A Healthy Reading Life for All

It occurred to me that maybe my students don’t really understand why we talk about books all of the time, or what it looks like to be a mature reader. That while I’ve focused on the fact that they should read, set goals, and have a next reads list, maybe we haven’t discussed what all of those pieces add up to be. That all of our goals, conferences, independent reading time, and book talks should help support, encourage, and result in each student having a healthy reading life.

So we talked about it.

Last week, the grade nines brainstormed answers to the question What does a healthy reading life look like?



They came up with what I think is a well-rounded picture of what a mature reader does.

They recognized that a healthy reader should be able to pick out a book independently, but also ask for and welcome recommendations from others.

They noticed that a mature reader should put in effort, but enjoy the process.

They talked about setting aside time to read, or making a plan, but also reading in a more impromptu setting as well.

They realized that it’s important to be able to have thoughtful discourse about a book, but also to form their own opinions and not automatically agree with the author or other readers and reviewers.

These grade nines had insightful ideas about what it means to be a healthy reader.

None of them said that they should read in their text level band, and I’m kind of proud of them for that.

Yes, I certainly agree that it’s important to read at grade-level. Students will feel less frustration and more confidence with accessing all kinds of text if they are reading at or above grade level, but they recognized that being a healthy reader is so much more than that. They did agree that we should add it to the list of habits and traits, though, and that it is important.

What would your students answer, if asked the same question? Would they add or value traits and habits other than the ones my students listed?

I think it’s an insightful topic for a class discussion. Students are reflective and thoughtful, and the teacher gets a glimpse into the thinking and judgements students have made regarding making reading a habit.

So I took their ideas about habits and traits of good readers and made a more consolidated list. I combined some of the ideas that were overlapping and I added the list of classroom agreements that we made in the fall. (I’ve mentioned these before in previous posts: Read at least two hours per week. Read to understand. Choose a book you want to read. Have a “books I want to read next” list. Drop books you don’t like. Save books for later. – Found in Book Love.)

Then I tried to organize and categorize the list. I thought I’d make an anchor chart out of the ideas so we could post it as a reminder of what we are all trying to do.


I started with a rough draft on a piece of printer paper, and quickly realized that my artistic abilities were going to limit me. So I’ll go digital. And I’ll do it later.


I also had the idea that perhaps I could categorize my students’ ideas according to our school’s student profile. It has six components:

  • Respect and Integrity
  • Global Awareness
  • Reflective Thinking
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creators and Innovators
  • Communicators and Collaborators

This idea was a little more successful for me than the handwritten anchor chart. All of the habits and traits that the grade nines decided were important components to a healthy reading life fit into at least one of the six categories.


Since the students are all familiar with our school’s student profile, I think this is a particularly effective way to organize the list. But I don’t think it necessarily has to be categorized. It just helped my thinking, and I think will help my students.

With the help of one of our fearless technology teachers, it was turned into a self-reflection sheet (and I cross-walked their list of habits and traits with Common Core State Standards). Most of my students have used this new Profile of a Student with a Healthy Reading Life handout to reflect individually, and I’ve conferred with a few of them now, using the list and their input as a starting point for the conversation.


Here’s part of the latest draft – it still needs a lot of refining, but it’s also already a useful document.

I’ve let the students take the lead, talking to me about particular habits or traits that are important to them.

One of my grade elevens was pleasantly surprised when she realized that she’s really good at reading globally. She hadn’t realized that it was something to strive for and to be proud of.

Another grade eleven student noticed that he wasn’t learning much new vocabulary with his reading as of late, and reflected that he was probably not challenging himself enough. He decided to try something from the classics section of the library, but what was powerful about the decision was that he came to that conclusion on his own after some honest and deliberate self-reflection.

It will be a great tool for students to demonstrate their growth from the beginning of the semester to the end, and as a conversation to have with parents during parent-teacher conferences this spring.

It’s a snapshot of a student’s reading life. The ideas came from students, so they have buy-in and absolutely see the value in it.

I’m guessing that when asked, other students in other parts of the world will come up with different ideas and verbiage, but that the big picture will still be similar. I’d love to hear what other classes come up with.


Follow Julie on Twitter: @SwinehartJulie




Author: adventuresinhighschoolworkshop

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, four in Amman, Jordan, and is currently in her second year teaching in Managua, Nicaragua.

4 thoughts on “A Healthy Reading Life for All”

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