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How I Tried to Motivate Students to Read At Home- An old fashioned experiment

Like so many of us teachers, I was having difficulty with students not receiving higher scores on their district and state reading tests. The area that has the most direct impact on these scores is determined by whether or not a student spends time reading outside of class. Many of my middle school ELL students enter 6th grade either on reading level or already behind. From my experience this gap seldom closes. The only time I’ve seen it do so is if students read regularly at home. Reading years below grade level concerns me not only because of its effects academically, but economically as well. A lower reading ability reduces one’s access to higher paying jobs and potentially leads to areas of disenfranchisement.

In the past I would keep track of reading minutes each day & tie it to their grade, set & calculated their goals, had class celebrations, conferenced endlessly, gave PowerPoint presentations tying reading levels to future jobs, earnings potential and state test scores. I contacted parents about the importance of reading as well as sent book boxes/set home with families. But none of that seemed to help. Reading scores continue to decrease or become stagnate. The only things seemingly going up was stress and frustration on everyone’s part. I decided to try a different approach and see how many more students I could get on board with reading more regularly at home for longer periods of time because they wanted to, not because they had to. I didn’t want to overly complicate things. So I went with the old-fashioned yet highly researched idea of ‘right fit books’ and student driven/input.

Second semester, I focused on a group of 5, 7th graders (2 boys & 3 girls). I had students give suggestions of books they read and loved, genres they liked, books other kids in their classes enjoyed as well as searched websites for reviews. I also contacted our library professionals to offer suggestions and help me put together little sets. The class decided to split (boys/girls) and read 2 different books. Besides finding a book I wanted to let the kids know that I too in my busy schedule could find time to read right along with them. The key for all of us was not to make it seems like homework or a chore, but that it something fun for us to do together. So I didn’t take score or keep points. We would read for leisure at a pace that worked for us each week. In the process, I also didn’t want to take up much class time since we already had set units we still had to cover. So we decided on short check-ins where we would as a group we would determine the number of pages/chapters we would complete for the next week. We would also share/discuss what  was surprising/inspiring/upsetting/thrilling/etc. so far in the story. This process fostered students’ connections and offered them access to knowledge/ideas/vocab/concepts which helped them to better link information from various angles and subject matter. It also gave us a new relationship with books and each other. We develop a deepened level of trust and understanding as well as attempted to increase reading confidence and motivation.

Unfortunately though, this doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. Not all students were reading regularly in their free time nor did their district benchmark test scores skyrocket.  But I did have some successes. Four of the 5 students finished the book. Of the 4 who finished, 3 of them went on to read other books outside of our little book club. One stopped reading only graphic novels and moved on to 300+ page books with complicated plots. By the end of the semester she raised her reading by another whole grade level. Two other students didn’t raise their test scores but they did find a genre of book that they really enjoy and went on to read 2-3 more books. One realized she liked teen romance and that other discovered through our book club that he loves books about WWII. The latter commented “This type of book makes me feel like I’m right in the story! It is really hard to put it down. I actually didn’t play GTA last night. I read this instead.”  Three of the 5 also said they were playing around/spacing out less in their ELA classes and taking more advantage of the silent reading time their teacher was giving them. The two that didn’t read any more books outside of class did however go to the library on several occasions trying to find a book/genre/author that interests them. Unfortunately, we are going to have to keep looking. But I have hope and plan to try it out again next year.


Does This Sound Familiar? Did this happen to you to?

Using your past experiences & the future to shape your present…

We have all had learning experiences in the past that have shaped us as people and caused us to act as we do in the present. We can reflect on specific persons we want to emulate or situations we want to repeat. Then of course there are those that we do not wish to imitate and try to avoid. In deciding what to do, we can try not only to look at the past but also the future. Like when creating a lesson, we can apply backwards design to determine our behavior by thinking of what we want to accomplish and how Continue reading