Last Updated On: April 1st, 2021
In all my years of tutoring, this is a very common thread. Most intelligent, successful students find themselves struggling to complete reading assignments. Why is this? If you love to learn and thrive in English class, why is the reading component so frustrating, all-consuming, and daunting? I’ll tell you why…because busy is comfortable and reading is not busy.
You might be asking yourself “heh?” Let me explain. Students in high school are focused on completing tasks. They are usually bombarded with homework and just trying to stay above water, especially these days. Therefore, when we ask a teenager to sit, be still, and just read they go into what some refer to as a system overload.
St. Louis Children’s Hospital does a great job explaining this phenomenon, “Sometimes the cause [of not being able to sit still] is something more basic, such as not getting enough quality sleep, poor nutrition, hearing or vision problems, or even an overpacked schedule.” Read more at Why Your Child’s Behavior May Not Mean ADHD
It’s really not about the material and it’s difficulty. It’s not even about time management. It’s about becoming patient with the stillness and knowing that the task you’re doing is leading you toward a larger goal. When students read it’s just not the same pay off as checking a worksheet off the homework list. And that’s ok. But it does require a bit more mindfulness and ease as they work toward a slow and steady goal. So how do you help your high schooler slow down and just read? Here are a few pro tips I’ve come to suggest over the years.
1. Time limits
Ok so we all know that reading isn’t always the most fun, especially if you have a teacher that really likes a slow, historical fiction novel. Yuck! Sometimes you have to change your perspective on the BIG, SCARY reading assignment and create smaller chunks within the assignment.
If your teacher says, “Have your outside reading book finished before Spring Break,” then pace the reading out. Look at your week ahead. Can you give yourself 1 hour per night of reading and then 2 hours on each weekend day? Can you only fit in 30 minute chunks of time throughout the next few weeks? Look at your schedule and see what you can manage. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you start to zone out after around 30 minutes of reading, be honest with yourself. Personally I’m someone that takes awhile to get into reading so I prefer a longer time period set aside. Within one hour the pages are flying by and I’m engaged.
2. Audio Books
I used to condemn this form of reading. I thought it was a method for cheaters and people who didn’t want to actually put in the time to be a reader. Oh my, how I have changed my ways. Once I started using audio books during my commute I started to see the power of the audio book. Sure, it isn’t the same thing as reading a book, however it requires a different kind of concentration and a much sharper ear. There are still very valuable tools being utilized and critical thinking skills being enacted. So I started to support this new platform for my students as well. Particularly for my busy students.
I had a few bright, proactive students that were constantly struggling to complete reading assignments for class. Their schedules were packed to the max and there just wasn’t any room for give. Often we would have them schedule reading time into their nightly homework plan, but it was always the first assignment to go when they hit exhaustion or the assignment that would be moved to tomorrow. For one student in particular the audio book was her ticket to success. She started listening to her book in the car going from place to place, while getting ready for bed, in the background as she was doing a mindless assignment. And while I would have loved to have her sit still and just read from a book, this was her solution. Sure, it’s not my favorite solution. And it never will be. I’m a 90s kid and I think every high school student should be able to hold a classic novel and read for hours, but not every student has room to give and this has been a blessing for the kid that just can’t fit it in.
3. Read Aloud
Moms everywhere are reading this and going, “yeah, duh,” but it still has to be said. Just because you have a child in high school now doesn’t mean that they have somehow become a magical adult that can now read and sit for endless hours of time. Adults can’t even do that.
I always suggest reading aloud to kids because what’s more fun than acting out voices and pacing around a room holding a book? Get involved with your child too. If they are struggling to keep the stillness and quiet reading session going, skip it and read together! Perhaps even allow your kid to host a reading party with a few friends from school (just have them do it outside and socially distanced). Make it fun with snacks and pizza. No matter how old your high schooler is you can always be there for support, even with reading tasks. Plus some kids just learn more effectively when they’re reading and listening. Check out my latest blog on learning styles for more about this: Learning Styles and Online Teaching: Best Methods to Improve Academic Success
4. Kindle Time
While I will never see eye to eye, a few students have expressed to me their hatred for books, especially the heavy ones their evil English teacher assigns. For those crazy kids, they would much rather hold something light and read from a Kindle. I can’t say I have ever tried this nifty tool, but I can say that it is very appealing to someone who carries many bags and I understand the desire to economize. This is an especially valuable choice for those kids that can’t stand the bright blue lights of the computer screen or the dusty paper pages of a book.
While the kindle has its own damaging effects to the eyes, it’s not half as bad as a computer screen’s blue light. Also, we ALL have screen fatigue at this point, why not change it up with something like a Kindle? The other great thing about a Kindle compared to an ebook on a computer is the lack of internet access. While I love ebooks, they are not the most productive resource for me to read on. At the first sign of a distraction I am easily drawn into the internet rabbit hole and social media vortex. I can’t even imagine being a high schooler trying to stay away from that viscous pull. Easier to isolate your teenager and have them try something with less temptation at their disposal.
Last but not least on the agenda…mindfulness. What does that mean? Getting in touch with your physical and mental state and being comfortable in the still moments. If the issue is that you can’t sit still long enough to read or you feel uneasy focusing on a task less goal-oriented with immediate reward, there’s much more behind that lens. I know it’s not the cool thing to be into your mom’s mediational work, but it is the best way to start.
A few schools in Los Angeles have adopted mindfulness classes and yoga into their health and wellness curriculum and I could not be more thrilled. These types of techniques enrich the body and help people of all ages find calm within themselves. I wish I could make it mandatory for all of my students to do some deep breathing before we begin our lessons too. Simply doing 5-10 minutes of meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or power poses before you sit down to read could ultimately change the whole trajectory of the experience. AFA Education even argues that reading is a form of mindfulness and can, “…create space in our minds for ideas, knowledge, inner wisdom, creativity, happiness, joy, peace, relaxation, inspiration, confidence, whatever we need, to come in and help us achieve our potential, whatever that may be.” See more of the article at: Mindfulness through reading
There are many options out there for young readers. It’s important to just look within and see what works best for you. And if all else fails, we’re always here for you. We offer a variety of tutoring styles and methods to get your high school student headed in the right direction: Hear From Our Tutors! What Tutoring Style is Most Effective?