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Tuned-In Readers Are Rocket Scientists.

Posted by on in Teaching Strategies
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I don’t think you can ever underestimate the complexity of the reading process, and I’m not just talking about sounding out words, word recognition, vocabulary, knowledge of content area, and fluency. The silent reading process alone, from start to finish, that is, when readers first see the words in the book in front of them, until the final moment when they make sense out of it all, is a multi-wired pathway with crisscrosses and interconnected tracks that have to be firing and functioning and clear of “debris,” the distractions of adolescents’ minds and imaginations.

The upcoming process/illustration is not taught in the schools and should be addressed because, as you will see, it gives kids, especially those who struggle, the reluctant ones, and the totally unmotivated children frameworks and guideposts that will lead them through the darker tunnels, those inner landscapes of reading, the imaginary and real worlds of reading, each requiring mental-emotional-psychological energy and the “glue” of awareness to put all the pieces of reading back together again.

Please go to my diagram of—and take on—the silent reading processes. See if it makes sense according to your reading life experiences and how you teach the subject in your classes. What I’m trying to do with the illustration, which, upon first scanning it, might seem quirky (and I can understand that response), is to visually demonstrate what happens when kids—and adults—read silently. And from looking at it, you can see that a lot happens inside a child’s head during the process. Note: I draw this illustration on the board to illuminate the inner reading process for students.

 Screen Shot 2016 02 11 at 9.29.44 AM



And, can you imagine how difficult reading is for an ADD/ADHD child who has little or no attention span at all? Their journey into silent reading must look like “A Little Shop of Horrors,” something you don’t want to face or deal with in any way.

The Silent Reading Processes

What happens in the silent reading processes? What are its complications, challenges, and pleasures? Note: “Processes” is used because silent reading involves diverse actions, routes, movements, progressions, and engagements.  

Here are my steps for teaching children the silent reading processes:

Step 1: The real, physical eyes see-and-read the words from the page with:

Step 2: the silent inner reading voice joining along at the same time with them to see-read-say/speak the words silently from the page.

Note: And the question becomes: Who’s listening to the inner reading voice silently reading the words “out loud” in the” mind’s magic reading theater”? Answer: Believe it or not, you can add an:

Step 3: “imaginary inner ear” that listens to the words read silently by “the inner reading voice.”

Note: You might be saying to yourself: “This is getting pretty complex already. So far, the words have left the page via the real eyes and the inner reading voice, both now working together to initiate the rest of the silent reading processes. And this see-read-speak experience takes on a listening dimension when the imaginary inner ear hears the silent inner reading voice “talking.”

The process continues as:

Step 4: the imaginary ear sends those words to:

Step 5: the imaginary inner eye that visualizes, re-creates, or changes the words communicated into mind-pictures that:

Step 6: Appear on an imaginary TV screen, or what I call, the “mind’s magic reading theater.” The transformed words become mind-pictures moving on the screen for instant viewing by the reader’s imaginary inner eye.

Note: But what happens next? It’s not the end of the process with all these images on a TV screen because readers still have to make sense out of the whole silent inner reading experience. And that’s where the next phase of the silent reading processes checks in:

Step 7: the mind, imagination, heart (feelings), and spirit.

Note: What are their roles in this process that seems to be getting more challenging as we go along? One way to describe it is that Step 7, the roles of mind, imagination, heart, and spirit, are to connect and anthropomorphize the word-as-pictures. Each enriches as it absorbs the readers, or the kids’ “reading selves,” where a picture is not “just” a picture anymore, but “worth a thousand words.” The images or mind-pictures “projected on the screen trigger feelings, ideas, thoughts, meanings, and real-life experiences.

Are you getting the picture? That kids-as-readers are rocket scientists because they have to go through many routes and still remain focused on the words read, interpreted, and analyzed in order to find the main idea. And I haven’t included the distractions, “inner noise,” that can keep readers unfocused while trying to figure out what s/he is reading in the first place. Note: That is not shown in the diagram, but please imagine this very possible inner reality by visualizing wavy lines going around and through the TV screen to obscure the projection and viewing of the mind-pictures or “mind-movies.”

