When Does Encouragement Work?
There are two kinds of encouragement of reading. We can encourage children to read more, and we can encourage those who are already reading to read specific books. The cases of successful encouragement from Voices of Readers were cases of encouraging reading specific books. Tanesha falls into both categories. At first, Fay succeeded in encouraging her to read more. Then she encouraged her to broaden her reading.
Tanesha’s case demonstrates that direct encouragement, even fairly forceful encouragement, can work to achieve both goals. Will it work in all cases? From Tanesha’s case, we can provisionally conclude that several conditions need to be met for encouragement to work:
- There needs to be access to plenty of books. This is not a trivial condition. Research shows that children of poverty have very little access to books at home, at school, and in their communities. Reading campaigns that exhort children of poverty to read more appear to have ignored this essential fact. Thanks to the The Summer Reading Program, Tanesha had access to plenty of books.
- The reading that is suggested must be extremely compelling. To help guarantee that this will happen, the teacher or librarian needs to have some understanding of the child’s interests coupled with a knowledge of what is available; Fay encouraged Tanesha to read two of the most popular children’s authors, R.L. Stine and Judy Blume, expanding her reading of the first and starting to read the second. But Fay knew enough about Tanesha to realize that she would enjoy these books. One teacher, Miss B., knew the child’s interests and knew what books were available on this topic. Greaney and Hagerty’s fifth graders did not, apparently, profit from their parents’ encouragement to read the newspaper because they found the newspaper dull.
- The student is capable of doing the reading, but lacks confidence. Tanesha was clearly capable of doing the reading. Fay made sure this was the case before she intervened. Tanesha, however, did not realize that she could read so much and enjoy it so much.
- The student still has free choice and suggestions are made only occasionally. Tanesha had the choice of not taking the recommendations, and there was no attempt to control most of her reading. There was no “extreme pressure” but rather, successful interventions were “occasional suggestions”.
Carlsen and Sherrill come to a reasonable conclusion: “Educators such as the ‘Bo-Peep’ teacher who ‘leaves them alone’ and the ‘Old Woman in the Shoe’ teacher who ‘whips them all soundly’ may equally discourage and frustrate student enthusiasm for reading”. Simply making books available will be enough for many students, especially those who are already readers, but some will profit from encouragement and from suggestions. Encouragement, however, does not mean forced reading: It appears to work best when students have the ability to read certain texts but need encouragement, when they are unaware of what is available, when the texts are right for them, and they still have a choice of what they read.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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