Education Opinion

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

By Donalyn Miller — October 08, 2008 2 min read
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Hiding a magazine inside a book, reading the same page for 20 minutes, or holding a book upside down—it isn’t funny when you witness students reading like this in a classroom. Fake readers can often identify words and read them out loud, but fail to understand the material they are reading. By the time fake readers arrive in my sixth grade class, they possess coping skills that hide their inability to read a book and comprehend it. Many of these students have earned A’s and B’s in language arts classes in previous years and passed state achievement tests, but they still cannot read well.

How students could fake read and still succeed in school baffled me for a long time, until I realized that certain widely-used instructional practices actually foster fake reading. In her book, I Read It, But I Don’t Get It, author Cris Tovani (who admits she fake-read her way through school) says, “Too many adolescent readers know how to fake read. They have become so good at playing the ‘game of school,’ that they’ve figured out how to get a good grade without getting the comprehension.” So, what game are fake readers playing? Consider how these activities allow students to fake read:

Whole-class novels and literature circles—Fake readers wait for the class discussions about the assigned reading and pick up details about the book from the other students and the teacher. I remember such discussions from my days in school. The teacher pointed out the literary terms, provided text examples, and reinforced her interpretation of the book. It did not take an English degree to determine what would be on the end-of-unit test!

Round robin or popcorn reading—Fake readers are often good at decoding. When they are called on to read out loud in front of the class, they can word call their way through a short piece of text. Since round robin reading does not require readers to comprehend an entire reading selection, fake readers can, once again, depend on the understanding of other students and information provided by the teacher to build meaning.

Standardized test practice—Many students will tell you that they don’t even have to read the passages in standardized tests in order to successfully answer the questions. Years of instruction in test-taking tricks provides fake readers with a host of strategies they can use to narrow down or guess test answers without reading. Give your students a test passage and questions, without the multiple choice answers, and see how they do.

So, what can teachers do about it? How can we ferret out those students who fake read in our classes? Do we even care if students fake it as long as they can pass our classes and tests? The truth is that fake readers are getting a fake education and will never make the grade.

We must be careful when implementing any classroom activity that allows students to ride the comprehension coattails of other students (or us). Expect students to respond in writing to the material they read and provide evidence to support their opinions. Require students to independently read material most of the time. And provide instruction in strategies that improve students’ comprehension of authentic reading material, not just their test performance.

Finally, engage students in frank conversations about their fake reading behaviors. Let your students know that these behaviors are unacceptable and offer to help students overcome these habits. This dialogue will create a stronger reading community in your classroom—one built on a foundation of honesty and improvement instead of playing the game.

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.