Muddiest Points Journal

Beers: Choosing not to read: Understanding why some Middle Schoolers just say No.

Ms. Beers has done a lot of research into the difference between highly motivated students and highly unmotivated students. I like to say that these two groups are from different countries they are so very different.

I think of students as three groups. These are 1) A/B students, 2) C/D students and 3) F students. The A/B students are intrinsically motivated and will do what they have to do to get their grade. I would have to be a really bad teacher for these students to ever flunk or do badly.  The F students are in class for who knows what reason and usually drop out right away or just stop coming (college sophomores.) The students who will actually benefit the most from really good instruction are the C/D students who are struggling the most and who need the most help.

Beers talks about motivating the unmotivated student. On page 19 she writes: 1) They like to choose their own books from a narrowed choice. 2) Have the teacher read aloud… 3) Compare the movie to the book 4) Read illustrated books. 5) Do art activities based on books. 5) Read non-fiction material such as comics, sports, drawing, cars, fashion, makeup, etc. My experience with Korean students for five and a half years confirms all of these listed points. Students don’t like workbooks, they would much rather read magazines or books about fantasy or science fiction. They do get confused with too many choices and they do like to look at movie clips that match the reading material and they do like to create art projects around a theme.

At my last school students read fables and tales out of a workbook. They watched a video that matched the ‘tale’. Later, I broke them into groups and they had to draw and write the story using their own words and tell it again to the class. They practiced this several times, then had to pick a tale and do their own Powerpoint to show and tell the class. They loved it and were very creative!

At the school I am at now; we are very publisher-workbook bound. After teaching the book two semesters, I now know it is basically a grammar book wrapped around with vocabulary made into lesson plans. What possible relationship does this have in regards to turning them into life-time readers? ESL experts like Stephen Krashen agree that the two best ways to learn a language are 1) reading in that language and 2) listening to the language being spoken. Is a single student going to walk out of my class wanting to read books in English? Even one? If there was even one I would say it was because they already had that desire before coming into this class. Endless grammar lessons, regardless of how carefully disguised, is not going to give them what they really need.

Beers: Choosing not to read: Understanding why some Middle Schoolers just say No.

Are students ‘illiterate’ or ‘aliterate’?

Ms. Beers touches on a lot of points that come up in my classrooms. More of my students are ‘aliterate’ rather than simply ‘illiterate.’ In other words, they choose to not read even though they can do so. She quotes Mathewson (1985) “If children are to read, they will need not only a favorable attitude toward reading but also an appropriate motivation.” (pg. 842).

Before I came to South Korea I was working as a substitute teacher at Job Corps, Sacramento and mostly for the Academic Dept. The sole ‘job’ of that department was to get students to pass the GED test. In the entire time I worked at Job Corps (16 months,) I think I had one student, a girl, who absolutely could not understand simple fractions. It was highly likely she would never pass that test because in addition to a lots of fractions, there were all kinds of other math problems too. However; she was really the exception to the rule there. The students did have the capacity to past the exam but they weren’t. At the time I was doing a year in Calteach and got lots of examples of how to teach math and spent much time doing that and as a result,  at least two of my students passed the test.

However; so many other students languished in the program and did poorly. Why? Instinctively I knew why but couldn’t put it into words; now, five years later I can. There was no student accountability. The GED teachers let the students come in and work out of self-help instructional booklets and do ‘self-study.’ For low-level, low-motivated students, that is a really bad idea. Those students need external ‘motivators’ from the teacher in terms of grades, tests, assignments, quizzes, progress charts, etc. It is okay if the motivation is external at this point in their lives, because they will respond to that. Like Ms. Beers says on page 19, (unmotivated students) “don’t like to go to the library.” They get overwhelmed when told to pick a book, they don’t know where to start. So, at my current school, students are given massive amounts of external motivators (quizzes, mid-terms, finals, speaking tests, written tests, language clinics.) All of these items work to keep them on-task and get them through the semester. Last semester I had 75 students, twice a week, and did not flunk even one student. However, as ESL students, are they really getting what they need from the program?

Focus Question: Attitude Theory

Given that low-motivated students as well as ESL learners seem to prefer different materials from highly-motivated students; how do we incorporate these into the class room? My students tell me they would rather read magazines about sports, cars, fishing, science, science fiction and books about fantasy and science fiction. How do I incorporate these materials into the class in a structured way and break out of the heavy publisher-workbook cycle?

There is no doubt in my mind that publisher workbooks and text books dominate the field of reading. The workbook I am using now is Oxford-University Press. It is hard to argue with the affordable price and the interactive materials that accompany every manual. The publisher has even set up a web site for students to access where every lesson plan  on the site is in audio. That is the good news. The bad news is that this book is basically a very fancy grammar book. There is no authentic reading material, much of the stuff in the book are lessons students have had before and it is beating the same old horse, over and over again, which is grammar. I wouldn’t even call it very interesting.

As an ESL teacher or as a teacher of reading; I think my job is bigger than teaching to this year’s test. My job is to get the students to become life-time readers and develop those and their writing skills both. I don’t think this type of workbook  is doing anything to achieve those goals. Rather, they probably work to turn students off to reading.