Expanding Our Ideas About What it Means to Be a Reader

Each fall when the school year begins, my time for pleasure reading seems to evaporate.    Between all of the new professional books, blog posts, and educational journals, I just can’t find time for pleasure reading.  I know this will change as the school year progresses, but for now this is just the way it is.    So this year, instead of beating myself up about my pleasure reading slump, I decided to give audio books a try.   I bought myself a subscription to audible .com, downloaded a few books to my iPhone and now my pleasure reading has transformed into “pleasure listening.”

Now the new children’s books, my book club text and even the books my own kids are reading are available to me.

I can’t tell you how this has changed my commute.  Instead of dreading a long drive, now I think, “I can’t wait to get in the car.”  Sometimes when I pull into my driveway from a long day, I don’t want to leave the car.   Listening while driving certainly isn’t the same as curling with a great book, a cozy blanket, and a hot cup of tea, but I can tell I am on my way to creating a new habit for pleasure reading.

Another upside of my new audio book habit is that my listening skills are actually improving.   When my mind wanders when I am reading, I can simply reread a paragraph or two.   Listening to an audio book doesn’t work quite the same way.   If I miss it, the story passes me by.  Yes, of course I can rewind, but that is hard to do while I am driving.  I find myself focusing more so I don’t miss the story.

These audio books are also keeping me company when I am doing chores around the house.   I’ve got a ton of leaves to rake – no worries – I can listen to two more chapters.  The kitchen needs to be cleaned – I’m on it.   The audio books have become my to-do list companion.

This experience has expanded my thinking about what it means to be a reader.  I didn’t realize that I had one specific image of what pleasure reading looked and felt like, but I did.  It’s not that listening will replace my reading; it is simply a way to expand my reading.    Listening to a book is reading that just looks and feels a new way.

I want to remember this experience and talk with students about their own images of what it means to be a reader. What counts as reading?   What are the different ways reading can look and feel?  How do readers find more space and time for reading?   What are the benefits of reading in different ways and at different times?

I know with the quiet winter months ahead, there will be more space for pleasure reading, but I won’t be abandoning my new listening habit.   It has brought joy to some of the more mundane parts of my life and it is helping me become a better listener.   I think I have become a reader who reads and a reader who listens.


Tammy Mulligan

Teachers for Teachers

Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan have been working in the field of professional development for the past 20 years. They now run a private staff development business, Teachers for Teachers, working with varied school systems to implement best practices in the field of literacy and to engage in institutional change.  They are the authors of Assessment in Perspective.  You can find them on Twitter as @clareandtammy and online at AssessmentinPerspective.com