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Reading WITHOUT Meaning

I am a reader. I am passionate about reading and even more passionate about teaching
future readers to understand its power, complexity, and beauty.

It is magical to watch them as they turn the squiggles on the page (or screen) into joyous,
personal meaning.

That's what it's all about, right? Why we teach students about the squiggles on the pages,
the letters, the sounds, and the words they they can get to meaning?
Reading is a meaning-making process. Without meaning, what would be the point?

Yet, imagine what your life as a reader would be like, WITHOUT meaning:
You could read the words accurately, fluently, even with intonation and proper phrasing:

The wogglily thenk mired zurrely bire the herp.

You could describe/define attributes of those words:

 Is "woggily" a noun, verb, or adjective? (Hint: an adjective)
 What about "zurrely"?

You could answer questions about the words you read:

 What kind of thenk was it? (Hint: A woggily one, right?)
 How did the thenk mire the herp?
 Where was the thenk?

Even if you could do all of that really, really, really, really well....what would be the point, if
tconnect to, share, understand, relate to, compare, be impacted by, envision,
create, elaborate, explore, laugh at, cry over, question, become empowered by, be
motivated because of, write about, present, discover, reread, re-imagine, hold dear, hang
onto, or be forever changed because of those words!

Imagine what your life as a reader would be like without meaning?

Heartbreak at Home

"Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking
travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of
school and pursue your own education. Through characters - the saints and sinners, real
or imagined-reading shows you how to be a better human being." The Book Whisperer

Real readers get this. We read for the escape. We read to get lost, and read to be found.
We read to learn new things and discover what has not yet been considered. We read for
hope, for love, for inspiration. We read to sustain our beliefs, to vanquish our doubts, to
search for our dreams. We read because we need to believe in the impossible and know
that there is wonder in the world. We understand at the deepest level the power of books.
We have experienced the laughter, the tears, the enlightenment, the transformations, and
are forever changed by the process.

For the last two decades, I have spent my time making sure that as I teach students the
skills and strategies of reading, they leave my classroom knowing the elements that
make the work of reading worth it. Which makes the following conversation even more
difficult to share.

I sat across from my teenage son, watching him

"get through" his weekly reading assignment.
You know the one:
Monday: Vocabulary Work
Tuesday: Plot Structure- name the
characters, setting, three events...
Wednesday: Strategy Time - this week
star -" Inferring"
Thursday: 59 questions to answer
Friday: Ahhh - "The extension activity" Here's where it gets really exciting -
Create a new book cover? Make a poster of your favorite scene? Or, my all time
favorite - the shoe box diaramma!
As we worked together on his packet, I saw the hole that every filled-in blank, looked-up-
definition, and answer-given-to-someone-else's question had taken on him. It was
excruciating to watch. Reading was torture. He begged me to just help him "get it done."

His words pierced me:

"Mom, I hate reading. I did not want to tell you that, 'cause I know that it's your job and
reading is a big deal to you, but I really, really hate it. I dream of the day when I will never
have to do reading again. If I was on a desert island, I would rather die of starvation, than
read a book. And, if you think I am weird or something, you gotta know, all my friends feel
exactly the same way."

Son, unfortunately, I know.


To read is to empower
To empower is to write
To write is to influence
To Influence is to change
To change is to live.
~ Jane Evershed ~
More than a Tea Party

The “
P”word. Are we talking enough about this in reading instruction, in the research,
and most importantly to the students in our classrooms? Do they know about reading

If we have done our jobs right, they leave our classrooms understanding whatever she so
eloquently speaks of (emphasis mine):


By Katherine, Age 15

This year has given me a new

perspective on reading. Even
though I have always
struggled as a reader, I am
finally getting to understand the good things that reading gives me. I am no
longer focused on my insecurities, how fast I can read or what my "score" is. Our
focus and attention has been on the kind of books that we can read, and the way
I responded to them, and how we come together and share our thinking critically.

We have read some really, really hard books this year; having to figure out
complicated characters and what the aut
s’perspectives were on themes. This
work has made me realize that reading is more about talking than it is the words.
I now know that by listening to others thoughts, my learning increases. I have
become more confident in expressing what I think, even if it is different. It's been
great to argue, in a nice way of course.

