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Bringing Real-World Motivation to Class

By Julie Scullen
 | Feb 23, 2017

ThinkstockPhotos-145846868_x300Think about the last thing you chose to read: a magazine article, a Facebook post, a book, a tweet. What motivated you to read it? Was it a recommendation, or did you stumble across it? What did you do afterward? I’m guessing you didn’t answer even one multiple choice question about the content. 

I almost never finish reading an article I’ve discovered online or read in a magazine and immediately think, “Gosh, this would make a great diorama!” or “Does anyone have a hanger? I need to make a mobile so I can really show you all what this article meant to me!” It’s rare that I seek out a multiple choice question or two so that I can feel qualified and ready to discuss what I have read with colleagues or my family. 

Adults talk about what they read. They share. They compare. They make connections to other texts on similar topics or similar historical events. They share on social media and e-mail article links to each other. Our students, however, often live in a world of worksheets and packets. No wonder reading has become a task many dread—worksheets do not often inspire.

Let’s put a little more real world into our classrooms, across the school day. Stop talking to students about passing standardized tests and start asking them to do some authentic reading. Stop talking about how reading practice will help them get a high score on the ACT, and start talking about how reading is necessary for informed adult life. When adults become ill, they read as many things as they can about symptoms and treatment options from as many different sources as possible. They don’t prepare for a quiz in their doctor’s office.

We need to make student reading across the school day feel as authentic, purposeful, and engaging as adult reading.

We’ve all been in this classroom: “OK, kids, I’m handing out this article. You need to read it and answer the questions in the yellow packet. It’s important, so read it carefully—some of these questions are related to our Standards. I’m sorry, I know it is more than one full page, and it’s going to be tough reading. I think most of you will be able to complete it before the bell. If not, it is homework. Your quiz is tomorrow.” Hint: If you feel the need to apologize for assigning a reading task, something is wrong.

Seek authenticity. Don’t turn a strategy into a worksheet or bog down a reading task with an acronym that makes the learning less engaging rather than more. Don’t ask students to read articles from their copy of a newspaper with the only goal being to “find the 5 Ws” in the articles you have chosen for them. Instead, ask students to pick up their device and find an article on a particular current event and read it with the goal of being able to tell someone else about it. Have a discussion about what happened and how it was covered in the website they found. Ask them to seek out another website with a different perspective. How do these writers convey their messages? 

Stop connecting reading to packets and worksheets. Asking students to fill in blank after blank is encouraging shallow reading, without engagement or passion. It’s exhausting and tedious and easily forgotten. It’s also pretty darn easy to copy from someone else during study hall.

Think of packets as the student equivalent of insurance policies and privacy notices. It’s certainly important reading to the person asking you to read it, and it may be important to you someday, but it’s darn boring to read and easily forgotten.

Julie Scullen is a former member of the ILA Board of Directors and also served as president of the Minnesota Reading Association and Minnesota Secondary Reading Interest Council. She taught most of her career in secondary reading intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.


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