February 27, 2016

Ten Ways to Encourage Reading

Encouraging reading for kids varies widely by each child’s nature and learning style. The ultimate goal transitions from learning to read to reading to learn to fostering love of reading. Encouraging children during the process results in adults who love to read.  

I have a 10-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. Whereas they read some of the same books to the point that I have to buy two copies sometimes (thank you Rick Riordan!), they require different kinds of motivation. The following Ten Ways help me encourage their growth.

1. Follow Reading Style
Once kids have learned to read, it is important to find out their reading style. 

My son loves math and the linear nature of solving equations. I found that he loved mysteries because they are also very linear by nature. Defined characters who solve crimes imitate step-wise, formulaic algebra. Focusing on love of a linear plot, we started with The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. Then, he discovered Clive Cussler and James Patterson. Both of whom write mid-grade novels as well as more well-known adult books. Once he polished off the mid-grade novels, he moved on to reading the adult novel versions.

2. Model Reading
If parents read, kids will follow. If there are books in a home, children look for their own books. Likewise if a parent speaks badly of reading or doesn’t encourage reading outside of school, a child may never see the value in picking up a book just for fun. 

I am in a mom book club that meets once a month. My middle-schooled aged son participates in Battle of the Books where his team answers questions about a pre-made list of books. Similarly, my daughter saw value in joining her own kid version of my mom book club. The girls choose books, read them, and met up to discuss over snacks. The book club model nurtures our love for reading, because we have someone with whom to share the experience. 

 Read Aloud

3. Read Aloud
My 10-year-old still enjoys read alouds. Sometimes, I read books that are slightly above her reading level. Other times, I read her old favorites aloud using fun voices. When we are in the car, audio books have the same effect. Sometimes, my daughter prefers to listen to books as she does homework.

4. Find the Passion
Ask kids what they like, and search for novel on the topic. If they identify with the character(s) or setting, children gravitate towards reading. This can be a non-fiction pursuit like marine biology or something more fictional about pirates.

5. Think Outside the Book
Sometimes a child will find an interest that falls outside the reaches of 'traditional child' or 'young adult literature'. 

My son loved studying WWII and quickly exhausted most age-appropriate literature. I found the Mr. Biggles series on Amazon. Long out of print, the books gave him a first-hand but personal essay style of reading about the war and a pilot’s experience. Around the same time, he wanted to learn about physics. I found the Graphic Novel Guide to Physics which gave him a more age-appropriate overview of the material. 

His sister loved the idea of mysteries as well but we had to look harder to find strong girl role models in mystery literature. She needed to read about a protagonist that she could identify with. We found the Enola Holmes mystery series involving Sherlock Holmes’s sister, a character who solved crimes.

6. Don’t Get Stuck on Reading Levels
My kids will often pick up a book that might be below their reading level because they are old favorites. On the other side of the coin, introducing a child to a book of interest at a higher reading level can strengthen and expand their reading skills. Reading books out loud to kids also can expand their reading comprehension level and vocabulary levels. As kids get older, the reading level itself becomes less important as most adult novels are written at sixth and seventh grade levels.

7. Introduce a Book Series
There's a reason we love sitcoms and movies with sequels. Introducing a book series can motivate kids to read more as their attachment to story lines grows. From Harry Potter to the Lightning Thief series, there are many options. Kids that are hooked on a book series continue reading.

 Open eBooks App

8. Provide a Multi-sensory Experience
After my kids read books, I frequently find the video or movie version of the book or other complimentary option. My daughter loved reading about Helen Keller and found even more depth in the books when she watched The Miracle Worker. The Junie B. Jones books and Lily and Plastic Purse books came alive when she visited the children’s theater to watch live theater versions of the books.  The Narnia series of movies gave both of them a fantastical view of the books to add to what they'd already imagined.

9. Supplement with Project Based Learning
Check out Scholastic for teacher lesson plans to add further dimension to the simple act of reading. Incorporating project-based learning projects with text-reading has a longer-lasting impact on learners. 

A science-themed book might instigate a trip to a local science museum while a crime-solving heroine like Nancy Drew may be complimented with an inexpensive spy kit. Also, kids studying Houdini might appreciate learning simple magic trips to identify with Harry’s pursuit of magic.

10. Encourage Questioning
I read books as a child that were probably horribly inappropriate like Clan of the Bear and Flowers in the Attic and Are You There God, Its Me Margaret. With many online sources offering parent and publication reviews, parents can examine content without reading ahead and also prepare responses to questions about sensitive subjects introduced in texts. Kids should feel comfortable to openly talk to us about content.

By taking a look at a child’s interests with an eye on expanding the reading experience, parents and teachers can encourage a lifelong love of reading.


A very special thanks goes to educator and 
guest blogger, Amy Barnes. She and 
her husband created ExitBoxMedia.

February 8, 2016

Get Your Child to LOVE Reading

February is American Heart Month! It’s only fitting to discuss an activity that, according to psychologists, eases tensions in the muscles and heart: reading

Reading eases tension

Losing yourself in a book is considered the ultimate means of relaxation, but it doesn’t come naturally. Let me explain...

We were born to speak, not to read. Children are reluctant to read, because reading is not a natural (or instinctive) function. Children learn to speak through exposure. However, they learn to read through intentional instruction (i.e., direct teaching of phonemic awareness, decoding, and comprehension).

Reading is easily one of the most difficult skills to develop. This in mind, it may be increasingly difficult for parents and educators to cultivate fondness for reading.

