I am taking a break from my book loves to rant. We educators do this every now and then and this is my season. I have been fortunate enough to work with some fabulous kids in my career. I have taught reading, tried to teach importance of learning to read and struggled with getting kids over that hump of moving to junior chapter books then challenging themselves to carry on.
Carry on… has been my struggle lately. That crossover to the bigger more challenging books seems to be getting some kids down. I have analyzed the problem and come up with three reasons why that hump is more like a mountain than a foothill.
Completion. Students come up with many reasons why they won’t complete a book. Some will read the first chapter and lose interest. Some just like to get the biggest book to show off, and some just feel the need to turn the book in after a week because that is their library day.
Well, I have a problem with those excuses. Repeat “noncompleters” are normally just avoiding reading. I asked some of my “noncompleters” why they continued to check out books and not finish them and their responses ranged from, “I didn’t like the book”, to “I just checked that book out because I had to get something”. Taking those comments into mind, I decided to make sure I pay more attention to the needs of my patrons. I have always asked how they like a book, but not why they don’t. This information can help me help them make better choices. So today a few of my “noncompleters” found a book that was more suitable for their taste and hopefully they will complete it.
Readability and Mastery. The fifth grader who reads on a second grade level generally hates reading. There is not much that you can do to change that. I didn’t say “nothing”, I said not much. It is hard to create a lover of books if you struggle with reading the most basic words. Things we need to think of as teachers is how we approach reading with struggling readers.
If you were thrown in the ring with a heavy weight boxer and all that you knew how to do was a one-two punch, what would you expect? Well, that is what we are doing to our struggling readers. We are sending them into the ring without giving them the training they need to be successful. I wish that the “decision makers” would understand that doing something that you don’t like for an extra hour doesn’t make you any better at it. Mainly because you don’t want to do it in the first place. This in turn, creates a negative attitude about reading. We have to make sure they have materials that interest them and move them along at a pace that is comfortable for them. We continue to want to put struggling readers on the “fast track” to reading. The problem with the fast track is that if it was successful they would not be struggling, right? Nurture young readers to make sure they are mastering what they read before you move them along. The only way to help your young inexperienced boxer is to make sure that he understands the techniques and gains confidence in himself before you put him up against the big boys.
Interest. As a mother of three boys, I struggled with them reading. All of my sons are excellent readers. They learned the fundamentals very early, continued to do well in school, but summer reading has been a nightmare in my home. We struggle with the thirty minutes of reading each night and completing the four novels during the summer. The book always wins but not after I have taken every item from their bedrooms, banished friends and almost cancelled outings.
It all came to an end one summer when my middle son was in third grade. He informed me that he can read and doesn’t see the need to read a book about a girl who doesn’t know what she wants to do. “She’s so indecisive”, is what he said. At that point, I decided to skip the summer reading and get him a magazine subscription to “Boy’s Life” and ”Field and Stream”. After that I nearly broke my ankle in a squirrel trap, but he learned that from one of his magazines( He did apologize for not marking the trap).
I say all of that because I want you (reader) to know that reading should be fun for kids. We should sneak the fun in reading whenever we can. They need to know how to do it, yes. But they also need to let it become a natural part of them. I have students who just want to read graphic novels so; I purchased historical graphic novels for them. I have readers who want to just read books about fairies and princesses so; I send them to stories about real princess sometimes. We have to find a creative way to respect the interest of our young readers. Not necessarily tricking them into a good book, but navigating them in a different direction based on their interest.
So, now my rant is done. Be the example, open a good book (or a not so good book) and read.