How do you encourage reluctant readers to want to read? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently. I know reluctant readers, I’ve met them on author visits to schools and some reviewers have said that my story, St Viper’s School for Super Villains, is a good book for them. But what actually makes a good book for a reluctant reader? Is there a list of gold star stories which will help them to find a love of reading and what advice is available for parents who are struggling with this issue? I’ve been talking to teachers, librarians and parents about the topic and reviewing the literature. One person who has some really interesting views on the subject is James Roberts-Wray, a Year 4 teacher who is passionate about children’s literature. I’m delighted to be able to share with you our first guest blog, by James, on Encouraging Reluctant Readers:
Have you ever entered a competition where you had to complete a sentence as a tiebreaker? Have you ever won? I have – twice. I’ve been given a portable stereo, as well as a holiday for two in the Algarve.
The story of how I won the holiday is for another time, but the stereo was won after considering quite carefully the subject of this post, namely how to encourage children to adopt a reading habit. The competition was run by the Puffin Book Club and, though I don’t recall the exact words of my winning entry, I do remember the gist of it.
It seemed to me that the Puffin Book Club succeeded by creating a community of readers, a club which anyone might join. The feeling of belonging, with reading as a shared endeavour, was its most important feature. This may seem like stating the obvious, but I think too often reading is viewed as a solitary process, something done alone in a quiet corner.
Think for a moment of adult reading behaviour. We may spend happy hours reading alone, but we also talk to friends about what they are reading, we seek out recommendations at our local bookshop, read reviews online, attend author events, or even join a book group. Why should this be different for children? Indeed if we are to encourage reading for enjoyment as a lifelong interest, then we should be modelling this with children.
As a teacher of primary aged children I try to promote this sharing of books as much as I can. Books often go in ‘crazes’ within my class, as pupils see their peers enjoying particular books. They want to join the party, and share what their friend is so enthusiastic about. This works particularly well with series of books. Try a child with ‘Stormbreaker’ and before you know it half the class are reading their way through the Alex Rider series. Give a reluctant reader ‘The Bad Beginning’ and, if they enjoy it, 13 books later they have read the whole Series of Unfortunate Events and more importantly, have become enthusiastic rather than reluctant readers. Children like reading series, because by doing so they sidestep that awful question, what shall I read next?
Of course, using peer pressure to encourage children to read is easier for a teacher to engineer at school than a parent in the home environment. But sharing a book with your child helps, as does modelling good reading behaviour by keeping up your own reading habit. If a child does not see you reading, what conclusion will they draw about the value of reading? Visit bookshops and libraries with your child. Do not assume that the books you read as a child will be of interest. Make proper non-computer, non-television space for reading. Use the five finger test. Put a finger on any word your child does not know. If you have reached the bottom of the page and have run out of fingers, the book is too difficult – change it.
Watching a reluctant reader turning on to the pleasures of reading is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It’s not something I judge from reading test scores or English exams. It is the child sat down reading before school starts – unasked – transported by their book to another place and time.