Monday, July 11, 2016

How to Instill the Joy of Reading and Storytelling in Children by Jemi Fraser

As a teacher, I often hear adults telling me that it's such a shame that kids don't read or write anymore.


They haven't been to my school!

Of course, there are always kids who don't like to read, just as there are always kids who don't like to play volleyball, or study Science, or do long division. On the first day of school, I always ask who likes to read. Generally I get about two-thirds of the hands to go up, leaving me with one third I have to work to convert. When I tell them, they'll all like reading by Christmas, they give me sympathetic smiles and shake their heads.

They're almost always wrong.

Most of the people who don't love to read have some sort of struggle with it.
• they struggle with phonics and/or sounding out words
• they can't visualize in their heads as the story unfolds
• they have no interest in fiction
• they have some kind of learning difference or disability
• they need glasses
• they have low self-esteem or self-confidence
• they're not risk takers

There are (obviously) many ways to solve all of the above troubles, but one of the best ways to encourage kids to love stories is to read aloud really good ones. I try to choose books that encourage conversation and books they've never encountered before. I very, very rarely choose books that have been made into movies (and I get really annoyed when the powers who be turn one of my faves into a movie!). Maniac Magee. Underground to Canada. The Giver (BOO to the movie people!). Ranger's Apprentice. The Shadow Children.  And Then There Were None. Hatchet. Ice Dogs. And so many more.

Despite themselves, students get caught up in our stories and discussions. I NEVER turn a read aloud into an assignment. It's all about pleasure. 

I've had classes beg to hear the ends of stories. One class insisted I read aloud on a bus ride because they HAD to know what happened next. I've had entire classes in tears when we got to THAT scene in The Outsiders. I've had students rage and argue about book endings (I'm looking at you, Lois Lowry!). I've had students write to authors on their own to talk about books. I've had students who professed to hate reading turn into some of the most passionate readers I know.

And I've had students create magic by writing their own stories.

Confidence starts early. By reading and hearing really good books, students learn how stories work. They inhale the rhythms of language and plot. They know the joy of the happy ending and the incredible power of a not-so-happy ending.

People are natural story-tellers, but we often have the squelch our innate tendencies as we learn to behave 'properly' in public. Kids are more willing to take risks, and, as adults, we often need to take ourselves out of their way and let them create.

Maybe one day, authors will be more filled with confidence than you and I, and we won't need wonderful sites like the IWSG! While that day isn't today, I have faith it won't be that far into the future!

So, tell me, do you have any memories of favourite books you had read to you?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

*Voting for the IWSG anthology contest genre has ended and the winner is - FANTASY! Keep watching for the theme. Contest opens in September.*


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I know my love for reading came early in life. That is the secret!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'm like Alex. I've always loved reading. But I think you're right that reading out loud to kids is a great way to get them into reading more. Love that you get them so excited sometimes.

JeffO said...

"Stuart Little," "Charlotte's Web," "The Trumpet of the Swan": I remember teachers reading all of these (and more) during school back in the day. There's something so wonderful about being read to as a kid (and it's not bad as an adult, either). Good memories. Great post, Jemi.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I remember getting into reading because a teacher read to us as a class. Then I picked up another book in the series she was reading and wham, reading became a part of my life.

Great article, Jemi!


Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Your passion for reading comes through in your post. 3 of my 4 children love to read. The one who doesn't is the one with really bad eyesight. When they were little, I always told them stories before bedtime. They'd all crawl into one bed to listen. Love your post.

Pat Hatt said...

Yeah, find the issue and help. Then the reading will sure come. Easier to open up kids than adults indeed.

Juneta key said...

Great post. My mother taught me to love reading. I remember her reading to me then me memorizing the book and making her listen to me read. I learned word recognization and I could read other books, but in kindergarten they made me relearn to read using phonics. I did, but I read faster because of word recognization then most kids.

I read "Gone With The Wind" when I was seven. The school would not allow reading above your grade level, but my mother encouraged me and allowed me to read what I wanted to read. She took me to the library all the time and went with me to the sections I wanted that were about my age level. They monitor that even at the library with kids. I never gave my mother reason to censor my reading, besides she was in the section with me seeing what I picked.

Great post.
Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

Laurel Garver said...

