How to Create Critical Readers: The 3 Keys
A child sitting in a quiet room with a good book isn’t a flashy or, more significantly, marketable teaching method. It just happens to be the only way anyone ever grew up to become a reader.
When teachers make time every day for students to curl up with books they love and engage in the single activity that consistently correlates with high levels of performance on standardized tests of reading ability—frequent, voluminous, self-selected reading—they’re helping students become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers.
And that is the goal of The Reading Zone. Just as important, along the way we hope students will become smarter, happier, more just, and more compassionate people because of the diverse worlds they experience within those hundreds of thousands of lines of black print.
Here are a few more reasons why it’s so important to give children time, choice, and access, when it comes to books and reading.
We know that students need time to read, at school and at home, every day. We understand that when particular children love their particular books, reading is more likely to happen during the time that’s set aside for it—that the only surefire way to induce a love of books is to invite students to choose their own. So teachers help children select enjoyable books, develop and refine literary criteria, and carve out identities for themselves as readers. We get that it’s essential that every child we teach be able to say, “These are my favorite authors, genres, books, and characters this year, and this is why.” Personal preference is the foundation for anyone who will make of reading a personal art.
Starting in kindergarten and going straight through until the end of high school, free choice of books should be a child’s right, not a privilege granted by a kind teacher. Our students have shown us that opportunities to consider and reconsider books make reading feel sensible and attractive to children right from the start—and that they will read more books than we ever dreamed possible and more challenging books than we ever dreamed of assigning.
We’ve learned, too, that students need access to a generous assortment of inviting titles. Instead of investing in an expensive core reading program, our school makes individual books the budget priority. No child ever grew up to become a skilled, habitual, critical, passionate reader via a fat textbook.
And we’ve learned that we need to read a lot of the books we hope students will, so we can make genuine, knowledgeable recommendations, offer help as readers need it, and teach children one at a time in the daily, quiet conversations of reading workshop.
To learn more about The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Passionate, Skilled, Habitual, Critical Readers, 2nd Ed., you can purchase the book here.
About the author:
Nancie Atwell founded the Center for Teaching and Learning in 1990. She taught grades 7–8 writing and reading for forty years. She is the first classroom teacher to receive the major research awards in the field of language arts, the M.L.A. Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize and the National Council of Teachers of English David H. Russell Award. She has won many other awards for her contributions to education, including the inaugural Global Teacher Prize, presented by the Varkey Foundation.