Seminar on Lit for Youth: Motivation and Reluctant Readers
Watch the video, then read the page.
Why are some youth motivated to read and others not interested? What types of experiences encourage informational reading? These questions must be answered to reach reluctant and struggling readers.
The Guiness Book of World Records is often the "go-to" book for librarians trying to engage reluctant readers. However there are many other reference books that will get youth reading.
Marc Aronson's For Boys Only: The Biggest, Baddest Book Ever (2007) is a great example. Full of facts, statistics, puzzles, and stories, it's a book that children will return to over and over again.
These types of books continue to gain popularity. In 2012, Conn Igguiden's The Dangerous Book for Boys was a hit becoming a best-seller. It was followed by The Daring Book for Girls (2012) by Andrea Buchanan.
Recently, an increasing amount of research has emerged on informational reading. Much of this research focuses on issues of motivation and struggling readers.
Guthrie (2009) and others studied eight motivations for informational book reading that are associated with reading achievement. These include four motivations that affirm achievement including intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, valuing reading, and peer acceptance of reading and four motivations that are inverse to reading including avoidance, perceived difficulty, devaluing, and peer rejection of reading. Many students felt that information books are boring and not something they would read outside school.
Skim Astacio, Kimberly (2016). Nonfiction interests and reading habits of third grade students. Rowan Digital Works. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Think about the relationship among student interest, student motivation, and struggling readers.
Go to the CORI Booklist. Notice how books were organized into different categories including class sets, field guides, team sets, individual books, and works for struggling readers.
Think about a collection of concept-based books that you could organize in this way.
In the study Motivation, achievement, and classroom context for informational reading, Guthrie, Klauda, and Morrison (2012) found that the following practices increased student dedication to read:
- thematic units
In addition, lack of these elements decreased dedication and interest substantially.
In a related study, Wigfield, Cambria, and Ho (2012) investigated adolescent motivation for reading informational texts. They found that the undermining motivations of avoidance and difficulty negatively predict comprehension more than the positive motivations of self-efficacy and peer value positively predict comprehension.
"These finding suggest that high-achieving readers are dedicated to putting forth time and effort in reading information texts and they find reading them to be easy, while they dislike information book reading and devalue it... The negative relation we observed suggests that higher achievers lack intrinsic motivation for the kinds of information books they read in school... We think this pattern has negative implications for students' long-term engagement with these kinds of reading materials." (76)
The researchers suggest that the highest achievers in reading may be strongly attached to fiction and literary works and find attributes of informational texts unattractive. Introducing these youth to narrative nonfiction might serve to bridge this discomfort.
The study also found gender differences. Boys, particularly those of European descent were less positively motivated for reading the information books commonly used in schools. The researchers also discussed that as informational texts are increasingly used in middle school settings, it is important to consider that
"students find these books hard, irrelevant, and boring do not bode well for their engagement with them... teachers and other reading professionals will have to work hard to boost students' motivation for reading information texts. We believe it likely is easier to increase the value of reading than to reduce the devaluing of reading... They will need to enable students to experience benefits and uses of reading in concrete situations. Through repeated, positively affective and instrumentally powerful experiences with reading, students may decrease their devaluing, and their avoidance of reading information texts also may decrease. Possibly at the same time, positive valuing will increase." (78)
The study strongly suggested that
"a careful look at the kinds of information books children are given in school is needed. Replacing these books with other kinds of texts that present information in ways that are interesting, relevant, and engaging is another way to increase students' motivation for this kind of reading." (78)
In the article Instructional effects of concept-oriented reading instruction on motivation for reading information text in middle school, Guthrie, Mason-Singh and Coddington (2012) found that
"The dilemma of information book reading in middle school is that students dislike the texts, devalue them, and avoid reading as often as possible. A portion of this aversion is due to the students' unmotivating experiences with most information texts. High proportions of students report that they cannot read the books proficiently, cannot connect the books to their knowledge or experience, are rarely afforded choices in reading, and have few collaborative opportunities... Existing empirical literature supports instruction that features 'autonomy support' in which students' interests and needs are central to the teaching design." (155)
The study found that
"practices of assuring relevance, providing choice, arranging collaboration, and sustaining a thematic unit facilitated specific motivations." (155)
Engagement is a critical factor in reading. Guthrie and McRae (2012) found that
"behavioral engagement in literacy, defined as the amount of time, effort, and persistence students put into reading, predicted literacy performance and learning of all students. This relationship was stronger for African Americans than for European Americans... instructional practices that most highly increased behavioral engagement and achievement consisted of teachers' emphasis on importance, choice, collaboration, and thematic units." (216)
Finally, Klauda, Wigfield, and Cambria (2012) found that it was possible to positively affect struggling readers' informational text comprehension and weaken undermining motivations through Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI). This approach combines an emphasis on motivation, conceptual knowledge, reading strategies, and social interaction.
