Beta Phi Mu - Chi Chapter, Student Award for Scholarship
2000/2001 Winner

List of Annual Award Winners

Reading Engagement: What Influences The Choice to Read?

Kirsten D. M. Kowalewski

Inquiry Project
Dr. Judith Lysaker
L545: Advanced Methods of Teaching Elementary Reading

Part I: Theoretical perspectives


Why do some students choose to read, when others do not? Juel (1988) discovered that early success with cognitive competencies in reading such as decoding and comprehension is critical to student success with reading and writing over time. Inability to master these cognitive competencies builds an aversion to reading. One child’s aversion to reading led to the statement "I’d rather clean the mold off the bathroom floor [than read] (Juel, 1988)." In part because of these strong feelings, poor readers remain poor readers as they advance through school, and their choice to avoid reading in other contexts can actually lead to a measurable decline in reading ability (Juel, 1988; Mikulecky, 1994).

Students at all ability levels choose not to read independently, for recreation or personal interest. These students, many of whom are competent readers, are at risk of becoming nonreaders (Turner, 1992). The problem is already prevalent in our society: researchers suggest that only one out of every five Americans who can read, does read (Cramer & Castle, 1994). The choice these aliterate students have made can directly affect their academic achievement, and lead to a decline in language, critical thinking skills, and informed participation in democracy (Turner, 1992). Study of the related concepts of reading motivation and reading engagement suggests that these, in their interaction with cognitive competencies, may help to answer the question of why some students choose to read and others do not.

Motivation and its relationship to engagement

Some researchers consider reading motivation and reading engagement to be interchangeable terms (Guthrie et al, 1998), while others differentiate research on motivation theory from research using the more integrated concept of engagement, which demonstrates the interactions of cognitive, motivational, and social aspects of reading (Baker and Wigfield, 1999). Although Baker (2000) writes that cognitive skills are foundational to creating an engaged reader, Baker and Wigfield (1999) focused on aspects of engagement such as reading motivation, constructing meaning, using metacognitive strategies, and participating in literacy-based social interactions.

Cramer and Castle (1994) suggested that attention to and measurement of affective aspects of reading, such as motivation, may help to reverse the current trend of aliteracy. In fact, Guthrie et al (1998) reported that students with increased intrinsic motivation (motivation to participate in an activity for its own sake) are likely to read more frequently and widely than students with stable or decreased intrinsic motivation, and Wigfield and Guthrie (1997) reported research that showed a positive correlation between amount and breadth of reading and growth in reading achievement.

In support of Turner (1992), Baker and Wigfield (1999) discovered that motivation is integral to engaged reading, as motivated readers engage more in reading and are more positive about reading. Wigfield and Guthrie (1997) found that students become motivated learners and then increase the frequency of their reading, instead of the other way around. These results were supportive of theorists who argue that intrinsic motivation and learning goals predict engagement, and of Cambourne (1995), who argued that engagement was the key to literacy learning.

Cambourne (1995) writes that engagement occurs when students believe they are capable, are unafraid of physical or psychological harm, and are learning a beneficial activity. Motivation researchers have shown that individuals holding positive ability beliefs about an activity, who think they can do the activity competently, value the activity for intrinsic reasons, and have learning and positive social goals, should do better at the activity and choose to do it more frequently. Wigfield and Guthrie (1997) used eleven general motivational constructs to measure aspects of reading motivation that would allow them to measure student perceptions of self and of the value of reading. They used motivational constructs such as ability beliefs (beliefs of overall competence), subjective task values (such as interest, importance, and usefulness of an activity), goal setting, and self-efficacy (beliefs about competence at a specific task). Wigfield and Guthrie’s (1997) general motivational constructs correspond to Cambourne’s (1995) conditions for engagement as presented in his model for learning. The multifaceted interactions of aspects of the reading motivation construct led researchers to determine that individual engaged readers are motivated by a variety of interrelated reasons, so a variety of approaches need to be used to activate engagement (Baker & Wigfield, 1999).

