This article is the fifth in a series drawn from work in the Handbook of Reading Research: Volume III (Kamil, Mosenthal, Pearson, & Barr, 2000). In the coming months, Reading Online will publish additional chapter summaries from the book, prepared by the chapter authors.

Contexts for Engagement and Motivation in Reading

John T. Guthrie


Overview

Engaged reading is a merger of motivation and thoughtfulness. Engaged readers seek to understand; they enjoy learning and they believe in their reading abilities. They are mastery oriented, intrinsically motivated, and have self-efficacy.

Classroom contexts can promote engaged reading. Teachers create contexts for engagement when they provide prominent knowledge goals, real-world connections to reading, meaningful choices about what, when, and how to read, and interesting texts that are familiar, vivid, important, and relevant. Teachers can further engagement by teaching reading strategies. A coherent classroom fuses these qualities.

In this article, which draws on work published in the chapter Allan Wigfield and I coauthored for the Handbook of Reading Research: Volume III (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000) and in an article on the development of concept-oriented reading instruction for Educational Psychology Review (Guthrie & Cox, in press), I discuss engaged reading and its consequences. The particular focus is on the contribution of children’s motivation. Instructional contexts that foster reading engagement and motivation are presented.

 

Related Postings from the Archives



The Importance of Engagement | Motivation Research | Instructional Contexts | Conclusion | References



The Importance of Engagement

Devotion to reading spans across time, transfers to a variety of situations, and culminates in valuable learning. Devoted students are intent on reading to understand. They focus on meaning and avoid distractions. Strategies such as self-monitoring and inferencing are used with little effort. These readers exchange ideas and interpretations with fellow students. We refer to such students, those who are intrinsically motivated to read for knowledge and enjoyment, as “engaged” readers.

Engagement is strongly related to reading achievement. In the United States, a national sample of students at three ages (9, 13, and 17 years) revealed that the more highly engaged readers showed higher achievement than the less engaged readers (Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue, 1997, online document). In cross-age comparisons, 13-year-old students with higher reading engagement achieved at a higher level than did less engaged 17-year-old students. Engagement in reading can also compensate for low achievement attributed to low family income and educational background. In the same national data, engaged readers from low income/education families achieved at a higher level than did less engaged readers from high income/education backgrounds. Engaged readers can overcome obstacles to achievement and become agents of their own reading growth (Guthrie, Schafer, & Huang, 2001).

An engaged reader comprehends a text not only because she can do it, but because she is motivated to do it. Oldfather and Dahl (1994) and Turner (1995) portray students’ enjoyment in reading for its own sake as essential to engaged reading. Csikszentmihalyi (1991) describes engaged reading as a state of total absorption or “flow.” Cambourne (1995) argues that engagement is a merger of multiple qualities that entails holding a purpose, seeking to understand, believing in one’s own capability, and taking responsibility for learning.

Guthrie, McGough, Bennett, and Rice (1996) found engaged readers be motivated, strategic, knowledgeable, and socially interactive. Engaged readers are motivated to read for a variety of personal goals. They are strategic in using multiple approaches to comprehend. They use knowledge actively to construct new understanding from text. And they interact socially in their approach to literacy. Engaged readers are decision makers whose affects as well as their language and cognition play a role in their reading practices.

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Motivation Research

Researchers have found motivation to be multifaceted. This means that within an individual, some types of motivation will be stronger than others. In motivation research, investigators have focused primarily on task-mastery orientation and performance orientation. Individuals with a mastery orientation seek to improve their skills and accept new challenges (Ames, 1992; Ames & Archer, 1988; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Nicholls, 1979; Nicholls, Cheung, Lauer, & Patashnick, 1989). They are dedicated to content understanding and learning flexible skills. “Individuals with a performance (or ego) orientation attempt to maximize favorable evaluations of their ability” (Thorkildsen & Nicholls, 1998). Performance orientation is seen as extrinsic motivation. It is associated with the use of surface strategies for reading and desire to complete a task rather than to understand or enjoy a text (Meece & Miller, 1999).