CORI focuses on conceptual themes. Students are involved with reading, writing, and hands-on experiences with topics such as animal survival processes. Stress is placed on relevance, student choices, student goal setting, collaboration, and thematic approaches.
To learn more about this approach, go to http://cori.umd.edu
Browse Adolescents' Engagement in Academic Literacy. University of Maryland. Available online. This report provides a series of outstanding research articles on adolescent engagement with informational text.
Select one article to read in-depth, summarize the article, and critique the research approach.
Although these articles focus primarily on students as readers, they have important implications for librarians working with children, parents, and teachers. Think about how you will bridge theory and practice. Reflect on the article. What are the implications of this research for informational book selection and readers advisory for youth? Be specific citing the research. Find a second research article (not in this article collection) that reinforces or extends the ideas presented in this research.
Then, identify a cluster of books that represents some aspect of your conclusion. You should include an annotation and how you see this item fitting in with the research. For instance, you might focus on relevance and motivation to read or a thematic approach reading.
Ideas for Reluctant Readers
How do you get reluctant readers to start reading? You need a hook. Something, anything that will get them to start. Magazines like Sports Illustrated for Kids are a nonthreatening beginning.
Keep in mind that the topics you find fascinating may not be the same as a 6 or 12 year old. For instance, youth are enthralled by bodily functions. Children can't resist the following three books:
- Gomi, Taro (1995). Everyone Poops. Turtleback. (biology, humor, Ages 1+) (cover below right)
- Goodman, Susan E. (2007). The Truth About Poop. Puffin. (biology, humor, Ages 7+) (cover below left)
- Goodman, Susan E. (2006). Gee Whiz! Viking. (biology, humor, Ages 7+)
As youth age, they become increasingly difficult motivate. While sometimes the issue is an inability to read well, many adolescents simply aren't interested.
Use online book trailers to reel in readers. Amy Stewart's books are popular with both teens and adults. Her funny book trailers contribute to interest in her works including Wicked Bugs and Wicked Plants.
Some readers want to hear ideas from other youth rather than from adults, so seek out student produced book trailers on YouTube.
Hoaxes, Monsters, and Reluctant Readers
You've got to hook a reluctant reader to get them to read. Compelling topics are a good start. Who can resist the Guinness Book of World Records? It's a great place to get readers interested in oddities.
Youth love stories about bigfoot, aliens, and monsters. Most young people also enjoy reading about crooks and schemes. Combine these two elements and you get Jim Murphy's The Giant and How He Humbugged America (2012). The Cardiff Giant became one of the biggest hoaxes of the 19th century. This story provides a great opportunity to connect to the CCSS.
Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan of the Booklist Bookends Blog (2012) suggest the following CCSS activity:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
Murphy discusses the role that popular opinion played in the acceptance of the Cardiff Giant as authentic and how the hoax led to the establishment of institutions and scientific standards and processes.
