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Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 1

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers

Literature Review and References

Josiah Phillips April 28, 2010

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 2


This literature review looks at tangible ways to raise motivation, specifically focusing on

struggling readers. In addition to raising motivation, this study seeks to identify and quantify

common attitudes these readers display.

Research reviewed is focused on six areas: 1. Perception(s) of self and reading,

2. Resistance, 3. Barriers, 4. Home Environment, 5. Successful Interventions, 6. Best Practices.

Through these areas commonalties are highlighted along with historical successful best

practices. This study focuses on these questions: What things have been tried and found

successful by educators/researchers to raise motivation in apprehensive readers? How do

successful readers approach text differently than struggling readers?

This study will help educators to identify attitudes and actions that struggling readers

display when attempting to engage in reading. Though these readers face formidable barriers

there are always ways to move past those barriers in the direction of enjoying, and

comprehending reading.

This study provides tools to educators and administrators for the sole purpose of raising

motivation in readers who have historically struggled with reading and comprehension.
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 3

Table of Contents

Title Page…………………………………………………………………..pg 1

Abstract…………………………………………………………………….pg 2

Table of Contents…………………………………………………………..pg 3

Introduction………………………………………………………………..pg 4

Literature Review………………………………………………………….pg 7

Analysis……………………………………………………………………pg 28

References…………………………………………………………………pg 34
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 4


When the time came to narrow down a topic I thought it would be a good idea to choose

something that I am interested in currently, and would be something pertinent and relevant for

the rest of my career. Since I have been studying and teaching Language Arts/English I knew it

needed to be something along those lines. Throughout my life I have loved reading and since

this year I am teaching a reading intervention class I thought it would be good to focus my

efforts on the reading aspect of Language Arts.

This study originated from a genuine desire to see all students engaged and

comprehending what they are reading. In my own life some of my greatest memories come from

books and reading. It is safe to say that students who struggle with reading do not share these

feelings with me. The questions then were, “How do we take students from non-reading

backgrounds and instill in them a genuine want/need/desire to experience literature and reading?

How can we show them that literacy is one of their keys to success?” (National Governors

Association, 2005)

I knew this would be challenging subject. Keeping students engaged is a difficult task,

but when that task includes having them do something they don’t feel confident in it, is an even

more difficult task. Researcher Powell-Brown stated, “Teachers often note that students at risk

tend to avoid reading in their classrooms” (Powell-Brown 2006, p 84). These students who

struggle tend to avoid reading because they claim not to enjoy it.

A disconnect seems to exist in student’s and parent’s minds as to what exactly reading is.

A parent might say, “My child can read fine. It is comprehension that they struggle with.
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 5

What do these parents think reading is?” (Tovani, 2003 p. 26). This is something many people

don’t understand about reading: Reading is not simply decoding. Reading is so much more than

forming sounds, syllables and words (McCutchen, Logan, & Biangardi, 2009). This certainly is a

part of reading, but just the beginning. Reading is connecting the written word to ideas,

meanings, and making stories come alive. At its core, reading is connecting with another person.

At a point in history an author sits down and writes, or types, their creative ideas into

stories to be read, at another time, by another human being. Authors aren’t as concerned about

whether their recipients can pronounce or decode the words as they are about whether readers

get the message. Students who spend most of their time decoding words can’t focus on the story

and tend to give up.

One attitude that seemed to be persistently evident with secondary students was apathy.

“Teenage apathy serves as the new roadblock to learning” (Tovani, 2000). Why do these

students not care whether they can read? It may be that they are too embarrassed to say they

can’t read well. The answer is there are no easy answer(s) to these questions.

One possible reason for this attitude is because they lack a real world purpose for

reading. They don’t feel they are getting anything out of reading. Because they struggle with

reading it isn’t something they enjoy. In fact, most struggling readers I have read about and

worked with claim to hate reading. I don’t believe this to be true, but this is just one of the many

coping mechanisms struggling readers use on a daily basis.

Even if students don’t “love reading” they love stories (Powell-Brown, 2003). The goal

then is to get these students who are disengaged and uninterested to experience the joy that
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 6

comes from reading. This study is an attempt to highlight commonalities struggling readers

share and look for successful ways to change students who struggle with reading into students

who enjoy reading.

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 7

Literature Review

Reading. This is one word that provokes many powerful emotions and feelings both

positively and negatively. There are those who enjoy reading and comprehend at high levels,

and, there are those who do not. Students who read and comprehend at higher levels will be

more motivated to read (Whittingham, & Huffman, 2009). This is true with both adults and

adolescents. “In most schools, struggling readers fall further behind each year” (Allington,


The simple question then is: How do educators and administrators raise motivation levels

in those who do not enjoy reading and do not comprehend at high levels? This question is so

important because literature has historically been a powerful force, but its importance seems to

be fading in society today. Again, there are no simple answers to any of these questions.

