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It’s About Time: Fostering intrinsic motivation for reading through time and choice by Milly Stephenson

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 There are many avenues for fostering intrinsic reading motivation,

but two primary ones are time and choice. Students need both choice in reading materials to increase their motivation for reading, as well as the time to read and improve reading skills through practice.  


Definition and Description of this aspect of the literacy ecosystem: All stakeholders in our educational system, parents, teachers, and students alike, would agree that reading fluency and comprehension are central to achievement both in school and in life. Reading is a primary focus of both the Common Core Standards and the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner, with more standards devoted to reading skills and habits than could possibly be listed here. But one of the AASL Standards sums up these broad literacy goals quite succinctly, Standard 4.1.2: Students should “read widely and fluently to make connections with self, the world, and previous reading.” Despite the consensus surrounding this noble goal, there is debate within the educational community regarding how best to reach it. Much of this debate is centered on the notion of reading motivation, and the interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Extrinsic motivation for reading includes the pressures of high-stakes testing, assigning grades for reading skills, as well as more direct rewards such as giving prizes for each book read. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, can be found in students’ desire to read for pleasure, to seek knowledge, or other internally-driven reasons. Much research shows that the use of extrinsic rewards, particularly the practice of giving prizes for reading, actually undermines students’ intrinsic motivation. (Becker et al, 2010). Although many structures of extrinsic motivation will remain a part of our schools (assigning grades for reading, directly teaching and assessing literacy skills, etc.) the question addressed by this article will be how to foster intrinsic

motivation for reading within a school setting. There are many avenues for fostering intrinsic reading motivation, but two primary ones are time and choice. Students need both choice in reading materials to increase their motivation for reading, as well as the time to read and improve reading skills through practice. Unfortunately, both time and choice are threatened in schools where teachers feel that there simply is not enough time to address all the Common Core standards, and that student choice of reading materials may not be appropriately challenging or diverse. Instead of being seen as an avenue toward reading fluency and intrinsic motivation, free voluntary reading is seen as an “extra”, easily cut from the day when other pressures arise. Stephen Krashen, a renowned researcher on language acquisition and reading, argues just the opposite, that free voluntary reading “may be the most powerful educational tool in language education.” He cites decades of research showing that free voluntary reading increases vocabulary development, reading fluency, reading comprehension, and perhaps most importantly, an intrinsic love of reading (Krashen, 2004). Challenges and Opportunities for School Librarians: If we accept Krashen’s premise that free voluntary reading is a central tenet of reading instruction, and not an “extra”, what might this look like in a school environment? How can school librarians take an active role in promoting free voluntary reading? The good news is that school librarians already do this through their library programs. Every week in school libraries around the


Begin a sustained silent reading program within the school. Sustained silent reading (SSR) programs can go by many names, my favorite of which is DEAR (drop everything and read). The important feature of this time, regardless of the name, is that everyone involved is reading something of his or her choosing, even the teacher or librarian. This aspect of modeling the enjoyment of reading is crucial to the creation of a community that values reading for pleasure. An SSR program could begin within library time, perhaps in the minutes after everyone has chosen a book. Over time, however, it would be ideal for SSR to spread throughout the school until everyone in the building devotes time to reading, principal, lunchroom staff, and all. One important tip: according to Stephen Krashen’s research, SSR time is more effective in short bursts every day rather than an extended period once a week. Just like learning to play an instrument or any other attempt at mastering But school librarians can a skill, short Free voluntary reading daily overcome all of these “may be the most powerful practice is obstacles by tirelessly educational tool in language the best advocating for the benefits education.”   method for of free voluntary reading and creating increased opportunities for improvement (Krashen, 2004). • Make use of downtime during the both time and choice within their library school day. School librarians can programs. Below are a few ideas for provide a haven for reading incorporating free voluntary reading into during the day. There are many the school day and helping to create a times during the day (before school-wide community of readers. school, lunch time, study halls in older grades, after school, etc.) Suggestions for providing time for free when many students would voluntary reading: choose to read if given the country, students come to the library to select books to read, purely for interest and pleasure. Therefore the choice aspect of free voluntary reading is already in place. However, there are a several obstacles that prevent school library programs from reaching their full potential. First, much of this reading of free choice books happens at home or in unstructured time. This works fine for strong readers in literacy-rich home environments. But many students live in homes in which reading is not a priority, where there may be neither the time, quiet, or support for reading to happen. Even if one library book comes home each week, it may never be read without additional supports in place. Therefore, schools can do much more to provide the time and support these budding readers need. Another weak point in the current system is that students often struggle to choose books that are both interesting to them and at an appropriate level of challenge. A final challenge is that school librarians may encounter a lack of support from administrators and teachers who feel pressured to show results on reading skills and are impatient with the “wishywashy” nature of free reading.


opportunity. The school librarian can foster this by helping to create a quiet and welcoming space. Many school libraries have ceased to be quiet places, as students and staff gather for project work, etc. This has many benefits, but it does tend to impede quiet reading. Therefore, it can be helpful to designate a quiet library corner where talking is not allowed. If this corner includes some comfortable spots for reading (bean bag chairs, etc.) then students can choose to devote their downtime to reading practice.

