Monday, September 8, 2008

Why so many are 'reluctant readers' and what to do about it

Melanie Jackson, Special to the Sun
Published: Monday, September 08, 2008

When Bobby O. stood up to read aloud, we all groaned. The next minutes, as Bobby stumbled painfully over texts by Sir Charles G.D. Roberts or some other venerable Canadian writer, were agony.

We were supposed to read along silently, so our eyes would be trapped on every syllable that Bobby mangled. Unsure of what he was reading, Bobby kept his voice to a dull, ambiguous monotone.

Eventually the teacher would cut short Bobby's turn at reading aloud, and pass with ill-concealed relief to the next student.

Bobby, everyone shrugged, was just not a natural reader. Educators would invent the term "reluctant reader" to define kids who reached the intermediate grades and floundered over texts their classmates absorbed with ease. In recent years, however, educators have reconsidered the case of the reluctant reader.

Maybe it's not that these kids don't take to reading. Maybe the way reading is taught doesn't take to them.

The traditional view was that teachers taught primary schoolchildren how to read. From intermediate grades on up, the teachers taught what the kids were reading. The gates to reading comprehension effectively clanged shut to the Bobby O.'s still struggling with the how.

In such new approaches as the Vancouver School Board's Later Literacy Project, students read texts they're comfortable with. Gone is the old idea of across-the-board texts.

"We want to make sure students have appropriate reading activities for their level, and opportunities to write for enjoyment," says Meredyth Grace Kezar, the VSB's later literacy consultant.

"We're looking at all the components of reading: fluency, vocabulary, comprehension."

Thus the advent of the so-called "hi-lo" text, with simple vocabulary, yet a mature enough storyline to appeal to older readers.

In other words, it's no longer an either-or between Sir Charles G.D. Roberts and Dick and Jane. With focused instruction, Kezar insists, all students can learn to read -- and enjoy it.

How do you tell when a reader blossoms into a good reader? Kezar cites the research of P. David Pearson, dean of Berkeley's Graduate School of Education.

According to Pearson, good readers make connections between personal experiences and what they're reading.

They break information down into key ideas and form their own conclusions. Further, they can infer, or fill in, information not overtly presented in a text.

For example, if a character in a novel is being ironic, the other characters may not get it, but the reader will.

Today, with the flow of information increasing and intensifying, we need lots of good readers, says Kezar.

She points to several awareness-raising initiatives in the Lower Mainland this fall.

The Surrey Board of Education has adopted a proposal by its teacher-librarian association that everyone Drop Everything And Read (or DEAR) for five minutes at 1 p.m. on October 22. Two days later, in Vancouver, Kezar co-hosts an International Reading Association conference on the reluctant reader.

A new Vancouver publisher, Gumboot Books, has just released a fictional anthology, The World of Stories, for different elementary-age reading abilities.

The book, with all proceeds going to community literacy efforts, will be launched September 9 at Caulfeild elementary in West Vancouver.

Says Kezar, "We want people to realize that it is never too late to get into reading -- and that it's never been more urgent."

Melanie Jackson, a volunteer with young writers through the VSB, is one of the B.C. authors who donated a story to Gumboot Books' The World of Stories ( Gumboot Books sponsors the Raise A Reader Brunch for Books at the Fairmont Waterfront on the last Sunday of each month.

No comments: