Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Motivating Students to Read

One of the classes I'm currently teaching is a reading lab for beginning ESL students. In some ways this class is a love/hate relationship for me.

Growing up, I had a distinct love for reading, and still do. I remember taking part in the summer reading programs that our town's library would host, where I could win prizes and books for reading. As I grew older, I entered the sleuthing world of the Hardy Boys, while my sisters, followed exploits of Nancy Drew. In high school I eagerly devoured Stephen King's "The Stand" and the Gunslinger series along with a slew of fantasy series books. There was something so stimulating and enthralling that drew me into to those imagined worlds that television or movies could never come close to replicating.

Thus my motivation for reading was often tied to what I personally gained from it. Sure there were the prizes given to me by teachers and the local librarian--those aspects of extrinsic motivation--but these dimmed in comparison to the worlds that the words on the page transformed into. Thus the motivation for me was strictly intrinsic.

I think about these experiences when I stand in front of my class and encourage my students to read. With beginning readers like this, I know I can't speak of goal setting or how reading will benefit them later in their studies. Rather, I've been told by an expert in second language reading that I need to find ways to match students with books tied to their interests, to get them to recommend books they find interesting to others, to build their self confidence and to find other ways of drawing them into extensive reading.

This is a big responsibility, especially when I constantly find myself playing technology police and taking away cell phones that are cleverly hidden behind the books that they are reading, or should I say, pretending to read. The question of how I can find ways to pierce that shield of disinterest that seems so prevailing is one I continue to struggle with as a developing teacher.

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