Many students are reluctant readers. I’m not talking about students who are reluctant to read because they have reading disabilities. I’m talking about students who can read but just don’t like reading and try to avoid it whenever possible. There are many reasons students don’t like to read. For example,
- some families don’t value reading so students come to school thinking reading isn’t important;
- some students think reading isn’t cool and discourage their friends from reading; and
- some people think reading is a waste of time and people should go do something instead of just sitting and reading.
I want to share an anecdote with you that helped remind me why some kids won’t read. I can’t even imagine not reading. But, that’s me, and I have to remember that. I had a student in a grade 12 learning strategies class a few semesters ago who didn’t like reading. I’ll call him Kyle. After I had introduced the daily reading activity, Kyle told me he didn’t like to read. (What else is new, I thought.) He told me he had never read an entire book in the 13 years he’s been in school. Unfortunately, I’ve heard that said before too. Many of my students are reluctant readers, but I continue to encourage them to read anyway. I don’t give up because you just never know.
Reluctant readers often have difficulty finding books they would like to read. When Kyle couldn’t find a book to read in the entire school library, I asked him what kinds of movies did he like watching. He told me, but I can’t remember just now but it doesn’t really matter . My point is whatever type of movie he liked watching is the type of book I would have suggest he read. Suggesting students use the kind of movies they like to watch to help them choose books they might find interesting to read is a good starting point for kids who can’t find a book. I figure students go to movies all the time so they feel comfortable with movies , but books and libraries are probably a pretty scary for someone who doesn’t read much. I appreciate that, so I usually help students find a book with the school librarian’s help. She’s a wonderful resource for reluctant readers.
By the end of the semester Kyle had read seven or eight books. He told me he even read books on the bus. Wow. I was immediately impressed (ha!) with the fact that Kyle who was in grade 12 hadn’t finish reading a book before in all the time he was in school and in my class (ha!) he had read seven books. I had helped him become an avid reader. I had made a difference (ha!) . Kyle had become an avid reader. That was great. But Kyle didn’t think it was so great. Kyle’s girl friend hated the fact he read all the time, even on the bus. She told him he was turning into a geek and was losing his cool factor. She didn’t want him to be geeky. Personally, I think she was feeling ignored. She had to compete with books for his attention and didn’t like it one bit. Kyle told me he wouldn’t be reading anymore books. Seven books were enough. What? Seven book were enough. I didn’t know what to say to him. I was stunned. Reading seven books in a life time was enough? Really! I hoped that wouldn’t be the case. I think he thought that books were for school and since he was done with school because he graduated, he was done with books. How was he able to get through school without reading a book? He had marvelous coping skills I guess.
I think some students don’t like to read because they don’t get involved with what they are reading. Let me explain. When I’m reading something I get involved with the text and will talk to the text and say things such as
- I don’t get it;
- I get it now;
- what does that word mean;
- I can relate to that ;
- I can’t read because there’s too much noise in the room;
- I really like the character; and
When I’m talking to the text, I’m engaging with it and making the reading experience more meaningful to me. I want my students to be engaged with the text they are reading to make it more meaningful for them. So I decided I would have them complete a reading log where they could talk to the text they were reading. Reading logs usually include columns for dates and the pages read on that particular day. My talking to the text reading log includes columns for dates, for quotations from the text and page number, and for comments about the quotations. Students had to read in order to make comments. It would be more difficult for them to cheat and just fill in the date and page numbers they hadn’t actually read.
Students would read their books and while reading would choose a sentence or two that spoke to them in some way. Then they would comment or talk about how the sentence spoke to them. I told my students that when they were making comments they were really talking to the books. The idea of talking to books got their attention. They thought I was weird, but that’s OK. I got their attention. I modeled what it meant to talk to books. I told them I also talk to the TV and to movies. I wanted them to have conversations with their books. I would provide sentence stems to help them to start to think about their reading. I would read their comments about the text they were reading and made thoughtful comments (I hope) about their comments. Of course, I would give students the option of sharing their comments with me and other students or keeping their comments private. I can only remember one student who wanted his comments to remain private. I think sharing our comments helped us develop a more positive relationship. We got to now know another better. I didn’t get the sense that students were writing what they thought I wanted to hear, but who knows. At least they were reading and thinking about their reading. What they wrote had to fit with the sentences they chose.
Oh yes, the students would always have to give a reason why they thought what they did about the sentence or sentences they had chosen. For example, if a students wrote that she could relate to the character, she would have to say how. She just couldn’t say she related to April. She’d have to say she related to April because she too had an annoying little sister who always wanted to do what she did.
Some semesters I would have students read three days a week and some semesters I would have them read everyday. If I got busy and forgot it was the day we were supposed to read, students would remind me that we supposed to read and complete the log. Most of my students liked talking to their books. It’s not realistic to think that all students would like any given strategy. Sometimes I’m more of an optimist than a realist, when it comes to trying new strategies to get students to do their best. Fortunately, my students help me stay balanced.
If you’d like a copy of my sentence stems and the reading log I used, I’d be delighted to share them. Just leave a request in the comment box below. You could use the resources as is or as a starting point to help develop your own handouts.