Engaging my readers during SSR (sustained silent reading) was quite a struggle at times. These particular students fall into the reluctant or unmotivated category due to an assortment of factors that I won’t spend time detailing because of personal and privacy reasons. Reluctant readers are a widely diverse group.
For some students, the struggle or difficulty of reading can be intertwined with factors such as family and cultural backgrounds, socieoeconomic status, peer pressure, learning disabilities, and emotional stressors. The desire to read, or even perform well in school, can be suppressed and lessened because of any or a mixture of these influences. However, the right book in the right hands has the power to shape and even change this disengaged mindset.
Some of the books I have found successful with readers who fall into these categories are the loosely-related novels written by Allison Van Diepen. She writes very candidly about hard topics dealing with drug use, gang violence, drug cartels, and much more. Students from my demographic deal with these same topics in their daily lives. I have seen my students become submersed in these novels to the point they are “walking away” and asking to be kept. These are books that truly inspire reading. These books give students a mirror to look through, to see themselves in. Students should have access to highly engaging texts and literature, in turn allowing a lens to explore their own identity and persona through characters that mirror their current lives. The beauty of these books is that even though they revolve around tough subject matter, students can learn from the mistakes of the characters as they are being immersed into the action, plot, and conflicts of the stories.
The Allison Van Diepen novels are rich and diverse. It is essential for these students to be able to have access to literature reflecting their background and current struggles. The characters in Allison Van Diepen’s texts a represent a multitude of backgrounds and family roles. Students start to leave their reluctancy in reading when novels break the traditional boundaries and protagonists they are used to seeing. Influential literature on student motivation, “address[es] a range of experiences, including stories about teen wresting with issues of acceptance based on family gender preferences, ethnicity, immigration issues, and gang and cult membership” (Moss, Voices from the Middle, Volume 19, p.39). Van Diepen’s texts certainly satisfy these experiences.
Using these novels would require parent permission due to the nature of the subject matter and language at times, especially at the 8th grade level. There are definitely students that I would deem these texts inappropriate for. However, with the right kid these texts can change their world.
If you use these in your classrooms, I would love to hear your experiences!
Moss, Barbara. “Fitting In or Standing Out: Finding Your Place in the World of Adolescence.” Voices from the Middle 19.2 (2011): 39-41. NCTE. Web. 1 May 2016.