1)    Your attitude about reading is reflected in your child or student. Display enthusiasm even if reading feels like a chore. One trick I use: imagine something you’re passionate about as you describe reading. Even the slightest waver in the tone of your voice affects children’s perception of reading.
2)    Punishing children by making them read creates a negative stigma; they associate reading with ‘doing something wrong’. This impression spills into the classroom.  Replacing tablets with books can make children feel penalized, because they no longer have access to a preferred means of entertainment. Though this seems like a no-brainer, children may view the substituted means of entertainment – books – as dismal.
3)    Use interests to propel children’s love of reading. If your child likes a specific character, purchase books about that character. If your child has an affinity for a specific subject or animal, subscribe to a periodical that features the same. (Getting Highlights in the mail was an epic experience for me growing up.)
4)    Find post-reading activities. My favorite activity is to make Green Eggs using avocados after reading green eggs and ham. There are countless, easy-prep activities that foster a love of reading. Pinterest has a reservoir of pre- and post-reading activities.

Is time an issue?

Is time an issue? Try these two methods:
·         Car reading - turn mundane road trips into reading adventures. Whether to the grocery store or to visit relatives, pack your car with books on your child’s reading level. Keep reading level in mind, so children move through the text independently. Though bumps are expected, encourage your child to spell difficult words for help reading.

·         Watch books - leverage a routine activity to build reading skill by incorporating story time via online platforms like Youtube. Bath time and bed time are great opportunities to listen to audio books on a mobile device. Often, the stories will include humorous character narrative to engage children. If they’re laughing while learning, mission accomplished!


A very special thanks for this contribution goes to 
guest blogger, Jeannette Washington. 
Jeannette is the owner of 

February 3, 2016

Cure Unmotivated Readers

We know the benefits of reading, so let's challenge ourselves to make reading a fun experience for learners. If something is fun, adults are more likely to do it... So, why wouldn't this be true for children as well?

Intrinsic Motivation

Though unequivocal differences exist, adults and children learn in similar ways. Both groups must experience motivation to learn. Whereas adults are more motivated by responsibility to family and career, young readers are almost entirely driven by intrinsic motivation. This refers to the "WHY" behind what we do and how we do it.

Read with purpose.
Setting explicit goals is one way to promote intrinsic motivation. Though effecting intrinsic (or individual) motivation seems a futile endeavor, research on human nature helps us create goals whereby learners choose to do the "heavy lifting". 

Bringing your child's reading goals into focus is well worth the effort. Get to know the child. Learn what drives them to take action. Keep reading to learn how...

Research on Reading

Bring goals into focus.
Jeremy's teacher suggests that he read more often to build vocabulary and improve comprehension. Following a conversation with Jeremy, you learn he likes cars. He likes custom cars with "pimped out" add-ons, engines, and paint jobs. Your first thought is to buy a book about "pimped out" cars, and wait for his grades to improve.

However, a more effective approach involves setting explicit reading goals whereby Jeremy has input, attainment is uncertain, and short-term tasks are identified. To facilitate intrinsic motivation, these three criteria are integral:

  1. Involve the student.
  2. Ensure goals are not too easy and not too hard.
  3. Develop a hierarchical plan with phases.

What do we know about human nature?
Learners are more likely to take ownership of a project if they have a say in how it unfolds. This first criteria is straightforward. However, we don't want to release children to their own devices without providing guidance.

Guidance with setting goals should be data-driven. That's to say, parents and educators want to examine performance data and set a goal that's neither too hard nor too easy. Human nature prompts us to avoid overly difficult and ridiculously easy tasks. The brain wants to solve a problem or resolve inconsistencies. As such, goal attainment should be probable, yet uncertain in order to achieve optimal levels of intrinsic motivation.

We're also hard-wired for immediate gratification. Since development of reading skill is a life-long process, we increase intrinsic motivation to read by emphasizing the short-term. An ideal approach leverages hierarchical goal systems to demonstrate how short-term tasks relate to a long-term goal. In this way, children visualize how puzzle pieces fit together to form the bigger picture.

Make reading fun

How do we leverage goal-setting to make reading fun?
Jeremy's explicit reading goals as reported by the classroom teacher are to (a) build vocabulary and (b) improve comprehension. These are long-term goals. Let's transform the second goal into one that makes learning fun: improve comprehension.

First, we need input from Jeremy. What are Jeremy's ideas for building vocabulary? Depending on his age, he may have little to offer initially. Don't fret. Do research. Ask Jeremy to offer feedback on comprehension practice completed in class; observe his behavior at home for clues about activities that keep his attention.

Let's say Jeremy likes drawing or computer activities, so you challenge him to make comic strips that summarize each chapter of Cars on the Move. With this approach, Jeremy looks forward to reading about an enjoyable topic and drawing comic strips or building them online.

To recap... 

  1. We involved Jeremy in developing an explicit, reading comprehension goal. 
  2. Since he has the skill (but has not produced comic strips as summaries), it's reasonable to conclude attainment is uncertain. 
  3. Comic strips are to be created for each chapter (rather than after reading the 24-page book), so we addressed the need for instant gratification. 
As with implementing any plan of action, remain flexible. Adjust. You may find it's better to create one comic strip frame every few pages. It may be ideal to switch from creating digital comic strips to drawing them by hand. Jeremy may suggest a different summary activity altogether.

Jackson Education Support promotes intrinsic motivation by involving students in setting challenging goals. Personalized learning plans leverage student interests to improve academic performance.

Access a more recently peer-reviewed publication on this topic here.