Motivating Students to Read
Students’ motivation to read is perhaps the biggest problem educators face. I have personally seen what Gallagher reports regarding the “squeez[ing] out” of high interest reading “in favor of more test preparation practice” (Wilson and Kelley 65). Pay for performance has particularly terrified reading and math teachers since their jobs and their pay often depend upon improved tests scores from students (that dreaded VAM model in Florida). The fear that one may not have a job or may not earn the full base salary often dictates what English and reading teachers teach; that fear often leads teachers and districts to more test preparation. The irony is that creating a culture of reading and encouraging reading for pleasure actually improves literacy skills (65).
At the last high school I worked at one of the reading teachers developed a book club idea. Our school board automatically approved the Florida Association of Media Educators’ annual list of fifteen YA titles. With the aid of the media center (two librarians, one paraprofessional, and their library budget), we purchased class sets of all fifteen books for every reading teacher (up to ten teachers a year) and several copies of each text for the library with those copies on a special display case. The librarians then purchased copies of four of the books for book club. We began with fifty books of each of the four chosen titles, and we were eventually purchasing over 150 copies of each of four titles. After the year of the giant book club, we limited the number of participants to the first fifty students to ask for a book. Students were allowed to keep the books, return them to the library or a reading teacher, or pass them along. We held four book club meetings during the year during which students participated in a variety of activities related to the books, such as putting body parts that had plot elements together for Unwind. Life As We Knew It was one of the books from the FAME list, and we eventually pooled all of our books and gave them to the earth-space science teachers to use in their classrooms. We had by far the highest library check out rate of any library in the district. Unfortunately, the district mandated budget cuts, the principal pulled one of the librarians back into the science classroom, and the remaining librarian had to cover the main library and the library for the ninth grade center. We no longer had the library staffing to continue the program. In addition, the library became a testing center, and we could no longer hold book club meetings there.
We had developed a culture of reading at a school where sixty-five percent of the students qualified for free and reduced lunches. We had survived previous budget cuts and changes to reading teachers’ schedules, but the loss of the extra media specialist and the requirement that the ninth grade center library be open killed the book club. During my last two years at the school, the librarian continued to provide a class set of FAME books to each of the reading teachers, but the book club was dead as was our motivation to continue.
Wilson, Nance S., and Michelle J. Kelley. “Avid Readers in High School: Are They Reading for Pleasure?” Teaching Young Adult Literature Today: Insights, considerations, and Perspectives for the Classroom Teacher, second edition, edited by
Judith A. Hayn, Jeffrey S. Kaplan, and Karina R. Clemmons, Rowman and Littlefield, 2017, pp. 65-84.