Motivation & Engagement

in the reading classroom

What is motivation? What is engagement? How do these relate to reading?

Motivation is what drives someone to do something. Motivation can look like a 10 year old boy joining the soccer team because he truly loves soccer and wants to be a professional player one day. It can also look like a 16 year old girl skipping out on a weekend night out to babysit her bratty little siblings and make $50.

Engagement is how much someone gets involved in something. Engagement can look like a group of talkative 20 year old girls that are completely silent for an hour with their eyes glued to the TV screen during the season finale of The Bachelor.

These terms can be used in universal ways, however, we are going to focus on motivation and engagement in the reading classroom. So let me get this straight... You mean teachers have to focus on motivation and engagement of their students... on top of Common Core, lesson planning, classroom management, and responding to a group of learners with diverse needs?! Yep! Sorry for the bad news, but this can actually make our jobs 100% easier!

Hear me out: We can teach our students what they need to learn and equip them with all the materials they need to be successful, but can we make them care about it? Can we force them to put in their best effort and persevere until they succeed? That's where motivation and engagement come in. These are not things we can teach, rather they are actions we can initiate and seek in our students through forming close personal relationships with them, employing innovative modern-day strategies in our classrooms, and giving our students texts they are actually interesting in reading, to name a few.

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So what can teachers do?

  • Get to know your students! Learn about their interests, background, home lives, etc. Think about these factors when picking out books for your students. If you have a classroom of predominantly hispanic students, consider integrating books about hispanic culture into your lessons. There is a link between reading texts that are culturally relevant or specifically of interest to your student(s) & increased motivation and performance.
  • Consider administering the Motivation to Read Profile. The MRP is an assessment that is administered to students that is meant to educate teachers on their students’ personal feelings about reading: more specifically, how much they value reading, what kind of reader they think they are, and their personal decisions about reading. This goes along with getting to know your students - it is critical to learn about your students' personal attitudes on the subject.
  • Use modern-day strategies! Students in 2016 are heavily reliant on technology and that isn't going to change anytime soon. So don't fight it, use it! Traditional books are a thing of the past. Introduce the e-reader to your students during guided reading groups and watch their motivation sky rocket! There is a positive relationship between the integration of technology in the classroom & increased motivation and engagement.
  • Let your students socialize! Elementary aged students can be chatter boxes and it can be frustrating for a teacher to continue to quiet her students down in the middle of a lesson. Just like I said about technology, don't fight it but USE it! If you can't get them to stop talking, try approaching the issue from another way. Navigate the conversation to make it productive. Plan out book talks, class discussions, and buddy reading activities.
  • Be conscious of the incentives you use in your classroom. Star charts or tallies that earn your class a pizza party after a few weeks of good behavior can be really helpful when trying to motivate your students to act the way you want them to. However, be aware of just how many rewards you are promising them. This is called extrinsic motivation (motivating your students using outside rewards). You'll want to limit this because there is only so much candy and recess time we can offer. Instead, access their intrinsic motivation (motivating your students based on their own personal interests and desires). As we mentioned before, students are more motivated when reading about something they're interested in. If you can, ditch the start chart and get your students reading what you know they'll enjoy.
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