“Fostering the motivation to read in children and adolescents is an elusive task for many good

researchers” (Powell-Brown, 2006).

“Do we have to read?” “This is stupid.” “I hate reading.” I’m not gonna read!” “What is

the point of reading, anyway?” “I hate books.” These are just a sample of things a teacher

(especially a reading teacher or reading specialist) will inevitably hear in his or her classroom.

Readers who are struggling and unmotivated sometimes specialize in vocalizing the fact that

they are not reading and/or in behaviors that would prevent them and others from reading

(Brozo, 1991) (as cited in Hall, 2007).

What makes struggling readers struggle? What is the definition of a struggling reader?
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 8

Do these readers share commonalities? What are tangible ways teachers and administrators can

raise motivation among students who share the traits of struggling readers? What

intervention/strategies have been used to successfully raise interest and comprehension among

these struggling readers? What things can teachers and administrators do to raise motivation in

students who struggle with reading? These are just a few of the questions this study will answer.

The research reviewed has been organized into six categories, all related to struggling

readers: 1. Perception(s) of self and reading, 2. Resistance, 3. Barriers, 4. Home Environment, 5.

Successful Interventions, 6. Best Practices. The categories (1-4) focus mainly on the reader, but

towards the end the focus shifts from the reader to the educator (5-6). There are many reasons

behind this decision.

It is crucial to understand the reader (in this case the student) and his or her environment

if they are to be helped. While researching this subject, it made sense to categorize it beginning

with the student and eventually shifting focus from the student to the teacher with the use of

successful interventions and best practices.

The rationale behind this was the importance of understanding where students are coming

from and some of the behaviors and attitudes they might share. Once the educator(s) or

administrator(s) understand the student and the background/commonalties they share, educators

can decide which method and best practices would be most effective for their students based on

their classroom and their particular demographic/school environment.

As struggling adolescent readers continue to be unmotivated, how can educators raise

motivation in students today? (Duffy-Hester, 1999) The ultimate goal of this study is to find
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 9

tangible ways to raise interest in readers who are struggling. When this is accomplished, students

will see how reading and literature can positively affect their lives. Then literature can be

enjoyed as the art form it was intended. It can inform, entertain, and at the same time bring

clarity to life.

Definition of a Struggling Reader.

Struggling readers have been long identified by numerous factors and broken into

hundreds of categories, but for the sake of uniformity and coherence in this study, they will be

defined by the commonality that they are one, or more years below their current grade level.

There could be much debate over this issue, but since the goal of this study is to look at

struggling readers and find ways to help them, this is how they will be defined for now. [More

information on this specific topic can be found in the book, Supporting Struggling Readers and

Writers] (Strickland, & Monroe, 2002).

This label (struggling reader) is one, no students want to have. Often struggling readers

get good grades and do well on assessments. However, they lack the comprehension strategies

needed to help them interpret the text (Hall, 2005).


Perception has been defined as: the act or faculty of apprehending by means of the

senses, or of the mind; cognition; understanding. 2. immediate or intuitive recognition or

appreciation, as of moral, psychological, or aesthetic qualities; insight; intuition; discernment: an

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 10

artist of rare perception (www.dictionary.com).

When thinking about perception it should be noted that how students view themselves

and also how they view reading in school will directly relate to struggling reader’s performances

(Pflaum & Bishop, 2004; Hall, 2006; Weir, 1996; Donalson, & Harvey, 2007).

Research shows that students who have positive feelings towards reading are going to be

more successful than those who have negative feelings towards reading. Educators should try to

steer students away from intense negative feelings, if possible.

In a study into how children feel about themselves as readers, researchers Henk and

Melnick said this about how students view reading, “…We now know with greater certainty that

children who have made positive associations with reading tend to read more often, for longer

periods of time, and with greater intensity” (Henk & Melnick, 1995). Conversely, when students

feel negatively about reading, their achievement will suffer. Children who feel negatively about

reading will either avoid reading altogether or read with little real involvement.” These feelings

and these perceptions of self can also be traced to student’s perception(s) of school (Henk, &

Melnick, 1995; Powell-Brown, 2006; Bishop & Pflaum, 2004).

How students view school and identify with it can also be linked to their success as

readers. While looking into middle school student’s emotions Triplett says (as cited in Triplett,

2004) “McCarthey concluded that students who identify well with school and with teachers tend

to be more successful in school literacy practices and those who find their identities defined by

other aspects of their lives may not be as successful in school literacy practices” (Triplett, 2004).

