Stress-Free Reading for Struggling Learners

How can we encourage stress-free reading? Parents of frustrated learners often share with us that their children dislike reading and avoid doing so when not required. These students can put in tremendous effort, in and outside of the classroom, aimed at improving and achieving their goals, without seeing the desired results. Wanting to focus more on less stressful activities that are more likely to have positive outcomes is pretty understandable under these circumstances. But a love of reading is incredibly powerful. Engagement is the key to helping others discover it, and summer is the perfect time to explore literature in a different light.

It’s especially important for students with reading difficulty to spend time enjoying books. If they only associate reading with frustration, it can have a lasting, negative impact on esteem and motivation, creating habits that obscure potential. Being read to regularly and browsing nonfiction magazines, online articles, or websites about subjects of interest, where graphics and familiarity aid understanding, can provide meaningful, positive reading experiences these students need. The same is true of reading text at or below the student’s current level to an eager sibling or family member.

What’s Old is New

There are numerous variations of most popular fairy tales or literary classics. Try picking a story that your child loves or knows well, and seeing how many different versions of it you can find. You can focus on versions from different cultures or time periods, ones where gender or character roles are reversed, or simply choose randomly and see where the content takes you. Afterwards, try comparing and contrasting versions, choosing a few favorites, or even creating your own unique alternatives. If you can’t find a deliberate variation to read, try focusing on themes or plot devices. For example, an abundance of texts contain super hero origin stories, describe dystopian futures, or involve a main character who embarks on a long quest with dangerous obstacles. Selecting stories you suspect have nothing in common and seeing if you’re proven wrong after reading is another alternative.

Suggested Titles:

Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas

The Jalapeno Man by Debbie Leland

West Side Story by Irving Shuman

Reading Aloud

They may not always admit it, but students of all ages enjoy being read to.  Read alouds are a great way to develop imagination, vocabulary, listening comprehension and interest and can be a few levels higher than the listener’s independent reading ability. It’s helpful to find a book that will engage your child early on, with enough surprises to keep him or her curious and interested in the story’s outcome. Some books may even result in follow up discussions or creative writing opportunities, or viewing movie adaptations afterwards.

Suggested Titles

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

Frindle by Andrew Clements

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien

Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher

There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Introduce the Elephant

Explore or share stories of adversity that your child can relate to that offer motivation and understanding. The right book about acceptance, change and/or individuality can lead to perspective and hope when things feel overwhelming.

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus

Who is the Beast by Keith Baker

Wolf! By Becky Bloom

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

The right book can also be a spring board for the imagination. Story starters, mysteries, and science or social studies can inspire students to learn more, create, and problem solve.

Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsbrg

Just Another Ordinary Day by Rod Clement

The Mary Celeste An Unsolved Mystery from History by Jane Yolen

Fun Facts for Curious Kids series (Titles include  I Wonder Why Crocodiles Float Like Logs and I Wonder How Parrots Can Talk)

Can You Believe series by Sandra Markle (Titles include Hurricanes, Insects, and Volcanoes)

Lastly, try having each family member share a favorite book or story with others. You can either agree to each read a book selected by the other or take turns sharing them as read alouds. It’s a great opportunity to discover new books while learning a little about each other.