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I AM A READER!! Creating Self-Efficacy in Young Readers

They show up in our classrooms every new school year.  You know the ones....they drag their feet to their reading spot, stopping to chat with four or five friends.  When they finally make it to their spot, they s-l-o-w-l-y start browsing through their selection of books, pausing frequently to look up at the ceiling, at the door, at their shoe.  When they finally choose a book, they randomly flip around, pretending to look at the pictures.  This is what DISENGAGEMENT looks like.  Some students are better at faking it than others.  Some quit faking it a year or two ago, and now just proclaim, "I hate reading!"

Nothing is quite as frustrating, or heartbreaking, as the student who does not yet see themselves as a reader, and has not yet experienced the life-changing magic of reading a really, really, really great book.  Our most important job as teachers (of any subject) is to ignite in our students a passion for reading that begins in our classroom and lasts a lifetime.  Before we can tackle strategy groups, conferring, close-reading, etc., we have to ENGAGE and MOTIVATE our students to read.  They have to WANT to do it, or we face an uphill a snow the dark....without a lot of hope for success.

Essential Practice #1:  Deliberate, research-informed efforts to foster literacy motivation and engagement within and across lessons.

Today I will begin digging into Practice #1 by discussing the importance of self-efficacy in reading.  Success breeds success. If we want our students to become successful readers, they need to SEE THEMSELVES as successful readers.  Perceived self-efficacy, or students’ personal beliefs about their capabilities to learn or perform behaviors at designated levels, plays an important role in their motivation and learning (Schunk and Zimmerman, 2007).  In other words, if your students have experienced multiple reading "failures", they will think that reading is not within their capabilities and therefore, will not WANT to read.  That is a no-brainer.  Think about something you have failed at...multiple times (for me...keeping plants alive) and how you feel about doing that particular thing.  You probably are not motivated to continue doing it.  Same with our reluctant readers!

"Teachers create opportunities for children to see themselves as successful readers and writers." (Essential Practices for Early and Elementary Literacy; Practice #1; Bullet #1)

It is really, super important to curate successful reading experiences for your students so that they see themselves as READERS!  Following are some great tips for fostering self-efficacy in your students.


Stephanie Harvey & Annie Ward, in their book From Striving to Thriving:  How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers suggest to TABLE THE LABELS.  Just stop it!  When we label our readers (strugglers, Level Ls, ELLs, "The Sparrows", etc), we feed into their already-low self-confidence as readers.  They suggest replacing "struggling reader" with "striving reader", which is a great suggestion, I think!


Focus on reading behaviors instead of reading levels.  When you confer with your students, provide feedback on the specific reading behaviors they are using consistently, and suggest strategies they can use to move them forward in their reading.  Help students to set goals that they can attain in a short period of time, helping them to see that they are continuing to grow as a reader and that it is a process.


Provide students with access to a wide range of engaging and age-appropriate text that is within their independent reading range.  Don't restrict students to text that is at their so-called reading level.  Levels are for teachers, not for labeling students.  Matching students with books is an important part of any reading teacher's role and it involves more than just assigning reading levels.  You really need to know your students as readers and as human beings in order to provide students with books that are going to knock their socks off and lure them into the wonderful world of reading.  Teachers I have known that are truly gifted at doing this always have the most successful readers in their class! (My next post is all about matching books to readers).

It is also critical that your classroom library is bias-free and includes books that represent each culture, race, and gender in your classroom.   Having one or two bins of books labeled "Black History Month" or "Multicultural Books" does not make your classroom library culturally responsive.  We need to think critically about how these books reflect the diversity of our students, their backgrounds, and the communities in which we live while exposing them to new ideas and concepts.  This article offers some great tips on how to ensure that your classroom library is truly anti-bias.

Also, I highly recommend this article On the Level by Donalyn Miller to give you some insight into rethinking how you use levels with your students.


Foster a growth mindset in your classroom.  If you have students coming to your class saying "I'm not a good reader," then you have a student with a fixed mindset.  Reading is no different than math, science or any other skill that needs to be learned.  Teaching students about the benefits of having a growth mindset, and the power of the word "yet" is crucial and impactful.  It is worth spending at least one day each week of the school year, doing a lesson or activity that helps your students to develop their growth mindset.  Also, be mindful of the extrinsic reading rewards that you offer to your students...these can go a long way to turn off your striving readers.  Focus your rewards on effort and make them intrinsic, or at least, reading-related rewards (i.e., extra time in the library, a new book, etc.)


Prioritize reading in your classroom by providing students with multiple opportunities to read throughout the day and build in time for students to share their reading successes with their peers.  The more time your students spend reading, the more successful they will be and they will begin to really see themselves as a part of your classroom reading community.

Following are some suggested resources for further reading:

If your classroom library is currently organized by level, you may want to consider re-organizing by topic.  Students LOVE's so much more fun shopping for a book you are actually interested in!!  I have a large collection of classroom library labels, in a variety of designs to help get you started!

You might also be interested in Launching Reader's Workshop, which includes several lessons that will help your students to see themselves as readers and encourage reading engagement!

I hope you enjoyed this post, the first in a series about the Essential Practices in Early and Elementary Literacy (Grades K-3).  My next post will be about matching books to readers:  How to Suck Them In!  Relentlessly Matching Books to Readers.

I'd love for you to share your comments about this post below....collaboration is key!

Love and peace,

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