Archive | October, 2012

Spotlight on….. REALLY reluctant readers

10 Oct

The Year 1o class that I currently teach consists primarily of boys with weak literacy skills, and a couple of girls, who equally struggle. The boys are for the most part nice lads – but they are lads. Lads who come in asleep for periods 1 and 2 (and sometimes 3), who are passionate about football, farting, gaming, texting, sticking each other with compasses, slapping each other with plastic document wallets, and brooding darkly about something that happened to them on the way to school. And they really REALLY hate reading.

Even with every reluctant reader reading scheme known to man at my disposition, I know that I won’t get these lads to read a book. Not by themselves anyway. I have high hopes for next term, when I teach them Of Mice and Men. In twelve years I’ve never known the story to fall flat – not once. Maybe it’s my terrible American accent or the way I say ‘ketchup’ that keeps them entertained, but whatever the reason, the story resonates with every adolescent I’ve taught. The themes? Persecution of the underdog, bullying, prejudice, the power of friendship, loneliness and the misuse of power. What adolescent – especially one who doesn’t achieve as highly as his or her ‘average’ or ‘above average’ peers – has never at some point felt confused, alienated, that they don’t belong, that people might be talking about them, or simply unsure of the way forward in the adult world?

We can’t always find the right book for the right (non)reader,  but sometimes it’s more a question of getting our boys (and girls) to simply get used to reading something by themselves. Often it’ll be non-fiction – the fiction nut is a tough one to crack. But try these in your tutor groups for starters, Year 9 through to Year 11. 

  • A Tesco/Argos/Index catalogue. Good for teaching/alerting them to the features of non-fiction texts. They have to read the descriptions of the latest mobile phone or electronic drum kit.
  • The local paper. Bear in mind that some very reluctant teen readers have reading ages of below 8. Pictures, huge headlines, easy-to-follow bold paragraphs on the latest misdemeanor, car adverts, job advertisements, lonely hearts. You can also try sharing This is Bristol on your IWB.
  • The Guinness Book of Records. Not a real book, and never intended as one. But you can have real success developing skimming and scanning skills with the simple directive ‘find the man with the most piercings and tell me three things about him’. You might need a few copies – but how about asking your group whether they could bring in their own copies (of GBR or Ripley’s Believe it or Not).
  •   Cookery books. My favourite! A way to get kids to read is to appeal to their stomachs! There are some great kids’ cook books which combine simple instructions with mouth-watering descriptions. Sam Stern is a teen who put his money where his mouth was. Steer clear of Nigella though unless you want 15 year old boys sniggering at the mere thought of ‘plumptious beauties’, aka cherries. Apparently.
  • Where’s Wally. Well, if you’re desperate. But, it does teach kids to patiently seek out the geek in the bonnet. Why not try a word version? Where’s Verby? Or Where’s Nouny? (I actually think I might try this.)

One of the most important things to bear in mind with our under-confident readers is that they are always, without a doubt, acutely aware that they are not very good at something that everyone keeps telling them they should  be better at, or should enjoy, or that will improve their grades/lives. It’s simply not like that with some kids. So, if your Yr 10 has finally found his soul-mate in Mr Gum, or Matilda, or the Famous Five – never be anything but encouraging. It’s a small victory that they are enjoying something by themselves, perhaps for the first time in ages.

I’m off to read the Ikea catalogue again. Half-term = Billy Bookcase and a couple of Smorbjas.