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Focus of Interview:

  • Professional Background,
  • How to Make Reading Fun,
  • Reading Incentive Programs,
  • Magazines for Struggling Readers,
  • One Final Suggestion

Transcript of the Interview

Mike McQueen:

Greetings everyone! I’m Mike McQueen your friendly Teacher Librarian. I’m here with Dr. Steven Layne author and college professor, is that right Dr. Steven?

Steve Layne:

That is correct.

Mike McQueen:

Steven could you introduce yourself a little bit tell us about your book or I should I say books and a little bit about of your professional background.

Steven Layne:

Well I think the most important thing that I would like to point out to people is I was a public school teacher for 15 years. I worked kindergarten, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade. So, in over the course of fifteen years just regular Joe classroom teacher too many papers to grade, too many parents to talk to. So, I have walked the walk of teachers I have really a heart for what they do and I see them as heroes. Bachelors in Education (???) specialty in, really that’s pretty much carried through my masters than curriculum with the reading emphasis and my doctorate was in reading emphasis in children and adolescent lit. And writing of course, igniting a passion for reading as my first professional book for teachers and 22 other titles, a lot of picture books for young children, a young adult thrillers for teenagers. I have a wife and four kids and I work now at the university and do a lot of lecturing and speaking around the country and getting kids fired up about books and reading.

Mike McQueen:

Oh that’s great! What university are you working at right now?

Steven Layne:

Judson University in Elgin, Illinois. It’s in Chicago suburbs, a great riverside campus, beautiful, beautiful place.

Mike McQueen:

Oh that’s good. I called Steven in hopes to do us interview to center around making reading fun and I know about his book, I’ve read through it and it is great. I mean on Amazon recently last time I checked it was in the eleven thousandth which is really good for Amazon that includes all books. Today, that going to be the focus of our conversation is about “How to make reading fun”. And so Steven, I appreciate you talking with us today because you’re this, you are our conversation centers around what I believe is the most important concept to get kids to like reading and especially struggling readers.

Steven Layne:

I couldn’t agree more. I think reaching out to those kids is such a need and realizing that they live in a world that is offering them thousands of choices of things that they can do. When they get home from school and we wonder why the nation is in such a reading crisis and some of that it’s because kids aren’t reading as much and one of the reasons they’re not it’s because they have thousands other things that they can do, things that didn’t exist when I was their age or some of your listener’s age. And those are appealing and immediately gratifying so when we talk about making reading fun I think for me the first step ito having that happen is to get rid of the adults be they teachers, librarians, parents who are saying “You should read, you should read” and replace them with adults who are saying “You should read this.” Or “I thought of you when I read this.” And you’re putting in the hands of kids’ books that are going to appeal to them and that means two things really – A. get to know the kids, that means not knowing their name, not just knowing their name, but knowing “Who is this kid as a reader?”, or “What is this kid interested in? Is he a comic book, graphic novel kind of kid, is he a survival kid, is this a young girl who wants to read my best friend’s a dancer who is dying of cancer”. What is it that they want and then the adults in their lives have to know those books? You’ve got to be come of wealth of knowledge when it comes to books for children or books for teenagers so that you can legitimately match the right kid with the right book and I never taught a kid and never been with a kid who when I knew what you’re interested in and I found a book that tied in to that and I read it and I said “I thought of you when I read this.” I’ve never had a kid not take that book with great excitement and I think that’s human nature because it’s reaching out and offering someone something that clearly demonstrates that you’ve been thinking about them.

Mike McQueen:

Right, right. It’s that building relationship piece. I’ve talked to other people and I believe that philosophy to adjust to what you just said to that there isn’t really a kid that doesn’t like to read they just haven’t found the right material to read yet and I don’t know I mean but that’s arguable but the point is that you just made is to get to know the kids and try to get to know books and then use your relationship to match them up, it will help open up a lot of doors I think especially for struggling readers.

Steven Layne:

I think it’s a very strong link but I think it’s very understated. I think many of the ways that when you reach out to kids like this people tend to hear them and think, “Oh well it couldn’t be that easy, that couldn’t be effective because that sounds too simple. We surely need to buy a program in a box.

Mike McQueen:

Right, right. Well you know what, that’s a good segway. Let’s talk about that because reading program, reading incentive programs are huge part of our world with reading and there’s pros and cons to them and you know I’ve been involved in my career over the last, this is my 17th year and I have worked with different, there are sorts of reading incentive programs I mean there’s ones that accelerated reader or reading columns where school based, very expensive and computer based they log in, take quizzes for books that’s one type of program and then there’s other reading center programs like you know just fun books fairs and fun events and different things. Tell me what your opinions are about some of the more difficult or controversial programs like accelerated reader, or reading columns or what are your thoughts and suggestions about those kind of reading center programs.

