If there’s one thing that I’ve learned trying to help students with their reading and writing, it’s that they need to feel successful. Already successful ones and struggling ones all need to feel like they’re doing well.

Students who have support at home, or who already know about a topic feel successful because they know they can ask questions, or get help just by asking. They don’t feel dumb asking for help. They already have a level of confidence in an ability, so they don’t worry about losing status with other people.

According to my experience, it’s difficult for a student who feels lost on an assignment, or knows he can’t spell, to do an assignment all on his own. He knows he’s not up to par with his peers, particularly in middle school or high school when classes tend to move so quickly.

So what? What can be done? It’s too late right? She’s already supposed to know how to read and understand, and infer meaning. He’s already supposed to know how to form a logical argument, or write a great paragraph.

What you can do:

  • Take it slow. Practice. When it comes to reading, it’s okay to choose books that might be “too young”, so long as your reader is interested in the topic. The general rule is, if the reader is spending more time trying to decode unknown words than reading, the text is too difficult. A reader should be able to understand roughly 75% of what he or she is reading at grade level*.
  • Start small. If your reader is 12, you shouldn’t be tackling The Hobbit, or The Life of Pi. Maybe she would love the story, but we’re looking for opportunities to succeed. The BFG, Winnie the Pooh, or stories by Dr. Seuss are shorter and have more accessible vocabulary. Comic books like Bone, where pictures help tell the story, can help your reader feel successful.
  • Nursery rhymes might be the key. There’s something about rhymes and word learning. Nursery rhymes are easy to remember. Reading out loud to hear similar sounds can be fun, and there’s some confidence in being able to recite something from memory.
  • Take turns reading, and read out loud. If your reader is sitting down with you, don’t drag out the pain of pronouncing a word. Tell him what the word is. Say it once or twice, and move on. In order to learn a new name or a new word, we need to hear it and say it at least 7 times. The more your reader can hear and see the words, the more likely he’ll remember.
  • Be patient. The reading doesn’t get easier, the reader gets better at reading.

As a teacher, sometimes I grade for effort and not ability. If I know a student is struggling with reading or writing, I tell her my expectation, and then modify it based on her ability. I expect all of my students to read 2 to 3 books per term. Some of them feel overwhelmed by the idea of reading 2 books. I tell her individually and privately, that if the book is too hard, don’t waste time on it. Pick another one. If the book is really big, I might suggest something smaller, maybe something nonfiction, maybe some poetry. I should see growth, and she should feel accomplishment.

I really believe everyone likes to read; they just need to find the book that interests them enough to keep going.
Keep going. Keep reading. Be patient.
-Dave

 

 

 

 

*Carver, Ronald P. “PERCENTAGE OF UNKNOWN VOCABULARY WORDS IN TEXT AS A                  FUNCTION OF THE RELATIVE DIFFICULTY OF THE TEXT: IMPLICATIONS FOR                       INSTRUCTION” Journal of Reading Behavior, 1994, Vol 26, No 4. Date Access Nov 5,              2018. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10862969409547861

Really. It’s Okay. Your kid isn’t broken. If your child hates reading, it’s not the end of the world.

But, I have a question for you. Do you hate reading?

You don’t have to reply out loud, or type your response in the comment section below(though I would love to have a chat with you sometime).

Reading comes in different forms, not just novels. Business news counts, a biography counts. There are many types of books, magazines, and web print that counts.

If you still hate reading, did you ever love reading in the past? Did a teacher in elementary school read a book to your class every day after lunch recess? Is there a book in your life that you remember with fondness at all?

I have noticed that among all of the students that I have taught; even the kids who say they hate reading, don’t really hate reading. Everyone has a book, though they might be ashamed to admit how long ago it was that they read said book.

There are different types of readers. These are all generally true, there will be obvious exceptions so don’t freak out.

  • Young male readers (8-15 years old) typically enjoy picture books, and books with  facts, data, machines, and pictures that explain them. Animal books, sports books, world record books, freaky facts, and did you know books. Their attention spans grab the data, and process what they’re seeing spatially. Some boys will enjoy big novels like The HobbitThe Chronicles of Narnia, Michael Vey, Hatchet, and the Percy Jackson series, but it’s ok if they don’t. One that my boys loved reading with me is The Watsons Go To Birmingham. It’s funny, and full of opportunity for conversation.
  • Young female readers (8-15 years old) typically enjoy picture books, and books with facts, data, machines, and pictures that explain them. Animal books, sports books, world record books, freaky facts, and did you know books. My daughters particularly like the Fancy Nancy series of books. Pete the Cat, and Elephant and Piggy. Those might be a bit young for 10-15 year olds, but I laugh at them. Again, novels like The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, are good. One novel that has a great female protagonist, and horse riding is The War That Saved My Life.
  • Frustrated and edgy teenagers don’t like to admit that they like reading, but they do. It just has to be a book that is edgy and challenging just like they are. Books that these readers enjoy will often have themes or language that caring adults might not agree with. These books include The Outsiders, Twilight, The Fault in Our Stars, several different manga titles, and many things horror. I don’t specify anything for the last two genres because there are so many titles and authors. You’ll know it if you see it.

I definitely don’t want to tell you what content you should allow. You have your rules and expectations. You have your own understanding of what is right or wrong. I wouldn’t want you to censor me, so I won’t censor you. Do a little research. Check out Goodreads. There are several reviews and ratings when it comes to content. If you’re worried about a book, read it for yourself first.

But do yourself, and your kid a favor.

  • Don’t force your child to read through books that you might have enjoyed as a younger reader.
  • Do give her time and space to find what she likes to read. That includes frequent trips to the library, or the bookstore.
  • Make time for him to read. Turn off devices. Expect that he reads.
  • Demonstrate that you enjoy reading. (Note to self. Find something I like to read.)
  • Take turns reading out loud. This obviously depends on the age of your reader. It can be a great experience to read something with your child. You’ll also have something to talk about later.

If there’s something I’ve learned teaching English to teenagers, it’s that we mess things up trying to help them do the thing we love. Kids learn to hate reading because they are asked questions about the book when they don’t know if they understand it yet. Kids learn to hate to read because there isn’t enough time to do it, or there always seems to be an interruption. Kids learn to hate to read because they don’t know words and don’t want to feel stupid. Kids learn to hate to read because they hear negative things about reading from people they look up to. Kids learn to hate to read because the movie or game or music is easier and louder and better, meaning it takes too much effort for the reward they receive.

Ultimately, it’s about time. We all go through phases. Put the important things in. Cut the distractions out. If your child struggles, help him exercise the skill that needs the work, don’t avoid it. Reading can be a rewarding experience when the right book is found.

Read on, even a little bit at a time counts.

-Dave

 

 

 

 

Image source clipartxtras.com