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Are Boys Less Motivated to Read Than Girls?

by Sarah Bogdanovitch

Introduction

Learning to read is difficult and to do so children must be motivated to learn.  Motivation to read is an important factor that determines reading habits that contribute to reading skill, such as the amount of time spent on reading activities, the variety of different genres a child engages with, and if the child reads at home as well as in school.1 Research indicates that differences in motivation to read between boys and girls appear during the school years and likely play a role in the gender gap found in reading achievement.2,3,4,5,6

Subject

Motivation is a complex construct best described as a collection of individual characteristics. Research has identified different types of motivation that can be placed into three categories.  With examples specific to reading, these categories are (1) goal orientation, or what a child hopes to gain from reading (e.g. intrinsic goals, such as to gain pleasure from the activity or to master a reading task, or extrinsic goals, such as to gain positive external feedback for reading); (2) self-competence beliefs (whether a child thinks they will succeed at a reading task or not); and (3) social and environmental aspects of motivation (e.g. whether or not reading is perceived to be valuable in their home or classroom).7 According to this research, it is not accurate to describe a child as either highly or poorly motivated to read; rather, scientists describe the child’s motivational profile. Researchers have studied the ways that different types of motivation and motivational profiles impact the development of reading skill.8,9,10

Problems

For intervention targeting motivation to read to be effective, it is critical to understand when and how motivation for reading develops—as well as when a gender difference in motivation to read emerges. Most studies use questionnaires to measure motivation. These are typically inappropriate for use with preschool and early school-aged children, making this population particularly difficult to study in terms of motivation.

Research Context

Research on motivation to read comes from the fields of psychology and education; the bulk of this research has focused on older school-aged children using questionnaires in cross-sectional research design. Some studies expand the scope to look at preschool and younger school-aged children. Longitudinal studies have also been done to document changes in motivation as well as to establish the relationship between motivation and achievement.

Key Research Questions

  1. How do different types of motivation develop?
  2. How do intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors impact reading achievement?
  3. When does a gender difference appear?
  4. How do gender stereotypes surrounding reading activities impact motivation?

Recent Research Results

Intrinsic motivation is more effective than extrinsic for developing reading comprehension.11,12,13,14In contrast, there is evidence to suggest that extrinsic motivation to read negatively impacts overall reading habits and reading comprehension.15 For example, children who are externally motivated may finish many books quickly to achieve external goals such as grades or prizes. However, intrinsically motivated children who believe they will be successful at reading are willing to undertake more challenging reading tasks; while they may read fewer books, they make more gains in reading skill.16

Differences in intrinsic reading motivation are better explained by self-reported gender identity than biological sex.17This finding indicates that a gender gap in motivation to read emerges from the social environment.

Gender differences in motivation to read appear around grade 3. While there are fewer studies investigating motivation and reading in preschool children, those that do show no overt gender differences.18,19 Likewise, many studies do not show a difference in early school-aged children.20,21,22 This lack of gender difference in the early school years suggests that boys and girls alike come to school motivated to read.

Around the third grade, several key differences in the motivation profiles of boys and girls appear.23,24,25 First, school-aged boys spend less time than girls participating in voluntary reading activities.23 Second, while longitudinal studies have shown that motivation to read decreases over the school years in both boys and girls, the decline is steeper for boys in terms of self-competence beliefs and the value placed on reading.24  Furthermore, in boys that do have relatively high intrinsic motivation to read, they need higher levels of intrinsic motivation to become frequent readers as compared to girls.25 This final finding suggests that additional factors—such as gender stereotypes around reading—mediate the relationship between motivation to read and reading habits.

Research Gaps

Although it appears that the gender gap emerges after grade three, fewer studies investigate motivation in preschool and early school-aged children. More studies should be conducted with this population to understand the development of motivation to read and identify meaningful targets for intervention. To accomplish this, however, more sensitive measures should be developed to describe motivation in younger children.  Furthermore, more evidence is needed regarding the best practices for intervention targeting motivation to read in older school-aged children.

Conclusions

Motivation is an important factor in the development of reading skill. Another consideration, however, is the goal that a child has for reading. Intrinsic motivation is linked with voluntary reading and higher reading achievement. Although some extrinsic motivation is beneficial, too much can undermine long-lasting participation in reading activities. Gender stereotypes are extrinsic factors that contribute to differences in the types of motivation that boys and girls have for reading.

Implications for Parents, Services and Policy

While the research introduced above suggests that these differences play a role in the gender gap in reading achievement, more evidence is needed to understand what can be done to address the problem. It is critical to identify factors that can foster motivation to read in the early years as well as factors that help children maintain motivation across their school years.  Interventions targeting motivation should not simply rely on finding topics that are “fun” for boys to read, but on helping boys and girls alike feel successful in reading and giving them tools to take on more challenging reading tasks. Furthermore, school practices that are intended to motivate reading must be designed to foster rather than undermine intrinsic motivation.

References

1. Guthrie JT, Wigfield A., Metsala JL, Cox KE. Motivational and Cognitive Predictors of Text Comprehension and Reading Amount. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1999;3(3):231–256.