According to Beers (1998) (as cited in Donaldson & Halsey, 2007) unmotivated readers
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 11

tend to have negative feelings about themselves as readers, and they won’t identify themselves

as readers. “Frequently, uncommitted and unmotivated students do not see themselves as

readers…often they receive poor grades in reading-related subjects and simply avoid reading as

much as possible” (Williams, 2001). To be successful it is important unsuccessful readers begin

to build their confidence.

Self-efficacy is something that struggling reader’s lack, which can be detrimental to their

success as readers. According to Donaldson and Harvey (2007) a student with high self-efficacy

will demonstrate higher motivation, work longer, and work harder than a student with low-

efficacy. Children who struggle often have little confidence in their ability to read, and they may

avoid reading because it produces more discomfort than pleasure (Powell-Brown, 2006).

In order to help struggling readers see themselves as readers it is important for educators

to get to know their students and their interests so they can build a relationships. When

educators get to know their students, and their interests they can find ways to connect struggling

readers to texts that would be interesting to them. This will raise motivation. “When Mitchell’s

interests (i.e. soccer, socioemotional relationships, humor) were incorporated into reading and

writing activities, Mitchell began to redefine himself as a reader and writer” (Triplett, 2004).

In conclusion, how students perceive themselves and their reading ability directly

translates to their progress and success as readers. Teachers of reading or reading intervention

classes should note the correlation between how readers view themselves and their successes.

Attempts from educators to build positive perceptions could be far reaching on students’ future

successes or failures (Triplett, 2004).

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 12


Many students who are struggling readers will become successful at avoiding reading or

preventing others in class from accomplishing their work. It is important to find the motivation

behind these behaviors. Until educators have a sense of what precipitates off-task behavior, it is

impossible to ‘fix’ the problem (Powell, Mcintyre, & Rightmyer, 2006).

Students who feel that reading isn’t important and struggle tend to be very resistant when

it comes to participation or cooperation. This coping mechanism, of not participating, is one

used by hundreds of students in classrooms where they are expected to read. One probable

reason for this is that in addition to struggling with reading these students have had behavior

issues (Donaldson & Harvey 2007).

In addition to bringing these poor attitudes to the classroom, many don’t bring materials

to class and display learned helplessness, lack of motivation, and low self-efficacy. An important

thing to remember is that these students display these behaviors because they are struggling and

they are using this as a way to cope with this fact. There seems to be a common trend that

struggling readers bring an arsenal of excuses and many strategies to get out of reading. Poor

readers have two choices, they can improve, or they can continue to refine their coping strategies

(Brozo, 1990). The goal of the teacher is to do everything in their power to help these struggling

students improve thereby deflating the air balloon know as “coping strategies.”

One of the most common ways poor readers cope with their struggles is, according to

Brozo, (1990) to avoid eye contact. “…Poor readers coped with inability to read well by

avoiding eye contact with the teacher” (Brozo, 1990 p. 326).

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 13

The second most common coping mechanism (according to Brozo) is to engage in

disruptive behavior. The goal of both of these actions is to distract the teacher and force him/her

to spend so much time correcting the behavior they won’t call on the student for fear that the

student will disrupt the class by answering (Brozo, 1990).

The reason behind this severe disruptive behavior is not merely boredom or frustration,

but direct student resistance to the literacy instruction they were receiving according to a study

of 73 different settings in which 25% or more of the time was spent off task (Powell, Mcintyre,

& Rightmyer, 2006).

A teacher can do several things to engage these students. “Teachers need to demonstrate

that they genuinely care about poor readers and are interested in more than forcing these students

to expose their most vulnerable areas of weakness again and again in the classroom” (Brozo,

1990, p. 328).

Teachers of struggling readers need to realize that these students are resisting because

they are struggling. If teachers know that, going into the school year, and are ready for

resistance, then perhaps they can be more prepared for these semi-defiant actions when they

occur. Teachers should focus on trying to reach out to struggling readers, instead of distancing

themselves because of student misbehavior in their class. “We began to get a sense that there

were factors affecting student involvement that went beyond classroom management and

discipline policies that were related directly to the ways in which literacy was being taught”

(Powell, Mcintyre, & Rightmyer, 2006, p. 8).

Another way students will demonstrate resistance is they will choose texts that are too
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 14

easy because they know they can read it, and it isn’t as intimidating. On the other hand, they

will sometimes choose texts that are too hard for them, because they want to give the façade that

they are better readers than they really are (Gay, 1999).

The thing that is important to remember about resistance is that these students are

resisting because they are trying to find ways to cope with the fact that they struggle with

reading. What needs to happen is to build any kind of success and encourage and praise these

students every step of the way. Patience is the rule in these classrooms. Children with low self-

perceptions will function best in classrooms where patience and individual differences are not

only tolerated, but respected and valued. Additional encouragement and assistance can go a long

way (Henk & Melnick, 1995).


