Motivating Reluctant Readers

What if I told you in 2013, 66% of fourth grade students were reading below proficient levels.  If we disaggregate the data by race, that number increases by 81% for Latinos and 83% for black students.  The statistics are alarming less than half of all students in the United State read at a desirable level..

But we know from our own experience, this can change. When students are engaged in learning that is relevant and meaningful to them, they learn to read.  Guthrie and Humenick, (2004) found for improving reading motivation and comprehension the two most powerful pedagogical choices were: (1) student access to many books and (2) personal choice of what to read.

So teachers regardless of their grade level, subject and teaching experience must consider the following question:

   “How will I inspire a love of reading? “

My Personal Story: 

I have often heard throughout my career “you must of been a resilient child how did you make it out of the cycle of poverty? ” As a child growing up in a housing project in the city of Boston, I spent many hours at the local library as a way to stay off the streets. As a classroom teacher I wanted my students to discover a love of reading just as I did to help imagine the possibilities education could provide them.  Teaching 6th grade at an urban middle school in Los Angeles where the majority of students were English language learners of Latino decent access to the library was limited. When I asked my homeroom class how many students had a public library card only three of my 36 students raised their hand.  I made a commitment to take my students to the public library once a week to build consistent reading habits. My personal commitment to foster a love of reading was a powerful motivator, but what happened next surprised me beyond belief. Classroom management issued diminished, students shared stories and discussed their books rather than passing notes and wasting class time. The students were so motivated by having access to a variety of reading materials they wanted to share their knowledge with the student body.  My homeroom class began a student newspaper that included a variety of sections such as comics, Dear Abby, editorial, and book reviews.   

Providing access  to a variety of reading materials from magazines to nonfiction not only created opportunity, but inspired my students to share their passion and knowledge with their peers. Before long this homeroom class transformed the school culture with a monthly newsletter and other homeroom classes following in their lead.

As a teacher educator I often asked my preservice teachers “What book in your school years made an impact and inspired a love of reading?”

Before long the mood in the room shifts and faces light up with excitement and smiles. I tell them my all time favorite was Judy Blume and Choose Your Own Adventure series. I like mischief and unpredictability in a story.

Then I ask the next question: “In a typical school day what access do students have to selecting reading materials and how much time is devoted to fostering a love of reading?”

Again the mood shifts and there is silence and perhaps a bit of disappointment when they come to realize the lack of opportunity students have to choose what they read and READ.

So we know that CHOICE and TME are key factors to promoting a LOVE of reading.  

What else should new teachers consider? 

Targeted intervention and access to texts that are slightly above the reader’s ability  is key to reading success. If text is too difficult and labor intensive students will give up. Likewise if text is too easy students will become bored and disinterested.  The notion that every teacher is a reading teacher is strongly emphasized across content standards in the Common Core.  Secondary teachers who are not aware of their students’ reading ability can use the Lexile® Framework for Reading.  This tool is a psychometric system for matching readers with texts of appropriate difficult and will support teachers  in identifying students’ reading ability and assigning leveled text that will develop fluency and aid in comprehension.  Struggling readers often read less, have less exposure to print and therefore have limited sight vocabularies (Rief and Stern, 2010). It is imperative therefore that teachers assign text that will not only provide students with access to core content but improve their reading skills.  

So what are reading skills?

According to Griffen and colleagues (1998) reading skills includes:

  • Understanding of how sounds are represented alphabetically
  • Sufficient practice in reading to achieve fluency with different kinds of texts
  • Sufficient background knowledge and vocabulary to decide if written texts are meaningful and interesting
  • Control over procedures for monitoring comprehension and repairing misunderstandings
  • Continued interest and motivation to read for a variety of purposes.

To wrap up, teachers should assess and determine what skills students need so they can best support them in developing a love of reading. Next they should provide opportunity for choice and time to read.  So how do you motivate reluctant readers in your classroom? Share your story with us!