The teacher as reading coach: Relationship-building that motivates students to read and achieve their personalised goals - Renaissance Australia
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The teacher as reading coach: Relationship-building that motivates students to read and achieve their personalised goals

By: Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer, Renaissance US

I think we all can agree that text is silent, given voice only by the generosity of the reader. Yet, even when we accept that reading is a conversation between the reader and author, we can build better teacher-student relationships by reading aloud to students of all ages, talking enthusiastically about books and articles we’ve read, and encouraging discussion among students.

After all, reading is a complex, social enterprise. Teachers and students who talk about what they are reading and what they want to read next form a reading partnership. When we talk about what we are reading, we create meaning with the person listening to us. This enhances the social aspect of learning to read and reading to learn. So, teachers and students get closer when the teacher reads to them and, in turn, when they talk to the teacher about what they are reading.


Practice and goal setting are really about motivation.

Anders Ericsson writes that “deliberate (e.g., meaningful, purposeful, effective, gets the job done) practice” requires scientific attention to:

  1. Specific improvement goals
  2. Constant drive to work slightly outside the comfort zone
  3. A good coach to minimise the risk

1. Set specific improvement goals and talk about them with students:

Personalised goals build the love of reading and help students develop a growth mindset. Goals are more effective in motivating students when they’re specific—more than simply “earn points” or “score this well.” Goals help students understand why reading at their level is a really, really good idea. They build vocabulary and prior knowledge. Students get to talk to people about their goals and the cool stuff they are reading.

Points and scores are a way to track great reading—they are neither the purpose for, nor the joy of, reading. However, they do play a significant role in making reading improvement specific and visible. “Visibility” is big in motivation. That’s why our progress pages in Renaissance Accelerated Reader are so important.


2. Constant drive to work slightly outside the comfort zone:

Teacher/student relationships can really blossom when a teacher shows enthusiasm about what students are reading, and guides students to stretch their comfort zone, perhaps by suggesting a slightly harder book about a topic the student loves. Even the most motivated students need to sustain their drive and work just outside their comfort zone. Did you know that when left to make their own choices, young readers (K–2) most often select nonfiction books? So, let them select nonfiction that may be a bit outside of their comfort zone.


3. A good coach to minimise the risk:

Practice takes a good coach. Data help every teacher become a great reading coach—the reading buddy (because remember, reading is a social enterprise). Strengthen the student and teacher partnership by using data to monitor what students are doing in the name of reading and using that data to make sure they are on a good path—to learn to read in order to build vocabulary, background knowledge, and the love of reading.

When teachers talk with students about what they are reading and track their reading data, they can minimise risks, including the risk of not reading 30+ minutes per day, or the risk of reading books too far outside the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), or the risk of reading for points rather than pleasure. Some questions a reading coach might ask: Are you reading at your just-right level? Are you reading this book because it interests you or because you just want the points? Did you understand what you read? What was the best part? What surprised you?


Interest is the number one motivator. There is a lot of great work on motivation. I go to Guthrie and Davis (1997), who state that motivation to read is multidimensional. Students are motivated to read when they have an abundant supply of books available, have some degree of autonomy in what they will read, and get to read just for fun and just from their own interests. I also like going to the literature on motivation. There is a great study from Texas A&M University (see Xiang, P., Chen, A., and Bruene, M., 2005) that looked at intrinsic/extrinsic motivation among fourth graders. Like Guthrie and Davis, the researchers found that “interest” trumped all other means of motivation. Let students read what’s interesting to them, and read they will.

Extrinsic motivation does play a role. Who doesn’t like recognition for hard work? But the impact of extrinsic motivation wanes over time. The activity—in this case, reading—becomes less important, while the reward becomes more important. Eventually, some lose interest in both the activity and the reward.


Motivation works best when it focuses on the task rather than on the ego.

  • Task—You are building up your stamina for reading. As a result, you are learning hundreds of new words and gaining lots of knowledge.
  • Ego—Congrats! You went after those points and you reached your goal.

Extrinsic motivation typically increases ego-involvement while decreasing task-involvement. Intrinsic motivation does just the opposite. Intrinsic motivation (specifically reading because you’re interested in the topic) was the most influential factor in student success.

In summary, the work on teacher/student partnerships points to a relationship built upon students’ interests and willingness to take responsibility for their own learning. It’s all about effective management of classroom routines, talking about reading and using data to build relationships, and setting personalised goals to help students build a growth mindset. A successful Accelerated Reader implementation is built from all three.