Some kids don't like reading initially because they'd rather dream up their own adventures! No, seriously, that was me. My parents read to me constantly--I especially remember the Little Bear books and the Narnia series. But I didn't read strongly on my own until middle school--my days were spend making up elaborate worlds for my dolls and stuffed animals and imaginary friends out in the woods. A smart teacher like you tapped into my horse-crazy side to get me plugged into books. And boom, I became a voracious reader. So sometimes a deep lover of story--a born writer--has to be coaxed to give up their own dream world to visit someone else's for a while.

Bish Denham said...

I learned to read early following along as my mother read to me. My favorite books that she read out loud were the Oz books. But she also read Grimm, Andersen, George McDonald, The Iliad and Odyssey and so many others.

Chrys Fey said...

I try to get my nephews to read more but the oldest is always playing video games. Oh, there's been times when I got them interested in wanting to read something, but it doesn't last. Unfortunately.

When I was a kid, I actually had a hard time reading. It wasn't until 5th grade when I pushed myself. And then finally 6th grade when I developed the love to read and write.

cleemckenzie said...

You are the best, Jemi! We need more teachers like you and we'd have young people always talking about that last book they read.

Jemi Fraser said...

Alex - it really is a big key for so many!!

Natalie - it's almost always the favourite part of the day (along with gym!) :)

Jeff - thanks! I actually don't remember teachers reading to us at all - wish I did!

Teresa - thanks! So many of us got really attached to reading when a series caught our interest

Susan - there's always a reason! I love the image of your kids and you sharing great books!

Pat - so true! We need to catch them while they're young!

Juneta - I love that story! Your mom & I would get along great. No restrictions for my kids either! :)

Laurel - that's so true! I had a wonderful imaginary land when I was younger too - and all that story play with the dolls. So much fun! ;)

Bish - what an eclectic mix! Your mom was a smart lady - and you're so lucky!! Great adventures from an early age :)

Chrys - screen time is hard to compete with. I love that I can foster a love of reading at school because it's sometimes so hard at home!

Lee - you're so sweet! I do have the best job in the world! :)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I read to all my sons when they were little. They read to their children before they were born. Sorry I'm late, Jemi; computer issues!

Thanks for a wonderful post. The others are right, you are the best!

Patricia Stoltey said...

It's weird, but I can't remember the books that were read to me when I was real little, but in grade school, starting in first grade, our teachers always read stories to us, at least a chapter a day. I discovered the wonderful stories like Call of the Wild and Black Beauty that way.

Dawn Simon said...

Great post, Jemi! I'm also a teacher, though I'm working as a Spec Ed para-educator. I love it! It's so rewarding, working with young readers! What lucky students you have!

Mason Canyon said...

I can't remember any really favorite book from when I was young. I just remember enjoying reading and always participated in the summer reading program at the local library when school was out. Jemi, you're an awesome teacher and we need more like you that encourages youngsters to enjoy books and see them as a pleasure rather than an assignment. Thank you!!

Michelle Wallace said...

I love, love, love this post! And I love reading!
From experience, instilling a love for reading starts during childhood.
Literacy levels in my country are poor. I don't want to go into details because there are various ways in which it's defined and measured which becomes quite problematic, but let me give it to you from a different perspective... 83% of the population are ASSUMED to be literate.
I'm one of the fortunate ones, as my mother always made sure there were books in our home. She had a Reader's Digest subscription and always bought the small monthly RD books as well as the Reader’s Digest Condensed books. We also had library cards and she took us to the public library at least once a week.

I love reading aloud to my class every opportunity I have, and ALWAYS stress the importance of reading.

Jemi Fraser said...

Joylene - thank you! Reading to kids is such an amazing advantage for them! :)

Pat - I don't remember any either! Those are such great stories - I wish our teachers had read to us!

Dawn - thanks so much! There's nothing quite as rewarding as working with kids!

Mason - thanks :) Reading can be the best part of some kids' worlds and I love being able to open that door for them :)

Michelle - literacy opens so many doors and opportunities for people. Your students are so lucky to have you! Keep spreading the joy :)

Beth said...

You sound like a wonderful teacher - there's nothing better than being read to!

I had several teachers who read to the class every day, but the one that stands out was Ginger Pye in grade 4. The end of the school year came before the end of the book, and I remember how awful it was not to know how it ended!

Denise Covey said...

