Thursday, 2 June 2016

Children’s reading motivation and reading attainment: Gender and ability differences

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.

We know that poor readers typically have lower levels of reading motivation (Lau & Chan, 2003; McGeown et al., 2012) compared to good readers; and this research suggests that interventions aimed at increasing reading motivation of poor readers may be particularly important for developing their reading skills.



Ainley, M., Hillman, K., & Hidi, S. (2002). Gender and interest processes in response
to literary texts: Situational and individual interest. Learning and Instruction 12, 411–428.

Baker, L., & Wigfield, A. (1999). Dimensions of children’s motivation for reading and
their relations to reading activity and reading achievement. Reading Research Quarterly 34, 452–477.

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.

Lau, K., & Chan, D. W. (2003). Reading strategy use and motivation among Chinese good and poor readers in Hong Kong. Journal of Research in Reading, 26 ,177−190.

Logan, S., & Johnston, R.  (2009). Gender differences in reading ability and attitudes: examining where these differences lie.  Journal of Research in Reading, 32, 199-214.

Logan, S., & Medford, E.  (2011). Gender differences in the strength of association between motivation, competency beliefs and reading skill. Educational Research, 53, 85-94.

Logan, S., Medford, E., & Hughes, N.  (2011). The importance of intrinsic motivation for high and low ability readers' reading comprehension performance.  Learning and Individual Differences, 21, 124-128.

McGeown, S. P, Norgate, R., & Warhurst, A.  (2012). Exploring intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation among very good and very poor readers. Educational Research, 54, 309-322.

Morgan, P.L., & Fuchs, D. (2007). Is there a bidirectional relationship between children’s
reading skills and reading motivation? Exceptional Children 73, 166–183.

Oakhill, J.V., & Petrides, A. (2007). Sex differences in the effects of interest on boys’ and girls’ reading comprehension. British Journal of Educational Psychology 98, 223–235.

Wang, J.H., & Guthrie, J. T. (2004.) Modelling the effects of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic
motivation, amount of reading, and past reading achievement on text comprehension
between U.S and Chinese students. Reading Research Quarterly 39, 162–186.

Williams, M., Burden, R., & Lanvers, U. (2002). ‘French is the language of love and stuff’:
Student perceptions of issues related to motivation in learning a foreign language. British
Educational Research Journal 28, 503–528.



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  2. Education is very important. Education can uplift the people and once children are educated they can define their career and get to a good position. Find more discussion on this topic at

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