credit for the amount of pages read. A certain amount of pages were required for the semester--not books, but pages. There was more to it, but basically she gave them time every day to read in a book of their choosing. I have continued that practice for the last 20 years, and I have seem so many students, who had never finished a book, become enamored with a book, series, or author, and relish in not only a new found love of reading, but in also the feeling that they were, indeed, readers. This post hits the nail squarely on the head!

  12. Rae | Nov 18, 2015
    Wonderful information shared in such a practical way. Thank you for sharing.
  13. Pauline Leonard | Nov 17, 2015

    Thanks for sharing your expertise and pragmatic ideas for helping children become eager, enthusiastic, and habitual readers. Appreciate your dedication to promoting and supporting literacy awareness. Would love to share your blog article as well. 

  14. Nancy | Nov 17, 2015
    Such good content!  Can't wait to share this concept in my current position. Way to go, Deb!
  15. Kay Thiels | Nov 17, 2015

    Loved reading this, Debby Hollimon!  Congratulations!

    I cerainly agree with you...

  16. Deborah Hollimon | Nov 17, 2015
    Hi Dena! This is Deb Hollimon and you certainly have my permission to share this post! 
  17. Dena Onela | Nov 17, 2015
    I would love to share this blog article on my school blog for parents and teachers to see.  How would I get permission?  This has wonderful information!

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