Reading reluctance – factors

Writing a case study with 3,000 words of which 80% are limited by procedural bits and pieces is proving to be a little frustrating because I am learning SO MUCH.  So I thought I’d share some of it here, because heaven knows it could help someone somewhere somehow.

Remember the whole thing about motivation? That there was extrinsic and intrinsic and the latter was way way better? Turns out there are a lot more bits and pieces to motivation than psych 101 would have you believe. And more importantly there is such interplay between them and external factors and I’d like to add developmental ages and phases as well.


So with reading motivation we have:

  • Extrinsic (rewards, physical, achievement or emotional if you read more)
  • Intrinsic (reading is its own reward – interest, satisfaction etc.)
  • Social (currency gained by knowing stuff, sharing books and reading – turns negative around G5 with peer devaluation)
  • Self-efficacy (belief in ability – changes over time)
  • Work avoidance (starts in G2, avoid reading tasks due to low motivation and/or reading difficulties)

If you want to read just one study on the matter, I’d recommend Lee & Zentall (2015). They summarize most of the knowledge to date, have an excellent bibliography and most importantly add the longitudinal dimension. I really like longitudinal studies, and I know why they’re difficult and costly, but as a parent and an educator, what can be more valuable than recognizing and anticipating bumps along the road for what they are and taking preventative action before a student/child lands in a pot-hole?


I’d like to spend a little more time on self-efficacy. It has to do with self-concept as a reader (Förster & Souvignier, 2014; Proctor, Daley, Louick, Leider, & Gardner, 2014; Smith, Smith, Gilmore, & Jameson, 2012). I find it very interesting that self-efficacy takes a dive around Grade 3. Why? Because that is just the moment when the majority our self-confident readers, having spent 2 or 3 years soaring through the levels of their reading program are suddenly let loose into the big world of both “real chapter books” and needing to access their reading skills in order to “read to learn”. It’s that pivot point. The point at which I tell over anxious parents, “yes, now you can start worrying if the reading is not happening.”


So the question is what should our response be as parents and educators (another good point of the Lee & Zentall article – they add the “so what” bit). Remember the “terrible twos”? Well I think there is nothing more comforting in know that when behavior goes wonky, you have a frame of reference that says “oh, it’s this” accompanied by “I / my child / my student is not alone” and “this is normal” plus, hopefully some strategies in place that can be applied. I’ve just sent my blokes with books a set of positive affirmations that he can use in the Blokes with books club. It was one of a set of resources included in this very handy, practical and readable guide from Ireland (NEPS, 2012).


Then looking at the skill side of things. This is dangerous ground, because if a child is reading below the 30% percentile, (and they’re not 3 or 4 years old – I kid you not – I’ve had pre-kindergarten parents concerned their children are not reading yet – on that topic, please read this article (Suggate, Schaughency, & Reese, 2013)) and they’re over 8 years old, then there may be a problem.


What is the problem – well I’ll say mainly “beware, there be EGOS”. When there is a reading skill issue it is probably as a result of an experiential instructional deficit or a reading related cognitive problem (Scanlon, Gelzheiser, Vellutino, Schatschneider, & Sweeney, 2008). To put it simply, either they haven’t been taught properly at school or the home situation isn’t reinforcing adequately (hear those egos bristling), OR, the child has a reading related cognitive problem (Reading Disability – RD). This can be in decoding (like dyslexia); comprehension or retention and each have a different (here is a lay-person’s article) set of signs and ways of being addressed.


So, what does one do in this case – I like the NEPS article because they call for short, one-on-one or one-on-few and limited interventions of around 12 weeks. Obviously one can start with trying to overcome any instructional deficit, and if that fails, to move onto educational testing and specific RD related interventions. Once again there be Egos in the way – and if it helps at all, I can say “been there, done that, got the tears to prove it”. It’s hard to acknowledge that your child is anything than perfect, or at a pinch that they’re “normally” imperfect. But denial leads to more harm that good, and particularly because early intervention is so much more effective. Embedded in this article on dyslexia (Korbey, 2015) is an awesome scientific journal article (free to read! Yay) on RD, by Norton and Wolf that is very dense and brain spinning, but very good (Norton & Wolf, 2012). Personally I found the discussion on colour naming to be very interesting – talk about an early warning sign that we noticed but didn’t know was important.


I’m going to stop at this point – happy reading in the mean time. As always, interested in your thoughts and comments.


