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The Reader Mindset

The Reader Mindset

As a teacher and tutor, I cannot tell you how often I've heard a child say, "I can't read," "I'll never read," or "Reading is too hard." These children have already made up their minds that they are not a member of the "exclusive" club of readers. They believe the task is somehow out of their reach.

So, I'll often ask them if they play a sport, instrument or do some other activity. Typically, the answer is yes; so if they said they played soccer (for example), I would ask, "Do you consider yourself a soccer player?" As they nod in agreement I'll then ask, "Do you have soccer practices?" Again, their answer is yes. Then, my final question to them is, "Why is okay to need practice to become a better soccer player, but not okay to practice reading?" Most children have never thought of it this way.

The analogy helps them, but part of the problem for their incorrect mindset is how we adults characterize good readers. Adults tend to define a good reader as one who reads on his own, with little or no help. The truth is that independent reading is the culmination of learning a multitude of skills that are then synthesized to work together at the same time. That doesn't happen overnight! A child should be considered a reader as she practices each level of reading skills, each set of word families, each reading strategy. She needs to think of herself as a traveler on the road to reading independence. It can be a long, windy road that has learning stops along the way, but she is a reader during the entire trip!

The children who are at risk for becoming frustrated with reading struggles are the newer "fledgling" readers (who are learning these skills for the first time) or struggling readers (who need repeated instruction because the acquisition of skills is challenging). Parents and teachers can help ease their frustration by defining for them what behaviors make a reader. In essence, we're creating the reader mindset.

Depending on age or readiness level, choose some or all of the situations below to reinforce the fact that your learner is a reader when she:

  • Speaks, listens, or writes
  • Notices print
  • Listens as someone reads a story
  • Looks at a book
  • Holds the book the right way
  • Turns book pages the right way
  • Reads environmental print
  • Reads together with others
  • Visits the library
  • Borrows a library book
  • Recognizes and/or writes the alphabet and numerals
  • Recognizes or reads her first word(s) and numerals
  • Reads a few sight words in a story
  • Makes a mistake while reading and tries to correct it
  • Learns varying reading strategies
  • Learns to choose appropriate reading material
  • Asks questions while reading
  • Chooses to read without being asked to do so

When my learners demonstrate these behaviors I say, "That's what readers do," or "You are a true reader," or "Congratulations on being an awesome reader!" Young learners beam with pride when they hear these affirmations and struggling readers instantly breathe a sigh of relief with the knowledge that they are on their way. Eventually, they will begin to point out to you when they are demonstrating a reading behavior. The ultimate goal is for our learners to understand that becoming an independent reader is a process and that all forms of literacy experiences make them genuine readers.


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