…experts realized that they often had to argue against public opinion when stating their findings. Andrew White understood how the popularity of an opinion could be extremely daunting. It was, he noted, a “peculiarly American superstition that the correctness of a belief is decided by the number of people who can be induced to adopt it.” (pg. 87-88)
How does Murphy support this position? Cite textual evidence.
Do you think this “peculiarly American superstition” is still present today? Support your position with examples and cite your sources.
Pair The Giant with Candace Fleming's The Great and Only Barnum for more with roadside attractions.
It's sometimes difficult to find narrative works that will engage readers, particular boys. Once they've read the Gary Paulson and Will Hobbs works of fiction, they're done. They want mystery and intrigue, but may not be interested in the deep character development often found in fiction.
Narrative nonfiction may be the answer. True crime stories are particularly engaging for some readers.
Consider Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin. Set in the late 1800s, a group of men devise a plan to steal the remains of Abraham Lincoln and hold it for ransom. There's even an online Discussion Guide to keep them reading and exploring the history behind the true story.
One key to hooking reluctant readers is to get them started on a series. This is easy with fiction because you have books like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid that immediately get them hooked and asking for more.
There are lots of series books to consider. If the child likes sports, start with their favorite sport. Once they're done with one book, they'll be ready to dig into another sport. In some cases, youth like the format of a particular type of book like the The Everything Kids' series featuring topics like cookbook, science experiments, puzzles, baseball, money, and nature. With over 100 titles to choose from, students won't get bored!
While many series are based on topics like animals or disasters. A wonderful alternative is the How A Photograph Changed series known as the Captured History books from Compass Point Books. These works tell the story behind a single photograph. Featuring both well-known and lesser known images, the series is great for reluctant readers because they're immediately drawn into the visual aspects of the book. They work for both science and social studies topics.
Examples from the series include Breaker Boys: How a Photograph Helped End Child Labor (2011) by Michael Burgan, Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration (2011) by Shelley Tougas, and Man on the Moon: How a Photograph Made Anything Seem Possible (2011) by Pamela Dell
Graphics and Reluctant Readers
Some reluctant readers are attracted to graphic nonfiction and other highly visual informational text. I, FLY: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos is an example. With bright colored illustrations, speech bubbles, and interesting dialogue, this book is likely to attract readers.
Just because a book contains pictures doesn't mean it will draw in reluctant readers. Subject matter is key. Bodyguards!: From Gladiators to the Secret Service (2012) by Ed Butts is a great example. Focusing on the role of bodyguards through history, this book provides a way to engage readers in history through a topic of interest: bodyguards.
While not a graphic-novel style, the book does include lots of engaging visuals.
High Internet, Low Vocabulary
For many reluctant readers, the barrier is readability. For children who read below grade level, books can be difficult to find. Fifth graders reading at the second grade reading level may find books written at the second grade reading level "babyish". They don't want to read about going to the playground or cuddly koalas.
Seek out books specifically designed for this market. These are often sold as "high interest - low vocabulary" or "hi-lo" books. For instance, Capstone Press has a number of series that appeal to this group. The Most Famous Pirates (2012) by Cindy Jenson-Elliott is an example from Capstone's Blazer series.
Hi-Lo books contain a controlled vocabulary with specific reading levels. They provide invisible support features like interesting sidebars with key words and definitions.
Read Hooking Struggling Readers: Using Books They Can and Want to Read. Reading Rockets. Available. Create lists of high interest - low vocabulary books for students with different interests. Have them ready.
Connect with Technology
Sometimes the key to reluctant readers is connecting reading with computer activities. In other words, youth enjoy reading books about the computer games they like to play. They may spend hours pouring over "cheat books".
Books like Gamers Unite!: The Video Game Revolution (2010) by Shane Frederick connect with youth interest in gaming by exploring video game history. With a reading level of grades 7-8 and an interest level of grades 6-9, it's popular in middle and early high school.
