Many teachers (and parents) have a hard time getting their students to care about reading. You are told over and over again how important it is for your students to read, but they just don’t seem to care. So, how can you motivate them to do something they don’t want to do?
Recently researchers took a look at how students responded to different instruction methods. They set up four different conditions for teachers to demonstrate a multi-functional toy:
- Pedagogical condition – the teacher presented the toy and explained one function of the toy in a very matter-of-fact this is how you use this toy kind of way (without mentioning that there were any other functions).
- Interrupted condition – the teacher presented the toy in the same way as in the pedagogical condition but after demonstrating the first function she interrupted herself saying she needed to do something else real quick.
- Naïve condition – the teacher presented the toy and appeared to “discover” a feature by accident, acting surprised by his discovery.
- Baseline condition – the teacher presented the toy and then set it on a table without demonstrating any of its features.
Children that were exposed to the pedagogical condition explored with the toy for less time and discovered less of its features, in contrast to the other conditions.
So, what does this have to do with motivating your students to read? As revealed in this study, students were not as interested in learning or exploring when they thought they had been told everything there was to know about a subject. So, when teaching a subject such as history or science, you can easily motivate your students to read by letting them know that there is so much more to learn about these subjects.
One of the head researchers, Laura Schulz, said: "Teachers can say things like, 'I'm showing you what we think is true, but there are a lot of other possibilities you should consider,'" Schulz says.
By incorporating statements like this into your instruction, you are encouraging the students that are interested in the material to dig deeper, and how are they going to do that? They will probably start by doing what everyone in their generation has been taught to do when they are seeking additional information: pull up Google and start reading articles about the subject that interests them. This can easily lead them to books and other reading material on the same subject.
When teachers make students think that they have been taught everything there is to know about a subject, students are less likely to explore.
Recently, I’m on a bit of Steve Jobs kick (along with millions of others) and his business tactics and way of thinking and I’ve become obsessed with this interview I ran across one day (as I was following a string of finds that started with a Google search):
This line has quickly become my favorite quote of all time: “Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it.” When you look at what Steve Jobs did to the world of technology, it is amazing how much he stretched what was currently known and possible.
If the world wants change then we have to teach students that they can change it. By simply letting your students know that there is so much more to know about everything and that they can change what is known, many of them will be motivated to search for new ways of doing things, whether it is through books, hands-on activities, conversations with others, etc…
By encouraging your students to explore and stretch their understanding, you are encouraging your students to read and seek additional information.
So, what about explicit instruction? Past research has shown the opposite of this research to be true: that very pointed and explicit instruction is beneficial for students. Laura Schulz addressed this as well: "Things that you're extremely unlikely to figure out on your own — how to read, how to do calculus, how to drive a car — it would make no sense to try to learn by exploration."
When teaching your students how to read, it doesn’t make sense to encourage exploration; but, once they know how to read, encouraging exploration will motivate them to read more. And all you have to do is imply that there is more to know.