Förster, N., & Souvignier, E. (2014). Learning progress assessment and goal setting: Effects on reading achievement, reading motivation and reading self-concept. Learning and Instruction, 32, 91–100. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2014.02.002

Korbey, H. (2015, October 1). Understanding dyslexia and the reading brain in kids [Web Log]. Retrieved 11 September 2016, from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/10/01/understanding-dyslexia-and-the-reading-brain-in-kids/

Lee, J., & Zentall, S. S. (2015). Reading motivation and later reading achievement for students with reading disabilities and comparison groups (ADHD and typical): A 3-year longitudinal study. Contemporary Educational Psychology. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2015.11.001

NEPS. (2012). Effective interventions for struggling readers. National Educational Psychological Service. Retrieved from http://www.education.ie/en/Education-Staff/Information/NEPS-Literacy-Resource/neps_literacy_good_practice_guide.pdf

Norton, E. S., & Wolf, M. (2012). Rapid automatized naming (RAN) and reading fluency: Implications for understanding and treatment of reading disabilities. Annual Review of Psychology, 63(1), 427–452. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100431

Proctor, C. P., Daley, S., Louick, R., Leider, C. M., & Gardner, G. L. (2014). How motivation and engagement predict reading comprehension among native English-speaking and English-learning middle school students with disabilities in a remedial reading curriculum. Learning and Individual Differences, 36, 76–83. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2014.10.014

Scanlon, D. M., Gelzheiser, L. M., Vellutino, F. R., Schatschneider, C., & Sweeney, J. M. (2008). Reducing the incidence of early reading difficulties: Professional Development for classroom teachers versus direct interventions for children. Learning and Individual Differences, 18(3), 346–359. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2008.05.002

Smith, J. K., Smith, L. F., Gilmore, A., & Jameson, M. (2012). Students’ self-perception of reading ability, enjoyment of reading and reading achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(2), 202–206. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2011.04.010

Suggate, S. P., Schaughency, E. A., & Reese, E. (2013). Children learning to read later catch up to children reading earlier. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(1), 33–48. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.04.004


Blokes with Books Club

This post is about a year overdue, but here goes.

Early into my new job as a newly minted Teacher Librarian I started noticing the “lost boys”  of the library.  Those souls who would wander around and between the stacks with a dazed look on their faces. Or they’d be flicking through books without actually registering the contents. Or they’d just park themselves on a chair with the (too popular to let them be borrowed) Guinness Books of records and sit and talk through with “oohs and aahs” with their like-minded mates.  Obviously something.needed.to.be.done.

But equally obvious to my middle aged, white, female mind, I was not the one to do it. Or at least, not to appear to be the one to do it. But should it be a teacher? If so, which teacher? My criteria was young and male, but I didn’t know my new colleagues all that well… I settled on our EdTech coach, Tim.  An extremely busy and popular educator, with experience in the classroom and, since moving into the new role with all the classrooms, he was enthusiastic when I suggested it. (Phew).

We collaborated on lesson plan ideas, and books that may “hook” the students. And we were open for business. We emailed teachers from Grades 3-6 and asked if they had any students who they thought may benefit from this group. Most teachers had 1 or 2 students.  The first session started with about 8 students. And quickly word spread that this was a really fun thing to be involved with.  Group members had their own membership badges and a special “learning agreement” for their time in the library. Teachers reported back that the students were more motivated to borrow books and were super enthusiastic about going to the sessions which were held once a week on a Wednesday during the last period (a 40 minute period reserved for literacy leadership). A couple of ELL students were identified who would also benefit from being “one of the blokes” even though their language level wasn’t that high and they joined in as well.

The year ended with a bang when I chanced on reading of a book review of “Adventures of a Kid Magician” in February or March. Then of course it was a case of getting Tim’s mother to buy 5 copies of the book from Walmart – the only stockist at the time and shipping it to Singapore. It was as if we’d set off fireworks in the library. Basically each chapter leads to clues which unlocks a code to a youtube video showing how to do a magical trick. So the rest of the year involved multiple read-alouds of the chapters and hunting the clues down and desperate attempts by our blokes to be the next in line to read the book! Talk about a magic formula to combine the physical and digital (my review here),

dating lineWe started school on the 15th August and unfortunately the first few weeks our literacy period has been occupied by assemblies and other “housekeeping” matters like fire-drills. But the requests and the demands from our blokes were so incessant that we did a “soft launch” of the club during DEAR/SSR time. When I say “we” – I’m definitely the ghost in the machine and very much in the background and 99% of the credit for the magic that is happening is due to Tim.  When I handed out the permission forms for the surveys, nearly every boy (it’s grown to 25 boys!) returned the signed form the next day! Any teacher trying to get back permission forms can attest to how unusual that is.

Today was our first official day, starting with going over the essential agreements, one boy who insisted on doing a book talk on a book he was loving (Things Explainer – I’ve ordered a copy for the library now ) an ice-breaker of Zip Zap Zop followed by “Book Speed Dating” – 3 rounds of 5 minutes of “dating” a book after which the favourite was chosen (or not) for checkout.

