Academic journal article High School Journal

Reading between the Lines: Motives, Beliefs, and Achievement in Adolescent Boys

Academic journal article High School Journal

Reading between the Lines: Motives, Beliefs, and Achievement in Adolescent Boys

Article excerpt

This study of adolescent boys' literacy builds on motivation theory and uses the Motivations for Reading Questionnaire (Wigfield, Guthrie, & McGough, 1996) as a foundation. Survey and achievement data were collected from 330 students and eight teachers at a Catholic, all-boys high-school. Results suggest that the motivational constructs identified by Wigfield and colleagues for elementary students remain relatively intact with this sample, but that some motives for reading may change over time. For teachers, believing a student was a good reader was related to beliefs that the student read the assignments; believing that a student should try harder was related to beliefs about knowing what that student struggles with in class. Several modest relationships between questionnaire responses and student achievement scores were also found.


In the United States, adolescent reading achievement lags behind much of the world. Two-thirds of eighth and twelfth graders read below proficiency and lack the skills necessary for future success (Lee, Grigg, & Donahue, 2007). As a result, colleges and employers are required to spend time and money on remediation. The authors of the Carnegie Foundation report A Time To Act: An Agenda for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for College and Career Success (2010) argue for the importance of linking instructional practices to the growing body of research on adolescent literacy.

The purpose of this study is twofold. Its scientific contribution is to explore the literacy motives, beliefs and practices of boys in a single-sex high-school setting and how those motives and practices relate to academic achievement. Such an examination is important because, across the country, boys consistently lag behind girls in reading achievement (Center on Education Policy, 2010). While the field of boys' literacy has grown substantially in the past decade, little work has explored how conceptions of literacy motives, beliefs, and achievement might be different in a single-sex setting than in a mixed-sex setting, or how they might differ among younger children and adolescents.

Additionally, this study serves a more practical purpose. The university researcher and a colleague were invited to work with the teachers in this school to address teachers' concerns about the boys' reading practices in relationship to their schoolwork achievement. This study is the first step in that collaboration. It is an opportunity to develop a more informed perspective of students' motives, beliefs, and reading practices prior to the identification and implementation of teacher intervention strategies.

Literature Review

Adolescent Reading Motivation

Research exploring motivational constructs related to reading has contributed to considerable advances in the understanding of student literacy. Much of the work on motivational constructs was conducted in the mid-1990s with elementary school students. However, little construct validation has occurred using samples of older students or students in single-sex settings. Because the ability to accurately target appropriate adolescent literacy interventions, including content area instructional strategies, requires that professionals generalize findings to the appropriate group, such validation is of importance to the field. Research included in this review has been selected because it is theoretically and empirically grounded and there has been some attempt to validate the findings from elementary student data with older students. This review is not meant to be a comprehensive overview of research in adolescent literacy; it is meant to demonstrate support for the current study.

In a broad synthesis of constructs supported by motivation literature, Wigfield and Guthrie (1995), Wigfield, Guthrie, and McGough (1996), and Wigfield (1997) developed a theoretically driven instrument with data collected from 4th and 5th grade students. …

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