A matter of diet

Listening to a friend extolling the value of a high-fat, low-carb diet (“My sister-in-law, who’s had a weight problem all of her life, has lost sixty pounds. She looks great!”) got me thinking.

The conversation went something like this…

ME: It’s contrary to all we were taught, you know, with the food pyramid.

FRIEND: Right. That food pyramid is wrong. All those grains-!! The carbs-!!

ME: Well, in this heart-healthy era …

FRIEND: The diets cardiologists promote are NOT heart healthy. They’re detrimental. Dangerous.

ME: Hmmm … high-fat kind of amazes me, though. We keep being told that eating low-fat is healthy.

FRIEND: Low-fat is the WORST OF ALL. Take milk, for example. You’re altering it if you remove the fat. It’s supposed to have fat. Our bodies don’t recognize food that’s altered, they’re not designed to handle it, don’t know what to do with it besides convert it to sugar … plus, we’ve depleted important nutrients that we need from the soil …

ME: So do you take vitamins or supplements with this diet?

FRIEND: Yes. Boron, for example …


It’s in borax. A cleaning agent. When I was a child, my family used Fab laundry detergent. The jingle, “Fab, I’m glad, there’s lemon-freshened borax in you!”—heavens, I haven’t thought of that in decades.

Boron, stuff of cosmic rays and exploding stars. Not overly plentiful in the universe or in the Earth’s crust, yet necessary to plants’ growth. Apparently it has a number of human health benefits, for everything from the brain to the bones to attacking kidney stones. But too much can be toxic. Plants will die, humans can be poisoned …

ME: It comes down to what each person needs, really. The same amount of anything could be too little for one person and too much for another.

FRIEND: Exactly. It’s a matter of finding what works for each person.

—And THAT is what got me thinking about a reading diet.

As someone who’s in and out of classrooms across grade levels daily, listening to children read, here is what I know: They don’t all need the same things. Some need a little supplement—the right supplement. Some need extra decoding or phonics support. Some need comprehension support (the point of reading is, after all, making meaning of it). Some are learning the language. Some have intensive needs requiring highly specialized support. Many need help with phrasing, with prosody, with CONFIDENCE … and what about vocabulary? ALL need to be read to, every day.

Reading is complex. Teaching reading is complex. There’s even an argument as to whether it can actually be taught, for readers essentially grow by … reading.

A healthy reading diet really comes down to this: What does each child need in order to grow? What is a balanced diet for this child? Too much or too little of a thing can be counterproductive. Potentially toxic.

All too often I hear students say I don’t like reading.

I sometimes ask students why but I know the answer’s partly shadowed by a much larger question: What’s being done to help kids WANT to read? To enjoy it, to love it, to stick with it? Allure is part of a diet, is it not? The pull of some promise?

Trends and beliefs about reading and reading education, like diets, are going to come and go. There will be clashes of opinion. Research is going to be (and should be) tested for validity.

And …

FRIEND: The Food and Drug Administration shouldn’t be one entity. There’s big money to be made by people not eating the right stuff and needing medication.

ME: Big money … cure-alls … why am I envisioning buzzards on a branch, poised to swoop in and devour?


Exactly what—or whom—is being devoured?

Photo: PlusLexia.com.

12 thoughts on “A matter of diet

  1. Fran, I laughed out loud when I got to “Boron?” Oh my goodness. I do like the comparison you make between diet and reading. I know the reading wars rage in the area of teaching students to actually make sense of words right now, but in high school, I am using what I’ve gleaned from my elementary counterparts: my students read a LOT of choice books. Some try appetizers when they come to class, not sure that they are really allowed to just read. Others head straight to a main course. They can decide they are full of one and put it to the side. Others bite off more than they can chew and need a little help. And I tell them that sometimes they can skip to dessert. A varied reading diet, one that allows each person to find what works – at least in high school – seems to be easier to stick to than one prescribed by the teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Love your approach, Amanda! As a child I loved to read all kinds of things. My elementary teachers suggested books and series that they thought I’d like and they (those teachers, those books) changed my life. The smorgasbord you suggest is exactly what many students need: put the book down if it doesn’t suit your taste, but oh – finding one that does – again, it can be life-changing. And that word, “prescribed” – I am deeply saddened to see less freedom and choice for both students and teachers these days.


  2. Just love this, Fran!! I completely agree that the love of reading sometimes is an afterthought when it comes to reading instruction but it is so completely important! I think far too many people are leaving school without a love of reading and that breaks my heart. If I do anything right as an educator, it is demonstrate my love of reading to kids in the hopes that they will love it too and all it can do for their lives. This post is brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, yes, Kathleen- too many adults have told me that they didn’t enjoy reading until much later in life. It’s a sad testament. Passion is contagious. There’s so much to say about developing a love for books and reading. It has to be a pleasurable experience vs. a laborious task and that’s when a teacher’s intuition and creativity (such as yours!) are invaluable. That’s where the pedagogy begins. Thank you so much for your words.


    • Yea! I can’t believe you remember that commercial, too! Amazing how something can return so clearly after so long. And yes – there’s much work to be done in regard to the reading diet. Understanding is key. Thank you, Leigh Anne.


  3. Oh Fran, what interesting thoughts you shared…both in diets AND in reading diets!

    I loved all the truth in this part: “Reading is complex. Teaching reading is complex. There’s even an argument as to whether it can actually be taught, for readers essentially grow by … reading”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Trina. I had fun writing it and am glad those lines caught you. I am thinking about skills and strategies as the what and how of reading …but the love of reading … that’s WHY.


  4. As a former special education teacher, I can attest to the varied methods teachers use to meet individual reading needs! I finally settled on using a program that was holistic (handwriting, phonics, sight words, patterns, vocabulary, multi-modal response and comprehension) and FUN, and lo and behold, progress for all.
    As a librarian, I start ’em young by letting them vote on every read-aloud with a thumbs up/down/sideways, ending with a reminder to “know yourself as a reader; we don’t all like the same books, and that’s okay.” We emphasize picking books that they can truly enjoy, either by reading themselves or having a parent read to them. Now if only I could find a way to cure the “the bigger the book, the smarter I look” mindset…
    Your students are lucky to have a great teacher with a mind for differentiation!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This response should be distributed to teachers and put in school improvement plans, Chris! Differentiation is the key. l had to laugh when you mentioned the “larger the book.” My mind went straight to Harry Potter. I do not think all kids who lug those books around school can read them (maybe someone at home is, I hope) but they sure do love coming to show them to me.

      Liked by 1 person

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