One of the major concerns of educators and parents is motivating students so that they work at the best of their abilities (Guthrie, Solomon, 1997). If a student does not want to do something, no one can make them. The key is to motivate them in such a way that they want to do the task that we are assigning. This is absolutely critical when it comes to literacy and reading (Baker, Wigfield, 1999).

The International Reading Association made a position statement in 2000. In that statement, the IRA listed the first element to “deriving meaning from print requires… the development and maintenance of a motivation to read” (IRA, 2000).

Although the topic of reading motivation is regarded as very important, there has been little research on the topic (Metsala, McCann, Dacey, 1997). According to a survey given to classroom teachers, reading teachers and reading specialists, motivational research should “receive the highest priority during the next decade” (Miller, Meece, 1997). As educators, we need to understand what the types of motivation are so that we can better employ motivation techniques and strategies in our classrooms.

In the past, educators have looked at children and said that they either are or are not a motivated a person (Metsala, et al., 1997). Today’s research is telling educators that motivation, especially motivation for reading, is much more complex than once thought (Metsala, et al., 1997). Over the past fifteen years educational researchers have stated that there were two aspects of reading motivation that the student asked him or herself: “Can I do this task?” and “Do I want to do this task?” (Metsala, et al., 1997).

The first question, “Can I do this task?” has to do with the student’s belief in him or herself and his or her reading ability. Students who believe they can master a task or a skill are more likely to be motivated to try what is being asked (Metsala, et al., 1997). This is where motivation comes in. How can a educator get a student who does not believe in his or her reading ability to try the task at hand?

The second question, “Do I want to do this task?” has to do with the student’s interest in the task. Educators are always trying to make tasks enjoyable in order to motivate students.

There are four characteristics of a motivated student: (1) he or she wants to learn; (2) he or she has a desire to accomplish the task; (3) he or she has a positive attitude toward the task; (4) he or she exhibits effort to accomplish the task (Ngeow, 1998).

Researchers now think that motivation has more levels than the two presented. Researchers agree that there are two broad categories of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation (Metsala, et al., 1997). That is the only area of motivation that researchers seem to agree. Intrinsic motivation means that the student wants to complete the task because they are interested on their own (Guthrie, Solomon, 1997). Extrinsic motivation “comes from compliance with teachers, parents, or peers” (Metsala, et al., 1997).

Some motivational researchers believe that intrinsic motivation is the key to student success. Johnson argues that “extrinsic motivation not only doesn’t achieve long-term desired behaviors but actually works against building those very habits and attitudes” (1999). He is arguing that if the reward for doing something is taken away, the behavior will stop; as long as students are getting rewarded for behavior that is expected, that expected behavior will never happen on its own. If we give students a reward for something, they may begin to believe that the task is undesirable; why else would a student be given an extrinsic payment for doing the task? (Johnson, 1999)

Student interest in the reading is vital to the motivation any reading assignment (Collins, Decker, 1996). If a student is intrinsically motivated, the student wants to read the material because he or she is interested in it. Educators often only think of basil readers and trade books when promoting reading. Although trade books are very importing to reading education, there are many other materials that can promote reading (Collins, Decker, 1996). “Newspapers, magazines, games, films and audio and video tapes offer additional ways for students to acquire information” (Collins, Decker, 1996). These information sources all have the potential of getting students interests.

Another strategy that is used to promote intrinsic motivation is to find topics that students are interested in learning more about and have the students research it (Guthrie, Solomon, 1997). The students want to read the material because they are so determined to learn more about the subject; they will also want to work hard at it because they picked it out (Hunt, Lyman, 1997). Students can break the barrier of his or her instructional level when he or she is strongly interested (Hunt, Lyman, 1997). “Providing students with access to reading materials is crucial… students can be simultaneously encouraged and broadened” (Worthy, Moorman, Turner, 1999). This strategy not only provides intrinsic motivation for the time, but helps the students see a point to reading (maybe even on their own) (Guthrie, Solomon, 1997).

Having students pick out their own reading materials goes far beyond the research strategy stated above. In 1999, it was found that students preferred reading materials that were scary (Worthy, Moorman, Turner, 1999). These types of books are often not found in school libraries (Worthy, Moorman, Turner, 1999).

There are other activities that can create intrinsic motivation in reading. Students can read the lyrics of songs or they can read poems (Hadley, Hadley, 1991). The different format of the writing can be less intimidating and thus decreasing the reasons for students not to be motivated to do work (Hadley, Hadley, 1991). “Opportunities for self-expression are crucial to (intrinsic) motivation” (Guthrie, Solomon, 1997). These can be used at all levels (Carratello, 1991). First grade students can do something as basic as a “Poem Stew” (Carratello, 1991).

It is very important to use motivation in order to help students feel better about their reading ability (Nicholson, 2000). Having support at their home for the student also can greatly increase how a student feels about his or her reading (Nicholson, 2000). Positive comments from teachers is also another great motivator to assist a child’s reading (Nicholson, 2000). When a student feels like his or her teacher believe in him or her, the student often had the extra motivation to read more or better so that the teacher may take notice again.

