Starting with SET Lab

My name is Shane Smith. I’m an 8th grade reading teacher in Western Maine. I graduated from Thomas College with a bachelor’s in elementary education. I previously taught fourth grade for eight years. I also coach wrestling and soccer at the middle school and youth levels. I chose a career in education because I want to have a similar impact to the one that positive mentors had on me, and pay-it-forward to the next generation, if you will.

Recently I was accepted into the 2018 SET Lab delegation, where I’ll be tasked with designing, documenting, and presenting a study in my particular content area, with the help of a SET Lab consultant.

As a literacy teacher, it’s very important to me that my students are active readers — which is why I decided to frame my study around recreational reading.

In short, how do I encourage my students to read every day, in this culture of instant and constant gratification, where children are bombarded daily with movies and television, video games, youtube videos, social media, and… memes?

As we were puzzling over this complex dilemma, Julia Ewart, the Set Lab consultant I’ll be working with, referenced Maxwell Maltz research in his book Psycho-Cybernetics (1960) which concludes that it takes “a minimum of about 21 days” to develop a new habit. In my case, the habit I’d like my students to develop is to read for fun daily.

Unfortunately, that’s a hard sell to a bunch of teenagers. How could I possibly convince them to put down their cell phones in favor of a book? Well, it occurred to me that the answer may lie in integrating their cellphones.

I recalled a recent article featured on the Strategic EdTech website, which examined possible long-term negative side effects of the social pressure compelling adolescents to keep up their “Snap streaks” (daily communication using Snapchat). As time went on, I heard more and more about these streaks from my students — 100+ day streaks, the social impact of streaks broken due to groundation, streaks that bridged break-ups and make-ups — and I realized just how motivating these are to my students. Often these streaks are interpreted as a measure of the strength of a friendship or popularity.

The question begs asking: can that motivation be applied to encourage my students to read? Will my students engage in a challenge to build at least a 21-day snap streak with me given the requirement that they feature themselves reading? Can we throw out the reading log in place of snap-streaks…?

Officially, my research question is: “If students read for at least 21 straight days will they develop the habit of daily recreational reading?” I hypothesize that the majority of my students that build a streak of a minimum of 21 days will continue to read independently. I believe that we can harness the incredible powers of social media and peer-pressure to motivate teenagers to read, and I hope you’ll follow along.

You can track our progress here, and on Twitter. You can also add me on Snapchat, my username is YoMrSmith. For more on this study, and the other great research projects from this year’s delegation follow the hashtags #educationalscientist and #SETlab.