Archives for January 2010

Help for Struggling, Reluctant Readers

Today’s focus on reading is a guest post from author Max Elliot Anderson who offers encouragement to parents of reluctant readers:

As a child, I never liked to read. When I mention this to someone today, I can anticipate the reaction.  Mouths drop open in disbelief, followed by a gasp. “You’re kidding!” often follows.  That’s probably because I’m also the author of a number of action-adventures and mysteries especially written for other boys who may be facing similar reading difficulties.  Even as an adult, reading for enjoyment continues to be a problem for me.  I do read in order to gather information, but not for pleasure.

My research into reading difficulties began about eight years ago.  I wanted to understand why it was that I grew up as a reluctant reader. Today, I’m sharing some of the conclusions I have reached.

To begin with, my work with reluctant readers often allows me to speak in schools. One of the first questions I like to ask is, “Is there anyone here who doesn’t like to read?” A few hands go up, and then others follow. There may be two or three girls who raise their hands, but predominately it’s the boys who respond.

Next I ask, “Why?”

“Books are boring,” one will say. Another suggests, “They’re too slow and nothing happens,” or, “I’d rather do other things.”

“Like what?” I’ll ask.

The answers always include watching television, playing video games, and spending time on the computer. Research by others often arrives at the same conclusions.

I found some interesting patterns in several of the books I selected for research.  In many cases, they defied a reluctant reader like me to get into them.  The style was boring, the dialog was sometimes sparse, or when it was used, it seemed too adult. As I looked around for books written especially for boys 8 – 13, I found only The Hardy Boys and a few others.  Finding stimulating reading material for boys is a challenge, indeed.

Based on my research, I have determined there are quite a few strategies parents and teachers can employ to support a struggling or reluctant reader:

  • Rule out visual or medical problems. These should be diagnosed by professionals, but here are some things to look for.  The transposing of letters or numbers may indicate a problem. You might notice that your child sees 14 when the actual number on the page is 41. The same can happen with small words. Does the child use a finger to keep his place on the page?  Does he have a short attention span, or hold the book too close to his eyes?  Does he have good posture while reading, or does he move his head from side to side during reading, rather than moving his eyes? This may indicate binocular trouble because both eyes aren’t working together.  I suffer from this. One of my eyes sees distant objects better, while the other sees closer items with more clarity. A child with this problem may slouch in the chair, or turn his head to one side in order to favor the eye that can see the book best.In addition to vision problems, a child may suffer from ADD (attention deficit disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), dyslexia, or other learning disabilities.Children with visual or medical issues may be reluctant readers because reading is just too much work.
  • Parents, teachers, and librarians are reporting that they’ve found success by starting with audio books. In some cases, this is used while also holding a copy of the same book. A child is able to both see and hear the words at the same time, and practice following along.
  • Don’t be afraid to select a book that is below grade level. You may also want to experiment with comic books, or graphic novels. The most important objective is to find something he’s interested in and wants to read about. This could include the sports page in your local newspaper, or magazines like Sports Illustrated for Kids, Ranger Rick, Highlights, and others.
  • Some have found success by using electronic readers like Kindle. Your child is already comfortable with a computer, or video games. The e-reader allows him to change the font, make it larger, change colors, and even look up words in some cases.
  • Consider how you can influence your child’s choices. If your child avoids reading in every way possible – choosing video games or the computer over reading – you might set those activities aside as rewards. You can say, “After you’ve read for thirty minutes then you may spend time on the computer.”
  • Read aloud with your child, and make sure he sees you model that reading is important in your life. This has added influence if the dad is involved.
  • Get rid of distractions. Again, in my case, I find it difficult to concentrate if there are other noises around. This is compounded if there are lyrics in a song on the radio, stereo, voices coming from the TV, or from nearby conversations. Set up a quiet, comfortable reading place. Above all, make the reading environment enjoyable.
  • Have your child try reading to a dog, a cat, a doll, or some other stuffed animal. In this way, children aren’t intimidated or judged by an adult. At the same time, you can monitor their progress.
  • Keep an eye out for books written in order to be more user-friendly for struggling readers. These include books with lots of humor, dialog, and heart-pounding action and adventure, plus chapters ending with a cliffhanger.  Also look for high interest, low vocabulary books called Hi-Lo books.

Anytime I’m asked if reading is really all that important, I give several reasons why it is, and add that readers are the leaders others follow.

You can keep up with Max Anderson on his blog Books for Boys.  Keep an eye out for his newest release – Lost Island Smugglers – coming out in June!

Do you have experience with a struggling reader? What books or strategies proved to be most helpful for your reluctant reader?