Teaching young people to read isn’t the easiest task in the world, but in order to prepare children for their future educational journeys — and for life as intelligent citizens — they need to learn to read. And they need to learn to read well because it opens doors, it inspires stories and takes the reader on journeys — not because schools require reading and it’s something they “have to do.” For students who do know how to read but are “stalled readers” and don’t stay on a page of content for more than a few seconds, there are strategies for them as well.
Have Fun With Stalled Readers While Inspiring Them!
When a teacher creates enthusiasm and stimulates great interest in a subject, children are far more interested in whatever it is the teacher is presenting. Kids crave stories that stir up their emotions, and the teacher needs to launch into a reading assignment with the enthusiasm and spunk of a talented actor demonstrating his or her verve. Remember, the teacher is basically competing with 3-D video games that boy has at home, so make it fun and exciting!
WHO: Typically stalled readers learned to read fairly quickly in first or second grade, but somehow lost interest or perhaps got into electronic video games or TV and that was more fun than sitting down and opening a book. These children may require direct instruction in a tutorial setting and they respond better in small groups or one-on-one. Calling out a child for not knowing a word or a context in front of the whole class is a hideously rude thing to do, so no teacher worth her or his salt would do that. The child that is stalled requires the commitment of a very patient, “forward-looking professional teacher over the long haul” (Balajthy, et al., 2003). The stalled reader may have been through one reading program after another, or have been pulled out of several classroom situations to sit in a special reading classes that was boring. He may have been embarrassed to be pulled out in front of his peers, because there is a stigma in that scenario (i.e., he may not be smart enough to be in our class). Giving that child a fresh start is the first step to engaging him. Teachers need to research the recent history of a stalled reader’s school experiences, and discuss failed approaches with him to show he is in a perfect position to learn fun things, and to forget what may have happened previously (Balajthy, et al., 2003).
WHAT: Well, what are that child’s interests? Teachers need to go out of their way to be absolutely certain the books they choose to use in working with stalled readers are interesting, fascinating, even a bit provocative. Kids love scary stories, suspenseful stories, and above all, humor! A book for children 5 to 8 years old can have mildly naughty jokes (mentioning “underwear” and getting a pie in the face). Once the child is in the middle grades, of course the humor is more cerebral and “subversive” (Backes, 2012). Find a book where the main character is the butt of jokes, maybe because he breaks the rules and is embarrassed. Well-defined characters in books attract middle grade students like bees to honey. Aliens, wizards like Harry Potter, and other characters fascinate kids. Any reasonably alert kid that has stalled in reading skills will nonetheless love: a) a fast-paced plot (reluctant readers don’t have the patience to work their way through long passages with descriptive, flowery scenes) is vital for stimulation; b) concise chapters (that present one “clear eventâ€¦that logically leads to the next chapter); c) kid relevance (a child will become involved in the story far more quickly if the subject is relevant to his life; teachers and parents too often share books they think the child should learn, not what the child actually relates to); and d) unique presentation (books that present “freaky facts” or take a unique slant on a subject the child cares about can kick start the child’s curiosity and imagination (especially if the teacher offers tasty little nuggets from inside the book and challenges students to identify other little nuggets that spark smiles, or frowns) (Backes, 2012).
HOW: be creative but never, never, ever nag at a child (like a meek, hen-pecked husband is nagged by his wife in a book) or demand or beg him to read. If a child loves dogs, read books about dog adventures. Bring the daily newspaper to class and read stories from real life before launching into fiction. A story that can be found in “Google News” about a dog that was picked up by the huge tornado and blown away from his family in Joplin, MO — but somehow six weeks later, the dog limps home with a broken leg but the family is overjoyed to see him (kids love true animal stories). Portions of the book that truly interests a stalled reader should be read aloud (dramatic portions of the book) and the context of the story should be explained.
HOW II: A story map is a fun exercise for stalled readers: a) students all read a specific passage in their books; b) once finished with the passage, they stop reading and create maps, showing where the characters go, where the plot is located, making the maps colorful and creative; c) readers exchange maps and explain their maps; d) classmates ask questions and make comments about each other’s maps; e) a class discussion ensues about the story and the insights students demonstrated through their maps (Rasinski, et al., 1996).
HOW III: Reader’s theater plays are riveting and memorable for readers, especially those who are crying out for a boost. The teacher locates an appropriate fun book (humor or mystery preferred; The Trial of Cardigan Jones by Tim Egan is worthy), edits out scripts from the book’s narrator and dialogue from the characters, and prints those scripts. In class or in a tutoring environment, the teacher reads the book with tremendous passion and emphasis, stirring great interest. Immediately after finishing reading the book out loud, the teacher announces that the class will present that story in a play (children love this and will cheer!). Children are chosen to take the parts of the characters in the story, and act it out (Freeman, 2007). Reader’s theatre is a “painless, effective way to get children reading aloud with comprehension, expressionâ€¦ and joy,” Freeman explains.
In conclusion, there are an unlimited number of strategies to use in working with students that are stalled in their ability to read, or stalled in their interest in books per se. This paper mentions a few of those strategies, and there are more to be found in the literature. For reading theatre ideas and stories, these sites are helpful: www.margiepalatini.com; www.tonibuzzeo.com; and www.timelessteachersstuff.com.
Backes, Laura. (2012). Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read: 125 Books That
Will Turn Any Child into a Lifelong Reader. New York: Random House Digital, Inc.
Balajthy, Ernest, and Lipa-Wade, Sally. (2003). Struggling Readers: Assessment and Instruction
in Grades K-6.
Freeman, Judy. (2007). Once Upon a Time Using Storytelling, Creative Drama, and Reader’s
Theater with Children in Grades PreK-6. Chicago, IL: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Rasinski, T., and Padak, N. (1996). Holistic Reading Strategies: Teaching children who find
Reading difficult. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.