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6 Simple Tips to Encourage Secondary Readers

Over the past month or so, we've been looking at practical ways teachers (or parents) can encourage latent (also called "reluctant" - but I don't like that term) readers to dive in and start enjoying books. Our goal in this series is not to improve test scores or grades, but to develop a confidence and authentic love of reading (for pleasure) that extends beyond classroom assignments and into real life.

Today is the last post in the series (I hear your audible sobs). It's a round-up of sorts - I hope you don't feel like that's a cop-out on my end; I just want to give a succinct summary of all the things we've talked about.

So here it is - I've boiled the series down to six practical things you can do to encourage reading in your secondary (middle and high school) students:

1. Give them choice. Let kids choose their own reading material and refrain from judgement on it. When we read for pleasure (as adults), we choose a vast array of materials - everything from magazines to blogs to novels. We also read for a variety of reasons (pleasure, information, belonging)...and that's okay. Allow kids to engage with texts in a way that feels genuine.

2. Provide a variety of options. Keep in mind that some kids may have never been able to choose a book on their own and have no idea what they might enjoy reading. Open them up to a variety of print and genres by providing opportunity (visiting a library) and selection (keeping books and other print materials in the classroom or at home). Encourage and engage them during the choosing process; make it a conversation in which they have a voice.

3. Give them space and time. There is nothing that scares a latent reader more than time/page constraints. Remove limiting expectations (read 100 pages in one night; complete 3 chapters by Tuesday). Create a time or space in which they have the freedom to read at their leisure, at their own pace, without someone checking in on them. When was the last time you read for enjoyment and had to report the number of pages you read each night?

4. Model reading for pleasure. This precept was woven throughout the series instead of being directly addressed, but its importance is critical. Show your students (or your children) what you read on your own time. Include the various things you might be reading (novels, newspapers, blogs, etc) as well as your reasons for reading them (pleasure, professional development, information). Spontaneously share your opinions on what you read (I didn't really care for the style of this author.) and create dialogue as a natural, authentic part of your classroom culture.

5. Set the stage. This may go without saying, but make sure that students know reading - reading for enjoyment - is a part of your class. Invest in a library and comfy spaces for kids to explore text. If you are someone who serves emerging readers (kids who struggle with texts or kids whose first language is not English), find engaging ways to introduce them to the beauty of story - audio books to listen to, picture books to look at, books with no words.

6. Celebrate success. Okay, so I totally tanked on this one. I don't think I talked about this at all, but I'm trying to make up for it now. For some kids, reading is T-O-U-G-H. Next to impossible. Celebrate the wins for them individually. I'm not talking a pizza party every time a kid finishes a book, but I am talking about knowing your students well enough to notice when they're overcome a hurdle or reached a milestone. Have a good who only reads car magazines and one day he shows up with novel? Celebrate with a quick Post-It that says, "Wow! Noticed you brought a book today! You're going to crush it. Well done!" Positive encouragement is the best motivation there is.

I hope you feel like this is possible. I hope there is one thing you can take away and start implementing in your classroom today. I hope you see the fruit of you labor in that one kid who tries a new genre, actually finishes a book, starts picking up the newspapers, or asks you to recommend something you like. And if no one else says it to you, I'm so proud of you for making the effort to help all your students love reading for life.

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