I am really glad my teacher has made reading challenging, because it showed

me that it is not impossible for me. I do have the ability to get through a long,
hard book. I know that I have reading strategies to use to help me understand. I
have learned not to rush myself. I can do this work.

I think the most surprising thing that I have learned this year about reading is
what it has taught me about writing. From all the reading we have been doing, I
have discovered I really enjoy writing. As I read through my writing, it makes me
feel good about myself. I am so proud to see what I have come up with. I see my
words and know that they are my ideas and thoughts on paper. At times, I can't
even believe what I have written. With every finished piece, my writing improves,
and I want to make it even better, so I read. I have grown as both a reader and a
writer; showing me that reading gives me power.

Katherine reminds us that reading power does not lie in the mechanics of the work. The
power of reading lies in the way reader interact with the words, speaks of those words,
and expresses their thoughts, ideas, and understandings to others because of those
Reading has no power without a readers and teachers who get this.

Reading Poverty

If the riches of the Indies, or the crowns of all the kingdom of Europe,
were laid at my feet in exchange for my love of reading,
I would spurn them all.
~ Francois FéNelon~
Poor are the readers who do not know of this love.
Poor are the students who sit before us starved for
Poor are the students fed a bland diet of narrow
reading experiences.
Poor are the readers given sparse access to new
texts, forms and literacies.
Poor are the readers who come into our classrooms
hungry for knowledge, and leave unfulfilled and
Poor are the readers who chose to give up on the
power literacy affords them by never picking up a
book again.

Reading without meaning provides no nutrition for the mind, body or soul. We have a
responsibility to bring meaning back, providing students with the rich literacy experiences
they will need in order to leave our classrooms powerful readers, writers, and

Bringing Meaning back requires the following:

Close Examination of Our Reading Goals: Our vision statements promise lifelong
reading, our bulletin boards say "reading is fundamental", and we claim reading
excellence. But, how do we define excellence? Is it speed? Accuracy? Questions
answered on the test? We lose our way when we fail to describe and recognize the true
signs of reading excellence - passion, endurance, curiosity, adaptability, stamina,
strategy, and imagination.

Do As Real Readers Do: If schools are serious about their promise of creating life long
readers who can handle themselves in the real world, we must be equally serious about
aligning classroom practices with the work and behaviors of real readers in that world;
asking ourselves: Would this be something that REAL readers would do? If the answer is
no, then we should not ask our readers to engage either. This sideshow is a glimpse of
REAL READERS in action, and can provide a head start to the conversations!
Share OUR Reading Lives with Students. Let students know why you read, what you
read,and how you read. Reveal your habits, your passions, your joys and challenges. Be
the first to answer and the proudest to model how reading has changed your life. Here is
a GREAT example from my friend, Vicki Davis: Reading to Improve Your Life. I love
using this video from Barnes and Noble to get me thinking about WHY I READ?
Demonstrate "Their Brain on Reading"- Reading makes your brain smarter, stronger, and
more able to handle the world. Chris Hale's brilliant video explains how neuroscience
confirms this.

Let Them Read! Remember what Dr. Seuss taught us? The more you read, the more you
know, the more you know, the more places you will go! Students do not need more
worksheets, more skills,or more silly "activities". They need MORE BOOKS, (ones they
like and can read), and MORE TIME to read those books, and more opportunities TO
SHARE WHAT THEY READ with other readers. So, please, please, please...listen to the
doctors, and let them read!

WRITE! - Reading and writing are inseparable acts of literacy. Readers and writers need
one another. When we teach students to read with the writer in mind, and write with the
reader in mind, they see the connection and want to get better at both!

Pass the Test that Matters Most: Every school year I ask my students two questions
about reading: What is reading? Who is the best reader you know and why? Their
poignant, honest answers tell me what I need to teach, and ultimately let me know if my
instruction made a difference. When they leave my classroom understanding that reading
is power, then, and only then, will I have done my job.

Rich reading instruction and experience does not come from buying a program, or
following a script. The lessons that matter most come from a teachers heart. Teachers
can eradicate reading poverty by bringing meaning back into the process and creating
experiences that will stay with students for the rest of their lives. The riches of their future
lie in our hands. What kind of reader will leave your classroom?

Are you reading with or without meaning? Your students?

Angela Maiers