Book reviews for Aussie teachers and their students.

graphic-novels-melbourne-482x298Tip 5: Think outside the box when selecting reading materials

As an English teacher, what I really want my students to read is fiction.  In fact, I’d love them all to read quality fiction.  I’m talking Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte or Charles Dickens.  Actually, never mind literary Canon, I’m ecstatic when a kid pulls out something by John Green or Suzanne Collins.  Heck, even Stephanie Meyer is great from where I sit.  I often go back to my own memory, as a year 8 student, when my beloved English teacher informed us that “we must read fiction with literary merit.”  She liked to follow this up with “and that means none of that Virginia Andrews rubbish!”

Somehow, I don’t think I don’t think the average grade 9 class would accept this too readily.  Most would put up a fight to the death.

Kids have changed.  Where reading used to be a popular leisure pursuit, today it’s competing with so many other forms of entertainment.  Too often, children and young adults think of reading as a chore.  Of course as educators and parents we know too well the benefits of reading, and the limitations it has for a child’s learning, if they are reading below appropriate standards.  Where teachers of the past could be picky about the kinds of fiction their students read, today’s teachers are happy if kids are reading regularly.

Do not be mistaken, I firmly believe that students still need to be challenged.  I don’t count reading facebook, for example, as reading.  I am simply suggesting that if we want kids to read then we need to meet them where they are at.  We need to have a broader range of appropriate material at our disposal for our students.

I have a 9 year old son who is an avid reader.  He will read some fiction.  I’d like him to read more.  However, what he really loves is non-fiction.  He devours it.  As a parent, my strategy is to provide him with lots of what he really loves (non-fiction) in the best quality that I can find.  However, I am always on the hunt for fiction which will draw him in, often taking my cue from stories he has enjoyed previously.  In fact, there are tremendous benefits for students reading non-fiction, as this often engages a broader range of reading skills that includes the interpretation of tables, graphs and annotated diagrams.

Of course, some of our students are more resistant than he is.  For these students I bring out my new friend, the graphic novel.  Increasingly it seems, I have large numbers of students (mostly boys but not exclusively) who tell me that they struggle to follow a novel.  They tell me that by the time they get to the bottom of the page they can’t remember what happened at the top.  For these students graphic novels allow engagement with a story that is broken up with images.  There is an ever-increasing range of these novels available, with graphic novel translations of popular fiction books and even Canon fiction becoming readily available.  The latter has the added bonus of making excellent companion books for students studying challenging texts (especially Shakespeare).

A few students seem to struggle when it comes to reading anything.  For these students I like to negotiate (often in communication with parents) reading of alternative materials.  I usually start with the student’s interests and from here we settle on reading material on a topic of interest in a magazine or newspaper.  I like the students to summarise what has been read at the end of each reading session.  As an educator, my aim is to establish a habit for reading (see tip 3).  Once a habit is established you can extend the student into other text types.

As English teachers, an important role is to extend our students beyond where they currently are.  Firstly, this requires that we listen to our students about their positive and negative reading experiences.  It also requires that we are widely-read ourselves, especially if we are to offer appropriate suggestions to entice even the most reluctant of readers in our care.

Tanya Grech Welden

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Comments on: "Strategies to Get Boys (and Girls) Reading: Tip 5" (2)

  1. I really enjoy your posts Tanya. I’m a pre-service primary school teacher and a parent and I agree with all that you are advocating. My son (also 9) is a good reader, but doesn’t always challenge himself. At school they have being doing an author study on Michael Morpurgo and this has really captured his interest. He’s read about three of MM’s novels during this time. I took up the thread here with his interest in this author by reading aloud War Horse to him every evening and taking time to model comprehension strategies along the way (not too many though, or it becomes too teacherly!). I used to read aloud to him every night, but this decreased as he became an independent reader. I have discovered though how important it is to go back to reading aloud again, in order to reignite a child’s interest in great fiction, and to continue building children’s reading skills. It really is a special relationship to create – the reader and the person being read to. And it is so easy to do!

    Regards,
    Sam.

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  2. Rebecca Laffar-Smith said:

    I have a 10yo who struggles as a reader so it has been a real mission to find books that will engage him. Because he struggles, his reading ability is well below novels (even middle graders), but his interests reach far beyond the early reader books suited to his developing abilities. It made me realise that there seems to be a gap in what is available where we have books that are interesting to older readers, that have engaging story with strong narrative arcs but that use devices that lead to easier reading, especially for children with difficulties such as dyslexia.

    Sam, I found the same in that redeveloping the habit of regular shared reading and reading aloud to him or together has done wonders for igniting his interest. For me I actually instigated a “you never have to read” rule when teaching him (we homeschool). I make opportunities for reading and language immersive so it’s all around him but he never has to read it himself, he can ask me to read it for him and I always will. It took away his fear of the laboured and challenging decoding he had to do and instead gave us the opportunity to let him discover how enriching reading and language is. It didn’t take long after instigating the rule that he started wanting and choosing to read independently or together and because I’m supporting and scaffolding him every step of the way his abilities have made huge leaps forward.

    I worry that sometimes children have negative stigma attached to reading. If it’s ‘hard’ or too much like ‘school work’, etc. They lose touch with the fact that reading is for fun and information. We read to enjoy ourselves and we read because we want to know more about the things that interest us. The moment it becomes a “chore” we lose them, and have to bring it back to something they do for love.

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