Questions & Authors: Motivating students to read in the New Year

January 5th, 2009

Each January, Lisa Koch, coauthor of Beyond Leveled Books, cherishes her ritual of picking new books for the new year. She wanted to instill the same excitement about reading in her students, so she looked to her classroom comment box to see what students are struggling with when it comes to reading. The comments help her come up with a plan that not only gets her students into the school library, but also allows them time to read.

Each Christmas I receive a gift card to the local book store. I spend a few days thinking about what I will purchase with this card because to me it represents much more than the mere $25 I get to spend. It represents my new year. All of my choices, I might add, come directly from the self-help aisle.

My life can be easily chronicled just by looking at my new year’s book collection. I have spent time eating, cleaning, simplifying my life, organizing in three easy steps, running with beginners, completing the total money makeover, visiting South Beach… you get the idea. But, each year I am as excited as can be to take on my new project whatever it may be.

I have been trying to think of ways to get my students excited for reading in the new year. How can I spread my “self-help” excitement on to them with regards to reading? I started by looking at my class suggestion box. These are some of the notes I found that I thought could lead to something good.

  • Mrs. Koch, you took Michelle’s picture when she got her library card, but you’ve never taken mine.
  • Mrs. Koch, I don’t have anything to write down when you say are you keeping track of your reading. What does that even mean?
  • Mrs. Koch, I can’t find a good book!
  • Mrs. Koch, seriously, when do you expect me to find time to read?
  • I need help sticking with a book- I start and never finish.

I think for the new year, I can start with these suggestions. I will address these as soon as I get back in January, then I will go on the rest of the suggestions.

#1. The before and after photo
When Michelle came in with her new library card, she was ecstatic. She was a freshman in high school and had never had her own library card. Our librarian has the forms for the cards in the school library and she offers treats if she “catches” students with their card. Michelle filled out the form, when the card came, she ran around the room holding it like she’d just hit the lotto. I took her picture.

When I go back, I am going to take a photo of my class — those with cards can hold them up. Those without cards can make the “it’s on my to do list” face. I will send those without cards, down to the library to get the form. I could have the form in the classroom, but I love to get them to the library whenever I can. Two weeks later we will take an after photo: a class full of students with library cards. It is so important and many teachers take for granted that all of their students have one.

#2 Set reading goals
Help each of your students set a reading goal for the new year. If you can, sit down one-on-one to discuss those goals and how the two of you can track them. Every one of my January books has a chapter on setting goals and the importance of having those goals down on paper. Our class may decide to post them or keep them to themselves. The important part is setting those goals.

#3 What do I do now?
Help your students find books they can connect with. Our librarian gives each student who asks her, three books. That way students have a better chance of connecting with at least one. I am going to give a book talk to my classes when I get back. I’d like to suggest some old favorites as well as books that were big in 2008. I might have students take time to share books they love in an informal setting. This will help others choose books. Another suggestion from the box was that we make a giant bookworm around the room. Each student could put up a circle when they finished a book. I love the idea if we can use it to start conversations about great books.

#4 Set aside time to read
This one is simple. We need to make sure our students have the time to read. Provide the time. Talk about this in your goal setting session.

#5 Keep it up!
Ask your students how things are going. Talk with them about books. Let them know what you are reading and see if they want to read it next. Keep up on who is reading what and follow through with your plans to help them. We all need encouragement. You may even have to pick up the book and read it too, just so you can talk to the student who loses focus.

Every time I read one of my January books, I say to myself, “I know this! Why do I need to read another book about it!” Of course we’ve all learned it somewhere. The trick is keeping those obvious practices front and center. With this list of resolutions, I wish you all a Happy New Year and hope you can offer more suggestions to get our students excited to read.

Entry Filed under: Questions & Authors,Reading

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mary Jo Baumeister  |  January 7th, 2009 at 11:33 am

    You had many good suggestions to start off the new year. I think I will do a book talk for my struggling readers. i like the idea of getting them into the library.

  • 2. Lulu Marshall  |  January 10th, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Super suggestion of encouraging them to check out more than one book at a time so if one does not work, they have another book to try on. The idea of a bookworm around the room with choices of books to read sounds like a great visual. I have had my middle schoolers write a quick book review on a short form with a place for a picture. Their excitement bubbles over onto the paper and then I post them for others to view. The worm idea may generate more excitement of adding to its length, etc. Instead of book reports we are going to create a book review with Photostory3 which can be downloaded via Google. Our librarian shared the idea from a recent technology workshop.
    Thanks for all the ideas to increase interest in student reading!

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