But we haven’t made sense of it all, not just yet, until all the actions, the entire communication, has gone to:  

Step 8: the brain for some “fine-tuning” because it will scrutinize, organize, and synthesize everything that has happened before in the reader’s landscape of mind and imagination. Call this action “comprehension of the main idea” of what has been read by the student.

Note: When you think about your average adolescent reader in today’s world, how are they

going to handle this? Do they have the energy and patience to take what seems like a long, drawn out process and make it part of reading life, and, at the same time, respond to literature, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, in a positive, motivating way?     

Questions about reading that need answers

How do kids read with distracted minds? How much distraction or inner noise distorts reading and self-communication? How well do students listen and hear with their imaginary inner ears? How much self-talk do children’s imaginary inner ears pick up during the reading-speaking-listening process? What are kids tuning into, listening to, and hearing while reading silently? What “channels” are they on? Is it the “Reading Channel”? How involved in reading are their “reading selves”?      

This is reading

Take a look at some process ideas about reading according to the opening illustration:

Reading = inner vision

Reading = mind’s magic reading theater with an imaginary TV screen

Reading = an emotional universe

Reading = thinking/reflective/thoughts, ideas, meanings, experiences

Reading = mind-pictures and movies/what you see is what you get

Reading = connection between outer and inner worlds

Reading = connecting real-life experiences to the words and their meanings

Reading = imagination, mind, heart, and spirit humanize the entire process

Reading = brain integrates/synthesizes/organizes all that there is externally and internally

Back to the illustration

The illustration of the tuned-in, plugged-in adolescent reader in “The Age of Distractions” shows how can s/he can see-read-speak-listen-hear-visualize-feel-think-reflect-comprehend-appreciate and motivate one’s self to read in a world of so many connections, “wires,” and “pathways” that need to stay open for the communication to keep moving/flowing along, and then to re-connect with the mind, imagination, heart, and spirit, and then go to the last stop, the brain, for analysis, synthesis, organizing, understanding, and pleasure.


Try a simple comparison of the inside of a car hood to the inside of a reader’s head:

Question: If a car has engine problems and breaks down, a mechanic has to open up the hood to see what is going on, what may be wrong, where the problem may lie, and try to fix it.

We should do the same with problems and issues in reading: look under the hood/head to see what is happening, to re-view the processes, to find out if all the mechanisms are working properly and the kids are actually tuned into the right channel, or if they have lost the way through distractions and the lack of motivation, or, as you hear kids say today, “Reading’s not cool,” so why bother getting into it?”

Check under the hood…or inside the reader’s head

Some questions for educators to think about when trying to teach and help students read:

  • Are all the “circuits” in the “system” up and running? At what level are they working? Are they at an optimal level? Are they running at full strength: energy, effort, and motivation firing fully?
  • Are all the “circuits,” that is, the real eyes, inner reading voice, imaginary inner ear, imaginary inner eye, mind’s magic reading theater, imaginary TV screen, and imagination, mind, heart, and spirit hooked up to the BRAIN?
  • Are any “loose wires” dangling inside and disconnected that are slowing down the inner- and self-communication necessary for completing the silent reading processes?
  • Are all the nerves-and-synapses firing at a pace where readers can comprehend, appreciate, and stay motivated to read?


Reading can be considered a cognitive-emotional-reflective-psychological-mindful rocket science that depends on young people to navigate inner landscapes of mind and imagination, places where the journey runs through murky waters, opaque worlds, distractions, and distortions that need illumination, the spotlights of: the real eyes, imaginary inner eye, imaginary inner ear, mind’s magic reading theater (TV screen included), imagination/mind/heart/spirit, and lastly, the brain, to make sense of it all.

These inner world processes, mechanisms, and structures are the frameworks and guideposts that will enable kids who are struggling with reading, who are reluctant readers, and also unmotivated “good” readers, to see the light of self-motivation, as well as to understand, step-by-step, what they experience internally while reading words from a page. Giving children more information about the silent reading processes will help them identify what worlds they are in and make reading much more enjoyable, thought-provoking, and meaningful.

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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe. Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”). One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM. Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record." Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum. Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul.

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