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Why Don’t Students Read?

By Andy Cowle de ELT Connections


Who enjoys reading?

Teachers, do you enjoy reading? And what do your students say about reading? Do they enjoy it? All of them? Most of them? A few? A couple? The primary kids do but the teens don’t? I’d like you to imagine that, for the next twelve years (not weeks, not months but twelve yearsyou​ have to read books that someone else chooses, force yourself to finish each one even if you hate or can’t understand them, and continually answer difficult questions about them. Stop for a second, close your eyes and think about that. Twelve. Years.  ​​How would you feel about reading after that? Doesn’t it seem cruel? Demotivating? Does it feel like a good way to teach reading?


We’ve made reading boring And yet so many teachers wonder why students think reading is boring. ​So I’m asking you, begging you, don’t wait for the system to change or for someone else to change it, because you arethe system. Don’t hide behind “Oh, well, it’s school, isn’t it? That’s how it is” or (and I really don’t like this one) “We don’t have a reading culture in this country”. Cultures can be influenced and changed. In my thirty years of visiting and talking to teachers and schools in over forty countries, I’ve known very, very, very few disagree with my views here, yet they do not incorporate even simple reading systems (especially at secondary) where students do have to read but they can also read whatever interests them and not be tested all the time. A system. Student re-training, if you will.​

Parents aren’t teachers Don’t listen to parents demanding that you give out more and more tests and boring books following a system which is only familiar, yet not proven to be effective (otherwise all young people would leave school loving reading). Sure, parents went to school for twelve years, but that doesn’t make them teachers. I drive a car but it doesn’t make me a mechanic. I brush my teeth every day but it doesn’t make me a dentist. Parents only want you to give their children what they had, but they are not qualified to tell you what to do (even if they are paying for the education) and it didn’t work for them either (how many parents actually love reading?)

How to motivate students to read Maybe you feel it can’t be done at your school, but have you considered the logic and research and tried? Have you read about methods and ideas to explore ways to balance the compulsory curriculum elements with free and easy reading? If you’re now thinking that students won’t read or you cannot monitor them if they have a choice of titles and hardly any tests, it’s because they’ve already been programmed to think reading will be boring and tested. Re-programme them. They’re young. They’ll adapt, and fast, especially when encouraged to just enjoy themselves and learn on their own. It won’t take as long as you think. Most hard-working and dedicated teachers, over a period of about twelve years per student, programme eager, curious young minds to believe that reading is difficult and boring. Accidentally, maybe, but it happens all the same and millions of new adults leave school each year, relieved that they no longer have to read. It’s absurd and so destructive. And it’s been this way since I was at school forty years ago, since my parents were at school, and since their parents, and so on. When will it stop?

Successful reading at school is about staff room mindset not money If this resonates with your teaching situation, I don’t want you to feel bad or think that I have not seen the obstacles and your stress. I simply want you to not give up and to rethink what you are currently doing and work with your colleagues to change the system from within. Help is out there. I’ll help. There are lots of us who will help you. It’s not about money, it’s about mindset. It’s about wanting things to be different, because if we do what we’ve always done we’re going to get what we’ve always had. The preparation is done and the evidence for success is there for all to see. Change your lessons, change your school and, in doing so, you will change your students. It’s never too late. You might even change your country. Because if English teachers can’t create a national reading culture inhabited and promoted by minds drawn to love reading, then who will?


By Andy Cowle de ELT Connections

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