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My 10th-Grader Hates Reading and Writing

By Karen Deger McChesney, Contributing Writer


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?


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.

Comments from readers

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"I am a active reader. I enjoy books, news or blogs or stories on the computer, magazines, cookbooks and my 8 year old daughter and my 14 year old son do not enjoy,engage or like to read in anyway. They do not understand that if they read their social studies more than once they would get a better grade. How can I help or motivate them."
"curriculum changes are definitely in order in the average american classroom (all levels). ms. mc chesney's advice was excellent. i would add that parents and teachers strongly consider being more flexible when considering what should/could be read in classes. in other words, kids today do NOT have to read the so-called classics in order to get a excellenet reading/ writing education. there's a lot of good reading material out there--from just about every genre imaginable-- and we serve our students and children well when we consider that what we read back in 1977 or '81 may not necessarily be appropraite for our teenagers today."
"WOW. The 12-year veteran teacher has beautifully articulated my concerns. I have a 19-year-old friend living with me; she's a rising high school senior. Grammar is probably a C- level. She reads fairly well aloud, but reads only under threat of the loss of her cell phone use for a day. Her writing is also lame. Interesting that I feel encouraged that a veteran teacher is also at a loss."
"Another reason for a child being a reluctant reader & writer is that they have difficulty processing written words. My youngest son struggles with writing--it's almost physically painful for him (even with a computer). He simply does not see his mistakes. He writes and then I (or someone else) help him edit his work. I encourage him to read his written work out loud, or I will, to help him 'hear' his writing. If he's struggling with a topic, talking about it often helps him organize his thoughts before he puts fingers to the keyboard. This year he took a class on public speaking, which also helped him organize his thoughts and put them on paper."
"Thanks for the information, I also have a teenager who hates reading but loves music and dancing. I hope this information will help me with this summer reading I have scheduled for her. L.Bonilla San Juan, Puerto Rico"
"I liked your suggestion about hooking students on reading through what their interests are. I've been teaching high-school English for about twelve years, and one of the hardest tasks I've faced is that resistance, the deep, entrenched resistance so many students have to reading. Many high schoolers are reading way below grade level, are disaffected, distracted or apathetic. How do we break through that malaise and get them to enthusiastically read? It also seems like our standards are slipping: a book like To Kill a Mockingbird or Night or Of Mice and Men, solid eighth-grade texts, are now taught in ninth or tenth grade, and 19th century literature is slowly disappearing from our syllabi. Finally, so many students expend so much of their energy avoiding work or 'misplacing' materials; others just can't seem to focus and reflect for any meaningful length of time on a book. I spent ten years in the radio industry before becoming a teacher, and I try to impress upon my s! tudents that good writing skills, that is, being able to express yourself effectively, even dynamically, are so important in this Information Age. My students just seem to think I'm lecturing to them; they shrug this off. I've taught in both public and private settings, in New York City, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Any suggestions on how to avoid becoming more disillusioned are appreciated."