I met my first book abandoner my very first year of teaching. Yet, he was not your average run of the mill book abandoner. No, he was the “look you straight in the eye and ask you what you are going to do about it” kind of abandoner. So I did what I knew best; forced him to read the book and not allow him to abandon it. And he did what he knew best; fake read for a good amount of time, skimmed a few pages, and failed the book report as well as the presentation. Repeat with every book. I don’t think he ever read anything beside Diary of A Wimpy Kid that year, and that was even under the radar.
Everyone has these types of readers. The ones that abandon because they hate to read. The ones that abandon because they cannot find a great book. The ones that abandon because they get bored. Some years we have a lot, others not so many. So how can we heal break the abandonment cycle? How can we help these kids help themselves? Well, there are a few questions we can ask.
Do they have choice? Because if they don’t, then that is the very first place we start. And not limited choice based on levels or lexiles, but real honest-to-goodness choice where they get to pick their reading materials.
Do they have time? If little time is given to reading then we are expecting them to do something they may not like outside of school. The chances of that happening are pretty slim.
Do they have access? We know that students need great books in their hands. We know students need great libraries, but they also need books in our classrooms. And not old, worn out books, but new, enticing, high-interest books that they can check out easily.
Do they have people? Is it cool to not be a reader in their friend group? Who do they have to talk books to? Do they have reading role models that extend beyond the teacher? Get them connected in a meaningful way with others that read.
Do they have reason to read? And by that, I don’t mean because of a prize or a reward. Do they see any kind of gain from reading? Is anything positive connected to the art of reading? Will it actually make their lives better or is it just one more thing to do?
Do they have different ways to read? Reading is not just done with our eyes but also with our ears, so if a child is constantly abandoning books get them hooked on an incredible audio book. This has changed the reading path of several of my students in a profound way.
Are they hiding their true ability? I have taught several students that could ace their reading assessment, mostly because it had been given to them so many times, and yet had a large gap in their skills. So is their book abandonment masking a larger problem such as not actually understanding what they are reading or not having the stamina to stay with the story?
Are we making them do things that kill their love of reading? When students abandon books a lot, it is a sure sign that we need to reflect on our own practices. And not just skim over that reflection and pretend that everything must be ok. Are reading logs killing their love of reading? Are programs liked Accelerated Reader or LLI? Are we constantly asking them to do things with their reading?
Have we asked them? This is the biggest because too often we try to figure out why a child is abandoning books and we never ask them why. Not beyond the “What didn’t you like about it?” So instead we must give the students a chance to discuss or reflect and really start to study their own habits. What patterns do they see? What types of books might they like to read? What can they do to change their habits? Students need to feel empowered in their self-reflection because otherwise, their pattern won’t change. They also need to set goals and then be able to honestly assess their own progress.
Do they see themselves in the books? Such an important question asked by Dr. Jenn Davis Bowman. Because we need diverse books for all of our kids and if students cannot connect with what we have in our library then they will not read.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.