Five years into my teaching career, I decided to move from English Language Arts to Reading, specifically. I began working on my Master’s in Reading Education, and while I learned a lot, my biggest A-ha! came not from the volumes of textbooks read or the 1,000s of words written. No, my biggest lesson came from my students.
“Reading is boring!” they said.
There was no hiding my surprise … or confusion!
“What do you mean, ‘Reading is boring?'”
I wanted to ask, “Have you lost your minds?” but I had been teaching long enough to know that was not an appropriate question – at least not in that tone.
Turns out, reading comes down to two things for kids (and adults??):
Am I interested?
Do I understand it?
Notice which comes first: Interest. Plain and simple – If I’m not interested, don’t bother me. I don’t have time. I could care less.
Add: Understanding it or the willingness to struggle to figure it out. You lose lots more kids: What do you mean I have to think? That’s too hard. Lose adults, too?
Add: I don’t have time, I’d rather watch TV, etc…. Our current technologies make on-the-fence-readers fall quickly, but that doesn’t have to be – if marketed well and planned for.
Why is this important to educators and writers?
Because we both have to know how to reach readers.
To think nothing is interesting or to not be willing to figure something out is where we get into ‘doing it wrong.’ We have to teach them how to ‘do it right’ so readers will have ‘buy in.’
Now you might be thinking, Well, Robin, there are a lot of other things that we read – job applications, e-mails, medicine bottles, food labels… the list goes on – that have nothing to do with interest. That’s true. But, if I’m bored in school and tune out when it’s time to read, then guess what? My skills are limited and I can’t read the other, important stuff.
So what do we do?
- Build interest.
- Teach and develop skills and strategies.
- Make reading (and writing) as natural as eating and breathing.
1. Start at home. If you have kids in your life – related or not – make reading so much fun it can’t possibly be boring. This is easy when kids are wee ones, but how do you keep them interested when they become ‘tweens and teens?
- Make reading accessible.
- Make reading part of every day.
- Make reading cool.
- Talk about reading, model good reading behaviors, subscribe to magazines, and let kids subscribe, too.
- Dig into the digital world. From book trailers to e-readers, there are lots of ways to incorporate digital content and process into today’s reading. Did you know book publishers use YouTube to share their books? While I like to think of myself as ‘old school,’ with 300+ books in my home office, several magazine subscriptions (print + digital), and frequent visits to our library, I’ve discovered in the past year that I like some aspects of digital reading, too.
Whatever your choice, share it with the kiddos in your life! Buy them gift cards for books.
2. If you’re an educator, talk about books every day… not just in primary grades, but through high school – and beyond. My classroom is ‘print-rich’ – a term often used to describe primary/elementary classrooms – with lots of books, magazines, posters, and other things for kids to read. I teach 16 to 19 year-olds. When they first arrive in my classroom, they balk at the idea of reading (You want me to do what?!?). They also go to great lengths to show off their boredom and disdain (This is stupid!!!). I’ve learned this often means their reading skills are limited. Acting like a jerk is a survival technique; if I get into trouble and make a scene, I won’t have to read today. In my college classes, I’ve added numerous professional articles, electronically, to supplement textbook reading; it’s typically well-received, seen as interesting. (There’s that word again!)
3. Finally, if you’re a writer and want to grow your readership, interact with your young readers and their parents/teachers at the ground level. Let them meet you. Let them know you. Let them know you are human! 😉 Year after year, I find when I talk about books with students, they seem surprised to learn that a book is written by someone. I know, sounds funny, right?? Students often don’t make that connection. To most of my students, books are inanimate objects meant to torture them by being ‘required reading’ – textbooks and ‘reading’ books (novels, etc…) all lumped together. No interest, no pleasure, no joy… until the kids learn there’s a person talking ‘to’ them – telling them a story, often an interesting story, at that!
Writers, reach out to your young readers via Skype, Facebook, or Instagram. Let them see you and your writing process. I recently tweeted with Roy Peter Clark who graciously bantered through a silly word game with me, and was favorited by Austin Kleon, creator of newspaper blackout poetry, after I tweeted about my students’ progress in creating their own blackout poetry. When I shared this with my students, they thought it very cool!
Since I began my own writing projects, I share my process with students, whether it’s a few pages written, a chapter completed, the struggles of editing or finding just the right word. Some ask questions, many do not, but by talking about books and writing daily, I’m planting the literacy seeds.
My takeaway: Reading should never be boring! Life is too short. If reading is boring, we need to rethink how we’re doing it, indeed!
Life is too short to read boring stuff.
(My own quote in my classroom that typically raises a few eyebrows)
How can you help a reader get past ‘boring’ and on to the good stuff?