Preaching Motivation

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Fowl Language Comics

Lately I’ve been on a crusade to convince parents of the old librarian adage: reading is reading. This task is harder than it sounds.

Information era parenting is hard

Parents are sent so many messages constantly about how to raise their children–do this, don’t do that, let them do certain things (or don’t let them, at all costs!). Many of the messages they receive are conflicting, which can be confusing, at best. Other messages are vague and can leave parents to draw their own conclusions, whether those conclusions are backed by research or not. In the information era, as librarians well know, the battle has become helping people navigate an environment of too much information instead of too little. We all need help sometimes sifting through everything that’s out there, and every parent is just doing the best they can with the information they’ve been given.

We see this a lot when it comes to leveled reading programs for younger students. These programs can be a powerful tool for teachers to measure the progress in their students’ reading skills and reading comprehension. But when parents are given progress reports that list their children’s current reading levels, they may become anxious that their children are not making enough progress, or they may think that their children must read books that are at their current level. Sometimes they begin to think that their child should be reading books at a higher level, and other times they don’t want their child to attempt a book “too advanced” for them. Captain Underpants is too juvenile; Rainbow Magic books are all the same (trust me, I know). All of these motivations come from a place of love, of wanting to provide their child with the structure and support they need to grow in their abilities as readers. There is an opportunity here for us as librarians, experts in all things books and reading, to help parents understand what research-based methods are out there that can help their children along this journey.

Bringing the message to them–meet them where they are

As a part of my community engagement work, I try to regularly visit PTO meetings for each of the 8 buildings in our local school district. If I can make it to each PTO group once a school year, I call it a win. Partly, my goal is to hear about the projects that parents in our community are working on and what concerns they may have about their children. My other goal is to introduce myself to parents and get to know them, so they know the library is available to support them in the work they do to raise their families. This school year, I’ve also started using my time at these meetings to spread the good word about intrinsic reading motivation, in hopes it will add some important tools to their parenting toolbox.

The research into reading all agrees that when kids read from intrinsic motivation, a knowledge that reading is a fun and enjoyable activity in its own right, as opposed to extrinsic–reading for prizes, or reading to avoid punishment–their outcomes are better across the board. They are more excited to read, their comprehension deepens, and they develop their reading skills more readily. Likewise, if children perceive themselves as strong readers or if they have books that they are excited to read, they are more likely to have stronger intrinsic motivation to read and continue developing those skills.

Practical ideas can make the greatest impact

Another strong indicator for high intrinsic reading motivation is that the child has a supportive family reading environment at home. This is the part of my talk with parents that I like to open up for discussion, so folks have the opportunity to share some ways they’re already supporting their kids’ love of reading. It’s a wonderful opportunity to validate parents in the knowledge that they’re already doing some things right, and it also allows them to share ideas with one another and connect to each other in the shared goal of supporting their kids. If they’re stumped, here’s some ideas I share with them to get the conversation moving:

  • Let your kids see you reading: children are always looking to their parents for examples of what a successful adult looks like. Any opportunity for parents to show their kids that they think reading is a valuable use of time will make a difference.
  • Let your kids pick their own pleasure reading books: they’ll be more excited to read and more likely to read more often! I know, Captain Underpants for the 500th time is exhausting. But it’s such a gift when they have a book they actually want to read.
  • Talk about books with your child. Did they like it? What was it about? Do you want to read it too so you can discuss it together?
  • Read with your child. No one is too old to be read to–even if they’re reading on their own, taking the time to read together builds a special bond and fondness for the shared time and activity.

There’s so many other great ways to build a supportive family reading environment at home; these are just some ideas to get you and your community talking and thinking together.

Edit 2/22/19:

References

Any good librarian cites her sources. To learn more about intrinsic reading motivation, check out the articles below. If you’re interested in my much more detailed notes and references on the topic, contact us!

Eccles, J. S., & Wigfield, A. (2002). Motivational beliefs, values, and goals. Annual review of psychology53(1), 109-132.

Froiland, J. M., Peterson, A., & Davison, M. L. (2013). The long-term effects of early parent involvement and parent expectation in the USA. School Psychology International34(1), 33-50.

Katzir, T., Lesaux, N. K., & Kim, Y. S. (2009). The role of reading self-concept and home literacy practices in fourth grade reading comprehension. Reading and Writing22(3), 261-276.

Schaffner, E., Schiefele, U., & Ulferts, H. (2013). Reading amount as a mediator of the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation on reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly48(4), 369-385.

