Top 7 challenges students face as readers

As an English teacher, I believe there is tremendous power in having students reflect periodically on their own reading and writing habits.

For example, I recently asked students to answer the following questions after our 25 minutes of independent reading:

  • Do you think you have improved as a reader this year? Why, or why not?
  • Do you enjoy reading more now than you did in the past? Explain.
  • How often do you read?
  • What challenges do you face as a reader?
  • What will you do to overcome these challenges?
  • What can Mr. Amato do to help you succeed as a reader?
  • In your opinion, why is reading important?

Because of their honest feedback, I have already been able to develop mini-lessons and facilitate one-on-one and whole-class conversations around several of the themes that emerged.JS read

For example, it’s important that as teachers, we understand why many students aren’t reading as much as we (or they) would like, and then work with them to develop solutions.

Therefore, in this post, I am going to share the top 7 challenges students face as readers, according to a survey of approximately 100 ninth-graders at Maplewood High School in Nashville, TN.

#1. Cell phone addiction. This should come as no surprise, especially if you read my recent post. For the majority of today’s teenagers, cell phone addiction is a serious problem. One student said, “I stay on my phone 24/7,” while another added that “whenever I see a message on my phone, I have to answer it.” If students keep their phones in sight while reading, it’s virtually impossible for them to finish a page without feeling the urge to check for a text message, Instagram like, or Snapchat.

#2. Short attention span. Several students reported that they have trouble staying focused on one task for a long period time. For example, one student said, “I get off task easily and get into something else,” while another said simply, “My attention span is kind of low.” There is no question that cell phone addiction contributes to their lack of focus, and they certainly aren’t alone in becoming more distracted. A recent study found that the average attention span of a human is down to just eight seconds, or one second less than that of a goldfish.

#3. Responsibilities at home. I am constantly amazed by the strength and maturity of my students. One student said, “I have to help my little brother do his work, and help my mom around the house,” while several others also mentioned that they are on babysitting duty after school. I was really impressed with one student who managed to come up with a solution to her problem. “I have to babysit, so I’ve started to let my niece read while I read also,” she said. How awesome is that?!

#4. Extracurricular activities. From sports to band practice to work, a lot of our students are extremely busy after school, which affects their ability to read as often as they’d like. “When I come from practice, I usually eat dinner and go to bed,” said one student-athlete. “During track season, I can’t read as much,” said another. “I’ll catch up over the summer though.”

#5. Lack of interest. If students are going to put away their smartphone and take out a book, they certainly want to read something that they enjoy. Unfortunately, some students reported that they have a hard time finding books that interest them.

#6. Lack of motivation. I appreciated how honest a few students were about their lack of motivation to read. In fact, one student wrote, “The only obstacle I have is me wanting to read.” Another stated, “I don’t push myself to pick up a book and start reading.”

#7. No quiet places to read at home. Several students mentioned the fact that their home isn’t conducive for reading. One student said, “There’s not a lot of quiet places to read at home, so I can’t read as much as I’d like.” Another cited the “loudness at my house,” while a third said, “I never have time and when I do I never have a quiet place to read.”

One of my biggest takeaways from these reflections is that we, as English teachers, can help students overcome several of these challenges. In fact, I believe we have a responsibility to create a quiet and comfortable reading environment in our classrooms. We must also give our students consistent time to read in class without any distractions because our classroom may be the only place where they can.MP read

Once students get into a reading routine (where they know their cell phone must be put away and that nobody is talking), their attention span, reading stamina, and attitude toward reading all improve dramatically.

Finally, in order to address reasons #5 and #6, English teachers have to be motivators and encouragers. We also have to be avid readers ourselves in order to make recommendations and prove to our reluctant readers that not all books are boring. They just haven’t found the right one yet. But, that’s a post for another day…

NOTE: In the comments or on Twitter (@jarredamato), I’d love to hear what other challenges you and your students face as readers!