Tiger Woods -- GolferI love to play golf, but I’m not a golfer…yet. That raises the obvious question–what are the differences between a golfer and someone who plays golf? Well, they’re basically the same differences between someone who can read and a reader.

Golfers have spent countless hours practicing chip shots and bunker shots. They’ve hit thousands of buckets of balls with their drivers and irons. They’ve spent time and effort tweaking small nuances in their swings in their basements. They are prepared for every situation the course, which they’ve played dozens of times and know intimately, can throw at them. As a result, they score well on the weekends when they play.

Guys who play golf (like me) usually go out once a week or less to play 18 holes. Maybe we hit a bucket of balls before we play to warm up. We get a little stressed when put in the situation of having to chip downhill onto green because we don’t really have that shot. We lay up instead of going for greens because we can’t hit our 2 iron well every time and can’t rely on it. We basically play every hole shot to shot, reacting to the latest situation we’ve created for ourselves instead of setting ourselves up and executing a strategy.

So what does this have to do with reading? Maybe you can see where I’m headed with this…

There are people who can read, and then there are readers.

I’ve noticed that it’s pretty common on message boards and blogs for people who are looking for help with their children’s reading to make a comment like, “my child can read, but when it comes to comprehension he struggles.” I never really considered it before we started this project, but I’ve recently changed my own attitude and perspective on what a reader really is. I started noticing that I was surrounded by adults who can read. Our country has an extremely high literacy rate, as measured by, uh, whatever measures literacy. However, it’s far less common to find someone who is a reader–someone who reads effortlessly, comprehends, draws inferences, and is thinking about what they read as they read it.

As someone who plays golf and wants to be a golfer one day, I know I’m going to have to develop different shots and strategies for different situations and courses. Likewise, children who can read need to develop skills and strategies to help them deal with different reading situations so that they can become readers. Being able to hit a large variety of chip shots isn’t all that different from having a large vocabulary when you think about it. Having hit every club in your bag so many times in practice that they feel natural and automatic in your hands is analogous to fluency–having such a strong understanding of the English language that the words just flow. And golfers approach holes and courses with an overall strategy, not shot by shot. Good readers who comprehend do the same thing with text–they don’t just survive word to word.

Of course, even once one becomes a reader, there are many levels to consider. I consider myself a strong reader, but I have a friend who is an English professor and devours books. His vocabulary is amazing (he’s written several books on vocabulary), and his knowledge of etymology is in a different league than mine. Even though I’m a good reader, I feel almost illiterate when compared to him. I’m sure a golfer who shoots in the low 70s on his home course would feel the same if playing a round with Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach.

Then again. Tiger Woods practices for hours–every day. Maybe that’s why he’s the best.