What do you do when a kid won’t read?
It’s a question asked regularly, in various forms, in the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group, particularly as young readers approach the end of primary school and the beginning of high school. At that point, it seems, the world is full of far more interesting things than books – friends, devices, gaming, general growing up.
So what can we do to help keep kids on track with reading, when the lure of other options can be strong?
Who better to ask than a grade six teacher, dealing at the coal face with this conundrum every day.
Troy Metcalf is an author and primary school teacher, currently teaching grade six. Knowing how important reading widely is for children’s literacy skills, he also understands the battle that many parents face in getting kids to read at all.
In this post, Troy offers some strategies to try when your kid just won’t read – and explains why he wrote his own fantasy series (Crystals of Cirai) to try to fill a ‘gap’ that he sees all too regularly in the transition from primary to high school.
Take it away, Troy.
WHAT TO DO WHEN A KID WON’T READ
Unfortunately, it’s very rare that I have a parent/teacher conference and the parents come in professing how much their child loves reading or writing. Most of the time, the parents are slogging awaym buying books and trying to promote reading before bed, but are often at their wit’s end with a kid who just won’t read.
I understand the problem. Heck, I was one of those kids during school. I probably read three series the entire thirteen years: Tashi, Deltora Quest and Harry Potter—in that order.
Why does it happen?
There are multiple things at play: family life and incentive, vicinity to books, and relatability. In my own experience, there was a common thread between those three series and, as I got older, I couldn’t find more books the same.
It wasn’t until later in life that I discovered The Final Empire, Six of Crows, and The Lies of Locke Lamora to really bring me back to reading again. And again, there are common threads.
So how do we bring that back to kids? The aim is to bridge the gap between what they love and the books they read.
CREATIVITY AT PLAY
If it wasn’t for the youth of today, meme culture would be stuck with Bad Luck Brian and A random quote with a minion attached. Now, we are able to visualise and conceptualise relatable, and oftentimes mundane, events with a reaction photo from a favourite TV show (whether it be Spongebob, Squid Game or Golden Girls). My own social media feed is filled with reactions I wouldn’t think of myself, but which are so real and funny.
But despite the creativity we see from students and kids on the internet or when they’re flash building a structure in Fortnite, in the classroom, education is yet to harness their abilities in a way that pushes them to want to do more with it.
Which is one of the reasons I began writing.
The reality is that some kids come into an English session with a groan and eyeroll because of how it is taught and discussed. The key is to encourage kids to push through this mundanity and really grasp reading and writing for what it is…
ABSOLUTE PURE GOLD.
MAKE READING RELATABLE
For me, the key to encouraging a love of reading is quality mentor texts and reaching students where they are.
Making reading relatable.
As an example, I briefly mentioned Baz Luhrmann’s film Romeo + Juliet in class the other day and when I said “Shakespeare” there was an uproar of negativity.
These students have not even started high school yet, but they are already dreading Shakespeare.
After mentioning the movie, I then brought them to another example of a Shakespearean play: Hamlet.
Cue more groans.
But once I talked to the students about the link between Hamlet and the Disney movie ‘The Lion King’, I had them.
“Really!?” they gasped.
The fact is that kids crave relatability, and I bring this into writing lessons as well.
It seems to me that classrooms can be places that stifle creativity by trying to control how kids write. Yes, students need the basic functionalities and rules of writing, of course.
But when it comes to creativity, I say leave it to them.
Don’t write to NAPLAN scores; don’t tell them not to use speech because short stories should be four paragraphs (yes, I’ve seen and heard this); don’t limit them.
Kids are wondrous, amazing balls of random content, and it’s up to us to encourage that.
CONNECTING WITH READING
The same can be said for reading. If a child can’t find a book to read, then we have an obligation to help them find one that can match (Rick Riordan is brilliant at this). Even if we have to write one!
I began writing because I was trying to fill the gap I see every day in the classroom. A gap I so sorely needed myself to make the transition from Primary to High School.
Rahta’s Revenge is the first instalment in the Crystals of Cirai series. It follows a group of teens who live in a world ravaged by monsters and poor living conditions while the rich are protected under a dome. One day they receive correspondence from the Commander and are tasked with finding a missing magical artefact that will hopefully bring peace back to their country.
It’s a quest novel with serious themes that never takes itself too seriously, designed to help students bridge that gap between books for younger readers (Tashi or Deltora Quest) and those with more mature storylines (The Final Empire or Six of Crows).
Encouraging kids to read is about ensuring they can access texts that are challenging, engaging and exciting – to them. And that will be different for each young reader.
Troy Metcalf is an Australian author and teacher.
His first novel Rahta’s Revenge is out now and you can find out more here.
Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher, and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.
Join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group to connect with a community waiting to help you find the perfect book for your young reader. Or listen to the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast!