Thursday, May 30, 2013

Motivation—how do we get our kids reading and writing over the summer?

What school district is going to pay for a "book specialist?" Someone who goes around to schools, updating the teachers on new and old books, helping teachers find books for their students, those that struggle and those that don't. Someone who keeps up with books and shares that information so the teachers don't have to do so in their spare time.

None of them, I'm guessing. 

In fact, I know a certain administrator who has a plan to do that for the teachers in her school. She's thinking of starting a newsletter about books and giving regular updates to the teachers about new series, things they can share with their students to get them excited about reading. 

Because, honestly, most teachers don't know the children's book market very well. They just don't have the time to keep up with it.

But this certain administrator has to keep the plan a secret from her district. She's afraid if she doesn't, they will crush the idea, because it is a waste of her time. 

And yet, how do we get our kids reading?

Get them excited about books. 

Can we get kids excited about books if we don't know them well ourselves?


Isn't that obvious? 

I guess not. 

As we are thinking of ways to get our kids excited about writing and reading over the summer, keep in mind what Daniel Pink says are the three key factors in motivation: autonomy, mastery, and a sense that we are doing good in the world. According to Daniel Pink, those are three of the things that motivate us to strive to achieve, and I really like those ideas. I think he's right.

In terms of reading and writing, autonomy is easy right? We've got to somehow give our kids books to read without the feeling of being force-fed. They've got to feel empowered to choose their own books. They also have to feel empowered to choose their own stories or topics to write about. They need autonomy in their writing as well. Mary and Calvin write much better essays when they have some say in the topic they write about. Always.

I don't think most kids will be motivated to read or write because they think it might help them "master" literacy. But they might read a nonfiction book about space if they think they might want to be an astronaut someday. Or a graphic novelist. Or a clown. Or a .... whatever they want to be or do. Of course, the trick with that is to get them excited about being something, or learning about something, or becoming great at something. They have to want to master something, even if it's just for a short period of time.

Making a Difference in the World
But how do you make them feel like reading and writing is helping them do good in the world?

That is a tough one. How can reading and writing be a service? 

There's the obvious idea that they can read aloud to someone younger than themselves. What about reading to kids in a hospital or care facility? That would be awesome service. 

I've been thinking about ways to get kids motivated to write over the summer. A dear friend shared an idea about having her kids rewrite a fable or a fairytale, a great idea, but unless the child has a sincere desire to do this, it will still feel like an assignment. It will be drudgery. 

But perhaps not if that rewrite is being done for another person. 

What if we made it our focus this summer to give the gift of reading and writing to others? What if we shared that focus with our kids? What if they wrote a story for a cousin who is having a birthday? What if they wrote a story for a small child in a church or community class that might be having a difficult time? 

What if they wrote a story for an elderly neighbor who doesn't get much attention—then they went to that neighbor's house to share it (along with a plate of cookies)?

Autonomy. Mastery. Doing good in the world. If those are the keys to motivation, we're going to have to think outside of the box to get our kids motivated to read and write. Especially when fewer and fewer children do these things for fun.

Yesterday, Lucy got first place in an essay competition for the entire state of North Carolina. The Carolina Hurricanes (our professional hockey team) puts the competition on. She got to go to a fancy banquet and read her essay aloud. She was given a nice gift certificate to their gift store (too bad we don't really like hockey...). It was a fun experience. She felt great about herself. It is awesome that she won first place, especially considering that she wrote the essay entirely on her own. I had no idea she even entered the competition. (The essay was on a favorite book read during their "read a million pages competition"—so the Hurricanes had two competitions, one for number of pages read and one for the essay). 

But the sad thing is, only five kids in her whole class entered the competition. And her teacher was the only teacher in the school to enter her kids in either competition. These reward programs, these competitions—they won't do the trick all by themselves. They aren't going to get the majority of kids reading.

Motivation. That is the key!

Here are three books Calvin has recently read and just devoured. Like when I tell him to read fifty pages of these books for school, he spends two hours reading the whole thing and then is incredibly stressed because he's completely behind in everything else. "But I couldn't put it down," he said. 

So I thought I would share:

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The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders (Some serious adventure/fantasy in this one)

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In Search of Goliathus Hercules by Jennifer Angus (yes, there are beetles in this one)

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The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson

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