Never Give Up on a Good Thing

Why encouraging reluctant readers Is our responsibility

I’ve written about Tom before. He’s that kid in your class who, no matter what, never seems to get reading, never seems to be comfortable with reading a book. There are thousands like him who, unless we intervene, will be lost to reading for his lifetime. Well, Tom comes back to me every year. He’s not a reluctant learner, he works hard, but reading a book has never really been shown to be important to him. No-one reads at home and, for whatever reason, he never read at primary school. What can we do for him? How can we get a book in Tom’s hands?IMG_0852

The best thing for Tom is for him to have a teacher who is a reader. A teacher who not only reads every day and reads teen fiction and knows what is good, but a teacher who talks about reading; a teacher who lets students know that they read on the bus or in the waiting room for the dentist or in the car waiting for a family member. Tom needs a reading role model. So we tell him about books we’ve read and how we felt when we were reading them. If reading has transformed our lives then Tom needs to be able to see what it could do for him.

Tom needs teacher who will get to know him so well that he will have a book his hand that fits his interests and abilities as quickly as possible; that will allow him to give up on books and try others; that won’t sigh and roll their eyes when he rejects books. So when he asks for a book we can pull 4 or 5 off the library bookshelves and let him take all of them if necessary, let him read the first page and reject as he sees fit because time is not a factor. The teacher is patient and interested in Tom as a reader. Nothing is too much trouble.

Tom needs to be in a class where discussion of books amongst peers is encouraged. Book speed dating on a regular basis. One minute book talks; who’s reading what? He’ll never be asked to write a tedious book review; one that he hates to write and the teacher hates to read. He might write book tweets for an ever changing wall display of new book ideas; he might write a dialogue journal in which he converses with his teacher about his reading and where the teacher can encourage him to think about areas of literature which might help him. But a Book review? Never again.

I make no apologies for writing about Tom again. He pops up way too often for an English teacher’s liking. However, it is too easy to shrug our shoulders and admit defeat over Tom. We all have a responsibility to give him the gift of reading for pleasure. I write regularly about how reading has transformed my world. It is one of the very few constants thought my life. Why would I allow Tom to drift away from that?