Ah, Motivation!

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Motivation.  The idea of motivation has plagued me since entering the teaching profession.  I was swallowed by the professional paper, Raising Students Who Want to Read by Phyllis S. Hunter.  It was like someone entered my brain and discussed my own thoughts and feelings about motivation.

As I began to read, one sentence jumped off the page at me, “No reading program is complete if it doesn’t include motivation.”  That seems simple enough, but how do we do that?  We want students to want to read and to enjoy reading.  How can we make that happen?  How can we make that happen especially for students who have struggled for years and feel defeated already?  At the beginning of this year, I asked each of my classes, “Raise your hand if you like to read.”  The average percent of students who “like” to read was about 20%.  My inner reader groaned at the outlook for these classes where reading was such a huge part of the equation for success.

Initially, when I started teaching, I was all about ANY type of motivation.  Extrinsic motivation, according to Ryan & Deci, 2000), is when students are motivated by outside factors like rewards or deadlines.  Extrinsic motivation is the easiest to implement and I felt some success in utilizing it, but I continued to struggle with the whole idea of intrinsic motivation.  

Hunter gathered research from multiple sources and studies and found that there are concrete things teachers can do to foster intrinsic motivation.  First, and possibly most important, teachers must match students with books and their reading level.  Reading can’t be a difficult chore if we want them to gain confidence and grow their reading skills.  

Students need to be provided with a variety of texts that are interesting to them.  Don’t just send those students to the library unless you have an outstanding librarian because they will be overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of books there.  

stacks of books

Empower students to select their own texts.  Keep this in mind, however, initially you may have to “guide” them.  Another way you can do this is to include book circles as part of your curriculum and allow students to select from a few different books. This gives them a choice in what they are reading even inside the classroom.  I was surprised to find in the article, “Aim Higher: A Case for Choice Reading and a Whole Lot More in AP English” on Three Teachers Talk, that  According to the article, most teachers that have implemented choice in their classrooms are seeing student engagement and movement in achievement rise.  One teacher in the article stated that if students were given choices they wouldn’t choose classics on their own.  My personal experience tells me this is not true.  My twelve-year old daughter is given free reign when it comes to selecting books.  On a recent bookstore trip, she came to the register with Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  We need to “create the reader” and let them explore and and expand.

The last few things that teachers can do seem pretty straight forward.  According to Hunter, you should let students know what to expect, encourage students to monitor their progress, talk about books, give feedback, use technology to excite students, and set expectations for success.  These things are key to success for any student in any classroom.  

This week’s  reading motivated me to continue to revisit the books I choose to utilize in whole-group instruction and to offer students more choices in what they read and how they respond to it.  I’ve seen the impact these small changes can make in the attitude of my students.  In addition, I’ve learned that it’s important to help guide our students.  Many of my students didn’t really know what they like to read.  (They’d never been asked before!) So, we discussed movies and television shows they like, and I made some recommendations on books they might try.  So far, this approach seem to be working.  Yesterday, I had two students mention they hadn’t started a book for book bingo for this quarter.  I talked to both of them and discussed their likes and dislikes.  I  went home last night and grabbed two books that I think might fit for them.  Hopefully, if I made a connection, this might be the hook that helps get them to be more intrinsically motivated.

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8 thoughts on “Ah, Motivation!

  1. I love your use of the word “empower.” Us students need to feel like we’re browsing the library with freedom and knowledge. Instead of books thrown our way, we need to throw ourselves into the books. Just love it.

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    1. Thanks. I agree we need to browse with freedom and knowledge. I feel more knowledgeable about YA than ever before. It makes having great book conversations with students so much easier.

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  2. Finding the right book is so vital. Once I found “that” title the scales fell from my mind’s eye and the world was opened up to me. Were either of your choices a slam dunk?

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    1. The one was definitely a hit. It was Asylum by Roux. My daughter picked it. Passed on to one of my freshmen and she is about halfway through it. It helps that I started giving them 5 minutes of silent reading time as their warmup. I actually heard these words today “it’s getting SO good! I don’t want to stop!” Whew! That felt great!

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  3. What I love about total choice in a reading class is that every reader can develop a strong reading life. Readers like your daughters who love challenge can be challenged, but readers who struggle aren’t left behind. It’s the ultimate in differentiation. So glad that one of your hand-selected titles was a homerun!

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    1. I see more and more the benefit of total choice! We are e working on curriculum this summer and I am excited to offer choices for whole group read texts as well as individually read texts. My students are living the choices in their responses to the books they have chosen to read.

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