I frequently receive questions like this:
How do I get a student to read more challenging books? They only like “Book Series X”…
I have always been a voracious reader. So, when I get this question, I think back – what led me to become a lifelong reader? Why do I love to read as an adult?
Why Am I A Reader?
A few things stand out immediately:
- My dad read all of the time. As a kid, I saw him reading on the couch, or in the backyard, or at the beach. As I got a bit older, he passed books down to me that he thought I’d like.
- My mom read too, although her romance novels didn’t get passed on to me!
- We’d go to the library together and all take books home.
- My 4th- and 5th-grade teacher read books to us every day after lunch. I especially recall her taking us through Roald Dahl’s catalog. She even had a Matilda doll! I can remember the voice she did for The Witches!
- My 9th-grade English teacher would take a turn reading during our read alouds. I loved it. I wished he would have done all of the readings! He made me want to read out loud better.
- My 11th-grade physics teacher lent me a book over the summer that he thought I’d like. I still remember the cover! It was about chaos theory.
The pattern is pretty obvious! I became a reader because adults in my life loved reading. I saw them reading. They lent me books. They read to me (even in high school).
Adults Inspire Kids to Read
I asked folks on Twitter why they became readers and saw the same pattern. “My dad, my grandma, my mom…”. Every person mentions an adult who fostered their love of reading.
So, if you want a kid to love reading, the question is really: Do you love to read?
- Do kids see you reading for pleasure?
- Do they hear you talking about books that you have enjoyed?
- Do you ever see a kid reading a book and say to them, “I loved that book!”
- Do you read out loud to your students every day?
- Do you ever read a book because you saw your kids reading it and wanted to join in?
These are all ways to show kids that you love reading! These are things that readers do naturally.
But Adults Can Inspire Kids NOT to Read
If a kid is reading anything, realize that this is a fragile state! They’re choosing a book over video games, TV, talking with friends, and browsing YouTube. Definitely don’t disparage their book because you think it’s too easy or it isn’t a book you like or you think it’s “inappropriate”.
Be. Very. Careful.
At 40-years-old, I can still remember when a librarian made a disparaging comment to my mom about the books I was checking out in 3rd grade. A LIBRARIAN made me embarrassed of reading.
Interesting, Not Just Challenging
No one has ever said, “I learned to love reading because my parents made me read more challenging books” or “Once my teacher made me read at Lexile 980, I discovered how wonderful reading is!”
As I’ve written before, our goal as teachers should be to interest our students, not to “challenge” them. Sure, we can get kids to do challenging things, but only if they’re interested first.
- My 5th-grade teacher got me reading new books because she recommended interesting books, not “challenging” books.
- My dad didn’t pass down books he thought would “challenge” me. He gave me books that he loved and that he thought I would love too. My mom helped me hunt down every gosh darn book in the Oz series as a 1st grader because I was into them, not because she thought they were “challenging.”
- As an adult, I continue to read books that I find interesting. Sometimes that means I choose an amazing children’s story like The Little Prince or A Wrinkle In Time. Sometimes that means I read a history book about ancient China. Sometimes I reread Dune for the 12th time.
I read what I find interesting, regardless of the “level” of the book. If the book is interesting enough, I will certainly work through a bit of a challenge. I’ll go beyond my typical reading level. But that’s only because the book is interesting! And I probably won’t read a book that’s way too simple for me – but that’s really because it won’t be interesting.
It all comes back to “interesting.” I would never (ever ever) pick up a book simply because it’s challenging.
How To Get A Kid To Read
- Make sure they see you reading all of the time.
- Read aloud to them every day – even if they’re 16 years old.
- Tell them about a book that you love.
- Hand them a book that you think they’ll love.
- Never, ever, ever, belittle a book that they love. Never tell them it’s “too easy” for them. Never tell them they should read something “more challenging.”
Don’t take my word for it though! Ask around. Why did the people you know become lifelong readers? And pass their tips my way: @ianabyrd on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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