Although both these broad goal orientations have implications for motivation, most motivation researchers believe that the task-mastery goal is more likely to foster long-term engagement and learning then the performance goal, especially when the performance goal emphasizes fear of failure (Ames, 1992; Maehr & Midgley, 1996).

Self-efficacy is another aspect of reading motivation. Bandura (1986) defines self-efficacy as “people’s judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances” (p. 391). Schunk and Zimmerman (1997) reviewed research showing that students with high self-efficacy see difficult reading tasks as challenging and work diligently to master them, using their cognitive strategies productively.

In addition, social motivation for reading relates to children’s interpersonal and community activities. Children who like to share books with peers and participate responsibly in a community of learners are likely to be intrinsically motivated readers (Morrow, 1996; Wentzel & Wigfield, 1998). “Social motivation leads to increased amount of reading and high achievement in reading (Guthrie, Schafer, Wang, & Afflerbach, 1995; Wentzel, 1996)” (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000, p. 408).

Students with high intrinsic motivation, a task orientation, and high self-efficacy are relatively active readers and high achievers (Guthrie, Cox, Knowles, Buehl, Mazzoni, & Fasculo, 2000).

Motivational processes are the foundation for coordinating cognitive goals and strategies in reading. For example, if a person is intrinsically motivated to read and believes she is a capable reader, the person will persist in reading difficult texts and exert effort to resolve conflicts and integrate text with prior knowledge. A learner with high motivation will seek books known to provide satisfaction. The cognitive abilities needed to find books, avoid distraction while reading, and assimilate new ideas are activated if the text is fulfilling internal goals. This is consistent with both a cognitive science of reading and a situated account of the acquisition of expertise (Greeno & The Middle School Mathematics Through Applications Project Group, 1998; Lorch & van den Broek, 1997), as well as the development of intrinsic motivation (Deci, 1992). In sum, becoming an excellent, active reader involves attunement of motivational processes with cognitive and language processes in reading. (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000, p. 408).

Regrettably, motivation for reading decreases as children go through school. One explanation focuses on the capacity of children to understand their own performance. Children become much more sophisticated at processing the evaluative feedback they receive, and for some this leads to a growing realization that they are not as capable as others. “A second explanation focuses on how instructional practices may contribute to a decline in some children’s motivation” (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000, p. 408). Practices that focus on social comparison between children, too much competition, and little attempt to spark children’s interests in different topics can lead to declines in competence beliefs, mastery goals, and intrinsic motivation, and increases in extrinsic motivation and performance goals (for a more detailed discussion, see Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele, 1998; Wigfield, Eccles, & Pintrich, 1996).

Declines in interest and competence beliefs regarding English language arts are pronounced as children enter middle school (Wigfield, Eccles, MacIver, Reuman, & Midgley, 1991). Oldfather and colleagues (Oldfather & Dahl, 1994; Oldfather & McLaughlin, 1993) found that students’ intrinsic motivation to read declined as they went into middle school. Change in motivation reflected changes in classroom conditions. Children in these studies moved from a self-contained, responsive classroom that honored students’ voices and where formal grades were not awarded, to a teacher-centered environment in which students had fewer opportunities for self-expression and little opportunity for negotiating with teachers about their learning. These changes led students to become more focused on extrinsic motivational goals, such as achieving good grades.

The aspects of motivation that have been discussed are distinct from several other affective attributes of students. First, motivation is distinct from attitude (McKenna, Kear, & Ellsworth, 1995), which refers to liking for a task. For instance, with respect to reading, students may report high self-efficacy without liking to read. Some students report that they are good at reading, but do not like it (Oldfather & McLaughlin, 1993). Motivation is also distinct from interest, which is usually associated with a topic, such as outer space, dinosaurs, or military history (Alexander, Jetton, & Kulikowich, 1996; Schiefele, 1996; Schraw, 1997). In comparison, motivational attributes are usually more general. The intrinsically motivated reader is disposed to read a wide range of topics and genres. Third, readers’ beliefs may also be distinguished from their motivation. Thus, motivation can be distinguished from other affectively oriented constructs in the individual.