Students face barriers both internally and externally, that impede with their learning.

These factors may involve home environment, their upbringing, or lack of resources and difficult

text(s) (McNamara, 2009). Teachers need to find ways to help students overcome these


One barrier pointed out by researchers Fisher and Frey (2008) was students linking

strategies to their learning. The students they studied indicated a high interest in read alouds and

shared reading. Many times students thought that strategies were helpful, but they were unable

to link these strategies (and apply them) to their learning (Fisher & Frey 2008).

When readers who are struggling enter a class where reading is going to be the main
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 15

focus, or center of instruction, they often engage in activities that will hurt the learning

environment. These can be tactics such as severe off-task behavior(s), or letting the teacher

know that they are not reading. Some tactics will be defiant, and others will be subtle.

The unstated goal behind all their tactics would be not to read. Many readers who are

struggling use tactics such as silence, or deliberately not answering questions to try to protect

their image and the fact that they aren’t on grade level readers (Hall 2007).

One barrier that may be present is the curriculum a school chooses to use.

“Scripted literacy programs force both teachers and children to ‘obey the rules’,

to accept a lack of autonomy as necessary in exchange for higher test scores. Yet

we would argue that such programs are not neutral or innocent, but rather can

have potentially detrimental consequences for students’ engagement with literacy

and for their ability to see the importance of literacy in their lives” (Powell,

Mcintyre, & Rightmyer, 2006, p. 27).

Some students may be dealing with text(s) that are too difficult for them. A study by

Caldwell and Lauren in 2003 took successful 8th grade middle school students and gave them

three different high school texts. What they found was that even some proficient 8th grade

readers will struggle (with reading) when they get to high school by testing their interpretations

of these higher level texts (Caldwell & Lauren, 2003). This can translate to potential

comprehension problems for struggling readers especially in their transition to high school.

Another barrier that students put up is with their selection of a book to read. “Poor
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 16

readers tend to use less sophisticated strategies for book selection, such as cover art and length of

the book. Often these students frequently start reading books they do not like, or find too

difficult, avoid reading, and never seem to finish their entire book” (Williams, 2001, p. 592).

When these struggling readers are in other classrooms, they are faced with texts that are

too hard for them to read and understand. Content area teachers cannot spend the time they need

to teach them strategies to comprehend their text (Ness, 2008).

“Most struggling readers find themselves spending much of the school day in learning

environments where no theory or empirical evidence would predict any substantial learning”

(Allington, 2007, p.7). If students fit the criteria of “struggling readers” then they are going

through their day unable to read the text(s) they are expected to read. “Struggling readers need

books they can read accurately, fluently, and with strong comprehension-in their hands all day

long” (Allington, 2007, p.8). Students today aren’t reading often because the text may be too

difficult for them. Many students have trouble because textbooks are not reader friendly and

students have trouble making meaning from those texts (Mastropieri, Scruggs, & Graetz, 2003).

Text(s) also may be too difficult because students don’t spend as much time reading

today as they did before there were junior high schools and middle schools. Researcher

Humphrey (as cited in Blintz, 1997) says prior to junior high schools in the 1940s most students

had a reading period every day from first through eighth grades. Humphrey also states that

students spend less time reading today because reading is combined with English/language arts,

leaving less time for reading (Blintz, 1997).

This lack of time to read is most likely caused by the number of teachers a student has in
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 17

grades 6-12. Students may have anywhere from 10-12+ teachers at traditional middle schools

(per week). Students’ days become fragmented and learning becomes disconnected. “Perhaps

the most critical time allocation issue that schools face is the indisputable fact that some students

need more time to learn than others” (Canady, Rettig, 1995). Creative scheduling is one possible

answer to this issue of time and fragmentation due to the number of teachers students have. The

next section ‘Interventions’ discusses this idea.

The last and hopefully least common barrier is one that comes from teachers. Specifically

it is the teacher’s attitude who is teaching the class. Teachers must believe what they are

teaching is relevant and will impact student’s lives. If they don’t believe in what they are

teaching and the philosophy behind it this will be evident to the students. “We need to find out

what the purpose is behind what we do and how that relates to the goals we have for student

learning” (Roney, Brown, & Anfara, 2004).

Barriers are something all struggling readers face. Educators and administrators need to

remove as many barriers as they can while giving the students the tools they need to remove the


Home Environment

What does a struggling reader’s home environment have to do with their successes or

failures as reader? Are there commonalities with home environment and student achievement?

Whether these factors are home environment, time spent reading at home, or lack of resources

some time will be devoted to looking into these factors they share and ways to help them
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 18

overcome these barriers. According to Beer’s interviews (1998), Many struggling readers do not

remember reading with a parent, and some who do remember being read to recall it as an

experience used to get them to go to sleep (as cited in Williams, 2001).

