Helping Struggling Readers Fall in Love with Books and Find Joy in Reading

Helping Struggling Readers Fall in Love with Books and Find Joy in Reading

Can students who struggle with reading learn to love it? The short answer is yes, of course—but accomplishing such a feat is easier said than done. How can students for whom reading is a difficult task find joy in it? 

Often, nurturing a love of reading in students who have struggled with it comes down to making sure they are given access to the right kinds of support and intervention, as well as time to develop their own connection to books and stories.

Do they need help finding the right book?

According to a 2018 post by Terry Heick on the education-focused website TeachThought, the No.1 reason students don't like to read is that they have yet to “find the right book or type of book.” Heick insisted that “no one hates reading”—instead, they just need to be nudged toward the right materials. But, he acknowledged, there is more to it than just finding the perfect book. 

More specifically, Heick explained that students often need reading strategies to help them become confident readers, as facilitated by assessments that examine their strengths and challenges. Another TeachThought post compiled by the site’s staff members provides a long list (25 items' worth!) of overall reading strategies for teachers to share with students, including visualization, predictions, annotation, and so on.

Are they getting the right evaluation and support?

Although helpful, general reading strategies may not be enough. After all, millions of students in the United States qualify each year for special education services, and data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the majority of those have a specific learning disability (SLD). Dyslexia, which impacts students’ ability to decode words and learn to read well, is the most common SLD. 

For many students, however, there is not a straight line between having dyslexia and receiving the kind of evaluation and interventions that can make this SLD manageable and nurture a love of reading. Instead, as the Mayo Clinic and other sources have noted, “Many children with learning disorders, also called learning disabilities, struggle in school long before being diagnosed.” 

One in 5 students with an SLD do not receive a diagnosis at all, according to the National Center on Learning Disabilities, and as an informative post on the NCLD website noted, “When these children receive the right interventions and informal supports, many can succeed in general education.” If they don’t, “children with unidentified disabilities may not reach their full potential and risk falling behind and having to repeat a grade.”

Rediscovering an early love of books

Writing for the magazine ADDitude, Jill Thomadsen described how her son Ryan “fell out of love with books” once he became school-age and the expectation that he could and should be learning how to read independently took hold. Thomadsen recalled that, as a toddler, her son carried “armloads of books” around with him and loved to be read to; as a 6-year-old, however, his frustration with not being able to decode the words on the page led him to declare that he hated books and reading.

Although Thomadsen and her husband suspected their son had a problem with reading, it wasn’t until second grade that he was diagnosed with dyslexia after two previous rounds of testing that she was told were “inconclusive.” During that period, Thomadsen says, “the chasm between Ryan’s desires and a preference for reading had developed into a Grand Canyon-size abyss. He didn’t want to see, try to read, or be in the vicinity of books.”

But Thomadsen’s son is fortunate. Not only did his mother work to keep his love of books alive through frequent trips to the library and an insistence on nurturing his connection to stories, he now attends a school with plenty of resources available for students with dyslexia. 

Resources are crucial

Thomadsen’s ADDitude piece serves as a reminder that it is often necessary for parents to persist in seeking help when they suspect there is something more going on with their children than a simple distaste for reading. Although attending a specialized school for students with learning disorders may not always be an option, public schools can also provide the required intervention and support—indeed, they are expected to under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) that was passed in the 1970s and requires public schools to meet the needs of all students. 

Despite IDEA's clear mandate to serve all students, including those with special education needs, the money has yet to fully follow. That said, a 2019 overview of IDEA published by the online education news site Education Week noted that funding is not the only issue impacting the delivery of special education services in public schools:

“Children with disabilities aren't always identified for needs when they have them. When they are identified, what happens in the classroom is hit-or-miss. And, as Ford and countless school officials, advocates, parents, and teachers have said since 1975, there's not enough money in the law to accomplish all that it requires.”

A 2018 public radio report by Emily Hanford echoed this sentiment by arguing that, when it comes to reading, many of today's students are being left behind by their public schools—not just those with possible or diagnosed dyslexia.

“Proper remediation” matters

Jennifer Bryant, a parent of a child with dyslexia, pointed out in a recent blog post that her daughter only began making progress after her school district “implemented a dyslexia testing schedule and program.” At first, Bryant didn't realize that “a public school district that actually tests for dyslexia and has a program specifically for it” was unusual. As she recalled in her post, “I didn't know at the time that this didn't happen in every school across the nation.”

After receiving nearly five years of “proper remediation” at school, Bryant's daughter has discovered a love of reading—and the blog post includes a photo of the beaming girl standing next to a timeline of books she had recently read to prove it!

While Heick’s advice to direct students toward books they like is important, it may not be enough to nurture a love of reading in struggling students. As stories like Bryant’s demonstrate, access to proper evaluations and support can make all the difference when it comes to turning frustrated non-readers into confident, independent book-lovers.

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