As a literacy teacher educator, I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of teachers to explore literacy instruction and intervention. Since reading is a careful orchestration of many skills, we spend a great deal of time exploring phonemic awareness and alphabetics, decoding strategies, active comprehension, and the importance of matching books to readers.
Inevitably, our conversation always turns to the kinds of texts students should read to support their development. Should they only read decodable and leveled books? Should they only read books at their reading level? What about graphic novels and audiobooks? Or e-books? Do they count, too?
My short answer? IT ALL COUNTS.
I’ve found the easiest way to help others understand how and why all reading counts is by provoking this concept of counting in other aspects of their lives.
Does every breath we take count? Our body does not care how we are getting the oxygen we need, only that we are getting it. It could come from fresh mountain air or your stuffy living room. It all counts.
Does every calorie count? They sure do. Every morsel we put into our mouth matters, whether it was the healthy food prepared for us at a cafe or the sugary sweets ingested at the end of a busy day. It all counts.
How about our daily steps? Our smart watch doesn’t care if we hiked a mountain or walked in place in front of our television set. It all counts.
This same concept applies to reading and here are three reasons why:
Our brains don’t care
Our brain doesn’t care what we are reading or how we accessed it. Every word we make sense of counts. Those words can come from printed books, digital texts, audiobooks, online articles, or environmental print. They can be new books, old books, glossy magazines, video game manuals, movie captions, and everything in between. It all counts.
We become readers by reading
The only way children become readers is by reading. No matter where or how or why those words are available to understand, they all count, even if they are accompanied by pictures, searched for on the internet, listened to, or found in the most unexpected places, like the back of a cereal box.
In the end, the only kind of reading that will support students’ development is the reading they actually do. It doesn’t matter if they read a graphic novel or the back of a shampoo bottle or listen to a book as they eat a snack.
As long as they do.
As students’ reading skills and abilities grow and change, they can challenge themselves to apply those skills to new reading contexts over time. Teachers can strategically teach students to explore new authors, genres, and formats of text as their reading prowess, interests, and access to text expands. One simple yet effective way of helping students set new reading goals is by asking this provocative question of the books they’ve recently read.
The real world demands it
We have a vast amount of reading materials within our grasp, and our world today demands we actively make sense of all sorts of types of texts: books, magazines, online articles, visual media, audio information, product manuals, social media feeds, and more. Why limit the kinds of reading that counts when the real world demands we successfully read and understand all of it?
As educators, we play a prominent role in helping students see themselves as readers. Doing so begins by broadening our views of reading to include all kinds of texts for all kinds of readers for all sorts of purposes. If and when we do, students will begin to see that by reading the words, we are reading the world, and that it all matters.
All reading counts.
What are some “alternative” ways your students read? Let us know in the comments!
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