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Shanna Pavlak
EDLE 6322
Summer 2013
Motivating Students to Read
Reading is one of the most important skills students learn and develop throughout their
schooling. There are few people in the field of education, and in general, who would argue
against that. Reading is a skill that students need to have, not only to do well in school, but to
function outside off school as well. Its a necessary precursor to complex skills such as
information literacy, research skills, and library skills. (Sonnenberg, 2010) One recent report
notes that students inability to read at a proficient level is linked to higher rates of school
dropouts, which suppresses individual earning potential as well as the nations competitiveness
and general productivity. (Feister and AECF, 2010). Conversely, students who read more tend
to be higher achievers than students who read rarely. (Scholastic, n.d.)
However, over the past few decades, researchers have noted a steady decline in literacy
and reading for pleasure among older American students and young adults. A recent survey by
the Program for International Student Assessment looked at reading performance among 15-
year-olds in 65 countries. It found the U.S. ranked 17, behind such countries as China, Japan,
Australia, and Canada. Researchers cite many reasons for the declines in reading proficiency,
while experts in education search for ways to change the trends and turn students into lifelong
readers. This paper will look at some of the causes for the declines and discuss various
techniques that haven proven useful to motivate students to read.

There are many reasons students choose not to read. One reason cited by veteran teacher
and author Kelly Gallagher is the school environment itself. He says school has become the place
kids go to hate reading. He says testing pressures, in part, have instilled in students the belief that
the only real reason to read is to pass a test.(Rebora, 2011) Wilson and Casey (2007) say self-
esteem can also play a role in a students willingness to read. They say students who arent
confident in their reading abilities tend to not see reading as a pleasurable activity and therefore
do not engage in it recreationally. They say some students try to read above their own level and
become frustrated. They begin to associate that frustration with reading and it becomes an
unpleasant activity. Spencer (2012) agrees that some kids avoid reading because they do not see
it as being a fun activity. He says: A lot of kids have bought into a lie that reading is a chore
like washing windows or doing laundry.
Another reason students may be shying away from reading is an increase in competing
activities. With the invention of the internet, tablet computers, and smartphones, students find
they have many other activities to devote their attentions to outside of school. A 2012 Scholastic

study found 67 percent of students spent time five to seven days a week watching television,
DVDs or videos. Forty percent went online for fun, while 35 percent said they played video
games. In total, 34 percent said they read for fun. As students get older, they also face other
demands on their free time. Students in high school often see an increase in homework taking up
their free time. Jobs and extracurricular activities at school can also use up students free time.
(Wilson and Casey, 2007)
This trend of students reading for fun less as they get older can be seen in recent research.
According to a report published by the National Endowment for the Arts (2007), citing National

(Note: Scholastic is a company which profits off of selling books to K-12 students and schools.)

Center for Education Statistics, 48% of nine-year-olds read for fun almost every day. However,
the report found as students got older, the number who read for fun dropped significantly. The
report found just 26 percent of 13-year-olds and 20 percent of 17-year-olds said they read for fun
almost every day. Conversely, the report found 14 percent of nine-year-olds and 24 percent of 13
and 17-year-olds said they almost never read for fun. A survey conducted by Scholastic (2013)
found similar results. Researchers found nearly half of six-to-eight-year-olds reported reading
books for fun five to seven days a week. The number drops to 39 percent among nine-to-11-year-
olds. It falls further to 28 percent among 12-to-14-year-olds and 24 percent among 15-to-17-
year-olds. The Scholastic survey also found a similar trend among students when it came to
school-required reading. The report shows 45 percent of six-to-eight-year-olds said they read for
school five to seven days a week. The number jumps up to 52 percent among nine-to-11-year-
olds, but then drops back down to 34 percent among 12-to-14-year-olds and falls further to 28
percent for 15-to-17-year-olds.
The findings may shed some light on why other reports show the literacy rate among
young adults in the U-S is falling. A 2003 survey of more than 19-thousand people by the
National Center for Education Statistics looked at three kinds of literacy among adults 16 years
old and older. The first literacy was prose literacy, which looks at a persons ability to read,
search, and comprehend materials such as news stories, editorials and instruction manuals. The
second type of literacy the agency looked at was document literacy, which focuses on a persons
ability to read, search, and comprehend materials such as job applications, maps, transportation
schedules, and drug or food labels. The third literacy tested, quantitative literacy, looked at a
persons ability to identify and perform computations, using examples such as calculating a tip or
balancing a checkbook. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the results from the first

