High Quality Fiction and the Reluctant Reader
Making the case for fiction in the classroom
Many students arrive at middle and secondary school believing that they can’t read and/or that they dislike reading. This negative attitude tends to be combined with a steadfast view that it is too late for them to become good readers. The pre-existing attitudes and beliefs of these students make it extremely challenging for teachers to actively engage them in reading.
How do teachers successfully involve and engage reluctant middle and secondary school adolescent readers in the reading process and ultimately improve their reading abilities?
First and foremost, teachers have to believe that they can make a difference and that these students can become proficient readers. These students don’t believe they have the ability to become better readers; teachers must show confidence in their students’ ability to improve and reiterate this confidence to the students daily.. Teachers must also keep abreast of current research on adolescent readers. Finally, teachers must examine current practices and incorporate changes that will help reluctant and struggling readers learn to make sense of what they read and improve their reading ability.
The most important thing a reluctant, struggling adolescent reader needs is a teacher who understands reading instruction, adolescent development, and motivation (Fisher & Frey 2008). Current research overwhelming supports that it is the teacher standing before the students and not a commercially-packaged reading program that will make the difference in the advancement of reading ability. Knowing these students as readers, assessing and regularly monitoring progress and adjusting instruction to meet their needs are all components of a successful reading program that will improve student achievement not only in reading, but in all academic areas. Providing reading materials that are interesting and meaningful to adolescents along with ample time for in class reading will support readers’ development regardless of their motivation, interest or ability level. Keene & Zimmerman’s research (2007) says "We must have the goal of educating children to become real readers, not simply students who answer test questions correctly but leave school with no interest in picking up a book ever again. If we want engaged, active readers and citizens, we must make reading a joyful adventure."
Reading is a complex task that demands the use of a range of skills and strategies. Proficient readers automatically use these skills and strategies to construct meaning from the text they read. Research confirms what educators have always known. The more a student reads, the more proficient a reader they become. The amount of time spent reading is what separates good readers from poor ones. Further to this, the amount of time a student spends reading is directly related to his/her vocabulary, general and specific knowledge and overall academic achievement. The other defining factor between proficient and reluctant or struggling readers in the number of reading comprehension strategies they have and how they use them. Reluctant readers have very few strategies to help them make meaning of text.
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Quality teen fiction, relevant to students’ lives, should be the point of entry with reluctant, struggling readers. It is important for students to experience the sense of accomplishment that finishing a book can bring, and how much fun it can be to escape reality by getting involved in a great book. Research has shown that when students interact with fiction and learn to love great books, they can become lifelong learners.
WIth 24 years experience as an educator Carolyn has taught in both the elementary and secondary panels as well as in Care, Custody and Treatment Facilities for at-risk youth. Over half of Carolyn’s career has been dedicated to working with at-risk adolescent learners. Currently Carolyn is working as a Program, Curriculum and Instruction Consultant Grades 7-12 for the Waterloo Region District School Board. In this role she provides system-wide professional development to both teachers and administrators.