Research confirms that student motivation is a key factor in successful reading. In Nurturing the Motivation to Read, we examined the current research on reading motivation and engagement. A number of practical ideas for creating literacy-rich and motivating classrooms can be drawn from the findings. These simple but transformative suggestions include “honoring” books for self-selection, sharing the excitement of read-aloud, building a balanced book collection, making your passions public, and providing rewards that demonstrate the value of reading.
Self-selection: "honoring" books!
Research has shown that whenever teachers do anything to make a book special — even something as simple as placing a book upright on a table — children are more likely to choose that book than any others. We suggest planning this type of self-selection by regularly “honoring” books. Here are some ideas that work:
- Highlight individual books as special just by choosing them for displays or to be included in book baskets.
- Provide a quick introduction to the books being “honored.” Show children a book and then introduce — and endorse— it by reading a few pages or asking students questions to pique their interest. When you introduce books by instilling in children a desire to find out what’s in them, those books fly off the shelves. They can become so popular that you night need a waiting list!
Book collection: balance it!
There is now wide agreement, among reading educators and researchers about the importance of exposing young children a balanced book collection. The International Reading Association (IRA) has taken the position that young readers should be exposed to a variety of genres, including picture storybooks, fiction and nonfiction material, magazines, and poetry (IRA, 1999). A few ideas for balancing collections include:
- Be sure to include a wide variety of informational books for reading instruction and in classroom libraries.
- Honor all print for instruction and self-selection. This should include reading and learning from fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, magazines, and electronic sources.
- Celebrate student authors by “publishing” their work in the classroom library and/or news corner. The work of student authors should be as diverse as the class and might include fiction stories, wordless picture books, student created puzzle books, poems, informational books, comic books, how-to books, recipe collections, photo documentaries (student pictures paired with narration captions), post card collections, journals, and news stories (short article about important school or classroom events).
- Involve students in the selection of books for the classroom and/or school library. Review and discuss possible titles, invite discussion and debate, and vote for the new books that will be added to the library.
Make your passions public
Reading passions should be made public. Young children want to read and are curious about books with which they are somewhat familiar. Familiarity breeds reading motivation. When children talk about books they most enjoyed reading, they frequently mentioned that they got interested in a book because they had heard about it from a friend, read other books about the character, knew the author, or had read other books in the series. To make reading passions public, consider:
- Arranging and maintaining a “Wall of Fame.” This bulletin board can be an ever-changing display of reading passions including student favorites (e.g., books, magazines, series.), teacher favorites, family favorites, and the principal’s choices.
- Publish your Top 10. Everyone stays up late to enjoy Letterman’s Top 10. Vote periodically and publish your classrooms Top 10 reading passions. The Top 10 can be a year-long activity by including the top 10 favorite fiction books, information titles, poems, magazines, and websites.
- Plan for small group discussion as a part of your self-selected reading time. As Gambrell (1996) notes, students need to share their enthusiasm about books with each other. Self-selection can be more motivating if students know they will have the opportunity to talk with friends about their choices.
Incentives: demonstrate the value of reading
If your reading program uses incentives, consider using rewards that are proximal to reading. The importance of reading-related rewards may go beyond recognizing the relationship between reward proximity and the desired behavior. It could be that the real value of reading-related rewards is that both the desired behavior (reading) and the reward (books, self-selection, time) define a classroom culture that supports and nurtures the intrinsic motivation to read. Rewards that demonstrate the value of reading include:
- increased read-aloud time
- increased time for self-selected reading
- increased library time
- time to talk about books
- book clubs
Honoring books for self-selection, sharing the excitement of read-alouds, building a balanced book collection, making your passions public, and providing rewards that demonstrate the value of reading are just a few simple but transformative suggestions that can nurture the love of reading in your classroom!