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Education Opinion

Reading Poverty - Reading WITHOUT Meaning

By LeaderTalk Contributor — June 14, 2009 3 min read

This post also appears on AngelaMaiers.com

If the riches of the Indies, or the crowns of all the kingdom of Europe,

were laid at my feet in exchange for my love of reading,

I would spurn them all.

~ Francois FéNelon~

Poor are the readers who do not know of this love. Poor are the students who sit before us starved for meaning. Poor are the students fed a bland diet of narrow reading experiences. Poor are the readers given sparse access to new texts, forms and literacies. Poor are the readers who come into our classrooms hungry for knowledge, and leave unfulfilled and empty. Poor are the readers who chose to give up on the power literacy affords them by never picking up a book again.

Reading without meaning provides no nutrition for the mind, body or soul. We have a responsibility to bring meaning back, providing students with the rich literacy experiences they will need in order to leave our classrooms powerful readers, writers, and communicators.

Bringing Meaning back requires the following:


  1. Close Examination of Our Reading Goals: Our vision statements promise lifelong reading, our bulletin boards say “reading is fundamental”, and we claim reading excellence. But, how do we define excellence? Is it speed? accuracy? questions answered on the test? We lose our way when we fail to describe and recognize the true signs of reading excellence - passion, endurance, curiosity, adaptability, stamina, strategy, and imagination.
  2. Do As Real Readers Do: If schools are serious about their promise of creating life long readers who can handle themselves in the real world, we must be equally serious about aligning classroom practices with the work and behaviors of real readers in that world; asking ourselves: Would this be something that REAL readers would do? If the answer is no, then we should not ask our readers to engage either. This sideshow is a glimpse of REAL READERS in action, and can provide a head start to the conversations!
  3. Share OUR Reading Lives with Students. Let students know why you read, what you read,and how you read. Reveal your habits, your passions, your joys and challenges. Be the first to answer and the proudest to model how reading has changed your life. Here is a GREAT example from my friend, Vicki Davis: Reading to Improve Your Life. I love using this video from Barnes and Noble to get me thinking about WHY I READ?
  4. Demonstrate “Their Brain on Reading”- Reading makes your brain smarter, stronger, and more able to handle the world. Chris Hale’s brilliant video explains how neuroscience confirms this.
  5. Let Them Read! Remember what Dr. Seuss taught us? The more you read, the more you know, the more you know, the more places you will go! Students do not need more worksheets, more skills,or more silly “activities”. They need MORE BOOKS, (ones they like and can read), and MORE TIME to read those books, and more opportunities TO SHARE WHAT THEY READ with other readers. So, please, please, please...listen to the doctors, and let them read!
  6. WRITE! - Reading and writing are inseparable acts of literacy. Readers and writers need one another. When we teach students to read with the writer in mind, and write with the reader in mind, they see the connection and want to get better at both!
  7. Pass the Test that Matters Most: Every school year I ask my students two questions about reading: What is reading? Who is the best reader you know and why? Their poignant, honest answers tell me what I need to teach, and ultimately let me know if my instruction made a difference. When they leave my classroom understanding that reading is power, then, and only then, will I have done my job.

Rich reading instruction and experience does not come from buying a program, or following a script. The lessons that matter most come from a teachers heart. Teachers can eradicate reading poverty by bringing meaning back into the process and creating experiences that will stay with students for the rest of their lives. The riches of their future lie in our hands. What kind of reader will leave your classroom?

Photo on Flickr by Tariq Fantasy World

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk 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.