Initial Lesson plans (2015/6):

Lesson # Ice Breaker Activities
1 Staring Contest

-Choose a Book Any Funny Book/read

-Read in the Dark/ Tent

-Find a girly book competition/read  

-Find a manly book competition/ read

2 Spot The Difference -Ben Cooperman Read Aloud his book “Gabriel and Five Joshuas”
3 Charades (written on note cards)

-Discuss adventures/ what kind of adventures there are

-Read choose your own adventure book

4 Crocodile Tooth Game Graphic Novels
5 Zip Zap Zop -Judge A Book By It’s Cover
6 Toilet Paper Mummy -Monster Books
7 Drawing Charades -Joke Books
8 Draw Yourself As Cartoon

-Dewey Grams

-write down the number of book and to hand to someone else

-Use scholastic.com to make a Christmas book wishlist

9 Minefield

-Introduce Legends and Myths with Sinbad Video

-Legends and Myths books

10 Zip Zap Zop

-Introduce old comics

-Read through old comics

11 Tennis Table Soccer

-Magazine Reading

Explain all the neat features of the different magazines

 12-end of year Various icebreakers Reading of “Adventures of a kid magician” and unlocking the videos 



Lovely little things

Did I ever mention how sweet my blokes are? And it must also be in large part since they have great supportive parents. Isn’t it super when a parent sends in a permission form with this on the back?


And when your students have been filling in a survey form on a lickert scale and they just can’t resist adding their own opinion – I mean how limiting can we sometimes be? Take note authors – they don’t just LOVE IT! when you write a new book they Love it 10x!


and then when I was administering the survey to a group of 5 of the boys who were absent when the rest were surveyed, there was a long discussion after around whether male readers liked reading or not. The gist being that they probably had to do a heck of a lot of reading, but that the topics and types of reading were probably not under their control or choice and that may result in them disliking reading instead of loving it!  Oh boys you are SO right!  That’s the whole point of FVR (free voluntary reading). Moments like that I wish I had my camera / microphone on and recording! But of course I didn’t because I was doing a survey and not an interview…


(Boys) Reading as a social activity

As I wander around my library during recess and lunchtime, before and after school, I realise more and more than reading is not the solitary quiet activity that it’s usually purported to be. I’ve taken to trying to capture this by photographing the communal reading that is going on – which takes me to an article that I’ve been reading that I think is quite important when thinking about boys’ literacy pursuits – “Morphing literacy: Boys reshaping their school-based literacy practices” (Blair & Sanford, 2004).




boys2 boys1









Who can relate to this in their school libraries?

  • A cluster of boys sitting around a boy with the Guinness Book of Records – pointing and chatting and oohing and aahing about some record or another, followed by a debate about if it has been surpassed, and grabbing the next years book?
  • Two or 3 boys sitting with a Minecraft or lego book trying to find out how to do something?
  • A couple of younger boys reading the same graphic novel (usually squish or lunch lady) and turning the pages at the same time or waiting to turn the page so they can read the same thing at the same time?
  • Requests for books that tell them how to progress in computer / online games
  • Needing books about the 2nd world war because their grandfather or great-grandfather fought in it?

Blair and Sanford (2004) relate boys’ reading to their need to acquire social-cultural capital – i.e. they read as long as it enhances their peers and their own view of themselves as “acceptable masculine beings” and creates connection, collaboration and camaraderie between themselves and their friends. The authors refer to “team-like literacy” involving participation and interaction that is purposeful.

In terms of the kinds of texts that engage and fulfil these needs, the “rules” are simple

  • action > relationships
  • excitement > unfolding characters
  • need to suit personal interests / fact finding / purpose / sharing information
  • humour and fun ++++ important

I would suggest that the literary market / publishing is NOT catering for these needs adequately or at all in fact. Let’s take “Jets” for example.  The current obsession of the Grade 1 / 2 students in my school at the moment. The available books we have are dumb. They’re not information rich enough and the publishers cater to their reading level rather than their interest level. They’re dated before they even hit the shelves. They want elaborate up to date images with lots of numbers and facts – never mind the silly narrative “here is a pilot” “this is the instrument console”.  Ditto Lego – I’ve said this a million times and I’ll say it again. There is nothing inbetween the little books “castles, towns, 101 things to make” and “Lego StarWars” that is so big and bulky and hard to take home.  Make each chapter into a book FFS. How much time do publishers even spend walking around school libraries and talking to boys? (or even librarians? or teachers? or parents?).

This type of article also explains why our “Blokes with Books” and “Readers’ Cup” clubs work so well at school. Connection, affinity, literacies growing out of relationships.

Now to make sure we leverage that in the classrooms and at home.


Blair, H. A., & Sanford, K. (2004). Morphing literacy: Boys reshaping their school-based literacy practices. Language Arts, 81(6), 452.