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Instructional Contexts for Engagement

Instructional context fosters engagement processes and reading outcomes. This context is depicted in Figure 1 by the yellow ovals of the outside circle. These instructional priorities, which are discussed below the figure, all have empirical or theoretical support (see Guthrie & Alao, 1997; Guthrie, Van Meter, Hancock, Alao, Anderson, & McCann, 1998).

Figure 1
The Engagement Model of Reading Development

diagram showing components of and factors influencing reading engagement

Learning and knowledge goals. Core learning goals are codeveloped by the teacher and the students in conjunction with external requirements from the school. Roeser, Midgley, and Urdan (1996) showed that teachers’ learning-goal orientation in the classroom fostered their students’ self-efficacy. When students believed that teachers thought that understanding the work was more important than simply answering correctly, students were likely to believe in their capacity to do the most difficult work. Students who were learning-goal oriented -- that is, dedicated to understanding content, using strategies effectively, and linking their new knowledge to previous experiences -- were likely to be more highly engaged than other students. In contrast, when students’ goals are dominated by the performance orientation of seeking to outperform others or to demonstrate competence, they are less engaged in learning (Dweck & Leggett, 1988). The same is true of students in classrooms where procedures -- for example, correct completion of a complex series of steps -- are emphasized (Meece, Blumenfeld, & Hoyle, 1988).

One motivational benefit of learning and knowledge goals is that they provide a natural context for teaching students to understand conceptually. Although a mastery orientation in the classroom contributes to motivation (Elliot, 1999; Midgley et al., 1998), students need a content focus. By providing an opportunity for in-depth knowledge acquisition, knowledge goals enable students to use their motivation for learning. When students gain connections among concepts and explanatory principles, their interest in the content increases (Alexander, Jetton, & Kulikowich, 1996).

A second contribution of learning and knowledge goals is that they create the occasion to support for processes of student autonomy. Concept-based instruction gives teachers an opportunity to enable students to choose subtopics, select specific materials for learning (e.g., books), and use strategies that the students believe are effective for them. These forms of autonomy are motivating for students. In contrast, materials-based instruction often reduces student autonomy. When teaching consists of covering a specific set of textbook pages or answering a specific set of preformed questions, little student autonomy for learning is possible.

Real-world interaction. These interactions refer to learners’ sensory, personal experiences. The main role of real-world interaction is to evoke intrinsically motivated behaviors. Students are alert, attentive, and excited in the presence of a real-world object such as a live reptile, or while viewing the re-enactment of a historical event. They enjoy looking, asking questions, and discussing what they see. These intrinsically motivated behaviors create the occasion for active learning and the acquisition of relevant knowledge. Although this motivation is situationally stimulated and contextually limited, the motivation can be generalized to new topics and texts under simple processes of successive expansion (Bergin, 1999).

Real-world experiences usually evoke keen attention and a sense of wonder. Students are captivated by handling hermit crabs, observing Monarch larvae metamorphose into butterflies, or catching their own crickets in the school yard. Not only are they initially curious about these creatures, students begin to study them in detail, noting their structural features, asking questions about their relationship with the ecosystem, and doing in-depth research as a result of their personal fascination.

This condition is a motivating context for text-based learning. “Ross (1988) confirmed these effects in an extensive meta-analysis of literature. He found that hands-on science activities aroused attention, questions, and active learning” (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000, p. 411). Guthrie et al. (1998) found that reading instruction when embedded within an intrinsically motivating hands-on science curriculum increased reading comprehension, strategy use, and problem solving in third and fifth graders. Romance and Vitale (1992) studied an integrated curriculum that combined reading and hands-on activities in science. In a quasi-experimental comparison, students in the integrated curriculum scored higher on measures of reading achievement and science knowledge than did students pursuing a traditional form of instruction.

