Understanding Why Some Reluctant Readers, Just Say “I Hate Reading!”

Understanding Why Some Reluctant Readers, Just Say No!

Reluctant Reader image
Why are they reluctant readers? What is this really saying?

The purpose of distributing this research is to provide a means for a better understanding of why some children, younger and older, choose not to read despite being able to.

I read a brief research article by reading expert and author, Kylene Beers. The article was Choosing Not to Read: Understanding Why Some Middle Schoolers Just Say No. I wrote an article (Part I) for a blog based on this research. This is part II. I wanted to write something that provides the information needed, from Kylene Beers’ research, information that seems lost these days. The article is early 90’s research. In addition, I tried my best to avoid writing just another piece of link bait sucked into the vortex of useless content on the web. This subject is worth deeper thinking. Kylene Beers provides this.

Old Reluctant Reader Research that Feels New

Kylene Beers’ article reveals that children who appear to reject reading by choice often don’t have any choice at all. The option of reading for enjoyment vanishes when, for whatever reason, reading becomes tedious without any personal payoff. Personal payoffs are new insights and connections and the emotions that accompany them. They could visualize the setting of an action adventure, the words creating mental scenes that have movement and color, something simple for most readers. This is enough payoff to enjoy the act of reading. Unfortunately, the feeling a reader has when immersed in a well-written book alludes these children until choice no longer exists. They avoid reading, and not because they choose to be lazy. They choose to be reluctant readers because it is human nature to avoid what we aren’t good at, is unpleasant or even painful.

 Seventh Grade Reluctant Readers Share

Kylene Beers conducted several interviews with seventh grade reluctant readers, an equal number of girls and boys. She quoted several of these students. Their answers are honest and telling, and I believe help to provide a way with these reluctant readers.

Conversations with Reluctant Readers

Unmotivated Readers
Reluctant Readers exist for specific reasons!

 Katy-A Reluctant, Seventh Grader

I never liked reading. It’s boring. And I don’t like it. You just sit there and nothing happens.”

“What would you want to happen?” I asked.

“I don’t know. What could happen? Nothing. It’s just words and you just read them. Nothing


“Do you think nothing happens to everybody that reads?”

“I don’t know. Some kids in here are really into reading, and they talk about the people in the books

like they are real or something. That’s pretty strange, if you ask me . . . They are like strange, always

going around with a book and going emotional over it . . . Why would anyone go emotional over a


“Could you ever go emotional over a movie?”

Yeah. I saw Beaches. My friend and me. It was so sad when that mother died.”

“Did you cry?”

“We both did. We just sat there and cried and cried.”

“So you went emotional over a movie?”


“What if that had been a book instead of a movie? Would you still have gone emotional over it?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Why not? The same things would have happened.”

“Maybe, but the book doesn’t have any pictures. I couldn’t see it, so I wouldn’t know what was


“So, Katy, did you ever see pictures in your mind from reading?” I continued.

“Elementary school.”

“What about elementary school?”


Well, those books had pictures, and so I could see what was happening.”

“So you liked reading then?”


“When did you stop liking it?”

“Around fourth or fifth grade. The books got really longer and no pictures.”

“So what if you had books now with pictures?”

“That would be okay if they weren’t baby books.”

Uncommitted Readers


Reluctant Reader Mindset
We can Change the Reluctant Reader Mindset

Does not enjoy reading

Does not make time to read

Does not identify self as reader

Defines reading as “knowing


Views purpose as functional

Has efferent transactions


Has positive feelings about

other readers


Martella-Another Seventh Grade Reluctant Reader

“Do you ever read anything?”

“Well, sometimes I read the labels on cans at a grocery store if I’m shoppin’ with my mom.”

“How about magazines?”

“Sometimes I read the captions under the pictures. That’s all.”

“Do you read your school assignments?” ‘

“No. Sometimes. Don’t have to read in math. Science usually has a film. In here [language arts], I

can usually just listen to what everybody else says and then just agree with someone.”

“What do you do instead of read?”


“How many hours of TV would you say that you watch?”

“When I get home, I do my homework, and then I watch TV, and then I talk on the phone, and then I

watch some more TV, and then I take my bath, and then I watch some more TV, and then I go to


“Why do you like TV?”

