Monday, September 5, 2016

Why My Students Hate Reading (And Why They Love It Too)

I asked 78 students to tell me what they love about reading and what they hate about it.*  Everyone got two sticky notes to put on the board.  I told them I preferred to hear one of each, but they could double up on a point of view if they'd have to lie otherwise.

About a third of them told me reading is boring.

"I really don’t enjoy reading.  I feel like there’s no meaning to reading."

"Reading is lame."

"I don’t like when in the beginning of a book is very interesting then the book all of a sudden turns boring and I can’t stand it."


The word "boring" was used twenty times in their notes. A group of kids in my intervention class, kids who are reading at the 2nd grade level in 8th grade, felt the need to jeer their statements out loud as they wrote.

One voice said what others probably meant.

"HATE that I can’t read very good."

Fair enough. How many of us love things we can't do well after years of practice? These are the kids that I feel I MUST reach somehow. They honestly believe that reading is not for them. I can snidely tell them, "If you think reading is boring, then you're doing it wrong," or I can't optimistically tell them, "Oh, you just haven't found the right book yet!" But unless I can actually connect them with a book that speaks to them, they will continue to hate reading.

Some statements showed more ambivalence than actual hatred. They are intimidated, but not angry.

"I hate that you have to wait for the good part."

"I don’t like that it takes forever to read a 350 page book."

"I don’t like the book to be so long."

For these students, I need to build confidence and stamina. Matching them to a great book will get them engaged. They can tackle shorter books, graphic novels, and novels in verse so they can get through a whole story before they've forgotten how it started.

There are a few who might benefit from a visit to the eye doctor.

"What I hate about reading is sometimes it gives me a headache."

"I can’t read a book for that long.  I get really dizzy."

Others that don't have a natural temperament for reading.

"I don’t like reading ‘cause it’s quiet."

"I hate reading because you have to concentrate."

Some of my favorite responses of the day were the notes in the "hate" column that were sneaky love attacks.

"When I read and read too much and get hungry."

"I don’t like how much books cost."

Now THESE are problems I can relate to. Cliffhangers, spoilers, and uncomfortable chairs were all mentioned as negatives by students who seem to like the act of reading just fine.

And then there were the statements about love of books and reading. Some of them made my heart sing. "Fun" and "interesting," were used 17 times. Not as many times as "boring," but that's partly because the book lovers tended to be more eloquent than their less enthusiastic classmates.

"What I love about reading is that each book has its own twist and they’re interesting in their
own way."

"The thing why I love reading is because I find new adventures in every book I read."

"I like reading because you get your brain going."

These readers might be dormant readers, or the under-cover types who read out of school but aren't engaged with assigned books in the classroom.

"I love reading.  I especially like biography, horror, and mysteries."

"I like reading manga and scary books because I love suspense and for manga because of the drawings."

A few students got right to the heart of why literature is important.

"Sometimes books make me think of how I treat people."

"It makes me look at stuff differently."

I can't wait to introduce these readers to Matt de la Peña, Sharon Draper, R. J. Palacio, and other authors who specialize in building empathy. They are open to reading for theme and applying the stories they read to their own lives.  

All in all, I am thrilled to have some enthusiastic readers in my classes, and determined to do everything I can to bring others on board. What I dream for all my students is that they can say:

"The thing why I love reading is because I find new adventures in every book I read."

"It takes us to a different world."

"I like it when a book takes you on a journey."

"What I love about reading is that I forget about everything."

*Idea originally from Jess @ Crawling Out of the Classroom via her fabulously helpful Twitter account @JessLif. I'm seriously considering just running my classroom a week behind hers all year and stealing all of her ideas.


  1. I love that you did this! Very insightful and very good information!

  2. This is a cool assignment. I was in special reading classes for all of elementary school because I read below my grade level. I think I hated reading because it was stressful. The adults were always freaking out about how bad I was at it, and the other kids were always calling me “retard” and “special ed.” Reading made me anxious because there was a lot of pressure to get it right.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. AJ, it's so important for me to remember a) that this is how many of my students feel and b) that there's still plenty of time for them to develop a love of reading, as you so clearly did. By the second day of school I was getting pissy with my "lowest" group because they were either checked out or wildly disruptive. Then I remembered WHY they are acting like that, took a deep breath, and stepped back a bit. I'm doing lots of reading aloud to them, lots of talking about reading in general, lots of getting-to-know-you stuff, and just trying to lower the stress level before I expect them to pick up books for more than a few minutes at a time.

  3. I wonder if short stories would reach those kids with the short attention spans? I remember being engaged by short stories when I was in elementary school (The Lottery is permanently stuck in my brain, as is The Most Dangerous Game).

    1. Good point! I will try to make more short stories available in the classroom.

  4. This is fantastic! I like that you're so concerned with your pupils' reading habits - not a lot of teachers make the effort to try and identify why kids won't read.

    Do you know which kids wrote the notes? Is it possible to help them individually?


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