Nudging towards reading

Last weekend I gave a talk at TESOL Spain on coaching learners in reading. Thanks to all of you who came. I promised to post some of the links that were mentioned, which I will do here, but I also wanted to use reading as an example of a laissez-faire, or weak approach to coaching that may be more effective than it seems at first.

One role teachers sometimes fulfil is that of librarian. Teachers who realise the importance of reading often create a bank of reading material for their students and some schools have books, magazines and newspapers available to their students in a self-access centre, very like a library in function and design. I’d like to think about how learners are encouraged to make use of these resources, and whether the best approach is to urge them to do so or to use more gentle, subtler methods.

One school I worked in had an extensive self-access centre with CALL (computer-assisted language learning) materials, colour-coded books and laminated master copies of worksheets. Teachers had to bring their class down there once a week and recommend a course of study for each student. The idea was that if we forced them to use the centre during our contact hours with them, they might understand the benefits of autonomous study and be encouraged to come of their own accord.

I’m not sure such a heavy-handed approach works with most people. Ceri, a teacher friend, told me she once brought the book she was reading to class and just left it on her desk, front cover facing up. Students expressed interest in the book and an informal chat about reading ensued in which the students shared information about their reading lives. I did something similar with a book I wanted my daughter to read; I ordered it and when it arrived I just left it lying around for her to find. I felt that insisting she at least give it a go might be counter-productive. Sure enough, curiosity was all it took to get her intrigued. Some primary teachers include a ‘Drop Everything And Read’ time in their daily or weekly schedules, during which the students have time to read whatever they like. No judgement, no pressure.

‘Nudge’ theory says that people like to follow ‘social norms’; we are best influenced by what other people are doing, people we look up to, but also and especially our peers. Simply by recognising the reading habits of the people around us may encourage us to read more like them. If you’d like to get your learners reading more out of class, you could do a lot worse than simply bring a book you’ve got on the go to class and see what happens. No judgement, no pressure.

Right, those links…

In my talk I mentioned the idea of creating an online library of texts that your learners can access and contribute to. You’ll have seen bookmarking tools all over the web, such as ‘delicious’ and google bookmarks. There’s one called which promises to be good for educators – we even get our own way in:

The idea is simple. You create a group for your learners on your diigo site. Diigo provides you with a button on your toolbar to bookmark and describe any web pages you find that your learners might like. On my Diigo group ‘LearnerCoachingELT’ I’ve started a mixture of sites you and learners might like. You should be able to access it here. Any sites I mentioned in the talk are here, too, so check it out:

Create your own. Invite your students to become members too. Share sites they might find interesting. Invite your students to share sites too.

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1 Response to Nudging towards reading

  1. Thanks dan
    I like the idea of tapping into the students “reading lives”. The most practical way to rack up English practice time is to do things in English that you would normally do in your own language. The book nudge might lead to this, especially if it involves peer recommendation

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