Sunday, February 9, 2020

Sharing Great Literature with Reluctant Readers

I have a houseful of "reluctant readers".  I have heard plenty of times that reluctant readers are born from a lack of exposure to great literature or because they have been allowed to watch television or play video games instead of reading. Although TV and video games do pull at many children's interests, I don't think that is the primary reason why kids resist reading. I think kids and adults who have had lots of pleasant exposure to literature choose other activities other than reading because they have some difficulty with reading. We as people tend to try to choose the easy path whenever possible.

I think reading is by far one of the most complicated things that we do every day. First, students' eyes need to work properly to be able to read comfortably. They need to be able to track from left to right, up and down and keep each letter and word in focus. This process is much easier if both eyes work together and are equal partners in the process. Second,  students need exceptional reading comprehension to be good readers. This means they need knowledge of vocabulary meanings, skills in decoding of words, and the ability to read at a speed that is neither too fast or too slow so that the material can process into their brains. Finally, they need to have excellent processing skills to pull all of that together to understand and remember what they have read.

So as I said, I have a houseful of reluctant readers. Each of us struggles for a different reason. I was born with crossed eyes (strabismus), which were corrected surgically in babyhood. I then had many years of optometric vision therapy. However, my right eye is still very weak and would prefer to "sleep" through life instead of pulling its own weight. I wear special glasses to keep that eye engaged most of the time, but I am still worn out by the end of the day. Consequently, I usually don't choose to read, even when I have a book that I am really enjoying. In addition, I am a slow reader and have already spent hours of the day reading necessary material or reading to my children. Between these two issues, I can take weeks to finish one book. I feel ashamed admitting that, even though it isn't my fault. I even switch out books to take a book to the dance waiting room that isn't the one that I truly want to read, because I don't want people to see that I am still reading the same book as last week!

I could go on and explain all of the issues that each of my children have with reading, but we would be here all day. To say the least, we deal with focusing issues, dyslexia, memory issues, processing issues and reading speed. My kids all have great vocabulary. They always come out with advanced vocabulary skills on every test, and they have been heavily exposed to literature since infancy. They simply choose other means of entertainment because of the struggle they find with reading.

However, we forge on and continue to enjoy lots of great literature. Here are some of the ways we keep literature in our lives:
  • Large print books ~ Making the print large helps my crew focus, reduces how many words they have to concentrate on, line by line and page by page. It gives our eyes a break.
  • Graphic novels ~ I have found that there are some wonderful graphic novels for sale now that stick very closely to the story and use lots of pictures and few words to convey the story.
  • Audio books ~ This is not my kids' favorite vehicle to literature. They enjoy being read to but not listening to audio books. With audio books, they struggle with the reading speed, accents, and sound effects. However, my adult son loved audio books when he was a child, so they do work for some.
  • Reading excerpts from great literature ~ All one needs to do is Google best excerpts from a particular book and one can find lists of short passages. 
  • Movies ~ We have found some great movies based closely on literature.
  • Family read aloud ~ Great literature is meant to be shared. Reading together leads to wonderful conversations. 
  • Activities that enhance a story ~ Going on a field trip, or doing an art or cooking project that goes along with the literature often brings the story to life. 
  • Documentaries ~ There are often excellent documentaries on YouTube about great works of literature.
So how does this look in action? Recently, we completed The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Sometimes I start them reading a piece of literature or read it to them myself and find that they are "hating" it. Usually, this is because it moves too slowly, uses Old English style, or has too much imagery for their brains to process. When this happens, I change gears and reach them from a different direction. I knew this would be the case with The Jungle. It is very wordy and relies heavily on imagery. So I researched and found a graphic novel that portrayed the story through a nice combination of words and pictures. The children read it to themselves and answered comprehension questions that I wrote out. Then we watched a documentary on The Jungle from YouTube. Next, we read excerpts from The Jungle  that we found on and a few other websites. Lastly, we related the book to present times with issues that are still taking place in the food industry. We watched several episodes of Rotten on Netflix. My teens were truly touched by the plight of immigrants and our need for access to clean, healthy food. 

We wrapped up our study by learning about chocolate and how slave wage labor is behind most of the chocolate consumed around the world. We studied the companies that use fair trade cocoa and set out to find slave free chocolate. This small candy bar costs $5. It isn't cheap but tasted extra good, knowing that no one had been treated horribly in the process of making that candy bar.
“So long as we have wage slavery," answered Schliemann, "it matters not in the least how debasing and repulsive a task may be, it is easy to find people to perform it. But just as soon as labor is set free, then the price of such work will begin to rise. So one by one the old, dingy, and unsanitary factories will come down—it will be cheaper to build new; and so the steamships will be provided with stoking machinery, and so the dangerous trades will be made safe, or substitutes will be found for their products. In exactly the same way, as the citizens of our Industrial Republic become refined, year by year the cost of slaughterhouse products will increase; until eventually those who want to eat meat will have to do their own killing—and how long do you think the custom would survive then?—To go on to another item—one of the necessary accompaniments of capitalism in a democracy is political corruption; and one of the consequences of civic administration by ignorant and vicious politicians is that preventable diseases kill off half our population. And even if science were allowed to try, it could do little, because the majority of human beings are not yet human beings at all, but simply machines for the creating of wealth for others. They are penned up in filthy houses and left to rot and stew in misery, and the conditions of their life make them ill faster than all the doctors in the world could heal them; and so, of course, they remain as centers of contagion, poisoning the lives of all of us, and making happiness impossible for even the most selfish. For this reason I would seriously maintain that all the medical and surgical discoveries that science can make in the future will be of less importance than the application of the knowledge we already possess, when the disinherited of the earth have established their right to a human existence.”
― Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

The documentaries we watched ~ 

Blessings, Dawn


  1. What an awesome unit! And I actually didn't know that about chocolate . . . kind of makes me rethink the brownies I have planned for our Family Night treat tonight!

  2. Hello there!! We are on the road alot so we listen to audiobooks. We are currently listening to The Long Winter....with temps in the seems like a long winter here. lol We are reading aloud a book at home also, the Wishing Spell. We love Once Upon A Time and this is also fairy tale oriented. Not "great" but fun literature. Have a wonderful week!