Improving and Assessing Teens Engagement in Literacy Activities (Better Learning For Schools #15)

Over the past decade it seems that I have had the same literacy conversation dozens of times with parents.  Around the time a student hits his or her teenage years, it seems that their parents grow increasingly concerned that their child just doesn’t seem to be reading on their own any more.  Now, to be clear, these are often kids in homes where reading is modeled and encouraged.  But, for a variety of reasons, it seems that young people seem to fall increasingly out of love with leisurely literacy activities.

Research tells us that reader motivation and engagement both result from an interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic factors (Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997).  There is an intrinsic motivation that refers to a willingness to read because that activity is satisfying or rewarding in it’s own right (Shieffele, et al., 2012).   teen_reader-300x199For example, a person can be motivated to read because of an interest in the topic of the text or because the reading activity itself provides a positive experience, such as being absorbed in a story (Shiefele, 2009).  But there is also anextrinsic reading motivation that comes into play. By extrinsic motivation, we mean the  external outcomes that are associated with the reading topic or reading activity.  For example, students might consider possible praise from a teacher, good grades or outperforming their peers (Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997).

Helping young people to become literate now implies a need for educators who seek strategically to improve their students’ reading motivation by focusing on both the intrinsic and extrinsic elements of reading.  A number of teachers I have worked with lately are seeking to do this by providing students with positive reading experiences and by making the tangible benefits of reading explicit to students.  But there remains the question—Just how do we improve and assess students’ engagement in the literacy activities we design for them?

I was recently attending and presenting at a conference that focused on student engagement in literacy. At the conference, I was able to sit down and visit with Dr. Linda Rice, a professor and researcher from the University of Ohio. Dr. Rice has authored a number of books and articles on student engagement in literacy.  She has also been a classroom teacher for years. I started off by asking her how she felt we can assess teens engagement in literacy activities.  She stressed a sort of strategic multiplicity when it comes to how we engage students and how we assess them…


Nilsen, A. P. (2013). Literature for today’s young adults. Boston: Pearson.

Schiefele, U. (2009). Situational and individual interest. In K.R. Wentzel & A. Wigfield (Eds.), Handbook of motivation at school (pp. 197–222). New York: Routledge.

Schiefele, U., Schaffner, E., Möller, J., Wigfield, A., Nolen, S., & Baker, L. (2012). Dimensions of Reading Motivation and Their Relation to Reading Behavior and Competence. Reading Research Quarterly47(4), 427-463.

Wigfield, A., & Guthrie, J.T. (1997). Relations of children’s motivation for reading to the amount and breadth of their reading. Journal of Educational Psychology89(3), 420–432.

Curtis Chandler can be contacted at:
Twitter @curtischandler6
Blog:  Better Learning For Schools

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