Motivation: Going beyond Testing to a Lifetime of Reading

Article excerpt

Motivating children to read on their own has been less of a priority than improving reading achievement in recent years, but many teachers are still asking, "How do I get my students to want to read?" The omission of motivation as a major component of reading instruction by the National Reading Panel (2000) was interpreted by many schools as a lack of endorsement of its importance. In the past, principals creatively coaxed children into collectively reading large quantities of books on their own by using motivational antics, such as shaving heads or kissing pigs. These antics have gone by the wayside in recent years. While we are not advocating returning to these types of extreme measures to get children to read, we do believe the desire behind these behaviors still has merit. Unfortunately, promoting independent reading has become secondary to activities more directly aligned with high-stakes testing performance, such as matching children's reading levels with appropriate reading material, practicing fluency, and guided reading.

We are concerned that many children are not choosing to read on their own and that independent reading opportunities during the school day appear to be diminishing. If intrinsically motivated to read on their own, children will sustain interest in reading and improve their reading abilities. Some research suggests if children do not read on their own, they may even lose some reading abilities (Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988) gained through reading instruction. This article provides readers with principles of motivation and equips administrators and teachers with tools to motivate children to read independently.


While a common method for motivating reluctant learners is providing extrinsic rewards (e.g., giving children candy if they read five books), this method may not be sustainable. Jensen (1998) disputed the behaviorist theory that encouraged educators to use rewards as a teaching strategy. He found that rats--as well as humans--will consistently seek new experiences and behaviors even without perceivable reward or impetus. Furthermore, he suggests that extrinsic rewards eventually

* Reduce intrinsic motivation

* Cheapen the value and love of learning

* Send the wrong messages

* Create an escalating no-win game.

Based on the many shortcomings of extrinsic motivators, we will focus on intrinsic motivation in this article. The following eight principles are particularly important for teachers to consider as they motivate their students to read:

1. Choice and Control--Children need to know that they have some power over their education. When they are not given any choices, they certainly are not inspired to be proactive about their participation. Children feel empowered if they can make choices (Hunter, 2001).

2. Social Interaction--Irvin (1990) believes that putting reading in a social context "reduces the feelings of isolation when children are expected to interact with the text alone" (p. 55). Children appear to have high motivation to read when they will be sharing some aspect of their reading with others. Breving (2006) implemented book club discussions, a popular form of social interaction, in her classroom and discovered that her children became quite engaged in reading.

3. Novelty--Humans constantly seek new experiences and behaviors in learning situations. Wolfe (2001) states, "Novelty is an innate attention-getter ... our brains today are still programmed to pay attention to the unusual, such as a detour sign when we are driving" (p. 82).

4. Feedback/Response--Children need plenty of feedback on how they are doing. As Lent (2006) states, "Response is a powerful force; it can be a stimulating motivator" (p. 100).

5. Attainable Success--According to Graves, Juel, and Graves (2007), "Research has repeatedly verified that if children are going to be motivated and engaged in school and learn from their schoolwork, they need to succeed at the vast majority of tasks they undertake" (pp. …