It has been found that in many cases a severe disconnect has occurred with the types of

literacy students have been exposed to and their home environment. Progress was shown in a

study by Cavoz-Kettle (2005) where types of reading were explored,. The two sides were what

young men read vs. what they wanted to read (as cited in Donaldson & Harvey, 2007). Cavoz-

Kettle learned from their study that adolescent boys tended to be more interested in non-fiction,

“real reading”, texts rather than fiction. That is why it is so important for educators to know

their students. How does their home environment correlate to their attitudes about reading?

Even though their upbringing can’t be changed, maybe there are some tangible ways to create an

attitude change?

Another huge issue struggling reader’s face is their first language, or L1. How long have

they been learning to read and speak in English? Researcher Jimenez states that if students

whose first language is Spanish and they are struggling, those difficulties will automatically

transfer to their literacy skills in English. Also many students with an L1 other than English

have missed years of school, or are behind because of intermittent schooling experiences

(Jimenez, 1997).

One limitation of this sub-section is the fact that there was not one scholarly journal that

has done meta-analysis on this subject. If this information could be accessed and compared it

would be beneficial and could help to bring clarity to the question: what commonalities do
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 19

struggling readers share? What two or three factors do most struggling readers have in

common? More research in this area is needed.


In this section interventions will be discussed, specifically which ones have been the

most effective in raising motivation in struggling readers. Also, what are struggling reader’s

views of participating in interventions? What kinds of interventions are happening both in class

and within the regular school day? What are some effective ways to overcome the fragmentation

students might feel as they go through school? Should who don’t meet state standards be

held back?

Even though research shows that retention can increase scores, this is not something

secondary administrators do regularly (Lorence, & Dworkin, 2006). It is not something that

boosts student confidence or self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is something that struggling students

need to succeed. What interventions can educators implement to ensure student success without


There are several items to consider when implementing an intervention program. Zorfass

and Urbano, in their study, compared interventions for struggling readers in four different school

settings. There were two that were being used in all four schools: Read 180 and Wilson Web.

The authors stated that a lack of foundational skills is a major cause of poor performance among

struggling readers. Six areas to consider when implementing a program were noted: building

on existing programs, response to intervention, collaboration, qualified staff, time

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 20

considerations, program fidelity (Zorfass, & Urbano, 2008).

Another intervention that has been successful (in some ways) is using students to help

teach students. A longitudinal study in Title 1 schools involving reading comprehension, was

completed by Van-Tassel-Baska, Bracken, Feng, and Brown, to see if gifted learners could help

readers of all levels. Student learning gains were compared across a span of three years.

Results showed that learners of all levels made gains, but not specifically on the reading


One other tangible way that interventions have been used is through the use of creative

scheduling to improve students’ focus. Scheduling is a valuable but untapped resource for

school improvement…we have seen how a well-crafted schedule can, result in more effective

use of resources, improve instructional climate, assist in establishing desired programs and

instructional practices” (Canady & Rettig, 1995).

Through the use of creative scheduling students can be placed in classes for reteaching or

enrichment based on classroom assessments and teacher observations. Administrators can

decide if the need is great enough to create a separate class designated for the students who need


If not many students need re-teaching, in-class interventions can be implemented. All

students learn at different rates. The earlier the intervention is implemented the more successful

it will be (Ziolkowska, 2007). Teachers and administrators need to allow those who excel in a

concept the chance to move forward in their learning while those who need more time to

understand a concept sufficient time to learn it. Perhaps the most critical time issue schools face
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 21

is the fact that some students need more time learn than others. (Canady & Rettig, 1995).

“We need to reconceptualize intervention for struggling readers as something that must

occur all day long” (Allington, 2007 p. 13). For these interventions to be effective, struggling

readers must receive intervention(s) all day long.

Earlier in the article, Allington stated that effective schools have fewer numbers of

classrooms where whole-classroom instruction dominates (Allington, 2007). On the other end of

the spectrum, researchers Lane, Pullen, Hudson & Konold, found that with struggling readers the

most effective method is one-on-one tutoring.

In nearly all schools one-on-one tutoring is not an option. A feasible option for creating

an effective environment, if staffing is adequate, is the implementation of small groups. In small

groups (8 or less) students will share more and be more focused. (Lane, Pullen, Hudson &

Konold, 2009)

Recent research into interventions by McKeown, Beck, & Blake (2009) into

interventions focused on six classrooms some teaching (specific) strategies vs. content (only)

over a two-year period. What they found was that in the classrooms that taught content, students

had longer discussions and participated more (McKeown, Beck, & Blake, 2009).

