Is it possible to motivate students to read?

New research explores the impact of reading interventions on young people – with interesting findings
16th December 2020, 3:00pm
Dr Jessie Ricketts and Dr Sarah McGeown

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Is it possible to motivate students to read?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/it-possible-motivate-students-read
'the List Of Pupils' Favourite Books Was Depressing'

For school pupils to reach their full potential as readers, they must choose to read independently. Research shows that book reading improves language and literacy skills, as well as knowledge and understanding of the world, but it can also be personally rewarding. 

Reading books provides a time for children and adolescents to relax, laugh, pursue their interests, immerse themselves in imaginary worlds and spend time with fictional friends.

Books can provide young people with rich and diverse experiences, but only when they are choosing to read and are engaged with the books they are reading. Understanding what motivates students to read is key to achieving this.

Earlier this year, Miriam McBreen and Robert Savage published a systematic review and meta-analysis examining the impact of motivational reading interventions on the reading achievement, and reading motivation, of children and adolescents. This important work provides researchers and teachers with insights into the potential impact of motivational reading interventions.

A virtuous circle 

As many teachers will know from their classrooms, there often exists a relationship between students' reading skills and their reading motivation that is mutually reinforcing. Good readers are more likely to choose to read, which improves their reading skills, while struggling readers are often less inclined to read and therefore have fewer opportunities to improve their reading skills.  

This is not always the case: there are often numerous good readers who, despite the skill, do not have the will. Understanding the impact of motivational reading interventions on both reading achievement and reading motivation is crucial to understand how we can optimally support all students.

What can we do?

There is good evidence for how to support reading skills in primary-aged children, and emerging evidence on this for secondary-aged children. The Education Endowment Foundation has published useful guidance reports for improving literacy across the school system.

However, researchers have made far less progress on understanding if and how motivational reading interventions can impact reading achievement and reading motivation. McBreen and Savage's study makes an important contribution to this by conducting two types of secondary analysis: systematic review and meta-analysis. 

A systematic review pulls together the existing evidence by using databases to comprehensively search the literature with clear search terms and criteria for inclusion and exclusion of studies. A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis that combines the results from several studies to answer a research question - in this case, the size of the effect of motivational reading interventions on reading achievement and reading motivation.

What can we do to increase motivation?

The motivation interventions varied in content. Some supported pupils to attribute reading success to effort rather than innate ability, some fostered interest in texts, others focused on self-regulation (such as goal setting), and the remaining used a combination of these approaches with an emphasis on autonomy (through book choice, for example).

Can we motivate students to read?

Overall, the motivational reading interventions had a positive impact on reading achievement and reading motivation, although the impact on motivation was larger. Importantly, training for those who are delivering interventions emerged as an important factor. 

This resonates with effective intervention approaches like the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI), where teaching assistants deliver the intervention, following careful training and support.

The impact of the interventions was clear for motivation, as defined broadly, but less clear for intrinsic motivation: being motivated to read for its own sake. It is important that we understand why this is the case and whether more externally driven motivation for reward, praise and so on can be harnessed to promote intrinsic motivation.

In 2021, we will start working on a project with Dr Laura Shapiro, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, where we will be working collaboratively with teachers to co-design and evaluate an intervention to motivate and engage child readers. Keep an eye on this website for updates.

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