By HILARY MATHESON Daily Inter Lake | October 28, 2023 12:00 AM
“I hate to read,” is not an uncommon phrase Flathead High School Writing Center Specialist Tracey Johnson hears when the topic comes up in class.
With all the apprehension around reading, Johnson thought of ways she could encourage students, all of whom, come through the writing center door at least once.
The Writing Center is a large computer lab focused on improving writing skills, however, reading and writing go hand-in-hand.
Johnson, who also spends her time as a reading intervention paraeducator, understands the concerns and struggles of some students who say they hate reading. This is why she sought out funding through a Kalispell Education Foundation grant to purchase books, magazines and other materials to create the “I Hate to Read” area in the writing center.
“We’re always trying to get students to read beyond what they know,” she said.
However, she said it is a challenge to get students to enjoy reading if they feel it’s “forced” on them at school, which is why she tried to pick titles that focus on topics of interest to students in this part of Montana.
“A lot of these Montana, boys in particular, but girls too, have grown up on farms and, you know, from 8 years old on they’re driving tractors and handling responsibilities. They don’t necessarily have a desire to read a novel or a fantasy thing,” she said.
There are books and magazines on fishing, crack climbing, flying, sailing, car repair, cooking, animal training, roping, home repair, world records, Dungeons and Dragons, poker, poetry and novels of action, suspense and adventure.
“Last summer, a student came in and checked out the ‘How To Play Chess’ at the end of the school year and spent the summer learning strategies to play chess,” Johnson said. “There’s horseback riding, motorcycles — kids find a purpose for their reading, and then apply it to what they do in their lives.
” The reading area is hard to miss, a few bookshelves with colorful, funny, labels and eye-catching magazines displayed on tables near comfortable chairs. Students can also check out the books.
“We have a fantastic library, the goal of the librarian there is to provide as many books kids love and she does a wonderful job,” Johnson said. “She does have books like this, but they’re organized as the library is, and it’s a little overwhelming sometimes, especially for your kid who says they hate reading, to go looking at the spines of a lot of books. So the goal here, is [that the space is] smaller, and concentrated, and it’s going to hit you in the face, you know, [with titles like] two-stroke engine repair, how to do drywall and things like that.”
Her hope is the visibility of the small section of reading materials will draw students in to casually peruse the selection and find something of interest.
“Choice is so powerful,” said Reading Specialist Megan Koppes, who oversees the school’s reading intervention program.
Students who are engaged in the content they are reading fill a crucial component of literacy, according to Koppes.
“I often tell them, ‘Reading is totally pointless,’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah!’ and then I say, ‘Unless you learn from your reading.’ You have to be thinking while you’re reading,” Koppes said.
Johnson also wanted to create the reading area as an option for students who finish their work early rather than playing computer games.
Sometimes Johnson said it is a revelation to students who read a book or article they find useful or interesting in their leisure time “is still reading” that is beneficial.
“It has been exciting to see kids who don't think they want to touch a book and then they’ll come in and start looking and get that they’re really learning something from their reading,” Koppes said.
As a parent and as an educator, Johnson has found that persistent encouragement from adults is needed for some teens to keep practicing things that don’t come easily,
“My son, nobody had to tell him to go out and practice basketball … or on his skateboard, he spent hours doing that. … Unless you're directing them, they tend to do what they're good at,” Johnson said.
“I used to say to my daughter, ‘Do you remember when you were learning to ride a bike? If I had taught you how to ride a bike, and then walked away, how fast would you have learned? You have to be practicing,” she said. “You have to help them because they feel like they're failing when they fall off. But if you're there, helping them and encouraging them, or giving them something that's making them feel successful — confidence is really what we all need in the end, to feel like we're doing well in this world, I believe.”
Even if students don’t become avid readers, Johnson and Koppes said reading comprehension will play a role beyond school with tax forms, recipes, resumes/cover letters, bank loan applications, work emails and work orders, among other items.
Koppes said the high school promotes a culture of reading and a purpose to reading outside the classroom walls using the long-running He-Man and She-Ra book clubs as another example. Through these book clubs, students are paired up to read to elementary buddies.
“I think everyone is trying to show them there’s many different purposes to reading outside of the school walls,” Koppes said.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or email@example.com