Sparking Classroom Reading in the Smartphone Age

Every year it gets worse!  My students are coming to me with lower and lower reading and writing abilities, and worse yet, less and less  interests in reading ANYTHING other than their smartphones.  Most of my students have zero drive to read or write anything that’s not part of their social media, and it is a sad trend. Reading and writing is something that children today are struggling with, and this is a hindrance to their education, no matter what age and subject you look at. As a Science teacher, my students need to be able to read and research, as well as communicate verbally and in written expression. We all teach reading and writing in some way or another. As adults, we all know that reading is key to all of our students’ futures, no matter where life takes them. But this is of little immediate interest to them. I need something a little flashier than the textbook on my shelf to catch their interest, and I am ready to add something new to my classroom resource shelf.

Besides the 100 or so students that pass through my classroom each year, I am raising 4 children in my own home: three boys and a girl. I have similar concerns for them as I encourage and prioritize a love of reading and writing in our home. I started when they were babies, reading simple books when they woke in the morning, and before nap and bedtime. I continued reading to them as they grew, and I made sure they observed me reading. Now that they are all in school, they read to themselves, or to each other; and at times they still want to listen to me read aloud to them.

Sparking reading interest at home

We visit the library often, where they get to pick a new book of their interest. Several years ago, my oldest son began choosing comic books, in particular Captain Underpants and Dogman.  Honestly, I didn’t love this choice, but I decided not to fight his interests. I let him bring them home and found that he would read them cover to cover before the night was out. But it didn’t stop there. He began writing his own comic strips, including sentences that described each picture. They were creative, imaginative, and he was writing! Comic books developed my little reader, into a writer AND an artist, and all of his teachers have taken note as well!

Back to myclassroom. It’s filled with students of various backgrounds, abilities, and interests, all merged into my science class, and all expected to read and write.  I am the teacher standing in front of this vast spectrum, wondering how to inspire them!   Many students are lacking the skills and the confidence of a good reader, and they shy away from any reading. Some may even shut down completely when a reading/writing assignment is presented, accepting a zero over the anxiety of completing it.

Differentiated assignment ideas

How do we help these kids? There are many online programs that can differentiate reading assignments according to individual levels. Our school uses Achieve3000. It levels students and adjusts as the students move through the year. They offer articles with corresponding videos, polls, questions, and thought essays in multiple topics which has made it easy to assign reading that matches my curriculum. In fact, they have their articles aligned and organized to New Jersey curriculum. While this is a great resource, I don’t want to stop here. I want to seed a love of reading that will grow with them even after our time together ends.

Sparking interest with comic books

So it is time that I try something new:  something that my own children love, and something that I think will grab the attention of some of my struggling students. Blocks of vivid colors and pictures that scream “Read me!” Alluring topics and vibrant characters that jump into the hands of students. They are really just books, wearing the disguise of a comic strip! The cover catches them, but it is the words that lead them page to page, that tell the story, that connect the pictures, that end in reading comprehension progress. These are stories that kids love, that excite them, that can teach vocabulary and comprehension if the right titles are chosen. I am ready to add this tool and resource to my classroom bookshelf. Maybe not Captain Underpants and Dogman, but something more geared to my subject.

Saturday, May 2 is Free Comic Book Day

The United States celebrates comic books and most stores give away comic books for free on this day! I plan on checking out several New Jersey comic book shops and collecting for my classroom, as well as scanning for heroes and themes that would have some underlying science concepts. Maybe you can find something to help stock your classroom bookshelf as well! Check out your local options at FREEcomicbookday!

Jessica Cicalese Kurtz  is a veteran middle school engineering and science teacher at Toms River Schools. She has experience as a curriculum developer, teacher trainer, and is a regular contributing writer fo


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