A Little Coffee for the Reading Classroom

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How do we motivate our students to become better readers? Maybe a better question is: How do we motivate ourselves to help our students to become better readers. Reading is important. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that. In fact, the statistics are there, yet teachers everyday continue to be satisfied with the result rather than the process. What do I mean by this? I think too often teachers become so caught up in teaching that ONE book students just have to read, and so they put students’ reading lives to the side so that they can teach THAT book. Now I was a nerd in high school I read pretty much every book ever assigned, but I would bet half of my class survived off of Spark Notes, and the class discussion (which normally consisted of myself and two others because we were the only one’s that read).

Don’t get me wrong I think the classics have their place, but they don’t have the right to destroy the beauty of reading. I think Jim Bailey was right, most of our high school and middle school English classrooms have succumbed to the GERM. We’ve become so bogged down by standardized testing that we have forgotten what teaching is about in the first place. I do want to point out that when I see we it’s more of a generalization. Obviously not everyone has done this or we wouldn’t be talking about a solution to the problem. So how do we cure ourselves from this germ, and motivate our students to become the readers that we know they can be?

Step 1: Get rid of the preconceived notion that if you don’t introduce students to it they won’t read it. You might be surprised by what they are willing to read when you aren’t shoving material down their throats. In “Aim Higher: A Case for Choice Reading and a Whole Lot More in AP English,” Amy Rasmussen quotes a friend who says, ““I was never allowed to choose for myself in AP or Honors English, but had I been allowed to…I would have read all of those books [classics], and arrived at a deeper level of love and reverence for literature, much earlier in my reading life.” Gives you something to think about.

Step 2: Bring free choice into your classroom. Pretty self-explanatory, but let students have some say in what books they are reading. We’ve talked about this one before so lets move on.

Step 3: Motivate! You may be asking, “How do I motivate my students to read.” Don’t worry I have some ideas.

Step 3a: Lead by example. It’s hard to encourage students to read if you aren’t reading yourself. If they don’t see you reading, and enjoying yourself reading, they won’t see the importance.

Step 3b: Build relationships with your students. Ask them about the books they are reading, and what they think about them. This works in two ways: you can see if they are really reading the book they have chosen, and they will know that you have an actual interest in their reading life and you want to see them improve.

Step 3c: Give students options. Do book talks that briefly highlight different books in the classroom. Don’t just leave students hanging.

Step 3d: Give your students goals that they can achieve. Maybe it is helping them figure out how many books they can read in a semester, or it could be helping them to learn a certain number of new words from their reading (reading journals are great for recording these). Whatever it is help them build reading goals for themselves, and then celebrate when they reach these goals.

Step 4: Remember that the research backs this up. You aren’t on your own in implementing this. Others have tried this, and they have the statistics to prove that it can work. You don’t have to fight the battle for your students unarmed. In fact, you can prove that reading improves vocabulary, helps students perform better on high stakes testing, and so much more.

Yes, The Scarlet Letter is great, but is it really worth sacrificing your students’ reading lives over?

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7 thoughts on “A Little Coffee for the Reading Classroom

  1. I fully agree that it takes us looking at our own reading lives and modeling successful reader behavior to make our students readers. Free choice is important and necessary. Why not allow it if it creates a life long learner? And why not offer coffee as an incentive? My AP English teacher said she’d always have a pot ready if we brought our own cup, sugar and creamer. Our class was first thing and we all brought cups.

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  2. As a non-traditional student, and person over 40, I remember taking maybe one standardized test a year, if even that. It wasn’t the focus and without the technology today, reading was a much different ball game. Enter the library and the dewey decimal system. It was such a different time for YA lit. There just weren’t as many books or writers dedicated to YA lit as there are now. So, having the option to choose my own books to read wouldn’t mean the same as it does today. It’s an exciting thing to me to see all the variety in genres and books. I know we have a long ways to go with diversity in YA lit, but compared to the 80s with our beloved Judy Blume, it’s just awesome that letting students choose is actually an option because there is so much out there to read. Now if only we can conquer the problem with endless testing. Awesome post.

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    • I think standardized testing was just starting to come about as I was in grade school. I remember what it was like without it, but I can remember how much more stressful things got once it became the main focus. I can actually pinpoint a time in my learning when it became less about the students and more about the tests. I’m excited about the changes that are happening in YA lit I just wish that we weren’t bogged down by that pesky testing.

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      • Me too! My kids are forever taking tests. My own daughter’s math teacher told them they had to do well or the school would lose funding. While I like this teacher, I almost called the school and complained. My daughter felt so much pressure. She’s in 8th grade for heaven’s sake. It’s not her job or her friend’s job to secure funding for her schoool. It’s all so backward. Hopefully the tide will turn on this with time.

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