Never mind the quality, feel the word count or How to switch kids off reading at school

Much to my shame (as a publisher of books for reluctant readers) my nine year-old doesn’t like books. He thinks they’re boring. Don’t get me wrong – he’s a good reader, and his reading age is a couple of years above his actual age. So I’m not a worrisome parent.

But he just doesn’t like reading books. Why? Because ‘books are boring’.

He explained to me how it works at school. Once a week his class have a half-hour reading session. The whole class goes to the library, and each child chooses a book to read. They then take their book back to the class and sit down to read it (in silence) for 20 minutes or so. I gather the teacher reads during this time too – I assume to send a positive signal about ‘reading’. Then after 20 minutes the teacher says ‘Time’s up’ and they all troop back to the library to return their books.

‘So do you get the same book the next week?’ I asked.

‘No.’

‘Do you get to finish a book in the reading session?’

‘No.’

‘Oh. And what are the books like that you get to choose?’

‘Boring.’

‘What, all of them?’

‘Yes. Well … no. Three of them are cool. The rest are boring.’

‘So why don’t you read one of the cool books?’

‘Because you never get them. If a kid gets one of the three cool books, you want to read it again next week, so you don’t get a rubbish book to read. So when we all take the books back at the end, you kind of hang back, and when all the other kids have returned their books, then you hide the cool book you’ve got behind some other books on the wrong reading shelf. So you can get it next week and none of the other kids can find it.’

‘[speechless …]’

‘But you have to be careful. If the teacher sees you hiding one of the cool books, you get told off.’

 

So let me get this straight. First of all, in this school, our kids are instructed to read for a fixed time, then ‘stop’. Forget plots. Forget character development. Forget endings. Just read for a bit, then take it back. Never mind the quality, feel the word count.

What signal does that send?

And if you want to read a good book – a book that really interests you – then you are punished for using your initiative to try to achieve this.

No wonder we have so many reluctant readers.

Is it time for a rethink?

Stephen Rickard is Creative Director of Ransom Publishing Ltd. He regularly writes and presents on issues surrounding literacy and reluctant/struggling readers.