Engaging less confident readers with reading for pleasure
By Éadaoin Quinn
It is September and the eager young teens are telling me how much they just love reading and what books are their favourites. This is wonderful, but my ears are especially tuned to hear the voices declaring to hate reading: it is boring, they say, and a waste of time. I notice too those who look at the floor and say nothing.
Some of our students find reading difficult, they struggle with the mechanics of decoding, following a story line is a challenge, sitting still and concentrating is not easy. This may be because of a learning difficulty or condition such as dyslexia or ADHD, or they may have missed parts of their schooling. We try and find ways to make reading accessible to them.
More students are reluctant because they don’t identify as readers, haven’t had hours of storybooks read to them as young children, haven’t seen their families read, have few books at home and libraries and book shops are an unfamiliar land. We try to build a profile of these students as readers, to raise their confidence and to use their interests to hook them in.
Knowing the home languages of your students and their ability to read in that language is useful. Some students who are fluent orally in English may still stumble when reading and find it tiring. Find books for students to read in whatever language they are most comfortable with. If they enjoy the stories, develop a reading habit and see themselves as readers, in time they will likely enjoy reading in English too.
In a class or group setting, if a student who is reluctant or unable to read in English can read aloud to the group from a book in their home language, it can be a very special moment. The student gains confidence by showing everyone that they can read, and it can generate curiosity in the other students about the book being read to them. Additionally, students tell me that their parents and guardians are very happy to see them reading in their home language.
Whatever the reason a child is hesitant to read, we should focus on finding pleasure in the stories, in the content of the information books and the graphics of picture books and graphic novels. When introducing students to the library I tell them that we have lots of books for students who don’t like reading. They can choose from a section full of short pacey reads from the likes of Barrington Stoke. They can find the right book, the book about boxing or baking, the book set in a particular country or region. We have books that reflect their interests and cultures and even a whole section on ferrets. And why wouldn’t we? This is the students’ library, and a number of students keep ferrets! It is powerful for a student to be able to choose a book that speaks to them; they feel valued and that books and the library are more relevant to them.
To make good selections and genuine recommendations, I have to know the children in front of me and to have read many books and reviews. However, suggestions of reads from friends, from senior students and the cool young teachers are often given more clout than what I suggest, so we need lots of book talk, recommended reads displays, and team work. I ask our students how they prefer to read and offer audio books, e-books and dyslexia-friendly books.
I also give them a comfy space for enjoyable reading; whoever sits on a hard chair in their kitchen to read a book? Provide sofas in the library, bean bags in reading corners or simply cushions in classrooms to take out during reading time. In our school library I keep a sofa rota to give each students a fair turn throughout the year (and allocate mining rights for the coins lost between the cushions!).
There is no pressure here. The school day should include time to choose books and time to read for pleasure – not just to reach targets or sit tests. A recent end of year survey of my students surprised me with how many responded to say what they like about reading time is the quietness and calm. In a busy school it can be hard to come by. However, it can take time for some students to become comfortable with quiet during reading time, so quiet background music can help.
We share stories together by reading aloud, at the same time modelling how to choose a book and how to read a book with intonation; skipping over the odd word here and there, getting confused and having to go back. Maybe even abandoning it and starting another. Students read along with their own copies, sometimes listening while drawing or fidget-spinning.
We bring students together in small groups to read, where they are more likely to feel safe and secure enough to share their responses and perhaps to read aloud. Over the years I have learned that with some big groups, a loud voice saying they hate reading can set the tone for the whole class. Books that might be too daunting to read solo can be tackled together, and smaller groups can tackle books of different reading levels.
To encourage students to identify as readers I give them a list of the books they have read. As a keen reader, I still draw a blank when asked what I have been reading lately and forget titles and authors. Give weight to their thoughts on the books they have read, pin up their ratings and book reviews, celebrate their successes both big and small with cups of tea, snacks, awards, visits to bookshops and libraries and books to keep. and you will begin to hear “I actually enjoyed that book.”
5 Éadaoin’s top five books for reluctant and less confident readers
Dog Man (vol 1) by Dave Pilkey
Heartstopper (vol 1) by Alice Oseman
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Chris Priestly
The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Brock by Anthony McGowan (suitable for readers with dyslexia)
The Pavee and the Buffer Girl by Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Emma Shoard (suitable for readers with dyslexia)
Ice Man: The Remarkable Adventures of Antarctic Explorer by Tom Creane and Michael Smith, illustrated by Annie Brady