In defence of the reluctant readers
You know how much emphasis I put on the importance of reading, and on encouraging children to love stories and enjoy writing. Today though, I’m championing the reluctant readers out there, those who feel the pressure of being constantly told they must read more.
I am the mother of a reluctant reader. She’s twelve now and only reads because she has to, not because she enjoys the process.
She doesn’t struggle to read. Her comprehension is excellent and her English scores are high. In this sense, she probably breaks the mould in terms of research findings that link reading enjoyment with improved academic performance.
Research also suggests those who enjoy reading are more likely to love writing.
My daughter – the reluctant reader – is a member of my teen creative writing group, The Young Writers. This year, she made it through to the second round of the BBC Radio Two 500 Words story competition.
Children who enjoy reading are also more likely to have a healthier mental state.
Why then, does reading make my daughter so miserable and stressed?
She is not dyslexic and doesn’t have any reading or writing difficulties, but what she does have, is poor eyesight. Being long-sighted and also having astigmatism has had a real impact on my daughter’s ability to track words on a page and focus on printed text. She often complains of headaches when trying to read.
To put it into context, even with glasses on, she can’t see as well as I can, and I’m in my forties.
At home, there is no pressure on my daughter to read. The pressure, unfortunately, comes from school and it is something I have had to continuously battle with.
To give an example, over the recent Easter holiday, the children in my daughter’s year (Year 7), were tasked with reading two books, one of which, should be a challenging text. Now to most kids, this might not seem a lot, but to my daughter, it filled her with dread. There really was no way she would get through two books in what she considered such a short space of time.
She managed one and even then, was concerned it didn’t fit into any of the categories – it was Judith Kerr’s, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, which I assured her was fine. I had to say this over and over though. When it comes down to it, she read a book and it really didn’t matter what book it was. I’m sure her teacher would agree with me on that.
The English teacher does understand. I’ve specifically spoken to her about my daughter’s difficulties when it comes to reading. This is something I have to do every year because it is not until they understand what’s going on, that they back off and ease the pressure. Because that’s what it is – pressure. Felt more so by my daughter, who puts pressure on herself to do well and achieve. She believes she is lacking because she doesn’t succeed in the reading challenges set her. I spend a lot of time trying to convince her otherwise.
How then, do we tackle this problem?
A few years ago, I bought my daughter a Kindle. I won’t say that it performed a miracle in terms of her approach to reading, but it has certainly helped.
Why is this?
Being able to change the font to one that’s easier on the eye, increasing the font size, increasing the line spacing and the fact the screen is backlit, have all really helped.
The Kindle also has Word Wise, which enables you to look up the meaning of a highlighted word.
There is a lot to be said for e-readers and recent National Literacy Trust Research found children with low reading engagement were more likely to engage with reading material when using screens. For example, 1 in 4 disengaged boy readers said they read fiction on screens, compared with 1 in 10 of those who were more engaged readers generally.
Whilst you or I might relish the thought of holding a real book in our hands, for my daughter, there is something psychologically off-putting about seeing how many pages you’ve read and how much you still have left. With the Kindle, you don’t get this, and even though you can see what percentage of the way through you are, that doesn’t have as much of a negative impact.
What does help though, is the Kindle will tell you, based on your reading speed, how many minutes it’s likely to take you to get to the end of the chapter. There is much value in this, as it helps to encourage her to read that bit more, knowing what it will achieve.
Another avenue we’ve tried, with some success, is audiobooks.
If you think about it, given my daughter has visual difficulties, this makes her more of a natural auditory learner. For her, audiobooks are the perfect medium on which to appreciate a story.
Some might argue audiobooks are not the same as reading. However, they provide a way for children to access literature. With this, comes an opportunity to understand story structure and theme, improve comprehension skills and provide topics for discussion.
Audiobooks give vital access to vocabulary, aid pronunciation and foster critical thinking skills in much the same way as print books do. They should definitely not be overlooked or disproved of when it comes to reluctant readers.
So, although I’m all for children being encouraged to enjoy reading, I really do feel that thought should be spared for the reluctant readers, who struggle for reasons that can’t really be measured, but who feel they are letting people down or not achieving as they are supposed to.