One observation I’ve made over the years is that the students who actually enjoy reading make the most significant gains with reading. And yes, I mean “really read”. That means reading something they like, not just because a teacher said to read it. I know this sounds SO obvious! However, it’s always a struggle getting those reluctant readers to pick up a book and find joy in reading. Not only is reading harder for them, but many times they can’t find the right level or the right topic that draws them in. I’ve seen so many students just “give up” on finding the right book. They just consider themselves “non-readers”. Of course, there is no such thing. Every single child and young adult CAN find something to read that interests them even it takes substantial questioning and 1 on 1 time to find a selection.
First, talk to the student and find out their interests. Maybe it is outer space, sports, horses, weather, or mythology. It will take a lot of questioning and options to find the right topic, at times. I like to ask what the student, “What would you research if a teacher gave you a special independent project?” and “What are the top 5 things you do outside of school?”.
Next, be open-minded about the type of text. If the student thinks they can’t read longer books, open them up to magazines or shorter chapter books. Reading is reading! For a struggling reader, it is okay to encourage reading longer books, but you should not deny them the joy of opening up a how-to text on a topic that interests them or a graphic novel.
Also, talk to your school librarian. They really are a great resource and can help be another voice to talk to your struggling reader. If you can’t reach that student, it might help them to talk to “an expert”.
Downloadable books and audio books are another option, especially for students struggling with decoding and reading fluency. Such books will allow the students to gain vocabulary and comprehension skills without fumbling over challenging words. A student’s reading weakness in phonics should not get in the way of their ability to enjoy an interesting text.
It’s also okay to forget the lexile in this situation. I know that common core is pushing educators to get their kids reading higher level texts. However, any teacher would rather have their students read a less challenging text and enjoy it than not read at all. Sometimes you may have to go back a couple of grade levels in text for the student to feel comfortable in reading. Once the child gains reading confidence, you can encourage him or her to read more challenging texts.
Finally, read alouds are extremely under-rated! Sometimes struggling readers lack the fluency and expression when reading on their own. It might be helpful for you to create this as you read an interesting text aloud. Read alouds should be a fun, relaxing, and enjoyable time. This also models that you enjoy reading, too.
Overall, the goal is for our kids to really read! Children and young adults who learn to love reading often hold on to this for their whole lives. However you get there does not matter.