Classroom Experiences to Motivate Eager Lifelong Readers

It is more of a challenge in this time of an abundance of reading choices to engage students in the joyful habit of reading extended text in both fiction and nonfiction. With texting, facebook, and other social media, younger and younger children have ready access to read and write about a topic of high interest to most individuals – themselves and their friends. They can also get instant updates on other areas of high personal relevance such as sports, music, entertainment, and video games. For many students, during the challenge of learning to read and the later burden of forced text reading assignments, the idea of choosing to read at length for pleasure is not something they’ve experienced or value.

The Harry Potter series was a boon to motivating a generation of young readers, but there may not be another series of books with the magnetic power of wizards for some time. Even without a new irresistible series, children can develop the joy of the reading books that already fill library and bookstore shelves.

Students’ interests are the most powerful motivating force to inspire reading. A study of 60 adults with dyslexia who all learned to read late (13 to 14 years) but eventually became supports the motivating power of high interest good readers and writers. The commonality was they attributed their success to hard work driven by their desire to read about very high interest topics such as airplanes and the Civil War. (Fink, R. 2011.
Why Jane and John Couldn't Read--And How They Learned) 

Use your knowledge of your students’ interests or those of their age group in general such as their superheroes in sports, fantasy, or music, wild mustangs, science fiction, the ocean, space exploration, insects, people from other lands and times, and special seasonal events. Keep a variety and rotation of books and magazines (and if needed for special need students, recorded books) around the classroom related to their interests and provide casual opportunities for them to come in contact them.

To extend reading interests and appreciation, observe which topics draw the attention of individual students. Use these observations (and note cards) to guide them to other books on the topics and to set up book clubs with students who share common interests. Once these “clubs” meet, peer curiosity will pull others into the topics that generate their classmates’ enthusiasm.

You’ll also inspire expanding reading interests by providing a selection of books that include powerful images, illustrations, and photos about such as 
National Geographic. Curiosity is strong in children, and when not snuffed out by forced assignments with little choice about what they read, they’ll at least glance through these magazines or books and from the visuals, become lured into the text.

For some kids, the “choose your own adventure” books are great for book buy-in. These books give the reader chances to make choices for the character. Their choice is linked with the instruction to turn to a particular page and the story progresses from there. They will develop the previously unlikely habit of rereading when they go back to the pages with the choice to select a different option.

Because students will have different reading levels, you’ll want to provide reading materials suitable to their independent skills. Watch how students evaluate the reading offerings. If a student shows high interest in a book out of her range but is quickly intimidated by the difficulty, length, or small print, seek out abridged versions (even in comic books, recordings, or video versions) as a starting point that offers
achievable challenge. Once she has the gist of the plot and characters, she will have more background knowledge for context cues to progress to the complete book. Allow her to return to abridged book or notes taken from the introductory sources to check on her understanding of the movement of the plot, settings, or to keep track of the characters.

A Cycle of Success and Pleasure
A cycle of success and pleasure can transform students from reluctant to eager readers.
As they read more books in high-interest areas, the increased depth of the specialized knowledge that they acquire can help them develop valued expertise and motivate further reading. This cycle is facilitated if you incorporate their special knowledge into planning collaborative group activities that gives value to the expertise they develop in navigation, exotic parts of the world, rare animals, their high interest hero, inventions, or unusual customs.

When classmates value the special knowledge they acquire from personally chosen reading, students experience a boost in self-image, confidence, and the recognition of the benefits that came from reading for pleasure. These experiences will promote more reading with the accompanying increase in reading skills. As the cycle continues, their increased reading skills will result in more satisfying reading experiences and progress to higher levels of challenge and success in all their reading.

Boost Their Dopamine and Tickle their Mirror Neurons
Read aloud and leave them wanting more. Students of all ages enjoy being read to. The brain is even programed to squirt out a burst of the pleasure-activating neurotransmitter dopamine in response to being read to. Once you establish the reading of an engaging book or magazine article, plan ahead for a stopping place that is especially tantalizing. The desire of wanting more of the book, and of that dopamine, will increase their motivation for independent reading.

For students not already engaged in an independent reading book, this is perfect timing for them to have five minutes to pick up a new book or magazine from those you’ve placed around the room, followed by time to explore or read their choices. Some will flip through and reject and try another while others dig in. It is the habit and interest in reading for pleasure that is the goal here, not the number of pages completed; so let them evaluate the books in their own ways.

If you have regularly scheduled silent sustained reading periods, join in. Even when you don’t have these specific opportunities to model your reading, find other times, such as during indoor recess on rainy days or when students take tests, to let them see your physical responses as you read. Your expressions, chuckles, little gasps of surprise, and gestures of satisfaction when you find something you were seeking make impressions on your students. Letting them see and hear your enthusiasm, satisfaction, or pleasure can activate their mirror neurons associated with the same positive emotions in their brains. If you can subsequently describe what you read that with authentic pleasure, you’ll be modeling the satisfaction you hope your students will experience in their reading.

It is also of value for students to see you being challenged when reading, such as by more technical books. This increases their comfort about difficulties they have reading complex books. Talk about your own reading challenges in class and at home. If the primary source historical documents you are reading are dense with facts and you needed to take frequent breaks, just do a few pages a day, or look up unfamiliar words, let your students know how you felt. Tell them, “It is hard reading. I keep getting up and moving to another chair or adjusting the lights. I need to give my brain a break, so I could get through it and learn what really do want to know. Sometimes, I read the same sentence two or three times, and I even have to write things down, so I can understand and remember what I read. But it is worth is when I understand something that was unclear at first or learn something new and really cool that links to what I’ll be teaching you. That happened last night and I can’t wait to share it when we get to that topic.”

If you had trouble developing an interest in reading or had a harder time than your classmates when learning to read, this is also good information to share with your students. If there were special interests that connected you with certain books, share these memories. They may see you reading books with tiny print, many pages and no pictures, and think you were just a born reader and didn’t have to struggle as they do. Knowing about your frustrations or embarrassments helps them remain optimistic when they are struggling in the same ways.

Over the Rainbow
As your students’ reading motivator, you’ll be their guide to the worlds they can reach through books traveling over the rainbow and deep into vast pools of knowledge. Your guidance will light the way and the books they enjoy in your classroom will ignite their pleasure that awaits them as lifelong readers.