Tom Landry, the late head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was once quoted as saying something like this:My mind immediately went to my reluctant readers and my role as coach/classroom teacher in helping them become what Donalyn Miller terms wild readers.
"I have a job to do that is not very complicated, but it is often difficult: to get a group of men to do what they don't want to do so they can achieve the one thing they have wanted all their lives."
Coach Landry, in that seemingly contradictory statement, described what discipline is all about . . . doing what we don't want to do so we can accomplish what we've always wanted. ("Contradictory Truths, Part One." Insight for Living, July 31, 2009)
For a variety of reasons, attaining the discipline of reading can be painful for our most reluctant readers. They may tell us they don’t really care about reading, but if we could wave a magic wand and make them accurate, fluent, expressive, comprehending readers, not one of them would turn us down. But there isn’t such a wand, and we know that they will never become wild readers if they don’t read. So how can we get them to do what they don’t want to do in order to help them become what they must?
I love what Pat Scales says in Winning Back Your Reluctant Readers, “The answer is simple: Know the students, know the books, and seek creative ways to connect the two.”
Pat is absolutely right. According to the Kids and Family Reading Report, the most likely reason our reluctant readers avoid reading is that they have trouble finding books they want to read.
Whether we work with 5-year-olds or 15-year-olds, we can help our reluctant readers by,
- making sure we have high-interest books at their reading level;
- providing as much choice as possible;
- buying, begging for, and borrowing books that match their personal interests;
- reading as many books as we can that match our students’ reading levels;
- staying up on the newest books, current trends, and must-have titles;
- giving weekly book talks to pique interest and promote titles; and
- reading the first chapter of a book we know they’ll love, and then handing it over.
Our hardest job, and highest calling, may very well be that of matchmaker, helping our most reluctant readers fall in love . . . with books.