Filling in the gaps

This week, a resident and partner shared with me an article from Nonprofit Quarterly titled The Organic Role of Libraries as Centers of Inclusiveness and Support, about major metro library systems who employ social workers. It’s an especially pertinent topic right now as the Midwest, where Laura and I both live, is gripped by record-breaking temperature lows. It’s only (only!) -6°F here in Cleveland. It’s gotten as low as -28°F in Chicago, and wind chills across the region have reached the -50°s. (I grew up in Tennessee, y’all. I didn’t know temps this low were even possible.) The New York Times reported Wednesday that at least 4 people have already died in relation to the cold. This week, all of our vulnerable populations are especially vulnerable.

Source: cleveland.com

Source: Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com

But librarians are vigilant. My inbox is filled with coworkers sharing resources with one another, to ensure we all know how to help anyone in need. The good news is, agencies and citizens are stepping up to care for our own. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless maintains a street card that informs people where they can find essential services for housing and food. Greater Cleveland RTA is keeping several transit centers open 24/7, and shelters are not requiring their guests to leave during the day and have promised they will turn no one away. Area social workers are working round the clock to monitor the streets and ensure no one is left outside. As I was typing this just now, a kind-hearted patron brought me a bag of brand-new hats and gloves so that we may give them away to youth in the library under-dressed for the extreme weather.

Social workers are specially trained to know how to tie all of these resources together, in a much deeper and more impactful way than librarians’ standard reference practices can achieve. Libraries like Denver Public Library and San Francisco Public Library, both in communities with high levels of need, are growing social work programs to help connect patrons with social resources. For many smaller libraries, however, adding a new staff member, let alone a team, just isn’t feasible. But by developing relationships with social work agencies in our area, we can work to fill in our gaps in service by sharing resources.

Bellefaire JCB is an agency local to us in Northeast Ohio that cares for youth in a myriad of ways–one of which is their Homeless and Missing Youth department, which administers the Safe Place program in Cuyahoga County (Greater Cleveland and many surrounding suburbs). Through this program, when a community space is designated as a Safe Place, we post an identifying sign so that any youth in trouble know they can come to any staff member and get help. In our area, we call Bellefaire, and they will come meet the youth and connect them with housing, counseling, or anything else to meet their needs. We can also just call their hotline to ask advice on how to handle a hard situation. It’s a service we at the library would struggle to meet on our own, but by partnering with Bellefaire, we’re able to help widen the safety net for at-risk youth in our area. There’s a whole network of Safe Places in Cuyahoga County; most libraries have earned the Safe Place designation, and every bus and train in RTA is a Safe Place as well. We at Shaker also partnered with our local schools and police department to ensure that students and police are aware of the program and the services Bellefaire provides.

What ways have you been able to fill in the gaps in your service through relationship building? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Meaningful Relationships and Building Community

“Community Engagement” has become a significant buzzword not just in library circles, but across all kinds of social service-oriented entities. Here in our little town of Shaker Heights (pop. <30,000), I work with no less than 5 folks from other agencies with “Community Engagement” in their job titles–at our schools, the recreation department, churches, and early childhood centers. As the digital environment grows and encompasses us all, service organizations are learning that in order to remain essential to our communities, we must go meet our residents where they are, and we must engage our neighbors more deeply in order to meet their needs.

From my perspective, the most important element and driving force of CE is simply the practice of building relationships. Whether the relationship you are developing is with another organization, with leaders in your community, or with a resident of your service district, every relationship matters. Local organizations might be potential partners, with whom you can share resources in order to provide stronger and more accessible services to your community. Local leaders set the tone for the issues your neighborhood will focus on and care about, and they can help you access new resources or lend you much-needed support for a new project. Your residents are the beating heart of your community, wherever you are, and strong relationships with residents will help you achieve deeper engagement within your neighborhoods. Taking the time to nurture relationships on all levels yields significant opportunities to work together to improve the lives of everyone we serve.

A lot of the goal-setting we do in our CE work at SHPL is based on research we are borrowing from social science literature on social capital and asset-based community development. Ultimately, we see ourselves as community builders who seek to facilitate connections among our community in order to strengthen it and grow the social capital our residents have available to them. These connections don’t have to just be between the library and community members–if we know two of our contacts at different orgs share similar goals, and we facilitate a connection so they can work together, we know we’ve done our part to help our community grow.

There’s so much more to explore in how libraries fit into this puzzle as unique community assets. Over time at the ELC, we’ll be discussing how relationships have led to wonderful collaborations in our own communities. How has a connection or relationship enriched your life lately? Tell us in the comments!