Every school year spawns a new list of educational fads and jargon. This year I’ve heard a new term: accountable reading. I’m accountable for delivering my income taxes every April 15. I’m accountable for coming to a complete stop at every stop sign. And yet I had never thought of reading as having to be “accountable.” But as one school district official explained to me recently: “We don’t refer to independent reading. In our district, we’re all about accountable reading.”
To be fair, as independent reading reclaims its essential place in our classrooms, educators are concerned about how to monitor and document the independent reading their students are actually doing. How do we discern the difference between a kid who’s “lost in a book” and just plain lost?
And, of course, teachers have a responsibility to monitor, assess, and document their students’ independent reading. Knowing our students as readers is essential to our job as reading teachers—so thank goodness for the reading resources that make it easy to do just that; see Jennifer Serravallo’s Independent Reading Assessment and Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak’s Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop.
But dropping the independent in independent reading in favor of accountable to me would seem to diminish the spirit of real reading. At its heart, isn’t reading about the freedom to discover and craft one’s own rich and remarkable reading life? All students, within a classroom community of readers, work to find the authors, genres, topics, and themes that quicken their pulse and light their own boundless passion for reading. To paraphrase Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one bright and precious reading life?”
Consider the intriguing term, ludic reading. Coined by Victor Nell, author of Lost in a Book: The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure, it’s meant to capture the blissful engagement avid readers experience as they consume books for pleasure. Nancie Atwell calls this pleasurable state The Reading Zone; Penny Kittle writes of Book Love; and Scholastic President Dick Robinson, of The Reading Bill of Rights.
And then there’s Donalyn Miller, who whispers of wondrous reading possibilities as she works to awaken the inner reader in every child. Drawing from Donalyn’s classroom library of more than 2,000 titles (with more stacked outside in the hallway), her students regularly read more than 40 books in a school year and leave her classroom as accomplished readers with a love of books and “reading accountability” that runs deep.
Following Donalyn’s lead, don’t we want to lure our students into daily, voluminous, lost-in-a-book reading—and trust, with our help, that they’ll be swept away by the magnificence of a story? And moved to tears by the beauty of language? Or, as Victor Nell suggests “…acquire peace, become more powerful, feel braver and wiser in the ways of the world?” And by exercising their independent reading spirit, our students will pick up their next reading book—and their next and their next—the moment they finish their last.
This may well be a false dichotomy: passion and accountability are not mutually exclusive. By providing daily demonstrations of our own reading passion and inviting our students to share theirs we can do both—inspire passion and invite accountability. But by emphasizing accountability in our choice of words, might we not be sending a subtle message that, perhaps, reading isn’t so enjoyable after all?
Language is potent…every word counts. Just as we’re accountable for our students’ reading lives, we’re accountable for the language we choose to use… or as the literary critic and essayist Francine Prose recommends: “Put every word on trial for its life.” One word can change everything.
What do you think?