Entice readers with the audiobook format. Then, encourage them to learn more reading through related books or websites. For instance start with the popular book How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg. Narrated by L.J. Ganser, the audio version is available on 4 cassettes or 4 CDs with a length of 4 hours and 15 minutes. The segments are very short and focus on the demise of the famous person. Then, get them involved in learning more about each person.
There are lots of books about space. Connect readers to YouTube videos such as those produced by the European, Canadian, or US space agency like NASA.
Boys as Reluctant Readers
While you sometimes find boys who love reading, it's more likely that you find boy who are reluctant readers. From comic books to sports magazines, get youth started with what they enjoy. Then, connect their interests to books. For instance, a comic lover may enjoy an encyclopedia of comics like The Marvel Encyclopedia.
In Gotcha Again for Guys! (2010, xii-xiii), Kathleen A. Baxter and Marcia Agness Kochel provide tips for working with reluctant readers, particularly boys.
"With boys in the 'tween years, the highest quality book is not the issue. The issue is finding books they will actually read.
Never tell a boy in any way, verbally or in body language, that the books he like are bad and the books girls like are good.
Kids need our permission to read easy books. Include plenty of easier books in your booktalks.
In a recent study, reluctant readers indicated that they only liked to read when they got to pick whatever they wanted to read. Let them choose! Encourage everyone to let that happen...
Boys are less likely to talk about or overtly respond to their reading than girls are. But they love information that exports readily to conversation - that they can repeat to other people. This is one reason that nonfiction works well."
In The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction, Neal Wyatt (2007, 3) notes that
"Narrative provides a hook for readers to pull themselves through a title. Some readers need a strong driving narrative to keep them reading. These readers are most happy with highly plotted fiction or highly narrative nonfiction. They are less happy with meandering, unfocused works, be they fiction or nonfiction."
Consider pairing a work of nonfiction with fiction. Begin with whichever is most likely to draw reader interest. The Vietnam War: A Graphic History (2010) by Dwight Jon Zimmerman is an outstanding work of nonfiction history. It tells the story of the war using a graphic-novel style sure to appeal to reluctant readers.
Pair Zimmerman's work of historical nonfiction with Scholastic's Vietnam series. Written by Chris Lynch, the books are historical fiction and have an interest level of 7-10 and a reading level of grade 6. Books include
- Vietnam #1: I Pledge Allegiance
- Vietnam #2: Sharpshooter
- Vietnam #3: Free-Fire Zone
Read McFann, Jane (2004). Boys and Books. Reading Rockets. Available.
Think about a strategy for motivating books to read.
Explore ALA's Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. It sometimes contains nonfiction works. Another option is to pair one of their fiction suggestions with works of nonfiction.
You can also do a search for reading lists geared specifically for reluctant or struggling readers. Seek out hi-lo lists and suggested topics for motivating youth.
Go to the Guys Read! website developed by author Jon Scieszka. This website is designed to help parents, teachers, and librarians seeking books for reluctant readers, particularly boys.
How-To, Task-Oriented, Procedural Nonfiction
Many librarians separate nonfiction into "fact-based" vs "task-oriented books". Some reluctant readers find task-oriented books practical and relevant to their life. Many of these books are procedural nonfiction focusing on how-to topics like sketching, building, and fixing things.
Seek out books that contain lots of images, projects, and quality directions. Books like Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids: 175 Projects for Kids of All Ages to Create, Build, Design, Explore, and Share (2013) is an example.
It's important to know your local community. In some areas quilting, gardening, and canning are ingrained in local families and history. In others, the emphasis is on classic cars or building boats.
Before purchasing "how to" books, think about library circulation. Some books are intended to be consumable. For instance, a book about paper airplanes may contain pull-out sheets or a drawing book may provide space for writing. Consider whether these books will work in your library.
