And So The Journey Begins- Looking at the role of motivation in reading

Before continuing the conversation about how to grow lifelong readers I need to make the disclaimers for this site and set some  ground rules. The disclaimer is quite simple, I am responsible for the views of this site. Please attribute things said to me (or Bill when he chimes in as a guest blogger). No other organization we belong to, place we work for, (you get the idea) is responsible.  The buck stops here with the author of the blog.

I’ve purposely and  actively  sought people of diverse views, sometimes diametrically opposing views, to come talk. Please play nice (that is the workshop teacher in me talking). What does playing nice look like? It’s more than just being civil. It’s recognizing that there are at least two theories about how children learn and that the people who adhere to them are sincere in their belief. So please take the tact of acknowledging the point of view/theory and then say but if one looks at this through an alternate theory  (your theory) the results are considerably different.

So- let’s begin the talk about creating life-long readers.  If you’ve read the Missouri Reader article (and please at some point try to do that, link =*,  you know that  Dr. Bill Kerns and I outlined a proposal of what a good literacy program looks like. We also explored research that supported of our recommendations.  We’ll eventually take up all the points raised by the article. We’ll also explore why most standards/curriculum today give only lip service to the issue of motivation.  Right now I want to talk to you teacher to teacher.  Let’s begin identifying aspects of a literacy program that most of us would consider important. I’ll start with motivation, so motivation becomes this week’s topic.

Last week at this time I was ready to propose  >STUDENT CHOICE =  >STUDENT MOTIVATION. A lot happened this week. I’m going to amend the formula to read  >STUDENT ENGAGEMENT + >STUDENT CHOICE =>MOTIVATION. Why the amendment?

I’ve spent most of this week at the Write to Learn Conference in Missouri. I’ve met some amazing educators and figures from the literacy world.  They helped me clarify my thinking about motivation. Eric Litwin, author of the 1st four Pete the Cat books tells the tale of what it is like to see the moment when a child finds the first book they love. From that moment forward reading becomes a passion, not a chore. Reading begets more reading. He points out that only happens when other things are attended to. Things like sight word development phonics et. al.  Carmen Agra Deedy told the particularly poignant story of how she came to love reading and what learning to read meant to her late father. Not a dry eye in the house, mine included. Both these well published authors agreed that part of what goes on is that the heroes of the story (and they were literary heroes) were helped in a variety of ways. The crucial point is that the help given was tailored to their needs. Our heroes were given some tools but were allowed freedom in how to employ them. So why aren’t there more  first love of book moments occurring?

We come to the infamous swinging pendulum. Lately some claimed it has finally swung back to synthetic/direct instruction and there is no need for further change.  However there is long standing evidence that no one method words for every child (see the article).  So we are seeing push back by some to revert to analytic phonics/indirect instruction.  That leads to what I see as a pointless, never ending cycle. The problem does not lie with the fact that either of the approaches are ineffective or evil. Each of them work very well with SOME children. The problem lies with the fact there are some proponents on each side who wish to mandate that their way and only their way should be used. As a reading practitioner I must respectfully object. It’s almost like telling a doctor you can use this medicine but not that one.  Over my decades of experience I’ve met children who really need one or really need the other. The question then becomes why should we limit the tools teachers are allowed to use (and trained to use) to the soup de jour that is most popular/mandated today?   Let teachers teach. Give them all the tools they need. Give the children the freedom to use what helps them. As a reading specialist I want access to every reasonable tool available to help the children I work with. Fortunately there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. Timothy Shannon, a well credentialed, well respected proponent of the synthetic phonics/direct instruction approach recently had a blog post where a teacher asked whether or not it was ok to use both. If one didn’t work try the other. Timothy said yes. Could there be some light at the end of this tunnel. Dare to dream.

There’s much more to unpack here but this is a good stopping place. Want to read more about student choice? Read Ralph Fletchers Joy Writing. Want find a whole set of tools that some of us had never thought of, using music to teach reading? Visit Eric Litwin’s website. For next week please do look over the article.  Next week I want to give some kudus to educators who are out there teaching literacy in a way that motivates readers. If you know of some, tell us about what they do and how they do it.

Leave thoughts/comments/concerns as remarks on Word Press  OR tweet out comments on #DrBBLOGUSA. You can follow me on twitter @DoctorSam7 or Facebook.  There are lots of Sam Bommaritos on Facebook so pick the Sam Bommarito whose picture is identical to the picture in this blog.

Happy Reading & Writing!

Dr. B.

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