Steve Layne:

Well I think I probably get asked about that by teachers, when I’m out travelling and speaking more than anything else.

Mike McQueen:

Really?

Steve Layne:

To ask, to comment on that and the funny thing is that, people who ask, people who are dealing with those kinds of programs in their schools, when they ask you to comment on they’d already a position generally that they have established in their own mind and there are very often, they are married to their position. They hate it and it’s the worst thing ever and they want you to validate their hatred or they think it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened in every school and every job should do it and they want you to validate that and I’m disappointing a lot of people because how can you, I have a teacher stand in front of me and tell me that they got an accelerated reader or reading account or some you know whatever the program, it doesn’t matter the name. They got a systemized program in their district and they started using it in their classroom and a teacher standing and explaining “I’ve got kids so excited to read, this is amazing.” Well, is this teacher lying? No. I mean why would he lie, why would she lie? They are not lying, and then you know, two tables over in the same seminar room is a teacher who teaches a 10th grade level telling me that all our kids hate reading and that the same program has turned them into book haters and is she lying? No. They’re both speaking from a wrong question and experience and a lot of times they think districts who pay a lot of money and bring these programs in, in an effort to try to say “Hey we’re going to be systematic, we’re going to certainly to make use of the money we’ve spent.” And so they’ll often be coming down, “We paid for this you’re going to use it, everyone’s going to use it, every teacher, every classroom, every child, the children will be held accountable they must earn number of points, every quarter we’re going to tie it to their grade. I mean you can go and on and on and what they are not realizing is that if you institute something like that, the K8 or K6-12 or whatever, how many years will it be before that wears off? And the, so, are there kids that get that really excited and find that motivating and want to take the quizzes and want to earn the points? Absolutely there are kids. Are there other kids who are great readers already and they find the whole thing kind of frustrating and beneath them and they don’t even like it from word one? Absolutely. So, my position on the whole reading incentive thing period is to demonize it is a really a bad choice and to elevate it to the status of we’re going to change the world with this, is just a poor of a choice. I think we need to have a lot of tools in our toolbox for reaching kids and we need to be aware that different measures reached different kids at different times. And so, what a great thing to have this available and the think strategically on how to use it in your building, in your classroom in such a way that we don’t kill it for the kids to do love it in such a way that it might hold some appeal for some kids who initially maybe think now and so I don’t really see it as a bad or good I just see it as let’s have thoughtful conversation about how we’re going to use it and let’s be cautious and careful. Just like you know, the fifth grade reads ten thousand pages by December the principal will wear roller skates for the day. Well, okay, you know if we got kids excited about reading and want to see the principal wearing roller skates, fantastic! Is that going to work next year? Probably not, now he’s going to have to dye his hair blue. So, yeah, I want every kid to love reading all on their own but some of them have to be helped along that road so I’m not really for or against.

Mike McQueen:

Yeah, and people ask me the same question too about reading center programs and my experience is mostly been with accelerated reader. My children have gone through and experienced class accounts they’re very much the same, and I always reply with you know I love and hate them and then it is, it’s to me it’s both extremes. One of the things I love about it is I’ll see kids that may not want to read, they love the competition or they love the feeling that they’re reading for a purpose and they can get points, that they can gain aspect to it and that will inspire a lot of struggling readers. Some maybe that more than they would’ve before, and on the other hand though, I’ll see students with the same regard will they’ll be a specific style of reader and they may not the books that they have to pick from may not fit their style, actually I am one of those types, I prefer to read non-fiction, I like to read electronic information, or articles online and short pieces of text, I love to read jokes and humorous fun stuff. And for a kid that’s forced to read in those programs quite often, they are forced to read a small selection of books that are only available that was purchased for the school. It’s just very actually detrimental in many cases because those kids think that this is what reading is all about and they feel like it’s not up their alley and often times they’ll fail and just do poorly that it’s such a negative reinforcement. And then the other part that I see quite often and I know it all happens all the time, those reading center programs are meant to be supplemental they’re meant to be one component to a program quite often I’ll see schools that they’re you know they’re so intense to it and there’s all there is to it and then that you know that’s not really how they’re meant to be.

Steven Layne:

Yeah, that’s very true. Schools will adopt them and then suddenly it is the reading program.

Mike McQueen:

Right.

Steven Layne:

And that’s a very frightening thing because if that’s the reading program why do we need a teacher for? I mean, really, I’ll get somebody that’s up their work (???) to come in and monitor them taking quizzes and records their scores, I mean that’s, if that’s all the reading program is. That to me really is undermining the value of a great teacher. That it should be very much just a component and I totally agree with you.

