Students whose reading instruction at school relates to their daily lives and appeals to their personal interests are making the choice to read and are performing better than less engaged students, according to the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). PIRLS is an international assessment of fourth grade reading comprehension that is conducted every four years. The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) published the results for the most recent administration in December. The latest PIRLS collected information regarding the construct of student engagement for the first time. The report's authors indicate that student engagement focuses on the importance of the learning activity that brings the student and the content together (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker, 2012).
While reading is required for many school related activities, it is also something students can choose to do or not, according to the authors of a research review on students' engagement in reading and how classroom instructional practices influence reading engagement. In building a model that describes how instruction, motivation, engagement, and achievement are related, the authors assert that the effects of instructional practices on student reading outcomes are mediated by engagement. (Guthrie, Wigfield, You, 2012).
That is, classroom contexts only affect student reading outcomes to the extent that they produce high levels of student engagement for reading.
The authors make the distinction between engagement and motivation. They assert that engagement is a multidimensional construct that includes behavioral, cognitive, and emotional attributes associated with being deeply involved in an activity. Motivation, which they assert relates to and informs engagement but is more specific, is what energizes and directs behavior and is often defined with respect to the beliefs, values, and goals individuals have for different activities. Motivation, the authors assert, is important for the "maintenance of behavior" with respect to cognitively demanding activities like reading in which a variety of skills are involved from processing individual words to generating meaning from complex texts.
Basically, it boils down to student choice and, once students arrive at school, how their instructional environments influence their choices.
The authors outline some instructional practices and their connections to student reading outcomes, both directly and indirectly through their influence on engagement and motivation. The authors' goal was to describe how instruction, motivation, behavioral engagement, and achievement are related. They attempted to identify and document the engagement processes that serve as links between the practices of teachers and the reading outcomes of students.
Some of what the authors' literature review found includes:
- Engagement positively influences reading competence for elementary and secondary students when potentially confounding cognitive and motivational variables were statistically controlled, including past achievement, socioeconomic status, and self-efficacy.
- Motivations such as self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation, and valuing are related to an increase in student engagement and reading behaviors including effort, attention, time spent reading, concentration, and long-term persistence in reading. Motivation not only influences the amount of engagement but the quality as well by activating "cognitive strategies that are productive for full comprehension of complex texts."
- Intrinsic motivation, measured as enjoying reading, was associated with reading engagement for elementary and secondary students over and above students' prior knowledge, past achievement, and self-efficacy.
- Classroom practices are "a sword that cuts in two directions." Practices most associated with high levels of student motivation and engagement for reading include:
- providing autonomy support (choice and self-direction in reading context and reading related activities)
- relating reading activities to students' personal interests and goals, and providing students opportunities for collaboration and interaction with the teacher and other students regarding what they are reading
- avoiding practices that are not student-centered. Negative feedback, a lack of protection from adverse consequences, or requiring students to use materials outside of their zone of proximal development can have deleterious effects on students' motivation for reading.
- Guthrie, J., Wigfield A., & You W. (2012). Instructional Contexts for Engagement and Achievement in Reading. In S.J. Christensen, A.L. Reschly, & C. Wylie (Eds.) Handbook of Research on Student Engagement, 601-634.
- Mullis, I., Martin, M., Foy, P., & Drucker, K. (2012). Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.