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Irresistible Literacy

As a reading intervention teacher, the nature of my position allows me to work primarily with students who struggle in reading and writing.  Some struggle due to learning disabilities, identified or unidentified.  Some come to us from homes where literacy is not held as a priority and therefore, these children haven’t been privy to the exposure to text that their peers have enjoyed.  Many are unmotivated and view reading as an unrewarding task that almost always seems to end with answering comprehension questions that are not quite accessible for the reader who struggles with word knowledge and decoding.  My goal for these students has shifted since I began in this line of work.  Five years ago, if asked to articulate my goal for my students, I would have answered, “To help them meet grade level benchmarks”.  Now, my goal is bigger, broader, more aggressive, and more challenging.

I want to make literacy irresistible to my students.  I want to help inspire the intrinsic desire to read and learn and discover.  I have decided that, in order to do this, I need to create a space that is welcoming, multi-faceted, and simply fun.  I want this space to be one in which students can concentrate, percolate, collaborate, create, and innovate.  My space needs to consist of areas for group learning and discussion, room for small groups to gather, and comfortable spaces that draw students in to hunker down and enjoy a good story or focus on a project at hand.  (Does this remind you of the “campfires, watering holes, and caves” discussion?)

So, how do I make literacy irresistible to students who loathe the idea of picking up a book and reading it from cover to cover?  If I had the means to create a dream literacy “fab lab” (using the same vein of thought that inspired Paula White’s Crozet “fab lab”), what tools would draw my students closer to literacy?  In my mind’s eye, I picture touch-screen tables, one-to-one iPads, an entire wall that is a dry-erase board, tile floors that can be used as a canvas for brainstorming, hand-held interactive tools such as iPod Touches, and of course, a wall of books that are exciting to our students.  These books need to be high interest, cover the span of genres, and all would need to be available in audio format on our interactive tools, enabling a student to choose a book, click a tab, and enjoy reading it with the amount of assistance they require.

This week, I asked my students about their passions.  I asked them to tell me one thing in their lives that drives them to want to learn and succeed more.  Almost all students answered with the name of a sport.  Two spoke of music.  One was thrilled to tell me about her art.  A first grader replied that she loves writing more than anything.  When they spoke of these passions, their eyes lit up and they were excited about these parts of their lives.  I want to harness that joy, that intrinsic drive, that passion.  I do believe that each of my students can find literacy irresistible if they are taken down the right avenue to get there.  I would love the input of educators who have found innovative and inspiring ways to bridge the gaps for struggling students.  What would you add to a dream literacy “fab lab” to help inspire a desire to read and learn?

About Corrie

I love learning, leading, collaborating, and reading. My goal as an elementary reading interventionist and an adjunct university reading instructor is to help my students discover the joys of lifelong literacy.


13 thoughts on “Irresistible Literacy

  1. Corrie,
    I want all those things you mention–especially the HUGE idea wall for kids to write and draw on– and I also want videos and tapes of professional storytellers such as Heather Forest ( I want the stories being told orally available in both the listening center and on the handhelds. I DO want a listening center–where kids can hold the books in their hands and read along as they hear it read aloud. I want computer and iPad programs like the old Talking Books where kids interact with the print and visuals to help them “get” the book–both comprehension and vocabulary, but in a fun way, and in the context of the story.

    I want writing materials–different colors of paper, pens and journaling stuff–unlined and lined books. . . notebooks, notepads, microscopes, magnifying glasses, magazines such as Ranger Rick, National Geographic, Time Photo albums and various kinds of dictionaries and thresauri (is that really a word?). I want ways for kids to play with words–wooden letters plastic tiles and cookie cutters and clay and chalkboards and crayons. I want puzzles and letter cubes and games like scrabble and boggle . I want games like Apples to Apples that play with words and help kids understand language learning can be thought-provoking and entertaining. I want videos in various languages and books in multiple languages so kids can learn about other cultures.

    I want author study videos and materials. I want teachers who share the love of favorite authors through those studies…and I want kids to find favorite authors through their teachers sharing their love of literature.

    I want kids to have access to this literacy lab throughout their tenure in school–my gifted 4th graders right now are LOVING reading picture books and creating wikis around them, looking at the vocabulary and providing resources for others enjoying the books. An example we have begun is around Megan McDonald’s The Potato Man at (It’s a work in progress, so excuse the mistakes and unfinished stuff!)

    But, most of all, I want kids to find literacy irresistible, as you do. Thanks for sharing your ideas and letting me dream about a Literacy Lab.