Being a good example of reading is also important to intrinsic motivation (Sanacore, 1992). Students look up to the teacher and often what the teacher does is perceived as “cool” (Sanacore, 1992). If the students can look up and see the teacher doing a “cool” activity, the student often does not feel badly about reading (Sanacore, 1992).

Several elements if taken away would increase intrinsic motivation. First, decreasing the pressure of time limits for a reading task can help increase motivation (Miller, Meece, 1997). Time restraints on reading can often help create a fear of reading (which does not help intrinsic motivation).

Something else that hinders intrinsic motivation in students is their previous performance, specifically their failures (Guthrie, Solomon, 1997). The student can develop a belief such as, “I’m just not good at reading” and thus, stop trying (Guthrie, Solomon, 1997).

In addition, competition between students, even if it is not teacher planned, can further hurt intrinsic motivation. (Guthrie, Solomon, 1997) This happens for two reasons. First, in competition, not all students feel success. When a student does not succeed in something, his or her self esteem drops and her or she may be less likely to try as hard next time out of fear of failure (Guthrie, Solomon, 1997). Students can learn helplessness after repeated failures (Chan, 1994). The second reason is that competition among students means that students is trying to out-do each other (Guthrie, Solomon, 1997). This is an extrinsic motivation because the student is trying to get peer approval.

When extrinsic motivation occurs through reading motivation programs, motivation should come from personal, individual accomplishments where students have individual set goals (Johnson, 1999). Students should be recognized when they do their best, not simply for being at the top performer (Johnson, 1999).

Other researchers and educators believe that extrinsic motivation is the key to students’ success in reading. “Teachers rarely used assignments that would increase intrinsic motivation because they did not believe that such assignments improved students’ standardized achievement test score” (Miller, Meece, 1997).

Many students who have problems reading often have some from of learning disability (Pintrich, Anderman, 1994). Studies have showed that students with learning disabilities are less likely to be intrinsically motivated (Pintrich, Anderman, 1994). Extrinsic motivations often get a better response with students with learning disabilities (Pintrich, Anderman, 1994).

Extrinsic strategies are being practiced to increase student motivation in reading. An example is that often teachers will give extra credit for “reading above the requirements” (Yohe, 1997). In the school that Yohe is basing her research on, when students were not offered the extra credit, they read the required three books each term and then stopped (1997). However, when the extra credit was offered “students continued to read at unprecedented levels” (Yohe, 1997). Test scores also have been shown to improve after using these extrinsic motivators for a year (Yohe, 1997)

In another school, a banana split party was offered as a reward for reading X amount of books (Greif, 1998). In this plan Greif said “students literally replaced television with reading… Reading scores typically rose dramatically: students in one Title I class averaged a year’s worth of growth 40 weeks in 10 weeks.” (1998).

Other researchers believe that competition that “measures oneself against one’s peers” is the best way to motivate students (Cook, 1997). Strategies such as book competitions, computer games, programs such as Accelerated Reader and Electronic Bookshelf, book baseball and a spelling bee formatted competition to recall book’s name, author or plot (Cook, 1997).

Even commercial America is getting in on the extrinsic reading motivation act ( Pizza Hut® sponsors the BOOK IT! ® program. This program motivates students read with Pizza Hut ® pizza as a reward. Education World ® states that “the BOOK IT! ® incentive program, sponsored by Pizza Hut, has motivated millions of young readers over the years! (

Yet, other researchers claim that simply discussion intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation is not enough (Metsala, McCann, Dacey, 1997). Some researchers say that there are eight motivating factors that educators must look at:

  1. Reading efficacy (Intrinsic): Student belief that he or she can do the task.
  2. Reading Challenge (Intrinsic): Student satisfaction in mastering text ideas.
  3. Reading Curiosity (Intrinsic): Student is interested in learning about a topic.
  4. Reading Topics Aesthetically Enjoyed (Intrinsic): Student enjoyment of experiencing different kinds of informational texts.
  5. Recognition for Reading (Extrinsic): Positive reinforcement for student reading.
  6. Social Reasons for Reading (Extrinsic): Student is able to tell peers or family about something that they read.
  7. Competition in Reading (Extrinsic): Student wants to out do others in reading.
  8. Reading Work Avoidance (Extrinsic): Student desire to avoid difficult reading activities. (Metsala, McCann, Dacey, 1997)

Other researchers believe that the following are the six motivating factors that educators must look at:

  1. Attitudes (i.e., sentiments toward the learning community and the target language)
  2. Beliefs about self (i.e., expectancies about one’s attitudes to succeed, self-efficacy, and anxiety)
  3. Goals (i.e., perceived clarity and relevance of learning goals as reasons for learning)
  4. Involvement (i.e., extent to which the learner actively and consciously participates in the language learning process)
  5. Environmental support (i.e., extent of teacher and peer support, and the integration of cultural and outside-of-class support into learning experience)
  6. Personal Attributes (i.e., aptitude, age, sex, and previous language learning experience) (Ngeow, 1998).


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