Why Do Our Kids Hate to Read?

Something to Worry About

Do you ever wonder about the kind of leaders today's youth will make? I think about this a lot, because I teach reading to striving high school students. I recently asked my students what they knew about Martin Luther King. These are some of the actual responses my 9th - 12th grade students offered:

"Wasn't he a president or something?"

"He was the guy who freed the slaves."

"Never heard of him."

Scary, isn't it? It makes you wonder how a child can celebrate January 15 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) every year and not know who the man was!! This is my first year teaching reading at the high school level, and I am appalled by the paucity of background information my students possess. I know they have attended school all these years, and they have been given lessons to build their store of knowledge and understanding in many content areas, so it makes me question where all that information went to?

My guess is that because we have geared teaching to passing high-stakes tests each year, a lot of content has been covered, but deep learning has not occurred. Deep learning comes with reading, thinking about what is read, talking about the text, sharing ideas, and applying new knowledge in ways to extend the learning. All of that takes time, and with the annual tests looming from day one of the school year, teachers are acutely aware of the amount of information that must be covered before testing day arrives. They know they don't have the luxury of time to spend teaching any one subject deeply. Students learn strategies for passing the test, but do not make connections to the content of the text or adopt the new knowledge that we intend for them to acquire. It also discourages reading for enjoyment.

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Kids Hate to Read

Many adolescents will tell you that they hate to read, but they didn't start out hating books and reading.

I love pizza. It is one of my favorite things to eat, but if I was required to eat it everyday , and fed pizza with toppings I didn't like, it wouldn't be long before that passion for pizza would be dead and gone. It isn't hard to see why students, who are given a steady diet of comprehension passages to read with the goal in mind of passing a standardized test, and who never get to "taste" great literature, learn very quickly to hate reading.

Tips for Teaching Students to Read for Pleasure

One way to overcome aliteracy, or hatred for reading, is to help kids experience what it is like to read for pleasure. These are some suggestions for helping kids to learn to enjoy reading.There is no order to these ideas, they are just thoughts on ways to teach kids to learn to enjoy reading:

  • Give book talks to generate interest in books.
  • Encourage kids to talk to each other about what they read and to share their thoughts.
  • Read aloud portions of text and stop at a "good" part, so the students will want to find out what comes next.
  • Create a stress-free, relaxing area in the classroom for independent reading.
  • Encourage kids to bring a snack to have while they read.
  • Find out your students' interests and help them choose books that they might like.
  • Encourage students to read anything they like: magazines, newspaper articles, Internet articles, books, letters, comic books; anything that will spark their interest and get them to read.
  • Model your own love of reading. Share your passion by thinking aloud as you read and share your thought processes with the students so they "see" how your brain is working.
  • Share a wide variety of types of text and genres to help students get an idea of the wealth of material there is for them to experience reading.

Comments 3 comments

N/A 3 years ago

I think part of the problem is forcing kids to read old (and, admittedly, poorly-written) books they're probably going to hate, like Catcher in the Rye, and telling them they're stupid/illiterate/autistic when they don't like it.


Mike Walter profile image

Mike Walter 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

I love the pizza analogy! You're probably right, teaching to the test takes away a lot of the time we might otherwise spend teaching deeper content. You're also right about getting kids to talk about the things they already like to read. Other students are more impressed by that than by what their English teacher tells them they "should" want to read.


loriamoore 5 years ago

FYI, I have published a children's book for 2-8 year olds -- something to consider to get them interested in reading. "Grady the Gray Cat."

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