two fields of literacyprose and document. The NCES survey found just five percent of 16-to-
18-year-olds were proficient in prose literacy, with 11 percent testing below basic. The
organization says people who tested below basic ranged from being non-literate in English to
being able to locate easily identifiable information in short, commonplace prose texts. (U.S.
Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2006) Those who were rated
proficient were able to read lengthy, complex, abstract prose texts, as well as synthesize
information and make complex inferences. In the same age group, nine percent earned a
proficient rating for document literacy, while 11 percent earned a below basic score. The
organization says people who earned below basic scores in the document literacy category
ranged from being non-literate in English to being able to locate easily identifiable information
and follow instructions in simples documents, such as charts or forms. Proficient scorers were
able to integrate, synthesize, and analyze multiple pieces of information located in complex
documents. (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2006) The
study also looked at literacy in older young adults. It found 12 percent of 19-to-24-year-olds
were labeled proficient in prose, while 11 percent earned a below basic score. Thirteen percent
were labeled proficient in the document literacy category, while nine percent earned a below
basic score. In both of the age groups, the average score in all three categories was down a few
points from the last time the survey was administered in 1992.
Fortunately, there are many methods and strategies available to educators that have
shown some success in motivating students to read. Most of the literature on reading motivation
discusses two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Simply put, extrinsic motivation is
when people are motivated to do something because of some external reward they will receive.

For students, this could be a reward, a good grade or praise. Intrinsic motivation is when a person
does something simply for his or her own satisfaction. (Alexander, 2006)
The Accelerated Reader (AR) and similar programs are examples that rely on extrinsic
motivation. Students in schools with the AR program can check out books that are labeled as part
of the program. They then read the books and take a test on the books. Their scores tell the
students their reading levels. Good performances on tests earn the students tangible rewards.
Students who perform poorly on tests get fewer or no rewards. (Small, 2009)
Another program aimed at getting students to read using extrinsic motivation is the Six
Flags Read to Succeed program, frequently used in Georgia schools. This particular program
encourages students to read for at least six hours outside of school during the school year.
Students must keep a log of their reading to be tuned in to their teachers. If they complete the six
hours, they receive a free ticket to Six Flags theme park. (Six Flags Read to Succeed, 2011)
Structured programs created by corporations arent the only options out there for
educators looking to extrinsically motivate students to read. The Indiana State Department of
Education (1987) compiled a list of several possibilities, including what it calls Read-O-Rama,
where students keep track of their independent reading and get rewarded based on how much
they do. For example, in exchange for a thousand pages of reading a student earns a certificate,
while 1,500 pages means the student gets a treat from a teacher. Three-thousand pages result in a
treat from the principal. The Indiana State Department of Education list also includes several
programs that reward the top two or three readers in a grade level over a certain period of time.
The rewards vary from medals to trophies. Teachers and media specialists may also reward
independent reading when they see it happening by giving students bookmarks.

While these programs have had some success motivating students to read in the short
term, critics say they have flaws and that they dont tend to motivate students to read in the long
term. One major criticism of the AR program, in particular, is that the reading list tends to be too
limited. The reading list is limited to books and doesnt include other formats that students may
have more interest in such as magazines and graphic novels. (Wilson and Casey, 2007) Another
criticism of the AR program is that it tends to become another form of school work for students,
or another subject in which they must take a test. The tests are frequently multiple-choice tests
that only gauge what the student read. They do not question students understandings or opinions
of the materials they read, or whether they would read another book like the one they are being
tested on. (Small, 2009) Small says:
Typically, these silver bullet programs add even more stressful testing to an already
test-heavy educational system, reward achievement but not effort, award unrelated prizes
that have little or no long-term meaning or impact on lifelong reading behaviors, and are
costly to implement. (pg. 28)
Another criticism of reading programs centered on extrinsic motivation is that they send the
message that reading is not something that is fun or interesting on its own. Therefore, when
students stop being rewarded for reading, many stop reading altogether. (Small, 2009)
Many educators see programs and strategies focused on intrinsic motivation as more
beneficial and as having longer lasting effects. There are many examples of these programs and
strategies being used in schools today. Drop Everything and Read and Silent Sustained Reading
are two examples. These programs set aside time in school for students to take a break from their
lessons and read anything they want independently. Critics say one problem with these programs

