As I sit in my classroom, watching my 7th grade students devouring books, I marvel at the belief that kids no longer like to read. I have long known this to be a fallacy. Kids DO like to read, but only when they are given books that speak to them.
Sure, kids spend time with video games, athletics, and even texting their friends, but kids who are given choice and quiet time will also spend quality hours reading, IF they have had positive experiences at some times with books.
One of the first activities I do in my English classes is a presentation I call "Important Books." I spend a class period talking with my students about books that have played an important role in my life. I talk about those warm fuzzy moments of childhood when my mother read to me; I talk about my favorite books of childhood; I tell them about books which inspired me to action, taught me a lesson, and changed my way of thinking--all positive memories about books, something kids would expect me to do because I'm an English teacher.
But then I do something kids don't expect. I tell them about books I hated, books I abandoned, books I had never read yet still wrote reports about. I share my absolute worst reading experiences, reasons why I was frustrated with either the book or the teacher.
I have a really good reason to let them see this negative side to reading--kids who are reluctant readers have the mistaken impression that kids who like to read like to read--EVERYTHING! They believe all reading is created equal, and that the reader loves it all the same--textbooks and novels alike. Since the reluctant reader once found something they didn't like to read, that must mean they don't like reading--PERIOD.
But the next day in my class, we discover this isn't true. That's when they become the teacher by bringing in a list of 3-10 books they have read or had read to them that were important in each of their lives. The kids are anxious to stand in front of the class and share their reading experiences. They often discover they were not the only one to feel a certain way about a particular book. They hear about other books they might also like to read, and they find out which books to avoid.
My the time I turn them over to independent reading time, even my most reluctant readers are ready to give the experience one more try. I do everything I can to help them find the right book, the right mode (audio books are a great way to hook reluctant readers), or the right place to read (kids love the couch in my back room). I teach them to abandon a book early if it's not interesting, skip words they don't know, and always have a book handy to read when there's a free moment of time. And If they need help finding just the right book, I always have about a hundred suggestions in mind to give them. I don't ever let them STOP the process of reading, because as soon as they do, they STOP reading.
And as Annette Lyon mentioned in her blog today, using these strategies has helped me change the mindset of many a non-reader in a short period of time. If you've got a reluctant reader at your house, try talking with him or her about your important books and see what they come up with about themselves. You may learn a lot about why they stopped reading in the first place, and lead them to discover a new joy for reading that will last them their whole life long.
(Lu Ann Staheli was named Utah's Best of State Educator 2008, Nebo Reading Council Teacher of the Year 2007, Utah's English Language Arts Teacher of the Year 2000, and Utah's Christa McAuliffe Fellow in 1999 for her project on Literacy)