The Reading Race

Recently I have come across an interesting by product of reading instruction in our schools and it has given me some new perspectives.  This year I have given a reading assessment to about 50 middle school students over the past couple months.  This involves students reading aloud a passage and then I ask about ten comprehension questions about the text.  All the while I am making note of reading behaviors and how successful they are with the text.  I noticed something striking.  The vast majority did not look back to the text at all, in spite of the fact I told them before they started to read that the text would remain in front of them and they could use it all they wanted to.  Sometimes they were successful not looking back.  Often times they were not. After the assessment was over I would sometimes re-ask a question they missed and direct them to look back to the text to help them and usually they were able to then give an acceptable response to the question.

This lack of text use tells me they don’t see the text as a place to go back and dig or even meander.  In and out.  Done.  I can almost see it in their eyes, “Why on earth would one venture back into that maze of words?”  These are just guesses on my part and the middle school mind is somewhat of a mystery to us all, but I am certain that we could do a better job teaching reading in our school.  As an educator, standardized testing lingers in the recesses of my mind ALWAYS.  However, that shouldn’t get in my way of teaching students that reading is not a race.  Much like life, it is all about the journey!

One of my absolute favorite authors on this topic is Kelly Gallagher.  I am constantly dropping his name and sharing his resources in my place of work.  One inspiring book he wrote a few years back is called Reading Deeply, which kind of says it all. Chris Tovani is another educator who has written a number of books on literacy instruction and uses many real life examples throughout her work.  These authors are easy to read, practical and immensely logical on this topic.

"Fur and Feathers" - Sylvan Dell Publishing on

So what’s a PARENT to do about this reading race?  I think that if we make reading a regular, relaxing, and enjoyable event kids won’t see reading so much as a race to get through it but a journey to remember. I read to my girls most nights.  I myself am going to make a point to not just use the single speed and direction model of reading (steady and forward), but to stop from time to time to ponder something out loud and even go back to check out the text we have already read to support my ponderings.  While I usually try to make the reading fun, I don’t think I have lingered on the words enough.  So what if we don’t get through even one chapter.  I think kids like to talk about what is going on in the story as much as reading about it.  I am going to work harder on making each journey one that they will not soon forget.


3 thoughts on “The Reading Race

  1. Maybe some kids are so astounded that they are reading that they forget to consider the words. They’re on the bike peddling but forgetting to enjoy the scenery. The imagination part seems to come natural to a child. I see that it is a balance between teaching the technical part of reading and yielding to the organic enjoyment of the story. Hey, as an adult I sometimes find myself breezing through my reading and suddenly realizing I have no idea what I just read. Thanks for the reminder to enjoy the ride!

    • Yeah. I just had a glimpse of one of my favorite books I read as a child-”Trumpet of the Swan” by E.B. White. I remember the visuals of nature that popped up in my head as I followed the story. It remains a strong memory for me along with a handful of other books. A memorable journey!

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