Motivating Diverse Learners to Read

Learning to read well can be both incredibly challenging and rewarding for any student, but can be especially daunting for diverse learners. These are students with language backgrounds other than English as well as racial and ethnic backgrounds other than middle class and white. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 10.8 million children aged 5-17 in the US spoke a language other than English in their home in 2008. And, according to Census data highlighting statistics for the 2010-2011 school year, more than 40% of K-12 students were nonwhite or Hispanic and these figures are expected to grow. In fact, nonwhite or Hispanic students are projected to represent the majority of the student population by 2023.

Additionally, the number of English-language learners (ELL) enrolled in public schools increased from 3.5 million to 5.3 million (an increase of 51%) from 1997 to 2008. Compared with native English-speaking peers, language minority students on average have lower reading performance in English. ELLs often need a different approach than their English-speaking peers to improve literacy skills. Parents and teachers can work together to help develop and improve literacy skills and empower minority students to actively engage in text reading, writing and verbal communication.

Tips for Teachers to Help Students Succeed

Motivating diverse students to read and improve their literacy engagement poses unique challenges and opportunities for teachers. Through our hands-on research within the Minnesota Center for Reading Research (MCRR), we’ve observed several effective approaches teachers can take in a classroom with diverse students, including:

  • Facilitate candid and reflective dialogue with students on their experiences learning English and bring this insight into classroom content
  • Show students you are willing to question your own assumptions, learn from them and respect the perspectives they bring to the classroom
  • Be flexible to try new teaching methods that might resonate more with students rather than assume the students are at fault for not learning
  • Incorporate texts that are culturally relevant to engage students in active discussions about common problems they may experience and can relate to

It is helpful for teachers to create opportunities for frequent interaction and dialogue with parents. This helps develop a better understanding of your students so you can build on that knowledge to successfully motivate them to connect with literature. For example, we’ve seen schools that host a grandparent’s day or family literacy night to help integrate families into the school system in a positive way.

What Can Parents Do?

Positive parental involvement has a meaningful impact on diverse students’ success in school when parents get involved in their children’s education through open communication with teachers. They can provide vital insight into a child’s learning style, and discover how home and social environments can contribute to reading comprehension and language development. In addition, parents should talk with their child to learn about their experiences in school, help them make sense of what’s going on and find ways to connect home and school.

Learn more about the mission of MCRR and the research we conduct to support teachers as they learn to effectively teach children and youth from diverse backgrounds to become competent readers.

–Lori Helman, Co-Director of the Minnesota Center for Reading Research (MCRR)
–Yolanda Majors, Associate Director for Adolescent Literacy & Learning

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Lori Helman

About the Author

Lori Helman, Ph.D.

  • MCRR Co-Director
  • College of Education and Human Development (CEHD)
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • University of Minnesota
  • Associate professor of literacy education
Yolanda Majors

About the Author

Yolanda Majors, Ph.D.

  • MCRR Associate Director for Adolescent Literacy & Learning
  • College of Education and Human Development
  • Curriculum & Instruction
  • University of Minnesota
  • Visiting Associate Professor of English Education

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