Ask students why they're reading something and often you'll often get responses like, "Because I have to." "Because my English teacher assigned it to me." Or, "Because I don't want to get a bad grade." While there's nothing wrong with these answers, students will be more engaged in The Reading Process and reading instruction if they have a real Reason for Reading. A reason that's explicit and purposeful.
Why Do We Read What We Read?
When I model how I Select the books I read for my students, I like to spend some time talking to them about why I chose a particular text. Currently, I'm reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone so I might say something like, "I'm reading this because it's fun and relaxing to read." Then, I would add, "I'm also reading this because I want to know why so many people are crazy about the Harry Potter series. I feel like I might be missing out on something."
Then, I'll add, "I read education articles and books to stay informed about current trends and practices in education so that I can be a good teacher. I read memoirs and autobiographies to learn about the people I'm interested in. I read books like Anthem, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and The Art of Racing in the Rain to be entertained."
We'll then create a list of Reasons for Reading, which includes (but is not limited to):
- for fun
- to relax
- to find information
- for entertainment (think emoticons)
- to learn how to do something
- to figure out where to go
- to know what we want to order
- to understand why we're charged certain fees
- to study/prepare for a test
- to figure out how to beat a game
- to determine the best way to solve a problem
- to understand how to write a particular form/genre
I display this list in the classroom and ask students to refer to it as needed. Then, I'll say, "We need to start paying attention to why we read what we read. Doing so will help us figure out what we need to do as readers when we approach different types of texts. The rules for reading text messages and facebook posts may require us to read differently than if we were reading poetry, our cell phone bill, or a chapter in science book."
To begin keeping track of why we read particular texts, I ask students to answer this question each time they begin reading a new text:
"Why am I reading this?"
We'll keep track of why we read certain texts in our reading journals. By keeping track of why we're reading something, we begin to see patterns in the types of texts we choose to read, we may develop an interest for a new genre/form, we might find a new author we like, or we can explore the techniques writers use to make their writing clear to their readers. When we begin to explore the many purposes for reading, we can use them as a way to guide our reading.
During a unit on narrative writing, I noticed my students weren't quite grasping some of the key concepts that come with writing a good narrative. To help them see what their narratives were missing, I showed them excerpts from well-liked autobiographies and memoirs students read in years past (The Burn Journals by Bryan Runyan, Black Boy by Richard Wright, and Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez to name a few).
Prior to reading these excerpts, I told them that our Purpose for Reading was to establish some writing criteria to help guide us in Revising and Editing our own narratives. As we read each excerpt, we made a list of what we believed a good narrative should have in it. Our finalized list included:
- Correctly punctuated dialogue
- First-person point of view (p.o.v.)
- Showing details in the form of Action-Feeling-Setting (A-F-S)
- Stay on topic
- Have a clear main idea (point to the story)
- Use descriptive words
We then used this finalized list to critique our drafts. Once we critiqued our drafts, we had a clear Revising plan (stay on topic, have a clear main idea, include showing details in the form of A-F-S). We also had specific corrections we needed to make in Editing (correctly punctuated dialogue, first-person p.o.v., and descriptive words). I then used our guidelines to create a rubric, which we used to self-assess and peer-assess our published narratives.
Results You Can Expect
In establishing a clear Reason for Reading, we provide students with more focused reading. In the example above, I focused my students Purpose for Reading to help guide what we needed to do to improve our writing. More focused reading allowed for more focused writing.
An unexpected result was the overwhelming amount of student interest in autobiographies and memoirs. After using excerpts from autobiographies and memoirs, I asked my students if these types of texts were something they would be interested in reading. They agreed, and I created an autobiographies and memoirs booklist with high-interest titles for them to choose from. This exposed them to books they might not otherwise read on their own.
When we share why we guide students into certain texts, we can expect greater interest, more motivation, and more focused reading. Students beg to know why they have to learn what they learn. When it comes to reading certain texts, the rules should be just as clear. Providing that clarity, or helping students find it, allows them to approach reading with direction. And that direction is exactly what we want to offer them.
For more on What Makes Good Reading see: READING ALLOWED: Making Sure the First "R" Comes First.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.