At a community event for our school district, a parent raises her hand. She has a question.
“What can we do to know what our kids are supposed to be learning in their classes and help at home?”
The answer in the room is about lessons and unit plans. It includes talking to your child’s teacher about what’s happening in class and taking a look at online profiles.
I raise my hand. I have an answer.
“Please read and talk about what you read with your child.”
From PISA scores and surveys we have evidence that students who come from homes where parents read for pleasure are likely to be better readers than their peers coming from homes where parents don’t read for pleasure. What’s more, there’s some evidence of a positive correlation between students seeing their parents hold books and reading scores.
In the conversation about reading and the reading profiles of our students, we sometimes miss the conversation about reading identities. In my dreams, all students are asked to complete a survey at the beginning of a school year. It would have only two questions:
On a scale of 1-5, how much do you agree with each of the following statements:
- I am a reader.
- I like reading.
(I have a few other questions such as whether students read in their spare time, their favorite kinds of books, etc., but I won’t be greedy.)
Midway through the year and at the year’s end, we ask these same questions and we track students’ dispositions as important indicators of their trajectories as both lifelong readers and learners. Simply stated, students are unlikely to keep doing a thing they don’t enjoy and that does not fit with how they see themselves.
We know what this looks like because we have friends and family who say things like, “I’m not a big reader,” or “I don’t really read.” These are not people who say they cannot read, they are saying they do not. Teachers along the course of their educational tenures made sure these people were functionally literate without paying attention to whether they would be literately functioning when they left school.
Yes, comprehension skills are important, and yes, accessing complex texts and tasks is key to preparing students to be engaged and active citizens. We miss the opportunity, though, when we prioritize these and the myriad other standards and skills of reading instructions and leave out considerations of what it means to be a reader and why such an identity is important.
So, when a parent asks what can be done to support students at home, my answer is reading – everyone in the family reading and discussion what they’ve read. To do less than this is to signal reading as something done in school, and given up after.