Reading is one of the most difficult and challenging things to encourage in students, but also one of the most important. With reluctant readers, EAL students and those with reading difficulties, especially boys, it is tricky to get them to read at all, and ever trickier to get them to enjoy it.
Reading success may be linked to drilling and practising. But it has shown to be even better when linked to interest and self-motivation. This means that while teaching parts of words and sounds might make sense, building a love of reading has to do with reading what you love.
Some students love reading, and conversely are good at reading. These children have most probably been reading and been read to since they were young. Growing up in a house full of books and having parents who are interested in reading themselves has a marked effect on children’s reading ability and interest, as you know from my previous blogs.
Research shows that students get engaged in reading when they read things that match their own lives, their own experiences. This means that students need a variety of texts to keep them interested in reading, regardless of their own reading levels. Students should be encouraged to read what they wish to read, not just what they can read.
There are some things teachers and parents can do to encourage children to read.
- Have books that students relate to:
Having texts for students that match their personal interests or life experiences is crucial to spark their love of reading.
This means if students love football, books on it would be interesting to them to read, challenging them to make meaning of its content. Students who are from different countries would love to read stories with which they are already familiar. Social justice stories that show minority people achieving success are also appreciated, whether they are people of colour or disabilities. Fiction and non-fiction books alike can be very useful in getting children to become self-motivated when it comes to reading.
So, while classics and recommended reading for school is essential, reading for the love of it is a lifelong skill that it is crucial to build during schooling years. We all have to read during our studies. But we also have to read in our adulthood, for various reasons. Reading is a very useful talent to possess.
That one book can make all the difference in turning a child into a reader.
“For students of every ability and background, it's the simple, miraculous act of reading a good book that turns them into readers, because even for the least experienced, most reluctant reader, it's the one good book that changes everything. The job of adults who care about reading is to move heaven and earth to put that book into a child's hands.
— Nancie Atwell, The Reading Zone”
- Help your child’s teacher to customise their teaching:
Share with teachers what motivates your child, especially at the start of the year. If you are a teacher, getting to know your students’ interests is essential to not only build a relationship with them, but to help them get texts that relate to them. Using ideas and interests can teach not only Maths and Science but also improve vocabulary and reading ability.
Nothing can create a student who loves learning that a teacher who loves teaching. In smaller classes, or with more experienced teachers, getting to know student interests and using it to motivate them is easier, than for others. But if classes are large, or multi-levelled, it helps for the teacher to get as much help as they can get.
“…pulling books, finding, hunting, searching for any type of print that matches a given student's targeted interest... then we pull him or her aside and deliver the message in both word and deed: I thought of you...”
- Make books challenging enough but not too challenging:
While it is true that reading texts just from interest is good to build interested readers, reading books that are accessible builds skilled readers. It improves the child’s feeling of success and comprehension. While content is important, the right reading level is essential to building comprehension.
One of the ways that teachers can do this is by having series where the same book can be read at different level. That way, students can then all discuss the text together. Differentiating instruction is the best way to engage all students to the best of their ability. There is a fine balance that needs to be met between having texts that students enjoy and texts that they can actually read and understand.
“Every child is entitled to the promise of a teacher’s optimism, enthusiasm, time, and energy... Teachers in the most exciting and effective differentiated classrooms don’t have all the answers. What they do have is optimism and determination.”
- Give students choice:
While there is no doubt students need to read certain books because they are recommended by the curriculum, they also need to be able to choose books that they find interesting to read at other times. This is especially important when students read at home for fun.
This is the trickiest point, as one of the best ways to encourage children to read at home is surround them with books. Parents reading to and with their children is one of my favourite ways to create avid readers. They know what their children will like better than anyone else.
If it is too expensive to buy books, the library is a great place to start. The public and school librarians can become the best resource people to go to when asking for suggestions for children. It is not only books but magazines, comics and articles that can help.
Children’s magazines and annuals are a much ignored source of interesting texts, many of which may still be found in libraries and can certainly be bought on Amazon or in good newsagents and book shops. They also have games and puzzles that will make children even more interested in the reading material.
All in all, it is clear that it is better for children to read something rather than nothing. In this world full of technological temptations, it is essential that we do everything we can to encourage children to become enthusiastic readers. It will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. And we would have done our jobs as their teachers and caregivers.