Why do some children never want to read?

24th October 1997 at 01:00
We hear plenty about raising reading standards and the merits of different methods of teaching reading, but what can we do with those children who just don't want to learn to read - the ones who won't be motivated because they don't want to be?

The child I'm thinking of is eight-years-old, usually - but not invariably - a boy, who far from reading for pleasure or instruction, stumbles and mumbles over the most elementary and familiar words.

This kind of child may have to have "and" and "the" read for them virtually every reading session; they may interchange "in", "it" and "is" on a completely random basis and, in spite of all the resources and personnel poured in to help, make little or no discernible progress.

Reinforcement and repetition are self-defeating as boredom sets in rapidly - and these children have many well-practised ways of making their boredom felt. If there are several of this kind together in the classroom, chaos is a constant threat.

These children are a major problem in many schools. They often give the impression that school is stopping them from doing something vitally important - if only they knew what it was. The truth is, for most of them, reading is an unnecessary and unnatural act. They see no pleasure and little use for it and so are reluctant to waste time on it.

Their parents aren't much help, although paradoxically many of them are concerned and willing to go along with anything the school suggests. However, as reading plays an insignificant part in their lives, they have little idea of the rate of progress or standard suitable for their child at any particular age. To them it is as if reading is a magical accomplishment, suddenly and mysteriously bestowed, needing little or no effort from the recipient - almost as if the school waved a magic wand.

I'm sure other teachers will recognise the children I have described. Time, money and exciting new reading schemes have all been tried, but the problem goes too deep.

But if overall reading standards are to be raised to any significant degree and schools' effectiveness and discipline preserved, these children have got to be tackled. I wish I knew what to do about them.

Angela Conyers is a junior school teacher in Shropshire with 25 years experience. She is currently on supply

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