motivating and engaging students in reading - literacy

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    Motivating and engaging students in reading

    Jenna CambriaJohn T. GuthrieLJjdvcrsLiv ",


    You can certainly ignore motivation if youchoose. But if you do, you maybe neglect-ing the most important part of reading.There are two sides to reading. On oneside are the skills which include phonemic

    awareness, phonics, word recognition, vocabulary, andsimple comprehension. On the other side is the will toread. A good reader has both skill and will. In the "will"part, we are talking about motivation to read. This de-scribes children's enjoyments, their wants, and theirbehaviors surrounding reading. A student with skillmay be capable, but without will, she cannot become areader. It is her will power that determines whether shereads widely and frequently and grows into a studentwho enjoys and benefits from literacy. So we think youshould care about motivation because it is the other halfof reading. Sadly, it is the neglected half.

    What is motivation?Many teachers think of a motivated reader as a studentwho is having fun while reading. This may be true,but there are many forms of motivation that mightnot be related to fun and excitement. What we meanby motivation are the values, beliefs, and behaviorssurrounding reading for an individual. Some productivevalues and beliefs may lead to excitement, yet othervalues may lead to determined hard work.

    We talk about three powerful motivations thatdrive students' reading. They operate in school and out ofschool, and they touch nearly every child. Some studentsmay have all of these motivations and some may haveonly one. For some students, these motivations appear inthe positive form driving students toward reading. Forother students, the motivations are negative and pushstudents away from books. When we talk about readingmotivations we refer to (1) interest, (2) dedication, and(3) confidence. An interested student reads because heenjoys it; a dedicated student reads because he believesit is important, and a confident student reads because he

    can do it. We discuss each of these in this essay with anemphasis on dedication.

    Research says that skill and will (motivation) gotogether. Usually, students who are gaining in skill aregaining in motivation as well; a student whose motivationincreases because she is inspired by a terrific teacher willgrow in reading skills. Research also says that thesethree motivations are independent. A student may beinterested and read for enjoyment, but not dedicatedand not seeing the importance of hard work in reading.A student may also be interested and want to read butnot be confident in her ability. So confidence can be aproblem when other motivations are not a problem for astudent. Research also says that motivation comes fromthe teacher in the classroom. Of course, motivation maybe stimulated by home and may be influenced by peers,but the teacher is the main actor influencing a student'sdevelopment of reading motivation.

    What can a teacher do?We offer six motivation practices that teachers canimplement daily in the classroom. These practicescan be brought into every lesson and directed to everystudent. Teachers do not have to wait for motivation tocome from the outside. They can make it happen anytime they want to implement one of these six practices.Research undergirds the impact of these practiceson students becoming avid readers and on studentsbecoming achieving readers. We provide examples ofthese practices from the literature and from our ownexperiences in our research and teaching.

    Motivations to readinterest, confidence,dedication

    InterestWhen we think of motivation our mind first turns tointerest. Motivation is enjoying a book, being excitedabout an author, or being delighted by new information.Researchers refer to interest as intrinsic motivation.

    16 I Feature Articles

  • meaning something we do for its own sake. On a rainyday, we might rather read our favorite mystery than doanything else. We are not trying to get a reward whenfalling into a novel.

    Motivation also brings to mind the reward forsuccess. Who doesn't like to win a trinket for hitting thetarget with a dart at the State Fair? Who doesn't want toearn serious money for working hard in a career? Theseare extrinsic rewards because someone gives them to us.We do not give them to ourselves, and these rewards dopropel us to put out effort, focus energy, and get up inthe morning.

    Yet, extrinsic rewards do not motivate readingachievement in the long term. Students who read onlyfor the reward of money, a grade, or a future job arenot the hest readers. The reason is that if you read forthe reward of a good quiz score, what happens after thequiz is that you stop reading. If the test score is the onlything that matters, it is OK to take shortcuts, not reallyunderstand, or cheat. It encourages students to becomemore interested in the reward than the learning. Noneof these generate long-term achievement. Sometimes areward, such as candy or early recess, will jump-starta group of students to read in this moment for thispurpose. But if the motivation is not intrinsic, it willnot increase achievement in the long term.

