It’s the child that skims, or bounces from book to book but never finishes. It’s the child that just can’t seem to settle down or protests when it’s time to read. It’s the child that just won’t take any recommendations from parents or teachers when it comes to choosing books. The case of the reluctant reader can be a tough one to crack. I’ve worked with hundreds of children over 13 years, and I’ve seen these poor reading habits many times. Parents have come to me in conferences stating their child just doesn’t want to read or can’t settle into a book. One parent even offered a chance to receive a large gift if they finished a certain chapter book. Sadly, that reward wasn’t attainable for the child.
I want to be clear and say you may work with a struggling reader, a reluctant reader, or both a struggling AND reluctant reader. A struggling reader may need support in fluency, phonics and decoding, comprehension or all of the above. I’ve worked with some children that despite their needs, they plug along and enjoy reading. The reluctant reader may not have any notable areas of weakness, but at times like a struggling reader, not enjoy the act of reading. A struggling and reluctant reader has the mountain to climb in becoming a successful reader who enjoys sitting with a good book. It is our job to learn about the children we are working with in a variety of ways. I’ll share some ways I’ve done that in this post, as well as ideas for reaching struggling and reluctant readers which I have personally put into practice.
Where To Begin?
It’s the strategic placement of books (even the covers facing out when on display, if possible) EVERYwhere. It’s the organizational system for categorizing books, by genre, author, and topic. It’s the cozy and inviting book nook, and the quiet reading spaces, that shows a child one thing: Reading is front and center in this classroom or home. But more importantly, it’s not just the physical space. It’s the attitude that exudes from a teacher or parent about reading that draws a child. Enthusiasm is an absolute MUST. Children learn by example as we all know, so naturally seeing excitement over books is contagious!
Take time to find our your child or student’s interests. I cannot stress this enough. Give an interest inventory. Share those interests so your budding readers find commonalities among their classmates. Have them bring in a favorite book (old or new) to share at morning meeting the first week or two of school. Interview and assess each child carefully. I’ve even sent a parent questionnaire home to find out a parent’s impression of their child’s reading interests. When you put the pieces of the puzzle together that make up any reader, you’ll be better equipped to plan your year with them. Reaching what we teachers and parents want: positive, uphill progress and lifelong learners is the goal.
Now consider taking your reading interests a step further! Gather a bag filled with all your favorite reading material and share what you like about them with your students. Invite parents, and the principal to do the same! When children see the adults around them as readers you make a greater impact. The conversation fills with excitement in the room! Years ago, my classroom paraprofessional shared hers with my class. She shared childhood favorites and what she likes to read as an adult. The real treasure was the reading log she had kept of EVERY book she had read for about 10 years with the dates and rating of each book. Every child wanted to know what she was reading when they were born. 🙂 It was a perfect share and I was so grateful for the difference she made in the lives of our students that year.
Now that the groundwork is set, here are 10 ways to establish a love of reading with your reluctant readers all year.
1.Set up a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly Mystery Reader to read to your class. Have a sign up sheet at Open House night for parents. Invite grandparents, the principal, your spouse or your own parents. All you need to do is send a quick reminder via email when it’s their turn. It’s very low maintenance but has long-lasting rewards. My students COUNTED on the Friday mystery reader. I read clues about them all week to build excitement and anticipation. Guest readers read a variety of things. Sometimes they’d read the first two chapters of a book just to whet their appetites. I loved that! That book would fly off the shelves after.
2. Take a trip to a local library. Sometimes having the librarian give the book talks is just enough to build more interest. Our town librarian showed a brand new section of graphic novels. Her book talk was a hit. The books were instantly checked out.
3. Read aloud. OK, I know this doesn’t sound like anything novel, but I have to stress one point. By third grade I’ve conferenced with parents over the years that figured since they’re child could read, they no longer needed to read to them! Children, especially reluctant or struggling readers, NEED to be read to continuously. It’s hearing an expert reader in their ear that builds their listening comprehension, vocabulary, and so much more. Read those classics that are rich in vocabulary that they couldn’t read themselves. If you’re feeling like you don’t have the best read-aloud voice as a parent, try audio books and listen together in the car.
