I hoped to get this post up when it was World Book Day but didn't quite manage it so I thought it may be a good post to share for my Day 5 of Blog Everyday In May!
I have always loved to read, something that our family were all encouraged to do as children. I have many fond memories of visiting the small library that used to be a short walk away from where we lived when I was younger. Probably my greatest memories were reading Roald Dahl's books, Matilda being my absolute favourite. It was no surprise that I loved English at school. I was able to let my imagination run wild (something that unfortunately is not often the case nowadays in schools) and would get consumed in the literature we were reading at the time. It will come to no surprise to you that I went on to study Literature at A-level, degree level and then became an English teacher in a secondary school!
Part of my job as an English teacher is to encourage reading, a harder job than it may sound, particularly when faced with 12 year old boys who hate anything other than their X Box or 16 year olds whose minds are full of make-up, football dreams and TOWIE, rather than wanting to get consumed by the tale of George and Lennie in Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men.' I have gathered together a few tips for anyone who may be struggling to get their child to read or engage their classes in a text. Before I carry on, I am in no way saying that I am an expert in this field! In fact, I have come across many pupils who I have found it difficult, if not downright impossible, to get them to sit and read a book in the library, but I hope that this is in some way useful to someone somewhere, and it is also good for me to reflect on ways to encourage reading to remind myself not to give up hope when faced with a class who despise what they consider, old fashioned and the 'boring' art of reading!
1. Don't think that they have to sit down with a book as thick as 'War and Peace!'
It is easy for us to get caught up in what is 'real' literature and what is or isn't worth reading. Many of us have been brought up with the classics, Dickens, Bronte, Austen, Hardy, but just because your child has not got their head in one of the more traditional novels, does not mean that what they are reading is not worthwhile. Current teenage fiction is fantastic. It often deals with real-life situations, issues that teenagers are interested in, and will often have a varied vocabulary and interesting writing style which will allow young adults to thrive as a reader. Issues such as teenage pregnancy, stress, bullying and even drug abuse can be discussed through these novels, in a way that is not overly controversial and is suited to the youth of today. These books may not be extremely long, they may not be what you read at school and they may not be what you consider as 'literature,' but they will not only learn new vocabulary, construction of a written text, but also they will learn something about feelings, about difficult situations but in a 'safe' way. However, not all teenage fiction teaches you the lessons of life. Look at the 'Twilight' phenomenon-not necessarily a series of extremely well written texts but a topic that engaged youngsters and encouraged them to get reading. I have taught many a pupil whose interest in reading started with this series and has now progressed to many other texts and they have never looked back.
2. Don't disregard 'other' less traditional reading materials.
If your child is sitting reading a magazine, or a gaming manual or even an online blog, as long as the content is appropriate and you are happy with the content of what is within these less traditional reading materials, then this is all reading. These are more modern ways of reading. If your child picks up a gaming manual they will be faced with a new set of vocabulary, a different style of writing for a specific purpose and above all else, they will be reading something that is of interest to them. If the only thing you can get your child to read is a copy of Vogue, then let them! Don't discourage them. It is amazing how much they learn from this kind of text and how much they can apply to their studies. In fact, part of the GCSE for English is looking at Non-Fiction Texts and being able to identify the purpose, target audience and the form it takes. Reading advertisements, newspapers, leaflets etc. needs to be encouraged as much as encouraging the reading of fictional texts.
3. Identify their interests and use them to encourage reading.
If your child is adamant that there is no book interesting enough for them to read, use their hobbies/pastimes to prove them wrong. If they enjoy horse riding, find them a non-fiction book based around the care of a horse or even a fictional book such as 'War Horse' by Morpurgo to grab their attention. If you are finding it hard to drag them away from their computer games, buy them one of the 'You Choose' books where they have to choose the path that the characters take in the story. Such as 'You Choose if You Live or Die: Virus Outbreak' by Simon Chapman. Not only will they have the satisfaction of being in control of the story but they will also be able to change the ending many times, just like in a computer game, by taking a different route each time. The vast array of topics that are available to teenagers (and younger readers) now should allow a parent/teacher to find something to engage even the most reluctant of readers.
4. Start off slow.
Don't expect your child/pupil to be volunteering to read the full works of Charles Dickens within a month. They need to build up not only their reading skills but also their confidence to be able to read a variety of texts. Some children find it extremely difficult to concentrate on a lengthy text, especially independently, so don't be surprised if some days they want to give up! Encourage them to start off with a selection of short stories, then maybe a short novel and build up to something a little longer, perhaps reading it together-you reading one chapter one night, and them reading another the next night. Try to establish a routine of them factoring in reading into their nightly schedule. Perhaps 30 minutes before they go to sleep at night or 30 minutes as they return home from school. I know with the hustle and bustle of life that this isn't always easy! In fact, it is something that I am always striving to do myself but we can only try!
5. Encourage the use of the imagination!
Many people think that this is only important for young children, particularly when they are playing, but this is just as important for teenagers. In order to enjoy reading fiction, we must be able to use our imagination. Many books are now turned into films but just watching the film does not allow us to visualise the locations, characters and situations for ourselves-it does this for us. Surely this makes us lazy readers? How many of us who have actually read the Harry Potter books agree that they are better than the films? It doesn't necessarily mean that we didn't enjoy the films-I loved them! But nothing is as good as reading the text and using our imagination to visualise what Lord Voldemort looks like or what a Hippogriff looks like in real life. Not only is it important to stretch our imagination when reading in order to truly understand the text and the descriptions given, it is also something that will help our children to be able to write more imaginatively and more creatively. An ability to be able to do this is important, not only to improve and widen their writing skills but also to explore life, as corny as it sounds! To have a good imagination is a survival skill.....how often do we enjoy going off into our own little worlds, not in a weird way, but to be used as a way of escaping real life which can be hard going at the best of times!
Those would be my top tips! As I said, I am no expert but these are just a few things that have helped me encourage pupils and have given to parents to help encourage reading at home. It can be extremely difficult in an age where technology often is the preferred source of entertainment. My advice? Invest in a kindle for your family...not a kindle fire where they may get distracted by other apps but the old style where the only thing they can do with it is read! Lol! Failing that, try to embrace technology and how this may aid your child to read rather than see it as the enemy.
Remember, as Dr. Seuss taught us:
'The more that you read the more things that you will know.
The more you learn the more places you will go.'
Thanks for stopping by.