Our Star Teacher segment profiles teachers and their tremendous efforts to encourage their students to read. Today, we are very pleased to introduce you to Matthew DeMarais, from Butler Middle School in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Matthew teaches 7th & 8th grade students in the QUEST program, a personalized learning program that stands for “Questioning. Understanding. Exploring. Self-Advocacy. Teamwork.”
An active Reading Rewards member since August of 2012, Matthew has had great success encouraging his students to read.
We asked Matthew to share some of the secrets of his success. He was kind enough to oblige.
What do you do to help students understand the importance of reading?
“I try to help students make connections to every day life. If they can see how reading will help them out no matter what they do, then they are more likely to embrace it. It’s not just about reading for fun, although that is where many students find enjoyment, it’s about getting to the students to see how reading can affect / improve them personally.”
Do you ever come across students who are absolutely determined not to read? What techniques do you use to motivate them?
“Absolutely. I do a lot of choice reading with students. They have the choice of a title or genre and we work from there. I have found that when I push especially reluctant students to read a specific book or a specific article, they push back. If students have choice, or the illusion of choice, then it can be a win-win-situation. I just need to be flexible in HOW I teach the skills and strategies.”
Some students don’t like to read because it’s hard for them. Do you teach students reading strategies to help them read more fluently and build more confidence? Which have proven most effective?
“I do a couple different things. Teaching 7th and 8th graders can sometimes prove difficult since many of them believe they should be fluent readers by now, but many of them are not. We work a lot on oral fluency by having students read a book, chapter, or article out loud with a partner. If they can choose their partner, one they are comfortable with and not afraid of making mistakes, then they are more likely to take their time and they receive immediate feedback from their partner. I also do a lot of modeled reading through read-alouds. This may be a chapter book we are reading through or a short article. We also do many short readings. It’s not all about novels. We start small and build up our stamina.”
How much of a say do you believe students should have in what they read? Do you believe that all reading is good, or are there some types of reading materials that you disapprove of?
“I think it’s good that students have choice within reason. There are some times when I need them to read a specific book or article, but I don’t want reading to be force-fed. If they can find a book or article that is at about the same reading level as sometime I have chosen, I am often ok with them reading that. It is more work for me to stay up to date with the students regarding what they are reading which is why Reading Rewards is such a great tool. I can see what student is reading what and how often.”
Some feel that when students choose their own books, their reading skills improve. Have you seen evidence of that? What do you do, if anything, to make sure your students have a large variety of genres and themes to choose from?
“I have a classroom library in my room that students are able to choose from. I also take students to the library often and recommend titles as students make their way through the year. Some students will constantly choose graphic novels, so I need to give them a gentle nudge, or sometimes a push, to expand their reading horizons. By giving them examples of what other titles students their age are reading, I can help get them out of their comfort zone.”
Do you team up with a reading specialist, librarian, or other teachers as part of your efforts to encourage reading? How do you work together?
“In the QUEST program, there are four main content area teachers (Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies) as well as a Special Education and English Language Learner teacher in the room. We will all work together to coordinate reading across the curriculum. This is the first year we are launching the program and have 105 students enrolled. We plan on coordinating much of our reading assignments to read more than one content area. We also have a reading competition at our school called “Reading Wars” which challenges different classes and grades to read more than the others. This is a great way to give students a competitive edge.”
Do you model reading, or talk to students about what you are reading? Please tell us about it.
“I have used the read-aloud strategy in many of my classes. The students love it. It spurs great discussions and gives us a common text to discuss when students are reading different novels or different articles. I also try to conference often with students in a one-on-one and group setting. Many students are more willing to discuss their reading when they aren’t put on the spot in front of the class. ”
Have you come across students whose reading levels fall well below that of their classmates? Some people believe that, in those cases, holding the student back a year may be the only solution. Do you think there is a risk of making that decision precipitously? Aren’t many children late-bloomers who eventually catch up with their peers.
“I believe that all students will read when they are ready. That being said, by the time they reach my in 7th and 8th grade, they should have a solid grasp on reading. If not, then we engage in different forms of intervention to get the students back on grade level.”
What can parents do to develop their children’s interest in reading?
“I think the biggest things parents can do to develop their children’s interest in reading is to talk about reading! Don’t just say “Go read a book!” Actually discuss what is happening in the book with the students. Model reading to your children. Why does it have to stop when students get to middle school? It seems that every parent is comfortable reading out lout to their child when they are small, but I think this should continue. Read books as a family. Discuss the characters. Watch the movie version of the book and talk about which you liked better and why. If a child sees their parents engaging in reading, discussing books, and being intrigued about it, they are more likely to read and enjoy doing it.”
How do you communicate with parents about matters related to reading?
“I have used the reading log form Reading Rewards to show parents how much or how little students have been reading in the past. I also try to send home newsletters or emails every few weeks to keep the parents up-to-date regarding student progress.”
What are your most popular Reading Rewards features, and why? Which are your favorite?
“I love the report that shows how much each student in the group has read. When students see how much and what other students are reading, that motivates them. I also enjoy the section that shows what titles are popular among students of a certain age level.”
How has Reading Rewards contributed to getting your students excited about reading?
“Students were excited to buy their rewards that we set up as a class. At the beginning of the year, we brainstormed what rewards they wanted to purchase and set a price for them. Students would read enough and then purchase their reward. They were also motivated to increase their level. I can’t believe that moving from a Goldfish to a Dragon could influence students to log more reading, but it did.”
Name three of your favorite children’s books
Are there any final thoughts you would like to share?
“I am so thankful that Reading Rewards is out there and that it is a free site. I hope that it continues to be offered without cost because it is such a valuable tool to log reading and encourage readers.”
Thanks Matthew! It’s really important to us to keep Reading Rewards free for all children, and to maintain the free Basic functionality for teachers and librarians as well. We introduced our new Premium account to help us cover the costs of maintaining the site, while offering great new functionality to the Premium account holders.
Thank you so much for your time and dedication, Matthew! We’re sure that your students appreciate your teaching as much as they do their stunning new classroom environment!