Reluctant or Resisting? by Ryan M. Hanna

Let’s talk about the famed reluctant reader. The reader that countless blogs, professional teaching books, and think tanks work overtime at figuring out. Reluctance can be caused by a wide variety (and sometimes combination) of reasons: the students may struggle with reading, literacy support may be lacking in their homes, there’s no one to help them obtain quality books to read, or they are reading the wrong books (either too hard or not of interest to them). But, have no fear –reluctance is surmountable! I have found success each year with my reluctant readers by being a reader myself and having bookshelves full of books, tables stacked with books, desks stacked with books, books, and more books! A reluctant reader needs more than a vague comment endorsing a book. This is a great book. You’ll like it. A reluctant reader needs the freedom to turn down the recommendations of an unrelenting teacher who is ready to move to the next book in the stack and won’t stop until a connection is made. For them, enjoyment in reading for them will depend on the ability to get new, engaging reading material (that they can successfully comprehend) into their hands as soon as possible. And it’s become my mission to connect these kids with books that they’ll love and that will hopefully turn them into avid readers at a younger age. (Note: I am constantly replenishing my bookshelves with brand new books. By new, I mean recently released books. It is important for teachers, as difficult as it may be with financial constraints, to frequently buy new books. At times when I cannot buy new books, I check out books using my educator library card and allow students to borrow them. A risk? Yes. A risk worth taking? For me, yes. I browse Goodwill, other thrift shops, garage sales, and frequent the public library “discarded book” events. Scholastic Book Clubs is another great resource for getting new books into kids’ hands. Earning bonus points is a benefit when your students order books. Teachers can also check for the nearest Scholastic Warehouse Sale, where you can get cheaper books and also volunteer for free books.)

Let’s also talk about the students in my classroom who have been wrongly mislabeled as reluctant. I know they’re not just simply reluctant because my successful tricks do not work as well with them (or sometimes at all). I know this because there’s a big difference between the statements “I don’t like to read” and “I hate to read.” I have begun to recognize that this group of readers is not reluctant – they’re “resisting” readers. The “resisting” reader is one who can read (often well), but chooses not to because they don’t seem to like the physical act of reading and often refuse to spend any of their time reading, except in cases where reading is the only option – such as in the 90-minute reading block, when grades are involved, or when they’re being forced.

I’ve found that unearthing the books “resisting” readers find truly irresistible doesn’t always end up changing their overall perspective of reading. The book themselves, often filled with colorful characters and imaginative plots, isn’t the issue. It seems that the obstacle can be the act of reading itself or the loss of time for other, more preferred activities. With that said, even those that “resist” end up reading a lot throughout the school year, conquer the 40 Book Challenge (thanks to Donalyn Miller for this great idea), and often really like the books they’ve read. One in particular comes to mind from this past year. He read, and raved about, every book in the Vladimir Tod series by Heather Brewer. I spent extra time reading the books myself so that I could understand his progress and hold good conversations with him about the books. After our reading conferences and hearing him talk about his enjoyment of the book, I was convinced that I had finally made progress with him. At the end of the year, I ask all of my students how they feel about reading and if their feelings have changed. I was waiting for my Vladimir Tod fan to say, “I love reading!” What I got was, “I liked those books, but I still hate to read.” Most of my students had changed – they enjoyed reading more now. But, all I could focus on was him. I couldn’t process this situation: he had read a lot, loved the books he read, yet still somehow hated to read. When I privately asked him why later that day, he replied that he would rather spend his time playing video games, playing outside, or watching television. (Author’s Note: I do think there are times when a student may say they hate reading in order to feel in control and not like you “changed them”. Some students may want to seem tough or unaffected by their teacher.)

I take this struggle personally. I view it as my own failure. I wonder – what am I doing wrong? What could I have done differently? I realize now that every teacher has a few kids each year who are especially difficult to reach and I think these aren’t our reluctant readers – they’re our “resisting” readers. I sincerely believe that we should never stop trying with these students. We should never give up.

As Nerdy Book Clubbers, of course we want every reader to be the one who devours books– inside and outside of our classroom. However, I am not sure this is realistic for every reader and I think that has to be okay, for there are countless people in the world who are successful, bright, and capable who don’t read all that often. What we must remember as educators is that there are many, many reading lives our students may live and that each one is valuable. Just because they may not like reading now doesn’t mean they won’t love it when they’re older. We must accept when they say they are choosing not to read at a specific time; however we should not and will not accept the choice to never read. Our job is to never stop promoting great books to ALL readers, no matter if they are past students, relatives, or even kids we don’t know browsing in a bookstore. Our job is to help every reader– reluctant, resisting, or avid – experience the power of reading and instill in them the belief that reading, in whatever form or duration, is important.

Ryan Hanna is a fifth-grade teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been teaching for nine years. He served as a Scholastic Book Clubs Teacher Advisor for two years and was named his school’s Teacher of the Year in 2012. Ryan is a fortunate member of the Nerdy Book Club and is a fanatic about recycling (and reading). You can find him on Twitter @rantryan and on his blog at