Constructivism and its relationship to engagement

The constructivist perspective expands on the idea of meaning making and building context. From this theoretical approach, engagement is a process that the active learner uses to connect personal knowledge and previous experiences to new ideas or facts, in order to construct knowledge in a personally meaningful way (McCombs, 1996). This can be approached in a variety of ways.

Reader response

Reader response theory presumes that readers take either an aesthetic stance (which allows the reader to "experience" the text) or an efferent stance (which allows the reader to carry away factual information from the text)(Spiegel, 1998). In general, the aesthetic stance has been applied to literary texts, although there are theorists who challenge that, believing that the aesthetic stance can also be successfully applied to nonfiction and informational texts (Alexander, 1997; Spires & Donley, 1997). Readers who take the aesthetic stance create their own meaning, grounded in the actual text. Thus, many different interpretations of text are likely to occur.

There are two major parts to implementing reader response in the classroom: reading and responding. Reading often takes the form of sustained silent reading, often of materials chosen by the student, to allow for self-pacing and reflection. Responding often takes written form, to allow readers to return to their past thoughts and reflect on them, and often includes discussion as well, so that students can negotiate meaning. Research shows that students who participate in reader response based activities develop ownership of and responsibility for their reading and their responses, and that they begin to make personal connections between literature, their own lives, and the world. They become more reflective and critical readers, using and refining cognitive and metacognitive skills and strategies to develop deeper understandings of what they have read, and more tolerance for multiple interpretations. They have positive views of themselves as successful readers, and show achievement gains on standardized tests (Spiegel, 1998).

Reader response theory, with its constructivist focus on making meaning, does seem to foster engaged reading through providing opportunities for social interaction, strategic reading, and building intrinsic motivation to read through personal connection to text. Applied to nonfiction and informational texts, as Dreher (2000, ch 4) suggests, reader response theory could generate familiarity with and ownership of the research process, and increase the possibility of creating motivated, information literate students.

Reading to learn/learning to read

Bergin and LaFave (1988) contend that whole language provides a motivational context for engaging children in meaningful learning because whole language includes but goes beyond skill development, fostering, through authentic activities, a meaningful literate lifestyle that assigns value to reading and writing. Baker (2000) does report that researchers have suggested that cognitive competencies embedded in the authentic context of a whole language classroom offer students more opportunities to engage in literacy tasks matched to their reading level, leading to higher levels of engagement than the skills-only oriented classroom. However, Baker (2000) further recommends direct and explicit skills instruction and the modeling of metacognitive strategies starting as early as kindergarten or first grade, in the context of a literature-based program.

Dreher (2000, ch 4) writes that the conception of reading instruction is changing. Learning to read and reading to learn are now recognized as interwoven processes instead of separate stages. In addition to cognitive competencies, comprehension of text has now become important throughout the entire literacy learning process. Dreher recommends balanced instruction, meshing effective skills instruction with an emphasis on meaning, using a variety of texts and contexts. McCombs (1996) described research determining that key to the process of fostering motivation and engagement in the classroom are good teachers, confident about their knowledge and teaching ability and teaching according to their own philosophies, goals, and personalities. Choice and autonomy are as important for teachers as for students. Although Bergin and LaFave (1988) argue that whole language is most congruent with motivation research, and thus, engaged learning, it is completely possible for a teacher not to adopt the whole language philosophy and still foster motivated, engaged reading. However, balanced instruction should take into account the variety of reading materials, both fiction and nonfiction, that form our daily lives.

Choice and control

Corno (1992) indicated that students could be encouraged to take ownership in and responsibility for their own learning. Kohn (1993) supported the idea that students are capable of controlling their learning, writing, "The entire constructivist tradition is predicated on the idea of student autonomy, which is to say, the chance for students to view their learning as something "under their control" rather than as disembodied, objectified, subject matter." He suggests, that for the sake of their psychological well-being, motivation to achieve, and potential to engage in authentic, democratic learning, students should be given real choices in decision making processes that affect them.

