How to Make Kids Hate Reading: 3 Mistakes I Made

Every teacher knows how important it is for students to read on their own… in a book of their choosing… outside the classroom. When it comes to encouraging students to read outside of the school day, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, y’all. A lot. And it broke my teacher heart to learn through anonymous Google surveys of my students that I was making them hate reading! Today I’m sharing my mistakes with you… Think of it as a step by step guide to what not to do!

Mistake #1: Required Reading Levels

Tell me if this sounds familiar… Every quarter the students take some kind of reading level test: BAS, Reading Counts, AR, etc. The test gives the teacher a level, which s/he uses to determine the student’s independent and instructional levels. The teacher then tells the student what level books s/he should be checking out from the library for independent reading. 
When I first started teaching, most of the teachers at my school assigned reading levels this way. I was new, so I followed suit. It wasn’t until I had gained some experience of my own that I noticed some problems with this common practice… 
  • Students were asking me if they were “allowed” to read a book because it was slightly above or below their assigned level. 
  • Students were telling me they really wanted to read book #3 in a series, but they couldn’t because it was too low… even though they had already read books 1 & 2, and were really into the storyline.
  • In that Google survey I mentioned earlier, a student’s answer about what he disliked about reading was, “that lexile points are required for reading and I want to read FREELY.

It really got me thinking… Don’t I want to read freely too? Do I look at a reading level before I pick up a book? How many of the books I read on my own are “too low” for me? (Spoiler alert… all of them!) Did you know that most adult novels are written around an 800-1000 Lexile level? That’s somewhere in the 5-7th grade range. Does that mean I shouldn’t read The Pelican Brief (660 Lexile), The Girl on the Train (760 Lexile), or The Great Gatsby (820 Lexile)? Of course not!

My answer to the frequent student question, “Can I read ___?” became “Of course you can! Read whatever you want! Just read!”


Mistake #2: Nightly Reading Logs & Responses

You’re probably familiar with this one too. Students are required to read x number of minutes per night as part of their homework, and to prove that it’s been done, parents are asked to sign a reading log every day. I hate to admit it, but I even used to take a quarterly grade based on how many nights out of the quarter they had read. 
The goal, of course, is to build a habit of recreational reading. The research shows the opposite happening. Reading becomes less enjoyable and more of a chore.
Here’s what I learned about reading logs and parent signatures…
  • Some kids barely even saw their parents at night due to work schedules and such, so the parents didn’t really know if they had read or not.
  • Some parents would sign the form every day regardless of whether reading had been done.
  • I was accidentally encouraging students and parents to collude together to lie to me! 
  • Reading response answers were often forced, and students weren’t really reflecting on what they’d read.
  • Students who were reading were only reading exactly up to the required minutes, and not a second over… even if that meant they didn’t finish their chapter.

So I did something crazy… I stopped requiring a reading log! I teach my students at the beginning of the year how important reading on their own is. I tell them that I expect them to read at least 20 minutes a day. We talk a lot about how fun reading can be. I introduce them to a wide variety of books. I make sure they have plenty of chances to check books out from my classroom library and our school library. But there’s no required reading log in my room anymore.

Mistake #3: Test-based Reading Programs & Reading Goals

Accelerated Reader. Reading Counts. Book Adventure. Read-N-Quiz. There are several options out there but they’re all basically the same. Student reads book. Student takes multiple choice quiz on book. Student earns points for passing test. Rinse & repeat until the point goal is met.
Here are some things my students said about reading goals in those Google survey responses…
  • “I would definitely still read [if we didn’t have a reading goal]. I don’t like the pressure being put on me to make my reading goal.”
  • “I read a lot of books that don’t have Reading Counts tests and then I don’t get points for my goal.”
  • “What I like is getting a reward for making a reading goal, what I dislike is having to read books with Reading Counts tests so I can get points.”
  • “I don’t read books unless they have a test because it’s a waste of time if it’s not helping me meet my goal.”
  • “Reading is fun but reading goals are NOT.”

Those last two slayed me! I don’t know which student wrote the last one, because the surveys were anonymous, but this is a kid who likes to read, and I’m taking all the fun out of it by requiring tests and points in order to make a goal.

What should you do instead?

Obviously reading at home is important. Obviously we need to actually DO something to encourage it. But how do we do that without killing their love of books?
Happy Teaching, Kristen