Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Motivating Children to Read - Blog #1

As someone who loves to read, it is difficult to grasp the idea that some people don't. I hate that point in the semester (around week one) when it becomes clear that the "just for fun" books will have to take a backseat to textbooks and journal articles until the next break. Looking back, I'm not sure from where this love came. My father doesn't read at all. My mother and I shared books at times as I got older, but is that it? I found most of the required reading in school boring. Now, though, I love sinking into a good book.

If, as Edmunds and Bauserman (2006) say, extrinsic motivation doesn't work for reading, where does that leave us as teachers? We have a room full of varied interests and personalities, so how can we choose literature that will appeal to everyone? I think a large part of our success is dependent on our ability to think like our students. In their study, Edmunds and Bauserman note that children often cited the characteristics of books as their motivation to read. A hardcover from the eighties is unlikely to scream, "Pick me!" to a nine-year old, but something that looks funny or flashy might just do the trick. Beyond that, the books need to appeal to our students' interests. What do they like, and about what would they like to know more?

The Elementary Reading Attitude Survey (ERAS) provides a good, uniform way to assess your students' feelings about reading (McKenna & Kear, 1990). Students will probably enjoy incorporating a cartoon character into their work, and the visual element allows it to work for a range of ages as well as languages. There's some value in something more tailored to the students in front of you though.

Caldwell (2008) provides an embarrassingly simple way to survey your own class about their reading habits and interests. First, ask, and take notes. Beyond that, for the students who don't just know what they like, have them flip through their reading textbooks, noting stories and genres that catch their attention. List everything on the board, and then have each student choose the three in which they are most interested. Use that information to guide the choices you make for your whole-class reading.

As a mother, one of my favorite parts of Edmunds' and Bauserman's (2006) research was the role parents, particularly mothers have in influencing their children to read. As a teacher, however, it can be frustrating because this often means motivating not only our students, but their parents as well. Read to your kids. Tell them what you've read recently. Tell them what you liked to read when you were their age. They listen. Maybe your child will read something great and share it with a friend.

Image Courtesy of The Book Chook

Since peers also play an important role in motivating students to read according to Edmunds and Bauserman (2006), I would like to utilize this in my own classroom. Perhaps a book review display, something less formal than book reports, or maybe a time when students can orally share the books they're enjoying with the class if they would like would be effective. At the same time, could it backfire? What happens to the recommendations of an unpopular student?

Motivating students to read will certainly pose a challenge as we enter classrooms. I suppose a good way of thinking about it isn't that some people don't love to read. They just don't love to read yet.

Caldwell, J. S. (2008). Reading assessment: A primer for teachers and coaches (2nd Ed). New York City, NY: Guilford.
Edmunds, K. M., & Bauserman, K. L. (2006). What teachers can learn about reading motivation through conversations with children. The reading teacher, 59(5), 414-424. 
McKenna, M. C., & Kear, D. J. (1990). Measuring attitude toward reading: A new tool for teachers. The reading teacher, 43(8), 626-639.

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