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"I read ten pages!"

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I have been encouraging, pushing, and prodding my 13-year-old son for years to read more. He has declared numerous times that he hates to read because it is boring and a waste of time. I have countered that reading allows you to travel to times and places you could never actually visit, it helps you understand the world around you, and becoming a better reader will eventually help you land a better job in the future. The last argument seems to attract the most attention.

He has brushed off my arguments for years as typical parental blather. But maybe, just maybe, my persistence has paid off. Last night, he called me while he was visiting cousins at a lake house up north. "Dad, I read ten pages!" he announced over the telephone. "And I plan to read ten more tonight." That is a small miracle for him.

His uncle had chastised him for not reading more, and recommended he start with a book called The Power of One, a beautifully written coming-of-age novel that I read years ago and had passed along to that uncle when he was a teenager.

The optimist in me is excited about this new development. But the pessimist in me is worried that my son will lose interest before he reaches page 50. Too many kids (and adults) no longer have the patience to read anything longer than a text message unless they are required to, raising concerns that our superficial reading habits are turning us into intellectuall skimmers with little capacity for depth of understanding. A fascinating article in the July/August issue of Atlantic Monthly (Is Google Making Us Stupid?) examines why we might be devolving into a nation of information skimmers and what that means for our intellectual development. It's worth reading--from beginning to end.

My goal is to get my son to finish The Power of One before Thanksgiving. What would be the best methods or rewards to help him make that happen? What has worked best to get non-readers in your schools to read books?


3 Comments

I have found that the best way to get my children to read is to read the book myself and discuss it with them. This has worked really, really well with my teenage daughter. In fact, sometimes the only civil conversations we have these days are about books!

First of all the goal to finish the book should be your son's, not yours. The reward should be having finished the book. I'm sure that sounds old school but as a fifth grade teacher, kids today need an extrinsic reward rather than intrinsic rewards. His phone call alone suggests he is excited about reading this book. If he begins to lose interest in the book, pick up the book and read it to elicit conversation with him. To help him finish the book, focus on the content of the book not the mere fact of finishing the book. Help him reconnect to the story. Ask questions about the characters, the plot, theme, etc. As a mother of 3 boys the more you push or prod this new found love of reading or anything for that matter at this age,may only push him in the wrong direction.

I teach high school english to inner city youth, and I have heard over and over again how BORING reading is.
The best way I have found to interest students in reading is to show them how the book relates to their own lives. Make it personal! Given your son's age and the theme of the book, this might not be too hard. Are the characters in the book experiencing something he is experiencing? What would his solution be if a conflict in the book was a conflict in real life?
One sneaky tactic I have used is to ask my students advice on something I have 'observed'. Perhaps I was at the mall and saw some bullying...or I overheard a child/parent arguement on the subway; anything to start a conversation related to something he has read.
Teenagers especially are concerned with the here and now. If it doesn't related to them they simply aren't interested. By showing that a book is relevant to their lives, kids can see that books are actually useful.

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  • Tammy Ehrhart: I teach high school english to inner city youth, and read more
  • Karen Schmeltzle: First of all the goal to finish the book should read more
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