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Ms. Leber

June 20, 2023


Encouraging Reading Habits in Middle and High School

Reading is a critical skill for life, but as we get older, we naturally lose interest in reading. Other things begin to eat up the bulk of our time, and we stop prioritizing learning. Many people desire more time to read, claiming responsibilities and social media distractions for their lack of reading time. According to Gallup, Americans are reading fewer books than ever. Children and adolescents are reading even less. Pew research reports that only 19% of 17-year-olds surveyed read daily, and 27% admitted that they rarely or never read for fun. But, for older students, reading less isn’t only about demands on their time. Many older students stop reading because they have struggled with comprehension throughout school and see an opportunity to avoid reading altogether.

Avoidance of reading in older students

As students move up through school, reading gets harder. Texts become more complex, the vocabulary is more specific, and ELA classes focus on critically analyzing text rather than absorbing information. These complex reading assignments are overwhelming and discouraging for students who read below grade level or need help comprehending the context and vocabulary. Middle school is typically when teachers begin to observe reading avoidance. This is sink or swim time for struggling students as the coping mechanisms they have developed in elementary school stop being reliable. They will stop reading altogether if they cannot find new ways to cope. Is there still hope to catch up for students struggling with reading comprehension at higher grades?

Building confidence in reading

The first step to help struggling older readers is to rule out any underlying learning obstacles. Some students coast to middle school before teachers identify a deficit area because coping strategies have allowed them to get by for years. But, once in middle school, gaps in vocabulary and issues with processing become more evident as students are expected to infer, evaluate, and analyze texts for deeper meaning. Their surface-level reading skills make reading a chore, convincing them that reading holds no value. Building confidence in reading means fostering a consistent reading routine, even for struggling readers. Encouraging students to read independently every day will make reading a habit, not a chore. The key to enticing unwilling readers to read is providing options that intrigue their interests. Offering a myriad of fiction and non-fiction reading choices will allow them to explore their interests by reading. A struggling reader may not be interested in the latest YA series but may be very interested in learning about robotics, space, or history. By identifying books that explore their interests, reading again becomes a vehicle for learning and less of a chore.

Strengthening vocabulary improves comprehension

Some students can read upwards of 200 words per minute yet not understand a single line of what they read. They may read with high fluency and very low comprehension, knowing how to read the words correctly but having no context for what the words mean. Teaching struggling readers to identify context clues is vital to comprehension. Using familiar words in the passage to make meaningful connections to words they can’t identify allows them to improve their understanding of a text. Over time, they can root out meanings of unfamiliar words by regularly using them in context. But, like the skill of reading, vocabulary becomes more complex as students grow. Simply identifying the definition of a word will no longer suffice– they must be able to use them appropriately in writing to demonstrate true comprehension. Simple habits like learning a new word a day or exploring word theme lists will help them cultivate an expansive, age-appropriate vocabulary. Students can also practice incorporating words from grade-level lists like these to prepare for standardized tests.

Active reading is successful reading

Reading is not a passive activity. While many people read to relax their minds, academic reading is meant to be an engaging process. Annotating while reading is a critical component of thoroughly digesting a text. It’s a physical demonstration of the necessary thinking process where students highlight sections, ask questions as they read, and make notes on the text. This active engagement creates deep connections with the material and enhances retention. Another method is breaking long texts into more manageable chunks to allow easier processing of the material. Teaching students to identify main ideas, supporting details, and patterns or relationships within concepts enhances critical thinking and understanding. To demonstrate this understanding, visual representations such as mind maps, flow charts, and other graphic organizers are excellent ways of organizing information to take notes on texts.

Utilize technology to assist in comprehension

Digital resources, such as audiobooks, e-books, and online reading platforms, are non-traditional methods that engage students and support their reading comprehension. Many digital tools also offer built-in features like annotations, dictionary definitions, and read-aloud options, making it easier for students to access and meaningfully interact with the content. These are excellent supports for students struggling with vocabulary retention or processing information through traditional reading.

Improving reading comprehension in older students requires a multi-faceted approach incorporating active reading, vocabulary development, critical thinking skills, and engagement with diverse texts. By implementing these strategies and providing a supportive learning environment, educators can help older students excel in their reading comprehension and unlock their full potential for academic success. For parents concerned with their older students' reading comprehension skills, Learn to Write Now offers a variety of classes that encourage establishing a reading routine and practicing active reading skills. Explore our options for Readers' and 360 classes, then check the schedule for Summer availability options.

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