Reading: Not a Spectator Sport

Posted on: 04/14/2015 Back to all blog posts

Guest Blog

Reading is not a spectator sport: students must be actively engaged.

By Steve Loe, school principal and author.

In my novel The Glimpsing Book, published by Royal Fireworks Press, one of the main characters, Henrietta, reflects:

The reader cannot just read words without truly thinking about them. It would be like eating without digesting. True reading is very active. A reader brings his or her own story to the author’s story. What a combination that makes! Millions of combinations! Reading is definitely not a spectator sport.

The phrase “eating without digesting” came from a classroom experience several years ago while I was teaching language arts to juniors in high school. I explained to the class—during a very unsuccessful discussion of a novel we had just read—that reading without discussion or reflection is like eating without digesting. I will never forget the response of one of the students, “Well, I guess I’m a reading bulimic then.”

Although I did not appreciate the student making light of a serious illness, he was right. He understood that he only decoded the words in the novel. No true comprehension. No reflection. No digestion.

In Dr. Kenneth A. Lane’s blog, posted September 2014, Learning to read: why is it difficult for some otherwise gifted children?, states an important fact: “First, we have to realize that reading is the most difficult neurology process we will have to learn.”

Teaching reading is an arduous task. I was fortunate to be a part of the Comanche Elementary School staff for three years. This staff knew how to coach students to be good readers. Before Comanche, all of my years in education were at the secondary level. In my language arts classroom, I did not teach reading. I taught literature. I assumed students knew how to read the literature we tackled, and for some students, that assumption was true. But for others it was not. Comanche had a dedicated and knowledgeable reading department and classroom teachers who understood that building good readers was a process. Data-driven, the staff assessed each student’s reading level, using information on each student’s area of need (i.e. was it a decoding issue or fluency issue, etc.). Then the staff prescribed, implemented, and monitored specific interventions to help that student with his or her area of need. This worked extremely well. One year a particular grade level began in August with 56% of students tested as intensive readers (significantly below grade level). By May only 1% of students remained in that category.

As high school teachers in the language arts classroom, we cannot forget that many of our students need to be coached on how to attack a short story, poem, or novel. In fact, high school teachers across the various curricula must understand that many of their students need coaching in literacy skills. We cannot always assume that students know how to annotate text, take good notes, and digest the material. Currently, our high school staff is in the process of building a united, school-wide front of making better readers in all content areas.

Teaching sound literacy skills will not only create successful language arts students, but it will create successful science, social studies, and math students, and it will create successful employees in all industries.

Reading is not a spectator sport. Students must be actively engaged in this activity. High school teachers need to understand that teaching and coaching the fundamentals on a daily basis—like a coach does in daily basketball practices—is crucial to better game-day results—no matter the form these “game-day” performances appear. Literacy skills will improve the five-paragraph essay based on a response to literature, a timed essay response in social studies, a final research report over a science lab, or a calculus chapter test filled with word problems.



Steve Loe has worked as an English teacher, associate principal, and principal. In 2014 he was appointed principal in the Shawnee Mission School District, KS. His first novel, The Glimpsing Book, was published by Royal Fireworks Press in March this year.

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