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But Why Do We Read?

by Paolo Martin


At a wedding rehearsal dinner last night, I met someone really special.  She was graceful, kind, intelligent, artistic, and articulate.  She simply stole my heart away.  Sarah's her name.  She stands about three and a half feet tall, has golden brown skin with soft almond eyes, and possesses the sharpness typical for her age (she's seven) but the confidence of an old soul.  We hit it off from the start when she told me that she really loved reading and that her favorite book is a 128-page story about a cat who promised a dying seagull that he would not eat the egg she was about to lay - in fact, he promised to take care of the chick and teach it how to fly!  She recommended that I read the book so we can really talk about it. 

Unlike most of the kids I've worked with as a reading specialist, Sarah really enjoys reading.  And unlike those kids, she seems to have gotten the message that reading can take her places in her head (and heart) where she can react to the text and discuss it safely with others.  When I interview kids before I administer a battery of reading assessments, I ask them what they think defines a good reader, why they think people read, and whether or not they like reading.  With only a margin of exceptions, these struggling kids almost invariably say, "A good reader reads fast and doesn't make mistakes," "People read to do better in school," and "I don't really like reading."  While it's true that good readers often read quickly and accurately and that reading often helps people perform better in school, and while it's o.k. for people to have their own opinions about reading (you don't have to like it), I want my kids to experience reading as something beyond speed and accuracy and enjoy it in an authentic way - sort of the way Sarah enjoys it. 

If we can agree that most adults who are responsible for children's education want children ultimately to read independently for multiple purposes, to feel agency in how they think about what they read, and to get some enjoyment out of reading, then why is it that so much of what we throw at them at school seems counter-intuitive to accomplishing those things?

Tags: reading instruction, reading purpose, reading for pleasure

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