Literacy expert Sharon Callen talks about the habits and behaviours of good readers, and how to harness them in the classroom.
In Episode 3 of The Teachers Toolkit for Literacy, Sharon said establishing good habits and behaviours ensures that reading is accessible for all children.
This doesn’t require an expensive education program, but rather the right environment, strategies and time.
“Building a habit means that we dedicate time every day and we create a culture and an environment where we can build that habit for children,” Sharon said.
“It’s something we don’t need to spend a whole lot of money on for a program. It’s something that we can do just by knowing what to do, and also using our rich resource of our classroom library.”
Sharon identified five key reading habits and behaviours displayed by good readers, with the first being to read a lot of ‘just right’ books.
“If we want to become stronger and better at reading, it’s like anything else – the more we do of it, the more success we have,” Sharon explained.
“Sometimes we do fall into the trap of thinking when a child isn’t a good reader that we need to do lots of work with them on reading components. But we actually want readers to know that being a good reader is reading books. It’s knowing how to read full texts and continuous texts. It isn’t learning how to just read little bits and pieces of things or learning how to read some words.
“Good readers are reading continuous text. They are choosing texts that are right for them that allow them to read with understanding and allow them to read accurately and with fluency … that’s the goal of reading, not what level the book is.”
But engaging in constant reading requires motivation and a growth mindset, which is reflective of the second important reading habit.
“Any of us who continue with habits know that we need to be motivated to continue it. We need to have interest. We need to feel confident. And we need to be dedicated to it,” Sharon said.
A key classroom practice towards inspiring children’s commitment to reading is for the enabling adult to read aloud.
“Reading aloud … these are the texts that they (students) can’t necessarily read for themselves. So, it’s a big way to expand that world of reading,” Sharon said.
“They’re the ones that are going to open up all kinds of doors – different genres, different authors, different worlds of information, different concepts that we haven’t come across.”
Another strategy is to implement a ‘Good Reader Anchor Chart’, which provides a powerful and effective reference of good reading actions.
“Anchoring a habit somewhere on a good reader chart lets children know what kinds of behaviours are successful things to be practising. It also reminds us as teachers to remind children to use that strategy,” Sharon said.
“In the conferring, you really can get to each child and help them with those anchored strategies and which ones they need to go further with. It lets them show us how they are growing as a reader. The most powerful teaching can be in the moment with that one child or a small group.
“It’s building a growth mindset because every child’s got the entry point into it. And they’re understanding that the action that they’re taking is the action of a good reader. It’s motivating, it’s building habits. It’s giving them practice and it’s really building interest in what they’re doing as readers.”
Harnessing this passion and motivation will then lead to active and problem-solving readers, who draw on a wide range of strategies whilst reading.
“They’re not just letting things happen to them and letting these words just go past their eyeballs. This is about being an active thinker, being a questioner,” Sharon said.
Sharon elaborated on the different types of problem-solving strategies good readers will use, including methods to improve fluency and comprehension.
“There are strategies to monitor our own reading to say ‘did that sound right? Did that actually make sense?’ And then we want to have strategies to correct those things, so that they will self-regulate,” she said.
“We also want some strategies for adjusting our fluency. So, what are we doing with reading? Are we reading the punctuation, reading over punctuation or are we phrasing it in a way that gives us the meaning? Are we reading so fast that we’re not having a sense of what it is that we’ve just read? Or do we give characters voices as we’re reading?
“We would also have specific comprehending-the-text strategies. So things like, ‘can we see this in our minds?’ Because text requires us to be able to picture what the author is saying, as not everything is drawn out for us. So visualising, predicting, questioning … good readers are questioning all the time as they listen to or read text.”
The next behaviour is to respond to feedback. This includes teachers understanding the needs of their readers, and whether they need to provide further practice, consolidate a behaviour or teach a new one.
“It’s about finding out what students are doing as they read. So conferring with readers and listening to them read, seeing what they’re doing as they read, and to even be able to say ‘when this happens in your reading, this is what we can do’. So, we can introduce them to a new behaviour on the spot,” Sharon said.
“We can get them responding to that new teaching, get them to practise it there, and then take that into their independent reading as a strategy to practise.”
Finally, Sharon continued to recommend the most under-utilised comprehension strategy available to teachers and students – talking about reading.
“I don’t want to just have children waiting for me to give them feedback and guidance around what next. I want them to be able to share with others what they’re doing as readers. I want them to be able to talk to others,” Sharon said.
“We want children talking about the behaviours and strategies that they’re using, but we also want them talking about the books that they’re reading, because that’s the joy of reading. That’s the ‘what have we learned from this book? What have we discovered?’ aspect.
“So if I can build in some guaranteed, habitual times for talk, then I’m really getting to bring in a really strong strategy.”