Mike McQueen:

What’s tricky about that is when you see cause I’ve seen lots of really great teachers that get sucked in to these programs and they may not realize the negative effect that they can have and one of the reasons why it makes it so tricky is you can see kids that weren’t big readers before suddenly explode and those kids are at the full front view of your attention and it just it’s exciting to see that it’s exciting for them you know.

Well, let’s move on to our next question. Tell me about what are your thoughts are about magazines for struggling readers and how to make reading fun.

Steven Layne:

Well, I often will say to parents that a really good way to take or a child to disengaged is to find a magazine for kids related to the topic that he or she will be interested in. And it’s a really, really crucial that the magazine, the subscription to a magazine should be taken out to the name of the child so that your daughter or your son is receiving mail with his or her name on it that’s a very big deal and I think as adults we downplay so many things because we forget how we were we were kids. One of my sons, my younger boy came in today and there was a small card that was mailed to him in the mail and he saw it this morning and he wanted to open that, oh my and you know. I said “Jackson you got to eat breakfast, get dressed, brush your teeth”. When all of that’s done come down open the mail otherwise we can do it inside. I mean he was going to move heaven and earth this morning to get everything done because he wanted to open that envelope, his name was on it. For kids, it’s a big deal and so having a magazine come on a regular basis, that’s you know my son, it’s Legos, he gets a Lego magazine (???) which is even better, And man, he’s on it and when the magazine arrives, my older boy is off on his own and his going to read that magazine cover to cover. You know one of my daughters gets highlights (???) for children and it gets mailed to her she knows where all the different parts that she likes are. So I think they’re real valuable, I think comic books are another kind of magazine. I have kids girls or boys that really get in to, great, more power to them, a lot of vocabulary. I was a big comic book collector as a kid. I learned a lot of great vocabulary from reading comic books.

Mike McQueen:

You know people underestimate the power that is laying hidden underneath the surface with the comic books because I know, you know last year I went to this, there’s a big festival every year I’m sure they have it throughout the country, it was called Star Fest. And I went to with a friend of mine, and there was like all Star Wars fans, and Star Trek. And right next to it they also had comic fest, it was like a joint event. Man, did they had an enormous room packed with dozens and dozens of comic book vendors and I’ve never seen so many passionate comic book readers, I’ve never seen so many people passionate about you know reading like I did there. They would talked for hours, and I’ve never seen so many different magazines it’s like a world that I never know existed. And you’re right I mean there’s hundreds and hundreds of different styles of comic books. You know that does kind of branched into graphic novel piece. But as far as.. I’m sorry let’s go back to the magazine idea, any other tips about for struggling readers in particular that connects with magazines.

Steven Layne:

Well I think what you want to think about, when we think about magazines is the fact that the layout is so different from a book and you know up to parents because they are not trained as educators might not always they would certainly know this but they might not think about right away that handing your son or daughter a book whose a disengaged reader there’s a lot of texts there, in magazines you’re going to have a different layout of texts you’re also going to have a lot of pictures, a lot of graphics, depending on a kind of magazine you mentioned earlier your own love for riddles and jokes. It’s not a very common to see those kind of those things, its common to see a shorter stories, and not longer pieces, and that’s reading and that’s valuable so I think that’s another key thing that magazines bring to the table and having them, you know I’d like to have them in a car, I’d like to have them in a bathroom, I’d like to have them in the bedroom, in different places. You know I try to teach my kids, I’m on an ongoing process right now, because they’re still young, when you have something to read, you’re never bored, you will never have to be bored, and so often the kids are stuck on the car. And so having materials in the car all the time for them, that’s great and a magazine it’s always a better choice than a book because this is abook that they don’t know anything about, and they haven’t get into it yet and they’re going to have to if we’re going to begin a car for an hour and a half whereas the magazine they can pick up an immediately become interested and just part of it.

Mike McQueen:

Right, they can give in or give out and the visual support is huge with all the photographs and illustrations and in the academic merit there’s all source of non-fiction text features and headings and charts and graphs and statistics and yeah I’m an enormous fan for magazines I just, in the world, I think any parents who are listening to this you could easily get your children excited about reading through magazines and for teachers too, I don’t know how often I see magazines in classrooms too I think that would be a good technique for teachers is to.

Steven Layne:

That’s a great idea.

Mike McQueen:

You know they could do, they could go and taught as they are out of school with a librarian which I hope they would be, you know because I’m a librarian, you know they could ask a librarian for back issues you know as new issue to come in a librarian maybe keeps some on hand but quite often I find that students they’ll really enjoy reading issues that maybe even outdated because of its topic that they like. It doesn’t matter.