is that not all the students actually read. Some will just spend the time goofing off and may
become a distraction to students who are trying to read. Wilson and Casey (2007) say these
programs tend to be more successful with older students. They note another issue with these
programs is that teachers dont always have materials in their classrooms that interest their
students. They also state that an increased focus on standardized testing, and the pressure it puts
on teachers to teach to the test, ends up forcing teachers to put these programs on the back burner
in favor of using instructional time for teaching information dealing with what the students will
be tested on.
There are other strategies focused on intrinsic motivation that teachers and media
specialists may employ. Researchers say giving students the freedom of choice on what they read
is key to gaining reading motivation. (Barnes & Monroe, 2011) One method Small (2009)
suggests is keeping track of students interests and introducing a range of related reading
materials. She says creating a chart where students can add their interests and use it as a
reference. Fitzgibbons (2004) suggests having school media specialists give students reading
interest surveys to complete. Results can be shared with teachers to be implemented in lesson
plans and can be used to help the media specialist improve the library collection with books
students would like to have access to.
Several researchers and experts in education note parental involvement can be key to
motivating students to read. Scholastics survey (2013) found parents can play a big role in
fostering a love for reading in their children. The survey found that building reading into kids
daily schedules and regularly bringing books into the home positively impact kids reading
frequency. A 2008 Scholastic survey found parents who read books every day for pleasure are
six times more likely to have kids who read for pleasure daily than low-frequency reading

parents. Small (2009) recognizes the importance of parental involvement and suggests
developing a program in the school that allows students to read with parents. She notes, to be
more inclusive, the program may also allow students to read with adults in general. The Indiana
Department of Education (1987) list mentioned earlier also includes several ideas for getting
parents involved in their students reading. One program is called Turn off the TVread a
book. It calls for parents and students to pick one day during a given week to agree to shut off
the television for a whole day. Parents and students are encouraged to use the resulting extra free
time to read together.
Educators must also demonstrate genuine excitement and enthusiasm for reading in an
effort to motivate students to read. (Small, 2009) Wilson and Casey (2011) note that students
who have had the experience of being totally immersed in a story are more likely to read
regularly. They say:
Teachers have an obligation to model this for their students. They must share their
personal reading experiences as to the way that reading has enriched their lives. It would
be beneficial for students to see teachers model the love of reading. (pg. 45)
A study by Long Island University researchers backs up this assertion. Researchers surveyed 747
graduate students on their reading habits and the teachers they had in their early schooling.
(Nathanson, Pruslow, & Levitt, 2008) They found, Enthusiastic readers were more likely than
self-described unenthusiastic readers to credit a former teachers enthusiasm for reading as a
means of promoting books and a love of reading. (pg. 319) The study found 56 percent of
unenthusiastic readers reported they did not have an elementary school teacher who shared a love of
reading. Sixty-four percent of enthusiastic readers said they had such a teacher in elementary school.

