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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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