Tag Archives: conference

Judith Irvin on Motivating Students

These notes are from Judith Irvin’s keynote this morning at the Ohio Literacy Conference… I thought you all might find these interesting… I’ll ustream sessions out tomorrow morning – more on that to come…

(She is from Florida State University – http://www.NationalLiteracyProject.org)

Definitions of literacy:

1600-1900 Sign your name

1930 – Functional literacy – moved to grade equivalents (3 or more grade levels completed)

Today – the definition is much more expansive.

Leadership model for improving adolescent literacy – how do we sustain literacy development? (This has been her focus for the past five years – Carnegie Foundation as funder.)

At the center of the model – student motivation, engagement and achievement. (Interesting – technology isn’t called out in any facet of her model.)

Books – Taking Action, Meeting the Challenge in Adolescent Literacy – forthcoming…, Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy (Toolkit for Leaders) – forthcoming…

I can’t do anything about what is happening for students outside of school walls. I can control what happens in the “circle of influence” exercised within the 7-8 hours of school day.

THE TEACHER CANNOT DO IT ALONE – THE SCHOOL MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE. (See Judith Langer’s work.) Otherwise, we offer kids isolated moments of engrossed learning in an otherwise disconnected series of classes.

Early adoescents’ biggest concerns – 6th graders – no free play in middle school, how to open their locker.

Kids talk about “when we get to the the real world” – where do they think they are? WE NEED TO KNOW WHERE THEY ARE.

Helping students with text:

Start first by addressing the changes in school structure, the nature of instruction (different between elementary trained and secondary trained teachers), higher expectations of independent learning..

BIG change from narrative/trade books in elementary (80%) to 80% expository/informational text. (WHO TEACHES HOW TO READ EXPOSITORY TEXT? – We do this explicitly with narrative text but rarely do with expository text… There, we jump straight to the content…) Tests at 8th grade level – 60% expository text. (Reading and content have to go together – even though admins. are cutting out science/math classes for reading interventions on narrative focused reading…)

We use the way that a text looks to engage with/read content. (Graphic signals here. Italics, boldface type, headings, quotes) We also use signal words (cause/effect, problem solution, compare/contrast, sequence, description, proposition/support — each of these categories helps us to think about the text that follows) as an element of text structure.

Ask: Why am I reading? (pleasure or understand/remember)
If understand/remember, then ask: What am I reading? (Expository or Narrative?)
If Expository, then we need a strategy before, during and after reading. If narrative, then we likely need only a strategy for unpacking/following/engaging with text…

What do students read outside of school? (Table-talk time)

When we say “kids don’t read anything,” what we mean is “kids don’t read our stuff.”

Kids read all the time for their own purposes. As teachers, we need to honor, respect and connect to those literacies that kids bring into the classroom. (Interesting – her examples here are still all print based – magazines, drivers manuals, CD inserts)

Imagine a bulletin board – “How do you read this?” at the top – include train schedule, magazine, sale flyer, CD, etc.

Metzler – The Literacy Engagement and Instruction Cycle
Goal = Improve student confidence, competence, and efficiency
Do – Engage students in literacy tasks that are meaningful and purposeful
Our role as teachers – support students by providing instruction, motivation, and guided practice of literacy support strategies in context.

Task focused learning – there are those with a fixed view (believe intelligence cannot be changed, attributes success or failure to factors outside of their own control, focus on ability-focused goals like getting a grade vs. learning the material) of intelligence and those with an incremental view (intelligence can be changed through effort, attribute success or failure to themselves – i.e., “I studied,” focus on task focused goals – learning the material vs. getting a grade)

How to translate into classroom?
Hold students to higher standards to read and think and help them get there.
Reward systems and teacher talk
Celebrate effort and progress, not ability (i.e., we didn’t give a kid who read his first book a certificate for Pizza Hut but we did celebrate his effort and commend him – raises it to a higher level. Think Alfie Kohn.
Self evaluation – authentic assessment with meaningful feedback
Have a better answer to the question “Why do we need to know this?” – Anecdote about student learner asking “why can’t we ever learn something we need to know NOW?”
We need to love our kids. (and respect the developmental tasks they are engaged in.)


Components that make up the construct of student motivation:
expectations for students
connections between content being studied and life experiences
student choice in what to read
collaboration between students in reading, writing, investigating
instruction (multiple and providing guided practice and modeling)
grading policies which honor going above and beyond and support revision
student recognition (prominently displayed in classrooms, evidence that students are valued)
feedback (frequent, accurate)
student effort (students try their hardest to show what they know)


Importance of prior knowledge – highly personal depending on our experience and culture. (i.e., what is the major piece of furniture called in your living room? – responses range from sofa, couch, davenport, recliner, tv) Schema as the set of file folders we have in our file cabinet/mind. (Fat folders when we know a lot – thin when we don’t) You can’t teach them something new unless you connect it to what they already know – and, at times, you need to give them a folder and some content before you can make those connections. We also need to help them organize what they know.

“Ping pong reading” – read the question, find the answer… read the question, find the answer… YOU DON’T HAVE TO UNDERSTAND ANYTHING ABOUT THE CONTENT OF THE TEXT!

Students don’t fail to finish a project because they don’t care or know when to stop. They don’t know where to start.

Scaffolding – helping students move to more and more complex tasks. (It is meant to be taken away!)

HOW WILL STUDENTS BECOME BETTER READERS, WRITERS, THINKERS, and SPEAKERS of this content (math, science, social studies, music, etc.) AS A RESULT OF BEING IN YOUR CLASS? (as opposed to what we talked about when we said “every teacher a reading teacher.”)

When you create a literacy-rich environment, you communicate that this is a reading/writing/thinking community. Here – adults model reading and writing, post student work, classroom libraries are throughout ALL classrooms, reading time happens in ALL classrooms, read aloud program – schoolwide (Some of this is “plug and play” and some takes time and a team to implement)

CREATIVE IDEA – Posters of school staff and known community members reading (plays with the drink milk campaign – “just read”) (I’D LOVE TO SEE THESE EMBRACING MULTIMODAL READING!)

Literacy is not something to put on an already crowded plate… literacy IS the plate.