Monday, June 30, 2014

Why do we read?

Russell Lee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
My Facebook feed includes a lot of professional pages, so I get to mix business with pleasure each morning with my coffee (there go those blurred lines).  This morning's feed included an article from The Horn Book, one of my favorite book-related websites.  The post was from a guest author on the use of extrinsic rewards to motivate students to read.

You can read Nicole Hewes' post here.  The summarizing paragraph, if you just want the gist of it, follows:

I am convinced that we must rescue our students from contests of these sorts. If we don’t, we may end up with students who refuse to read a book without the promise of getting something. Surely there must be better ways to engage community partners in joining us on our journey to create lifelong readers who are intrinsically motivated to explore the wonderful world of books without resorting to contests that leave students reflecting that they read but “got nothing.”--Nicole Hewes

Her post echoes a discussion I had with teachers this past school year regarding how we approach reading. One teacher in particular bemoaned the fact that we don't have AR in our school, because she really liked using it in her previous placement. I tried to explain that while AR in and of itself isn't necessarily "bad", and does get some students to read more in the short term, it does not necessarily get kids hooked on reading--and isn't that what we ultimately want?
Photo by Vestergaard Frandsen

We had a lower number of students participate in a local reading program offered by an amusement park this year. Didn't bother me a bit, because I was hearing stories from teachers about how including more book choices for their students in the classroom had everyone excited about reading again. Excited about reading and sharing books.

I've always been a firm believer in answering students' questions of "Why do we have to learn/do/practice this?" with a real-life answer (because if you can't offer one, then really, why ARE you teaching it?). My teaching years outside of the library were spent in special education resource rooms. The majority of my students struggled with reading, so if any kids had reason to hate books, they did. Here are the reasons I gave them for learning how to read, and to keep on reading:

  • It helps you navigate the world around you.  We read street signs, job applications, driver's license tests to reinforce this.  Yes, I did this with third and fourth graders!
  • Love notes.  How else are you going to understand that text message from that cute boy/girl?  (Elicited an "ewww" from some students....usually accompanied by a smile.)
  • Learning.  There is a LOT of cool stuff out there to explore through books.  Help with performing the perfect ollie on a skateboard (or at least knowing how to read the search entry for it on Google).  How far rattlesnakes can jump (important here in Texas).  
  • Escape and fun.  Where else can a boy talk with a ghost from a mine explosion?  Who knew popular children's figures' stories could be rewritten as adventures?  That a princess could choose her own path?  That illustrations can lend so much to a book about a kitten and the moon?
And the reason that seemed to make the most sense to them:
  • Because Ms. Margocs loves to read, and will read with you, to you, and beside you to prove it.  
Once I started putting that "walk to my talk" (thank you, Donalyn Miller), I saw the spark light up in my students' faces.  I had never seen such a lasting spark result from a sticker, a tick mark, or the promise of a trip to an amusement park.  

Yes, I will support reading programs that my school, district, and learning community want me to promote.  They can be fun, and motivating, and be a gateway for some who might otherwise not want to enter the readers' den.  But I will also continue to promote reading as a lifelong pleasure and skill--not just a means to a short-term reward.  Feeling good about reading should last longer than a ride on a roller-coaster. 

By Halonen, Pekka (1865 - 1933) (Finnish) (Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Even the older students like a good story time! You're never too old for story time, right?

    1. Definitely! It's a great scaffold, too, for those students who are struggling readers and aren't yet able to navigate a long chapter book on their own.