Do Adults Really Know Best?

Turns out, focusing on a child’s interests can matter more than the child’s reading level.

GUEST COLUMN | by Lindsey Hill

CREDIT Wandoo PlanetWhen it comes to fighting reading deficiency in our children, adults don’t always know best. (We think we do, of course.) Young readers slog through leveled reading programs created by adults with little to no input from the kids they wish to teach. As well-meaning teachers and librarians direct their students to books geared toward their respective reading levels, poor and reluctant readers are continuously reminded of their shortcomings. Is this how to best solve our reading deficiency crisis? It doesn’t seem to be working so far. After all, 80 percent of kids in less affluent homes are not reading proficiently, and reading drops off significantly after age nine, as uncovered in this 2013 white paper, “Factors affecting reading ability in school age children.”

In an effort to reframe the reading deficiency crisis and draw attention to the power of kids’ interests, our company embarked on a 20,000-mile, cross-country tour.

Actually, the problem is tied directly to children’s underlying motivation to read. Turns out, focusing on a child’s interests matters more than the child’s reading level. When children have a strong interest in what they read, they can frequently transcend their reading levels. When truly engaged with the material, children read more—and more often. This, in turn, drives reading proficiency and helps fight the literacy crisis.

Empowering kids instead

At my company, we’ve learned that kids are the experts on what they love to discover, read, and do—but all too often we fail to take advantage of the opportunity this presents.  Wandoo Planet is an online reader engagement platform that empowers kids ages 6 and up to discover their own interests—from Lemony Snicket and unicorns to dirt biking and superheroes—and find related books and other content on their own.

Powered by an adaptive learning system algorithm, the platform works a little like Spotify or Netflix. Kids with similar interests see recommendations for associated content that their peers have rated highly. Sure, it can help parents uncover topics their kids are interested in, but the power of this technology truly begins and ends with the kids themselves. By asking children to join us during beta testing, we’re further validating their interests and empowering them to recommend books and other content to their peers.

Through the self-discovery process of building an interest tree using the platform, kids also uncover new interests they didn’t know they had. Savvy educators, librarians, and parents can leverage kids’ interests, which can impact the entire learning process. Focus on interests first, and reading naturally comes along for the ride.

Hitting the road

In an effort to reframe the reading deficiency crisis and draw attention to the power of kids’ interests, our company embarked on a 20,000-mile, cross-country tour. We’ve been visiting libraries, schools, and reading conferences over the last few months, and our interactions with kids suggest we’re onto something. As they explore new interests and content, they’ve told us what’s working for them and what’s not, what they’d like us to do differently, and what they’d like us to do next.

It is abundantly clear that motivation is the real key to developing successful readers. It affects how kids approach reading and school in general, how they relate to their teachers, how much time and effort they devote to their studies, how much support they seek when they are struggling, how they perform on tests, and so much more.

We’re still at the very start of our journey—and far from solving the reading deficiency problem—but we’re fairly certain we’re looking in the right place for answers. Let kids explore and connect with their keenest interests on their own terms, and we just might develop lifelong readers in the process.

Lindsey Hill, two-time Elementary Teacher of the Year honoree and veteran teacher of 14 years, is the lead for reading engagement initiatives at Evanced Solutions, LLC. By spending time with parents, teachers, librarians and students in and out of elementary classrooms and in video chats, Lindsey is able to demonstrate how kids can embrace their interests to transcend reading levels. Visit http://wandooplanet.com (free app coming soon).

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