How Do We Open the Door

4 Ways to Open the Door To Reading

This post was originally published on READ 180 Community.
by Scott Toonder
Reading can open up our minds in ways that no other medium can match. It can transport us to new worlds and present us with new experiences. It is proven to greatly aide the development of higher order thinking skills and teach us lessons in ways no classroom can match. It truly is a doorway to “The World of Possible,” both in our imaginations and in our real lives.

But how can we get our reluctant readers to walk through that door?

The skills and strategies we can give them. We can teach them everything they need to know and force them to practice it. We’ve got all the tools and training that we need. But how do we get them to buy into reading and do it for the joy of being swept away? How do we get them to realize the dramatic effect it can have on their lives? How can we get them to want to read? How can we get them to love it?
So many of our READ 180 students feel locked out of this all important doorway. Many don’t come from literature rich environments. Many face learning disabilities. Many have become so frustrated with themselves that even when they can read, they still resist actually doing it.
With our most struggling students, it seems like an impossible task. But the benefits to their futures are too important to throw up our hands and say we did everything we could.
We can’t fail. We refuse to fail. But we can’t jump inside their heads either.
I have no easy (or particularly clever) solutions. Just a few things that have worked with some students…
1. Admit that all reading is not fun.

  • The literacy guru in all of us cringes at the thought… but some books are boring. We know they’ll need to be able to read all different types of texts, but we’ve also got to present them with the difference between reading because we have to and reading because we want to (they are rarely the same thing). Explain the importance of choice when reading for enjoyment (the Independent Reading Group gives you the perfect opportunity to do so). If possible, share some of your own experiences… things you loved reading, and yes, things you couldn’t stand to have in your hands.

2. Hone in on interests.

  • No matter how much research I see, I am always blown away by the impact personal interests have on students ability to comprehend texts. We have all read it, heard it, and had it thrown at us, but could we use it more? Take the time to find out what your kids like… basketball, cooking, gossip, fashion, some weird cartoon you’ve never heard of… and try and get stuff about it in their hands.
  • And it doesn’t always have to be non-fiction. Not everyone is into volcanoes or wildlife or the stars. I had an amazing experience with one student who was obsessed with social drama (there were few days when she wasn’t upset with at least one of her friends). Almost on accident, I discovered that if I put books with girls having social problems in front of her that she would would devour them. These were books of pure fiction, but they hit on something she could really relate to. And most importantly, it worked. She started reading other things for fun, her academics improved dramatically, and, I’m happy to report, there was even less crying in the hallway between classes.

3. Explain the importance of reading for fun.

  • A quick web search will bring up the impact of reading for pleasure on academic and future career success… tell your students about it. Have former students right down how reading has impacted their lives and tell them how it has impact yours.

4. Keep the conversation going.

  • Reading for fun is a very personal experience. But a million book clubs and blogs and online chats prove that it has a very social aspect as well. People like talking about the things they are reading. And kids love to talk! Make sure you give them the opportunity to. It can be built in to your Whole-Group Wrap-Up time on certain days, become part of your Reading Group Rotation, or be done in hallways, at lunchtime, and during recess. Or better yet, all of the above. Even if they’re not reading outside your class, tell them what you are reading and ask them about what they are reading in the reading group or other classes… even if the conversation is about how boring something is, it is a very positive thing.

And there are a million other things to try. The simple point is: Keep Trying!
For every kid, no matter where they come from or how low their reading skills are, there is a book that will take their breath away… a book that will make them want to pick up another book. And for every kid, finding that joy of reading will change their life!
Here’s what one of my former students had to say about her experience of being taken into a different world while reading for enjoyment: “I used to not be able to read big books. I could only read ones with pictures. Now I read any books I want. Now I make my own pictures.”
Scott Toonder is a READ 180 teacher in Bethlehem, PA

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