A summary of research on the relationship between choice and engagement concluded that the positive relationship between choice and affective factors such as motivation can be empirically supported, and that choice has a positive effect on students seeking to control their environment (Schraw, Flowerday & Reisetter, 1998). These conclusions support Hunt’s contention that the reader "who finds a really good book... that has ideas he truly wants to learn about, frequently will outdo his own instructional level of performance (1996/1997)," because he or she is self-motivated to master the ideas. Gambrell (1996) found, in fact, that over 80% of children involved in a reading motivation study chose books they had self-selected as the books they enjoyed most.

Teachers in a 1998 survey indicated that they viewed choice of materials during sustained silent reading as a way to improve both reading motivation and achievement. (Worthy, Turner, & Moorman, 1998). A classroom culture that encourages self-selection and sustained silent reading of high interest materials, and the modeling of strategies for comprehension and metacognition, can lead to a more positive self-concept of the student as reader (Hunt, 1996/1997).

Social Constructivism: social interaction and its relationship to engagement

Oldfather and Dahl (1994) reconceptualized reading motivation to fit the engagement perspective by using a social constructivist framework. Social constructivism conceptualizes engagement as a combination of affective, motivational, cognitive, and social variables influenced by individual differences. In the social constructivist approach, social interaction is necessary for engagement (McCombs, 1996). In fact, according to Vygotsky, social interaction is the main way that children construct new knowledge (Gambrell, Mazzoni & Almasi, 2000).

According to Oldfather and Dahl (1994), the focus of many researchers on achievement motivation theory seemed to them to objectify and isolate learners and learning. In response, Oldfather and Dahl redefined intrinsic motivation as a "natural inclination of children to explore their environment as curious, social, and self-determining beings (1994)," at the same time reframing literacy as an interdependent process that defines the individual’s identity as a literate person, accomplished through social interactions within the classroom, family and culture of a child, in which participants contribute to understandings, expectations, and values inherent in literate life and activity (Oldfather & Dahl, 1994).

Current theories of motivation recognize that social interactions such as discussions with peers or family facilitate literacy learning (Gambrell, Mazzoni & Almasi, 2000). Gambrell (1996) found that children in a reading motivation study were enthusiastic about student book sharing opportunities, book clubs, discussion groups, and read-aloud sessions, and used social interactions with peers to choose their own books. Family and parental involvement in children’s schooling and literacy activities has been shown to have an important influence on children’s attitudes and achievement even after the child starts school, both because family involvement can lead to greater frequency of literacy activities and because it communicates values about the importance of school (Sonnenschein & Schmidt, 2000). Gambrell (1996) also summarizes research indicating that students who discuss reading frequently with peers and family are more motivated and have higher scores on standardized reading achievement tests. Teachers can effectively help families help their children by listening respectfully to children and parents to discover cultural differences as well as strengths and weaknesses (Sonnenschein & Schmidt, 2000).

Oldfather and Dahl suggest that students’ natural inclination, this "continuing impulse to learn (1994)," cannot be observed, but exists in the construction of new meanings and connections between self and school on a deeply personal level, through many levels of social interaction and collaboration. Although Oldfather and Dahl(1994) wrote that the continuing impulse to learn is not observable, results of recent studies suggest that collaborative social activities in meaningful literacy contexts, especially collaborative peer-led groups, promote achievement, higher level thinking skills, and the intrinsic desire to read and write, as well as helping to develop social insights, creativity, and literacy skills (Gambrell, Mazzoni & Almasi, 2000).

