Time to time I am faced with students who I define as non-readers — students who literally do not like to read. The non-reader usually becomes apparent around middle school and continues through high school and beyond with the same aversion to the written word. For some students it could be poor skill development traced to their early primary years, causing reading to become a constant challenge. For other students, who have good fluency and reading comprehension, reading becomes a struggle with physically remaining focused. This inability to focus often is confused with disinterest. In short, it is this latter group that is the most problematic and frustrating for teachers and parents.

My first step toward reaching any non-reader is to conduct a reading assessment to determine if the student indeed has a learning disability that is affecting his non-reading status. If the student shows no reading disability, I conduct a multiple intelligence assessment (*see H. Gardner’s eight types of multiple intelligence) to determine interest or a preferred intelligence.

Once I can determine the student’s multiple intelligence, I will recommend specific reading material that connects with his specific interest and/or intelligence. For example, in my practice I have seen a parallel between students who demonstrate strengths in kinesthetic intelligence and those who become non-readers. This group excels when they are able to use their bodies to express their intelligence. In short, sitting for 30 minutes reading anything is actually difficult. They would rather be up and moving, building something with their hands rather than reading. Therefore, I find magazines that attempt to link their kinesthetic intelligence with their preferred intelligence such as skateboarding, basketball, snow boarding etc. The magazine helps them to read brief accounts of high interest (photos, etc.) containing information that may neutralize their energetic bodies, allowing them to sit for longer periods of time.

Once I have spurred their intelligences with magazines, my next step is to find biographies of successful individuals that are attached to their intelligences such as Tony Hawk with skate boarding, Shaun White with snow boarding, Michael Jordan with basketball, etc.

Another strategy I employ is less scientific, but also helps define the non-reading student’s level of preferred intelligence. Once I worked with a student who loved baseball. Actually, baseball was his only reason for staying in school. Although he had good reading skills, he was failing miserably in school because he hated to read. After my first session, I asked him to choose one of two books and read only one chapter. The two baseball books were Money Ball by Michael Lewis and Men at Work by George Will.  I thought either book would certainly stimulate this non-reader who loved baseball. I assumed that if he were truly a non-reader, he would at least read the fist chapter and then put it down. If he could not put the book down, I would know that I had succeeded in reaching this student. To my consternation, he didn’t read one chapter from either book!

My last resort was more drastic. I recommended that his parents enroll him in a speed-reading course at a local college. With some hesitation, he took the course and performed so well in the course that he actually began reading books! In other words, the speed-reading source simply attached a stimulating, physical act (kinesthetic eye movement) to reading. Initially, he was reading only 100 words a minute. After taking the speed-reading course he was reading 300 words per minute. Now he could read a book in half the time, his reading comprehension also improved, and school no longer remained a chore.

Parents and teaches are constantly faced with non-readers and the key is to look for several solutions – even extreme choices such as speed-reading instruction. Speed-reading allows the reader to move rapidly through the essence of the material, discarding the extraneous language. Comprehension is also improved due to the fact that the kinesthetic learner’s brain is now active with speed-reading and consequently more able to absorb information.

Lastly, for the purists, speed-reading might appear as a heresy to the written word, but the fact that a non-reader can sit down and actually read a book is the reward. Bottom line — if reading between the lines works for some students, then go with it.

 Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, students.  To contact Dr. Sortino, e-mail davidsortino@comcast or contact Santa Rosa Press Democrat – Dr. David Sortino.