A special thanks to Lorie Steed for this blog post about Reluctant Readers and her Read 2 Succeed Grant. Lorie has her finger on the pulse of YA literature and is truly an asset to CDHS readers.
Overview: As a high school librarian in Davidson County and recipient of a 2016 Read 2 Succeed Grant, I partnered with English teacher Krysta Perkins to support her Sustained Silent Reading initiative. Our goal was to engage reluctant readers by purchasing several high-interest books that would appeal to varied interests and reading levels, and to ensure we had multiple copies of popular titles available to students. By reaching out to reluctant readers in this way, we hoped students who avoided reading in the past would come to embrace it. Although we hit some snags along the way and not every student responded to reading the way we hoped they would, we did find some success in reaching reluctant readers.
But first, one of the snags. Our original plan was to booktalk titles in several genres that we thought would appeal to reluctant readers, and then to bring students to the library for a “book tasting” where they could explore these and other similar titles. In the fall semester, we did just that. Students rotated around tables full of sample books from each genre and were asked to write down their favorites. The problem with this approach was revealed when I was about to place an order and realized that many of the books multiple students listed as favorites were sitting on our shelves, not checked out! After consulting with Mrs. Perkins and Mrs. Idol, the Exceptional Children’s co-teacher, we came to the following conclusions:
Though I visited these students again in an attempt to figure out what books to order based on their interests, many of them had already chosen a book by that point, either from our library or from home. I told them more than once I would order whatever books they asked for, but no one asked for anything - which looking back makes sense, as reluctant readers are often so closed off to reading they just shut down completely when asked to talk about it. So I looked instead at what they were reading to get ideas, and worked on a new plan for second semester. I also read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer and, inspired by her methods of reaching out to readers in her own classroom, decided to try a more individualized approach second semester.
A new plan. Second semester, instead of taking students to the library to peruse full tables of books representing each genre, we kept it simple by highlighting three examples of each genre in the classroom, then asked students to indicate their preferences on sticky notes. We also told them that if none of the books we shared appealed to them, to write that down as well. We emphasized that we were looking for total honesty. “You’re the ones we’re trying to help,” we told them. We still encountered resistance, but after multiple classroom visits in which I met one-on-one with every single student, I put together a book order based on their individual recommendations. I wanted to make sure that when the book order arrived, I would have at least one book to hand to every student based on his or her request. This turned out to be a much better approach to the project, and my one regret is that I didn’t have a chance to implement it with the fall semester students. Ordering books based on student suggestions not only helped many students complete the reading and the project successfully, but also made our collection more appealing. Multiple students, not just those who requested the books, checked out the books we ordered.
Conclusions: Out of 47 students in the spring semester classes, 85% of students (40 of 47) completed the reading third quarter, and just under 79% (37 of 47 students) did so fourth quarter. Though it was somewhat discouraging to see those numbers go down and to realize that 15-20% of students were still not reading, it was inspiring to see several others not only complete their SSR reading requirements, but to read beyond what was required.
We also saw an improvement in student attitudes about reading. At the beginning of the semester, 22% of students said they did not like to read, 58% said “it’s okay,” and only 20% said they loved it. At the end of the semester, 9.3% still didn’t like reading, 44.2% said “it’s okay,” and 46.5% said they loved it, as long as they were given a choice in what to read.
In closing, here are a few more things we learned about reaching reluctant readers.
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