Reviewed by Linda Biondi
Did you ever just open a book and feel that it was everything you wanted? Or reach randomly for a book on the shelf and realize it “spoke to you”? I tell my students that books talk to you. When given a choice, why do we reach for a particular book out of the hundreds on the shelf?
Every Child a Super Reader is a book about empowering our students to become not just readers but lovers of reading who understand what they read. It’s about their being able to analyze a text, appreciate the craft, and become voracious consumers of the written word.
This book is also about teachers making choices, loving reading, and passing that passion on to our students.
At countless back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences, parents have told me that their main concern was their child’s lack of love for reading, saying “If you could just get my child to love reading! That’s the most important goal I want for them to achieve.”
I have heard teachers say that they give homework in reading so their students would develop a love of literacy, specifically reading. Truth be told, I rolled my eyes when I heard that and responded that giving homework in reading doesn’t make a reader. (I am encouraging those folks to read this book.)
Conversations in my head
When I read this book, these conversations echoed in my mind. How could I continue to develop a love and passion for reading in my students? How could they become “super readers”? The authors define a super reader as
a child who enters a text with purpose. Regardless of platform (print or digital) and genre (fiction, informational, or poetry), she reads that text with deep comprehension and finishes it satisfied informed, and inspired…She is confident…understands the demand of the text…reads voluminously…may read in more than one language…is reflective…is a flashlight-in-bed kind of reader.” (p. 16-17)
Many of our students are using the book’s suggested 7 Strengths each day but may not be aware of it! The beginning of the book explains how giving a short survey offers students a chance to reflect on their learning styles, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. I am an advocate of good, planned, meaningful surveys and of giving students a chance to reflect on their responses.
As I gave the book’s survey to my students, I saw several of them engaged in purposeful conversations about their reading. I was “in heaven.” I found that reflecting on the questions in the survey gave my students a chance to observe how they were empowering themselves each day to become “Super Readers.”
What’s inside the book
Chapter One examines the benefits of super reading and the principles that establish the development of super readers. Chapter Two explains the 7 Strengths Model and how it can help create super readers. Chapters Three through Nine discuss each strength with specific lessons and family guides. Chapters 10 through 14 provide essential practices, assessments, and planning guidelines.
True to the nature of Scholastic, digital versions of the assessment, management, planning tools, and family guides can be found online. And if that isn’t enough, there are online videos to guide you through what a super reader is, why it’s important, the 7 Strengths Model, and highlights from student responses to the questions: “Why read? What do you accomplish? What about the 7 Strengths?”
The model for this book grew from the authors’ establishment of LitWorld, an organization that provides transformational literacy for children across the United States and in 60 countries. Can you imagine that!
LitWorld has instituted literacy initiatives in all types of schools (urban, rural, suburban, public, private, charter) and in countries where reading is not encouraged – and is deeply discouraged for girls – including cultures where having a book is the equivalent in students’ minds to possessing a precious gem…places where students walk miles barefooted to get to a school.
This book is far-reaching in many ways, but it brings out the message that we need to establish literate learners in our society in order for the next generations to succeed. Before I write any further, I want you to know that this book is a “real eye opener.” It shakes up your complacency and drives you to think, react, and do.
So what are the 7 Strengths of Super Readers?
I am sure that you will nod and acknowledge that many of them are part of your active teaching repertoire (p. 13, 14).
► Belonging: Identifying as a valued, respected member of a larger community.
► Curiosity: Fostering a willingness to explore new territory and test new theories.
►Friendship: Having close trusting relationships and personal connections to others, learning to interact in positive, productive ways.
►Kindness: Being compassionate toward others.
►Confidence: Thinking independently and expressing ideas with assurance.
►Courage: Having the strength to do something that you know is right, even though it may be difficult.
►Hope: Thinking optimistically and believing that today’s’ efforts will produce good things in the future for yourself and the world.
What I especially enjoyed as I was reading this book was its deep connection to family. It’s not a one-sided teacher and student effort to foster a love of reading but a interwoven relationship among family, student, and teacher. The authors provide simple, easy to implement strategies for parents to help make the school/home connection.
Anecdotes and actions
Each chapter follows a consistent pattern: anecdotal stories of the each strength in action, why the strength is important, what you can do as an educator to promote the strength, focus lessons using mentor texts, and how to involve the parents to promote the strength at home.
I had to read the book in sections because each strength had an impact on me and reminded me of my purpose or mission as an educator. The stories that were included were powerful, such as 10-year old Marisol’s story about never having had a birthday party because she had spent most of her life in foster care and about how her class united to give her a first party! The stories are inspired by literacy and reading.
All children have the ability to become super readers with the right guidance and materials. Let’s give them the chance…Children of all abilities, all parts of the world, all reading abilities and grade levels.
Pam Allyn and Ernest Morrell’s book is a gift to all teachers and all students. In fact, each chapter is a gift, with its guidance, lessons, stories and insights. The appendix is full of professional resources and mentor texts to guide you. This book should and must be in the hands of all teachers and in all school districts.
Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, NJ and a long-time Morning Meeting practitioner. She’s also the recipient of several educational grants, a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project, and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel and with ECET2 Celebrate Teaching.