Motivation to Read & Write

“…pleasure is fundamental to learning to read…reading for pleasure rehearses the mechanics of reading in meaningful contexts so that the reader learns to respond to text as part of the reading process” (S Bodman, G Franklin- Which Book and Why 2014)

There are numerous programs available, that outline the steps to teaching children to read, grounded in research. So why would teachers choose one over another? Teachers of young children often list “developing a love of reading and writing” as among their most important literacy goals for their students (Nolen, 2001) and will therefore gravitate towards programs they feel go above and beyond teaching children the essential skills (oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary knowledge) They want children to LOVE to learn to read and write, not just be ABLE to. This is especially important in the UK;  International PIRLS data found that children in England report less frequent reading for pleasure outside of school than children in many other countries (Twist et al., 2007; 2012). Statistics shows that only 55% of children stated that they enjoy reading (Clark, 2016), and 34% did not reach age-related reading expectations (Department for Education, 2016).

The biggest-ever' literacy study in UK of more than a million children shows reading for pleasure has a direct bearing on attainment - but only a quarter are doing it. More schools are now being urged to timetable in daily reading-for-pleasure times following findings in the What Kids Are Reading 2019 report, which studied the reading habits of more than a million children in 5,000 schools in the UK and Ireland.

"It isn’t pleasurable reading a book when you struggle with reading, and so this must run concurrently with teaching that does improve reading, so that all readers are fluent, and can, therefore, read for pleasure. A blanket 20 minutes won’t change much if the systems don’t improve reading alongside it.” Teacher quote, TES article  

The Steps to Reading Program ensures that children are either reading with confidence before they start school, or have the phonemic awareness skills to reduce the risk of experiencing reading and spelling difficulties.

Independent reading for pleasure has a positive impact on children's wellbeing. Benefits include better resilience, happiness, empathy, communication skills and relaxation. This is so important when we consider children's mental health, because currently 1 in 10 UK children age 5-16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder (Young Minds) a National Literacy Trust report (2018) shows that reading is positively correlated with mental wellbeing. 76% of children who have high mental wellbeing think positively about reading, whereas 48% of those who have low mental wellbeing think positively about reading. There is a large gap in achievement between students who read books for pleasure and those who do not (OECD, 2010; Mol and Bus, 2011), and the strongest predictor of reading growth from age 10 to age 16 is whether a child reads for pleasure (Sullivan & Brown, 2013)

Researchers have identified a number of factors important to reading motivation including self-concept and value of reading, choice; time spent talking about books, types of text available, and the use of incentives. Wigfield and Guthrie (1997) reported that several aspects of intrinsic motivation predict reading motivation; these include importance (belief that reading is valuable), curiosity (desire to learn about a particular topic of personal interest), involvement (enjoyment of reading) and preference for challenging text (satisfaction of mastering or assimilating complex ideas in text). 

Students' self-concepts and the value they place on reading are critical to their success (Gambrell, Palmer, Coddling, and Mazzoni, 1996). And in a recent study of self- concept about reading and value of reading, gender differences were identified as early as third grade. Marinak and Gambrell (2007) found that though third grade boys are equally as self- confident as girls about their reading, they self- report valuing reading less than girls. Within the Steps to Reading (& Spelling) Program for pre-school aged children this is a priority; activities are designed to excite and engage boys, and can actually result in boys independently reading books of their choice before they even start school.  

Choice is widely acknowledged as a method for enhancing motivation. Allowing young children to make even a minimal task choice increased learning from the task and enhanced subsequent interest in the activity (Cordova & Lepper, 1996; Iyengar & Lepper, 1999). Worthy and McKool (1996) found that allowing students to make choices about their reading material increased the likelihood that they would engage more in reading. In addition, Guthrie and Wigfield (2000) suggest that providing genuine student choices increases effort and commitment to reading. When children start school they are likely going to be told what to read; there is little choice as children have to learn though phonics and work through the book bands. Class reading materials are often not very varied. This is counterproductive to conveying to children that reading is fun. It makes it seem like a subject to learn. If they start school reading they can have a better selection, as the teacher doesn't have to teach them to read using their school program. 

"For us, choice is key," said Kyle Good, a spokeswoman for Scholastic. "When you let kids choose the books they want to read, they'll be voracious readers." In the survey, 78 percent of students, who read frequently for fun (at least five days a week), said they had time to read a book of choice during the school day. By contrast, 24 percent of infrequent readers -- those who read for fun less than one day a week -- said they had time to read a book of choice during the school day.

When children start Key Stage 1 the curriculum is focused on the teaching of reading. However, because teaching reading is largely procedural, confined the explicit teaching of reading skills and comprehension, there is little time given to fostering a love of reading for pleasure. It’s interesting, for instance, that 52% of boys age 8-10 (Nielsen’s Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer 2018) prefer magazines to books and only 21% of schools provide magazines for children to read for fun. (Egmont/ Nielsen Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer 2018) Many parents perceive the goal to be their child being able to read fluently.  (Egmont’s Reading Street, Print Matters, Print Matters More and The Reading Magic Project) Often parent involvement at home is simply making sure school reading is completed. Interestingly children often have a very practical and pragmatic view of reading – they certainly recognise it is important - to do well at school and get a good job – but not something they would choose to do for fun. We can change that if we teach children the Steps to Reading BEFORE they start school.

A 2015 government report noted that once decoding has been mastered, mature reading skills are ‘best developed by instilling in children a love of literature’ (Reading: The Next Steps; DfE, 2015, p. 4). This is why every Steps to Reading Session ends with Story Time. 


Clark. C., with The National Literacy Trust (2016) Children’s and Young People’s Reading in 2015, [Accessed: 20th September 2016], Available at: _Final.pdf

Cordova, D., & Lepper, M. (1996). Intrinsic motivation and the process of learning. Beneficial effects of contextualization, personalization, and choice. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 715-730.

Guthrie, J., & Wigfield, A. (2000). Engagement and motivation in reading. In M. Kamil & P. Mosenthal, D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research. Mahwah, N.J.:Earlbaum. 49(7), 518-533.

Mol, S.E., & Bus, A.G. (2011). To read or not to read: A meta-analysis of print exposure from infancy to early adulthood. Psychological Bulletin, 137(2), 267-296.

Nolen SB. Constructing literacy in the kindergarten: Task structure, collaboration and motivation. Cognition and Instruction 2001;19:95–142. [PubMed: 19727336]

Sullivan, A., & Brown, M. (2013). Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading. CLS Working Paper 2013/10, Institute of Education.

Twist, L., Schagen, I., & Hodgson, C. (2007). Readers and Reading: the national report for England 2006. NFER, Department for Education. UK. Twist, L., Sizmur, J., Bartlett, S., & Lynn, L. (2012). PIRLS 2011: Reading Achievement in England. NFER, Department for Education. UK

Wigfield, A., & Guthrie, J. T. (1997). Relations of children’s motivation for reading to the amount and breadth of their reading. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 420-432.

Worthy, J. & McKool, S. (1996). Students who say they hate to read: The importance of opportunity, choice, and access. In D.J. Leu, C.K. Kinzer, & K.A. Hinchman (Eds.), Literacies for the 21st century: Research and practice. 45th yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 245-256). Chicago: National Reading Conference.

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