In some cases the materials in the kit are consumable. Potholders and Other Loopy Projects is a wonderful way to learn how to make potholders. However once the child has used the materials, the fun is gone. You can continue to circulate the book, but children will need to provide their own materials. Or, you may want to design kits that can be circulated with new materials added for each kid. This could be time consuming, but a great service.
Look for series books that will grab the attention of youth.
Inez Snyder is known for her "How Things Are Made" series of how-to books for children. These great books encourage youth to act on what they read by making ketchup, ice cream, and crayons.
- Apples to Applesauce
- Beans to Chocolate
- Berries to Jelly
- Grains to Bread
- Grapes to Raisins
- Milk to Ice Cream
- Oranges to Orange Juice
- Sand to Glass
- Tomatoes to Ketchup
- Sap to Syrup
- Trees to Paper
- Wax to Crayons
For teens, look for the "Dummies" series such as Car Audio for Dummies and the "Complete Idiot's Guides" like Drawing Manga. In addition to the books, both series maintain popular websites with video connections.
Let's explore some of the more popular areas of the nonfiction collection that might be used to connect youth with reading.
Automotive, Construction, and Repair
There will always be jobs for skilled workers who can fix plumbing problems, build a home, or fix an auto transmission. Encourage youth with interests in these areas by connecting books to their interests. For some, an interest in becoming an mechanic might begin by learning about jet engines or building a simple motor. Start with a book for teens like How Cars Work by Tom Newton. The book provides basic explanations for the 350 most important car parts and how they work.
Beauty and Fashion
Some girls aren't interested in reading, but they love Seventeen and other teen magazines. Introduce these readers to beauty and fashions to jump start reading. For instance, Seventeen Ultimate Guide to Style: How to Find Your Perfect Look by Ann Shoket will get the ball rolling. It's just one of many books by Seventeen focusing on style and beauty tips.
When people think of how-to books related to food, they generally think of cookbooks. However there are many more options than simply finding cool chocolate chip cookie recipes. Who could resist The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Knickerbocker Glory - More than 150 Recipes by Dinah Buckholz?
In our quest to find cool new books, it's important to remember the mainstays. Better Homes and Gardens New Junior CookBook has been a popular choice for generations.
Both "how-to" recipe cookbooks and narrative cookbooks are popular with youth. Narrative cookbooks incorporate story elements, explore a setting such as camping or the history of food, and talk about applications of food as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Knitting, sewing, pottery, and woodworking are only a few of the possibilities for youth seeking craft books.
Sewing School: 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love to Make (2010) by Andria Lisle is a great example. Designed for ages 5-13, the book contains step-by-step directions to get students started sewing. However like many activities-based books this work includes materials such as patterns that may cause a problem for circulation. These additional materials will need to be reinforced or circulated separately.
From drawing manga and dragons to portrait and landscape projects, hundreds of drawing books are available to entice youth.
Recently cartoonist James Sturm has begun a series of how-to drawing books from the Center for Cartoon Studies. These include both step-by-step directions as well as activities all presented in a comic format.
- Sturm, James (2010). Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book (with Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost). First Second. (Drawing, comics, Ages 6-10)
- Sturm, James (2009). Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Doodles into Comics (with Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost). First Second. (Drawing, comics, Ages 6-10)
Games, Toys, and Activities
Whether trying to entertain kids in the back seat of the car or learning to win at chess, there are lots of game and activities books.
Pokemon: Essential Handbook (2012) from Scholastic is a great example. Youth can spend hours exploring this handbook for Pokemon fans.
Klutz is a popular publisher of activity book-kits. For instance Crazy Action Contraptions include Lego pieces along with the book. If purchasing this book for home use, the pieces aren't an issue. However if you're thinking about this book for your collection, consider how you will circulate the pictures. Is the container durable enough to withstand use? Will the book circulate or will you incorporate it into a program or supervised activity instead? The 15 Greatest Board Games in the World is another example. The book contains directions and games along with 44 colored plastic playing pieces, 36 specialized tokens, 12 geometric playing pieces, and 2 dice.
