Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Developing a Relationship with Words #SOL18
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Slice of Life: Developing a Relationship with Words #SOL18

I ring the “attention chime” to signal a transition.  The students stop, look and listen.  I address the group of first graders, “Readers, please put away your materials and join me on the rug.”  As the word, readers, leaves my lips, I notice about twelve students turn around to look behind themselves.  While intrigued, I decide to ignore it and focus on the transition.

As the students gather together on the rug, I begin my lesson. “Readers, today we are going to meet a character who will get us talking.”

A hand goes up.  I signal to the student to lower his hand and continue with my lesson.

“Readers, this character will make you…”

“Why do you keep calling us that?” he interjects.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“You keep calling us readers, why do you do that?” 

I pause, pondering my next move. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, most of us aren’t readers.  We don’t even like it.  So, it doesn’t make sense for you to call us that.”


I am at a loss for words.  How can a group of six-year-olds already decide they are not readers?  Do they understand what they are missing?  How will they find their place in the world?  How will the connect to the universal themes of humanity without reading?  How will they spark their curiosity and the love of learning?


Not a week goes by when we don’t have an encounter like this.  It might be with one student or a small group, but we are hearing this message more often than we would like to acknowledge.  We are asked by schools to model lessons, plan curriculum, and demonstrate how to use assessment data to inform instruction.  While these are all important, none matter if the students are not engaging in reading.

There is no perfect lesson, scope and sequence, or intervention model to inspire lifelong reading.  It cannot be packaged as a unit of study and there are no benchmarks or standards to measure. We do believe, however, it must be a priority to help every student develop a reading identity.  We need to share our reading life with our students and take time to talk with our students about their reading lives.  We must slow down and connect with our students so we can connect them to books.  There are many paths on the journey to lifelong reading and our students need us to show them the way.  It really is the most important work we do as teachers.

I have not been able to get this most recent “we are not readers” encounter out of my mind.  It has been sitting heavy on my heart all week.  Then I saw this interview of Jason Reynolds by Trevor Noah:

I replayed the last line of the interview again and again.  

“… once you realize your life is dependent upon your relationship with words.”

                                                                                                                        Jason Reynolds

These words. Every classroom.  Every child.   Every day.


  • Avatar
    Michelle Haseltine
    Posted at 10:44h, 30 January Reply

    “We are not readers.” When the six-year-old said that, it took my breath away! I call my middle schoolers readers and writers every day. We’ve had that discussion. Every day I call them that. Every day we read and we write. Every day! LOVE the interview with Jason Reynolds too!

  • Avatar
    Lisa Corbett
    Posted at 11:44h, 30 January Reply

    It makes me sad. But for a 6 year old, there is still hope. Actually, for everyone there is hope! Where would I be without that?

  • Avatar
    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 11:49h, 30 January Reply

    I love calling students readers and writers when I am in classrooms teaching. I’m going to pay more attention to their interpretations–mostly they like to be called writers, and I’m sure there are some kids who are like–why are you calling me that? Great reminders, Clare! We have to get students to be passionate about words and not about standards.

    Hope all is well.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 13:53h, 30 January Reply

    I, too, love using readers and writers and I do so deliberately with teachers. This makes me angry . . . that 6 year olds already have a “negative identity” / perspective of themselves as readers. The power of YET! Maybe they can’t do everything YET, but I’m sure I could find a list of things that they CAN do!

    Always room to GROW! <3

  • Avatar
    Dawn Sherriff
    Posted at 19:32h, 30 January Reply

    Now THAT is the THE TRUTH! “We need to share our reading life with our students and take time to talk with our students about their reading lives. We must slow down and connect with our students so we can connect them to books.” We must continue to spread the message that even with unit driven curriculum, it is our responsibility to know the children – readers, writers, thinkers – FIRST! Thanks for sharing!

  • Avatar
    Catherine Flynn
    Posted at 04:08h, 31 January Reply

    This post is a potent reminder of the power of our words. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • Avatar
    Lee Ann
    Posted at 08:43h, 31 January Reply

    I love that interview. Your slice has me thinking about language and relationship. I’m enjoying thinking about it–I included some of what your piece prompted below. Thank you!

    When do we use labels instead of names? How does our define kids or point out their strengths (or limitations)? When is our language validating or challenging to their own identity concepts?
    When are our definitions of them (say as readers) positive and future thinking? When, why or how could kids write those positive identities out of their lives.

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