To explain these effects, Anderson (1998) reasoned that hands-on science activities would motivate students to read deeply and, thus, increase their conceptual learning from text. Her findings showed that students who read texts in association with hands-on activities had higher comprehension and greater gains in conceptual knowledge than did students who read the same texts without the intrinsically motivating context. Further, a year-long intervention study showed that reading engagement initially learned with intrinsically motivating activities in one knowledge domain transferred flexibly to a new knowledge domain (Guthrie, Anderson, Alao, & Rinehart, 1999).

Autonomy support. Autonomy support refers to the teacher’s guidance in helping students make choices among meaningful alternatives in texts and tasks to attain the knowledge and learning goals. Studies have confirmed the conventional wisdom that choice is motivating. Not only is providing choices a prominent practice among reading teachers (Baumann, Hoffman, Moon, & Duffy-Hexter, 1998), but studies of elementary school teachers’ beliefs about motivation in general (Nolen & Nicholls, 1994), and reading specifically (Sweet, Guthrie, & Ng, 1998), reveal that they believe children need choice to develop independence. Turner (1995) found that teachers who are successful at motivating students often provide myriad choices during a lesson. Teachers often promote student choice by giving them input into which books will be read, and what instructional sequence will be undertaken (Pressley, Rankin, & Yokoi, 1996).

Autonomy support is linked to the condition of students discovering interesting texts through self-selected reading. When students are supported in choosing from a wide selection of texts, sustained reading and measured achievement increase (Morrow, 1996). Choice is motivating because it affords students with control. Children seek to be in command of their environment, rather than being manipulated by powerful others. This need for self-direction can be met in reading instruction through well-designed choices.

Teachers’ beliefs about effective strategies for motivating students are remarkably consistent with the self-determination theory of motivation, which describes the development of intrinsic motivation in terms of environmental support for the individual’s need for autonomy, relatedness, and competence (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1992). Need for autonomy is addressed through support for self-directed learning. Need for relatedness is addressed in collaborative classroom activities. Need for self-perceived competence is partially fulfilled in evaluation that supports progress toward goals and reward for effort in learning. When these needs are fulfilled, students become intrinsically motivated and gain cognitive expertise in reading. Consistent with this framework, teachers who provide choice (autonomy support), social interaction (relatedness support), and activity connections (competence support) support motivational development (Sweet, Guthrie, & Ng, 1998).

Interesting texts for instruction. The phrase “interesting texts” refers to an ample supply of texts that are relevant to the learning and knowledge goals being studied. In a study examining readers’ text interest, Wade, Buxton, and Kelly (1999, online abstract [PDF format]) found that texts with important, new, and valued information were associated with student interest. Also, it is important that texts be matched to the cognitive competence of the learners (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). In elementary classrooms, trade books of diverse levels of difficulty and with a number of illustrations serve this function. An abundance of texts within the classroom and links to community resources outside of the classroom, such as libraries and the Internet, are known to directly facilitate development of motivation (Morrow & Young, 1997) and increased reading achievement (Guthrie, Schafer, Von Secker, & Alban, 2000).

By using interesting texts, teachers can support the motivational processes of mastery orientation and autonomy. In content-oriented reading instruction, it is self-evident that some textual materials must be understood for this orientation to be sustained (Meece, 1991; Miller & Meece, 1997). This understanding is fostered by the interest generated from an abundant supply of texts. For example, it would be extremely difficult for students to engage in critical analysis -- such as comparing and contrasting conflicting textual information, or interpreting and integrating differing viewpoints of a topic of study -- without having access to multiple texts to read.

