By Susan Riddell
Terri Kirk, library media specialist at Reidland High School (McCracken County), feels that most readers simply don’t honor the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” anymore.
“I know we shouldn’t (judge), but we do,” she said. “The books that are available to students need to be pretty. They need to be up to date.”
Kirk suggests schools repurchase library books – even the classics – to keep more timely versions available for students. Modernized covers will better catch the eyes of students who otherwise might not give a John Keats or Louisa May Alcott read a try, Kirk said.
In fact, there are several ways both library media specialists and teachers can motivate reluctant readers, according to Kirk and Cindy Parker, literacy coordinator for Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Next Generation Learners.
A love of reading naturally fosters literacy’s role as the key component to academic success, Parker said. Additionally, two different but very important purposes for reading are to gather information and share experiences vicariously.
“Students who don’t read as much as their peers lack background knowledge and an understanding of the world around them,” she said. “This relates to a key reading strategy – making inferences or coming to a logical conclusion by connecting background knowledge with what is seen, heard or read.”
Parker added that the “Introduction to the Common Core State Standards” describes the shared responsibility for literacy and teachers’ roles in ensuring students are college and career ready.
Kirk recommends several strategies that teachers can use to foster a love of reading and help students get one step closer to being college and career ready.
It all starts with a teacher getting to know his or her students. Kirk is constantly questioning students to see what they do for fun.
“If a boy likes video games, I show him the Halo books,” she said. “If he likes soccer, I recommend books about soccer. I do the same thing with girls.”
Kirk said it’s essential that teachers give students time to read in class.
“The issue with so many teens is that their lives are busy, busy, busy with their classes, after school jobs and sports,” she said “If teachers give time to read in class, teens are more likely to read.”
Students in Advanced Placement (AP) classes may choose books off the AP list to read. When possible, teachers should give other students free choice on what to read, too. That will prevent students from simply reading Cliff Notes when a book isn’t to their liking, Kirk said.
“I am not advocating that teachers never have students read books together, but if this is the only opportunity kids get to read, it may turn them off to reading,” Kirk said.
Parker echoed many of Kirk’s suggestions.
“Many students are reluctant about reading because they struggle with it and perhaps have been labeled as not very good at it, so finding ways to build confidence and success is important,” Parker said. “Give struggling readers reading responsibilities and build their confidence with texts.
Display and promote favorite books – with ‘staff recommendations’ or ‘class recommendations’,” she added. “Participate in the Kentucky Bluegrass Awards program, First Lady Jane Beshear’s Reading lists, Celebrate Literacy or other programs.”
Kirk said many library media specialists have other techniques to hook students into a love of reading from contests to simply building a working knowledge of young adult literature.
Classroom teachers, too, should be familiar with books that are popular among their students.
“The best English teachers I’ve ever seen are those who like to read what the students are reading,” Kirk said. “One of my friends listens to young adult books as she commutes to work.
“If we aren’t excited about reading, we can’t expect our students to be excited either,” she added.
Open discussions about the latest books and series are vital, Kirk said. Model reading with students and reading books they recommend will further develop their interest in reading.
“The classics are great but they are not the only thing that we need to read,” she said.