by Dr. Jennifer Scoggin and Hannah Schneewind
Over the course of our careers, we have always found reflection a valuable tool in our efforts to match our beliefs to our actions. As young, idealistic, energetic first year teachers, we would often stand in our empty classrooms at the end of the day and reflect on each part of the day. After a particularly challenging day, our reflections included questions such as: “How did I react in the moment when things went awry? How do I want to handle those moments? What can I do differently tomorrow?” After a particularly successful day, our questions shifted to: “What did I do that worked today? How can I do that again tomorrow?” As classroom teachers and now as consultants, regardless of how the day goes, our reflective work centers around three key questions of identity:
Who am I as a teacher?
Who do I want to be as a teacher?
How do I get there?
Our identities as teachers and learners play a powerful role in how we define (and redefine) ourselves in our work and in the world. Our identities are influenced and shaped in part by those with whom we surround ourselves as well as our school and classroom environments. Our sense of identity guides us to make decisions, to evaluate those decisions and to grow. Our process of becoming the teachers we are today (and the teachers we hope to be tomorrow) is a continuous process of discovery and creation.
We invite you to take a moment and reflect on your teaching identity. Think about who you are as a teacher, who you want to be as a teacher and how you are working on getting there.
Let’s move from thinking about ourselves to thinking about the students in our classrooms. It stands to reason that if our identities as teachers play a key role in our decision making, goals and sense of self-efficacy, the identities of our students must also have a profound impact on their decision making, goals and sense of self-efficacy as readers.
Our readers walk through our doors with literate lives that began before their formal schooling. They have reading identities that are actively developing. Readers’ identities refer to their understanding of what it means to be a particular type of reader, the value they place on reading and how capable students feel as they work to comprehend texts, the value they place on reading (Hall, 2012). A positive sense of reading identity can inspire more joyful independent reading (Ripp, 2020). How students learn and how flexibly and confidently students use a range of strategies is influenced both by how they view themselves as readers as well as how they want to be identified by others in the classroom (Hall, 2012, Hall 2010). Research on students’ academic self-concept delves further into the role of perceptions of competence and difficulty and reveals the ways in which these components are shaped significantly during elementary school (Chapman and Tunmer, 1995).
Reflecting on all of this research and our own experiences, we realized that we wanted to become the kinds of teachers who observe and uncover students’ reading identities and who also are able to talk to students about and nurture their identities. We knew that to get there, we would need more concrete ideas to pursue and a more nuanced working definition to help us name just what we are talking about when we refer to “reading identity.” How did we decide to get there? By turning to students themselves and asking them to tell us more about themselves as readers.
Over the course of hundreds of reading conferences with students from kindergarten through fifth grade, we listened as students told us the story of their identities as readers. Using prompts such as “Tell me about yourself as a reader,” and “Who are you as a reader?” to initiate the conversation, we received every response imaginable from shrugs to detailed recounts of a student’s history with the written word. Over time, we began to notice patterns in students’ responses. We took the words of students and categorized them to develop the a working definition of reading identity.
We define a students’ reading identity as comprised of five aspects: attitude, self-efficacy, habits, book choice and process. Below is a chart that briefly defines each aspect.
A Working Definition of Reading Identity
|Aspect||Description||Examples of what students said|
|Attitude||A student’s attitude toward reading may be positive or negative.||“Reading takes me to different places.”“Sometimes, reading is boring.”“I love reading! I read all the time!”|
|Self-efficacy||A student’s sense of self-efficacy encompasses how confident they feel in their own abilities.||“I’m really good at predicting what is going to happen next.”“I’m bad at reading long books.”“I’m good at remembering everything I learned in a nonfiction book.”|
|Habits||Where, how long and with whom the student reads both in and outside of school.||“I read at school mostly; at home, I mostly play video games.”“I find the quietest place in my house to read. Sometimes I have to move around until I find a quiet place.”“My older sister reads to me every night.”|
|Book choice||What a student considers when choosing books, such as genre, topic, book length or recommendations.||“I like mysteries and fantasy books.”“I chose this book because the librarian recommended it to me and I love astronauts.”“I look at the back to see if the book interests me.”“I flip through the book. If it is too long, I put it back.”|
|Process||Process is the work a student does independently to solve words, read fluently, and comprehend.||“I feel sad about the main character’s fight with her best friend.”“When I get to a word I don’t know, I just skip it and keep going.”“I read with gusto. People like to listen to me read.”|
Reading identity is not fixed, but fluid and dynamic. As the school year evolves, so might a student’s reading identity. For example, the child who started the year feeling confused when they read chapter books ends the year with multiple strategies for tracking plot. The child who picked only nonfiction books in the beginning falls in love with fantasy.
As literacy educators, we believe that one of our roles is to uncover the reading identity of our students. We combine what we learn about them as readers with what we know about skills and strategies in order to create relevant, engaging and transferable reading instruction for each child. Our role is to uncover, reinforce, expand, and in some cases reframe all aspects of students’ reading identities, with the goal of boosting their motivation and, therefore, their success.
So how do these beliefs and understandings of reading identity transfer to the classroom? To begin incorporating reading identity as a centerpiece of our instruction, we can introduce students to this concept during a whole class inquiry. As we discuss who we are as readers, we can invite students to think about their identities during these whole class conversations. During independent reading, we can hold individual conferences, which we call Discovery Conferences (Scoggin and Schneewind, 2021), in which we prompt the student to reflect on and share aspects of their reading identity. Finally, we can pick read alouds that encourage conversations about reading identity, such as how students feel about themselves as readers and what makes them feel connected to a book.
Whether we are in person or virtual, nurturing students’ reading identities is a key component for successful, joyful instruction as well as the development of lifelong readers. As a teacher recently reflected after collaborating with us to host Discovery Conferences, “I learned more about these students in five minutes of those conferences than I have the entire year.” When we invite students to reflect on how they construct themselves as readers, we give them the space to reveal insights that we can leverage into powerful possibilities for instruction.
Chapman, J. and Tunmer, W. (1995). Development of Young Children’s Reading Self-Concepts: An Examination of Emerging Subcomponents and TheirRelationship With Reading Achievement. Journal in Educational Psychology, 87(1), 154-167.
Hall, L.A. (2012). The Role of Reading Identities and Reading Abilities in Students’ Discussions About Texts and Comprehension Strategies, Journal of Literacy Research, 44(3), 239-272.
Hall, L.A. (2010). The Negative Consequences of Becoming a Good Reader: Identity Theory as a Lens for Understanding Struggling Readers, Teachers, and Reading Instruction. Teachers College Record, 112(7), 1792-1829.
Ripp, Pernille (2018). Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. Routledge: New York, NY.
Scoggin, J. and Schneewind, H. (2021). Trusting Readers: Powerful Practices for Independent Reading. Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH
Dr. Jennifer Scoggin has been a teacher, author, speaker, curriculum writer, and literacy consultant. Jennifer’s interest in the evolving identities of both students and teachers and her growing obsession with children’s literature led her to and informs her work.
Hannah Schneewind has been a teacher, staff developer, curriculum writer, keynote speaker and national literacy consultant. She brings with her over 25 years of experience to the education world. Hannah’s interest in student and teacher agency and her belief in the power of books informs her work with schools.
Together, Jen and Hannah are the co-creators of Trusting Readers (@TrustingReaders), a group dedicated to collaborating with teachers to design high quality literacy opportunities that invite all students to be engaged and to thrive as readers and writers.