I used to race mountain bikes for fun on weekends, and after the first few races I began to realize that for folks who were serious about this sport, there were certain training regimes that gave them an advantage. Among those were nutrition, weight lifting, interval training, and LSD. No, that’s not the hallucinogenic drug from the 60’s, but instead stands for Long, Slow Distance. Typically, this was done in the winter, and involved going out for long rides at an easy, conversational pace for hours at a time. The idea was that it built endurance, heart strength, and automated your body’s use of its muscle’s energy stores. Once race season came near, you were supposed to increase the difficulty by doing interval training and more intense workouts.
It occurred to me on my bike ride today (which necessarily consists of LSD since I’m riding by myself with no one to push me – or maybe it was just L & S) that there’s an easy connection between this LSD concept and what Allington was talking about regarding text selection in his article . In order for me to become a better and faster racer, I had to step back and, counter-intuitively, go slow. With readers, we often want to push them to read harder and longer books, stretching their skills past what they can comfortably do. But by doing so, we run the risk of pushing them to the point of exhaustion. When this happens, students learn that 1) reading is hard and 2) they can’t do it very well. They’re learning, but it’s not what we want them to learn.
Allington is arguing that we need to allow students to read easier texts to build automaticity, in the same way that Long, Slow Distance allowed me to build my base strength as a cyclist. By spending time with these easier texts, readers learn to successfully apply the decoding and comprehension strategies they’re being taught. They also learn to be motivated, confident readers who will choose to read in the future.