Widening the Definition of Reading
Reading is active. It is empowering. It is an experience that can lead to further understanding of one’s self and surroundings. At Fenn, this is our goal as teachers of reading: to be able to help boys foster the ability to find, read, and connect with stories that bring meaning and pleasure to their lives. In order for this to happen, we have learned that boys need space to explore their reading choices and time in class to practice their reading skills and build reading fluency. Whether a student is a reluctant or prolific reader, we have come to realize that reading choice empowers readers and, more important, it engages them in reading.
Widening the circle of reading means allowing boys to choose the books they read and the ways they read. It means giving value to graphic novels, comics, Guinness books of world records, statistics, magazines, and of course books—any and all books. It means letting boys re-read books and to listen to books on audio. It means reading on e-readers. It means creating and fostering reading communities where ALL readers are welcomed, valued, and empowered to understand and create their own personal reading lives. For parents and teachers, the traditional understanding of what reading means in school is changing. Yes, boys still read class texts and practice close, analytical reading of books. But, this is not the ONLY reading that is done in class. Teachers have come to understand that widening this definition to include ALL types of books, many chosen by students, leads to an engagement in and love for reading that is student centered and empowering.
By allowing choice, students are able to participate in their reading lives, take ownership of their choices, and engage productively in the act of reading. Choice also allows reading to be seen as a collaborative effort among student, teacher, and even parents, as choice leads to authentic conversations about reading. These conversations can be about the reading, but more often than not, they are about the reader and the reasons behind the choices the reader has made. “What led you to choose this book?” “What is keeping you in this book?” “What is it about graphic novels that appeals to you as a reader?” “What genres haven’t you explored yet and want to?” When the definition of reading is opened to include choice, these types of questions can be asked, and students can be given the opportunity to explore their answers to them.
Ultimately, our collective goal in reading instruction is to create independent readers who see reading as an activity that extends well beyond the classroom walls. At Fenn, we believe that our students can achieve this goal through a collective effort that fosters book talks, book shares, and a reading community that gives value to reading. We believe the steps we have made to widen the definition of reading are leading to stronger engagement in the reading choices of our students and to a deeper appreciation for and love of reading. Widening the circle has helped boys find that book that has left its mark and become an unforgettable experience he will remember for a lifetime.
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