Reading & Reacting: Why Students Hate Reading

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by John Morgan

By Terry Heick @ TeachThought

In my experience, rare is the child that doesn’t love to read when it is all new to them. They seem to not be able to get enough. Thus, I am a firm believer that most students grow and learn how to hate reading over time and mainly in school. Terry Heick attempts to explain why in this brief piece at TeachThought.

Heick maintains that much of this phenomenon has to do with a well-meaning but flawed approach to reading instruction. It is no doubt a complicated problem. Still, I think Heick is definitely on to something.

We push the illusion of the “otherness” of a text by promoting the lie that they simply need to decode this, recognize that, and analyze that and that and that, and they’ll be able to “read” (a troublesome word).

While this all does well to emphasize the work that real literacy requires, there’s little wonder why students are increasingly seeking briefer, more visual, social, and dynamic media. Because not only are these media forms effortlessly entertaining, they rarely require meaningful investment of themselves.

And it is this kind of connection that makes reading–or any other media consumption for that matter–feel alive and vibrant and whole. When readers are younger, there is a natural “give” between the reader and the text, their imaginations still raw and green and alive.

For one, I love that other media are included in this examination and not in a judgmental way that suggests that they lack value. If we expand the notion of what it means to read and what a text is, it is easier to see that a number of the same elements of the reading experience, that “natural ‘give’ between reader and text,” are in play.

Of course, there is something different about the printed word, more demanding on more levels. Shorter, briefer, dynamic, visual media takes a lot of the cognitive burden off the reader. The work of imaging the details is being done by a team of professionals instead of the reader. Of course, this leads to less personal investment of the self. Not as much is required.

Different media serve slightly different purposes. However, there is a fair amount of overlap in play. Regardless, without the personal connection to any media it remains difficult to make much sense of any of it.

Cognitively, a student “makes sense” of a text through a perfectly personal schema—that is, through the symbols and patterns and enthusiasm and suffering and meaning in their own lives. Students can’t simply be encouraged to “bring themselves” and their own experiences to a text; they have to realize that any grasp of the text decays almost immediately if they don’t.

Without that inward, reflective pattern where students acknowledge the sheer craziness of reading–where they are asked to merge two realities (the text, and themselves)—then that process will always be industrial. Mechanical.

A matter of literacy and “career readiness.”


I could not agree more with the nature of reading that Heick advances here. For a student to have any hope of understanding a text they must find their way through their own personal schema. Plus, I like the idea of two realities.

Merging two realities is not quite the same in the alternative shorter, briefer, dynamic, visual media. In fact, since most of the imaginative work is already complete for those forms they are already “other.” They are “other” almost by design, but they often deliver more whizz-bang easy entertainment.

The industrial, mechanical approach that is too often taken in school only serves to amplify the otherness of reading print and the seduction of alternative, visually exciting, dynamic media forms.

Reading isn’t a show. (Not at first anyhow.) It doesn’t exist to make them LOL. (Though it might.)

But they often turn the page hoping to be passively entertained. Ironically then, reading isn’t “built” for what we use it for in education. It’s hugely personal, but we focus on the mechanics because of our insistence on standardization.

Sadly, the Common Core will only serve to exacerbate the trend that Heick has highlighted here. The obsession with standards and associated tests, the potential reduction of the reading experience to an analytic exercise, and the rewrapped emphasis on text complexity, are far from possible remedy to treating the student that hates to read.

My fear is that we are in the dawn of a renewed clarion call for the resurgence of the old-time religion and its priesthood. Students will have even harder print texts thrown at them, more devoid of a personal connection than ever, only to be routinely exposed for not “reading” the work, and promptly being told what it all means in preparation for the test. That is only one of the “troubling implications” of the new mechanized literacy to me.


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