This past week I got the opportunity to work with a seventh grader at Carver to create a reading profile. The goal of the profile is to figure out why middle school students are losing interest and motivation to read, whether in the class room or for leisure. My peers and I asked questions like, “what do you like to do in your free time”, “what are your favorite kinds of books”, and “do you enjoy reading”. Many of our responses were in the negative, that students DO NOT like reading and find it boring. They complained it takes too long, it’s hard to focus, and that there are not enough pictures. However, when asked what their favorite books were, we were surprised to find that they liked more advanced and even classic works, such as Where the Red Fern Grows. My student, who said reading is boring, really likes comic books and graphic novels. It is true these books have many pictures, but they still rely on words to explain the narrative. What these books special, and why weren’t they boring? What motivated them to finish reading?
As a middle school student, I remember not enjoying my English classes; I thought they were “boring” and that the material we read was a waste of time. But I was also a student who would devour a series of novels within a few short weeks. I’m not sure how to solve this stereotype driven enigma, but perhaps the answer lies in autonomy. Maybe we should give students the choice over certain novel/short stories to read for class and then allow them to share what they learned, liked, and didn’t like with the rest of the class. Seeing their peers praising a book could motivate other students to read it for their selves, and to compare experiences and opinions about the novel with their friends.
We cannot convince students that reading is fun; only they can decide that. But perhaps with freedom of choice and positive literary environment, they may find their selves motivate to read.