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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Motivating Our Adolescent Readers


Many secondary reading teachers will tell you that the biggest battle we face in our classrooms is motivation.  By the time our students reach middle school, many of them have lost that love of reading they used to have when they were young.  Remember circle time when you were in elementary school?  The teacher would sit down in front of her students, pull out a book, and captivate every child in the room with a read aloud.  What happened over the years that caused reading motivation to decrease so sharply in adolescents?  In my reading intervention class, many of my students struggle to read because they simply don’t read.  From their perspective, reading has gone from an engaging, exciting experience to a chore assigned by a teacher for the purpose of learning.  Around 4th grade as text complexity increased and reading became more demanding, my struggling readers had difficulty navigating through the challenges of their texts.  So many of them simply stopped reading and fell out of love with it.

As a reading intervention teacher, I strive to bring reading back into the lives of my students.  Following the advice of Kelly Gallagher from his book Reading Reasons: Motivational Mini-Lessons for Middle and High School, I make it a point to show my students the importance and relevance that reading will take in their own lives.   Some of my favorite lessons in Gallagher’s book focus on the idea that reading makes you smarter.  In one of these lessons, which Gallagher calls “Rustproofing,” he compares playing basketball to reading.  Gallagher explains to his students that when he used to coach basketball, he noticed that Monday practices were always the hardest because his players came back from the weekend with rusty skills.  Having a couple days off made his players not as sharp.  As a teacher, he noticed a similar situation with his students returning to school in the fall after having an entire summer off.  Those students who did not read over the summer became rusty at the skill of reading.  They were out of reading shape.  After making this comparison, he has his students estimate the amount of time they might spend reading during a five-year period.  To do this, students estimate the amount of time they spend reading each day for 7 days, multiply that number by 52, divide the minutes by 60 to get the hour total, and then multiply that number by 5 to estimate how much they might read over the course of five years.  Students are often shocked to realize that over the five-year period, a person who reads 30 minutes a day will read about 780 hours more than someone who reads only 30 minutes a week.

If you follow up the lesson by sharing this chart depicting the relationship between students’ time spent reading and their percentile rank on reading tasks, students can clearly see the impact of reading.  Students who spend more time reading each day have a higher percentile of reading achievement.
Percentile
Independent Reading
Minutes per Day
Words Read
per Year
98
65
4,358,000
90
21.1
1,823,000
80
14.2
1,146,000
70
9.6
622,000
60
6.5
423,000
50
4.6
282,000
40
3.2
200,000
30
1.3
106,000
20
0.7
21,000
10
0.1
8,000
2
0
0

Look at how many more words the top readers are exposed to in the course of a year.  Students who read more have the opportunity to learn thousands, even millions, of more words each year than our non-readers.  Let’s encourage our students to join the Million Word Club and help them see the need for reading in their lives.  Maybe we can help them fall in love with reading all over again.