This week, Helen Rothwell discusses her journey to engage the reluctant readers in her class.
My upper primary class has 20 minutes of daily designated reading time. We mix it up with individual reading time, reading to and with a buddy, pairing with an early childhood class and reading in small groups from a set text. Now my students are engaged in their reading, for most of the time, but it did not happen instantly. It took time for me to work on engaging my small number of reluctant readers.
My reluctant readers were students who, for a variety of reasons, did not find reading an activity that was enjoyable or had value for them. This may be because they do not have an atmosphere at home where they see adults reading, are not exposed to a variety of reading material outside school or they have the irresistible lure of computer games and other activities to keep them occupied. Some students think that reading happens at school and once they are outside school their time is their own and reading is an activity that is intrinsically linked to working at school.
A child can be a reluctant reader regardless of their proficiency as a reader. I have had students who are assessed as an independent reader, a goal many have from a young age. It is like the Holy Grail of reading ability – to be an independent reader; someone who is at level 30+. Of course, a reading level is just a ‘marker’. The important information gleaned from testing is the fluency, inferential and summarising skills, understanding of vocabulary and self-awareness they have stopped making meaning from the text. The problem with students knowing their reading level is that once they reach the classification of being independent they feel the reading journey has finished.
Reluctant readers can also be the students who are behind their peers in reading ability and keenly feel they are separate; that they are lacking and this affects their confidence to try to read books that will extend their skills. They develop a mindset of not being good enough: “What’s the point in trying when I can’t read a chapter book?” It is difficult to change this mindset.
To address this issue, my class has guided reading time where I work with small groups on the features of non-fiction texts. I explain that a non-fiction text is about five levels higher than its fiction equivalent because of the specific vocabulary that is used. One of the guided reading rotations is buddy reading a science, geography or history book.
Having a variety of texts is important but so is the way the material is presented. Some students prefer reading from an iPad or on the computer. Picture books are wonderful for all ages, not just the younger readers. The Children’s Book Council has helped to demystify the picture book as being aimed at young readers, making the genre accessible and attractive to older readers too. So trying all of the above my number of reluctant readers diminished to only two students. Hmm, so what to do now?
MAGAZINES! I bought issues of ‘HistoriCool’ and the CSIRO magazine ‘Scientriffic’. I sat with my reluctant readers and we flicked through the magazines, pointing out interesting pictures or funny captions, familiar diagrams and our own text-to-self experiences from our connection with snippets in the magazines. Sometimes the text was too difficult, sometimes too technical but both magazines have cartoons, puzzles, games and quizzes to balance the more serious articles. Reluctant reader count = zero!
So, please give serious consideration to having a magazine subscription for your library or classroom and if you already have these to hand, an occasional reminder to students that they are available. As well as engaging the reluctant reader through their curiosity, it is rewarding for all parties when they willingly go to pick up a text and read.
Helen Rothwell is a grade 5/6 teacher in a government school.