Just a School Librarian

Thoughts of a Middle School Librarian

Reading Motivation Beyond Elementary School

Posted by CGibson on December 4, 2009


In a Nutshell: Children and Reading

Early in my career I was a classroom teacher in the elementary grades. It was a fabulously rich and rewarding experience. I taught grades K-4 (I sprouted my first gray hair teaching K, but that’s another post). Let me tell you, there is something about five-year-olds that sets them apart from the rest of the pack: Every child who enters kindergarten wants to read. Kindergarten teachers (God bless them all) will attest to that.

 So what happens to kids by the time they reach 8th grade? Many are apathetic, disinterested, frustrated, and just turned-off.  Many claim to not want to read.

 Please don’t tell me it’s their raging hormones. That’s baloney. If all middle school students experience some degree of hormonal changes, then why do some students still continue to read avidly, stay focused, and complete their assignments?

 As I mentioned in my last post, many of my middle school students report that they do not read. Here are some of their comments, which I’m sure you are familiar with:

WHY should I read?”

“I’m not a reader.”

“I don’t like to read.”

 “I’ve never liked to read.”

“My teacher gives me stupid books.”

“There are no books I want to read.”

“My teacher won’t let me go to the library.”

And my all-time favorite, “If I have to do a project, I can just Google it and copy and paste it!”

 So I still ask myself: Why don’t they want to read?

And what are we doing about this?

 Organizational Culture: Elementary School and Beyond

With accountability and more accountability, our teachers are under a lot of pressure to move those grades UP.  Their kids need to read. So this is what I often hear from my colleagues:

You need to read a minimum of 25 books this year.”

“You HAVE to read this book and write a report.”

“You must read these passages to pass your state tests.”

“We’re reading this genre because we have to.”

These comments are not very motivational. They are downright threatening.

 If our middle school kids don’t want to read, then we might as well throw all our lesson plans out the window.  To motivate our kids to read, we need to implement effective reading motivational strategies. Not just in the school library, but in the classroom as well. Unfortunately many upper-grade teachers view motivational activities as frivolous and a waste of valuable time. They simply don’t have time to cajole their students into reading. 

Reading motivational activities are important. They are effective. So let’s begin with the easiest strategy for teachers to implement: the tried-and-true Read Aloud. And now I’m going to say something that will annoy some middle- and high- school teachers:  Your students need to hear you read aloud to them. 

 I know that many teachers in middle school and high school don’t read aloud to their students. In elementary school, it’s common practice, a part of the culture, for teachers to read-aloud often throughout the day. They read aloud first thing in the morning to set the tone; they read aloud during reading instruction (of course); they read aloud a bit during science and social studies to teach important content; and of course they read aloud at the end of the day, just to settle down their restless young students.

 ALL teachers know reading aloud has its pedagogical value…and it also happens to be a very pleasurable experience. All children enjoy hearing a good story, even “big” children. If you think your older students will protest your first attempt at a read aloud, consider bringing in an interesting prop. For example, last month I read aloud a couple chapters of Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science, by John Fleischman, to a class of 8th graders. I brought in a life-size model of a tamping iron (constructed from a long cardboard tube with a pointy tip). My prop immediately intrigued the kids, who were later “grossed out” by the fate of Phineas Gage. They subsequently asked me to read more from the book.

 “A teacher read-aloud is the oral sharing of a book for the purpose of modeling strategic reading behaviors and generating instructional conversation. Theories of child development suggest that the socialization of a read-aloud allows teachers and students to collaboratively construct meaning from text.”  (Simple Practices to Nurture the Motivation to Read By: Linda Gambrell and Barbara Marinak (2009) http://www.adlit.org/article/29625).

 If you want to read more about the value of reading aloud, I suggest you read John Trelease’s Read All About It!: Great Read-Aloud Stories, Poems, and Newspaper Pieces for Preteens and Teens.

 In my next post, I will talk a little more about other effective reading motivational activities that classroom teachers can implement. After all, I’m just a school librarian.

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3 Responses to “Reading Motivation Beyond Elementary School”

  1. I firmly believe there are not enough reasons for our children to read. It is our responsibility to encourage them by opening up the world of reading to them. Today’s world offers children many more avenues of entertainment than the world of my childhood. I had no video games, and tv was in black and white and only during certain times of the day – nothing a child would be interested in. We either played outside, we played inside, or we read. Simple. Reading takes some work, unlike a video game which gives a child instant feedback and gratification — in a book one must often be patient as the plot unfolds. But my fondest memories were of immersing myself in the worlds opened up to me by books – books like Treasure Island, Little Women, Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Nancy Drew mysteries, etc. I was fortunate to have a library close to me and I was allowed a library card early. I read, read, read, read constantly. So now we must provide incentives for children to learn that reading is just as enjoyable as a video game. BTW I enjoy reading your thoughts on this and hope you keep this blog going. All the Best. Linda
    Oh hey! Thank you Linda for your tech support! woohoo!

  2. CGibson,
    Thanks for your comments on my blog. Great job here! I LOVE your comments on read alouds – they totally mirror mine. I’ve had some thoroughly enjoyable experiences reading aloud to my Gr. 7/8’s, particularly more challenging books that some kids would never pick up, yet loved. Most recently, The Book Thief, Golden Compass, Teacher’s Funeral. I have them take out their white boards and markers and draw something or write a quote that resonates. They love it and so do I. No technology involved but still a great experience. Any chance our class could do something together? Thoughts off the top of my head – we could read the same read aloud and have the kids do a mutual Gdocs presentation (?).
    Heather
    Hi Heather, It’s fantastic that you choose to read aloud books that a bit above your students’ reading level. Studies show that kids can comprehend at a level that is higher than their reading level.
    Of course we can collaborate! But right now my library is closed for major renovation (since August). We will reopen next month in January. A collaborative project with your kids would be excellent! Let’s continue this dialogue.
    BTW, have your students (especially the boys) read The Lightning Thief by Percy Jackson? The movie is coming out in Jan/Feb….
    Regards,
    Chris

  3. Hi Chris,
    Yes several have read the Lightening Thief – they loved it. We just started the Teacher’s Funeral (my 2nd time reading it in the past 4 years). Last week they made their first mini-podcasts on their first impressions of their favourite character. It was a great activity for a read-aloud. You can hear some of them http://hdurnin.pbworks.com/The-Teacher's-Funeral–A-Comedy-in-Three-Parts and read their thoughts on the process http://hdurnin.pbworks.com/Audacity It was waaaayyy to much fun. I got some responses that I know I’d never get from some kids with pen/paper.

    Hi Heather,
    I have a copy of the Teacher’s Funeral, but never read it. One student raved about it last year. Maybe I should read it now.
    I love your wiki. I just started using PBwiki this year. Didn’t care too much for wikispaces.
    I must venture out and try podcasting. So much technology!!!!!
    Audacity is blocked here at my school. I will find another platform for podcasting.
    Thanks for stopping by, and for sharing.

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