Strategy instruction. Strategy instruction involves the explicit teaching of behaviors that enable students to acquire relevant knowledge from text. Explicit instruction includes teacher modeling, scaffolding, and coaching, with direct explanation for why strategies are valuable and how and when to use them (Duffy et al., 1987; Paris, Wasik, & Turner, 1991). Fundamental to most theories of intrinsically motivated learning is self-perceived competence (Bandura, 1997; Deci & Ryan, 1987; Harter, 1990). In the domain of reading, students are given a sense of self-perceived competence when they are taught strategies for learning from text (Pressley, 1997).

Guthrie and Cox (in press) describe the benefit of embedding direct strategy instruction in a context of inquiry. They report a successful teacher who helped students identify the qualities of information books that make them helpful, such as the tables of contents, indexes, captions, and diagrams. The teacher provided direct instruction in gaining the main idea from paragraphs. She taught summarizing by modeling how to locate topic sentences and supporting information. In an inquiry environment, students learned these strategies readily. However, without the presence of cognitive and motivational dimensions together, engagement cannot occur. Teaching for reading engagement is an interlocked composite of teaching practices that support the merger of motivation and strategies (Guthrie et al., 1996).

Collaboration. This refers to the social discourse among students in a learning community that enables them to see perspectives and to construct knowledge socially from text. Many teachers use collaboration to activate and maintain students’ intrinsic motivation and mastery goal orientation.

Teachers believe that social collaboration in the classroom will increase interest in the content of learning (Hootstein, 1995; Zahorik, 1996) and maintain active learning over an extended period (Nolen & Nicholls, 1994). For example, in learning about adaptation in mammals, different students may elect to investigate the subtopics of feeding, defense, shelter, and reproduction. As students integrate their diverse information, they form higher order principles in the topic. Students can, furthermore, collaboratively learn from texts and exercise autonomy by choosing who to work with on specific learning tasks and how to distribute their expertise. Teachers also believe that collaboration disposes students to read more independently in the future (Morrow, 1996). (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000, p. 414).

Praise and rewards. Providing praise and rewards is a pervasive strategy for encouraging effort and attention. Effective teachers provide informative compliments that make learners feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work. Wlodkowski (1985) suggests that praise should be “3S-3P”: praise that is sincere, specific, sufficient, and properly given for praiseworthy success in the manner preferred by the learner.

Note that teachers’ attempts at effective praise are not always successful. If students interpret praise as manipulative, their motivation may decline because they feel they are being treated as objects (Flint, Boggiano, Main, Barrett, & Katz, 1992). “However, when praise is sincerely given and interpreted as recognition of achievement, it can increase students’ self-perceived competence and motivation” (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000, p. 414).

Evaluation. Classroom instruction that fosters motivation, strategic development, knowledge gains, and social growth can be undermined by evaluation that contradicts the instructional purposes. Evaluation activities can be placed on a continuum from highly objective and standardized (i.e., standardized tests) to highly student-centered and personalized (i.e., portfolios). Standardized tests are easy to administer, score, and report to administrators, but they fail to reflect student ownership, motivation, and reading practices. Portfolios more readily support student motivation, but are more difficult to administer and report. A combination is likely to be optimal for meeting the administrative needs of the school and the educational needs of students.

Several classroom characteristics are necessary for effective student-centered evaluation.

Teachers must provide ample time for students to think, plan, write, and revise (Oldfather & McLaughlin, 1993). Writing activities that invite a wide range of alternative genres and topics are more motivating than activities that are highly defined and constrained (Turner, 1995) -- but they are also more time consuming. Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000, p. 415)

However, if students are empowered to be express themselves, they will develop the view that knowledge is contextual, and that they can be effective users of strategies for knowing (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; McCombs & Whistler, 1997).

Many investigators have suggested that some portion of evaluation should be directed toward student effort (see, e.g., Ames, 1992; Stipek, 1996). When students are individually evaluated regarding their personal effort in the classroom rather than their status in comparison to other students, they are likely to be task centered rather than grade centered in their view of evaluation (Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984).

