The classroom is the place that great readers, writers, listeners, and speakers are born. In my own primary classroom, I have seen the miracle of struggling readers making almost two years of progress in a single school year. I have also seen the tragedy of a student falling behind in language arts. In both cases, the student was getting extra support in the classroom and at home. They were reading independent and instructional texts, writing, and being read to daily. The difference was in the motivation of the student. The successful student wanted desperately to be on level with their peers and put in the work. The other student had admitted to hating the language arts and despite every effort to find something to make this a priority for them, it kept getting more difficult. Eric Jensen (1998) talks about this powerful effect in his book Teaching With the Brain in Mind. In order to learn, a student needs to have motivation. They need to have an understanding of the purpose for the lesson and promise of a meaningful application. As a language arts educator, I have not yet found the answer to motivating all of my students. However, the majority of my students love reading and writing! Where there’s a majority, the rest often buy in. In this article, I offer 4 tips for motivating your students to become masters of the language arts.
#1 – Be a Great Role Model Whether it is obvious or not, your students really look up to you and value your personal practices. Visibly being a lover of the language arts is an important component in student motivation. In my own 2nd grade classroom, I make a point of talking to my students about my personal reading and writing practices. I tell them about the books I am reading for fun in simple terms. A month ago I was reading a realistic fiction book about a man’s adventures in space (The Martian by Andy Weir) and currently I am reading a fantasy fiction book about the way a man and his son work together to overcome great danger (The Road by Cormac McCarthy). I tell them about how I choose books and understand myself as a reader. I talk about the way I read to learn for my college courses. I tell them about how much I love writing for pleasure daily and how I go about writing for a new purpose or audience. These short talks about your personal practices a few times a week, integrated into your lessons, can really help students to begin thinking of themselves. Shortly they will begin learning about their own interests and work.
“All of these celebrations remind students that the language arts are a valuable form of communication and the rituals around new materials and products create a certain kind of magic behind our work.”
#2 – Make Language Arts Practice Sacred When my students and I read, write, put on a reader’s theater, listen to the reading of a poem, or anything else language arts related, we commit that time to the practice. We take the time to review expectations for the activity, we talk about why it is important, and we don’t let anything interrupt us. We create rituals around our practice, such as utilizing the workshop model. We recognize each of these times as fun chances to become better communicators and thinkers. Making your work time seem like more than just another grind can really help your students to enjoy language arts more. In this same spirit, I would encourage you to try to minimize any drills or worksheets when you can. Set aside a few times to share books together and really explore them without a looming worksheet or test alongside it. Likewise, allow your students time and choices for exploring themselves as writers without an assigned topic or any concern for impending grading. Giving students the chance to enjoy literacy in a stress-free way can help them to appreciate the language arts the way that you do – as a connoisseur and an artist!
#3 – Welcome New Materials and Finished Products in New Ways When we get new books in our classroom, special students stamp them with a special class stamp and label them according to genre or reading level. We set aside a minute or two to talk about new materials that we receive. We might read them first before putting them in a special book basket. Likewise, when we finish writing pieces, we often set aside some special time to share and publish what we’ve created. There are many ways to publish finished work. I have a special basket in my library reserved for bound anthologies of stories and essays we’ve written. Students love seeing that their work has been chosen for another student’s book bag! This also helps them to take pride in their work. When my students have practiced the reading of a poem or reader’s theater, we film it and put it on our grade level Facebook page. All of these celebrations remind students that the language arts are a valuable form of communication and the rituals around new materials and products create a certain kind of magic behind our work.
#4 – Create “Safe” Incentives and Celebrations for Students If students are to challenge themselves as thinkers and creators, they must know that their work is valued. It may also help them to know that they are working toward an incentive. Though I try not to make it mandatory, Scholastic Reading Counts has been the driving force behind reading for some of the more reluctant readers in my class. They love the idea of earning points and gaining levels in the program. For other students, the simple act of sharing reading and writing successes during share time is enough. Students also often work on reading “challenges” through the school library that ask them to read for 15 minutes at a time from a certain genre, in a certain place, or to a certain type of friend like a little brother or their parents. Other students in my class like to rack up reading minutes to earn the coveted award of reading a book to students in a lower grade level. In writing as well we work toward sharing our finished work with other classes and adults. The list goes on! No matter what kinds of celebrations you decide on, remember that celebrations based on test scores and reading levels may not be the best choice because they don’t focus on progress that students are making that doesn’t always show up on the test. Keep this in mind as you find ways to motivate your learners.
Hopefully this list has given you some ideas for helping your students to share your own love of the language arts. With excitement and passion behind their work, students will not be able to help becoming master readers, writers, listeners, and speakers!
From Dr. Semingson: We welcome comments and dialogue. Click on this post to access the comment box. What are ways you make language arts engaging in your teaching practice?