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Suggestions for supporting student choice in reading materials: As mentioned above, school librarians already provide an excellent opportunity for students to choose reading materials. They do this in many ways: by maintaining a vibrant collection that appeals to all readers, by sharing reading suggestions through adult and student

book talks and other means, by providing thoughtful readers advisory services, etc. However, many students still struggle to choose the “just right” book. These suggestions may help to maximize the power of student choice. • Teach students the language to describe the books they love so they can choose and recommend more thoughtfully. If students are able to put into words what they love about a book (fast-moving plot, believable characters, humorous dialogue, etc.) then they have the skills to ask for more books in a similar vein, and to recommend the right books to each other. Olga Nesi is a leader in this field, and has written a book that can guide teachers and librarians in teaching these appeal terms to students (2012). When students can fluently describe the books they love to themselves, each other, and the adults in their lives, their chances of choosing the next perfect book are vastly increased. • Partner with classroom teachers to foster student choice of reading materials across the curriculum. Even with the pressures of the Common Core standards, many classroom teachers see the value of offering choices for reading. In its fullest incarnation, this can take the form of the Reading Workshop championed by educators like Lucy Calkins and Nancie Atwell. In this model, the Language Arts classroom is devoted to student choice in both reading and writing, with the teacher taking on the role of facilitator, teaching mini-lessons and guiding student choices, but relinquishing the spot at the front


of the classroom. This approach also calls for the creation of a rich classroom library. If the school librarian partners closely with teachers engaged in Reading Workshop, the access to reading materials and the teaching of literacy skills gain momentum by crossing boundaries between classroom and library. Of course, there are many ways to partner with classroom teachers without the full commitment to choice that Reading Workshop involves. Helping students choose biographies for a Social Studies unit, informational texts related to a Science topic, etc. can also increase motivation by giving students a sense of ownership of their learning. Acknowledge the value of the reading materials students love, even if they are not “literary”. To return to Stephen Krashen (yet again!), he advocates for allowing and encouraging students to read what they love, be it comic books, graphic novels, sports magazines, or romances. In a memorable study with adults learning the English language, Krashen found that these readers made great gains in skills simply by reading multiple books in the much maligned Sweet Valley series. Particularly for English language learners or struggling readers, there is great value in reading selections with the predictability that such a series offers (Cho & Krashen, 1994). Of course a central mission for school librarians is to help readers progress from reading only comic books to finding the next exciting challenge.

However, this can best be accomplished by first acknowledging the validity of that favorite series or genre, rather than belittling it. Impact and Implications of Fostering Time and Choice for Reading: Before instituting any of the recommendations above, school librarians may be curious about the concrete results of such an investment of time and energy. A very brief overview of research may be helpful in this regard. There is a wealth of research data, both quantitative and qualitative, that examines the impact of free voluntary reading upon student motivation and skill development. One particularly controversial report, published by the National Reading Partnership in 2000, was an attempt to summarize the results of qualitative research studies on reading. This report caused a flurry of controversy with its findings that SSR programs, in particular, do not have a significant impact on students’ reading performance. To be precise, the report did not find that SSR programs were ineffective, but rather that they resulted in similar gains when compared to other means of reading instruction and practice. However, subsequent analysis has questioned the validity of these findings. Garan and DeVoogd present a detailed critique of the NRP report, and argue that both research and common sense support the idea that time devoted to the practice of reading increases both reading ability and positive attitudes towards reading (2009). Qualitative research also demonstrates the positive impacts of free voluntary reading in schools. In an intriguing study by Edmunds and Bauserman within the


elementary school at which they work, conversational interviews were conducted with all 4th graders regarding what factors motivate them to read. The authors summarize the responses and give suggestions to teachers and librarians to foster instrinsic motivation for reading. Their suggestions include providing choice in reading materials, paying attention to the characteristics of books, connecting to personal interests, providing access to a wealth of books, and recognizing the importance of connecting with others about reading, including peers, teachers, and family (2006). These suggestions, from the mouths of students themselves, dovetail perfectly with the promotion of time and choice for reading advocated above. Qualitative and quantitative evidence supporting free voluntary reading, at a local, national, and even global level, have a place in advocating for time and choice for reading in schools. However, this is also a case that individual librarians will need to make within their schools by providing data regarding their own students. Sometimes telling the story of the progress of one struggling reader can be more convincing than all the statistics available. Each school librarian needs to find ways to make the argument for free voluntary reading within her own unique context. This can be done through an analysis of test scores, interviews with students, feedback from teachers and parents, etc. and can be publicized on the school library website, social media, etc. Finally however, it should be recognized that some of the most important aspects of student motivation are difficult to quantify. Some things, like fostering a community that values reading for pleasure, can be felt even if they cannot easily be measured.

