Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Motivating Reluctant Readers
Wenxin is a reluctant reader. Learning to read, for him, has been hard work. Arriving in America at age 7 1/2, not speaking a word of English and not knowing a letter A from a letter Z, he felt behind from the start. It didn't take long for him to realize that kids a lot younger than him could read much better than him.
That's kind of a slap in the face.
Even as his reading skills improved, reading just wasn't fun for him. So around Christmas, I set out to see that change. And along the way, my journey to motivate my reluctant reader took me some unexpected places.
Like. . .
To Barnes and Noble in search of the perfect joke book for kids.
It all started the Saturday before Christmas. We'd just picked up our new van and were grabbing a bite to eat at a local sports bar. We like to go there because we can put the kids in one booth while Mike and I sit alone in another booth and pretend like we don't have four kids.
Seriously, we really do.
On that day, Wenxin kept leaning over the back of our booth trying to tell the jokes that were printed on his children's menu -- the jokes he was attempting to read on his own.
"Buy him a joke book," Mike said, and from the look on his face I could tell he wasn't joking.
Best money we ever spent.
Telling a joke is fun, and we've always known that fun is high on Wenxin's list. Also, jokes are short. You don't have to read pages and pages to get enjoyment from a joke book. Since Christmas, Wenxin has read that book from cover to cover. More than once.
And he's become quite entertaining.
Wenxin: "What do you call a cheese that is not your own?"
Me: "I don't know."
Wenxin: " Nacho cheese."
Can I just say how much I love that kid? He has great comedic timing, and he's learning the jokes by READING!
However, my journey to help Wenxin learn to love to read didn't end at Barnes and Noble. Learning to motivate my reluctant reader took me places I never planned to go. Learning to motivate my reluctant reader even forced me to. . .
Confront my inner book snob.
I'm a fan of quality children's literature. I'm a sucker for any book with one of those little gold or silver seals on the cover that declare it to be an award winner. I might as well admit it. I'm a book snob.
Before Christmas, I contacted a friend of mine on Facebook. She happens to be a librarian at a private international school in Brazil, so I asked her for book suggestions for Wenxin. Believe it or not, she had the audacity to suggest a graphic novel.
Graphic novel? What??? I think that's code for comic book.
But, remembering that fun is high on my little man's list, off to Amazon I went, and on Christmas morning, Wenxin opened a copy of Big Nate from Santa. A few days later, his Aunt Sherri sent him a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid for his birthday.
We were celebrating Wenxin's birthday at my parents' house in Alabama, and that night, something amazing happened. Wenxin, Nathan and their cousin J. were camping out in the living room. I'm not sure how it happened, but it was decided that J. would read Diary of a Wimpy Kid aloud to Wenxin -- in the dark -- by flashlight.
Talk about motivating my reluctant reader! An older boy, his cousin whom he adores, modeling a love for reading -- by flashlight. J. put the stamp of coolness on reading in a way I never could.
We were making progress, but I still had one more thing to learn.
Through the process of teaching Wenxin to read -- and love it -- I've discovered that. . .
Sometimes it's OK to push a little.
For a few months now, I've been requiring Wenxin to set a timer and read silently for 30 minutes a day. Especially in the beginning, this was met with a lot of resistance. The joke book helped. 30 minutes of jokes isn't really so bad.
Finally, last week I decided it was time for Wenxin to read a real chapter book. I pulled out the first book in the Magic Tree House series and announced that he'd be reading it on his own during his silent reading time.
This declaration was met with tears. Big. Drippy. Silent. Tears.
It was too hard. He couldn't do it. He was scared.
But deep down inside I knew he could do it. He had the skills. He just didn't have the confidence.
Wenxin needed me to believe in him and push.
Pushing is not my natural parenting style.
But, ignoring my natural inclination to let him go at his own pace, I set the timer and handed him the book. He was allowed to ask me or one of his siblings if he got stuck on a word, which he did a lot the first day or two. He also periodically cried.
Today, however, he's almost finished with the book, and he's not asking very many words anymore. What he IS doing is telling me what's happening in the story. His story. The chapter book he's reading ALL BY HIMSELF.
Wenxin is learning that reading is fun. And I'm learning a few things as well. I"m learning that reading a joke book counts, and that reading a graphic novel counts, and that pushing a little isn't always a bad thing.
And I keep reminding myself that he's only been here two and a half years. He's learned all this in two and a half years. That's pretty good. That might just make him a genius!
For more about how I approached reading instruction with Wenxin, see Teaching Reading to Newly Adopted Kids.
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