Reluctant Readers

I spent a few days last week taking a class to “Reach the Reluctant Reader”. One of my academic goals each year is to be a better teacher to my freshmen reading students. This class is the best example that one size does not fit all. One year I had five students and the next I had 14. It’s unpredictable. When every student comes in at different reading levels, choosing text to practice the strategies I’m teaching is extremely tough. It’s also hard to plan when I don’t know the reading level of my students until we’re a good week or more into the school year.

One of the things I learned when I was getting my master’s degree is that so many books with low reading levels are also low interest. While a struggling reader may be able to read and comprehend them, the content is for an elementary student. No high schooler should have to carry around a chapter book meant for a third grader just because authors haven’t written books that are age appropriate for that student’s reading level. My job is to find text appropriate for them at every level while teaching them strategies they can take and apply to all areas of literacy. We often read social studies text for this purpose. There is a lot of reading in a social studies class.

The class I took included many hours of book talks from the instructor. She brought along books of every genre and every age group and explained when and why certain books would be best for specific audiences. There were roughly 30 teachers in the class ranging from kindergarden-high school.

One of the books she had on display grabbed my attention. I’ll Always Write You Back is a non-fiction duel memoir of an American student and a student from Zimbabwe who become pen pals. This relationship drastically changes their lives. Although some of the book includes the letters they shared, it’s more about documenting their cultural differences while still trying keep one thing the same- being teenagers.

After skimming the teacher’s copy of this book, I got my hands on a copy from the library the next day. I read it quickly, and I’ve decided to use it in my classroom this fall. The Common Core is pressing for more non-fiction, and this book hits so many targets that help transform a reluctant reader including: low reading level, high interest, one male and one female character, and age appropriate plots.

Another big component of the class was stressing the importance of reading aloud to students of all ages. It convinced me that I’ll read I’ll Always Write You Back aloud to my freshmen this year.

Do you remember teachers reading aloud to you? Do you remember the books they read? I specifically remember my 2nd grade teacher always reading aloud Super Fudge (Judy Blume) books. My 3rd grade teacher read Bunnicula aloud, and my 7th grade teacher read The Outsiders. It was during The Outsiders unit in 7th grade when I decided I wanted to teach high school English. I’m a believer that reading aloud to students of all ages has a huge positive impact.