Won’t Read, Can’t Read


Won't Read, Can't Read


Summer is a great time for experiencing the joy of reading a great book, but there are many children who don’t read because they can’t, and there are also children who can read, but don’t. This article deals with both kinds of children, because they experience some similar problems, as well as shares some of the solutions that will get them reading. A future blog will discuss why many children can’t read, and why so many more struggle. In that blog I’ll also explain the reasons why “27-34% of fourth graders in the USA are reading significantly below grade level,” and I will present some ways to remedy that. 


Perhaps it is the process by which children today are taught to read that is turning them off? Richard Selznick, the author of the Shutdown Learner describes what he sees as Worksheet Burnout Disorder (WBD.) This situation certainly doesn’t help our struggling readers, and it does little to excite those that have little motivation to read. 


There are certainly lots of distractions today, far more than there were in the past: New entertainment systems are amazing and it is hard for books to compete. So how does reading match-up to this modern multi-media and sensory world we live in? Well, those that do enjoy reading say things like:


“Reading can transport you to different worlds. It exercises the inner imagination of your mind and it is only through reading we can get there, because when we read we have to create it for ourselves in our own mind.”


Those of us who share this sentiment know that once we achieve this state of mind it is indeed an amazing and enjoyable experience. 


However, it is important that children are allowed to stay in that state of mind while reading and not be distracted from it. Electronic text that is broken up by a series of explanatory videos can actually have the opposite effect; it distracts them from the task of creating that state of mind. Reading should provide immersion and not distraction. 


Once children lose interest in reading it is hard to get them back. The motivation to read decreases as children age, but reading is a skill that needs to be practiced, and a downward spiral occurs all too easily. So how do we motivate our struggling or unenthusiastic readers? My next blog will discuss practical ways to provide support to struggling readers, but the solutions I’m about to suggest will help them while they are on that remediation journey. These ideas will keep them motivated and engaged with the reading process. These are also solutions that can motivate those that don’t want to read. 


1. Show your enjoyment of something you have read. Read it aloud and find materials that will really interest your child or student. For the struggling reader who needs practice decoding words at their reading level, but not grade level, High Interest/Low Reading-Level books are often very motivating. Companies such as High Noon Books and  Phonic Books both provide excellent materials that are exciting for older as well as younger readers. 


2. Select materials in a number of different formats, but just make sure they are age appropriate. 


a. Struggling readers and reluctant readers can both enjoy wordless picture books and they provide plenty of opportunity for discussion and storytelling. For one of my students, I used them as way of bringing her back to books, after she told me at our first lesson how much she hated them. Still, she was prepared to accept a book without words and then loved the opportunity to tell me a story. They can work for younger and older children alike. 


b. Another format is the graphic novel. The word-to-picture correlation in these provides an easy way to expand children’s vocabularies, plus they can be very engaging. 


c. Finally, there are audiobooks. There are many on the market, but for struggling readers with a diagnosed learning difficulty, Learning Ally, and other similar organizations, provide readily accessible audiobooks, which in the case of Learning Ally are human narrated. 


In these, readers can skip to certain chapters and pages, set bookmarks, and study effectively, like any other student.  Listening to audiobooks while following along with the highlighted text can actually bridge the gap between decoding words and gaining meaning. Receiving information both visually and audibly reinforces word recognition, improves fluency, builds vocabulary and develops higher level comprehension skills. Research shows that when students use these kinds of audiobooks, their reading comprehension improved by 76% and reading accuracy by over 50%. In Jean Chall’s Reading Stages, that I discussed in two previous blogs (Part 1 and Part 2,) listening was found to be more effective than reading until 3rd grade. It isn’t until 9th grade that reading and listening will be equally effective ways of accessing information and even then, only for those that read well. 


For reluctant readers, encouraging them to listen to books may actually be a way of motivating them to read, because they will find this an easier way of accessing information. 


When audiobooks have sound tracks added to the stories, readers keep reading longer, because these effects can enhance a story, unlike embedded video which distracts. Just imagine seeing a movie without the music, and how much difference a sound track can make in creating suspense and other emotions in an audience. 


3. Make it fun! We all repeat things that are pleasurable. Alongside many libraries, Learning Ally run a summer reading program (with prizes!) called “Summer Reading Together.” These help motivate struggling and reluctant readers alike. 


For students who can’t read, and those that are reading significantly below their grade level, we need to motivate them and keep them reading by using scientifically proven methods to teach them how to read. I will discuss this in Part 2 of “Won’t Read, Can’t Read,” but for teachers, tutors, and parents, who are ready to learn about these methods, I suggest looking through the wide range of courses, training, and webinars, provided by the Orton-Gillingham Online Academy. 


Additional resources:


1. Reinventing Reading Paul Cameron at TEDxAuckland. 


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