Let’s Talk About Talk

Do you ever say things like:

  • What would a good reader/writer do?
  • How might a good reader/writer solve this problem?
  • Good readers/writers always do……

You’re probably thinking that you are helping your students become better readers/writers by sharing with them the strategies of what good readers/writers do. But did you know that this type of language can cause more harm than good or even demotivate students?

Students who have academic literacy difficulties are paying attention to you. They are listening to what you say good readers/writers do, and they honestly would like to do those things. They would love to be thought of as a good reader/writer. But you know what? That list of all the things good readers/writers do is getting a bit too long, and they are not seeing how they are going to be able to accomplish everything you’ve put on it for them.

So they shrug it off.

It’s not that they don’t want to improve. It’s just that they are sinking in a sea of things that they are supposed to do and struggling with most of them. Wouldn’t you give up too?

Let's focus on the reading.
Let’s focus on the reading.

I’ve had numerous discussions with adolescents about how and why they use instruction. I’ve never asked them about the term good reader in relation to how their teachers may have used it with them, but I have asked them what it means to read/write within a given classroom. Here are some typical responses:

  • It’s hard because there’s like all these things you have to do, and I can’t do them.
  • We have to read a lot in here. My teacher tries to help me, but there’s so much to do.
  • If I was going to get any better at this it would’ve already happened by now

Ok….not the kind of stuff we want to hear, right? But let’s talk about one simple thing you can do to start making things better…..

Drop descriptive terms like good/poor and simply talk about reading and writing

Instead of saying, “How would a good reader go about figuring out this text,” try, “What are some ideas you have about how to approach this text?”

By dropping the term good reader you have just opened a door for you students. When students who think of themselves as poor readers hear you say, “How would a good reader approach this text,” they are less likely to participate because they do not think you are asking them a question. Once you drop the term and open it up then you create a space where everyone has the potential to see themselves as offering ideas about a text.

This doesn’t mean that everyone will automatically jump in and participate. There’s still more work to be done, and I’ll be covering it in future posts. But for now, simply start talking to your students about what happens when they are reading and writing. Drop the “good reader/writer” part of it and see what starts to happen.

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