Magic Tricks, Puzzles, and Codes & Ciphers
Whether learning magic tricks, solving complex puzzles, or figuring out codes and ciphers, there are many books that will draw youth in to reading. For instance, Magic Tricks from the Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne is a companion to the fiction work Magic Tree House #50: Hurry Up, Houdini!. Begin by introducing the magic book. Then, suggest the fiction companion.
Teens often seek out self-help books. Works like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens: The Ultimate Teenage Success Guide by Sean Covey is an example. Don't Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills for Helping You Manage Mood Swings, Control Angry Outbursts, and Get Along with Others by Sheri Van Dijk focus on the common issue of teens handling emotion.
The "how-to" books are scattered across the nonfiction collection. How will you make the best use of these wonderful works of procedural nonfiction?
Define and give examples of procedural nonfiction.
Develop a set of categories that will help you organize your thinking about these works and how they might be accessed by youth. Identify some of the best examples in different categories or create some clusters of books related to a topic. Share strategies for using these as part of a motivational program to promote reading. Identify and cite at least two professional articles focusing on procedural nonfiction for youth.
Astacio, Kimberly (2016). Nonfiction interests and reading habits of third grade students. Rowan Digital Works. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Baker, Linda, Dreher, Mariam Jean, Shiplet, Angela Katenkamp, Heall, Lisa Carter, Voelker, Anita N. Garrett, Adia J., Schugar, Heather R. & Finger-Elam, Maria (2011). Children's comprehension of informational text: reading, engaging, and learning. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 4(1), 197-227. Available
Baxter, Kathleen & Kochel, Marcia Agness (2010). Gotcha Again for Guys: More Nonfiction Booktalks to Get Kids Excited About Reading. Libraries Unlimited. Preview Available
Guthrie, John T., Wigfield, Allan, & Klauda, Susan Lutz (2012). Adolescents' Engagement in Academic Literacy. University of Maryland. Available
Guthrie, John T., Klauda, Susan Lutz, & Morrison, Danette A. (2012). Motivation, achievement, and classroom context for informational reading. In J.T. Guthrie, A. Wigfield, S.L. Klauda, Adolescents' Engagement in Academic Literacy. University of Maryland. Available
Guthrie, John T., Mason-Singh, Amanda, & Coddington, Cassandra S. (2012). Instructional effects of concept-oriented reading instruction on motivation for reading information text in middle school. In J.T. Guthrie, A. Wigfield, S.L. Klauda, Adolescents' Engagement in Academic Literacy. University of Maryland. Available
Guthrie, John T. & McRae, Angela (2012). Motivation and contexts for literacy engagement of African American and European American adolescents. In J.T. Guthrie, A. Wigfield, S.L. Klauda, Adolescents' Engagement in Academic Literacy. University of Maryland. Available
Guthrie, John T., Wigfield, Allan, & You, Wei (2012). Instructional contexts for engagement and achievement in reading. In S.L. Christenson, et. al. (eds.) Handbook for Research on Student Engagement. Springer Science & Business Media. Available
Guthrie, John T., Wigfield, Allan, Cambria, Jenna, Coddington, Cassandra S. Klauda, Susan Lutz, & Morrison, Danette A. (April 2009). Motivations for Reading Information Books Among Adolescent Students. University of Maryland. Available
Klauda, Susan Lutz, Wigfield, Allan, & Cambria, Jenna (2012). Struggling readers' information text comprehension and motivation in early adolescence. In J.T. Guthrie, A. Wigfield, S.L. Klauda, Adolescents' Engagement in Academic Literacy. University of Maryland. Available
Wigfield, Allan, Cambria, Jenna, & Ho, Amy N. (2012). Motivation for reading information texts. In J.T. Guthrie, A. Wigfield, S.L. Klauda, Adolescents' Engagement in Academic Literacy. University of Maryland. Available