To Motivate Means to Model - And It Starts at Home

By Dr. L. Robert Furman, principal, South Park Elementary Center, South Park, Penn.

Before we start talking about motivating reluctant readers, let's make sure we're on the same page with terminology. What does it mean to be reluctant?

re•luc•tant [ri-luhk-tuhnt]
1. unwilling; disinclined: a reluctant candidate
2. struggling in opposition
3. feeling or showing aversion

When we talk about students who are reluctant to read, we're not necessarily talking about the child who can’t read. Reluctant readers are not necessarily struggling readers. They certainly can be, but their reluctance may stem from a simple preference to do something else.

Let me give you an example. The most gifted child in my building right now doesn’t give a hoot about reading because he would rather be playing with LEGOS® or playing Minecraft™. Reading for him is just not a priority.

However, 99 percent of the time, struggling readers are reluctant readers because they’re struggling. So we – educators and parents – have to distinguish between a struggling reader and a reluctant reader. For the purposes of this column, we’ll fix our attention on the reluctant reader.

In dealing with reluctant readers, we need to teach students on their own terms. And I’ve made a nifty acronym to help us get started:

T - Give students time to read.
E - Encourage them to read.
R - Provide resources for them.
M - Model reading.
S - Students gain a sense of accomplishment.

Today we're going to talk about modeling, which is where many adults are guilty of hypocrisy. We give a lot of lip service to the importance of independent reading. If students aren’t reading at grade level, we truly believe it will be the end of the world - because in many ways, it is.

But here's the deal. How many times are teachers taking time to read a novel of their own during silent reading time? And parents, how about you? When do you typically read? It’s pretty tough to make kids buy in to the importance of an activity they don’t see modeled, and in reality, many children might never have seen an adult read on his own for pleasure. When parents are waking up their children at 7 a.m. and putting them to bed at 9 p.m., and life is frenetic in between, reading may be the last thing on busy adults' minds. Well, folks, that has to change.

Here's a sneak peek into my household playbook so parents can try to implement some of these tactics in their own homes.
  1. Reading comes before electronic devices. Period. My son must read for a half-hour before he can get on the computer or game system. That's non-negotiable.
  2. Dedicate 20 minutes a day to family reading time. At my house, we all read 20 minutes before bedtime. With younger children who aren't reading independently, take turns reading to them.
  3. Yes, that means the whole family. Older siblings, like parents, can be powerful influencers over younger readers. Everyone reads together, and don't be afraid to recruit older siblings to read to younger siblings.
  4. Read on the go. When kids travel to and from extracurricular events, don't allow the iPod™ to become the immediate go-to. Put reading first. After reading, then they can revisit their playlist.
  5. In short, make reading an expectation - for yourself and your students. No one wants to be a hypocrite. Address your own reluctance to read and get rid of your own excuses, and our children will follow. My son, who attends my school, sometimes gets so caught up in a book that he can’t make time to have lunch with me. And I’m okay with that.
Dr. Furman is a guest blogger for The Huffington Post and the author of Instructional Technology Tools: A Professional Development Plan and the upcoming title Motivating Reluctant Readers. He also was recently named one of NSBA Technology Leadership Network’s "20 to Watch" leaders. Email tips or questions to him at, or text him directly at 412-999-0449. Follow him on Twitter @DrFurman.
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