Blog Series

Honoring Authentic Reading

by Bill Bass on Feb 6, 2019

Bill Bass

Part Two of Two


I remember when I first heard the phrase “reflective practitioner” as it related to my work as a teacher. I don’t remember exactly where I was or which one of the many models of reflective practice were being discussed. Truly, I don’t remember the speaker. What I do remember was the connection and feeling I had when I heard it. At that moment, as a young educator, I saw myself differently. It wasn’t that I was changing what I was doing in my classroom, it just gave me the language to understand what it was that I was doing; constantly considering what worked and what didn’t and continuously thinking about which kids I reached and what I was going to do about those I didn’t.

As I look back on that moment, I also recognized that for me to continue to reach ALL of my students, I was really going to have to consider how to engage them in work that was meaningful to them, not just me. Thus, began my quest for authentic learning experiences in the classroom and giving students choice.

In today’s world, digital content is quickly and easily accessible and can be found on devices many of us carry with us wherever we go. However, that reading isn’t what we, as educators, often see as “real reading,” yet this type of reading is authentic to the world we live in. It’s part of our everyday lives and, if we are being honest, it’s also a skill we should probably spend some time honing. We skim, we watch, we interact, but that may seem superficial because we don’t go very deep. Could that be an opportunity? I tend to think so.

There is no singular right way to bring authentic reading experiences into the classroom, however, I would offer some starting points:

  • Provide choice—Let students choose texts that matter to them and let them explore their reading lives. That doesn’t mean they have free range all the time and you still need to develop strategies with them to improve as readers, but providing choice keeps the excitement of reading going. Maybe that means they abandon a book if they don’t connect with it. Maybe it means they have some choice from a specific selection. Regardless, choice can be a motivator. LANGUAGE!® Live, Voyager Sopris Learning’s literacy intervention program for middle and high school students, gives teachers and students a range of choices, from articles and essays, videos, short conversations, and snippets from different text types. The program’s variety of content replicates what students encounter in today’s world.
  • Honor the reading they do outside the classroom—This relates to choice. Often, we unintentionally diminish the reading students do outside of school because it may not seem to move them forward as readers. However, the reading they choose to do on their own time is as important as the reading they feel obligated to do in schools. They will not become readers in the long run if they feel like their reading is dictated for them.
  • Celebrate reading in all its forms—Previously, I wrote about knowing your students as readers. Celebrating and sharing the reading students do in all subject areas, in and out of school can go a long way to encouraging students to know themselves as readers. The more they know and see themselves as readers, the more apt they are to continue to expand their reading skills. This could be as simple as a class meeting inviting students to share what they read and why they are excited about it.
  • Expand the definition of reading—We are a visual culture that uses multiple modes of communication. With so much digital, multimodal content, we need to start thinking about how we define reading. For instance, how do you “read” a YouTube video? Some will argue you don’t. However, if we want to get beyond video as edutainment, we must address the skills needed to do a “deep reading” on a video just as we do traditional texts.

There are multiple ways to bring authentic reading experiences into the classroom and this is certainly not an exhaustive list. But it remains as important today as it did years ago that we remain reflective practitioners and respond to the changes in technology and digital content as well as the trends of our society. Being literate in the digital age requires us to reflect and respond based on the needs of our students and take into account their realities.

Bill Bass, innovation coordinator for instructional technology, information and library media for the Parkway School District in St. Louis, MO, currently serves as the president of the board of directors for ISTE.   

During his more than 20-year career in education, he also has held positions as a middle and high school English teacher, technology integration specialist, instructional coach, and educational consultant. As a speaker, writer, and professional developer, he focuses on systemic and sustainable integration of technology into classrooms at all grade levels and seeks to empower students and teachers with authentic learning experiences.
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