In another recent study by Palumbo & Sanacore they talked of the possibility of

combining content-area with literacy instruction. The author’s state that struggling readers need

to feel successful in an environment that is enjoyable and enriching (Palumbo & Sancore, 2009).

It will be interesting to see if, in the future, more studies focus on content, or strategies?

More research is needed in the realm of teaching strictly “content” vs. teaching strictly
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 22

“strategies.” Once this subject has been researched for ten more years it will be interesting to see

what method is ruled more successful.

Best Practices

It is important to note that despite the many things that weigh struggling readers down,

there is hope. The goal for this section is to present some best practices and let educators choose

which ones they will feel benefit their students (Mckenna, 2002). These best practices will

include successful strategies as well as common effective classroom environments. These

practices will help build small successes in struggling readers. Erickson (2008) discussed the

idea that teachers in content area classrooms must see the value in reading comprehension before

they attempt to teach it. For students to be successful in their core classes, struggling readers

must learn strategies to support their comprehension (Erickson 2008).

When struggling readers begin to feel success, they are on the road to improvement.

Even though this success might be, at first, minimal the result would be that they would see that

they have the ability to be successful and carry that success into their next reading experience.

This success would ultimately carry into their other classes as they begin to struggle less with

reading and comprehending.

Struggling readers need to be encouraged to take risks and to self-reflect. One way that

this is done is through using literature logs (Griffith, & Laframboise, 1998). If educators can

understand exactly how students come to an understanding about the text they can help direct

them and fill in the gaps as necessary.

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 23

One successful strategy is the mini lesson. This would be taking a “normal” 45-minute

lesson and condensing it into 8-10 minutes. “Because of its short duration, the mini lesson

works well with middle school students who sometimes find it difficult to sit still” (Williams,

2001, p. 591).

Another successful strategy that is extremely simple yet highly effective is called 3-2-1.

Students write down three things they learned, two questions they have and they write one way

they can connect this knowledge to their life (Prevatte, 2007).

In the book, Four Powerful Strategies for Struggling Readers, Grades 3-8, Small Group

instruction that improves comprehension author Lanning focuses on small group strategies that

promote comprehension. Those strategies were: summarizing, creating meaningful connections,

self-regulation, and inferring. Key concepts included the teacher directly specifying what

reading strategy they are modeling and allowing the student adequate time to practice that

strategy. Time that teachers spend talking (teacher talk) is encouraged to be kept to a minimum

to allow students time to practice the strategy (Lanning, 2009).

“Research shows that there is a positive relationship between ‘engaged time’ –or time

where students are actively attending to the learning task—and student achievement ( Powell,

Mcintyre, & Rightmyer, 2006). In this study the researchers showed that in effective

instructional classrooms, there were six common traits every successful class shared. These

have been referred to by Turner & Paris, 1995 (as cited in Powell, Mcintyre, & Rightmyer, 2006)

as the six “C’s.”

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 24

These six traits are: choice, challenge, control, collaboration, constructing meaning, and


“Choice allows students to select texts they are interested in or find personally

relevant. Challenge provides tasks that scaffold student learning showing

students their capabilities. Control enables students and teachers to share in the

decision-making process, giving students ownership of their own learning.

Collaboration encourages social interaction where students learn from each

other. Constructing Meaning helps students make sense of what they are learning

by using literacy to solve problems, to entertain, and to inform. Consequences

can influence students motivation for literacy learning by providing positive or

negative feelings about achievement” (Powell, Mcintyre, Rightmyer, 2006).

Because they way readers feel about themselves directly relates to their successes or

failures this 33 question (“Scale”) from Henk and Melnick is something educators can use to

classify and judge where their students are. Students choose from 5 options: SA (Strongly

Agree) A (Agree) U (Undecided) D (Disagree) SD (Strongly Disagree) that are displayed after

each question.

1. I think I am a good reader SA A U D SD

2. I can tell that my teacher likes to listen to me read. SA A U D SD
3. My teacher thinks that my reading is fine. SA A U D SD
4. I read faster than other kids. SA A U D SD
5. I like to read aloud. SA A U D SD
6. When I read, I can figure out words better than other kids. SA A U D SD
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 25

