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What is a Reader Anyway?

Guest Post by Marla Robertson

As a teacher of undergraduates in a pre-service teacher course for future 4-8 teachers with various goals for future endorsements – Generalist, English/Language Arts, Math, Science, etc., part of my community building/getting to know you activities this semester included having each student fill in two surveys – one each about their Reading and Writing habits. I ask similar questions when I am presenting at teacher conferences to get a feel for where my audience is in their beliefs about reading and writing and about themselves as readers and writers.

I have noticed a pattern in the type of answers that I get to these questions in particular:

Are you a reader?

Are you a writer?

No matter what context I am in – at a conference with practicing teachers or in a classroom of pre-service teachers – the majority of participants say, no I am not a writer. This answer has been universal. I’ll address my thinking about writing beliefs at a later date, but….

Most participants usually acknowledge that they are a reader to some degree but often qualify that answer in some way. Like, “Yes, I am a reader but I don’t have time to read because I’m in school”, or “Yes, but I only read _____(insert type of reading here), or “No, I only read …..”

These responses about reading led me to wonder – just what is the definition of a reader?

Google says that a reader is a person who reads or who is fond of reading. That’s it! That’s the

My daughter took this photo after a library visit.  If the books were turned around so the titles were visible, her sophomore Pre-AP English teacher would have been appalled at the types of books Courtney was reading because they weren't considered good literature in her eyes.  That teacher never cared that Courtney was an avid reader outside of school, only that she didn't like to fill out the worksheets and read the assigned readings for class the way her teacher wanted her to. Luckily Courtney never cared what that teacher thought and continues to devour YA fiction anyway.

My daughter took this photo after a library visit. If the books were turned around so the titles were visible, her sophomore Pre-AP English teacher would have been appalled at the types of books Courtney was reading because they weren’t considered good literature in her eyes. That teacher never cared that Courtney was an avid reader outside of school, only that she didn’t like to fill out the worksheets and read the assigned readings for class the way her teacher wanted her to. Luckily Courtney never cared what that teacher thought and continues to devour YA fiction anyway.

dictionary definition – no qualifications, no buts or exclusions. But when asked that question, what do people really think? Do people narrow that definition to exclude the types of reading that we do as a part of our everyday life, like reading the newspaper, surfing the web, reading our favorite magazine, etc.?

What about the reading that people do for their job? Does that type of reading qualify them as a reader? A friend of mine told me once that her husband doesn’t think of himself as a reader because he only reads non-fiction. If we as adults qualify ourselves as readers by the type of reading that we do, then it’s not surprising that our students may do this as well.

So, is a student who reads comic books/graphic novels a reader? How would they answer this question?

Does a student who reads about hunting (insert personal interest here) by perusing articles in the latest hunting magazines qualify as a reader?

Is a student who gets online and searches out all the information they can find about their favorite boy band, One Direction (or any other topic of personal interest), a reader?

Is the person who scans Facebook posts, reads Twitter feeds, loves roaming around Pinterest (or any other app) – are they a reader?

Can a reader be someone who is in school and is constantly reading textbooks, articles, or other assignments related to their coursework,

… or do they have to be reading a novel to be a reader?

So what do you think? How would you answer this question….

Are you a reader?

Whether your answer is yes or no or qualified in some way, switch to wearing your teacher hat and think about your students – what is your definition of a reader….for them?

Is it the same or is it different?

I know for myself as a teacher, I have to be careful that I don’t narrow the definition of “reader” to mean a person who reads novels, which is probably my definition of being a reader when applied to myself.

What do you think? In our role as teachers do we need to consider our perspective of what it means to be a reader and how we apply it to our students?

How can we help our students come to believe that they too can be a “reader” if they do not consider themselves as one already?

Marla Robertson currently teaches undergraduate literacy courses at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas to budding teachers.  She is a Teacher Consultant for the North Star of Texas Writing Project and strives to keep current on the latest research and trends in reading and writing instruction.  She is passionate about advocating for authentic purposeful writing opportunities for students of all ages and believes that everyone has a story to tell. She can be reached at mkrobertson2009@gmail.com.

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One thought on “What is a Reader Anyway?

  1. Laura November 6, 2013 at 9:30 am Reply

    My students in middle school differentiate between oral and silent reading. They only consider fluent oral readers as “readers.” Fluent silent readers are nerds.

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