In my career, I have heard “I don’t like to read” more times than I can count. Ninety percent of those comments were from teenagers. I heard it well before kids had immediate access to technology. I heard it when I was a student in the 1990s, I heard it when I was an English teacher, I heard it when I was a school librarian, and I still hear it as a public librarian. But the truth is, it isn’t reading that kids dislike, it is what they are reading.
Sometimes we give teenagers more credit than we should. Don’t get me wrong…I love teenagers. I love watching kids grow into the person that they will be as an adult. However, I have often told people that when I started teaching junior high, I struggled until I realized that my students were little kids in big kid bodies.
“I don’t like this” is a very common phrase when someone is uncertain or not entertained. Teenagers say that they don’t like to read for many reasons--they are reading books that are too difficult, or they are reading books that they can find no connection or interest in. I was an English major, I love fine literature, but there are many books that I have been forced to read for classes over the years that I struggled with. It wasn’t my reading level that was the problem, it was that it wasn’t my choice of book.
Do we want kids to read the classics? Yes...well kind of...maybe. We could debate that all day, and I could probably argue equally for both sides. But more than what kids are reading, I care that kids of all ages ARE reading. As I would tell my students, it’s like a sport, you have to practice. You can’t get better by not doing it.
So what do we do for the kids who say that they don’t like reading? We look at the reader. What have they been reading? My guess is it has been either too hard or too boring (each reader is different--what is boring to me, may not be boring to you!). So how do you hook them? It’s that simple...choice. Let them choose what they are reading. HELP them choose what they want to read.
My standard question to students when helping them choose a book, “What do you like to do?” Not, “what do you like to read?” But instead, “What types of movies, youtube videos, etc. do you like to watch?” That is how gage their interests. When you know the person, you begin to know the reader.
Reader’s advisory often gets lost in busy classrooms with chaotic schedules. It is becoming a lost art in a lot of libraries. But it is the personal touch, and allowing choice, that helps readers flourish.