2. Jacobs JE, Lanza S, Wayne Osgood D, Eccles JS, Wigfield A. Changes in Children’s Self-Competence and Values: Gender and Domain Differences across Grades One through Twelve. Child Development, 2002;73(2), 509–527.

3. McGeown S, Goodwin H, Henderson N, Wright P. Gender differences in reading motivation: does sex or gender identity provide a better account? Journal of Research in Reading. 2019; doi:10.1111/j.1467-9817.2010.01481.x

4. Meece JL, Miller SD. Changes in Elementary School Children’s Achievement Goals for Reading and Writing: Results of a Longitudinal and an Intervention Study. Scientific Studies of Reading. 1999; doi:10.1207/s1532799xssr0303_2

5. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). PISA 2009 Results: Learning to Learn: Student Engagement, Strategies and Practices (Volume III). Paris: OECD Publishing. 2010. doi:10.1787/9789264083943-en.

6. Schiefele U, Schaffner E, Moller J, Wigfield A, Nolen S, Baker L. Dimensions of Reading Motivation and Their Relation to Reading Behavior and Competence. Reading Research Quarterly. 2012;47(4), 427–463.

7. Guthrie JT, Wigfield A., Metsala JL, Cox KE. Motivational and Cognitive Predictors of Text Comprehension and Reading Amount. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1999;3(3):231–256.

8. Baker L, Wigfield A. Dimensions of Children’s Motivation for Reading and Their Relations to Reading Activity and Reading Achievement. Reading Research Quarterly. 1999. doi:10.1598/rrq.34.4.4

9. Guthrie JT, Wigfield A., Metsala JL, Cox KE. Motivational and Cognitive Predictors of Text Comprehension and Reading Amount. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1999;3(3):231–256.

10. Schiefele U, Schaffner E, Moller J, Wigfield A, Nolen S, Baker L. Dimensions of Reading Motivation and Their Relation to Reading Behavior and Competence. Reading Research Quarterly. 2012;47(4), 427–463.

11. Wigfield A, Guthrie JT. (1997). Motivation for Reading Questionnaire–Revised. PsycTESTS Dataset. 1997;doi:10.1037/t21923-000

12. Guthrie JT, Wigfield A., Metsala JL, Cox KE. Motivational and Cognitive Predictors of Text Comprehension and Reading Amount. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1999;3(3):231–256.

13. Wigfield A, Gladstone J, Turci L. (2016). Beyond Cognition: Reading Motivation and Reading Comprehension. Child Development Perspectives. 2016;10(3), 190–195.

14. Meece JL, Miller SD. Changes in Elementary School Children’s Achievement Goals for Reading and Writing: Results of a Longitudinal and an Intervention Study. Scientific Studies of Reading. 1999; doi:10.1207/s1532799xssr0303_2

15. Hamilton EW, Nolen SB, Abbott RD. Developing measures of motivational orientation to read and write: A longitudinal study. Learning and Individual Differences. 2013;doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2013.04.007

16. Durik AM, Vida M, Eccles JS. Task values and ability beliefs as predictors of high school literacy choices: A developmental analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology. 2006;doi:10.1037/0022-0663.98.2.382

17. McGeown S, Goodwin H, Henderson N, Wright P. Gender differences in reading motivation: does sex or gender identity provide a better account? Journal of Research in Reading. 2019; doi:10.1111/j.1467-9817.2010.01481.x

18. Deasley S, Evans MA, Nowak S, Willoughby D. Sex Differences in Emergent Literacy and Reading Behaviour in Junior Kindergarten. Canadian Journal of School Psychology. 2016; 33(1), 26–43.

19. Zhou H, Salili F. Intrinsic reading motivation of Chinese preschoolers and its relationships with home literacy. International Journal of Psychology: Journal International de Psychologie.  2008;43(5), 912–916.

20. Meece JL, Miller SD. Changes in Elementary School Children’s Achievement Goals for Reading and Writing: Results of a Longitudinal and an Intervention Study. Scientific Studies of Reading. 1999; doi:10.1207/s1532799xssr0303_2

21. Jacobs JE, Lanza S, Wayne Osgood D, Eccles JS, Wigfield A. Changes in Children’s Self-Competence and Values: Gender and Domain Differences across Grades One through Twelve. Child Development, 2002;73(2), 509–527.

22. Nurmi JE, Aunola K. (2005). Task-motivation during the first school years: A person-oriented approach to longitudinal data. Learning and Instruction. 2005;doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2005.04.009

23. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). PISA 2009 Results: Learning to Learn: Student Engagement, Strategies and Practices (Volume III). Paris: OECD Publishing. 2010. doi:10.1787/9789264083943-en.

24. Wigfield A, Gladstone J, Turci L. (2016). Beyond Cognition: Reading Motivation and Reading Comprehension. Child Development Perspectives. 2016;10(3), 190–195.

25. Baker L, Wigfield A. Dimensions of Children’s Motivation for Reading and Their Relations to Reading Activity and Reading Achievement. Reading Research Quarterly. 1999. doi:10.1598/rrq.34.4.4


2 Comments

  1. […] Are Boys Less Motivated to Read Than Girls? […]

  2. […] of early language skills and emergent literacy precursors; (2) executive function skills; (4) motivation to read; and/or (5) social-environmental influences. Although these hypotheses are well motivated, the […]

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