Steven Layne:

Sure, I was just at the doctor’s office the other day and I watched people going through, 2 or 3 different people, the magazines I was just observing and I saw this one particular person that was looking at People Magazine and they have a lot of People Magazine in there. And she was going through and she took a stack, 3 or 4 of them, clearly they were not, you know there’s only whatever one of those comes out every week or whatever couple of weeks. So she’s going back quite a ways and I actually picked up one as I left the office to see that she had laid down cause she went in to the doctor to see the month and all of those were 4 months old. But she hasn’t read it, so of course it was interesting to her because she wanted to read about whoever was in the People 4 months ago.

Mike McQueen:

Honestly, she may not even look at the date.

Steven Layne:

Oh yeah that’s very possible.

Mike McQueen:

It happens to me sometimes. I’ll just see something that catches my eye and I’ll just start looking at it and then also realized “I wonder how old this is.”

For the last part here let’s talk about final big suggestion you have in general that could help any parents or teachers out there that who have struggling readers. What would be one more thing that they could do to make reading fun for their struggling readers?

Steven Layne:

Well, I think the most important thing to reaching these kinds of kids is that they’d be read to and what I, to talk about reading aloud to kids, I lose a lot of people immediately if they are teachers or parents of older readers which is a little concern of mine, you know they tend about 3rd grade, late 3rd grader or 4th grade who’s moved kind of that reading to learn to, or learning to read rather to reading to learn and so that tends to shut down for a lot of, in a lot of classrooms as you move on up at the 5th grade and then the middle school and high school you know parents stop reading their kids very quickly, teachers then are the next crew to stop reading the kids. And it’s a wonderful, wonderful intimate bonding time between the parents and the child, between the teacher librarian and kids and it needs to go on under value or the value that is very frightening to me because attitude so critically important when it comes to disengaged a reluctant readers and if these kids are convinced that they not going to like books, they don’t like books, one of the best ways to change their mind is to have a good piece of text whether it’s a poem, whether it’s not fiction or whether it’s a novel, a picture book having good text read well is very influential and I argue sometimes with people when we talk about older kids because they’ll say “Well my you know my students don’t want me to read to them” or “My son, my daughter is too old, they don’t want me to..” well these are teenagers I mean when did we start listening to them, I mean, they don’t know. They say that because they think they need to say that so they can look cool but you can sweep them up in a great mist and I mean I can walk in an 8th grade classroom full of kids that I don’t even know give me 15 minutes and they’ll be right where I want them by taking the right book and delivering it well. And I think the same is true with for parents and there are a lot of issues that moms and dads they want to talk to their kids about they need to talk to their kids about. It about taking a leap of faith, if you establish a tradition of reading to your son or daughter and it, you know, If it’s new if you haven’t been doing in all of a sudden you start, yeah, you’re a 7th grader and they might say, what is this kindergarten? You know, they’re going to mouth off and they’re going to be, but give it time, you know, if the guy on the radio said, you know whatever, the guy on, you go for it and you start, let them pick some books and you pick some books and I know with my own kids you know the issues that I want to discuss are sometimes if I think of the character in the book then we can talk about poor choices, better choices, what he or she should’ve done and it’s not like I’m lecturing at my son or my daughter it’s like we’re together talking about this character and how he or she could be on a different road right now if only. I think it’s a very good move for parents so I would say, my final thing is read out loud to say these kids throughout the grades and don’t ever stop.

Mike McQueen:

That’s awesome. I agree with you totally. I recently interviewed Jim Trelease, the author of The Read Aloud handbook and that’s basically all we talked about. And you’re right it’s just enormously important and I think in particular with struggling readers from the teacher’s perspective quite often, there may not be enough reading going on at home and the child you know, may not have enough adult role models that are engaged in reading so even, you know, I know classrooms are busy and I know teachers don’t have much time but reading aloud is a definitely big piece that should still be implemented throughout the school day.

Steven Layne:

Amen.

Mike McQueen:

And…All right. Well, Steven, do you have anything else, I know you have a website, tell me it’s a, stevelayne.com, is that right?

Steven Layne:

That’s right just stevelayne.com.

Mike McQueen:

Any listeners out there, that might be an educator, if they come to your website, do you do speaking engagements or?

Steven Layne:

I do tremendous amount of public speaking, a lot of motivational speaking, a lot of keynote addresses, open a school year for districts around the world, a lot of author visits in schools- high school, middles school, elementary, teacher and service. writing workshop I mean all that kind of thing I do, you know a fair amount of that and both in and out of the country. So, it keeps the life interesting and diverse, I like it that way.

Mike McQueen:

That’s awesome. That’s great. All right Steven, thank you so much for taking with us. We appreciate so much.

Steven Layne:

You’re welcome Mike. I had a good time and wish you a great afternoon.

Mike McQueen:

Thanks for listening this is Mike McQueen signing off.  Take care and God Bless and I’ll see you soon.

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