13 Keys To Nurturing A Readerly Life

My son, Paul, recently turned 13. Yes, I am the parent of a teenager and while I don’t love getting older, I do love watching the young man my son has grown into over the last 13 years. One of the things that has always impressed me most about Paul is his ability to read and his love of books. Growing up I was quite the opposite. I only read the passages in our basal reader in elementary school and then in middle and high school I only read the books that were assigned to me for class. I rarely, if ever, read for pleasure. In fact, I recall talking about how much I hated reading because it always felt like a task, chore or just too much work. 

On the other hand, my son could literally spend hours after school or on a Saturday morning reading books. He loved reading picture books when he was little and then got hooked on different series including the My Weird School series, Magic Treehouse and then the Percy Jackson series. We literally had thousands of books in our house because he wanted to be prepared for his next book. As Paul’s personal interests evolved, so did his book choices. When he got into Star Wars and Marvel, he wanted books with facts about the different characters. No matter what the interest, there was always an accompanying book, until things changed. Once Paul got into upper elementary school and then middle school, his interest in reading began to shift. Gone were the days where he wanted to read for hours and get lost in a book. Instead, he started to only read for school assignments and meeting the minimum expectations, either in the form of minutes or page numbers to complete a reading log, was the goal. Granted, he was a growing boy and other competing interests began to form – video games, sports and socializing with friends just to name a few. Reading took a backseat and unless it was for a school assignment, it was no longer a priority.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Paul’s journey as a reader is unique to him. I have heard countless stories about kids who used to love to read for fun but once reading became about a data point or reading log, the love began to fade. This narrative around reading, along with the research that reading in schools is just about test scores, is what sparked this post. From my perspective reading and thinking are almost synonymous and so nurturing readers must be a priority in education. In honor of Paul’s 13th birthday, I would like to suggest the following 13 keys to nurturing a readerly life in our students/children:

1) Model the power of reading for children so they can see it as an opportunity to get immersed in a whole new world. Reading can serve as an escape from everything else in the world and sometimes that is really necessary. As educators, we can model and share what reading means to us and how it allows us to get lost in a different world! To that end, as the educators (or adults or parents) we must make it a point to share our readerly life with kids; share what we are reading, what we have recently read and how that experience felt for us. 

2) Share with students that reading is an experience not an assignment. Reading is truly an immersive experience that allows us to see life through a different lens or in a different setting or with meaningful information that informs our perspectives. Reading leaves an impression on us and changes the way we think.

3) Give students choice in what they are reading. The older Paul gets, the less his book choices are his and the more they are predetermined by his school. While I do understand the value of experiencing a shared text with classmates (book clubs, class novels, etc.), there must also be sacred time for students to read books that are of interest to them.

4) Carve out time, every single day, for independent reading in class. Our students need to see that we value reading and that we specifically value their independent reading time to engage with texts of their choice. Richard Allington reminds us that one way to grow as a reader is by reading as much as possible! The more we read, the better we get as readers. 

5) Reading books gives our students the windows and mirrors they need in the world! We need to be mindful of the books we integrate into our classroom libraries so our students can engage in texts that allow them to see themselves (the mirrors) or to see others (the windows). Literature can be a powerful way to build an understanding and appreciation for how others experience the world. For this reason, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that our students have access to books that allow them to see the world through a different lens. 

6) Reading is thinking and learning! I have been trained to understand that reading is basically synonymous with thinking. When we are immersed in a text, our minds are always working to process the text by making connections, making inferences and wondering about what might come next. This is the power of reading because it helps us grow our thinking muscles and thinking is what leads to learning and learning is what leads to innovation and that is what changes the world!

7) Share with students the joy of reading just for the purposes of feeling that joy! Reading could be a joyous (even if the contents of the book aren’t necessarily joyful) event that doesn’t always have an assignment or task associated with it. Let’s model for kids that they can read just to read for the joy of it!

8) Make time for read alouds as a way to share a story and enjoy a break from all the other academics. No matter how old the students, a read aloud can be a wonderful way to engage with a text and expose students to different authors and genres. Yes, there could be discussions that unfold around the read aloud book but don’t make it all about accountable talk or assessment; allow the read aloud to be a shared experience that helps us escape from everything else.

9) Read alouds don’t just have to happen in school! Encourage families to engage in read alouds at home with their children. A shared story can be so powerful for a family to experience so let’s encourage our students’ families to keep reading aloud at home too! But remember, this shouldn’t be about an assignment or a grade; instead, this should be about a joyful experience we encourage our students to share with the ones they love.

10) Incorporate book talks as a daily norm in your classroom or school. One of the best ways to hook a potential reader is by sharing the story of a book that you have recently read and the impact it had on you (or students can share with their peers). Just think about the power of a movie trailer – when all the right highlights are featured, the audience is hooked and cannot wait to see the movie. The same can be done with books! Create a time and space where individuals (adults and students) can share the books they are excited about and watch how the book talks raise the interest levels of other students and the books start flying off the shelves!

11) Leverage digital platforms as a way to share the reading journeys of our students. Maybe they can make a video book trailer or create a digital picture book version of their favorite chapter book. Whatever the platform, we should consider accessing digital platforms as a way to help our students amplify their readerly life! 

12) Reading should be fun and when we make it fun for kids, we increase the likelihood that they will continue to read on their own time. Just think about it – when we experience something as fun or joyful, our brain responds positively and we are more apt to engage in that activity again and again. So, let’s make reading fun for our kids so when they think about what they could do during their free time they don’t just consider social media or video games but instead chose to read!

13) Reading is not a data point! I am tired of hearing about test scores where our children are lagging behind the children of other countries. I am also tired of hearing about how students are better readers in some states according to recent test scores. Well, what any good educator knows is that high test scores do not mean there are necessarily strong readers in those spaces; instead, often times, high test scores means we have prepared children to pass a test. But the truth is that none of these tests are actual reading tests. Reading is not a data point. Yes, some tests may assess reading skills (understanding unfamiliar vocabulary, determining the main idea or making an inference) but from my experiences they don’t accurately assess reading. So, let’s stop conflating reading with test scores and instead focus on what matters most – nurturing a readerly life in our students!

Are you ready to join me on this journey to nurture a readerly life in our students?