By Natacha Scott, Assistant Director of History and Social Studies for the Boston Public Schools
We’ve all heard the dreaded phrase in an elementary classroom, “I hate to read.” Together, those four words cause a teacher to freeze, drop their jaw in astonishment, and secretly hope the comment isn’t completed by any of the following statements:
“The book is too long!”
“It’s too hard.”
“There are no pictures!”
This scenario that constantly replays in classrooms across the country, forces educators to ask the question, “How do we do a better job of cultivating young readers?”
To ponder that question, we have to rewind to the exact moment that a teacher hears that initial statement and take a closer look. Though some teachers will simply shake their head, ignoring the comment, there are others that will have a completely different response. Instead of going in one ear and quickly out the other, the statement “I hate to read” will be the catalyst for the journey to reveal the amazing, mysterious, funny, and informative world concealed within the words on a page.
Take the Time to Learn About Your Students
Before the journey can begin, teachers must take the time to get to know their students. Truly understanding their background, questions, and interests will allow access points for establishing connections to different content. Students need to feel connected to some aspect of a text to deepen their engagement. No one wants to read a book simply because it is on the required summer reading list! Young readers want to interact with books that remind them how they felt on the first day of school like First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, or that represent the struggle they felt when moving into a new neighborhood, like A Tiger Called Thomas by Charlotte Zolotow or The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. Young readers need to have the opportunity to find themselves in a text.
Encourage the Development of Active Readers
We need to expand our students’ literary palette to include various types of texts that encourage them to be active readers who think, wonder, and question the world around them. At early ages, exploring books that emphasize the importance of perspective, like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak by Kay Winters introduce the need to corroborate and compare sources, gaining deeper understanding surrounding specific events. Exposure to historical books like, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, use beautiful imagery and language to describe the civil rights movement. Of course we can not overlook books like Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein and Press Here by Herve Tullet that simply encourage joy and laughter. Fostering a love for thinking, questioning, and sharing ideas about a text empower our young readers to passionately explore topics that impact their lives.
Modeling your own passion for reading inspires students to conquer the challenge of overcoming the phrase “I hate to read!” For inspiration, check out the book Mrs. Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind by Judy Finchler.
Natacha Scott is the Assistant Director of History and Social Studies for the Boston Public Schools. Follow her on Twitter @natacha_scott!