Teacher involvement. The involved teacher knows about the students’ personal knowledge and interests, cares about each student’s learning, and holds realistic, positive goals for students’ effort and learning. Skinner and Belmont (1993) found that when students perceived teachers to be involved (interested in their progress) and autonomy supportive (providing some control of learning), they were engaged in the classroom -- for example, participating in class discussions, learning actively, and appearing happy. Noteworthy was the finding that teacher involvement did not directly influence outcomes, but it had a significant benefit for student engagement, which then was significant in the path to student outcomes. Skinner and Belmont showed, in addition, that the influences were reciprocal: Student engagement affected teacher involvement as much as teacher involvement influenced student engagement.

Coherence of instructional processes. Each of the instructional processes has been discussed in isolation, but there are important connections across them. The word “coherence” is used to describe these interconnections. When real-world interactions are closely aligned with interesting texts, coherence is increased. When students’ engagement in reading is enhanced by coordination of these instructional processes, coherence in the classroom is occurring at a high level (see Guthrie & Cox, 1998, for teaching guidelines). When strategy instruction is linked to central knowledge goals, coherence is present. When collaboration is merged with autonomy support, coherence rises. When teacher involvement is evident in evaluation, coherence exists. In coherent instruction, student engagement is increased (Guthrie et al., 1998), conceptual learning from text is facilitated (Anderson, 1998), reading achievement is fostered (Romance & Vitale, 1992), and curricular integration of reading within content areas can be sustained (Gaskins et al., 1994; Santa, 1997). However, full investigations of the complex interactions among these instructional practices have been rare.

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Conclusion

I have suggested that characteristics of the classroom influence reading engagement and motivation. Teachers who aspire to increase engaged reading in the classroom can do so by building a context for it. To create this context teachers can

Such a context requires a substantive teaching unit of at least 10 weeks, and preferably a year.

The literature reviewed in this article is graphically presented in Figure 1.

At the center of the figure is a square containing achievement, knowledge, and reading practices. Achievement may be represented by standardized tests scores, teacher-assigned grades, or performance assessments of literacy. Knowledge acquisition may be indicated through portfolios or standardized measures. Reading practices may be reflected in the amount of independent reading, composite indicators of engagement in reading, or beliefs and preferences about reading. (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000, p. 417)

While I believe that engagement in reading increases the occurrence of reading outcomes (e.g., achievement, knowledge, and practices), I also expect that positive outcomes increase engagement.

The diamond surrounding achievement, knowledge, and practices refers to the engagement processes of the reader. One section of the diamond contains motivation, which includes its multifaceted aspects: goals, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, and social motivation. These aspects propel students to choose to read and to use cognitive strategies to comprehend. The strategy section of the diamond refers to students’ multiple cognitive processes of comprehending, self-monitoring, and constructing understanding and beliefs during reading. The conceptual knowledge portion of the diamond refers to the research base showing that reading is knowledge driven. Reading is also a social endeavor, as represented by the social interaction portion of the diamond. This includes collaborative practices of learners in a community and the students’ social goals in the classroom.

The message is that increasing long-term reading motivation and engagement does not result from a quick fix. Reading motivation strong enough to last across weeks, months, and years is not made in a day. However, when the classroom context contains the practices shown in the outer ring of Figure 1, reading engagement grows and becomes self-generating.

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About the Author

photo of John Guthrie    

John Guthrie is a professor in the Department of Human Development, University of Maryland (3304C Benjamin Building, College Park MD 20742, USA) and director of the Maryland Literacy Research Center. He is interested in cognitive, motivational, and educational aspects of learning and reading, and the psychology of engagement in learning and development. Reach him by e-mail at jg76@umail.umd.edu.

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Citation: Guthrie, J.T. (2001, March). Contexts for engagement and motivation in reading. Reading Online, 4(8). Available: http://www.readingonline.org/articles/art_index.asp?HREF=/articles/handbook/guthrie/index.html




Reading Online, www.readingonline.org
Posted March 2001
© 2001 International Reading Association, Inc.   ISSN 1096-1232