Good readers don’t necessarily think about wanting to read better, they typically just want more time to read.
Hmmm….but what if struggling readers DID want to spend more time reading? Researchers uniformly predict their reading abilities will improve over time.*
It’s proven that kids who read more, get better at reading. Just like all humans who do anything MORE, be it play basketball, knit, sing, whatever, we get better at that thing.
So, let’s return to the original question: what if struggling readers DID want to spend more time reading?
We know that MAKING kids read (or adults for that matter) doesn’t work. How could we help struggling readers WANT to read more?
First, we look at our own reading habits and ask, “what do WE want to read more of?” The answer, of course, is “we want to read more about topics we believe we will enjoy or from which we anticipate benefit.”
That’s it. It is not a magical formula or program or technique. If we can put each struggling reader together with books that they would anticipate enjoying, then we can theoretically place them on the clear path to lifelong reading– except for two other variables.
One of those variables is time. Struggling readers need time to read compelling books. School time, NOT home time. If they had time at home AND had kid-exciting books from which to choose, they would be reading already. Educators can’t engineer that. However we can control the structure of school time for children.
Now, I know school time is always totally efficiently full and schedules are rigidly enforced. So, what can be removed from school schedules to ensure that strugglers are actually doing more of what we know will help them grow as readers?
I’ll suggest reading instruction, which gets monkeyed with every year, mostly without measurable success, and test prep time, because it isn’t really for the kids; it’s for the administrators.
How much time we provide for them to read would, in some ways, pivot on their experiences, book length typical for their age/interests and how long they have been struggling. The latter is important because children who have been struggling for years also are going to need a lot of convincing that books about topics they just might consider to be cool are worth one more try. If we have done our preparation, once they bite, then off they’ll go, presuming that we have a budget/library that can continually support these kids in reading something they really find delightful.
The second other variable is that Americans don’t typically provide much financial support for education or public libraries, which means schools often lack the resources needed to make reading consistently interesting for many students.
So, here’s a modest proposal: To reduce the number of struggling readers, education systems might want to try what has proven to actually work, which is: give ALL children great book choices and joyful reading time in school. With the exception of children who have truly severe impairments, this formula is guaranteed to produce a bumper crop of happy, increasingly capable readers at every grade level.
*Allington, R. If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good? Journal of Reading. Vol. 21, No. 1 (Oct., 1977), pp. 57-61
Allington, R., McGill-Franzen, A. 2003.The Impact of Summer Setback on the Reading Achievement Gap. Kappan. 85 : 1, 68-75.
Krashen, S. 2011. Free Voluntary Reading. Libraries Unlimited. Santa Barbara, CA.