Best of Frank Serafini: Developing Proficient Readers

In order to establish routines and instructional approaches in the Reading Workshop, you have to begin by conceptualizing the types of readers you want to create and support. Obviously, we want readers that can decode text, but our preferred vision for our young readers must go well beyond that simple ability. I want to develop and support readers that…
  1. Find a Place for Reading in Their Lives – by this I mean, I want children to engage in reading as well as play soccer, watch television, play guitar, go to sleepovers, clean their room and play outdoors. I don’t want reading to be seen as something that replaces the things children already enjoy doing. I just want them to find a place to include reading in their already busy schedules. If it comes down to soccer or reading, many children will opt out of reading. I love to do many things besides read, however, I have carved out time in my schedule to find a place for reading to be part of my everyday life. I want to help children appreciate what reading can do for them so they will choose to read throughout their lives.
  2. Enjoy Reading and Its Challenges – reading is not a skill that once developed, can simply be dragged from text to text without encountering challenges. In other words, even sophisticated, proficient readers encounter texts they struggle to understand. Some young readers assume that once you learn to read, you simply understand everything regardless of content, genre or textual features. This is certainly not the case, and not the image of a proficient, sophisticated reader I want to develop with my readers. Reading can be enjoyable and easy to do at times, while at other times challenging for the most proficient of readers. I know successful readers tend to enjoy the act of reading and engage with texts more frequently. However, these readers are also more willing to work through a text rather than give up in the face of challenges. Proficient readers understand that reading is about the construction of meaning and are willing to work towards this goal.
  3. Utilize a Variety of Reading Strategies to Make Sense of Texts – reading is a complex act, involving the flexible orchestration of many strategies and practices during the reading process. Readers draw upon cues provided in the written text, the context of the reading event, their purposes for reading, and their prior experiences to make sense of what they read. Proficient readers rely upon a variety of strategies, not just the ability to sound words out, when constructing meaning with texts.
  4. Are Willing and Able to Generate, Articulate, and Negotiate Interpretations – readers need to know that they are responsible for making sense of what they read, and are responsible for sharing their ideas with other readers. During teacher initiated read alouds, students are expected to listen carefully, enjoy the story, and once completed, share their ideas about the text. Once ideas are shared, readers must allow their interpretations to remain open to negotiation and revision. Within this process of negotiation and revision lies the power of a community of readers.
  5. Become Emotionally Invested in What They Read – in order for readers to become emotionally invested in what they read, they need to be given the opportunity to choose many of the texts they read, have the stories they read relate to their lives and experiences, and be able to empathize with the challenges the characters in the selected stories face. We cannot expect readers to become emotionally invested in what they read if we continually take away the responsibility for choosing appropriate texts and limiting their access to quality reading materials. Teachers and school librarians must provide access to quality reading materials and time to browse and explore what has been provided. As Nancie Atwell suggests, time to read, choice in what one reads, and response to one’s efforts are the foundations of the reading workshop.
  6. Read a Wide Variety of Texts – as they say, “variety is the spice of life.” No where is this more important than in exposing readers to new genres, authors, illustrators, and topics in literature. Readers should be exposed to science fiction, mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction, poetry, and many other types of literature. As Ralph Peterson, a wonderful professor I took classes from at Arizona State University, once told me, “There are no children that hate reading, just children that haven’t found the right book!” I believe this is true, but I also know the challenges inherent in this statement. Monies provided for classroom and school libraries has become marginal, at best. Because of federal mandates, school districts are forced to spend their dismal resources on tests and commercial programs. When classroom libraries sit empty, children are not provided access to quality reading materials and the opportunity to enter the world of reading and literature.
  7. Understand That Images and Texts May Possess Meanings Beyond What is Represented – when E. B. White wrote about Charlotte and Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, he was not describing some alien world where pigs and spiders are able to talk. He was using literary personification to reveal the tensions and wonders of human existence. That is, Wilbur and Charlotte were created to illuminate our lives and experiences, not provide factual information about farm life. It is important for young readers to make this symbolic connection, so when they are asked to discuss symbolism in Shakespeare’s plays in high school, they understand that literature relates to the world outside the text.
  8. Understand That Texts Are Social Artifacts – all texts are written and created by people vested in particular versions of reality. Until readers understand this fact, they will be reticent to question the version of reality presented by the author or publisher. When reading certain texts, for example editorials or advertisements, the perspectives of the authors may be readily apparent. However, all texts have a particular perspective, and represent a particular version of the world and reality. Starting in the primary grades, children need to be introduced to the authors and illustrators that construct the various versions of reality that are presented in the books they read. Through discussions and support from more capable, critical readers, novice readers will learn that it is not only allowable to see the world differently and question the versions of reality presented in the books they read, it is necessary to support a democratic way of life. In order to question the reality presented in texts, one must understand that texts are socially constructed and interpretations are open to negotiation and revision.


  1. Great post, Frank. I am always concerned when teachers tell me they haven't got time to teach reading. The question is reversed - you haven't got time not to, surely? What is more important than giving children tools to question the world and engage in imaginative thought? Also, if the perception of teaching reading is a drills and skills phonics session, we are missing the point.


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