I’ve written before about children’s motivation to read and their attitudes to reading and the extent to which these relate with their reading attainment. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that children who report more positive attitudes to reading, confidence in their reading skills and greater motivation to read typically have higher levels of reading attainment (e.g., Baker & Wigfield 1999; Chapman & Tunmer 1997; McGeown et al., 2012; Morgan & Fuchs, 2007; Wang & Guthrie 2004). However, it is likely that there is a reciprocal relationship between children’s reading affect (i.e., attitudes, confidence, motivation) and reading attainment – i.e., affect influences attainment but also attainment influences affect.
This post is concerned with considering individual differences within this relationship. For example, is there any evidence that the relationship between reading affect (attitudes, motivation, confidence) and reading attainment is closer among boys compared to girls? What about comparisons of good vs poor readers? If group differences do exist, what are the implications of these?
I’ll consider gender differences initially. Research by Oakhill and Petrides (2007) using reading comprehension SATs scores and children’s reported interested in the content of the SAT’s found that boys reading comprehension performance was more closely related to their level of interest in the topic. Similarly, Ainley, Hillman, and Hidi (2002) found that girls were more likely than boys to persist with a text that was of lower topic interest. Indeed, Williams, Burden, and Lanvers (2002) found that both boys and girls felt that girls are more inclined to put effort into work even if it is tedious, while boys need to find enjoyment in it in order to work hard. This suggests that for boys in particular, being interested is important in terms of the influence this has on their behaviours and effort (and potentially attainment).
Based on the results of these studies, I expected that boys’ attitudes towards reading (Logan and Johnston, 2009), confidence in reading (Logan & Medford, 2011) and motivation to read (Logan & Medford, 2011) would be more closely associated with their levels of reading attainment, compared to girls, as these affective factors would have a greater influence on behaviours conducive to good reading attainment. Indeed, this was what was found (Logan & Johnston, 2009; Logan & Medford, 2011). However, given that this relationship is likely reciprocal, it may be that boys’ affect (attitudes, confidence and motivation) plays a more significant role in the effort they put into reading. This suggests a greater discrepancy between competence and performance in boys if they are unmotivated, have poor attitudes or do not feel confident in their abilities. Additionally however, it could be that boys, to a greater extent than girls, need to be successful at reading in order to have positive affect for reading. Therefore, boys with low levels of attainment may be more likely than girls to become disengaged or de-motivated as a result of their negative experiences.
This therefore has implications for how to support boys in their reading; it may be particularly important to encourage and promote positive reading affect among boys if the aim is to enhance reading attainment; encouraging positive reading affect among girls, while worthwhile, may be less likely to impact on their reading behaviours and reading attainment.
And what about ability differences? In a different research project (Logan et al., 2011), my colleagues and I examined the extent to which children’s motivation to read predicted their reading comprehension (after taking into account language and decoding skills) and also the extent to which it predicted growth in reading comprehension (after taking into account previous reading comprehension attainment). In both analyses, motivation to read was particularly important for poor readers compared to good readers. Therefore reading motivation may contribute more to the reading performance of poor readers compared to good readers. Why would this be?
It could be that poor readers, when faced with the same reading task as good readers, have a slower and more frustrating process ahead of them; those poor readers with high motivation may be more inclined to persevere with the difficult reading material, thus developing their reading skills and resulting in higher reading attainment levels. Poor readers who lack motivation however, may be more inclined to become disengaged and frustrated with the whole process, leading to poorer performance. On the other hand, for the good readers, reading motivation is less important, as the reading task presented to them is not as challenging, therefore their motivation plays a less important role.
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Chapman, J. W. & Tunmer, W. E. (1997). A longitudinal study of beginning reading achievement and reading self-concept. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 67, 27-291.
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