An integrated approach to engagement

According to Mosenthal (1999), engagement ultimately deals with setting and achieving goals, or identifying and solving problems in a way that brings student and teacher together as participants in learning. To achieve a desired goal, the individual uses and refines a variety of strategies to solve problems that stand between that individual and his or her goal, which allows that person to solve more complex problems and achieve more difficult goals. He writes that, for Dewey, all learning began with a problematic situation that contextualized facts and promoted meaning making, thus leading to engagement in inquiry. Long-term engagement feeds back into the spiraling and recursive learning process, leading to further engagement, knowledge, and the ability to transfer learned strategies.

Researchers with this broad focus on the individual learner examine the role of a variety of processes and variables, including choice, control, context for learning, self-expression, and metacognitive processes, combine constructivist and social constructivist perspectives with motivation research to try to answer the questions of how and why students engage in learning and literacy. Guthrie and Alao (1997) derived a set of design principles to optimize reading engagement in the classroom through examination of instructional contexts and previous research, which are consonant with Mosenthal’s and Dewey’s construct of engagement. These principles include: using a conceptual theme to give students context-motivated purposes for reading; providing real-world experiences to excite students, provide personal connections to knowledge, and inform their questions; enabling students to assume responsibility for learning through choice of topic, text, task, and media format; providing interesting texts; having students work together; supporting self-expression; and modeling cognitive strategies that support learning.

Guthrie et al (1998) showed that students in Concept Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI), a program based on these principles, increased their strategy use, conceptual knowledge, and conceptual transfer, in a manner similar to that of students whose intrinsic motivation increased. The gains made by students in his program were reflected on a statewide performance assessment. Clearly Guthrie and Alao’s (1997) design principles can be effective in promoting reading achievement and long-term engagement, in the manner described by Mosenthal (1999).


The engagement perspective is a shift from understanding reading as a totally cognitive competency, as an isolated, individual activity, or as a decontextualized skill to reading as a motivated activity mediated by cognitive skills, an activity that situates the individual in a social setting, and as part of an authentic context for knowing and learning (Guthrie, 1996). Research into engagement has verified that there is no one-size-fits-all quick fix for the struggling or reluctant reader. Social, cognitive, and motivational factors all interact uniquely in each individual, determining whether a student will choose to read, to engage in learning, or whether that student will make the opposite choice.(Baker and Wigfield, 1999). Teachers can positively affect the literacy lives of children by modeling positive literacy behaviors, create a literate classroom culture, provide opportunities for meaning making, social interaction, strategy and skill building, and choice and control (Gambrell, 1996). Reader response, constructivism, motivation theory, and social constructivism are all useful approaches to studying engagement, and they all help to build multifaceted answers to the question of why some children choose to read and others do not. Surely, the reconceptualization of reading as more than a set of cognitive competencies and skills can only help as educators address issues of aliteracy and reading motivation.

Part II : Invitations and Strategies--theory into practice


Embedding cognitive and metacognitive skills in authentic, motivational contexts.

Because early reading success is so important for reading achievement and engagement (Juel, 1988), an integrated engagement perspective on reading instruction suggests modeling cognitive competencies for reading instruction in motivational, authentic, and social contexts (Baker, 2000). Familiar poetry, rhymes, and chants used in repeated, shared readings create contexts for words used in a word wall to develop phonic and phonemic awareness. Children as young as kindergarten can be given control over the activity by choosing which words from a shared reading should go up on the word wall. Teachers can model using the word wall for decoding clues in word play, writing, and reading activities (Wagstaff, 1997/1998). In addition to the potential cognitive benefits, word walls also help to create a physical environment in the classroom that immerses students in word exploration and play, in a positive contribution to motivation (Rasinski & Padak, 1996)

Baker (2000) suggested that peer collaboration could benefit students even when the focus is on word recognition, if students receive explicit guidance in how to help each other. Students can provide support for each other with difficult words and by discussing their metacognitive processes. Making words, in which students arrange the letters of a word into as many words as possible, is an activity that students often do in pairs or small groups, so they can offer each other support by talking to and teaching each other (Rasinski & Padak, 1996). Vocabulary building can be a collaborative, motivational activity that instills ownership in students. For instance, students can be encouraged as a class to build a case, through discussion, for what words belong where on a scale of meaning. A group project could be to construct a dictionary of invented words using existing prefixes, suffixes, and roots as they learn about word structure and meaning (Cecil, 1994).

