Questions & Authors: Selecting literature for reluctant readers

July 21st, 2008

Not all kids love to read. And finding a book to whet the reading appetite of a young adolescent can be a challenge. So we asked Teri Lesesne, author of Making the Match and Naked Reading, how she selects literature for a reluctant reader and what she recommends if a student is only interested in books with violent content. Where should teachers draw the line? How much should teachers modify the curriculum to reach these reluctant readers? Here is Teri’s response:

Working with reluctant readers can be quite frustrating. However, when a reluctant reader finds that one book that touches her or him, the reward is even greater. So, even when a student is interested in violent content or texts that someone else might deem inappropriate, we must proceed with caution. The pages of a book offer a safe environment in which to experience, vicariously, those things we might not want our students to experience personally. Just because a student reads a book with violence does not mean this student has a violent nature. Often, the opposite is the case. Of course, if there are other signs (i.e., the student herself or himself is violent or exhibits violent tendencies), then there is reason to refer the student to a school counselor. However, many students read about war, rape, shootings, drug use and the like in the safe confines of books, a place where they can come to no harm.

How much to modify the curriculum for the reluctant reader is another challenge for educators. Often in schools, there is ONE book that all our students are expected to read and to comprehend. One book does not reach out to all readers. Even Harry Potter and his compatriots, books that sold millions upon millions of copies, are not for every reader. Personally, I do not care for romance novels (though I was a sucker for them as a teen). I have a friend who only likes nonfiction. I think the time has come for us to offer a variety of titles to our students. Instead of one book, offer five that are related thematically. The other selections can include some high/low materials for our English language learners and for students reading below grade level significantly. Other selections might be more challenging in form and format for our advanced students. If we do need to have a core text, offer it in different modes. Include an audiobook version (unabridged or abridged) or a graphic format (remember the Classic Comics?). Decide what is essential to glean from the text (honestly, other than a game show, when has someone asked you to name the gravedigger in “Hamlet?”). These modifications are not onerous and might mean more of our students complete the required reading with some respect for the text.

Finally, I would encourage educators to offer contemporary (young adult) materials to students to read for pleasure. It seems to me that as my own teens progress through school, there is less emphasis on reading for pleasure and way too much emphasis on reading for tests and analytical papers. How can we possibly encourage lifelong reading if we never give our students time to experience the pleasure of reading for reading’s sake? If this is going to happen, it is, of course, essential that we all read. We need to provide that model of lifelong literacy for our students. And it would not hurt if we read the books they find motivating. Take a look at this year’s TEENS TOP TEN:

1. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006).
2. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (Viking Children’s Books, 2006)
3. How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles (Flux, 2006).
4. Maximum Ride: School’s Out — Forever by James Patterson (Hachette Book Group USA/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006).
5. Firegirl by Tony Abbott (Hachette Book Group USA/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006).
6. All Hallows Eve (13 Stories) by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 2006).
7. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, 2006).
8. River Secrets by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2006).
9. Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe (HarperCollins, 2006).
10. Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks (Chicken House, 2006).

Entry Filed under: Questions & Authors,Reading

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