7. My classmates like to listen to me read. SA A U D SD

8. I feel good inside when I read. SA A U D SD
9. My classmates think that I read pretty well. SA A U D SD
10. When I read, I don’t have to try as hard as I used to. SA A U D SD
11. I seem to know more words than other kids when I read. SA A U D SD
12. People in my family think I am a good reader. SA A U D SD
13. I am getting better at reading. SA A U D SD
14. I understand what I read as well as other kids do. SA A U D SD
15. When I read, I need less help than I used to. SA A U D SD
16. Reading makes me feel happy inside. SA A U D SD
17. My teacher thinks I am a good reader. SA A U D SD
18. Reading is easier for me than it used to be. SA A U D SD
19. I read faster than I could before. SA A U D SD
20. I read better than other kids in my class. SA A U D SD
21. I feel calm when I read. SA A U D SD
22. I read more than other kids. SA A U D SD
23. I understand what I read better than I could before. SA A U D SD
24. I can figure out words better than I could before. SA A U D SD
25. I feel comfortable when I read. SA A U D SD
26. I think reading is relaxing. SA A U D SD
27. I read better now than I could before. SA A U D SD
28. When I read, I recognize more words than I used to. SA A U D SD
29. Reading makes me feel good. SA A U D SD
30. Other kids think I’m a good reader. SA A U D SD
31. People in my family think I read pretty well. SA A U D SD
32. I enjoy reading SA A U D SD
33. People in my family like to listen to me read. SA A U D SD


There have been and there will continue to be those at the elementary level and

secondary level who will struggle with reading. If educators can find out what it is that

motivates students, genuinely show an interest in their lives and teach them using methods that

have been tried and tested, motivation levels will begin to rise.
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 26

At the end of the article Johnny can’t read, Susie won’t either: Reading instruction and

Student Resistance, the researchers (Powell, Mcintyre, & Rightmyer, 2006) urge teachers and

administrators to view literature (and reading) as something more than just a tool for higher

achievement on standardized reading tests. Furthermore, literacy programs popular today are

scripted and commercial and tend to lead to student resistance. “As literary scholars, we believe

that we have an obligation to view literacy more broadly and to lead the way in seeking answers

to the truly important questions, so that reading and writing, speaking and listening can once

again be viewed as tools for empowerment and change” (Powell, Mcintyre, & Rightmyer, 2006).

Educators must delve deep into students’ lives and backgrounds to try to understand

where they are coming from. What do they enjoy doing? What do they need? Do teachers know

what they need? What life experiences have they had? What do they value? What motivates

them? What attitudes do they bring to class and to school? How can struggling student’s parents

be an educator’s ally rather than enemy? (Chamberlain, 2006; Lacina, & Watson, 2008;

McCormack, & Paratore, 2003). If educators can take a genuine interest in students and find out

what things are important to them they will see that they are more than just higher test scores.

“Over 40 years ago, in his ‘A Talk to Teachers,’ James Baldwin stated that, “The purpose

of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make

his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether

there is a God in heaven or not” (Baldwin, 1988) (as stated in Powell, Mcintyre, & Rightmyer,

2006). It is our responsibility as educators to give students the ability to make that choice.
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 27

Adding to the above quote, it is important to remember that by teaching students to read

with clarity and comprehension can give them the opportunity think independently. If they

cannot read both sides of issues they will not be able to make their own decisions. This is

something that they must be given the opportunity to do.

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 28


In the following pages critical questions of the research will be investigated and clarity

will be sought. Also, some time will be devoted to integrating a biblical worldview into the

thesis. Finally, this study will conclude by making some recommendations based on all the

research reviewed and presented here.


There is some debate and conflicting research on the topic teaching strategies vs.

teaching content in a study by McKeown, Beck, & Blake in 2009 they studied 6 classrooms over

a two-year period and found the classes teaching content had more learning, longer

conversations, and students participated more. It seems that recent research is more focused on

integrating strategies into content classrooms rather than devoting classes to teach and practice

only specific skills. Both methods seem effective, yet some researchers lean towards content,

while others lean toward strategies. It could be because much of the research done on strategies

was done in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

There have been several studies that have indicated that the way the student perceives

their abilities as a reader will correlate directly with their performance as a reader. However,

Hall in 2006, stated that teachers need to find out why student choose the methods they choose to
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 29

attempt to interpret the text. Hall stated that even though students may hold negative views

about their abilities or reading in general they may be trying to find ways to comprehend the text.

Teachers need to find out why students choose the method they did and not assume the student is

lazy or unable to understand directions (Hall, 2006).

Hall agrees with, but challenges the popular idea that, ‘student(s) perceptions about

reading and self affects their performance.’ Students are trying to comprehend text(s) but they go

about it in different ways then the teacher would like. Teachers need to be explicit about finding

out why students decide to behave in class or interpret a text. Students may be attempting to

interpret the text using people sitting around them because they don’t want teachers to see their


Another interesting to note in the research was the idea that struggling readers will pick

out texts that are much too difficult or much too easy for them (Gay, 1999). Educators shouldn’t

have any problems identifying students that do this. Much of the research has pointed to the fact

that struggling readers tend to do everything but read. This method is no different but it is good

to point out in this section because it helps us understand the lengths that students will go to

attempt to show they are on grade level when they really are not.
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 30


While reading through professional journals and books a piece of important information

that kept coming up was the idea that students (especially struggling students) need to be

encouraged. They need to evaluate and reevaluate how they think about their individual


The second thing that was relevant to my topic was that students will be more motivated

to read if they are able to self select what they read. (Gay & Broaddus, 2001; Pflaum, & Bishop,

2004) There were other common negative themes that were reoccurring, too. (Apathy, lack of

motivation, barriers, lack of resources, etc) The first two topics (how students view themselves

and students self-selecting texts are the ones that I want to look at and consider the implications

of. The others will be discussed, too. I would like to focus on the growth and positive aspects

rather than the negative ones.

