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Motivations for Reading

Reading motivation isn't a simple matter of desire to read, because there are many different reasons for this desire. This article describes several motivations for reading, both intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external.)

Motivations for reading are internalized reasons for reading which activate cognitive operations that enable the individual to perform such acts as acquiring knowledge, enjoying aesthetic experiences, performing tasks, and participating in social contexts.

Motivation for reading is discussed here in the plural. Several different motivations are expected to be useful in characterizing students' school-relevant reading, including

  • Curiosity, as in the desire to learn about a topic
  • Aesthetic involvement, as in the enjoyment of experiencing a literary text
  • Challenge, as in the orientation to learning complex ideas from text
  • Recognition, as in the gratification in receiving a tangible form of reward for success in reading
  • Grades, as in favorable evaluations from a teacher

These dimensions are based on the work on intrinsic motivation (Deci et al., 1991), values and goals (Wigfield & Eccles, 1992), and flow experiences (Czikszentmihalyi, 1978) that encompass both intrinsic (curiosity, aesthetic involvement, and challenge) and more extrinsic (recognition, grades) aspects of motivation.

We include different kinds of intrinsic motivation specific to reading, in particular the notion of aesthetic satisfaction. We also distinguish different kinds of extrinsic motivation for reading, reflecting the fact that children do much of their reading in school where work is evaluated and grades and recognition become salient.

Our proposed motivations for reading also include: social, processes of constructing and sharing meanings in groups; and compliance, adaptation to an external goal or requirement.

With the exception of Wentzel's (1989) work in the general motivation literature and in-depth case studies of adults' purposes and interests in reading (Gray & Rogers, 1956), the social goals for reading have been infrequently discussed. But social motivations seem essential for reading since students read in groups during instruction and share texts in many social situations.

In addition, teachers often have management goals, such as finishing a certain number of pages in a certain time period, which may become internalized by the students as a compliance motivation.

We further propose that reading efficacy, the belief that one can be successful at reading, is vital to becoming an active reader. Reading efficacy refers to students' perceptions of themselves as competent readers and learners, which are associated with academic achievement.

Paris, Wasik, and Turner (1991) reviewed literature indicating that students who have a sense of control over their own learning achieve more and are more active in school than other students. Bandura and others have shown that self-efficacy, which is a belief in probable success, is associated with high performance in complex reading tasks and in mathematics (Schunk & Rice, 1987).

Motivations for reading may change over time in strength, number, or type. We suggest that reading motivations that are more intrinsic (curiosity, aesthetic involvement, challenge, social, self-efficacy) will increase in number and strength across time as a student becomes a more active reader. Students who become less active readers will diminish in the number and strength of their intrinsic motivations for reading.

Conversely, extrinsic motivations (compliance, grades, recognition) will decrease in strength as students become more active readers.


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Adapted from: Guthrie, J. T., Bennett, L., McGough, K.(Winter, 1994). Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction: An Integrated Curriculum to Develop Motivations and Strategies for Reading. Reading Research Report No. 10. National Reading Research Center. University of Georgia and University of Maryland.

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"You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me." — Strickland Gillilan