Teaching children to read and write is a challenging and complex process; however, without considering student motivation it becomes a daunting task. Motivation is often overlooked and is one of the most essential components of helping children grow as readers and writers.
There are many skills, strategies, and components that help children become successful readers and writers. Skills such as quickly recognizing sight words, fluent reading, understanding and growing vocabulary, recognizing spelling patterns or knowing how to use several different strategies (decoding skills) to read unknown words as well as strategies for comprehension. The best planned lessons, themes, and assessments will mean very little if students are not motivated to want to get better at reading and writing.
One of the best ways to provide intrinsic motivation for students is to provide them with the gift of choice. Choice of what to read, write, and research. I have found that when my students have some control over their learning, they are more engaged with learning tasks and are more willing to accept greater challenges in learning. They need to know and understand that ultimately they are in charge of their learning. I see this on a daily basis in my first grade classroom.
Last year I had a reluctant, struggling reader who would pretend-read the good fit books I helped him select. When I say “good fit” books, I mean the books he could read with very few errors and understand what he read. He did not enjoy THE FAT CAT SAT ON THE MAT, but if the books were about reptiles, even if they were above his level, he stayed completely engaged because he loved reptiles and wanted so desperately to learn to read all of the words in the reptile books. In addition to our whole group mini-lessons I also provided this student with focused instruction every day on specific skills based on his needs such as sight words, CVC blending, targeted writing, and word study.
Every day he would ask, “Mrs. Duncan why do I have to meet with you every day, and why do I have to meet with you in a group and by myself?” I would tell him every day, “You GET to meet with me because I know how much you want to be able to read the reptile books and the only way to get better at reading is to practice. If you work hard and practice with me and then practice by yourself and then practice with me again you will be able to read the reptile books before you leave first grade.” This student also had a lot of support at home.
After working with me all year in a small skill group and then one on one, he would then have the opportunity to choose to read or write about whatever he wanted. And guess what that was? Yes, reptiles! He would read about reptiles, write about reptiles, draw and label different kinds of reptiles, and would share his reptile work with the class. He persevered and worked harder than anyone else in the class and by the end of the year he could independently read all of the reptile books in his book box. He became our reptile expert!
According to Linda Gambrell, “motivation makes the difference between learning that is superficial and shallow and learning that is deep and internalized.” Motivation is critical when considering how to help students achieve high reading and writing levels. It is also critical when helping struggling and reluctant readers and writers. In a classroom that embraces the importance of motivation, students have choices of what they are reading and writing about, are engaged in meaningful literacy tasks such as reading, writing, and word study. Students know they are responsible for their learning and that their hard work will help them reach their goals.
Every year I am motivated to become more expert in my teaching and understanding of the learning process. Through focused personal professional reading, classroom observations, and classroom action research I now understand and have experienced firsthand the critical role motivation plays in the literacy learning of my students. My reptile expert taught me that motivation is an essential component for accelerating reading and writing growth.
A reading program is not going to help my students become motivated, engaged, successful readers, but providing a framework that allows students to make choices on what they read and write about , stay engaged in meaningful literacy tasks, have many opportunities to practice reading and writing, and receive expert, differentiated , targeted instruction will help them grow as readers and writers. It will be essential to build a classroom library that will provide students with a variety of rich, high interest texts for them to engage in. And this year, it looks like I may have a dinosaur expert!
JoAnne Duncan received her Master’s degree in Elementary Reading and Literacy from Walden University. She teaches first grade at Mt. Stuart Elementary School in Ellensburg, WA. She is an advocate of best literacy practice for students and teachers which includes using a Workshop Model to help Differentiate Instruction.
© 2013 JoAnne Duncan. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.