“He used to love reading in Primary School.” “He’s not a reader anymore. How can we inspire him?” Many parent-teacher interviews, via Zoom and in person, have concluded with similar comments. The typical remedy would entail a prepared book list of the Top 20 Most Read Books in the hope that one magical text would succeed in capturing the student’s curiosity.
The reality, however, may not be as simple as choosing a classic from the shelf at home or visiting your local Dymocks. The real way forward is to find tangible strategies to establish and sustain an engaging reading environment for students.
Create a reading space
At Waverley, we are privileged to have a wonderful library with open spaces that allow students to read silently in the vicinity of their peers. Boys enjoy the consistency of reading with others while being able to focus on their book, magazine, article or graphic novel without technological distractions. Some students enjoy reading outdoors which is also encouraged and regularly supervised.
Encourage reading aloud
Although it can be a tedious process, reading aloud is a solid strategy for students to understand their reading stamina. Timing is helpful in understanding how long a reader can sustain a constant pace until they lose focus. Once an ideal time is found, students can regulate their reading by taking small breaks when they reach their limit. This makes reading more manageable and enjoyable.
Texts that capture popular culture are great ways to kickstart any student’s reading journey. Graphic novels from Dark Horse, DC and Marvel are a great example. Many of the comic series have been adapted to the screen, meaning many students will already have some awareness of the characters and events.
Break up the routine
At Waverley College, we are adapting to the changing reading behaviours of students by providing a fortnightly reading lesson in the library to our Year 7 and 8 classes. The boys love the change of scenery and appreciate the enthusiasm of the librarians. The Heads of House, Heads of Department, librarians and staff read to the boys for the first 10 minutes of the lesson.
The librarians then direct the students to the section of the library that aligns with the genre read by the special guest. The presence of various members of the college helps foster a collective reading culture and the students (and staff) enjoy the storytelling.
Don’t demonise the screen
Screen time at home and on the weekends is inevitable, and the rise of social media has changed the way young people process information. As educators, we can promote handwriting tasks in class, and spend time delivering lectures, but ultimately screen time wins outside of the classroom.
Instead of combatting and demonising technology, we can take a more progressive approach and acknowledge the shift in their reading behaviour. Whether it be a seven-second TikTok, a 30 second Snapchat story or a 5-minute IGTV video, young people crave distilled information. If the content doesn’t capture their curiosity quickly, and there is no definitive end to the narrative, they swipe their boredom away.
Swapping screen time by suggesting a classic like ‘The Great Gatsby’ or a fan favourite like ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ can be a jarring experience for children. Ultimately, the vast majority of students have been conditioned to read small chunks of information.
To engage them in literature, they need a textual experience that mirrors their digital experience. Short stories and flash fiction are excellent examples of manageable texts that contain appropriate content and provide exposure to a range of genres. Quite regularly during reading lessons, students will start a short story and check the length to see if it is manageable.
They do the same when reading larger novels, but check how long each chapter is. Below is a list of short and sharp texts that have been popular at the library at Waverley College:
Fiction: ‘The Best Australian stories’ short stories published by Black Inc.
Fiction: ‘V for Vendetta’ the graphic novel by Alan Moore.
Nonfiction: ‘Curious and Curiouser’ by Dr Karl Kruzselnicki.
Nonfiction: ‘The Brain: the story of you’ by David Eagleman.
So where to from here? As educators, we can inspire book choices, but ultimately it’s up to the students to find their unique reading space and commit to the process. Whether it be under a tree in the backyard, a seat on the 306 bus, or a comfy place on the lounge near the heater, there are reading spaces to be found and cherished.