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Motivating Resistant Readers With PBL in the Reading Workshop

By Jenny Gieras
 | Aug 23, 2019

Although I’m sure it exists, I’ve yet to encounter that mythical class of students, the one where every student enters my classroom an avid reader, embraces every genre we explore within the course of our school year, and cheers when prompted to write about their reading. Rather, the norm seems to be that some students would spend their days reading only nonfiction texts or graphic novels if they could, others fight any type of assignment that requires them to write about their reading, and some would be content spending the workshop period not reading at all, just flipping through the pages of a glossy magazine filled with photos of their favorite athletes.

Although I am a strong supporter of student choice for independent reading, the fact remains that, as a teacher of elementary literacy, I have a curriculum to teach that purposefully exposes my third graders to a variety of text genres (character fiction, mystery, expository and narrative nonfiction, etc.), affording them opportunities to strengthen decoding, fluency, and comprehension skills they need to be lifelong readers and thinkers, as well as—let’s face it—standardized test takers.

This can be a tough pill to swallow for a kid who just wants to read about sea animals or laugh his way through comic books all day, use her reading notebook to draw cartoons, or in some cases, not read anything at all. That’s where I’ve found a motivator is helpful, and I’ve had great success motivating even my most reluctant readers with interest-driven, technology-enhanced, project-based learning experiences based on students’ in-class reading.

Literary projects appeal to everyone because of the innate differentiation embedded in them, offering entry points for all learners. They capture the attention and motivation of even the most reluctant readers, giving them purpose as they read, and they provide extension opportunities for those kids who are intent on reading the entire classroom library in a school year. In addition, comprehensive projects like these nudge students to think more deeply about text to ensure what they are sharing or presenting will make sense and appeal to real audiences; they also provide authentic formative assessment opportunities, enabling teachers to monitor student comprehension as they plan, create, modify, and present their projects.

Following are some of my favorite ways to shake up reading workshop, modifiable across genres, grade levels, tech accessibility, and ability levels.

Character interviews

After reading self-selected fiction books in partnerships, students choose a character from the book to critically analyze, citing text evidence to back claims about his/her motivations, traits, and interests. Then, they draft questions they might hypothetically ask the character in an interview. Working together, the reading partnerships write a script between the character and an interviewer, create one or more background(s) that made sense for the book’s setting, and use an app with green screen (we use DoInk) to record a “live” interview “on location.” My students are always eager to share their interview videos with others on sharing apps like SeeSaw, and they put great effort into generating thoughtful questions and answers that would accurately depict the character to their peers. They speak in character and borrow quotes from their books. It’s especially fun comparing interpretations when more than one group chooses the same character to “interview.”

Book trailers

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In their reading partnerships (I love this for our Mystery unit), students select a favorite text, then create book trailers. (We always first watch a few current movie trailers to get a sense of what a trailer is.) Some kids use the easy-to-use templates in iMovie, others get crafty and create stop motion animations (my favorite tool is Stop Motion Studio Pro) with clay, paper, or drawings, and others write scripts, paint backdrops, and film themselves as characters from their books to entice others to read them. We roll out the red carpet and serve popcorn as a final celebration on our Book Trailer Premiere Day. Students also have the option to create book trailer posters to display in the classroom or school library, which can include a QR code that directs interested readers to the recorded book trailer.

Comic books based on chapter books

Graphic novels have been enjoying their moment in the sun. Comic book images not only appeal to our more visual learners, but also lend graphic support to often complicated storylines. Having the opportunity to create comic book versions of chapter books (usually just a portion, but for some more ambitious students, an entire, abbreviated, book) or short stories encourages many students to keep going during periods of marathon reading, such as during our mid-winter Test Prep unit. Some students love drawing their own comics to create homemade graphic novels; others digitize their work with basic drawing tools like Sketchbook which they import into slideshows using Apple Keynote or Google Slides, or by using cartoon creation tools in an app like Pixton. Once the comic books are “published,” we add them to our classroom library, alongside their companion books, for others to enjoy.

Newsreel

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Kids love creating their own news segments and teaming up with peers to create a broadcast. Typically during a nonfiction unit of study, students choose a topic and read several related books, collecting information as they hone their research skills. Creating short news clips provides a great opportunity for learners to demonstrate their understanding and share their learning with a broader audience. One or two students play anchor and introduce the segments, and the whole package can be streamed to the school’s broadcast system (if one exists), or recorded and shared on a learning management system (like Google Classroom), viewed by other classes in an assembly, or sent home to parents in a linked email. To prepare kids to make nonfiction book segments, we watch videos on National Geographic Kids, or perennial favorite The Kid Should See This. We add some snazzy sound bites to liven up the broadcast with snips from ZapSplat or StoryBlocks Audio. For fiction books, the news segments can be reports on what’s actually happening within books (“We interrupt this newscast to tell you that author Wallace Wallis had been reported missing!”), or, with a little imagination, an extension of a storyline. Kids love talking about their characters like they are real people!

As literacy educators, we know that best practices include matching texts to readers, exposing students to a variety of genres, and differentiating assignments. We also know that, while literary writing is an essential academic skill our students need to develop, the fact is that there are multiple ways to demonstrate comprehension of text. Not every student will need a motivator to read, consider and comprehend, and respond to text across the school year. For those who may need a little motivation, literacy projects just might be what it takes.

Jenny Gieras teaches third grade at Roaring Brook Elementary School in Chappaqua, NY. She is passionate about student-centered, technology-enhanced, inquiry-driven learning. You can find her on Twitter @JennyGieras.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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