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Can Struggling Readers be Avid Readers?


Struggling readers are readers who are able to read some things, but struggle with others. They only struggle when they are “put” into books that are too hard for them or that are not interesting to them. They don’t struggle when they are reading self-selected books at their own pace and reading for their own purposes.

When they are pushed into books that are too difficult for them, they struggle.  When they are bored or disinterested in the material, they struggle. When they are encountering too many unfamiliar words or unfamiliar sentence structures, they struggle. When they are made to read too long, or they are expected to read instead of doing something they would find more engaging, they struggle. 

Effectively, struggling readers tend to be victims of well-intentioned efforts to push them into reading books they are not ready for.

If a child is “behind” it means in comparison with others. So long as reading is treated as a race, a competition, we will have struggling readers. So long as we have “lockstep” curriculum (exactly 180 days where they all are required to read the same kinds of things, chosen by others) a significant portion of the children will struggle. We parents and teachers do that to them. 

Provide them with abundant books that will include topics and genres from which they can select those that appeal to them, they start reading voluntarily. Encourage them to read what they love and provide time every day to read and pretty soon, you’ll have children who fuss not about reading but about being asked to stop reading. 

When that happens they are well along to becoming avid readers. Avid readers are lifelong readers. Lifelong readers are lifelong learners. Lifelong learners are never behind. They are always progressing. 


Photo from Enjoy this and other blogs dedicated to better serving struggling readers. 

So, how does Avid reading begin?

Like everything we learn to do, it begins with demonstrations of both the why and the how of reading by someone the child knows. When children see parents read for personal enjoyment, or to gather empowering information, they will grow into seeing themselves as becoming readers too…readers who extend their personal agendas through books and print.

Little ones may say, “I don’t know how to read.” If we simply reply, “Well watch me. I’ll show you how I read,” our kids are already on the path to joyful literacy. Parents don’t need to do anything fancy. Just doing the obvious by simply pointing to the words as they read them aloud, or by repeating a sentence or phrase and inviting the child to read along with them works wonders. Most small children will join in without hesitation. THAT kind of courage ’s why very early childhood is the most important time for language and literacy development. Being read to, being invited to read along, or being welcomed into a discussion of what a book makes us think of are demonstrations that contribute to the beginnings of Avid reading.

Reading with children every day from birth onwards, and simply answering their questions about how we know what to say, all but assures that youngsters will become readers. If parents do only that, they can be confident that their babies will flourish in reading and become successful as lifelong readers and learners.


May Day! Those smells in the air of freshly mowed grass or of the chlorine in swimming pools. The sounds of baseball bats colliding with the pitched ball or the bell on the ice cream vendor’s truck. These signal the coming end of the regular school year.

At the beginning of summer, Avid readers can be seen effectively rubbing their hands together about all of the books they’ll enjoy over the long summer break. The impact of those books, the funny and poignant and delightfully terrifying fare of free and voluntary reading material will, with no apparent effort on the part of the kids, give them a significant boost in their reading achievement in the time off from school.

May Day! is also a distress call when a ship is sinking.

Disengaged readers (see the diagram in my blog from a few days ago) are gearing up for different kinds of fun for summer. That fun, which predictably includes little reading if any, is likely to be memorable and a delight, but it will be accompanied by  an actual dropping back a few months in their reading achievement compared to the beginning of the summer.

The differences between these two reader groups could represent an up to six months difference in reading achievement “growth” by the end of the summer between kids who love to read in their spare time and kids who don’t.

It’s way harder to teach our way out of that gap for middle schoolers than it is to teach the youngest kids to love books and to value reading in their lives. If that gets done, the gap never occurs.

Avid Readers succeed in school and in life. It’s that simple. 

How might we ensure that children all become Avid Readers? 

Watch this space!

The path to becoming an Avid Reader is not linear. Teaching kids to read without teaching them the love of books and the value of reading is a wasted endeavor. It results in possibly capable, but utterly disengaged readers. Engagement and lifetime learning are the point of literacy, not merely achievement. Click the diagram for a closer look.

Why not “Well Read?”

 Bookworm – Nerd – “She’s kind of …you know…bookish”

 “It’s such a nice day. Why don’t you go outside and play with your friends?”

 Think for a moment about these things that are commonly said about (and even to) avid readers.

 Now consider what is also known about the effect that avid reading has on the readers themselves. For example:

  • Reading early in life is a reliable predictor of later avid reading
  • Avid readers are either good readers or on their way to getting good
  • Avid readers read as much as a million more words a year outside of school than reluctant readers do.
  • Rich words are found much more frequently in reading material than in conversation, even among professionals.
  • Avid readers access that richness to fuel their own development
  • Avid reading increases comprehension ability.
  • Avid reading improves writing ability 
  • Reading a lot actually makes people more verbally intelligent.

I’d like to use this posting to kick-off a conversation here about Avid Readers, what way down deep we really want for our children in literacy development, and why so many kids don’t actually become “Well read.”

Please join me with your own ideas, stories and experiences.If it’s good for he kids, it’s worth the time.

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