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My 10th-Grader Hates Reading and Writing

By Karen Deger McChesney, Contributing Writer

Question:

I have a 10th-grader who hates reading and especially writing. He will read, under duress. But his writing is nonexistent. "Did you like this book? Explain why or why not?" His response is "I didn't like it. Because it was boring." To him that is enough. To the teacher he needs another two pages expanding on his answer. To my son, it's "I answered the question and gave a reason. What more does he want?" I know what the teacher wants, but how do I convey that need to my son?

Answer:

I believe your son knows what the teacher wants, but obviously, something is holding him back - and that's what you need to figure out. First, I recommend that you focus on the communication between your son and his teacher. When your son says, "I answered the question…," sit down and talk to him about the teacher and the assignment. Take the focus off of your son. For instance, ask if the teacher wrote comments on the returned assignment; ask him why he thinks the teacher gives the assignment (Teens always have a lot to say about this!); ask him what he would rather do in this class, etc. If he repeats that it's "boring," empathize with him. Teens need to hear, "yes, it can be difficult and boring…" I realize you don't want to put your son on the defense, but, I find that my 10th graders (and my own 10th grader) welcome questions like this, especially when they're struggling in a particular class. Your job is to give him a chance to vent and tell you what is going on in that classroom, what he thinks about the teacher, etc.

Your next step is perhaps the most difficult one. You need to determine a) if you should encourage your son to meet with his teacher and get extra help; b) if you should email the teacher (confidentially, unbeknownst to your son) and ask for his/her observations of your son and feedback. The latter goes a long way in helping you to coach your child.

Secondly, I always advise parents that their son's reluctance to read may be simply because he has yet to discover what he actually likes to read. I suggest trying the following activities to help you to "just get him reading":

  • Choose a book to read together or as a family. Reading out loud is a big hug to an awkward teenager. This activity has helped many of my reluctant readers discover reading for the first time in their life! This works best when it is treated as "just read," not discussions or any exercises remotely similar to what a student has to do in the classroom.
  • Take your son to a bookstore and tell him to pick out anything - a comic book, a magazine, a picture book, etc.
  • Buy your son a book about his favorite band or food or athlete.
  • Ask your son to show you the lyrics of a song(s) that he likes or print them out from the computer. Read them out loud together.
  • What is your son's passion? If you can't think of anything other than TV, that's OK. There are thousands of books about TV shows and production. Buy him one and read it together. Or, buy/subscribe to a magazine related to his passion.

Karen Deger McChesney is a Colorado-based high school English teacher, contributing writer to various magazines and educational publications, and stepmother to a high school student.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.