Research, Reflections, and Realizations

Shane Smith
Feb 9, 2018 · 3 min read

I learned a new word today. Aliteracy: the quality or state of being able to read but not being interested in doing so — or as Margaret Merga, and Brian Moon defined it in The Impact of Social Influences on High School Students’ Recreational Reading, “the state in which the skill to read has been acquired, but not the will.” It’s one of those words I just know I’ll be throwing around now; unfortunately, in all likelihood, in reference to a good portion of my students. However, with a good deal of luck, hard work, innovative practice, and some positive peer-pressure I’ll soon be referring to my formerly aliterate students.

In the time since we last spoke, I’ve learned, as well as reinforced, a lot about what I know about adolescent reading, motivation, habit formation, and middle schoolers.

You see, I’ve reached Step 2: Investigate & Incubate, in SetLab’s Design Thinking Process. Step 2 is a literary review of relevant research connected to my study question — If students read for at least 21 straight days, will they develop the habit of daily recreational reading? — and Julia, my ever faithful Setlab consultant delivered plenty of excellent reading material.

Didn’t Einstein say something about cluttered desks and empty minds…?

From Promoting the Lifetime Reading Habit in Middle School Students, and Do They Read for Pleasure? Recreational Reading Habits of College Students, to Habit Formation in Children: Evidence From Incentives for Healthy Eating in which I learned that if you give an elementary kid the equivalent of a quarter for five weeks, you’ll likely see that 54% of them will still eat vegetables a full two months later! Like I said, really relevant stuff.

Whether trying to relay to students the importance of reading recreationally or eating their lima beans, I found a ton parallels between these studies and my own. For instance, also from The Impact of Social Influences on High School Students’ Recreational Reading, the six key qualities of teachers that high school students found to be the most supportive of recreational book reading:

  • Personal enjoyment of reading;
  • Willingness to instigate and support discussion around books that is student-generated;
  • Broad knowledge of both Young Adult (YA) texts and youth popular culture;
  • Effective communication of expectations that students will read at school and at home;
  • Knowledge of the interests and aspirations of the students; and
  • Use of in-class practices that encourage reading for pleasure, such as reading aloud to students and Silent Reading. (Merga 2015a)

This experience was maybe also in part, a lesson in what I don’t know, and what else I need to ask, before I can begin the implementation phase. I have a lot of questions. Questions like, is 21-days enough time to fully implement a habit? Will this reach my boys as well as my girls — who up to 40% of them potentially, according to one study, “dislike” reading recreationally?

What role can I play as both an educator, and an educational scientist, in twisting my kids arms a little bit to coerce them into keeping up their end of the bargain (or which incentives can I ply them with)? How will I track student growth in a meaningful way? Or most importantly perhaps, how do I help them to recognize their habits and instill in them a desire to create a new one?

I still don’t like lima beans.

Shane Smith — Educational Scientist at SET Lab

SET Lab Education Scientist 2017–2018

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