Students who are aware of their own thinking and choose strategies deliberately are engaging in metacognition (Rankin, 1999). Chan (1994) suggests that motivation drives the self-regulating skills necessary for choosing and implementing metacognitive strategies. Like cognitive competencies, metacognitive strategies are best taught when embedded in an authentic context. Guthrie et al (1998) designed Concept Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI) to optimize reading engagement by placing strategy instruction in "a rich context of real-world interactions and opportunities for self-directed learning," and using an interdisciplinary theme intended to arouse long-term interest in learning that would require strategic knowledge. Teachers provided modeling, small-group and whole-class discussions, peer modeling experiences, and opportunities for student self-evaluation to introduce strategies such as prior-knowledge activation, brainstorming, searching for information, comprehending informational text, interpreting literary text, and revising as those strategies became necessary for further reading and comprehension. Students participating in CORI were found to be more likely to learn and use strategies to gain information (Guthrie et al, 1998). Another model that has many similar aspects is the literature based model for inquiry (Short et al, 1996), which also uses a conceptual theme to connect real-world experiences and observations to literature to inspire collaborative and self directed inquiry, framed with problem-posing and problem-solving. Both programs have the potential to engage students in learning through embedding strategies in authentic contexts.

Harvey and Goudivis (2000) assert that metacognitive strategies inform reading comprehension by helping readers connect prior knowledge to text, ask questions, draw inferences, identify important ideas and features of text, and synthesize information, among other things. Strategy use can be improved when teachers explicitly model a strategy, guide students in its practice in groups or pairs, and offer students the opportunity to practice the strategy during their own independent reading. Prior knowledge activation is a metacognitive strategy that can be engaging and effective at building connections between student and text (Spires & Donley, 1998). Harvey and Goudivis (2000) suggest teaching students to mark places in the text where they see text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world connections using Post-it notes. Another strategy that can be used to activate prior knowledge, as well as questioning skills, is KWL (Rankin, 1999).

The growth of metacognitive processes can be recorded by students in journals or "learning logs (Wilson & Jan, 1993)" for later reflection on growth in strategy use, critical thinking, and reflection. Journals help students put the learning experience into their own words, making it more meaningful and personal. Rankin (1999) suggests using journals to record the research process so weaknesses in research strategy are evident to the teacher or media specialist, and, similarly, journals could be used to see what areas of reading comprehension and metacognition are in need of improvement. However, journals could also be used in tune with reader response theory, to allow students to reflect and respond to literary (or informational) texts, or they could be used as "writer’s notebooks," a place to strengthen observational, writing, and revision skills (Calkins, 1994; Bomer, 1995) In all cases, journaling, especially paired with class discussion, should help the student become more articulate at self-expression, and a more reflective thinker.

Discussion of metacognitive strategies shouldn’t end with the introduction of a new strategy. For a strategy to "stick" with children, the teacher needs to return to it repeatedly. Teachers can implement "instructional conversations (Barrentine, 1996)" by embedding the strategy lesson in an interactive read-aloud of a picture book. For instance, the teacher can frequently stop and ask for predictions about the story based on the pictures, to encourage even young children to use prediction as a metacognitive comprehension strategy. Children will engage more deeply if they are asked to interact with the story in a limited way, acquiring a more positive attitude towards books as well as new strategies for reading and thinking (Barrentine, 1996). Repeated interactive readings of a book can help students see more in the story than they were able to originally, and they may even read deeper meaning into the story (Barrentine, 1996; Harvey & Goudivis, 2000). Additionally, the book can be used as an anchor text for that particular strategy. For instance, Harvey and Goudivis (2000) used Up North at the Cabin with a class of sixth graders to model text-to-self connections, and they were able to simply refer to that book to activate the students’ prior knowledge when they reviewed connection building at a later time. Anchoring the strategy concretely with a specific book or object made the abstract strategy easier for the students to comprehend.

