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Transforming Reluctant Readers into Avid Readers

Jeffrey Pascoe, Ph.D. | Dec 20, 2016 at 07:00 AM
Jeffrey Pascoe, Ph.D.

Some students embrace reading. These avid readers are likely to find reasons to open a book on a daily basis. They read millions of words each year, their vocabularies expand, their reading interests diversify, and they do well at school. Not surprisingly, these same students report high levels of reading interest and confidence. Don’t we wish that all of our students were like this?

But in reality, too many students just don’t like to read. They won’t read unless they are compelled to do so, and even then they may just go through the motions. Indeed, studies suggest that up to two-thirds of primary school students have used “fake reading” strategies during their silent reading time in school.

This is where reading motivation and engagement come into play. Sure, we want students to spend more time reading (behavioral engagement), but that’s not enough. We also want them to pay attention to what they’re reading and make an effort to understand it (cognitive engagement). Further, we want them to read with the attitude that reading is a valuable skill and is worth the effort it requires to become proficient (emotional engagement).

Behavioral and cognitive engagement tend to increase when we hold students accountable for what they accomplish during their silent reading time. Active monitoring, record keeping, and comprehension checks can all serve to motivate students to cognitively engage with text rather than simply going through the motions.

Emotional engagement is more difficult to foster. Reluctant readers are apt to experience a “collapse of motivation” if they are faced with text that is too challenging or too long. It’s important to direct these students to appropriately leveled, high-interest texts that spark their interest. Providing explicit learning goals and optimizing opportunities for students to make their own reading choices are some of the other ways educators have found to increase emotional engagement.

As a research scientist at Reading Plus, I am closely involved in analyzing performance and assessment data to make sure the program is working optimally and students are increasing their reading proficiency. The research briefs on our website describe some of the interesting patterns we have found in these data.

Not surprisingly, the data also reveal the same diversity of student behavior that educators see in the classroom. This is why educator alerts are a critical component of Reading Plus. Our analyses suggest that most students complete their Reading Plus lessons regularly and with good results. But it seems like other students may sometimes be going through the motions. Educator alerts let teachers know when this might be happening, which ensures that they have the information they need to effectively intervene when necessary to encourage greater effort (more cognitive engagement) so that students can make the most of their reading practice time.

As for emotional engagement, academic research shows that as reading proficiency increases, so does reading interest and confidence. In our own research we have found the same pattern. We found that Reading Plus students who increased their reading proficiency to a greater extent during the 2015-2016 school year also reported larger increases in their reading interest and confidence (see our recent research brief).

Increased reading interest and confidence provide the momentum for further reading growth and achievement, and this in turn sets the stage for transforming reluctant readers into avid readers.


To provide more insights into increasing motivation and engagement, we’ve developed Tips for Building Lifelong Readers: A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding and Integrating the 3 Domains of Reading.  The guide provides simple, easy-to-follow tips to help you develop the Physical, Cognitive, and Emotional domains for each of your students and help them become not just better readers, but lifelong readers.

Download The Cognitive Domain Chapter Now

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