Non-Readers: Are their numbers increasing?

I have the opportunity to work with 10-14 year-old boys and girls every week. Some are a part of a mentoring program I have been involved with for 15 years. Others I see in my counseling/coaching sessions with kids. The subject of reading always surfaces, and many do not embrace reading as I always have.

The reasons behind their lack of interest are varied. I have compiled a list based on the answers coming from both the kids and parents. They are in no particular order of frequency, but I did add in my own comments/reaction to what they said. Now before we begin, let me state these kids are all from book rich homes, where reading has been encouraged and practiced from day one. The result: “I don’t really like to read.”

Technology. “Unless the screen is moving or talking, my child’s interest cannot be held. This ‘Always On’ generation is missing the chance to get lost in books.”    Technology is here to stay and in future years we will be even more saturated with the need to be connected 24/7. Kids are doing plenty of reading while on the computer, it’s just not the typical beginning-middle-end type story. Having a nightly 20 minute story time where the whole family reads together, without smartphone interruptions, can help instill a love of books. Each family member can have their own night where they share a chapter to a book. They can do the reading out loud or have someone else do it for them. The sessions can also be a family reading group where you talk about a chapter everyone has read. Non-fiction choices can also be encouraged. The idea is to make reading books as important as watching the next episode of The Voice.

Phonics vs. Whole Word. “My child struggled with a straight phonics approach to reading and thus developed an early distaste to reading.” The one size all approach to reading instruction never worked for all kids. Yes, most kids could fit in with a straight phonetic classroom, but many others (I see as much as 20%) have difficulty with this method. I like a blended approach where the learning style of the child is taken into consideration first. Some need to start with a whole word approach and then slowly let them make the connection to phonics. Others will already be reading well and be in need of more advance materials. Differentiating for the needs of each child will help build a strong desire to read.

Eye Concerns “His eyes don’t smoothly track the words going across a page, and instead, ‘bounce’ around. It makes reading too hard.” I always check this by having a child read a simple passage on my laptop while the video cam is turned on. Playing it back you can easily see the eye movements and how they are tracking. If  eye movements are all over the place, I recommend seeing an opthalmologist, who specializes in eye tracking. There are specialized tests they can perform and exercises taught that will help alleviate this road block.

Emotions “I hate reading out loud as it seemed I was the only one in the class struggling. It made me feel stupid so I avoided reading whenever possible- both silent and oral.” Despite efforts to require all kids to reach a certain proficiency by a certain date, to put it bluntly…It’s not going to happen, not now, and not anytime in our future. Children are not all on the same timeline in becoming proficient readers. By letting kids develop naturally is a solution, but it will never work with the high stakes testing that has become the norm. I would at least deemphasize reading out loud as a way to check reading levels. This skill is rarely needed in everyday life unless you are going to be a reading teacher or a news broadcaster. There’s nothing worse for a child who has to display their weakness in front of classmates each school day.

Choice “I never get to choose what I want to read.” This one surprised me as my classroom, as well as the hundreds I have visited, always had an open approach to the selection of books. Children should read every day and be given a wide range of choices both at home and at school.

So, back to the original question…Are non-reader numbers increasing? I would say, yes, but not a resounding yes. By following any of the recommendations above, maybe we can turn those non-readers into lovers of literature.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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