Why are kids put off reading?

I did a quick survey of my brand new Year 8 English class this year. Nice and simple: do you enjoy reading – any form of reading, including magazines, graphic novels, etc? The response – about 5 out of 30 put their hands up for the affirmative.

This is my fourth year teaching Year 8 English and each year I ask the same question. This year’s response is not an unusual one.

As somebody who has been exposed to books and encouraged to read for pleasure from an extremely early age I have always loved reading. My partner, on the other hand, was brought up with books but still hates reading.

It really saddens me when someone – particularly students – tell me they hate reading, because most of them can’t actually explain why. With the exception of those who genuinely have difficulties with reading and writing, of course. Most people enjoy a good narrative until they have to read it. So I wonder what causes this aversion?

Is it a lack of exposure to reading?
Is it indicative of a society that needs instant gratification and reading a book takes too much time?
Is it something else?

And how can I inspire my students to overcome that attitude?

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3 responses

  1. Quote from a friend and fellow blogger who has trouble commenting on WordPress, added with her permission:

    “Nice – just read yours…we were chasing around similar things, if from different places! I have trouble commenting directly on WordPress blogs – haven’t figured out why – so feel free to pick this up and drop it in your comments if it’s useful. Book bombing…that’s my new thing. I keep giving The Stepson books. He’s got lots of reading for school that has to be done – which is often a killer when it comes to reading for pleasure. I think, when I give him a book, he feels obliged to read it… I do choose them carefully, the latest being ‘I, Iago’ by Nicole Gallard, which tied into his Othello studies last year, when he got hooked on the character of Iago. Last year I gave him other books that had links to other things he was reading. But, what you say about instant gratification is very true – TV takes no effort, a movie just means you have to make it to a cinema. If the movie is adapted from a book, then there’s no need to read the book – “cos I know the story now!”… I think, by and large, it is about lack of application, or laziness – perceived rather than actual…because as any reader knows, it doesn’t take a lot of actual effort to get swept up into a story. But many of our young kids these days see a book and just register a lump of text…they don’t see the pleasure to be had.

    You can find Kaz’s blog here: http://bookkunkiesanonymous.blogspot.com.au

  2. I’m not convinced about the laziness. Students will do all sorts of things that require effort, including playing endless games that make them think and puzzle things out. I think maybe that growing up in a digital age makes it difficult for students to learn to visualise things that are written down rather than pictorial. i have noticed a shift in my science students – they are much less good at visualising the abstract and really need a 3-D model or simulation to grasp things such as atomic structure. When i read, i seamlessly get a picture in my head of the action – i am not even really aware that i am reading. i think some of my students never get into this state or flow and so do not get the enjoyment out of reading that they get from watching TV or a movie.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jenny! I agree – when they are engaged with the audiovisual then students are incredibly tuned in. Some of the things they come up with and problems they solve in their video games are amazing! I am the same as you – when I read the words create the visual for me. That’s what helps me to understand. Some students seem to struggle to bridge that gap between the words and the image.

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