February 11, 2010

Growing Readers


This week's Booking Through Thursday question is right up my alley. In fact, I'm sure you've probably heard all of this advice before. But you can say it too many times. Barbara H. wants to know the best way to encourage her reluctant readers.

I teach English Language Learners and they are all, for the most part, reluctant readers. My own dad and brother would not put reading at the top of their list of fun things to do. Even many of the teachers I work with may talk a good talk a good game about the importance of reading, but rarely do it for pure pleasure.

To grow good readers:

1. Read

Sounds so obvious, but kids really do imitate us. My students never touch a dictionary unless there's a lesson involved. But once during SSR, I put down my book, walked over and looked something up, mumbled, "I didn't know that," and went back to reading. Now the kids in that group periodically look things up. They're the only group that does. I need to do the same thing for my other groups...

2. Feed Their Interests

So they're not reading the classics, or even chapter books at all. Buy them interest-specific things and they will read them. Skateboarding magazines, comics, video game code books, celebrity magazines, anything. That's reading. Reading leads to more reading. My dad and brother are both big golfers and have subscriptions to every golfing magazine there is. They are experts in their field (and even read books about golfing). And hey, because of them there are even golfing books I have found enjoyable now and then.

3. Bait

The back of the driver's side car seats in both of our vehicles are stuffed with magazines and slim books that my daughter likes. There's no DVD player (except on long trips). Guess what she does when she's not bopping to the music? There's also a basket of magazines and books in both bathrooms. There's one with her name on it next to her bed she can dig into when she can't get to sleep. If you build it, they will come...

4. Read Aloud

Jim Trelease nailed it when he said we should be reading to them until they leave our house. There is no good reason to stop just because they can do it on their own. The popularity of audio books shows me that we all like hearing a good story. He would make his teenagers do the dishes while he would sit and read stuff to them from newspapers and magazines they were interested in like those old Cuban lector de tabaquerias. Half the books my students choose to read are based on things I've read to them earlier in the year.

5. TV Limits

I love TV and books. Most good readers do too. When her boys were about to flunk out of school, Ben Carson's mom turned off the TV. They could only watch it after finishing homework and reading two self-chosen books from the library. Both boys went on to academic success. TV was allowed, but limited. The books were self-chosen, so still of interest. I've done yearly surveys with all my students and the ones who have TV limits are always the best. For some it's no TV during the week. For some it's no TV on the weekends. For some it's a certain daily amount. It doesn't seem to matter, as long as there are limits of some kinds. The ones with no limits (and worst of all, a TV in their room) don't do nearly as well. This is not always true, but true enough in the main that I think some kind of limits on "screen time" (tv, computer, gaming) helps not only with school work and reading, but just creativity in general. It's good to be bored sometimes. You never know what they might do. They might even surprise you and pick up a good book...