As the school year winds down, I'm doing a lot of thinking about the teaching of reading, how it's gone this year, and what I want to change for next year. Please bear with me as I think through some of this here on my blog.
After some excruciating math, I've determined that about 23% of my students continue to resist reading with everything they've got. 15% of my students are making little to no progress, with five kids proudly marching in the wrong direction entirely, testing at a lower reading level this spring than last fall. But I'm still worried about that other 8% too, because I have no idea how they've made any reading gains at all, since they Will. Not. Read. (My best guess is that they didn't try at all on the fall test, and kind of tried on the spring test, so it made it look like they were getting somewhere.)
Unsurprisingly, of the seventeen students I'm most worried about, only two have more than a 2.0 GPA--that's a C average. Twelve of them have below a D average. We're talking five F's and a D in PE. My first, ignoble though was, "So, it's not all my fault--they aren't working for anyone else either." But obviously, if you can't read, it's hard to be successful at school. Likewise, if you feel like a failure everywhere you go, it's difficult to get motivated and enthusiastic about trying harder. So it IS kind of on me. I'm the adult, one trained in education, no less. If I can't figure out how to help them escape their rut of apathy and disengagement, who can?
Here's what I've tried: I've asked them about their interests and bought books specifically for them. (Trust me "2016 Soccer Stars" and "What is the Superbowl?" would not be in a library that catered only to my tastes.) I've handed them picture books and graphic novels, both of which are acceptable things to read in my class--meaning their peers read them too. I've checked out audiobooks for them, with and without the hard copy to read along. I've encouraged them to buddy read with their friends. I've talked to them about why they find it hard to find a good book, and why they find it hard to keep reading beyond a few pages. I've conferenced with them one-on-one, and I've pulled them in small groups. I've done file searches to find out what earlier teachers and testing had to say. I've invented errands in the middle of the period to give them a chance to stand up and get moving. I've helped them find online articles about their interests.
I've read aloud.
Other than reading aloud, which engages two or three of my adamant non-readers, none of it has helped. There is enough of a reading culture in my class that they want to look like they're reading at least some of the time, so most of them check books out, hold them in front of their faces, maybe even read a few pages, or at least look at them. A few of the kids are loud and boisterous. Reading, they tell me, is hard, and boring, and they are constantly trying to get their classmates off task, or get me engaged in some side conversation, or throwing pencils at the ceiling, or ANYTHING. Many more of the kids are quiet. They would be content to sit and hold a book and have me leave them alone. They are more likely to tell me what they think I want to hear, that they DO like reading, it's just they haven't found a book lately.
They don't like it when I try to talk to them about reading, about their lack of engagement. Their eyes slip away from mine, their voices dwindle. Lots of shrugs and half smiles, mixed with declarations that "there aren't any interesting books," but "I think this one looks okay." It never is, and gets abandoned within a day or two.
Considering that every single one of my students was placed into my class instead of an elective, and that they were all placed there because they are reading 2-5 grade levels below where they "should" be, I need to keep sight of the fact that 77% of them ARE making progress, and ARE reading, at least one book every six weeks, which is a significant jump for many of them. 40% of my students will not need a reading support class next year, because they've caught up to within one year of their peers. Some students are reading at ever increasing volumes. Some are building up a significant TBR lists. Some exchange titles and recommendations without any prompting.
If I focus on the majority, I could convince myself I've been successful this year.
Still, I want to figure out the remaining group of kids who won't read. This, to me, is a far more compelling issue than anything I find out from state testing. I won't see those numbers until the middle of the next school year, anyway. I can look around my room right now and say "That kid, and that one, and that one over there--they still haven't read a whole book this year."
As someone who lives and breathes books, it's hard for me to understand how completely unappealing they are to some students. I feel like it must be a mechanical issue--that the ACT of reading must be getting in their way. Humans are hard-wired to enjoy stories, aren't we? Is there such thing as being cheerfully illiterate in the 21st century? Because honestly, if you are reading at a 3rd grade level in the 8th grade, you are functionally illiterate.
You don't actually need to love reading to become literate. But if you hate reading, that is such a huge impediment to becoming literate.
I'll keep searching for answers.