Helping your students develop a love for reading is one of the most important gifts you can give them and well worth the time you spend doing it. In this article, written by Amina Shakoor and TRC staff, we discuss how to get children, not just reading, but doing so with enthusiasm. We are living in an era where each new day adds more innovative gadgets with multiple Apps to our already gadget-ridden lives. While electronic devices in themselves are not bad, our dependence on them for everything, from feeding addictions to games, and for sending impossibly abbreviated, curt and phonics-based text messages, has lead to shortened attention spans and a situation where many find it difficult to stay present or focused. Not surprisingly our children end up mirroring our lives and the values we live by. In many homes, high tech phones, iPads and an electronic media that sends out dangerously confusing and unsuitable messages all day, are babysitting children. Problems such as these have led me, a storyteller, to reach out and start motivating young children to start reading “old fashioned” books. Storytelling: A precursor to reading The art of storytelling probably started at around the same time as when people started speaking to each other. It is easily the finest precursor to reading and should be started in the early years. Anyone, a parent, an older sibling or a teacher, can be a storyteller and by regularly reading to a child that person can spark off a lifelong love for reading. Even as early as 3 to 5 months old, a child can be introduced to picture books with colourful images. The adult caregiver can show the child the pictures and talk about them in an animated way to gain their attention. As they grow older and enter school, the class or school library can offer hardcover storybooks with colourful pictures that are easy for children to handle. Easing into reading Between the ages of 3 and 5 years, the brightly coloured pictures in many children’s books provide just the right impetus forchildren to begin to read. At this stage if a teacher wants to read a book to her class she should even try and translate it into the language that is most easily understood by her students. Start by choosing a picture book that appeals to you and read through it beforehand. You should sit with the children in a place in the classroom from where your young audience can see the words and pictures in the book. Spend some time discussing the images on the cover and any blurbs before starting to read. With such a young audience, it is important that you ‘get into the role’ and do an animated and involved reading with lots of expressions. Children should be encouraged to join you as you say repeated phrases or rhymes, such as ‘I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down’ or ‘One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish…’ Show them the pictures on each page and read slowly so that the children can follow you, but avoid interruptions unless anyone wants to ask something or comment. Let the children dwell on the illustrations after you are done reading. As they grow older, teachers should offer or inform children about reading material that reflects their interest and is also age appropriate. Even between the ages of 8-11, teachers can continue to read aloud to children; however they should also encourage children to read independently. Involve parents at this stage and ask them to support their child whenever he or she makes an effort to read, even if the childmakes mistakes. Also tell them to encourage their child to read whatever they want at this stage, be it magazines, comics, books that they think the child has outgrown and things on the internet, as long as it is appropriate. This is also the time when you, the teacher (and also parents), should discuss the books that you may have read and enjoyed. Also ask children to recommend books to you. However, because of the plethora of unsuitable reading material that is readily available, teachers and parents should be vigilant and aware of all that their children are reading. When children enter adolescence they automatically have a lot to distract them, yet they can also be engaged with reading. One way to do this is to encourage them to create something from the books they love. For instance, ask them to write a short excerpt or even a short novel using the characters from a novel that they like. 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For the love of reading: A teacher’s guide to encouraging students to read
view of the ‘villain’ of the piece or by one of the peripheral characters. Also teenagers are more likely to read if they have others around them who read, so discuss a book after you have read it. Be honest though when discussing books. If there is a book you did not like and left midway, discuss why you did that. If there is something you re-read, discuss that too. Teenagers should be encouraged to make book lists, share books, have discussions about books at reading clubs in school, where they can make comparisons, form their own opinions and discuss their perceptions. This helps inform their approach to events and people and makes them unique individuals with minds of their own. Books, books everywhere Encourage parents to offer their children books as portable entertainment whenever possible. Children can read at the beach or when they are bored, in a doctor’s waiting area. Make sure that your class has its own library, with a collection of books, which are appropriate for their age and culture. The classroom library is an important place to interact with books as it provides a location for resources and a space for independent reading. To keep or not to keep a record of books Whether children should keep a record of the books that they read or not is debatable. One opinion on the subject is that as children grow into independent readers, they have fun keeping a record of the books that they read, and it gives them a feeling of accomplishment.As a mother and a teacher I have experimented and observed different ways of keeping records with different age groups. With pre-schoolers, we decorated jars with lids for each child. Eve
ry time a child finished a book, he would write the name of the book on a piece of paper, fold it and put it in the jar. Over time the jar fills up and gives a sense of pleasure and encourages further reading. Older children can keep a record by filling out book review forms in which they write the name of the books, author, and their favourite part of the story. They can give their book reviews to their peers in school motivating them to read the ones that interest them. The opposing view on reading logs and keeping records, is that teachers make children read and fill them out because they don’t really trust children and the log or review serves as ‘proof’ that the child read for the prescribed time every day. To add to the mistrust inherent in the whole exercise, parents are asked to sign the log.Those who resist reading logs feel that it turns reading into a chore that places more value on the time spent reading than on the value of what was read. As a teacher you are in a position to decide whether your class should record their reading or not. Boys and reading Research shows that girls tend to read more than boys. As a teacher you may have noticed that in your class.To motivate boys to start reading, it is very important to give them material that they can relate to and comprehend. Boys generally like to read fiction, which is more about action, rather than emotions. They may also enjoy joke books and books that make them laugh. Boys also tend to like science fiction and reading comics, magazines and instruction manuals, some of which are not strictly considered reading by schools. To engage boys in reading you can spark their interest by stocking books that appeal to them in the class library. Teachers can ask boys to enact certain scenes from a book they have read making the whole exercise more active and hence more interesting for them. Connecting to the curriculum with books Apart from reading for pleasure, students should also be encouraged to read material related to the curriculum. Take for instance a historical event; reading about the event from a source other than the prescribed text can help develop students’ interest, especially if the other text is graphic. The class library is the ideal place to provide children with other books related to the curriculum and can combine reading for pleasure and for work. Involving children in projects, either building models or acting out historical characters, for instance, the Indus Civilisation, will encourage them to automatically read beyond the curriculum. Simple but creative methods such as the above will help make the curriculum come alive and more fun for the students. Reading Buddies Starting a Reading Buddies programme in your school can also encourage children to read. This programme, which is being used quite successfully in other countries, usually provides a child with an older ‘Reading buddy’ of his choice and both get some time to read aloud to each other. With time both children gain from the exercise, as the young child becomes more confident about his reading and the older child often comes to see the value of reading. A ‘Reading buddy’ programme is especially useful if the older child is a struggling reader, as repeatedly reading easier books, helps improve his confidence. Show them the way We are lucky to be living at a time when we have access to an incredibly rich choice of children’s literature, from fantastic legends to stories of contemporary life. It is worth taking small initiatives and making the effort to carry out some of the strategies outlined in this article. Some may work and others may not, however for many children, often the biggest motivator is just knowing that an adult is supporting them in their development. A book critic for the New York Times, Orville Prescott once said, “Few children learn to love books by themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word: someone has to show them the way.” Indeed, when we help nurture the love of reading in a child, we open up a wonderful new world to them. Amina Shakoor is an ECE teacher, a story teller and a mother of three. She runs a storytelling club to encourage children to read. She has worked as a freelance storyteller and as a consultant on parenting younger children. She has also worked as a teacher at the Karachi American School and in various schools in Australia. June 2014