Encouraging "book love" in reluctant readers


Penny Kittle is a teacher on a mission. She wants to, as outlined by her website, "promote the love of reading among adolescents by providing classroom libraries of highly-engaging books to middle and high school English teachers." She does this through her Book Love Foundation, which works with educators to learn how to engage students - even the most reluctant of readers - with books. She also donates reading libraries to teachers and schools who want to encourage "book love" in their students. She spoke about the initiative with CBC Radio's Information Morning. You can listen to her conversation with host Steve Sutherland below:

media clip

Kittle wants her students to love to read, but she also recognizes that reading is an essential skill for their futures. "Reading is oxygen for their success," she said in the interview. Her website adds that "a wide range of reading builds vocabulary and background knowledge, empathy and tolerance."

How does she convert reluctant readers into bookworms? It's a process that focuses on engagement. The first step is to find a book that the student cannot put down, no matter the cost.

"They'll meet me at the door and say, 'Well, Ms. Kittle, I don't read,'" she said. When that happens, Kittle has a response ready. "I always begin with, 'You haven't found the right book yet. Let me help you find a book that will name something so important to you that you can't put it down.'"

Kittle then works to find that book. If a student wants to abandon a book because it doesn't suit them, Kittle lets them, and then tries to find them a more suitable read. "What I want to do is empower them to stay with a book, knowing that it will continue to engage them." For Kittle, the act of reading is much more important than the content that is being read.

Once students realize that reading can, in fact, be enjoyable, Kittle works to replicate that experience with more and more books. Only once the student is an eager reader, can the complexity of the literature increase. Students must want to take on the challenge of reading a more difficult book, which is why individualized goals are an important aspect of the Book Love program. 

"It's about developing engagement with reading and then, through that engagement, increasing the complexity of what kids read independently," she said. "Reading harder and harder books ... will help them understand bigger issues in a deeper way."

 Kittle believes there's a book for every reader. Finding it, then fostering engagement through the encouragement of individual interests, is the key to creating "book love" in everyone.

You can watch an excerpt from a workshop by Penny Kittle below: