It is no secret that many gifted children, adolescents, and adults are voracious readers. Though the literature does not expressly state that all gifted children are early readers, parental anecdotal evidence often suggests that many young gifted children seemingly, with encouragement and exposure, “crack the code” and begin their reading journey early and with gusto. These children often continue to read widely and enthusiastically well beyond the years when many other children give up reading for other activities such as sports and hanging out with friends. These children find joy and comfort in reading, and can often be found with their noses buried in a book or on devices such as Nooks and Kindles.
For many years I taught young readers and watched with fascination and joy as they discovered the pleasures of reading. I read voraciously about cultivating young readers’ interests and skill, and encouraged parents to foster good reading habits in their homes. I was especially interested in those children who delighted in reading, and wondered what made them so enamored. (I was also intensely grateful for reading specialists who helped our struggling readers discover the joy of reading, and facilitated their progress…) This passion for literacy in all of its forms has been a constant in my life, and I currently serve as a Library Trustee in my community.
When this article, Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers came across my desk, I dived into it. The author, Joe Pinsker, began by talking about the academic and professional outcomes of reading. He furnished data from the National Endowment on the Arts about the number of engaged readers in the United States, and shared research from Wendy Griswold, a sociologist at Northwestern University, who concluded that only about 20% of the population in the United States consider themselves “frequent” or “avid” readers. She calls this population, “the reading class,” and suggests that certain patterns emerge in this population. Some of these were surprising to me; some of them were not. For example, people with more education tend to read more. Urban people tend to read more than rural people. Affluence is associated with more reading. Young girls often read earlier than boys, and continue to read more in adulthood.
Additionally, another researcher, Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia offered that “introverts seem to be a little more likely to do a lot of leisure-time reading.” In his book, Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do, Willingham combines evidence-based analysis with engaging, insightful recommendations for the future.
First, he asserts, children must become “fluent decoders.” They must be able to smoothly translate print on the page to words in their mind. Of course, schools explicitly teach this, but parents can facilitate this at home by reading often with children, pointing out words and patterns, thinking out loud, and asking and answering good questions. Simultaneously, educators and parents can encourage great readers by building vast storehouses of information and experience. So much of reading is dependent on context. In order to read with understanding, we must have some prior knowledge about the topic. This engages and expands our prowess. It helps us interpret and make sense of our reading, and intrigues us to read further. Finally, Willingham encourages adults to foster motivation - a positive attitude toward reading and a positive image of oneself as a reader. Reading should be presented with joy. Educators and parents need to share their delight in the act of reading and watching young people read. Even if a parent is not an avid reader, there are other ways to encourage reading -- going to the library, stopping at bookstores, having books in the home, modeling reading during leisure time, sharing great passages, and suggesting great books -- all have positive effects on reading enhancement. Presenting reading as a delightful activity is contagious!
So what does this all mean for gifted readers? Over the years, I have discovered that gifted readers often exhibit these characteristics: they often read earlier, better, and more (3-4 times more) than average readers (Whitehead, 1984). Though their reading interests parallel the interests of other students, they are often more adventurous and want to “dig deeper,” and continue to read voraciously after the time when children’s reading typically tapers off.
My experience has been that many gifted children exhibit these tastes in their reading: they like sophisticated beginning-to-read books, nuanced language, multidimensional characters, visually inventive picture books, books with playful thinking, books with unusual connections, books that promote finding patterns and parallels, books with abstractions and analogies, blends of fantasy and non-fiction, books with quantities of information on favored topics, and books about other gifted children.
Gifted children, I believe, also have some “rights” when reading. These rights should include:
As educators and parents, we have both the privilege and the responsibility to create the conditions that will enhance joy and prowess in reading in our children. One of my favorite resources to help guide readers to perfect books is Judith Halsted’s book Some of My Best Friends Are Books. This resource is organized by ages and stages, and by topics that are relevant to readers. I am sure that many of you also have other favorite resources. What are they? Would you be willing to share? How do you help your gifted readers grow?
Reading is such a gift; it is a gift that we give to others and ultimately to ourselves. As always, I welcome hearing from you on this topic. Together we grow.
Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.