Appropriate Encouragement for Independent Reading
I have a lot to say about accountability and assessment of a pleasure reading program, but I think that appropriate encouragement goes much further than policing students.
In fact, finding the right ways to encourage students to read is one of the research-based essential characteristics of a successful independent reading program according to Janet Pilgreen, a researcher who completed a large comparison of successful and less-than-successful reading programs around Los Angeles. I do not ever congratulate my students for reading independently… that just seems patronizing to me. I do let students in on the secret, however, by sharing the theory and research behind pleasure reading in bite-sized observations in class.
Effective browsing strategies can do double-duty to provide the type of situations that encourage students to read more. The “gallery walk” activity described in the video in the browsing strategies essay initially feels like accountability to students, but in my classes students emerge energized from these structured small group conversations. With so many great ideas for future reading and feeling empowered after passing on their own opinions, students have received meaningful encouragement from peers to keep reading. For many adolescents, building in peer encouragement is more effective than direct teacher to student encouragement.
Ideally you want to develop a group of student allies who can articulate and defend the practice of pleasure reading. One of my best student allies was a girl named Kiera who would respond to student complaints before I was even aware of the disturbance. At the beginning of class, when we read quietly for 10 minutes, if a student began to mouth the phrase, “Reading again?!”, Kiera was already repeating my stock retort: “We acquire languages most efficiently through pleasure reading.”
Sure, there was a gentle dose of jest as she imitated even the rhythm of my response, but she managed to police the class with such deft good humor that I did not mind at all.
I have made it easy for teachers to pass on good research by curating a set of good reading quotes. I often read one of the following quotes to students before our reading session in order to emphasize that this activity is not a waste of time. This is not a result of their teacher failing to plan a lesson: it is firmly supported in research.
“Nothing does more for language development than reading—it builds vocabulary, spelling, awareness of syntax and morphology, and so much more, all in a way that goes deep into the part of the brain where language is processed.”
—Connie Nelson Navarro
“Many studies confirm that those who read more write better… it is reading, not instruction, that helps us develop a good writing style.”
“Picking up word meanings by reading is ten times faster than intensive vocabulary instruction.”
“The best way to improve in a foreign language is to do a great deal of comprehensible, interesting reading. The case for self-selected reading for pleasure is overwhelming.”
“We can learn grammar through listening and reading. When we repeatedly meet grammatical constructions in our reading and listening, we learn them without having to give them much, if any, deliberate attention.”
“Common sense should tell us that reading is the ultimate weapon—destroying ignorance, poverty and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn’t read much doesn’t know much … the challenge, therefore, is to convince future generations of children that carrying a book is more rewarding than carrying guns.”
“If your language course does not provide large amounts of reading and listening at the right level for you, then you are missing a very important opportunity for learning.”
“Because repetition is so important for learning, it is good to read a book you have already read before.”