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A Librarian’s Story: Just weeks ago, Joe began his career as the teacher librarian at a small New York state elementary school. From his very first staff orientation meeting, Joe got a sense that his colleagues at the school felt embattled. With yearly budget cuts affecting staffing, book budgets, and basic supplies, there was a sense that they needed to do a difficult job without the resources to do it. With administrative and parental concerns about the apparent drop in test scores with the implementation of the Common Core standards, pressures on teachers were increasing. This tension among teachers was trickling down to students as well. Joe heard horror stories of students literally vomiting and fainting in the midst of intensive testing in the upper elementary grades. It felt like a school that had lost track of the joy of learning.


Into this atmosphere, Joe brought with him a guiding principle that learning can be fun, and that reading for pleasure can be a key avenue to fostering this joy of discovery. Joe had learned throughout his education as a librarian that he could help to lighten some of the pressures on teachers by sharing the teaching of information literacy and other literacy skills, as well as helping teachers to incorporate technology in meaningful ways. He was ready to do these things, but he wondered if he could help the school rediscover the joy of learning as well. He thought long and hard about how to balance these goals. Joe had inherited a fixed schedule in which each class visited the school library twice each week, once for a bookbased lesson, and once to visit the computer lab. Rather than continuing this somewhat artificial divide between text-based and tech-based lessons, Joe decided he would divide up his time differently. He would devote one lesson each week to teaching essential literacy skills connected to the curriculum, and one to sharing the joys of reading and learning. Of course these two strands would often overlap, but by devoting time and energy to nurturing reading for pleasure, Joe felt he could be true to his own reasons for entering the field. During his “lessons for pleasure�, Joe focused on many elements of time and choice and their impact on motivation. He shared his favorite books with classes as read-alouds. He taught his classes helpful language for describing their favorite books, and set up systems for students to exchange book recommendations with him and with each other. He also devoted quiet time each week for students to read the books they had chosen. Next on the agenda, Joe hopes to convince his fellow teachers

and his principal that a school-wide SSR program is worth the time invested. He is busy thinking about how best to advocate for making pleasure reading a school-wide priority. Of course, the jury is still out when it comes to the long-term impacts of the choices Joe is making. But early signs are positive. Visits to the library for additional book exchanges both before and after school have increased dramatically, as have the numbers of books in circulation. In fact, Joe has a difficult time shooing all the students out of the library so he can leave at the end of the day. Students are so excited to talk to him and to each other about books, he can not seem to make them stop. Teachers are beginning to notice the buzz, and stop by the library to exchange lesson ideas and book suggestions with Joe. Even the principal, having dropped by the library during an SSR session, watched the students read quietly for several minutes, and then sat down herself to read a book nearby. Can Joe’s commitment to reading for pleasure make a difference for this school? Can you make a difference at your school by fostering the intrinsic motivation to read? Only time will tell.

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For more information: If you would like to dig deeper into some of the issues raised in this article, here are a few multimedia resources that may be helpful in addition to the references cited below. • •

Nancie Atwell’s eloquent video defense of free voluntary reading in schools: Atwell video A teacher-created Powerpoint presentation in defense of SSR: SSR powerpoint

References Becker, M., McElvany, N., & Kortenbruck, M. (2010). Intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation as predictors of reading literacy: A longitudinal study. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 102(4), 773785. doi:10.1037/a0020084 Cho, K.S. & Krashen, S.D. (1994). Acquisition of vocabulary from the Sweet Valley Kids series: Adult ESL acquisition. Journal of Reading , 37(8), 662-667. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/201 72388 Clark, C. & Rumbold, K. (2006). Reading for pleasure: A research overview. National Literacy Trust. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/cont ent/collateral_resources/pdf/i/ Reading_for_pleasure.pdf

More information on Reading Workshop, including many helpful resources and videos: http://www.readersworkshop.or g/ Stephen Krashen’s lecture on the power of reading (the video is long, but worth the time!) Krashen video

Edmunds, K. M., & Bauserman, K. L. (2006). What teachers can learn about reading motivation through conversations with children. The Reading Teacher, 59(5), 414-424. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/doc view/203281155?accountid=142 14 Garan, E. M., & DeVoogd, G. (2009). The benefits of sustained silent reading: Scientific research and common sense converge. The Reading Teacher, 62(4), 336-344. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/doc view/203281967?accountid=142 14 Krashen, S.D. (2004). The power of reading: Insights from the research. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. Nesi, O. M. (2012). Getting beyond interesting: Teaching students the vocabulary of appeal to discuss their reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.


It's About Time