Technology may also be highly motivating to adolescents in terms of getting them to read
and write more carefully and with more effort (Irvin, Meltzer & Dukes, 2007). However, teens
arent the only ones who seem to be interested in using technology when reading. A Scholastic
survey (2013) found half of children age 9 to 17 said they would read more if they had access to
e-books. Thats a 50 percent increase from Scholastics 2010 survey of students. There are
several reasons children may prefer reading eBooks over traditional print books. According to
the survey, kids said eBooks are better than print books when they do not want their friends to
know what they are reading, and when they are out and about/traveling. Electronic books arent
the only technology option for motivating students to read. Moyer (2007) says library-operated
blogs that encourage students to share book reviews can be beneficial when trying to motivate
students to read. She says allowing students to renew books online and to ask for reading
suggestions online can also be helpful.
Another way to help get students motivated to read is to stress that reading doesnt mean
just books. Wilson and Casey say comic books, magazines, and newspapers are frequently cited
as the types of reading materials students prefer to read. However, educators often dont consider
them to be serious reading material. Thats why Small (2009) suggests educators think of
reading in the broadest sense. She says the point is to get students to read and to love doing it, so
educators should encourage students to read not just books, but comic books, news articles,
magazines and websites. The research seems to be on these authors side in this case. A study by
the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found students who read magazines
and newspapers regularly for enjoyment also tend to be better readers than those who do not.


Educators say another effective way to get students motivated to read is by facilitating
situations in which they can share with their peers their interpretations and receptions of books
they are reading. (Small, 2009; Barnes & Monroe, 2011) Barnes and Monroe experimented with
implementing booktalks in their classrooms as a way to increase student interest in reading.
Scholastic defines a booktalk as a short, engaging, and enthusiastic presentation designed to
inspire others to read the same book. Barnes and Monroe noted the booktalks they held in their
classing proved quite successful. They say the book talks made a huge difference in socially
affecting reading motivation change. They noted their booktalks helped to build excitement
and engagement, which were ultimately motivated by peer selections. Small (2009) agrees
booktalks and other methods that allow students to share their favorite books with peers are
effective motivators. She adds that allowing students to create book trailers, or video book
promotions, can be motivating to students. She says the trailers may be housed on the library
media center website. She also suggests encouraging students to write book reviews for the
school newspaper. Book and reading clubs are another example of this idea that is frequently
used in schools. The Indiana Department of Education (1987) lists several different types of
clubs educators can create to encourage student reading. One such example is the Century Club,
which requires students who want to be members to read at least 100 books during the school
year. The books must be at the students reading level. The work must be verified by either a
parent or teacher. Another program the department simply calls Book Clubs features a
hierarchal book club model where students begin in level one and progress to a higher book club
level by reading more books.


Another motivation method suggested by one media specialist involves immersing
students in a story world. The media specialist explained how her school created an incentive
program that combined extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to get students interested in reading.
Hall (2009) described how her school celebrated Teen Read week by decorating the building like
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter series. Hall says teachers
sent permission slips home with parents to make sure it was okay they participate. She says
students were told before the week began that they could earn $1 in Muggle money for every
minute they read during the week. This, of course, is a form of extrinsic motivation. Students
filled out sheets to keep track of their reading and included their opinions on what they liked or
didnt like about what they read. Hall said teachers sorted the students in houses, just like in the
book and even drew up acceptance letters. After meeting with their professors, students got to
visit Diagon Alley to shop for supplies. Hall said some students chose not read but still got to
participate. She said the point of the program was to get students interested in reading. She said
teachers wanted non-readers to see how much fun reading could be, rather than punish them by
making them sit out and make them dislike reading even more. Hall said the program can be
adapted for many books. She said the program received a lot of positive feedback from students
and teachers.
Reading skills play important roles, not only in a students success in school, but also in a
students success in the real world. In recent years, research has shown kids are reading less for
fun. At the same time, researchers are finding that literacy scores are falling. Researchers and
educators project these things could have drastic implications on the abilities of people entering
the workforce and global economy. To better prepare students for life after school, educators
must find ways to encourage students to read. Teachers will need to employ creative strategies

that show students that reading can be just as fun as other recreational activities, such as
watching television or playing online. However, educators will also need to show students why
reading is important to their everyday lives and explain to them that the best way to improve
their reading abilities is by reading even more. Educators arent the only ones with roles to play.
Parents should also reinforce these messages and model good reading habits for their children.
Reading can be an enjoyable part of a childs life that, if fostered, can become a life-long love
affair. Educators and parents must work together to help students see the value in reading and to
encourage and motivate reading success.


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