“But I don’t like to read.” “Reading is boring.” “Is there going to be a test on this book?” Phrases like these were becoming all too common in my high school classroom. I realized a love for literature was often missing in students within this age group. Not all students, but a lot of them. I tried to find answers as to where, when, and how this happened. Was it having to read too many books for programs like Accelerated Reading? Was it because they didn’t know how to pick a book that caught their specific interest? The list of possibilities continued. Until I stopped and looked at my own children. Why do my kids like books? This simple question brought out the answer to my problem.
Parents and elementary teachers are reminded over and over about the importance of reading out loud to their children/students. And chances are, as adults we remember those books that our elementary teachers read out loud to us. I specifically remember The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Pippy Longstocking, along with many others. There is something about the read aloud that brings the story to life and helps developing readers become invested in literature.
Now think about how many books were read to us as teenagers. Probably very few, if any. As a teenager we are supposed to know how to read. And 99% of the time, students do understand the words they are reading. However, through my own investigation, I found that students truly forgot HOW to read.
Reading had became a job. They lifelessly scanned the pages, trying to find answers. The books they did like to read didn’t provide much of a moral lesson or were just about vampires and supernatural creatures. And whenever they read out loud, the emotion was completely gone. I knew I had to reteach them HOW to read, so they could expand their love for literature. And the best way to do that, was reading out loud to them. I had to show them how to use emotion in reading to bring the story to life.
I realized the read aloud was the answer to my problem when I started reading Never Fall Down, written by Patricia McCormick. This book is a biographical novel about a boy named Arn Chorn-Pond. As a young boy, Arn became a victim of the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Genocide. (I personally had never learned about the Cambodian Genocide of the 1970s. Very few of my students had either.) I read about 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each of my 10th grade classes. I told them that there wasn’t going to be a test over this; I just wanted them to listen and participate in our discussions. Simple as that. At the end of the first week, I thought about what I observed in these classes. Almost every day, the students were disappointed when I shut the book. They begged to read just a little bit more. While I was reading, every student’s eyes were on me. They all, even my most struggling students, had so many opinions about the book and the situation the main character found himself in. The same reaction happened daily for the almost two months it took us to finish it.
At the end of the book I gave the students a chance to write a letter to the Arn Chorn-Pond or to just jot down a little reflection about the book. Almost all of the students wrote page-long letters about how moved they were by the book. They were recalling specific details that even I had forgotten. They even influenced the World History teacher to discuss other genocides in the world. And further evidence came when I saw other biographical novels in the hands of my students.
And chances are, if you ask those students to tell you one thing they remember about my class, it will be that book. Giving up 5-10 minutes of my class for a couple of months was the most beneficial thing I could have done for those kids. They not only learned an important event in history, but also learned how powerful a book can be if they allow themselves to bring it to life.So as we get ready to go back to school, remember that high school students do have that love for literature that our younger students have. We might just have to show them how to find it again. Try the read aloud. I promise you won’t be disappointed in the results.