`Reluctant reader' could use a nudge

Materials: Educators seek out age-appropriate books for the youngster whose reading skills are below average.

September 09, 2001|By Joy Green | Joy Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

They're not grade-school kids, but they might read at the level of second- or third-graders, not yet adults but too old for Dr. Seuss and "Go, Dog, Go." That leaves young adults and middle-schoolers who have limited reading skills with the dilemma of finding age-appropriate literature.

It's a problem that has long bedeviled educators and librarians, who warn that the difficulty in finding suitable reading material can lead to the phenomenon of the "reluctant reader."

In many cases, educators say, a child might have motivation but limited reading skills. If such children cannot find books suited to their age, they could become discouraged and drift away from reading.

"The reluctant reader is one who may not have good reading role models, or becomes disinterested in reading," said Eunice Harper, the librarian and specialist in young adult material at the Enoch Pratt Central Library in Baltimore.

She and other educators say the key to getting reluctant readers to read is to give them books that attract them.

For example, though a middle-schooler might have limited reading skills, it's possible to find informational picture books that tackle sophisticated topics -- such as science and history -- without exceeding the child's reading level.

Harper recommends titles published by Capstone Press, which offers dozens of titles aimed at older readers who might read at a second- to third-grade level and providing what the publisher bills as an accessible mix of text and photographs without talking down to the reader.

Liz Shaffer, the co-owner of Junior Editions children's bookstore in Columbia, also emphasizes the importance of daily reading activities in creating the literacy habit. "You have to make time for reading, it has to be something that you just do," she said. "You can't just hand them a book and hope they read it."

Also, Shaffer said, a child should be taught that reading is fun.

"A lot of times, the kids think that the only reading they need to do is what they get in school, and so reading becomes a chore," she said.

Ashley Holloway, 11, of Baltimore is an example of a student with reading problems who has avoided the reluctant reader trap, with help from her family and tutors.

Ashley likes books -- her favorite is a "speaking" version of Disney's Pocahontas. But the fourth-grader at Dr. Martin Luther King Elementary in Park Heights reads at only a first-grade level, and she sometimes writes her letters upside down or backward.

Carletta Holloway, Ashley's mother, said her daughter became so frustrated with her inability to read that she gave up trying to read or write. She often came home from school crying, distraught over her reading problems and conflicts with other students.

"She shouldn't have to fail because she didn't get what she needed," said Holloway. "Ashley has the same intelligence as anyone in a regular class, she just needs extra help. ... She needed to know that she wasn't stupid."

Holloway took her daughter to the Dyslexia Tutoring Program in the Rotunda in North Baltimore, which provides free tutoring services for qualifying children with the reading disability. Holloway has since seen a major change in Ashley's self-esteem. "She was glad to know that she just had a different way of learning," said Holloway.

Now that Ashley feels better about her reading skills, the entire family is committed to helping her improve even more.

Holloway said the family sits down daily to read together, and if they see Ashley struggling, they try to help her. Ashley's older sister, Tasha Holloway, 12, a sixth-grader at Roland Park Middle School, reads with her sister beyond the family reading time.

Shaffer, of Junior Editions, said that family involvement can make the biggest difference in the life of a reluctant reader.

"I really think that it's important that they see you reading and they know how much you value it, and that they know how much reading can help their performance in school and across the board," said Shaffer.

Harper, the Pratt librarian, also urges flexibility in what to expect from someone with reading difficulties. "A lot of time, we think of reading as reading an entire book," she said. "If a kid reads a chapter, they're reading."

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