Reading and Writing and Dancing as Long as the Music Plays

Becoming a Reader–Good, Bad, or Whatever’s in Between

For a couple of decades at least, teachers have been prompting their struggling students to “do what good readers do.” Mountains of research had been done that outlined clearly the things that children who read well were doing, either consciously or unconsciously, that made their reading much more meaningful and less stressful. It was thought that by making these strategies explicit to those who had not learned to use them, strugglers would then consciously begin to imitate effective reading strategies. It is a snap to go online these days and find suggestions for teaching “Good Reader Strategies” or creating “Good Reader” posters. One can buy book marks that list the strategies, assuming I suppose, that the struggling readers to whom they are given could refer to them when they got stuck.

My purpose in writing this blog is not to suggest that we need to stop teaching struggling students the strategies they need to recognize words and make meaning of text. I am, however, going to suggest that we change our terminology.

I will acknowledge immediately that this is not my idea. Unfortunately I do not recall exactly where I first read it. Nevertheless, the idea hasn’t been widely publicized and I think it should be. The idea is this: when we use the term “good” to refer to a person, even if it is in regard to simple reading, the term is laden with moral implications we probably do not intend by using it. Children, however, are not that discriminating.

If we say to a young child, “Oh, you’re such a good reader!” he very likely takes that as a validation of his character, not just his ability to read. If on the other hand, we say to a child, “No, that’s not what that word says. What would a good reader do to figure this word out?” what that child may hear instead is, “Oh, I must be a bad reader.” And just as “good” carries an unintended moral judgment, so does the implied “bad” in this case. The result is an even more negative self-image and a reduction in motivation–the exact opposite of what the teacher is trying to achieve.

I think it is time we get away from using “good” to refer to what effective readers do. In fact, I think the very word we should use is “effective.” I would much rather have a teacher tell me that my strategies in reading were not “effective” than to say they were not “good”, implying that I am “bad.” Wouldn’t it be just as easy to say in our teaching of strategies and on our posters “What Do Effective Readers Do?” Wouldn’t this eliminate much of the potential for making unintended value judgments that can further demoralize already struggling students? I for one am taking the term “Good Reader” out of my vocabulary. Your thoughts?


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