How do you get teens to love reading? Veteran Virginia Beach English teacher responds

How do you get teens to love reading? Veteran Virginia Beach English teacher responds

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – At News 3, we are making a big push to get books in the hands of kids. I spoke with a veteran Virginia Beach English teacher at Landstown High, who also happens to be my wife, Judi Lassiter-Williams, about the value of reading and the challenges of getting teenagers to pick up a book.

This is her 32nd year teaching and I started off our conversation by asking her what she has noticed over the years, “What I’ve seen is a decline.”

With so much competing for the attention of teens: cell phones, video games, various streaming services, I asked, what’s the main culprit? “I really do think that it’s the cell phone. Years ago I would always have students bring books to class, they were always reading in their free time, now I really don’t see that anymore. Honestly, you have to limit the cell phone—I mean you have to limit the cell phone, that’s it.”

I asked if that made it punitive for kids to have to surrender their phone and pick up a book? “I, honestly— I think that if you did that if parents did that…that a kid–kids can get lost in books in ways they probably didn’t know that they could I’ve seen it so many times.”

She has seen a noticeable impact in the classroom from students who love to read and students who don’t show much of an interest, “Students who love to read have a broad base of knowledge. They know all kinds of things; they can tell you about history, psychology all kinds of interesting facts, but students who don’t read—- really takes a lot to get them involved in the lesson in reading.”

So, how do you get teenagers to love reading? “You allow them to read things they’re interested in. I think really you have to give them lots of choices and you have to allow them to read what they’re interested in.”

And that’s what she does, as she shows some of the books in her classroom, “The Giver—it’s dystopian fiction. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks—they really ate that up. So there’s something that appeals to everybody. What I saw last semester as I took kids to the library and they chose their own books, I gave them the whole block to choose whatever they like. I suggested titles and then we spent time for the next couple of weeks just reading those books and some of those kids really got into those books.”

Her encouragement to parents, “Take them to Barnes and Noble; take them to the library. Spend some time there, let them look over the books, suggest some titles, look up some popular titles for teenagers. There’s so much good adolescent literature out there. If we just allow them the time and space to find it and read it, I think they would enjoy reading more.”

She adds one other thing that will help, when our kids see us with a book in our hands, modeling that behavior of reading regularly, they’ll think it’s important.

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