Great post Jemi! As a high school teacher I have students who don't love reading but it's never too late. The titles studied in secondary don't suit every student but I've yet to meet a student who didn't fall in love with To Kill a Mockingbird. I grew up in a house of readers and pass that love on when I can. :-)

J.L. Campbell said...

Good job, Jemi. Once we make it fun for children to learn then they'll willingly participate. Sounds like you've found a great formula for getting kids to read.

Fundy Blue said...

What a wonderful post, Jemi! I taught second and third graders for years, more than half of those years in a multiaged 2/3 classroom. Everything you said is so spot on! Shelly Harwayne, who did tremendous work with literacy in the New York public schools in the latter 20th century, said over and over to "marinate children in literature." Which of course is what good teachers everywhere do! I read every one of those books in your collage to my kiddos. I was a very early reader, can't remember not reading, but I do remember my mother reading "Bambi" to me over and over, and "The Just So" stories. I loved to read the Bunnicula series to my students and Will Hobbs' "Kokopelli's Flute," "Anne of Green Gables,"and "Number the Stars," and, and ... So Many marvelous books! Thanks for the wise words and stirring up warm, fuzzy memories!

Jemi Fraser said...

Beth - ACK!!! Not hearing the ending??? That's awful! One class insisted I finish the True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle right down to the last half hour of the year :)

Denise - Love it! Mockingbird is one of my all-time faves! There is SUCH power in that story and in those characters!!!

Joy - thanks! It's all about finding the right books :)

Funny Blue - "marinate children in literature" is my new favourite phrase!! Those are all great books. Anne was definitely the series that turned me into a reader forever!

Anonymous said...

I adored James and the Giant Peach and Alice in Wonderland as a child. I don't recall too many books read in class that I particularly liked until I reached high school. My students borrow my copy if Ice Dogs and they enjoy Hatchet.

Christine Rains said...

A wonderful post. I was reading and writing stories early, but I don't remember anyone reading to me. Yet I started to read to my son before he was even born, and he has a great love for reading. :)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I think my students liked reading. Every Friday we didn't have reading groups. The kids got to sit on my stool and talk about the books they were reading for pleasure. I actually had to limit each student's time to talk and how many questions their classmates could ask about the book. It was crazy fun. Kids know who struggles with reading and if the environment is non threatening the students will support the other students and ask the correct level questions for their classmates.

Jemi Fraser said...

Medeia - I was really annoyed when they turned James & the Giant Peach into a movie!! My students love those books as well :)

Christine - I loved reading to my kids as well. Strangely only one turned out to be a reader though. The other just wanted a ball or a puck or a place to run :)

Sharon - That's awesome! Kids are extremely intuitive and kind - and they do take care of each other! Love your book talks!

Lynda Dietz said...

I've always loved reading, and I'm thankful that my parents did, too, because visits to our local library were a regular thing. I don't remember being read to, but my husband and I made sure we read to our children every night, including long after they were able to read for themselves.

I'd read The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease early in our homeschooling years, and one of the things he stressed was that children could understand what was read to them on a much higher level than their reading level, so we would allow them to read whatever they were capable of, and then read to them from classics or series that were at least a few levels up. We'd do the foreign accents (horribly, in most cases, but memorably) and would explain any antiquated phrasing if we needed to, and they still remember most of those books, even though they're now in their early 20s.

We'd also listen to audiobooks on longer car trips. I think reading to kids, no matter what age, is essential.

Regencyresearcher said...

When I was in the fifth grade , our teacher would read books to us. One was about the Sugar Creek Gang. She could only read the books on Wednesday so we had to wait to discover the end. Didn't find the book anyplace else then.
I read to all my children. They were given books from an early age. One of their first trips was to the library.

Jemi Fraser said...

Lynda - Jim Trelease's books & lists are treasures! I've used them often! I agree with reading above the actual reading level of the kids too. They get so much more interested in stories that way!

RR - I don't know that book. Waiting a whole week between readings sounds like torture! Love that your kids have so much positive exposure to books!

Stephen Tremp said...

Jemi great post! We took our kids to the library yesterday and we all took home a stack of books. The library is a great setting to inspire kids to do something great rather than sit at home playing video games or looking for Pokemon.

Jemi Fraser said...

Thanks Stephen! There is something so special about libraries. I've spent so many hours in them - alone and with my kids!

Jemi Fraser said...
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