    Posted by Paula White | February 5, 2011, 5:16 pm
  2. Great post! You’ve really nailed it – make school irresistible. I watch my students’ energy and joy at recess, and the energy and joy of things like PS 122’s chorus singing Viva La Vida (check YouTube) and I want to see it in my library! That is my standard, more than anything set by my school district/state standards/whatever. – Beth Redford, Library Media Specialist, Richmond Elementary School, Vermont

    Posted by Beth Redford | February 5, 2011, 7:12 pm
  3. Thank you Paula! What wonderful ideas for manipulative and games. I remember @angelamaiers speaking about the value of magnifying glasses in all areas of instruction, and I agree that students would love to use those to go on word hunts in text or around the school. Along with Apples to Apples, the game Heximania is a great way to enjoy building onto and creating words. My fourth grade group has recently discovered the joy of reading books by Andrew Clements, so having author study materials on him would be beneficial for them. I appreciate your comments and so wish we could work together to create our dream Lit Lab!

    Posted by Corrie | February 5, 2011, 7:15 pm
  4. Dear Corrie,

    Your post is AMAZING!!! I love it!!!! I would simply keep asking those children deep questions to draw out what is already within them. I’d continue to use their passion to drive the curriculum, to help them see how their interests connect to everything else. This is an ongoing thread for the whole year. Hopefully a year of working in this way will help students to ask big questions of their own lives, on their own. This is inquiry from the inside out:)



    Posted by Kristine | February 5, 2011, 8:51 pm
  5. Hi,

    Your essay on making literacy irresistible is a good idea. We are currently swamping the high schools with kids whose literacy skills are shockingly low – especially at inner city schools.

    I’m in the beginning stages of creating a secondary science website for low performing high school students that includes literacy support. The support will be integrated with eye catching interactive science activities.


    Posted by Ann Wellhouse | February 5, 2011, 11:50 pm
  6. So true! If we can help students see that literacy is meaningful, challenging, fun and relevant, it becomes easier to bridge the “skill gap.”

    Posted by johntspencer | February 6, 2011, 11:40 am
  7. So how do we resource it and build it for 2011-12? PATSO? Lowe’s grants? Best Buy? Golden Apple moneys? Building-level decisions? Intervention moneys and grants?

    Let’s make the space.

    Posted by Chad Sansing | February 7, 2011, 9:23 pm
  8. Amen Chad– if we build it they will come.

    Posted by Corrie | February 7, 2011, 9:50 pm
  9. Corrie, What are you passionate about? What is irresistible to you? How does that affect classroom practice?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | February 8, 2011, 11:24 am
  10. The missing link may well be for individuals to focus on what ‘the student really needs’ more than ‘their needs’. Know that more can learn to read and write given the right grammar instruction and the chance to evolve through detailed achievement testing. Of course, we can also appeal for “reason” rather than ‘reasons’ to explain how something as basic as literacy levels has become something that needs to be made ‘irresistible’ or desirable, something any student whether gifted, regular or special education and regardless of circumstance can end up lacking while still in their schooling years. Given the understanding that these essential tools are needed to be empowered and to learn things or to accomplish most any goal, the underlying question is more with overall attitudes, the framework, programs of study, curriculum and reading achievement tests. Teach a student basic literacy skills and the knowledge of such things as grammar techniques, sentence structures, cursive writing, decoding and comprehension appropriate for every grade to ensure continuous development and rather than assume that most will be able to continue learning by reading after grade three, test such ideologies to ensure this to be a fact.
    If we blame the student or respond after the fact with IQ tests that are intended to identify their problem and result in coding for supports without reintroducing continuous ELA grammar instruction with skills achievement tests that detail, document and link their literacy level with their learning achievement outcomes. Allow students, parents, teachers and the public to know when and why students struggle early enough to prevent them from having ‘needs’ and to allow the system to redirect energy and resources in the best interest of public schooling and students who can learn given the right opportunity from the start. Very few cannot learn to read and write and yet 30 percent of students are struggling in reading and writing by the end of grade six and do become unable to fully benefit from any part of their schooling. If the approach is to always address their differences, disabilities, discrepancies or dimensions, exposure and motivation we will likely continue down the wrong path without challenging perceptions to change policy and approach. Empower rather than engage. Reinstate Literacy and remove the growing trend to code for supports to be provided which often end up being late and inappropriate if these workbooks require the very literacy skills these students may be lacking. Thinking in terms of harnessing and engaging, may end up restricting students by using existing points of view and resulting ‘rules’ and strategies which, reasonably would hold even more students back given enough time. If we want to bridge a gap, ensure the bridge goes both ways and it is reasonable to see that it is most reasonably our fault, something that we are doing wrong than with any child.

    Posted by Brenda | November 24, 2011, 5:07 pm


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