Social interaction: teachers, peers, and family motivating literate practices.

A literate social environment increases amount and frequency of reading, sense of self-determination, participation in the community and in communication (Guthrie, 1996).

The engagement perspective suggests that decoding, comprehension, and metacognition are enhanced through social interaction. In one first grade classroom, teachers observed opportunities for interaction that included sounding out words together, decoding words with a partner, shared reading with a partner, learning cognitive strategies from other students, and interactive read-alouds of picture books. Facilitative talk addressed to the task at hand by teachers and peers gives students the opportunity to engage in meaningful literacy activities, and in fact, a recent study found that reading instruction did not affect the frequency or breadth of independent reading unless the students had opportunities to interact with one another about books (McCarthey, Hoffman, & Galda, 1999).

Engaged learners frequently interact with partners, teams, teachers, text, and the classroom community (Guthrie, 1996). Children place a high priority on reading books they hear about from others, most often reporting that they chose a book because their teacher told them about it, or because they heard about it from parents or friends (Palmer, Codling, & Gambrell, 1994). Teachers can communicate enthusiasm and excitement in a way that encourages students to become intrinsically motivated (Patrick, Hisley & Kempler, 2000). A classroom culture that fosters reading motivation includes a teacher who is a reading model and who designs the classroom to foster a book-rich, immersive experience (Gambrell, 1996). Teachers who can demonstrate and share the role reading and writing play in their own lives are modeling positive literacy behaviors that students will adopt for themselves (Calkins, 1994; Worthy, Turner, & Moorman, 1998). Teachers willing to share their own reading with their students show respect for students’ ability to comprehend ideas, and can explicitly model how they use strategies in their own reading lives in an attention-getting manner (Harvey & Goudivis, 2000). Teachers who read and discuss books recommended by their students give students the impression that their own reading is worth taking seriously (Worthy, Turner, & Moorman, 1998).

Discussion is a way for students to resolve cognitive conflicts about what they are reading by negotiating meaning with their peers (Commeyras & Sumner, 1999). Menon and Mirabito (1999) described a program that successfully paired fourth and sixth grade students for informal, cooperative, book discussion on a regular basis, in order to inspire pleasure in reading. Other classroom programs that promote social interaction include the literature circles and reading workshop of reader response, both of which include small-group discussion. (Spiegel, 1998) Small, peer-led discussion groups, such as these, tend to receive a more positive response from students than teacher-led groups. Although there can be some management issues, research has found that collaborative peer-led groups promote achievement, higher level thinking skills, and the intrinsic desire to read and write, as well as helping to develop social insights, creativity, and literacy skills (Gambrell, Mazzoni & Almasi, 2000). Additionally, in situations where cognitive or metacognitive strategies have been frequently reinforced, the modeling of strategies during the process of social interaction can create a context that encourages the continued use of those strategies by participants, which nurtures engagement (Almasi, McKeown, & Beck, 1996)

Family and parental involvement in children’s schooling and literacy activities has been shown to have an important influence on children’s attitudes and achievement even after the child starts school (Sonnenschein & Schmidt, 2000). Parents need to be involved as partners in building children’s literacy. Gambrell (1996) reported that parental support is linked to long-term motivation to read. Baker, Scher, and Mackler (1997) discovered that parental encouragement of children’s reading is related to the child’s attitude towards reading, regardless of socioeconomic status. However, the focus of some parents on skill building at the expense of enjoyment of reading may be counterproductive. Because beginning readers will need those skills, parents should not be discouraged from teaching them. Teachers can effectively help families help their children by listening respectfully to children and parents to discover cultural differences as well as strengths and weaknesses (Sonnenschein & Schmidt, 2000). For instance, teachers could build on parents’ understandings about literacy to make them more aware of alternate opportunities for skill building. Parents could be encouraged to introduce letters and letter-sound correspondences informally, through environmental print or television, and to treat picture books as a source of pleasure (Baker, Scher, & Mackler, 1997). The social interaction of students with their families in meaningful literacy activities can be part of an important partnership with the teacher to foster positive literacy behaviors and skills.

