Using Positive Education to Enliven the Teaching of Reading

Using Positive Education to Enliven the Teaching of Reading

Using Positive Education to Enliven the Teaching of Reading

George M Jacobs & Willy A Renandya, posted on 8 July 2022


It was only about two years ago that a colleague introduced us to Positive Psychology (PP) (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) and only a year ago that another colleague introduced us to Positive Education (PE) (Norrish, Williams, O’Connor, & Robinson, 2013), the application of PP to Education. Ever since, we have been incorporating PE into our teaching, including our teaching of reading. Also, to follow the good example of the two colleagues who taught us about PP and PE, we have been sharing about PE with other teachers.

This paper begins by explaining PP and then PE. Next, the paper links PE with two methods for teaching reading: Dialogic Reading (DR) (Doyle & Bramwell, 2006) and Extensive Reading (ER) (Extensive Reading Foundation, 2016). Each of these two methods of teaching reading are explained, followed by a discussion of how PE can further enliven these already effective and enjoyable methods of reading instruction.

Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology (PP) developed to augment the work on which psychology had traditionally focused (Seligman, 2008). Traditionally, psychology focused on people with serious problems and these people’s weakness, i.e., what Seligman called the disease model. Psychologists saw their job as decreasing the misery of people with severe psychological challenges. PP expanded the domain of psychology to encompass 100% of the population by turning attention to include normal people and to people who seem to excel in various areas of life. Rather than looking only at people’s weaknesses, PP also looks at people’s strengths and how to build strengths, not just at how to repair damage people have suffered.

PP seeks to assist people in being happier. However, happiness can have different manifestations, and PP sees three types of happiness (Seligman, 2008).  The first type of happiness, the pleasant life, consists of a life full of what most people think of when they think about happiness: smiles, laughter, play, a carefree attitude. PP seeks to foster the pleasant life but realises that this form of happiness tends to be transitory.

The second type of happiness flows from living an engaged life (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Engagement occurs when people have a high level of absorption in what they are doing. Time passes quickly in this engaged state. The third form of happiness studied by PP is the meaningful life. While people can be engaged in anything that captures their attention, such as playing the game, Candy Crush, on their phone, whether or not what people are doing is meaningful depends on whether their actions are seen as serving a goal larger than themselves, what Palmer (1990) called “vocation”. Seligman (2008) urged people to seek the meaningful life as the most sustainable path to happiness.

Various concepts have been suggested as being central to a PP perspective. Based on the distillation of these concepts by the authors of the present article, seven of these concepts are discussed below.

  1. Connection with Others – We humans are social animals. We need connections with other humans and/or other animals. From these connections, we derive emotional support, as well assistance in performing tasks, both individual and shared tasks.
  2. Responsibility – Successful connections with others require people to be responsible for doing their fair share. This responsibility links with the concept of internal locus of control (Rotter, 1966), i.e., the view that the success of our endeavours rests largely with us.
  3. Gratitude – Feeling and expressing gratitude to others helps forge and maintain connections with others, and bring happiness to both those expressing gratitude and those receiving expressions of gratitude.
  4. Positivity – Being realistically optimistic and looking for the positive in the past, present and future, as well as in people, places and situations.
  5. Strengths – Highlighting, mobilising and developing the strengths in oneself and others. Strengths include abilities, as well as character strengths, such as self control, and strengths based on experiences, such as having read a number of books by the same author.
  6. Kindness – Being kind to others and oneself represents an important strength. Kindness can manifest itself via planned, as well as spontaneous, acts.
  7. Meaning – People’s lives can be meaningful because of the positive impact they have on the lives of others.

Positive Education

Positive Education (PE) is the application of PP to the field of Education. We, the authors of this Viewpoint, propose that teachers consider whether PE might be useful in their own teaching. Table 1 briefly presents examples of how the seven PP concepts described earlier can be applied to education. Many of these applications involve students learning in groups.

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More free resources on similar topics

Student-Centred Learning: Are we practicing what we preach??

Student-centred learning in ELT


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