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December 05, 2006

Getting Kids to Read

On Mondays I tutor at 826 Michigan, a nonprofit organization that offers free afterschool drop-in tutoring for kids 6-18. As a tutor, one of the biggest challenges is to keep the kids focused and working, especially after they have finished their homework. Yesterday there was a boy whose homework involved reading for forty-five minutes, but he didn't bring a book with him and didn't want to do it. The "lab" at 826 is stocked with books for all ages and reading levels (including books to keep the tutors entertained before the students show up), so I set out to help him find something to read.

When I asked him what kinds of books he liked, he replied, "violent books." This was a challenge for me. When I was his age (sixth grade), I preferred to read what I thought of as "girl books" -- books with female protagonists about my own age. Most "girl books" are not violent, however, as most young adult authors consider violence a "boy interest." Nevertheless, I scanned the shelf and, sure enough, found a violent book: Out of War, a compilation of stories from the Children's Movement for Peace in Colombia. I sat down with the boy who didn't want to read and asked him to read it to me. On the first page of the first story, a boy's father was shot to death, and my student was immediately enthralled. He wanted to read.

At first, I was a bit disturbed by his interest in violence, but then I figured that, if it gets him reading, that is what is important. Unfortunately, violence is often part of life, for kids as well as for adults, and it isn't my job to understand why he is so fascinated by it. My job is to get him to want to read.

Posted by eklanche at December 5, 2006 08:55 AM

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