What You Can Do Right Now: Learn About Your Students Reading Identities

Last Friday, I shared with you the theoretical concept of identity and reading identities. Today, I want to talk to you about how you can get to know your students’ reading identities.

Why Should You Learn About Reading Identities?

How students identify themselves as readers shapes their interactions with how they read and write in your classroom. Remember Alisa? Alisa thought she was a poor reader who had little to contibute to the lab projects she needed to complete with her group. Her negative reading identity guided her to limit her interactions with texts in class because she thought she had nothing to offer, and she believed she was powerless to change the situation.

Keep in mind that a student’s reading identity does not necessaerily have anything to do with her/his reading level. A student could read below grade level, but self-identify as a good reader. Conversely, a student could read on or above grade level and identify as a poor one. Students who self-identify as poor readers, regardless of their assessed reading level, are likely to limit their interactions with texts and may not always apply skills and strategies in the ways you would like. Students who self-identify as good readers, regardless of their assessed reading level, are likely to be more engaged with texts and be very mindful of how they apply the skills and strategies you have been teaching them.

Of course, this opens up the door to talking about reading levels and the problems they can create – but we’ll save that for another time.

In short, you want to learn about your students’ reading identities so you can better understand why they do or don’t do things in the classroom. Ultimately, you want to help them reshape their reading identities, and we will be getting to that in a future post.

It’s so simple. You ask them. I created a document that provides sample questions for you. You can use some or all of these and add to it as you wish. A few things to note:

  • Notice I don’t use the word identity with students. I don’t think it’s necessary, and it might actually be more confusing than helpful. They will know how to describe themselves as readers, and the word describe seems to get at their identity just fine!
  • I think the first two questions are the most critical for understanding your students reading identities. The rest can give you some depth about their overall reading practices and thoughts on reading.

What to do with the Information

For now, look over your questionnaires and see how your students classify themselves and why. Once you have this information, I’ll be going more in-depth about what to do with it in your instruction.