Education Opinion

The Long Haul

By Donalyn Miller — February 28, 2010 3 min read
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I am a forever dieter. I have battled my weight since I was a teenager. I was slimmer once, during college and for a few years afterward, but I cannot suggest my pauper’s menu of Ramen noodles and peanut butter to anyone. I took a nutrition course the second time I was in college, while earning my teaching degree. I chatted with my classmates about the calories in a gram of fat versus a gram of protein. I learned that orange vegetables contain vitamin A and carotene and leafy green veggies have iron and Vitamin C. I kept a daily exercise log--a requirement for the course-- dutifully filling it out and turning it in each week. Some of the exercise times I recorded were even accurate. I earned an A in that course, but I never lost a pound.

After my second daughter was born, I joined Weight Watchers. I thought that the peer pressure and weekly weigh-ins would motivate me to stick to a weight loss plan. I kept a food diary--a requirement for the program--but it bored me. The disapproving “hmmms,” of the perky consultant who recorded my never-changing weight each week eventually embarrassed me so much that I quit.

I have made a substantial financial investment in losing weight over the years. I own free weights, ergonomic walking shoes, sweats, and vitamin supplements. I have purchased gym memberships, treadmills, and exercise bikes. We bought a Wii this Christmas with the goal of using the Wii Fit to get in shape. I sit on the couch while my 20-year old daughter uses it. Did you know that you can put your dog on a Wii Fit exercise plan? You should see our Chihuahua/ Pomeranian mix, Jasmine, standing on the Wii Fit board. She doesn’t need to lose weight. She chases squirrels in the backyard all day. Maybe I should try it.

My best friend, Mary, is a vegetarian and part-time tennis coach. She turns 50 this month and looks like she is 35. She buys me cookbooks and offers to walk with me. She seems to innately understand how to eat well and find time to exercise. Otherwise, she is a pretty good friend.

You might suggest that I spend fewer hours each week sitting around reading, but I could still put audiobooks on my iPod and walk around the block. I have all of the tools and background knowledge I need to be successful, but I still struggle. For whatever reason, I lack the motivation and willpower to make the permanent lifestyle changes I need to maintain a healthier weight.

I think about my weight loss struggle when I think about the kids I know who struggle to read well. These children receive direct instruction (nutrition course) and intervention support (Weight Watchers), take formative assessments to prove their progress (weekly weigh-ins), and record hours of reading (food and exercise logs). Extensive, targeted interventions often help struggling readers pass standardized tests, but no one--except a government entity--would call them readers. Ability to pass a reading test does not guarantee students will pass their academic courses or continue to read in the future. Resilient, capable readers possess the same internalized commitment to reading that my friend, Mary has for keeping fit. But can we teach children the reading habits that avid readers seem to pick up on their own?

Successful intervention programs of any kind require commitment to long term lifestyle changes. Any reading improvement program must include modeling, scaffolding and encouragement for developing lifelong reading habits--along with the other instruction and support children receive--or we risk sending the same students to intervention programs forever--never to see them return as readers.

Are we really creating readers in our classrooms? Could we prove it? How would classrooms change if someone asked teachers to prove it? Obsessed by these questions, I am thinking and writing a great deal about this topic, lately. Perhaps you have comments or ideas. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Meanwhile, I am getting off the computer and putting on my walking shoes. I cannot let the dog show me up on Wii Fit tonight!

** I am still collecting responses for the Wild Readers survey. Share your reading life and your opinions! Ask your friends, family members, and colleagues to submit their responses, too. Over 700 readers have already responded. I will present the results in an upcoming post.

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.