Can We Find Another Word?

I have been thinking a lot about the term “struggling” to describe readers and writers.  I like the word when it means we are engaging in a challenge and need to have stamina and determination to deal with obstacles that are placed in our path.  But I don’t like it when we use it to describe our students as readers and writers.

At CCIRA, I heard Donalyn Miller talk about dormant readers and writers. She talked about readers and writers who enter middle grades without a passion or interest in reading and writing and why this is happening. I like the term she used – dormant. The idea of dormant readers and writers appealed to me – students who need the guidance, the kindness, and the expertise of passionate teachers to wake them up!  I thought about how I was taken in by the beauty of Mt. Rainier when I was doing a staff development workshop with Rose Cappelli in the Seattle area.  Like a sleeping volcano, students have the desire and often the power to be readers and writers, but something has quieted their fire.

There are many reasons this could happen, including many outside forces. Does the student have too many responsibilities when he leaves the classroom? Are there any books in the home? Do his parents read with him?  Is at least one parent a model for reading (reads for enjoyment or to learn something)? Does the family visit the local library?  The school environment is important, too. Does the teacher ever talk about a genre or format that interests this student? Are there choices for independent reading and writing? Does the teacher often write in her writer’s notebook? Does the teacher read aloud daily? Does she often share a small piece of her outside-of-school reading so her students know she is a lifelong reader?

Maybe we could talk about developing readers and writers or transitioning readers and writers. Those terms certainly are more positive and offer hope to the teacher, the parents, and the student that, with time, the student can be successful and fluent.  Students need different supports and different amounts of time to develop their skills and work through their reading and/or writing process. For all of us, we continue to move toward a mastery of reading and writing. We continue to grow in sophistication beyond university.  In fact, it is a learning journey for the rest of our lives.

So, we need to find out about our readers and writers as early as possible:

  • What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in school?
  • How do you feel about reading?  Writing? Why?
  • What is your favorite book you read last year or over the summer?
  • What is your favorite piece of writing from last year?
  • What kinds of books do you enjoy?
  • What kinds of writing do your enjoy?
  • What is the easiest thing about reading? Writing?
  • What is the hardest thing about reading? Writing?

I like the term resilient, too. My editor Stephanie Goodrich, from Zaner-Bloser, offered this term and I looked up the word. The dictionary ( defines resilient as springing back; rebounding.

Merriam-Webster offers these synonyms for resilient: bouncy, elastic, flexible, stretchable, supple, whippy.  It offers these related words: adaptable, pliable, limber, lithe, willowy.

Perhaps, the terms “dormant” or  “resilient” can help us define these readers and writers in a different way than the term “struggling.”  Resilient readers and writers are learners who just need some gentle nudging, opportunities to own their learning process and choice in topics and genres for reading and writing. They need a classroom where they are surrounded in books and where the teacher has created a culture of patience. Reading and writing require hard work and commitment!   Our resilient readers and writers need the passion of a teacher who demonstrates every day that s(he) is a reader and a writer, too.  Our students need all these things to reawaken their love for reading and writing.

For your summer reading: Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids by Donalyn Miller & Colby Sharp.
Game Changer

One thought on “Can We Find Another Word?

  1. Pingback: Blending SEL Practices into Our Writing Communities

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