Reading is THE most important skill that any student will learn and perfect throughout their time in school. Because reading applies to so many different tasks and topics in school and life, EVERY teacher has the opportunity to be a reading teacher. No matter what subject you teach, you inherently teach reading along with it. It is our duty to create and cultivate positive mindsets and attitudes around reading for our students. I am no expert on the human brain, but I do know that if we feel positive and excited about something, we are more likely to try it and practice it. Therefore, when it comes to reading, it is crucial to create an environment that allows students to feel positive about it. The good news is that there are four direct and immediate ways to cultivate positive reading attitudes in the middle school classroom that any teacher could start today!
1. Communicate that Reading is a Life Skill
Making a topic relevant to student’s lives is a great way to get student buy-in and attention. By communicating to students that reading is truly a LIFE skill, they are more likely to enjoy practicing it.
TIP #1: On the third day of school this year, I had students brainstorm in small groups a list of careers and jobs that use the skills of reading. I set a timer for 5 minutes, and said that the group with the most careers written down would win. Many groups started off slow, mainly writing down traditional reading careers like secretary, teacher, and lawyer. However, they quickly realized that every career reads emails and communicates through writing in some way. Lists grew to more untraditional “reading careers” such as football players reading a playbook, actors reading scripts, and more. The lists grew and grew for five whole minutes. When the timer ended, I had students flip the paper over, and I set the timer for another five minutes. I then asked the groups to write down any careers that don’t utilize the skill of reading. There was not a single group that could think of a career that did not include reading in some aspect. After this activity, students were more mentally dedicated to practice reading as they realized that this skill can have a direct impact on their futures.
2. Be Conscious of Class Rules
Let’s be real… classroom management during silent or independent reading time is tough, and it takes a lot of practice to create the perfect reading environment for our students. Because of this, teachers tend to create a lot of rules in their classroom. However, as the “rule creator”, it is extremely important to be mindful of the message that our rules regarding reading may send to our students. For example, many teachers will reprimand students for talking during silent reading time by saying phrases like, “Oh no! You were talking. I am now adding on 5 minutes of silent reading time!” In this case, you will notice that additional reading time is actually being used as a punishment for the act of talking. This type of rule definitely sends the wrong message, and causes students to develop negative feelings towards reading.
TIP #2: Instead of adding reading time when students do not follow directions, consider taking reading time away from students. Students should treasure their reading time! Next time a student talks during reading time say, “What a bummer! Due to all the talking, the class no longer gets the privilege of silent reading time today.” By simply changing the rule and the language we use, we can promote positive views of reading for our students.
3. Don’t Let Reading Always feel like “Work”
Many students don’t actually dislike the act of reading. However, they do often dislike the countless worksheets, comprehension quizzes, vocabulary checks, and book projects that often cloud the process of reading. As teachers, we know that we must use formative and summative assessments to check on students’ reading ability. However, in order to create a positive reading atmosphere, it is important for teachers to evaluate all the extra “work” being assigned, and possibly consider other ways to measure student participation and growth.
TIP #3: One way that I have turned reading into a relaxing and enjoyable time for my students is reserving 5-10 minutes of class everyday for a read aloud (YES, middle schoolers still enjoy being read to!). During this read aloud, students can lay around the room and even color and doodle as they listen to me read. It is not a free-for-all because I have one rule in place: Students MUST react to the text. They should interrupt me with thoughts or questions, they can laugh as loud as they want, but they better not be silent! As long as I sense active listening and interacting from the class, I make the deal that they will not have to answer any questions or complete any worksheets. This simple strategy did not take away the projects that students may complete after the book, and it definitely has students excited for our reading time every day.
4. Be Excited!
In this profession, I often feel more like a salesperson than a teacher because I am constantly trying to sell my lesson to students in order to get their minds invested. One thing that is for sure is that if I’m not excited about something, my middle school students really will not be excited. In regards to reading, there are so many things to get excited about and share that excitement with students! Here are a few ways that I show my excitement for reading with my students:
- I buy random and funny reading t-shirts that my students often eye-roll and smirk at. My current favorite is “Reading is Lit”.
- I pay attention to any national days that include reading. This year, on “National Read a Book Day”, students walked into my classroom to see an image of a huge present with a bow on my projector screen. I told them that since it’s “National Read a Book Day”, I had gotten them a present! As the excitement grew, I revealed their gift. The gift was to simply “cancel” class for the day to simply go outside and read our class read-aloud book. This clearly sent the message that reading time is a gift that should be cherished!
- I always get super pumped about our library day once a week. On this day, I usually try to wear a fun reading t-shirt, and ALWAYS write a big smiley face or doodle on the dry-erase board that emphasizes that it is library day. I sometimes even exclaim, “It’s library day!!!!” into the hallway.
It is no doubt that reading is a skill that will be used all throughout life whether it be school, reading a new apartment lease, reading an email from a future boss, and so on. When students feel positive about reading in the classroom, they are more likely to read at home and in their own free time. Likewise, the more that students enjoy reading and the reading process, the better they will be at this skill. It’s never too late to change students’ attitudes about reading. Let’s all start TODAY!