How do we make sure that even the most stubborn “nonreaders” have the opportunity to become authentic readers? Here is what really works.
The most important method for getting kids to read is relentless optimism. Never give up on them. Let them know there is a book out there they will like. Never label them or let them label themselves as “not being a reader.”
Introduce them often to an abundance of really fun and interesting reading material- use book talks, read alouds, peer sharing, book displays, book trailers, special events, and whatever else your creative mind can imagine. Follow lots of interesting educators online for inspiration.
Give them Access
Give them access to these materials as much as possible – in the classroom, in the MC, at home. Build a great classroom library, but never limit use of the school media center. Use both whole class trips to the MC to jumpstart someone who has had the same old book forever, as well as anytime passes to the MC so they can get another book as soon as they finish one and need another. Find opportunities for students to own their own books such as book fairs, book coupons, book give aways.
Let them have the freedom to read whatever they wish to read.
Do not limit them to books in their “reading level.” Reading levels are instructional tools never meant for independent reading (even Fountas&Pinell themselves say so.)
Do not limit them to books that seem too easy for their age. If we shame them for not reading “harder” books, they may never pick up another book.
Do not limit them to books that seem to hard for their age or grade. An entire generation grew up reading 300 page books when they were 8 years old because Harry Potter. Never underestimate the power of high interest.
Let them read graphic novel or comic books or magazines. Just let them.
Students can and will find books they can and want to read by opening the book and reading it for themselves.
Make sure they have time every single day to read. Every day they do not read, they lose track of the story line and therefore interest and comprehension. When they read every day they build stamina for longer and longer gulps of reading. Every athlete and musician knows how important daily practice is. As they improve their reading skills, they will be motivated to read more. This is the upward spiral we so need them to make. Make sure that the class time is upbeat but conducive to silent reading. No shaming or fussing at fake readers as long as they do not bother anyone else.
Keep a watchful eye on your students during independent reading time. Fake reading is a real skill. Have a nifty Kwame Alexander book in your hands, but peek out over the edge often to survey all of your readers. The fake readers will be glancing up at you every time. Smile and point at your eyes and then your book – the “keep on reading” sign language. Make a mental note of these students. Walk around and glance at page numbers and see who is struggling to get past page 12 while the miracle working fake reader is reading 50 pages a minute. Don’t shame them, or interrupt any one else’s reading to call them out. Just remember who they are.
After your free reading time is over, write some notes to yourself about what you have observed. Conferencing with students can be very formal and scheduled, or just an informal conversation, but make a special effort to talk to your “fake” readers. You really want to get to know them at this point. Find out what they like to do – basketball, dance, music, sports? Find some books you think they might like and share them with them quickly and often. Find out who their friends are and have them share with each other. If you think they are reading books too easy or too hard, offer alternatives, but do not suggest that they need easier or more challenging books, but book that they will like more. Do all this with no condescending or patronizing. Always respect their decisions.
Why not prizes?
Research tells us that the only effective incentives for encouraging reading are books and more time to read. We need our students to discover that reading is its own reward.
Never Give Up
Once again, be a relentless optimist. Never give up on trying to help every single student find what they love to read.