“Don’t know. You start watchin’ it and then you can’t stop.”

“Could reading ever be a way to be entertained?”

“No way.

“Why not?”

“Borin’. All you do is sit.”

“You sit when you watch TV.”

“Not really. You could be doin’ somethin’ else. And anyways when you watch TV, it’s like you are

there. If they laughin’, you just start laughin, too.”

Funny books–wouldn’t you laugh at those?”

“Not at a book. Nothin’ happens. It’s just words . . . I’m never gonna like it, no way.”


Extremely Unmotivated Readers-Characteristics

Does not enjoy reading

Does not make time to read

Does not identify self as reader

Defines reading as “saying words”

Views purpose as functional

Has efferent transactions primarily

Has negative feelings about other


Has negative feelings about reading

Beers noticed that Extremely Unmotivated readers have negative feelings about reading and identify with peers who have the same feelings. They refer to readers as book nerds or book boys. They think reading for enjoyment isn’t for them and they make fun of those who do read for enjoyment


According to Beers, These Reluctant Readers:

  • Think reading is “boring” because they don’t see the action of the words in their mind’s eye.
  • Few images are formed when they read, so reading remains the skill of word-calling.
  • Their purpose for reading is to be able to answer the teacher’s questions, an efferent purpose. They don’t read because they just don’t feel any motivation to do it
  • Define reading as a skill, as “saying words, looking at sentences, and answering questions for the teacher.”
  • Don’t identify themselves as readers and not wish to be identified as readers
  • Speak negatively about students who do enjoy reading

Distinguishing Traits of Unmotivated Readers


Unmotivated readers, according to Beers, have these distinguishing traits: Their view of reading is based on:

  • Their inability to connect emotionally with the text
  • Their negative attitude toward reading in the future
  • Their unwillingness to associate with those who do like to read

These characteristics make this an especially difficult group to reach.

 Avid Readers

  • Avid readers valued the time to read so much that they would make time to read.
  • Anita reported “staying up late if I have to so I can read,” and Maria said, “I’ll find the time somewhere.” As busy as these students were, reading was so integral to their lives that they made time for it.
  • Additionally, another distinguishing attribute is their identification of self as a reader.
  • Avid readers called themselves readers and took pride in their love of reading.
  • Adam put it this way: I’m a reader, an avid reader, like some people are avid sports fans. It’s what I do. I’ll always do it. I don’t care if anybody else thinks it’s nerdy or anything.
  • They valued reading and, therefore, valued the identity of being readers.

The Unmotivated Reader in Contrast:

  • Beers further observed that unmotivated readers did not respect those who enjoyed reading. They called them “strange ones” and “really weird.” They did not value the act nor did they value the students who partook in the act. They did not want to sit near these students, work with them, or listen to them.

Beers goes on to state:

Their distance–both in physical proximity and in personal interests makes connecting these students to books even more difficult. These unmotivated readers surround themselves with other unmotivated readers and together they create an anti-reading community that continually supports each student’s decision to disconnect from the reading.

How We Can Turn This Around!

Choosing Not to Read: Understanding Why Some Middle Schoolers Just Say No

 Beers recommends a prescriptive program for these readers, a program that has these components:

“The comments and actions of reluctant readers would suggest that moving students into the unconscious enjoyment of literature requires more than sharing books with them. Prior to their school experiences, sharing may be sufficient. At that time, the focus is generally on enjoyment, which leads to aesthetic experiences. However, once school has planted firmly the notion that reading is an efferent experience, reluctant readers may need more than exposure to good books to change their approach to reading. They may benefit from a literature program:

  • that recognizes that they are not comfortable sharing their responses in a group setting,
  • that recognizes that what motivates them to read is different from what motivates students who like to read,
  • that recognizes that they may prefer nonfiction over fiction,
  • that encourages response-centered literature classes, and
  • that recognizes that teachers must model for these efferent-oriented students how to read aesthetically.

-If you found this informative and useful, I have plenty of research and easy to digest media on my brand new website about reluctant and struggling readers. If you are looking for more, please visit by Clicking Here.

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