Little kids love to have someone read a book to them. They grab their favorite storybook, hand it to a nearby grownup, and climb into a lap ready to hear a tale. Younger students get excited about going to the library, buying books at the book fair, and reading their favorite books at bedtime. Young children feel a lot of joy about reading.
As kids get older, something changes. Many students claim to hate reading. They avoid books and libraries. They complain about reading assignments. They stop reading.
What is happening along the way to high school that makes students dread reading? What are the barriers to getting high school students to read? Is it possible to get them to enjoy reading both during the school year and in the summer?
There are some solutions. We can take small steps to help inspire high school students to get reading again. With a little effort, we can engage students in the joy of reading even during their high school years.
As students get older, their lives are changing rapidly. Story time is replaced by soccer practice, jobs, homework, and other responsibilities and interests. Reading takes a back seat to other priorities. Parents are busier as well. They stop reading at home with their older kids, and they might not be modeling reading as much.
In upper grades, many teachers assign books to read. When students start to lose the freedom to choose what they read, many start to dread reading. Students complain about not only the act of reading, but they also complain about the lack of interest in the book they have been assigned. After reading the required book (if they do), they aren’t inspired to read even more.
In younger grades, students are given more time during class to read. As students get older, in-class reading time is limited. Because of requirements for state testing and standards that have to be met, teachers cannot often afford to offer students time to read in class. Afterschool time is filled with homework, family commitments, and jobs. Even high school students who enjoy reading cannot find enough time to fit reading into their day.
These days, technology, phones, gaming devices, TV, and more are competing for every student’s attention. It is tough to get students to disconnect from their colorful, interactive, and adrenaline-fueled games to connect with a book instead. When given the choice, students tend to pick their interactive devices over books.
Summer reading assignments that schools require can both help and hurt students. For students who would never read in the summer, this might “force” them to read over the summer. This could expose them to a novel that they might end up enjoying. For those who enjoy reading, though, this might take away from the fun of reading what they want to read in the summer. If the avid readers are bogged down with summer requirements, they might not be able to read the books they would really enjoy.
Even though it may have been years since students have visited the library, parents should still take high school students to the library. There are teen challenge reading programs and prizes at many local libraries (especially in the summer.) These teen summer reading programs offer suggestions of books to read as well as fun prizes to motivate teenagers to read.
Parents can continue to model reading as well. Parents can read alongside their kids—no matter what the child’s age is. On summer vacation, the whole family can bring books to read on the beach, at a campground, or by the pool. Parents can even read the same book as their high school student to open up a good discussion about what they are reading.
Teachers can help encourage changes at home. Teachers can share with parents information about these fun summer programs and provide parents with more information to help get their teenager reading (i.e. taking technology out of the bedrooms, providing book suggestions, etc.)
It’s no surprise that students don’t always love reading what is assigned to them. Students always enjoy having a choice. In the classroom, teachers can mix it up and let students pick their own novels from time to time. Teachers can help students choose books that are a good fit for them. Whenever possible, offer students a choice in what they will be reading.
Even when required books are necessary, try to provide some options. Give them choices of assigned reading when possible. For example, students can choose between 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale which have very similar themes. They meet the same standards, but the students will have a bit of choice along the way.
Sustained, silent reading (or any type of in-class reading time) is very popular in younger grades, but it seems to die off in upper grades when many of our students might need the most time in school to read. This reading time might not ever happen for them if we don’t offer it during class time. If students’ lives are busy and students have jobs, sports, and other requirements, sometimes the best thing we can give them is the gift of time.
Offer high school students in-class time to read. Students might actually look forward to a class when they can read at their own pace and relax with a book. They don’t always get this time, and they might appreciate the gesture especially if reading is something they can do during the school day rather than becoming another thing to cross off of their nightly homework to-do list.
This is a tough movement to fight at the moment. Students are always craving time with their electronics. For this to be successful, this has to be a joint effort between home and school.
Students will always have a difficult time walking away from electronic devices (especially to read.) Some parents have students read first to earn tech time at home. This is a popular thing to try in the summer. Some parents turn off the Wi-Fi (or take away phones) until students read 30 minutes and tell parents about what they read. The student can choose the reading material, of course. The reading just has to be completed before electronics invade the rest of their day.
For some students, they might be more motivated to read on a device. Some students prefer an electronic reader to a paper book. This could be an option as well. Students can download books onto their devices and read them in a format that might seem more interactive for them.
It seems like in many school districts, summer required work has become the norm. While some argue that summer work serves a purpose, others argue that it takes away time that students might have spent engaging in learning about their own interests.
Required summer reading and summer homework can take up a lot of high school students’ time. The leftover time is not likely to be spent doing more reading.
It would be nice to have students read books of their own choosing or fun books over the summer. With fewer summer requirements, students might have more time to participate in the summer library program or to reread their favorite books of all-time.
Finding a good book for a teenager can be tough. Librarians and teachers can offer some great suggestions. The books listed below are a good start for uninspired high school readers. They are highly engaging and/or emotionally significant books for teens that can be a great fit to any reading plan (especially during some free time in the summer.)
• Anything by Stephen King (i.e. Misery, The Shining, Pet Cemetery, etc.)
• Anything by Dan Brown (i.e. The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons, etc.)
• Divergent by Veronica Roth
• Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
• The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
• The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
• The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
• The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
• Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
• The Maze Runner by James Dashner
There are many reasons high school students might not be interested in reading. There’s not enough time. There’s not enough choice. There are too many distractions and other things to get done. Whatever the case, don’t give up.
Students can still be inspired. Offer choice to your students whenever possible. Help students set summer goals that inspire more reading. Encourage students to read before turning on technology and to head to the library to check out some fun summer reads. Families can work together to turn off electronic devices more often. Families can read together again. Work to find some proven teen best sellers that can engage even the most stubborn reader. Help your students rediscover fun and exciting books.
It will take some effort and patience, but teenagers can respond positively to reading when they are offered some control and encouragement. By planting the seeds for positive change now, high school students can become life-long readers.