Reaching the Reluctant Reader
Apr 28, 2010 Reading 2631 Views
Reading opens doors. Not reading slams those doors shut. It's as simple - and sad - as that for far too many lives. More than 70 percent of inmates have limited literacy skills. So many nonreaders wind up in jail, in fact, that many states use 4th grade reading scores to help calculate future prison needs.
Reading in elementary school is really that important. There's nothing more important. Everything else is a distant second. Everything.
Yet schools remain full of reluctant readers - mostly boys and English language learners - and statistics show that the problem is getting worse. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that fewer than 30 percent of 4th graders nationwide read at a proficient level and nearly 40 percent cannot demonstrate basic reading skills. In an age of enormous advances, reading skills are actually declining.
Growing up, I was a typical reluctant reader. My family moved from Argentina to Los Angeles when I was four years old and I didn't know English when I started school.
I quickly fell behind. I fell behind across the board. But mostly I fell behind in reading.
I was soon caught in that familiar vicious cycle of not liking to read because it made me feel bad about myself. The more I didn't read, the more I fell behind and the more I didn't like to read.
But one day something magical happened. I found a book that did the impossible: it got me excited about reading. I started reading all the books in that genre I could find and at some point found myself in a very different cycle. Now the more I read, the better I became at it. The better I became, the more I read and the better I felt about myself. And the more I read.
That small book of scary stories literally changed the course of my life.
I made it through high school with decent grades and ended up at the University of California at Berkeley, where I graduated with honors. After a few years as a newspaper reporter, I went into teaching.
After almost 20 years in the classroom, I started writing children's books with the intent of making reading fun. I've been on tour for nearly two years and have read to almost 50,000 students in seven states and British Columbia. It's been a blast! Librarians, principals, teachers, and parents consistently thank me for reaching kids who don't like to read.
I can see the impact I'm having as I stand in front of an auditorium full of kids who share my love of scary stories or soccer stories or adventure stories. It's a great feeling.
And it's not rocket science. An excited reader is a better reader. The more enthusiasm a student feels toward books, the more he will read. The more he reads, the more he improves.
It has become my mission to reach these kids and help drive a stake through the heart of those scary literacy statistics.
Here are a few ideas on how to drive some stakes of your own:
Interesting Content: First and foremost, students need to be reading daily about things that interest them. Soccer, scary stories, skateboards, science fiction, cars - subjects that have meaning to students will help get students excited about reading.
Plenty of Time for Reading: Kids must have plenty of reading time with the content of their choice every day and this needs to be cultivated at a young age.
No Genre Hating: We all have personal preferences regarding genres. But it's critical that educators keep their eyes on the prize. Getting kids to read is the goal. Having students share our particular passion for this or that book is not. Don't judge the genre. Let students read what they want: scary stories, sports, science fiction. Many adults dismiss these forms of reading because of their own prejudice, but enthusiasm for reading is key to getting the reluctant reader to succeed.
Reading Comes in All Forms: It's important to remember that reading material comes in all forms. Comics, graphic novels, and web sites are just a few examples where kids can go for interesting reading material.
Read Aloud: Through read aloud, adults can transmit the excitement of reading to children. Subjects and books that may have seemed too daunting to the reluctant reader will become easier to understand with a read aloud.