A few days ago I posted a blog about boys and reading. I was a bit frustrated by the message being sent out in the media that boys don’t read, when I have found the opposite to be true. Of course, some boys don’t read – but some girls don’t either. What I have found to be true over eighteen years of teaching is that when a student of any gender doesn’t enjoy reading, they are usually either struggling with their actual reading ability, or haven’t found a book to hook them yet.
In the comments to my blog post I had a reader ask for advice. Her younger son isn’t a reader. I mentioned that maybe I should write out a timeline or post about my own sons and their progression as readers, because each got there in their own way. This is that post.
Luke and Liam
I have two sons – Luke is eleven and in fifth grade. Liam is nine and in third. They are very different in every way, including reading. They both encountered roadblocks in route to becoming readers, but would now identify themselves as readers if you were to ask.
Reading came relatively easy to Luke. I’m sure he was never at the top of his class in reading, but we never worried about it. He could read anything his teachers sent home, memorize any list of sight words, but he didn’t love it. I found that Luke reminded me of many of the boys that entered my room in the fall when I taught fourth grade. They just didn’t see books that interested them. They’d read a book flawlessly, summarize it beautifully, but not find any connections or joy in the act of reading. With Luke, I had to search. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series began to pull him out of his reading rut in second and third grade, but it was The Lightning Thief that really turned things around. Towards the end of second grade he begged me to let him read it. I knew that it was far above his reading level. I could have told him to go ahead and try, but I didn’t want him to be discouraged. Instead, I got the book on audio and asked him to follow along as he listened to it. He was mesmerized. We talked about Percy, why he made the choices he had, and Luke talked about what he would have done. From that point forward, he began to identify as a reader and hasn’t looked back.
Liam had a tougher journey to reading. He had a severe speech delay that made the words he said and the words on the page form a mismatch. Decoding was tough. Fluency, forget about it. (Spelling is another post entirely.) But, we persevered. In first grade Liam’s amazing teachers talked to me about his reading. He was performing well below his peers and already receiving Tier 2 services for RTI. They suggested he continue with that, but also get some Reading Recovery help. I was all for it. Liam did a lot of reading work in that first grade year, but we had ground to make up! Each night he dutifully read his reading class homework, his Tier 2 homework, his Reading Recovery homework, and did any work that went with them. We also made sure to add “fun” reading in there as well – often something from the Elephant & Piggie series where we could act out the voices. While it was a lot of reading, Liam needed to close a gap and he wasn’t going to do that by reading the same amount the rest of his peers were. In one year, he caught up. In second grade, he found graphic novels – thanks to some Babymouse books I had lying around – and took off. He tore through every graphic novel I owned in second grade. In third grade he found Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I think the format of the books with less text on the page helped him feel successful. Liam reads all of the time, typically at least an hour a day (as does Luke – by choice, my request is twenty minutes) and always without prompting. He is now far ahead of where he needs to be grade level wise, but truly that isn’t what matters to me. He loves to read.
Beyond having the expectation that my kids would read and providing them with materials, there are just a few other things we’ve done that I think matter. As someone mentioned in the comments, they see me reading. They see my husband reading. They know my parents are readers and they often ask what the boys are reading (and my mom reads the books they do so they can talk about them.) They’ve seen me curled up in bed, reading See You at Harry’s and sobbing as I read. When they asked why I would continue with a book that made me cry, I replied, “Sometimes a book is so beautiful, so moving, that it reduces you to tears, and you read on in spite of that.” They will both read that book one day because they want to understand why.
I talk about how books make us better people and point that out in my own books. I ask them what they’ve learned about themselves from the books they read – how did they grow? And I ask them to give me feedback on the books I buy for my classroom. Whenever picture books arrive at the house, they often beat me to reading them. I’ll ask them what they thought of it, how I could use it in the classroom, etc. When Bluebird arrived last year, Liam read it after I did. I was still wiping away tears when he closed the book. I asked if he thought Bob Staake should have changed the ending. Liam flipped to the page where the boy is holding the bird with the bullies surrounding him. He said the book needed to be the way it was because, “Sometimes kids need to know that sorry won’t fix what you’ve done.” And then he said, “That’s what you need to teach your students, Mom.” Yep.
I guess some kids are just born readers, but mine have evolved to becoming one. I think all of our paths to reading are different, but I’m convinced that if we find the right books, give them time, allow choice, and talk to them about what they read, we are helping create the next generation of Nerdy Book Club members.