In this episode, we seek to uncover the key to putting the right text in front of the right kid. Sadly, when I was an elementary and secondary student, it often seemed that the text we read in class was mandated to us because either (1) it was one of my teacher’s favorites or (2) there were several existing copies of it already purchased to check out of the library. Today, however, teachers are expected to use a variety of texts from a variety of genres as part of their literacy activities (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010).
This could be good news for students, but it also requires teaches to become ‘hunters and gathers’ of texts that help students meet learning objectives and…that pique students’ interests. Literacy research has consistently highlighted how student motivation to read is impacted by readerinterest or eagerness to read a particular book, article or other form of text (Schiefele, 2009).
Just think, for a moment, about what you pick up, (or fail to pick up) when an opportunity presents itself. I was recently in a dentist office while my son was getting braces put on his teeth. It made for a long appointment, so I found myself watching people enter the office, check in at the desk, and then sit down in the waiting room. About half the people passed the time fiddling away on their phone. The other half would sit still for a moment, start to fidget, and then eventually migrate over to one of the corner tables where a variety of magazines were laid out. That day, a textual buffet had been laid out for the patrons that included a wide selection of ESPN, TIME, People,Better Homes and Gardens, and Cooking Light magazines.
As I watched the people in the waiting room, it seemed as though everyone found at least one magazine worthy of their time. Some even took two magazines back to their seat. But one thing that I noticed was that all of them stopped fidgeting, started reading, and began happily passing the time. A couple of them were so enthralled in their reading that they had to be called two or three times by the receptionist before they realized that it was time for their appointment. They were busy. They were engaged. They were lost in reading.
Teachers could take a lesson or two from these waiting rooms and should keep in mind that learning outcomes are consistently higher when students have some degree of control and choice over their learning (Niemic, Sikorski, & Walberg, 1996). This includes reading materials. The internet and its digital appendages have made it much easier to find a variety of texts to use with students. Search engines and news feeds allow teachers to curate articles, multimedia or a combination of the two for use in the classroom. These materials can serve as the ‘meat’ of reading tasks or as a springboard for other language, writing, listening or speaking activities.
Some of my students’ favorite literacy activities have involved texts that I just happened to stumble upon via Facebook, Twitter or some similar site. Therefore it behooves educators to connect with and follow individuals or organizations that regularly share teaching ideas and texts geared to their particular content area. A science teacher, for example, could find all sorts of articles by following a shortlist of people and handful of organizations such as Science News, Popular Science, NASA, Discover Magazine, Wired, and Popular Mechanics. In addition, tools such asNewsELA allow you to sort through a variety of classroom friendly texts by topic, and allow you to adjust the readability of the text by altering the Lexile level.
As often as possible, the texts that we use in the classroom should relate either directly or indirectly to the interests of students. Unfortunately, many teachers seem to know little about the video games, music, movies or other interests of their students, yet…these self-directed activities that they pursue outside of the classroom are likely to provide tremendous insight into topics, themes, and issues that students care about—and more importantly—that they care to read about.
You and I might have very little interest in Divergent, Duck Dynasty, Minecraft or Maroon 5, but if one of these is important to our students, it is worth our time and attention. My suggestion: part of a teachers’ daily preparation should involve regular exploration of teen and pre-teen fandom. The rest of our time should be used to identify means to transform these topics into higher-interest reading, writing, speaking, and listening activities (Alvermann, Huddleston, & Hagood, 2004). Our students are more likely to engage and persist in learning tasks—even difficult ones—that are tied to their own world.
I said earlier that ‘everyone’ at the dentist office found something to read, and technically that was correct. But…there was this one individual who came into the dentist office—a man in cold-weather coveralls. He appeared to be in his fifties had a gnarled beard, and smelled of antifreeze. He too, entered, checked in at the desk, sat, fidgeted, and then went over to the reading tables like everyone else. He began rooting around in the magazines, as if he were looking for something. After about a minute or so, he grabbed a copy of TIME magazine, swore loudly, and then grumbled to himself… “Nothin’ good to read. Not even Hunting—or Field and Stream!” He sat down, continued to grumble, thumbed through a few pages, then tossed the magazine aside and proceeded to fidget until his name was finally called by the receptionist.
There were two thoughts that occurred to me that day. First, as human beings, many of us seem to be fairly apt to read when we have a little time on our hands. Second, the gentlemen in coveralls reminded me that, when we it comes to reading, we seem know exactly what interests us, and are quickly frustrated out of reading when we can’t get our hands on it. For him, and for millions of others like him who find themselves some place they don’t want to be…be it a dentist office, a doctor’s office or in a classroom—it isn’t enough to have something to read. We want achoice of reading material. Lots of choices. We want what interests us, and are unlikely to be engaged by anything else.
Alvermann, D. C. (2004). What could professional wrestling and school literacy
practices possibly have in common?. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47(7), 532-540.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State
School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Washington, DC:
Niemic, R. P., Sikorski, C., & Walberg, H. J. (1996).Learner-control effects: A review of reviews and a meta-analysis. Journal of Educational and Computing Research, 15(2), 157-174.
Schiefele, U. (2009). Situational and individual interest. In K.R. Wentzel & A. Wigfield
(Eds.), Handbook of motivation at school (pp. 197–222). New York: Routledge.