Reading Notes

Bronwyn T. Williams, “‘A Puzzle to the Rest of Us’: Who is a ‘reader’ anyway?”

Williams, Bronwyn T. “‘A Puzzle to the Rest of Us’: Who is a ‘reader’ anyway?” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 47, no. 8, 2004, pp. 686-689. 

Summary: Williams explores what teachers mean when they identify students as readers; this definition is contrasted with the ways our culture as a whole conceptualizes readers. Williams argues that teachers should be transparent with students about the reading practices that are appropriate / we expect in our classrooms, as these conversations can make academic, critical reading and its expectations more transparent for students.

Keywords: reading, readers, good, puzzle, adolescent,  students, behaviors


  • “Yet when I talk with fellow teachers about whether students are or are not readers, I think we are talking about a specific type of reading. Beyond decoding words and sentences, we think of a reader as a person who makes particular kinds of intertextual connections, who asks particular kinds of questions of a text, who reads at a particular intellectual distance from the text, who talks more about the text’s meaning and analyzes its nature” (687).
  • “[Teachers and students] might still be reading all day (our lives are filled with print), but [they are] not thinking of [themselves] as a reader when [they] use [their] vernacular literacies” (687).
  • People identified as readers “are seen as isolated, alone, engaged in pleasures they aren’t sharing, and dangerously out of touch with the ‘real world'” (687).
  • “When the culture at large identifies someone as a reader, it does not, I would argue, assume that the reader is making critical judgements about the text from a detached analytical stance” (688).
  • “We need to help students think about what identities they assume when they become readers, and to let them in on what qualities we want them to display when they pick up a text” (688).
  • “If we can make clearer to students, as well as to ourselves, what we mean when we ask them to assume the identities of readers, we have taken the first step in demystifying what can for many students be a frustrating, intimidating, and unacknowledged obstacle in the classroom” (689).
    • Yes–for writing too. Students often has preconceived notions about what writing/writers are, and what good writing/writers are. Often good is associated with classroom-oriented performance; really, however, good can be more aptly named as “effective,” and effective reading/writing behaviors shift based on context.


  • “I wonder, however, if our conception of a reader (and the attributes that accompany such an identity) are shared by those, including our students, who are not teachers” (688).
  • How can I incorporate Williams’s reading activity into my own class–perhaps ENGL 111 or 075?

Further Reading:

  • Alverman, D.E. (2001). Reading adolescents’ reading identities: Looking back to see ahead. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44, 676-690.
  • Helmers, M. (2003). Introduction: Representing reading. In M.Helmers (Ed.), Intertexts: Reading pedagogy in college writing classrooms (pp. 3-26). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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