A student shuffles meekly toward me, eyes down, holding something behind her back. “Mr. Isham?” she whispers.
I kneel so my eyes are level with hers, ready to hear the serious message her posture indicates she is about to deliver. “What is it? Is something wrong?”
She fidgets, looks out the window, then back at the carpet. The book emerges from behind her. “I don’t really like this book.”
Book abandonment seems to happen more frequently every year. Kids just drop books after a chapter or two. Frequently, they’ll jump ship after only a few pages. When pressed for reasons, they tend to stammer and mumble. If my students are to be taken at their word, the #1 reason why kids abandon books early is, “I don’t know.”
I have my theories. The first is exposition. In third grade, kids start reading what I consider to be really worthwhile novels. These are books that ask real questions and provoke serious though. Characters are three-dimensional; they grow and change throughout the book. Books with more depth often begin with a longer passage of exposition, and students might not be used to wading through background information, character introductions, or descriptions of the setting to get to the action. Experience with these kinds of books can teach kids that being more patient often leads to greater payoffs.
Another is the screens. Every passing year fills our world with a greater array of glowing screens pumping instamatic electrified stimulation into receptive young skulls in a growing number of settings. This kind of effortless, consuming entertainment has reached out its tentacles to reach kids not only at home, but also in the car, in doctor’s office waiting rooms, and even walking down the hallway to class, and it asks almost nothing in terms of mental effort.
Imagine a kid trying to slog through the first couple of (relatively uneventful) chapters of a book while that doohickey in his pocket is charged and prepared to deliver maximum sensory stimulation upon his slightest touch.
I’ll write about what the countermeasures might be in my next post.