I am teaching a summer school class this week on secondary reading. Some of you just zoned out at the very thought of taking such a boring class. I’d rather have a needle stuck in my eye than take that class you might be thinking. Memories of thick textbooks, “overpacked” with information and with questions at the end of each chapter, drift across your glazed eyes. A class in high school reading may as well be a class in *static omnibetoline. (Who cares? Right?)

The secondary reading class at work.

The secondary reading class at work.

But that is just the thing. Literacy skills, which include reading, are the life blood of learning. Reading connects us to classroom success, but by learning to read well – to read with a purpose, to be able to identify the key points, and to comprehend what is read – it also connects us to an incredible world and a lifetime of discovery and learning. Rather than contributing to boredom and irrelevance, a skillful teacher can select WHAT is read and then coach students on HOW it is read in a way that ignites an interest and lures students into engagement.

The teachers in the class represent schools in Arizona, California, and Oregon.

The teachers in the class represent schools in Arizona, California, and Oregon.

I haven’t mentioned Choice Theory in the class yet this week, yet Choice Theory has been an important part of what we are learning. Known as the “quiet crisis,” data indicates that 25% – 40% of high school students are unable to access information in a textbook. There are multiple reasons for this, many that we have discussed in class, but the key is how can we as teachers enable students to be more successful? The Basic Needs framework provides a great viewpoint from which to consider possible solutions. For instance –

We honor a student’s need for Power and Success when we explicitly teach reading strategies.
Even if a student can read, we don’t assume that she/he knows HOW to read for comprehension. Being able to do things like 1) identifying the key idea, 2) comparing and contrasting different viewpoints, and 3) summarizing what an author really wanted to say can be taught. In fact, skills like these have to be taught, and probably re-taught. Human beings have a basic need to be successful in what they attempt. When we expect kids to know how to do complex tasks without teaching them how to complete the task their response is predictable. While a few students will ask for help or clarification, many students will act like the book is stupid or the assignment is dumb and doesn’t matter. “Who would want to do this ridiculous task?” they mutter with some disgust. Let’s not be faked out by their feigned coping mechanism. Instead let’s give them the tools to be successful.

We honor a student’s need for Purpose and Meaning when we make available or assign articles and books and other resources that are relevant to teenagers.
This is the challenge of teaching – connecting the learning to the learner. The casual observer doesn’t get this. You tell someone something, maybe you show them how to do something, and that should be it the casual observer thinks. But that isn’t it. It is nowhere near it! High school students, like everyone else in the world, latch on to ideas that matter to them. They engage in ideas that for them are important. Believe me, high school students care, they have intense opinions, and they want to make a difference. They yearn for school experiences that are not boring and irrelevant. Keep the following graphic in mind –



We honor a student’s need for Freedom and Autonomy when we design choice into assignments and projects, including choices in what materials are read and researched.
This is not as hard as it may sound, and even if it initially adds to your “to do” list the rewards will be worth it. Not only can teachers come up with more than one book or article to complete the same assignment, it is also possible to create a rubric for an assignment or project, which includes the students themselves coming up with the appropriate reading or documents.

We honor a student’s need for Love and Belonging when we provide opportunities for talking about what is read with other students.
This can’t be overstated! Classrooms need to be places of safe, supportive connections. The connection between teacher and student is very important, however I believe the connections between the students are even more important. Students achieve success to the extent they feel supported and encouraged, by the teacher as well as by each other. Creativity flourishes in a safe environment. Real engaged learning often involves getting out of our comfort zones and risking a bit. We are much more open to risking when we feel safe and connected with others. (The importance of this need being met is even more important for English Language Learners.)

The classroom abuzz with students talking presenting their cultural heritage projects to each other.

A classroom abuzz with students talking presenting their cultural heritage projects to each other.

We honor a student’s need for Joy and Fun when we select reading materials that are enjoyable to read and when we provide an environment for reading that is welcoming and relaxing.
Some learning tasks require hard work and extended effort, but hard work doesn’t make a task less satisfying. Usually it is just the opposite. Our satisfaction increases when we are engaged in a challenging task in which we see value. Glasser viewed fun as the payoff for learning. The human brain is a natural information seeker, always on the lookout for the interesting, the novel, the important, or the sacred.

Baiting the Reading Hook (Educational Leadership, October, 2010) is an article that describes the possibilities of how a school can create this environment for students. With a little effort we can help to change the way adolescents view reading.

It is a privilege to work with the dedicated educators who are a part of this secondary reading class. It was need-satisfying for me to see the material ignite ideas and inspire changes for next school year. In the process I learned, too, and will be making changes in my own classes. The goal for each of us to help students – regardless of their academic skill set – to become better at the literacy skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking.


The Better Plan 1 (formerly Soul Shapers 1) begins on Monday, June 20, here at PUC. If it’s possible, I would love to have you join us and become part of the class.


I was recently sent the following question: Is there a test to take to find out your basic need strengths / weaknesses?

How would you respond to this query? I may take a stab at it this weekend.


* static omnibetoline – a totally made-up, fabricated, fake topic or condition