Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Speaking up for children's reading motivation!

I’m a reading researcher and my research interests initially concerned different methods of reading instruction and the implications of these methods of instruction for children’s reading attainment and word recognition processes.  Therefore my interests in reading were primarily within the cognitive domain, rather than focused on the role of children’s attitudes and motivation towards reading (often referred to as the affective domain).

However, as a researcher conducting reading assessments among children of different ages and in different schools, it started to become clear that children’s reading attitudes and motivation could have a significant influence on their reading attainment (over and above their cognitive abilities).  This led me to carry out a series of research studies (see here for access to published academic papers: exploring children’s motivation to read in the UK. 

Indeed, there is now mounting research evidence that both cognitive (e.g., language, decoding skills) and affective (e.g., reading motivation, attitudes) factors independently predict variance in children’s reading skills and reading development; therefore both the ‘skill’ and ‘will’ are important.  Furthermore, it is suggested that children’s reading motivation, attitudes etc have both direct and indirect influences on their reading skill and development. Direct, as children with higher levels of reading motivation are more cognitively engaged when reading and are more likely to implement strategies which lead to deeper processing of the text (e.g., spend more time deciphering unfamiliar words, look back to ensure they are accurately comprehending the story).  These strategies used by more motivated children are considered advantageous to their reading skill over time.  In addition, there is also an indirect relationship between children’s reading motivation and their reading skill: children who are more motivated to read typically read more frequently (and may be more likely to select challenging texts to read); these reading activities then benefit their reading skill. 

However, the relationship between reading motivation and reading skill is also reciprocal as children’s reading skills also influence their motivation to read (i.e., children with better reading skills report greater motivation to read). This highlights how difficult it is to disentangle cognitive and affective influences on reading skill and development.  Despite this, there are very few researchers studying both; I’d consider myself among a handful of researchers doing so.  This is particularly noticeable within the UK, where the majority of psychologists examining different aspects of children’s reading (e.g., different methods of reading instruction, word recognition processes, comprehension skills, reading difficulties etc) focus almost exclusively on aspects of cognition.

So I’d like to speak up for reading motivation and the affective aspects of reading, particularly in the UK, where it is given relatively little attention and focus among researchers.  We need to understand more about the multi-dimensional nature of children’s reading motivation (i.e., the various reasons why children read), the changing nature of children’s reading motivation (i.e., as digital texts are being more widely used) and whether reading programmes or interventions with a greater focus on developing these affective aspects of reading (reading for pleasure, to learn, to share stories with friends) are as effective (or more effective) than cognitive focused programmes/interventions, when it comes to developing children’s reading skills.

I have recently written a minibook on this topic as I am interested in sharing this research area with teachers: ( The minibook draws upon a strong research literature (approximately 60 peer reviewed research papers) but shares this information is an accessible and easy manner, providing an introduction to reading motivation theory, research and implications for education.   



McGeown, S. (2013).  Reading motivation and engagement in the primary school classroom: Theory, research and practice.  United Kingdom Literacy Association.

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