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Arkansas State University

Student-Led Choice for Better Literacy Instruction

A common complaint among literacy teachers is that students do not read and write as much as they used to. These teachers place the blame on video games, TV and other activities not traditionally associated with literacy development. So how can educators get students to engage literacy learning? As with any form of learning, motivation is the key.

Traditionally, teachers have tried to motivate students through classroom requirements and established curricula — imposing motivation on students. Increasingly, however, innovative teaching methods such as promoting student-led inquiry and choice in the classroom have helped students develop their own motivation to learn. Simply put, if students have a choice in what they read, they will be motivated to do so. Degree candidates in an online Master’s of Science in Education in Reading program can expect to study these innovative strategies to improve student motivation and engagement in literacy education as well as methods of incorporating these practices into all areas of study.

Student-Led Inquiry

Student-led inquiry is at the heart of many innovative teaching methods. Also called self-directed learning, student-led learning or inquiry-based learning, the concept behind this educational style is simple: students pursue subjects that pique their curiosity. This internalized motivation leads to improved engagement, which may correlate with higher achievement levels.

As opposed to the surface-level learning that occurs when students memorize data to pass a test, self-directed learning engages a subject at a deeper level, creating more understanding. When students begin their elementary education in this kind of learning environment, they struggle less with motivation and engagement. This is a key component in helping students become life-long learners in and out of school.

The Risks of Negative Cycles

Student-led inquiry offers clear benefits for literacy education in an age when students are not reading and writing enough. The results of this literacy deficit appear in achievement scores, especially in at-risk or underserved populations. A student who does not feel represented in what they are assigned to read can have a difficult time understanding the material, which damages the motivation to complete the assignment. In remedial reading education, this can cause a negative cycle wherein the student struggles to read, loses confidence in their ability, faces the social stigma of underachievement and simply stops trying. When these students get to choose something that interests them, they can relate to and in language they are familiar with, they naturally develop more motivation to read. This can create a positive cycle that improves the student’s reading ability and confidence, motivating them to progress to more challenging material.

Getting Started Early

If students encounter these innovative teaching methods during the early stages of their elementary education, they can avoid remedial literacy education later on. Many teachers in inquiry-based learning schools have found that the student-led approach to literacy education at a young age can help develop both a student’s independent reading abilities and their social learning abilities. As opposed to the antiquated model of the teacher as the sole source of knowledge and authority in a classroom, self-directed activities promote an environment of co-constructed knowledge, where students feel their input and ideas are important. A teacher who solicits ideas from the classroom encourages participation and self-direction. Moreover, letting students work in groups to brainstorm what and how they would like to learn can teach students to value each other, appreciate different backgrounds and feel comfortable in the social learning environment. Incorporating student-led choice into classroom group activities like this can improve both individual and social learning.

Literacy is an essential component of students’ success in school and beyond. Innovative teaching methods such as student-led choice in literacy education can help students from all backgrounds develop the motivation to read, which can lead to an overall improvement in learning and achievement. The confidence and motivation that results from these efforts can help students become life-long learners.

Learn more about the A-State online MSE in Reading program.


Smart Brief — Literacy Strategy: Would You Rather?

Edutopia — Learner Interest Matters: Strategies for Empowering Student Choice

Literacy & NCTE — Student-Led Inquiry

Edutopia — 5 Way to Give Your Students More Voice and Choice

ASCD — Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy

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