The Reluctant Reader: Lessons Learned from the 91st Saturday Reunion at Teachers College

By Maureen Schlosser | Teacher Tips

Thousands of teachers shook off droplets of rain from their umbrellas as they walked in the dimly lit, gothic style Riverside Church in Manhattan. Volunteers greeted teachers by handing them a magenta packet of papers describing the 129 reading and writing workshops offered for free at the 91st Saturday Reunion. The large crowd of teachers huddled close together, flipped through the schedule, and circled workshops that piqued their interest.

What motivates teachers from all over the country to spend a Saturday learning about reading and writing? One teacher explained she was there for her reluctant readers. “They are just not interested in nonfiction. They start to read something, and then they close the book and say they are bored.”

How do teachers get those reluctant readers invested in reading?

Author Dav Pilkey, along with Teachers College staff developers and volunteers, delivered ideas to help teachers find the reader in every child.

Author Dav Pilkey: Let Children Read what They Love

Dav Pilkey writes books for the little boy he used to be: a boy with ADHD and Dyslexia; a boy who found reading challenging; a boy who couldn’t read what his librarian and teachers told him he had to read.

Dav was a reluctant reader at school, but he loved to read at home. He loved reading magazines, comic books and books with short chapters and lots of illustrations. Dav’s parents encouraged him to read anything he loved. Through their support, he found his passion for reading. Dav encourages teachers to emulate his parents and invite children to read books and magazines they love, explaining; “At the end of the day, love is the most important tool in an educator’s toolbox”.

Staff Developer Hareem Atif Kahn: Emotional Connection to Nonfiction

Charlotte, the spider in “Charlotte’s Web”, spun words in her web about Wilbur, the pig. The characters in the story read the words at face value and believed them to be true. Hareem Atif Kahn wants more for her readers. She wants every reader to consider why authors write what they write. What does the author want the reader to feel about the topic?

Kahn shared minilessons that are accessible to the reluctant reader:

Book Cover Study

  • Gather books on a single topic
  • Look at the cover of each book
  • Ask, "How does the author want me to feel about the topic?"
  • Model aloud how to critically look at images and consider what the author is trying to say about the topic
  • Model how to support conclusions with evidence from personal connections or text features

Point of View

  • Consider the point of view of a subject that does not have a voice. For example, when reading a book about how frightening sharks are, ask readers to take the voice of the shark and explain that they attack because they are simply hungry and need to eat.

Thinking about the author’s purpose and point of view will engage the reluctant reader when practiced often, quickly, and during all units of study.

5th Grade Teacher Mike Lewis:

“Every reluctant reader has a reader inside them.” This is what Mike Lewis knows to be true. Multimedia is the carrot he uses to introduce literature to his fifth grade readers.

Lewis starts with websites for author studies. He has learned that children show interest in books when they know the story behind the book. He helps readers discover the author's purpose by asking questions like these:

  • Why was the story written?
  • How did the illustrator design the artwork?
  • Where did they get their ideas?
  • What does their work day look like?

“When kids ask questions about book, that’s the sweet spot.” Mike exalts.

Children can learn about books, authors and illustrators through social media. Some authors and illustrators are getting creative with social media marketing, and children enjoy reading the posts. Author/Illustrator Dan Santat shares engaging multimedia to market his books by using podcasts, book trailers, and twitter feeds. Share these links with reluctant readers when reading Santat’s book “Beekle”:

Thank you Dav Pilkey, Hareem Atif Kahn, Mike Lewis and all of the TCRWP staff developers who provided an incredible free day of learning for thousands of teachers from around the country. Your willingness to share your expertise inspires teachers to bring meaningful learning opportunities to their young readers and writers.