After reviewing the research it is my recommendation that to raise motivation in

struggling readers they must be encouraged to strengthen their use of strategies, be able to self-

select texts, and get a new identity. (see themselves as readers)

Successful readers have many strategies to in their repertoire they can use to

decipher text. Unsuccessful readers do not. A strategy is defined by Tovani (2000) “an

intentional plan that readers use to help themselves make sense of their reading” (Tovani, 2000).
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 31

Strategies can help struggling readers by giving them multiple ways to approach

text that they may struggle with. When unsuccessful readers apply these strategies to their own

independent reading the result will be higher comprehension and understanding. Simple

strategies such as re reading, skipping words, and reading slowly are strategies that help.

Strategies can be highly effective because the entire class can work on the same strategy.

(with different texts) Advanced readers can use these strategies in their more advanced text(s).

Struggling readers can use these strategies in the simpler text(s) they are reading. Strategies can

also be used in all content areas (Tovani, 2000). This makes strategies a great tool for educators

to use to help readers make sense of what they are reading.

As an educator I need to be encouraging kids to look at where they were and then show

them how far they have come. It is always good to show people the progress they have made.

That is good to do in every class, but specifically as a reading teacher, I need to encourage kids

to examine how they view themselves. If they don’t view themselves as readers then they are

not going to excel or try to become a better reader. Researchers Donaldson and Halsey stated

that the perceptions children have about themselves as readers and reading will influence

whether they pursue or avoid literacy experiences (Powell-Brown, 2006; Donaldson, & Halsey,

2007; Pflaum, & Bishop, 2004). By helping students redefine who they are (as readers)

educators can help them be successful. This transformation is something that starts by making

students aware of this fact. Once students are aware of their need to redefine themselves as

readers their transformation into a reader can become a reality.

The second item up for discussion is the idea that students want to be able to choose the
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 32

books or materials to read. (Donaldson & Halsey, 2007; Pflaum & Bishop 2004) If this isn’t

possible, whatever the reason may be, then the text selected must be one that struggling readers

can read with accuracy, fluency, and consistency.

When students are allowed to self-select texts they are going to be much more likely to

be engaged and eager to learn. By giving them part of the responsibility of their own education

we are teaching them that (ultimately) it needs to be the student that is responsible for their own

education. Giving students small goals and celebrating successes can be the beginning of a cycle

in helping them be motivated to read. What we don’t want to do is to try to coerce them in to

reading. When we do that we let apathy take over. Giving them the opportunity to self-select

texts will ultimately begin releasing them to be responsible. Encourage them to be responsible

for their learning (Slater, & Horstman, 2002).

An important point to note from researchers Pflaum and Bishop, “It is necessary to be

deliberate and intentional when encouraging student perceptions” (Pflaum, & Bishop, 2004).

Through and through, research showed that an educators role needs to be an intentional

encourager. Educators need to encourage students to see themselves as readers. They need to

have a new image. I can be instrumental in helping students redefine who they are. A little

encouragement can go a long way. I can remember specific times in my life where I was

encouraged in schoolwork and sports that I was involved in. That encouragement stayed with

me. When I was feeling down or when I felt like I couldn't succeed it kept me going. This is

important to remember as educators attempt to teach students. When students succeed, we

should celebrate! Let them know they are where you want them to be.
Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 33

Educators need to remember to celebrate their student’s successes no matter how small.

As students begin to feel success they will want to repeat the process (or feeling) again and

again. This success (and achievement) is something that educators should want to help students

create (Manning, 2000). Creating this success will begin to change the way students view

themselves and reading. This certainly is a process that takes time and careful study. I will

conclude my paper with a quote that describes the process one teacher went through to teach

students to become better readers.

“I didn’t intuit, or luck into this place, and I didn’t arrive overnight. I paved the

way…through observing my kids and myself in action and trying to make sense

of my observations, through dumb mistakes, uncertain experiments, and,

underneath it all, a desire to do my best by students and a willingness to

acknowledge that my definition of best will be—should be ever changing”

(Atwell, 1998, p. 4).

Raising Motivation in Struggling Readers 34


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