“Motivation and engagement are critical for adolescent readers. If students are not motivated to read, research shows that they will simply not benefit from reading instruction.” (Kamil, 2003 via ASCD).
These words have traveled the world with me for the past few years and yet every time I come to this slide in my presentation on helping students become and remain passionate readers, it still stops me. No matter how many times I see it, it still strikes me as vital, as something that we often skim over when the content piles up, when the year gets rolling, when our plates get full. And yet, if there is something that teaching middle schoolers has taught me, it is that if I ignore their innate sense of purposeful reading (or purposeful learning overall), then I will never be successful in convincing many of them that reading is worthwhile.
Now, don’t misunderstand, I know that students also need to be taught the specific skills of reading in order to be successful readers, yet I have continued to remind myself and others that skills will never be enough. That if we do not carve out time to work on the motivation of reading, to work on what it means to find a book that speaks to you in a new way, on what it means to select a book that entices us with possibility, then all the skills teaching in the world will never be enough.
And so, we teach our students to be demanding readers. For those who seem to never find success within their book selection, to first take the time it takes to throughly bookshop, not because they cannot wait to dismiss all of the books, but because so often they pick up a random book with no investment, no recognition of themselves as a reader within its pages. When students don’t know how to select a book for themselves we often hand them stacks, I do this often, yet if we don’t also engage them in a conversation about who they are as a reader, then we rob them of the chance of discovering the answer to that question. We keep them in a cycle of reliance on others. This means that students must take the time it sometimes takes to properly browse through books coupled with a continued reflection on themselves, yet often, my students who don’t like reading much would rather rush.
We also teach our students that demanding excellence from their choice of books is not something to be ashamed of. That they deserve to find a book that speaks to them. That yes, they should take a chance on a book that they perhaps never considered, but they should also be okay with letting a book go, in order to continue shopping. This delicate balance is one we work through. Some kids end up stuck in the book shopping loop and so we change the conversation surrounding them ,whereas others continue to just grab and go and then wonder why that book didn’t work.
So we tell our students, our children, that they should want to read the book they select, but in order to get there, they first need to know themselves. They should see this reading year as a reading journey meant to uncover their likes and dislikes, their quirks and their strengths. That they should see this reading year as a continuation of the journey they have already been on, one where they should want to become something more than they were before. That they need to figure out the tools they can use for when they leave us.
I do this through continued reflection on who they are as a reader. We do this as we continue to share book recommendations. They do this as they continue to rank books in order to reflect on what made a book “amazing” versus a book that was just “ok.” We keep the conversation going in order for them to see when they are motivated to read and when they are not.
It takes time.
It takes patience.
It takes thought.
It takes reflection.
And it takes persistence that they demand excellence out of their books. That they should be able to recognize when a book does not get them more motivated to read. That they should be okay with saying this book is not for me, in order to find something that will be for them. That they should not settle into the dangerous habit of finding only ok books in order to keep themselves reading and the adults off their backs.
It works, perhaps not for all (after all, what does?) but for many, who for whatever reason had yet to have this very conversation, this very experience.
So if I want our readers to continue to be motivated to read beyond our days together, then that has to come from them. It has to be intrinsic. Not because I told them they had to read, after all, what power does my voice really have, but because they have seen the value of reading and want to invest in it. That they leave our year together or the years in their lives spent in school, knowing that there are incredible books waiting to be discovered by them if only they keep searching. I want our students to be hungry for more when they leave. I want them to demand excellence.
PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us!
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.