Skillful and attentive critical reading is crucial for success in college. Research has shown that pedagogies that foreground the transactional nature of reading are more effective than those that frame reading as a process of decoding meanings transmitted in the text. Despite this, existing approaches to reading instruction often reinforce a transmission model of reading that prioritizes the decoding of textual meaning over more active engagement. Assignments that explicitly or implicitly define reading as a process of identifying correct interpretations in this way risk reinforcing the shame and frustration students experience as they struggle to interpret texts. As an alternative, this article advocates for an approach to critical reading instruction that emphasizes what students experience as they read. Drawing together research from the fields of educational psychology, community literacy, developmental reading, and college writing, the author argues that placing students’ intuitive, creative responses to texts at the center of reading instruction can help students cultivate the agency, persistence, and enjoyment they need to become attentive critical readers.