Reading for Joy

choice joy reading instruction relevant texts Dec 12, 2023

Lit Bits is where I provide brief responses to literacy instruction questions. Teachers submit their questions anonymously, and in response, I create a short video accompanied by a blog post. You can fill out this form and submit any question about any element of literacy, and I might answer it here on the Lit Bits blog and in my video segments on the Elm Tree Education YouTube channel.

Question: How do we hang onto reading for joy and pleasure with the increase of importance in teaching the science of reading protocols?

Note before I get started on answering the question

The science of reading is not a protocol. There is no set of “science of reading protocols.” 

If you read the blog a few weeks ago, I started a three-part series on myths and misconceptions about the science of reading. I highlighted that it's not a protocol, curriculum, methodology, or ideology. It's an interdisciplinary body of research. 

Science doesn't dictate what should happen in classrooms but provides information on how kids best learn to read. There are some extra steps between the research and classroom practice, even if some may make it seem like there’s a direct line between the two. 

Classroom application requires us to consider efficiency, effectiveness, and equity. However, research often occurs in specific settings that may not easily translate to classrooms with various variables.  The practice studied in the research may not be efficient or practical with a whole classroom of students and may lack cultural responsiveness to all the learners in your classroom. 

What scholars and researchers say

Many want “evidence-based” practices in the classroom, but the term is losing its significance regarding products. Curriculum companies claim "evidence-based," but we're unsure of the evidence's validity. As I’ve covered before, there's no one-size-fits-all solution in teaching.

Many scholars and researchers say no emphasis should be placed more heavily on one or two areas of reading (like phonemic awareness and phonics) than on another. A balance must happen, and we must remember things like fluency and comprehension. 

“Often the adoption of new programs or reform efforts aimed at a particular piece of the puzzle lead to greater attention to certain abilities, but to diminished attention to other key parts of literacy. Make sure that you aren’t trading more phonics for less fluency work, or more vocabulary for less comprehension. You want to make sure that all components of reading are receiving adequate attention – not going overboard with some and neglecting others.” (Shanahan on Literacy blog, 3/4/23)

As teachers, we do have to make choices about our time. Every time we add something in, something else has to go. So we want to ensure we're not placing too much emphasis on some things and neglecting others, just like Shanahan warns us in his quote. 

Another piece of the puzzle is that some of the conversation around reading lately has been ignoring some pretty big pieces of what influences success when it comes to becoming a reader. 

“The recent focus on the “science of reading” (e.g., Hanford, 2018) perpetuates the narrow conceptualization of reading as cognition and students’ reading development as solely a cognitive phenomenon.” Teaching Readers (Not Reading): Moving Beyond Skills and Strategies to Reader-Focused Instruction, Afflerbach (2022)

Specifically, motivation, engagement, executive functioning skills, metacognition, self-efficacy, and beliefs about reading and knowledge have been left out of the conversation. We have plenty of studies that highlight the importance of motivation and engagement specifically. Yet, many of these new curricula you are seeing don’t address this because they are scripted and not tailored to the students in your classroom. 

How can we expect children to learn if they lack motivation and engagement? The key to fostering their learning is ensuring high motivation and engagement levels.

ARC of Motivation 

ARC of motivation regarding reading instruction has three pieces: access, relevance, and choice. They all overlap, and they all come together to influence motivation in the classroom.


First, to provide access in the classroom, there needs to be a text-rich environment with a wide variety of high-quality, high-interest reading materials available. There should be narrative texts in various genres, information texts, poetry, comics/graphic novels, magazines, newspapers, digital print, etc. 

Freddy Hiebert emphasizes the importance of considering our children's "text diets." It's more than just relying on teacher-selected texts. While teacher-selected texts have their place and time, we must also consider the rest of the reading material. Like our food choices, our children's reading habits should aim for a balanced and varied diet.

Allocating time for reading is crucial. The amount required may vary among children; while some require more, others need less. For instance, struggling readers may have limited reading time initially as they receive additional support from teachers. However, increasing their reading opportunities is essential as their reading proficiency improves.

Additionally, it's important to make time for students to discuss what they're reading. Discussion is a crucial part of learning. As adults, we naturally want to share our excitement about something captivating and have meaningful conversations with friends. Similarly, students should have opportunities to have these discussions in the classroom.

As educators, we need to highlight and exhibit enthusiasm for books. However, we should also feel comfortable expressing our personal preferences, as not everyone will share the same taste. For example, you might say, "Although fantasy isn't my preferred genre, I've heard positive reviews about this particular book from Mr. So-and-so. It might be a great choice for those who enjoy fantasy. Give it a try!" This way, we acknowledge our preferences while encouraging students to explore different genres.


We aim to ensure that we match children with texts they enjoy reading, whether based on an interest inventory or our knowledge gained through building relationships. For instance, if we know a child loves books about snakes, we offer them a chance to preview a new snake book before adding it to the entire classroom library.

Additionally, texts must be just right for the children - not difficult or easy. We want them to be moderately challenged, avoiding both boredom and frustration. 

To make the reading experience more authentic, we can incorporate real-world activities like book clubs, letter writing between students, or even connecting with adult pen pals reading the same book. These activities foster relevance and mimic real-life interactions, similar to how adults share book recommendations with friends.

By considering the texts themselves and the purpose of reading, we can create a meaningful learning environment that aligns with children's experiences outside the classroom.


Providing students with opportunities for control and choice throughout the day is crucial. Research consistently demonstrates that when individuals have autonomy over their learning, they are more likely to be actively engaged. The same applies when it comes to reading instruction.

Allowing students to self-select their reading materials empowers them to choose texts that resonate with their interests and preferences. Providing a controlled choice environment, such as through book clubs or partner discussions, fosters collaboration and decision-making skills. Students can collectively decide on the books they want to read and establish rules and activities related to their chosen texts.

Moreover, flexibility in how and where students read further enhances their sense of agency. Allowing them to explore different reading settings and determining when they engage in specific tasks cultivates a sense of ownership over their learning.

By prioritizing student choice in reading, we create an environment that promotes motivation, engagement, and a lifelong love for reading.

Final words

“Knowing how to read is not sufficient. Students must have both the skill and the will to read” (Marinak & Gambrell, 2016).

Returning to the initial question, how can we keep that joy of reading in our classrooms? The simple answer is that we have to. Whether you're creating book commercials for kids, encouraging them to share their reading experiences, or showcasing an ever-expanding library of fantastic reads, the goal remains to immerse children in a world of diverse and engaging texts. Those small things ensure that we are keeping the joy in active reading and creating students who will be lifelong readers.

However, the most significant part of all of these suggestions is you. You need to ensure that your enthusiasm and excitement for reading shine through, not a reluctance to carry out a curriculum you don't love. There might be books in the classroom, but if you're not encouraging the kids to go over there and read those books, you aren’t promoting the joy and love of reading. It always comes back to you as the teacher. 


If you feel like you still don't know how to balance curriculum with joy in your reading instruction, please book a free Zoom call with me. We can talk it out together.  Your first session is always on the house, so go here if you want to schedule a time to chat.  

What other thoughts do you have about spelling instruction? Share them with me through the contact page, or find me on social media and comment on the thread regarding this post!

Have any other questions about reading or writing instruction? Submit them for the chance to have them answered by me in a future Lit Bits blog post and video segment. 

Stay connected with news and updates!

Subscribe to the Elm Tree Education mailing list to receive the most recent updates, exclusive offers, and be notified about new blog posts.

I don't like SPAM. I will never sell your information, for any reason.