Across the board in the post-pandemic world, schools are struggling to help close the reading gaps in their student population. Districts are looking for ways to support students where they are and to help them better understand what they read.
At the middle school level, it is all about reading to learn, which means having students make sense of what they read and apply that knowledge to new situations. Reading is a skill that students will need to master for use beyond the classroom—for whatever path they choose in their post-secondary careers. Students need the right motivation to help them comprehend text, make sense of it, and apply it to their lives.
Administrators can help teachers motivate students to become lifelong readers in the following ways:
1. Find the right edtech options for your student population
Administrators need to know their student population, do their research, and find the right edtech for their students. At Holman Middle School, we use DreamBox Reading Plus by Discovery Education. No matter what digital resources your school uses, the key features administrators should look for include assessments that gauge student comprehension and vocabulary level.
Ideally, that function should connect to an adaptive feature that interprets the assessment data and assists with the appropriate remediation with fiction and nonfiction text. School administrators should create an intense review process to find the right edtech tools for their district, then monitor the usage and outcomes of those resources used to ensure a high return on their school system’s edtech investment.
2. Provide professional learning for edtech resources
The best way to ensure the effective use of the selected edtech is sustained professional learning. Administrators can connect with specialists who are well-versed in their edtech selections and make sure that teachers are properly trained on all the ins and outs of the program.
At Holman, we were fortunate enough to connect with knowledgeable site administrators that started with the basics of our edtech resources. They made sure we had a strong foundation in the program so that, when we launched it, we were fully prepared for implementation. Administrators can help teachers build strong relationships with edtech leaders within their school systems and encourage teachers to seek them out for further support and professional development.
3. Find creative ways to motivate reluctant readers in the classroom
One of the great things about edtech involves the myriad facets that lend themselves to competitiveness. Middle school students love a good challenge and they are very extrinsically motivated.
Many edtech resources provide several opportunities for teachers to challenge their students and increase time on task. These programs lend themselves to creating challenges and competitions among classes for students to set goals and earn prizes. They decide their areas of focus, map out their plan to achieve their goals, and work in an allotted time frame to reach their goals.
For example, we start the school year with a challenge, giving students a week to “level up” in reading or vocabulary. When students hear that they can win chips and soda as prizes for their work, they buy in quickly and hit the ground running. Celebrating even the smallest achievements, with a simple piece of candy, continues to build that extrinsic motivation and over time, that extrinsic motivation becomes an innate desire to learn.
School administrators can support these types of efforts by highlighting these challenges where possible and participating when appropriate. After all, who does not want to have a pizza party with the school superintendent because their classroom read the most books?
4. Support teachers’ fundraising efforts
Middle school students tend to be extrinsically motivated by food—chips, soda, candy, all of the above. Unfortunately, all of these things cost money, and if there are multiple classes, that can add up.
Administrators can support teachers’ efforts in this way by connecting them with ways to monetarily support their creative motivation efforts. Using resources, such as Donors Choose page or the district PTA or PTO, can help offset the cost of prizes such as these and it gets community members involved in solid educational efforts.
At Holman, our reading team had three Donors Choose projects get completely funded and we won $1,500 in grant money from local organizations to support our efforts. There are people out there, looking for ways to support education and administrators need to help teachers get connected with them through trusted organizations.
5. Support teachers in taking risks
Today, education is geared toward personalized learning that makes learning relevant for students at their level and in ways that support them. Many edtech options provide this for students, allowing them to choose the medium and mode of learning that fits their needs. Administrators can support teachers in motivating students by allowing teachers to take risks, try new things and fail forward.
At Holman, our administration has fully supported us in implementing new ways of teaching and learning. They have been sounding boards for us for new ideas and have given us the space to think outside the box. Administrators can help teachers get out of their comfort zones by creating a safe space to try, make mistakes, learn from them, and try again. When teachers feel supported enough to do this, that is where the magic happens and the creativity flows freely.
In our post-pandemic world, students are struggling to understand what they read. They are unmotivated and need our help. Administrators can help teachers motivate their students in powerful ways with the right tools and strategies in place.