Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tapping into student interest to increase motivation

 I spend a significant part of my day working with students in intervention groups. From kindergartners learning concepts of print to fourth graders working on improving their reading fluency and decoding, I'm usually with a group of students who have been designated as needing extra support. Now that the year is in full swing all of these groups have gotten into a comfortable pattern. We know and trust each other and we know what to expect from one another. This means I can start go take risks as a teacher, and they are comfortable taking risks as a learner.

With all of these groups, where I have just 20 to 30 minutes a day to work on their essential skills, I've discovered that the key to making the most of our time is following their lead and selecting activities and books that respond to the group interest. Choosing high interest activities certainly isn't a novel teacher strategy, but it is one that I think is easy to forget when we get busy, especially when we are working with intervention groups. There is so much we want to teach and so little time to get it done that we can stock our lesson plans with excellent activities and learning objectives that overlook the target audience- the kids.

In my fourth grade reading group I realized that they were very interested in re-told stories, or folktales. For whatever reason these stories with morals had them excited to debate the greater meaning of the story in a way I wasn't getting from realistic fiction. They started asking me for more re-told stories, which was shocking. These are fourth grade students who, well, are not the kids you'd think would ask for more books to read.

In following their lead and looking for more re-told stories I also found two more high interest activities, making posters and readers' theater. Having them work with a partner to make a poster for their story map on the book proved to be motivating, and kept them on task. It was the same story map I could have given them to complete on a work sheet, but now that they had to work with a partner they were talking about the story with someone else. They were debating their answers and going back into the text to support their thinking. And somehow working with a partner kept them more on task than when they do independent work. Plus, there is a strange magic of getting to use markers instead of a pencil that somehow encourages work out of the otherwise inclined. 

After they completed their story maps we started reading the reader's theater version of the story. Two of the students are working on their fluency, so readers theater is a great way to get them to practice "reading like they are talking." 
Yesterday we had our first read-through. The student who needs the most work on fluency was the most engaged and excited about this. He even modeled how to read lines for his friends who weren't using as much emotion as he would like. He was far more willing and eager to re-read lines of text when he saw it as practicing for a play than when I ask him to re-read for fluency during a typical reading lesson. He even sang a two page song for us, all by himself. I saw more reading strategies and independent engagement with the text from him when he was singing that song than when I do during a typical read. 

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Tomorrow's post- current high engagement in kindergarten. 

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