Each morning I wake up and my first thought is, “Are you going to exercise today?” Most mornings I find that I have to motivate myself to exercise. I have to focus my thinking on the benefits of exercising. Thinking of the benefits helps me to prepare for the work I want to do. When I think about all the other things I have to accomplish in the day, I can quickly talk myself out of exercising.

When I think about reading and teaching children to read, I wonder about how motivation is used to help prepare children for the work to be done while reading.

When reading, many times I find myself thinking about an issue that is in the forefront of my mind rather than thinking about the text I’m reading. Sometimes I find myself noticing connections related to my thinking rather than to the intended meaning of the text. When this happens, am I truly reading? Knowing that the brain is a pattern detector, (it is seeking stimulus that is similar to the current thinking) the brain is scanning the stimuli it is receiving to make connections to what it is focusing on. In other words, when reading the brain is scanning the information received from the text and trying to connect the information to what the brain is thinking about.

When planning lessons, motivation is seen as a way to get students hooked on the lesson, a way to get students interested and engaged in the learning. However, what happens is that teachers plan elaborate activities that take away from the intentions of the lesson. Many times the motivation activity is not even directly connected to the lesson’s focus.

Motivation would be most effective if used as a way to prepare the brain for the work (thinking) it is about to do. This makes a lot of sense to me since reading is about making sense of text, which requires the reader to think about the text being read. In order for the brain to focus on the meaning of the text, the brain has to be ready to pick up on the clues that will support the readers understanding. Preparing the brain allows the brain to know what patterns to look for since the brain is a pattern detector. Without preparing the brain for the work necessary for reading the brain self selects from the many streams of thoughts, which one to focus on, ignoring anything that is not related to the chosen focus.

Viewing motivation as a way to prepare the brain for the work of reading will allow the reader to read text in a way that will support deep understanding. It will allow the reader to seek clues from within the corners of the text rather than from the streams of thoughts that occur when the brain has not been prepared for the kinds of clues is should be seeking.

So think about motivation in a reading lesson as a way to prepare the brain for the thinking it will need to do to make sense of the text. Motivation should be just enough information to awaken the brain but not overwhelm it. Motivation should provide essential information necessary for focusing on the meaning of the text rather than an activity. Motivation should be quick-if it is too long the brain loses is curiosity and wonders about something else. Once the brain is awakened it is important to engage the brain in the work it has been prepared to do immediately.

What role does motivation play in your lessons?

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