Student choice and control: ownership of learning, involvement, and achievement.

Research shows that choice and control are powerful motivational tools for students. In particular, when students are given choices, learning and involvement increase (Cordova & Lepper, 1996) Choice and control can be offered to students in a variety of ways. Students can select from a variety of activities. For instance, they might have the option to write a story, read a story, or follow a set of directions. Another way to incorporate choice is for students to select their own texts for oral or silent reading (Turner & Paris, 1995). Self-selected reading is key to a variety of reading methods, including SSR (sustained silent reading), reading workshop, and literature circles (Spiegel, 1998). The process of choosing can be a topic of class discussion, to allow students to reflect on why they choose certain texts, and to guide them to choose texts with an appropriate level of challenge (Thomas & Oldfather, 1995). Students may be offered a choice of approach to a topic, such as writing a composition on what interests them most about a text on the life cycle of the butterfly, as opposed to an assignment that specifies what the composition must contain. Choice in this context gives students an opportunity to activate prior knowledge and build meaningful personal connections to the text (Turner & Paris, 1995). Open tasks like this can have multiple interpretations, and allow students to focus on achieving their purposes instead of getting the "right" answer.

When teachers trust students to make responsible choices, students gain control over their own learning. Children who are invited to decide the order of tasks, to choose a partner, or to design a strategy, perceive themselves as more competent and more involved in their work. Students who are given the opportunity to select appropriate cognitive or metacognitive strategies for comprehension and understanding will feel greater ownership of their achievement (Turner & Paris, 1995).

Putting it all together: motivating for reading engagement

Because students choose to read (or not to read) for a variety of reasons, it helps to structure literacy learning in ways that will appeal to different types of students, with the hope that the end product will be engagement (Baker & Wigfield, 1999). Running Start, based on Cambourne’s conditions of learning, is one program that attempts to motivate students in a variety of ways. Children in Running Start were challenged to choose and read 21 books by themselves or with someone else over a period of ten weeks. Opportunities for book sharing with peers and family were encouraged and created. Incentives for the extrinsically motivated were provided for the students, but instead of a free pizza, students were given the choice to pick out a new book for their classroom library. Students could track their progress on an individual progress chart. Six months after the program ended, students in classes that had participated in Running Start continued to show improved family literacy practices, and teachers who had participated in Running Start all had specific areas dedicated to reading in their classrooms, as well as more books and more visual displays celebrating literacy and reading. Through offering choice and appropriate extrinsic incentives, giving students the opportunity to compete with themselves by tracking progress on the individual progress chart, and encouraging literate social interaction with peers and family, Running Start was able to foster long term positive changes in classroom environment, family literacy practices, and student engagement in reading (Gambrell, 1996). Programs like Running Start and CORI, designed carefully to sustain long-term literacy development on many levels, are certainly not the only examples of what can be done to motivate a variety of literacy learners, but it is worthwhile to examine their methods and design.


Guthrie (1996) writes, "Engaged literacy learners are motivated. They want to read. They pick up books on their own." The engagement perspective, which puts the engaged reader at the center of interacting motivational, strategic, and social processes, requires teachers to help students reach conceptual understanding through the appropriate use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies embedded in authentic contexts. Contexts for engagement can be implemented in a variety of ways, and using a variety of methods.

In our information-rich society, the child who does not choose to read is at a serious disadvantage. Because learners choose to read, or not, for many different reasons, the teacher’s best bet is to use several strategies, and to listen respectfully to what students reveal about their reading preferences, so that eventually each child holds his or her individual key to engaged reading, and achievement.


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