Reluctant readers. I didnt even realise this was a phrase. As an avid reader myself, and from a family of bibliophiles, the concept of people who choose not to read was astounding. Teaching and the education profession is my second career. I spent many years as a practicing scientist and reading both professionally and for recreation was common. We had many water cooler conversations about recent academic publications along with Oprah’s uncanny knack of turning an average book into a best seller. So my foray into the world of reluctant readers has been recent and startling.
Reluctant readers as people that “may struggle with reading, not show any interest in reading or simply refuse to read independently” (learningpotential.gov.au). These students in a classroom tasked with silent reading either pretend to read to avoid censure, get easily distracted or flat out refuse to read citing boredom, disinterest or illiteracy (www.k12reader.com). Some children and young teens chose negative behaviour even if it leads to disciplinary actions just to avoid reading a book. Such machinations are just a student’s way to avoid doing something they don’t like. When questioned, most of these readers describe reading as a chore and that there is nothing that interests them.
My school has just implemented a silent reading program for the year 7 and 8 students to improve literacy levels and promote reading for recreational purposes. The program is still in its infancy and we have noticed that out of the 470 students within these two year levels the majority of the students are complying. We do however, have about 50 students who have on multiple occasions been noted for failing to bring a book to class as well as others being identified as ‘fake reading’. Fake reading, as I have casually defined it, is pretending to read to avoid censure by having a book in front of them but not actually looking at it. Stereotypically, a vast majority of our reluctant readers are boy as many of them are disinterested in books as they view them as ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unnecessary’ as well as ‘unconnected’ to the real world (www.k12reader.com).
To combat this trend of disinterest, my fellow TLs and I have been searching our collection for various resources to help them find that connection to a book. The strategies we have implemented to combat the various hurdles are the following:
Short attention span: these kids are not likely to wish to read big compendiums so we have sourced shorter books that are usually completed in 10-15minutes. This means that students are more likely to read another book as they feel they have accomplished something in a short amount of time. The Libraries of Doom series have been excellent for this.
Low literacy: our school is an inclusive school and we have a wide range of literacy levels. Many of our reluctant readers have low literacy and are unable to read the plethora of young adult fiction we have. But they are also loathe to read the simpler books as they feel they are ‘not cool’ enough and self esteem is important during those teenage years. Hi-lo books have been useful in this setting. These books purchased jointly with our Inclusive education team have helped with implementation of our reading program. Hi-Lo books are intriguing to the students because their topics resonate with our students but the language used is at an appropriate level. They have been particularly popular with our male cohort of reluctant readers. We also have subscribed to Wheelers elibrary for those that have vision disabilities. These students can elect books with larger print and or use the audiobook function to participate with the reading program. In most circumstances we can also provide the print copy to help them follow the words.
Disinterested readers: these are are most challenging students. They usually rank highly on their literacy results for NAPLAN but show complete disinterest in reading recreationally as they do not find a purpose for it. Fiction books just hold no interest to them. Harper (2016) very truthfully points out “that fiction isn’t for everyone. Some readers just don’t connect with made up characters and imagined scenarios”. It was surprising though the unwillingness of the English department to support the reading of non fiction texts in the silent reading program. Granted that non fiction is not literature and will not placate the soul, but non fiction texts do lead to life long passions and career choices (National library of NZ 2014).
The addition of non fiction texts and audiobooks have assisted with most of our disinterested reluctant readers. Whilst their enthusiasm to read is still low, they are slowly coming around to the idea. The recent purchases of print texts on Formula 1 racing and sporting biographies have helped engage some of them. Others are still fighting the concept but perseverance from my fellow colleagues is making headway. We discovered with a small cohort of year 8 boys that non fiction was just not ‘cutting it’ and a suggestion from their technology teacher about sourcing dirt bike magazines has been a boon. These magazines with their glossy pictures and simple language style have had some appeal. Whilst we are unable to currently procure an online subscription to this series, we have a print copy on order. These six young men come to the library each time for silent reading and get a current or back issue and read on the very comfy beanbags in our reading area. It seems obvious that choice matters for recreational reading. Its only been a week and there have been hiccups but the future is suddenly full of hope
Australian Government – DET (2018) Reluctant readers, how to help. Learning Potential. Retrieved from https://www.learningpotential.gov.au/reluctant-readers-how-to-help
Harper, H. (2016) Books for reluctant readers. [Blog post] Readings. Retrieved from https://www.readings.com.au/news/books-for-reluctant-readers
K12 reader(2018) Strategies to help engage reluctant readers in reading. Retrieved from https://www.k12reader.com/strategies-to-help-engage-reluctant-readers-in-reading/
National Library of NZ. (2014). Non-fiction. National Library of New Zealand Services to Schools. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20160729150727/http://schools.natlib.govt.nz/creating-readers/genres-and-read-alouds/non-fiction
Mosle, S. (2012, November 22). What should children read? [Blog post]. Opinionator: The New York Times. Retrieved from https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/22/what-should-children-read/?_r=0
Sharrock, J (2009) Interview with Dave Eggers. Mother Jones Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.motherjones.com/media/2009/03/mojo-interview-dave-eggers/