Encourage readers by using affinities!

From an article I wrote for ' The Alternative' last year:
Have you ever considered a world where you couldn’t read? Not just books or newspapers, but menus, the labels on your medicine bottle, signs, subtitles or even the latest issue of your favourite magazine. Words permeate the world we live in. As a special educator, I started working with children who have learning difficulties in 2004 and the inaccessibility of a reluctant reader to the world of books, ideas and the company of visionary thinkers has both troubled and motivated me. As thinkers like Oprah Winfrey have shared, books can become the beacon of hope for those who live in hard, colourless and impoverished worlds. The lessons of tolerance, harmony, hope and possibilities exist within the pages of a book as do characters and settings of every hue. Books allow us to experience the catharsis and depth of our emotions through the life journeys of those we read about.

Consider Rohan, a 11 year old who cannot decode a line in a textbook. Words dance in front of his eyes, he skips lines when he reads & he detests the idea of studying for a test. He hates going to school.

CC: Wikimedia Commons
Simran is in grade 2 and has already had an eclectic education as her father has a transferable job. She is a bright girl but hasn’t mastered the fundamentals of reading 3-word sentences, much less the stories required by school. She has been refusing to go to school, as some kids laughed at her when she read aloud.

I am often asked –“How can I motivate the child who is reluctant to read?” My answer is simple- “Engage them.”

My most effective strategy for engagement is the use of ‘affinities’. Mel Levine defines an affinity as something a child is attracted to for no discernible reason. Some children enjoy art, others space, many technology and some animals. One of my students loved to cook, so we used recipes to challenge her to read, comprehend and then create. Whether it is a passionate investment in the future of rainforests or a love for cats, this affinity can be used to help children read, write, think, speak and learn for academic purposes.

This strategy motivates first generational learners, struggling readers and reluctant students. Once we identify a child’s affinities, we can provide materials in this interest area to help them overcome a reading issue.

Simran loved art, so I started showing her the art of Renaissance painters, and we started researching to find out more about their lives. I shared fascinating tidbits about them and she read short excerpts. She learnt thematic vocabulary like palette, smock & perspective, and l encouraged an interest in painting classes and visits to museums. Her interest helped her scale challenges like learning the code (sound-symbol association or that the squiggle on the paper is “b” and makes the “bhh” sound), creating strategies to read larger words and reading faster. Within a year, Simran was reading at grade level and her sentence structure was more sophisticated than many of her classmates.

Rohan was different- a boy who enjoyed sports and little else. I created a programme which had two strands that ran simultaneously- the first was focused on explicit reading instruction and the second on using his affinity for sports to enrich his language exposure. I read articles from magazines like ‘Sportstar’ and ‘Cricinfo’; short poems about baseball, skating, football and funny ones from the stable of Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein; his comprehension excerpts had the same theme. Thus, while he persevered to learn to read (and it took an arduous year to master it), I continued supplying a steady stream of engaging sports-related materials (newspapers, poems, picture and big books etc) to hear, reflect upon, answer questions about and enjoy. His first book was a short one, meant for children three grades younger. He read it within a few months of beginning and read many books of differing levels before he actually became a fluent reader.

Rohan now reads regularly, independently and voraciously. His choices include both non-fiction (turtles, science experiments) and fiction (especially mysteries like Secret Seven).

All it took was a decision that he needed to see the world through the many voices and words of books.


Vidushi C.

Licensed teacher: reading, writing, dyslexia & gifted

100+ hours
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