Saturday, February 21, 2015

Motivating Readers

What a fantastic morning! I got up early to share my Saturday morning with teachers, librarians, reading specialists, and educators from around the Delaware Valley for the Delaware Valley Reading Association's conference on Motivating Readers In and Out of the Classroom. I was invited to share how I connect my student readers using 2.0 technologies. And although we didn't plan it, the other presenters, Lauren Strohecker, BJ Neary, and Janine Sacks, and I all ended up reinforcing the same thing - students need to be heard! We need to give space in our classrooms for student voice and choice.
In preparation for my presentation this morning, I asked my high school readers what got them into reading, what motivated them to read, their responses came faltering at first. But when I asked them what didn’t work to motivate their reading, their responses came faster than I could record. Repeatedly students mentioned not having a say in what they read, how they read, or how their knowledge was assessed. Students mentioned being assigned books, assigned chapters to read in those books, and then being assigned how many comments they needed make during a class discussion of the book. Students wanted to read, but many said that reading in school killed reading. “Having to make six comments during a class discussion put the focus on the grading and not on the book,” Steph offered. Her comment opened up a conversation about how reading is assessed. “Why do teachers give quizzes to check if we’ve read? Does it really matter if we remember that the protagonist was wearing a blue shirt on Tuesday? I’d rather talk about the book,” stated Vivi. “A teacher told me that I shouldn’t read ahead, but I really liked the book,” another offered. "So what does work?" I asked. “I love when teachers give us a chance to talk about the books, and not just answer questions that the teacher came up with,” Nina suggested. “Yea, I learn so much more by listening to how others interpreted particular scenes,” Kelly added. “I don’t learn a whole lot from worksheets, but they sure seem to count for all of my reading grades,” Anthony shared.

As writer and teacher Peter Elbow points out, “...when students struggle for excellence only for the sake of a grade, what we see is not motivation but the atrophy of motivation: the gradual decline of the ability to work or think or wonder under one’s own steam” (“Grading Student Writing: Making It Simpler, Fairer, Clearer” 129).

And this was echoed by my students when I asked them about their experiences reading in the classroom. So what can we do to encourage voice and choice in the reading classroom? Give students opportunities to have their voices and choices validated!


You can follow along with our online conversations from this morning by clicking through our Twitter conversation below.

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