Sunday / July 21

Create a Community of Risk-Taking Readers

Create a Community of Risk-Taking Readers

As the school year begins it offers an opportunity to create an intentional classroom community of readers. One of those intentions is likely to help students become risk-takers who feel willing and able to tackle challenges and outgrow themselves as readers. When students feel pressure to be perfect and never make mistakes, they limit their own potential and tend to flatline in their learning. “Risk is all too often the thing least evident in schools, and yet risk is how we learn, create, even adapt” (Thornton, 2015). There are a few key moves we can make as teachers that help students feel safe with the uncertainty that risk-taking brings.

Model Your Own Risk-Taking as a Reader

What you choose to share and model for your students sends a big message about what you value. When you model the struggle and challenges you face as a reader, you are letting students know that challenges are an important part of the reading process. Let students see the hard parts, how you work through them, and what you learn from taking the risk. A few phrases you might use when modeling for students include:

  • “I am not sure how to do this, but I will try it out and see what I learn.”
  • “This is not how I normally read, but I want to try a new way and see how it goes.”
  • “This feels a bit risky because it is less familiar to me, but I can’t wait to see what happens.”

Create a “Try-It Tuesday” Practice

Every Tuesday you might save a few minutes for students to share something new that they tried as readers and how it went. Make sure to clarify that trying something new is helpful only if we reflect on what we did and what we can learn from it. Sometimes you can choose students who were successful with their risk-taking to share and sometimes you might choose students to share who were not yet successful. When we ask students to share their successes and failures, we create a classroom that embraces all the kinds of learning that readers who take risks take on.

A Sample “Try-It Tuesday” Procedure:

1.      Give students 5 minutes to reflect on a reading risk they took or something new they tried that week. They can write about it in a reading notebook.

2.      Students spend a few minutes discussing what they tried and how it went with a partner. The teacher listens to what students say so they can choose a student to share with the whole class.

3.      The whole class gathers together as one student shows what they did, how it was risky and new, and what they learned from it.

4.      Classmates who were listening offer feedback and share a few of their ideas with the reader.

Offer Students Feedback that Focuses on Their Process

When we focus our student feedback solely on the outcome or product, students tend to think that it is all that matters—the end result. Instead, if we focus our feedback on the work and effort the students put in and how it impacted their reading, they begin to develop a risk-taking mindset. Instead of saying, “You did a great job inferring,” or “Look how well you organized your notes,” you can focus on the work the student put in. You might say, “When you noticed the character making a choice, you stopped to think. You really pushed yourself to think of a big idea and did not settle for the first idea that popped into your head.” When we reinforce the steps a reader took and the risks they took to outgrow themselves, we let them know the process is just as important as the product.Five Qualities of Feedback_ Goldberg Readers

In my book Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge, I recommend five qualities of feedback that reinforce a growth mindset and therefore, risk-taking mindset in student readers:

  • Be specific
  • Name what the student is doing
  • Focus on the process
  • Make sure it can transfer
  • Take yourself out of it

Enjoy the start of the school year and embrace all the vulnerabilities that becoming a classroom of reading risk-takers can bring. When we take risks together, we grow together and build strong relationships of trust.


Goldberg, G. (2016) Mindsets and moves: Strategies that help readers take charge. Thousand

Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy.

Thornton, M. (2015). Creating space for risk. Edutopia post:

Written by

Gravity Goldberg is coauthor of Conferring with Readers: Supporting Each Students’ Growth and Independence (Heinemann, 2007) and author of many articles about reading, writing, and professional development. She holds a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a former staff developer at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and an assistant professor at Iona College’s graduate education program. She leads a team of literacy consultants in the New York/New Jersey region. Gravity is the author of Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge, Grades 1-8.

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