    For some individuals, grades represent their qualityas a student and a reader. Being a high achiever is asymbol of how they are doing. A high grade is an iconof success and these students strive to feel successful.One student told us that he read as practice to improveas a reader and get hetter grades. He said, "Reading alot helps you read better 'cuz at first I wasn't a very goodreader but now I'm doing real good." This point cameup again and again. Another boy said, "If I keep readingthen like you can do better in high school and thenyou'll get good, hetter grades." Readers who identifywith school see grades as an emblem of their successand a reason to have confidence.

    Interest comes in two formssituational andenduring. Situational interest is fascination with adetail in the here and now: a picture in a hook, a linkin a Website, a funny comment by a character, or anamazing fact ahout animals will all excite situationalinterest. This does not last until tomorrow or next week.Situational interest does not generate achievementhecause it is locked into the local event. Situationalinterest can hecome enduring if it recurs with teacher (orother) continuing support. If a student finds one type ofnovel he likes, such as realistic fiction, and is helped tofind more and to understand them fully, he may, overtime, grow an enduring motivation for reading fiction.But the situational motivation is not sufficient to assurethe full maturation of intrinsic motivation. One of ourgoals in schools is to foster intrinsic motivation, theenjoyment and fulfillment in reading.

    Confidence as a readerBelief in yourself is more closely linked to achievementthan any other motivation throughout school. Thereason is that confidence, which refers to belief in yourcapacity, is tied intimately to success. This link occursfor simple, daily reading tasks. A student who readsone page fluently thinks he can read the next page inthe same book proficiently. The link is also forged forreading in general. A student who reads fluently andunderstands well is also sure of himself as a reader. Inand out of school, people like the things they do well.

    Conversely, students who struggle begin to doubttheir abilities. They expect to do poorly in reading,writing, and talking ahout text. The real dilemma isthat lower-achieving students often exaggerate theirlimitations. Believing they are worse than they reallyare, they stop trying completely. Retreating from alltext interactions, they reduce their own opportunity todo what they want to do more than anythingto bea good reader. Their low confidence undermines themeven further in a cycle of douht and failure. By middleschool, hreaking this cycle is a formidable challenge forteachers.

    Partly due to their long history of difficulty,middle school students need a safe environment. AsNicole Connolly, a middle school teacher, said abouther struggling readers:

    I know from a teacher's perspective, the firstthing that you do in the classroom is that youhave to create a safe environment, an environmentwhere they feel comfortable, they feel safe, theyfeel respected and they feel heard. Ahsolutelyunder no circumstances is any child ever goingto be laughed at for saying anything wrong orthat seems off the mark. Especially teachingReading/Language arts, sometimes the poetrycan be a little deep and for example, today thepoem was about suicide and you know there areraw feelings that start to come out so you haveto set that environment. By this point, I am aquarter ofthe way through the school year so thatenvironment is set in my room. It's very trustingright now, but that's the first thing you have todo is just make it a safe environment. When therelationships start to build, you are really givingeach child a voice that only comes from confidentrelationships. It's not easy.

    For many students, a trusting relationship withtheir teacher makes all the difference in huildingconfidence.

    DedicationAlthough intrinsic motivation is desirable because itis gratifying for the student, and because it energizes

    The NERA Journal (2010), Volume 46{\) Feature Articles I 17

  • students to achieve, this type of motivation is not alwayspossible in school. There are assignments that are notdesirable to a student, yet are part of the curriculum.There are books that do not appeal to some individuals,yet at a given moment in a given school, it is necessaryto read them. What motivation enables students to readin this situation? The reason to read in this case is thestudents' belief that reading is important, the students'persistence in reading whatever the assignment, and thestudents' organization that enables them to put fortheffor


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