Reading Voice vs Thinking Voice

Reading Voice vs Thinking Voice anchor chart

Reading Voice and Thinking Voice Anchor Chart (note: sometimes we misspell things and our students find it hilarious. Seriously. These kids have pointed it out to every adult who walks into the room. Of course, now I’m putting it on the internet.)

I’ve been working a lot with my 6th graders on close reading for the past few months. We’ve been previewing, reading, annotating, rereading, synthesizing. Or, at least trying. Some of my students took to the approach right away, surprising me with how much they really got that we reread to understand more deeply and annotate to document our thinking or point out specific ideas. But others just thought it was a waste of their time. For these kids, reading wasn’t necessarily about making meaning, it was about getting things done.

Getting to the end.

Getting the questions answered.

Getting on to the next thing.

Getting it all done, so I can do something better.

This is a mindset that reading teachers struggle to change. There are definitely things that help–increasing independent reading time, helping students to choose reading material that they’ll really love, high-interest texts for instruction, authentic tasks–but when you’ve tried all of those and your students who just run a little too fast and are speeding their way through things, having a discussion about reading voice vs thinking voice can be very helpful.

I first encountered the idea of explicitly teaching about reading voice vs thinking voice, was when I read Cris Tovani’s book I Read It But I Don’t Get It very early in my career (probably my first year). This book is an amazing resource for anyone who teaches striving readings in middle or high school. In grad school, we always talked about self-monitoring and using fix-up strategies as one of the keys to strong reading comprehension, but the tools  I left with were pretty limited (I am a bit worried this is still the case now that I’m teaching the class, but I’m working on it!). Really, I had one. It was called “The Critter” and it came from one of the course texts from my first semester practicum. It involved drawing an odd looking creature that the students would use to personify their thinking voices. I’m sure you can imagine how this strategy goes over with most middle schoolers. I’ve used and modified Cris Tovani’s lesson over and over again and I’ve had a lot of success with it.

The biggest thing that hooks kids is that I talk about a strategy that I really do use in real life. I can explain, quite vividly, how it works for me. When I’m reading I know that I’m not paying attention if the only thing I hear is my Reading Voice–the words going by in my head with no questions or connections popping up, I’m not engaged in reading and I’m not comprehending. But, if I’m making too many connections… You know how that goes: one connection leads to another and soon I’m thinking about what I’m going to eat for dinner later, or that one time I went to the beach in North Carolina…I’m not reading at all anymore. Well, my eyes are moving along the page, but the only voice I hear is my thinking voice. But, when my reading voice and thinking voice work together, that’s when you’re a reader who is actively engaged in comprehending a text.

After discussing and modeling, I ask students to add post-its to the anchor chart with examples of their reading voices and thinking voices to the anchor chart using post-its. I prompt them to add more information after they’ve done a few sessions of independent reading. It’s amazing what they begin to notice. I’m hoping we can keep revisiting this strategy, especially for my students who would really rather that reading was over with as soon as possible.

How do you teach self-monitoring and other metacognitive skills when you teach reading?

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