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Encouraging Reading Engagement in Pre-teens and Adolescents

Watching my children learn to read has been one of the most exciting and satisfying aspects of my parenting journey. They moved through the role-play reading stage, began decoding letters and sounds and experienced the thrill of spotting known sight words in favourite books. The repeated reading of well-worn staples meant they could recite the stories off-by-heart and we all looked forward to the nightly pleasure of shared reading.

It was then disappointing to watch my eldest son become a reluctant reader once texts became more challenging and the pressures of school increased. The very thing that had once been such a source of joy, became the cause of arguments and stress. As a teacher, I knew that early reading development was such an important part of my child’s overall literacy success so I was challenged to foster his desire to read for pleasure.

In my role as Middle School Inclusive Practices Coordinator, I hear from many parents who have had similar experiences. Sons who no longer read for enjoyment and the inevitable relationship between reluctant reading and poor school results. As reading pursuits compete with the myriad of digital distractions now available, how do we engage young readers and encourage them to participate in recreational literacy?

A study of Children, Teens and Reading by Common Sense Media in 2014, explored the declining rates of reading in youth. It found that recreational reading falls away significantly as children move into adolescence. The study showed that 53% of 9 year olds surveyed read daily for pleasure, compared to just 19% of 17 year olds. It also indicated an overall downward trend over the past decade, suggesting a relationship to the increase in digital technology over that time. This reluctance to read often coincides with the critical third stage of literacy development – reading to learn the new (Stages of Literacy Development). This is an important stage to nurture as it relates so crucially to the literacy requirements of secondary school. Another study in the same year, Are Teenagers Reading Less? argued that perhaps this reduction in choosing reading for recreation is related to the amount of reading students are expected to do at school, resulting in reading fatigue. In this information age young people are exposed to hundreds of words and images daily. Students who struggle with reading can find school related texts frustrating and are therefore reluctant to read again at home.

As parents and teachers, we need to find ways to foster reading engagement during the transition from primary to secondary school. Firstly, it’s important to speak openly with your teen about the opportunities that reading will open up. Explain that reading is a part of all school subjects and that developing good reading habits will help them to participate fully in their classes. It is important to be open-minded about what we consider reading and encourage your child to read anything and everything of their choice. Be mindful of his reading level and source some high interest, low level texts where necessary. Blake Education is a great publisher of these. Embrace digital formats such as audio books, screen readers and e-readers to assist with the mechanics of reading. Watching an inspiring You Tube video can help.

Power of Reading

Urge him to investigate subjects of interest in his reading choices such as favourite films, gaming, sports, politics, celebrities, music, social media or even bodily functions! Perhaps find a compelling series so that he can follow the same characters or themes through a succession of books. Explore a range of text types including magazines, graphic novels, online blogs and non-fiction texts. Resist the urge to criticise what he is reading, whilst the subject matter may not be your first preference, remember that your priority is to foster reading engagement. Discuss what he reads, encourage questions, unpack new vocabulary and relate texts to his own knowledge and experience.

How to Engage Reluctant Teen Readers

This webinar explores some of the factors in motivating teens to read.

In our home we have endeavoured to build a culture of reading by ensuring that our children are aware that we read for enjoyment too. We look at interesting websites, read joke books together and read the novels our children are assigned for school, discussing and reflecting on them as a family. These discussions enhance comprehension and provide a valuable conduit in maintaining communication with our independence-seeking teens. I wish you all the best in your challenge to nurture your son’s ongoing reading engagement!

Sarah Hart
Middle School Inclusive Practices Coordinator

Further reading