How to Combat "Fake" Readers

I will admit I have seen the fake readers in my own classroom. I watch them with curiosity. As a lover of reading, it is hard to comprehend. My mind flutters: Ahhhhh! Why aren’t they reading? How can they not love reading like me?

I guess that is the whole point. They are not like me. I have a different background, a different upbringing, a different collection of books, a different reading level, etc. The list can go on and on.

Readers need to be looked at as individuals and not as a one size fits all.

Readers come to us with all different levels and with all different backgrounds, yet, in many classrooms, teachers are asking them to read the same book at the same level and time frame with the same comprehension. That seems to be a huge contradiction to what best practices tell educators to do.

After realizing that my practices created fake readers, I went to war with them and found that the following strategies will cause fake readers to eventually wave the white flag and surrender.

1.    Don’t summarize the assigned reading in class. If you recap everything they were supposed to read, why should they read?

2.    Give the students choice in what they read. Foster a love of reading by allowing students to choose something they are interested in and can connect to. My male students gobble up sports books. I can’t keep them stocked on the shelf, even poetry books like Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover.

3.    Teach the students to read actively and engage with the text. There are a lot of assumptions made about students when they enter the classroom. I know. I have made those same assumptions. By a certain grade, we assume they know how to read, comprehend and discuss literature. That is certainly not the case. There are so many fake readers out there that have learned how to play the game of school. Just ask Cris Tovani.  She writes, “Ever since I could read words, I’ve wanted to know what else a person had to do in order to make sense of a text.  I didn’t have a problem decoding.  I had a problem understanding.  I faked comprehension for years . . . I thought I was just born a bad reader.  It was a great relief to learn there was something I could do to improve my comprehension.” My favorite activities for making sure students engage with the text are text coding and the use of explicit textual evidence. You can’t fake read through those assignments.

4.    Model reading. We ask our students to read silently, and then we are off grading papers, responding to emails, printing papers, etc. By modeling reading, you can guarantee YOU are not the distraction. My students like to see what I am reading. It creates another avenue for discussion. Also, make sure you are reading young adult literature: books that the students are interested in and that you can recommend. I often read books that my students recommend to me. It makes them delighted to see that a teacher would listen to what they think.

5.    Observe your students. If you don’t watch your students read, you can’t identify your fake readers. There are a lot of simple observation forms you can use, or, if you are in a technology-based school, you can record your students on an iPad or GoPro. Teachers should look for lack of eye contact with the page, no page turning or excessive page turning, talking, fidgeting, etc.