4. Try technology. I still need the physical book in my hand, but reading on my Ipad has its benefits too. There are tons of free audio book websites and inexpensive apps for children, and they get better all the time. There are websites that show book trailer videos and they are fabulous! They’ll even show you how to make your own.
5. Book choice is key. Letting children choose the books they read may lead to more investment than assigning books, as we know. The reluctant reader has a hard time with book choice. That’s when guidelines with choice should be set. Here’s an example:
First, I gave my reluctant reader a book bag during their conference. (perhaps a cool bookmark too :))Then, I would have plenty of books with me that I know may grab their attention, or I pop over to the classroom library with them. They needed to choose 6 books with me: 3 easy, 2 just-right, and 1 challenging and put them in their bags. They read those during independent reading time until they finished all 6 books. Checking in frequently was crucial.
The point here is you’re embedding choice, but supporting their progress. Reading more easy and just-right books rather than challenging books ensures their progress. It also gives them a sense of purpose, organization, control and ultimately success when then complete all six books. These kids need to feel successful as readers.
6. Dust off the listening center! Kids LOVE listening centers. Adults however, don’t always see it as “real reading” because the story is being read to them. Audio books have numerous benefits and offer a valuable reading experience for any reader, but particularly for the reluctant or struggling reader. You can even set up a listening center for two at a classroom computer by plugging in a splitter cord for two headphones to plug in and listen. I even like to play the audio version of a story for the whole class when reading a selection from a reading program or textbook.
7. Explore different genres and formats.
-Bring in graphic novels (this genre is exploding with popularity), or magazines like Ranger Rick, Zoobooks, or National Geographic for Kids.
-Find a series they’ll enjoy, It’s the comfort of knowing the characters and their usual problems that keeps a reader coming back for the next book in a series. Amazon will even give you that little “you might also like” list of books when you search online for a book to buy. I love that! So if you’re child has read Diary of A Wimpy Kid for the tenth time, and you want them to branch out, type it in and you ‘ll find books of similar interest.
8. Use Outside Resources. The Junior Library Guild collects the most engaging and highest quality literature for subscriptions to schools. You can apply for a grant to have J.L.G. books come to your school on a monthly basis. They are all beautifully hard cover bound, and organized well by reading proficiencies and genres. I love that teachers get to choose their class preferences.
Another option is to either have authors come to your school or find a high quality bookstore that hosts author visits. The Blue Bunny in Dedham, MA is a treasured bookstore of mine. It hosts many children’s authors and always has unique children’s literature that appeals to a wide range of readers. Putting a face to a name after you’ve read a book is powerful!
9. Share! Reading a book is largely a solitary activity as an adult. But for children, we need to make it social! Reading with partners, to younger students or siblings is one way to bring budding readers together. Sharing in poetry readings, reader’s theater, book talks, literature circles where they get to choose the book (with guidance of course), can offer a reluctant reader a chance to branch out safely.
10. Provide follow up activities, extensions and enrichment. As a third grade teacher in Massachusetts, I had my students read and research famous people from the state. Then I had them present as that famous person. Parents were encouraged to take their child to the historic site their famous person lived or worked. One of my struggling and reluctant readers chose Henry David Thoreau. His parents took him to Walden Pond. This brought his research alive! He was the best Thoreau I had ever seen present as a result of his new appreciation. Another teacher I worked with always dissected owl pellets after reading Poppy by Avi! I m not suggesting that each book be accompanied by a book report or diorama. Hooking these readers with a hands-on, authentic experience before, during, or after a book will make a deeper, more-lasting impression. We as teachers and parents owe that to our children.
If you are interested in where some of my ideas that I used in my own classroom came from here are some references. I appreciate and welcome your comments.
Thank you for reading!
Emily Gibbons www.facebook.com/TheReadingTutorOG
1. Beyond Leveled Books by: Karen Szymusiak and Franki Sibberson (Stenhouse Publishers, 2001)
2. Reading Essentials: The Specifics You Need To Teach Reading Well by: Regie Routman (Heineman Publishers, 2003)
3. The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (Jossey-Bass, 2010)