I’m a non-K-12 student and over 18, so there’s always more work that needs to get done. And there’s never really a break if you think about it – everything can be worked into productive and unproductive hours. But, for me at least, a snow day is life’s way of throwing me a bone without fear of death (luckily I don’t have to worry about any blizzards, volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, or whatever other acts of God there are that stops everything). Well, given that everything was in a sheet of ice yesterday, I decided to lie in bed and enjoy the snow day. My plan was to use the day to both rest and catch up on neglected work (one thing of which was this blog. First post in two weeks – eek!).
Have you ever procrastinated with doing something until the very last minute, rushed to get it done, swore to yourself that you’d never do it again, only to betray your oath and found yourself scrambling at your next deadline? Procrastination is a fun thing: have fun now, and regret it later. (I promise I’m going somewhere with all of this. Just bear with me for now and let me work the best low-quality magic I’ve got). In my opinion, procrastination is just learned behavior – you’re testing your limits, seeing how much fun and enjoyment you can have before you absolutely have to make a move. If you’re good enough at it, it becomes second nature and a pretty hard habit to shake. If you’re bad at it, you’re exposed, learn your lesson eventually, and start doing work on time. I think learning to read and faking reading works the same way.
I hated reading when I was a kid. I always thought it was a little twisted that, when I was in kindergarten, my mother made me read bedtime stories to her before I – the child – went to bed. But it didn’t matter what I did. I couldn’t pretend to go to sleep or like I didn’t know the words, my mother and that book of fairytales weren’t going anywhere. I would’ve put it off if I could have. All I ever wanted (and this is still somewhat true) was to sleep and play. Sitting at a table or in bed and reading wasn’t as enjoyable. Learning to talk and comprehend language is easy – that comes natural. Reading is hard.
So what about the kids whose parents didn’t force them to read? Or didn’t have teachers that caught that they weren’t picking up on things – weren’t mastering the new frontier? They get better at faking it and doing enough to get by. Like I said, reading is hard. The same principles that apply when I procrastinate with doing that project, even though I’m really interested in the class and the subject, are the same principles that work for kids and adults who never learned to read at an early age. There’s a lot of self-handicapping with procrastination, and there’s a lot of shame and embarrassment that comes with not being able to read. It makes you an outsider to the world or makes you feel dumb, unless you learn how to mask it.
I’m just thinking, but how do you convince someone to wholeheartedly do something that’s difficult? How do you help someone do what’s best, even if it’s not what comes natural? In my experience, with putting hard tasks off, I’m aware that I’m procrastinating and I understand the best choice from the easy one, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to pick up my pencil and start writing/reading/project-ing/whatever. There’s some other personal “it” factor that comes in when you develop your own sense of autonomy. If it’s not there, it’s pretty darn hard to do work you don’t want to do.
So world, how do we get struggling readers to want to read – and not just to pass a test or some one-size-fits-all standards – in a way that is self-motivated and lifelong?