Assessing Motivation To Read

CO-AUTHOR: Linda B. Gambrell
CO-AUTHOR: Barbara Martin Palmer
CO-AUTHOR: Rose Marie Codling
CO-AUTHOR: Susan Anders Mazzoni
INSTITUTION: University of Maryland College Park

Teachers have long recognized that motivation is at the heart of many of the pervasive problems we face in teaching young children to read. In a study conducted by Veenman (1984), teachers ranked motivating students as one of their primary and overriding concerns. A more recent national survey of teachers also revealed that "creating interest in reading" was rated as the most important area for future research (O'Flahavan, Gambrell, Guthrie, Stahl, & Alvermann, 1992). The value teachers place on motivation is supported by a robust research literature that documents the link between motivation and achievement (Elley, 1992; Gambrell & Morrow, in press; Guthrie, Schafer, Wang, & Afflerbach, 1993; Purves & Beach, 1972; Walberg & Tsai, 1985; Wixson & Lipson, 1991). The results of these studies clearly indicate the need to increase our understanding of how children acquire the motivation to develop into active, engaged readers.

Research supports the notion that literacy learning is influenced by a variety of motivational factors (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Eccles, 1983; Ford, 1992; Kuhl, 1986; Lepper, 1988; Maehr, 1976; McCombs, 1991; Wigfield, 1994). A number of current theories suggest that self-perceived competence and task value are major determinants of motivation and task engagement. For example, Eccles (1983) advanced an "expectancy-value" theory of motivation which stated that motivation is strongly influenced by one's expectation of success or failure at a task as well as the "value" or relative attractiveness the individual places on the task. The expectancy component of Eccles' theory is supported by a number of research studies which suggest that students who believe they are capable and competent readers are more likely to outperform those who do not hold such beliefs (Paris & Oka, 1986; Schunk, 1985). In addition, there is evidence which suggests that students who perceive reading as valuable and important and who have personally relevant reasons for reading will engage in reading in a more planful and effortful manner (Ames & Archer, 1988; Dweck & Elliott, 1983; Paris & Oka, 1986).

The work of other motivational theorists, such as Ford (1992) and Winne (1985), has been grounded in the expectancy-value theory. Ford's (1992) motivational systems theory maintained that people will attempt to attain goals they value and perceive as achievable. Similarly, Winne (1985) viewed the "idealized reader" as one who feels competent and perceives reading as being of personal value and practical importance. Given the emphasis on self-concept and task value in motivation theory, it seems important that teachers have resources for assessing both of these factors.

Table 1: Motivation to Read Profile
  • Group Administration
  • Individual Administration
  • 15-20 minutes to administer
  • 15-20 minutes to administer
  • 20 times
  • 14 scripted times
  • Likert scale cued response
  • Open-ended free response
  • Subscales:
  • Sections:
  • 	Self-concept As a Reader			Narrative Reading
    	Value of Reading				Informational Reading
    							General Reading

    A review of current instruments designed to assess reading motivation revealed a number of instruments for measuring students' general attitude toward reading (McKenna & Kear, 1990; Tunnell, Calder, Justen, & Phaup, 1988), as well as several that measure the specific dimension of self-concept (Harter, 1981; Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990). However, none of these instruments specifically address the two fundamental components of motivation as suggested by motivational theory: self-concept and task value. In addition, none of the instruments combine the use of quantitative and qualitative approaches for assessing reading motivation. Our purpose was to develop a public-domain instrument that would provide teachers with an efficient and reliable way to quantitatively and qualitatively assess reading motivation by evaluating students' self-concept as a reader and the value they place on reading. This article presents the Motivation to Read Profile (MRP), along with a discussion of its development and suggestions for use with elementary students. The instruments, teacher directions, scoring sheet, and scoring instructions are provided in the Appendix.

    Description of the Motivation to Read Profile

    The MRP consists of two basic instruments: The Reading Survey and the Conversational Interview. The Reading Survey is a Likert-type, self-report, group-administered instrument, and the Conversational Interview is designed to be administered on an individual basis (see Table 1). The survey assesses two specific dimensions of reading motivation, self-concept as a reader and value of reading, while the interview provides information about the individual nature of students' reading motivation, such as what books and stories are most interesting, favorite authors, and where and how children locate reading materials that interest them most. Because the MRP combines information from a group-administered survey instrument with an individual interview, it is a useful tool for exploring more fully the personal dimensions of students' reading motivation. The MRP is highly individualized making it particularly appropriate for inclusion in portfolio assessment.

    The Reading Survey

    This instrument (see Appendix) consists of 20 items and uses a 4-point Likert-type response scale. The survey assesses two specific dimensions of reading motivation: self-concept as a reader (10 items) and value of reading (10 items). The items that focus on self-concept as a reader are designed to elicit information about students' self-perceived competence in reading and self-perceived performance relative to peers. The value-of-reading items are designed to elicit information about the value students place on reading tasks and activities, particularly in terms of frequency of engagement and reading-related activities.

    The Conversational Interview

    The interview (see Appendix) is comprised of three sections. The first section probes motivational factors related to the reading of narrative text (3 questions); the second section elicits information about informational reading (3 questions); and the final section focuses on more general factors related to reading motivation (8 questions).

    The interview is designed to initiate an informal, conversational exchange between the teacher and student. According to Burgess (1980), conversational interviews are social events that can provide greater depth of understanding than more rigid interview techniques. While conversational interviews are scripted, deviations from the script are anticipated and expected (Baker, 1984). The teacher is encouraged to deviate from the basic script in order to glean information that might otherwise be missed or omitted in a more formal, standardized interview approach. Teachers need to keep in mind that the primary purpose of the conversational interview is to generate information that will provide authentic insights into students' reading experiences. Participating in a conversational interview allows children to use their unique ways of describing their reading motivation and experiences, and it also allows them to raise ideas and issues related to personal motivation that may not be reflected in the scripted interview items (Denzin, 1970).

    How was the MRP Developed?

    Item selection for the MRP was based on a review of research and theories related to motivation and included an analysis of existing instruments designed to assess motivation and attitude toward reading. A number of instruments were examined in order to gather ideas for the development of an initial pool of MRP items (Gottfried, 1986; Harter, 1981; Johnson & Gaskins, 1991; McKenna & Kear, 1990; Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990; Raynor & Nochajski, 1986; Schell, 1992; Tunnell, et al., 1988).

    An assessment instrument is useful only if it is valid and reliable. Validity refers to the instrument's ability to measure the trait it purports to measure, while reliability refers to the ability of the instrument to consistently measure that trait. To gain information about the validity and reliability of the MRP, the Reading Survey, and the Conversational Interview were field tested.

    Development and Field Testing of the Reading Survey

    The criteria for item selection and development for the survey instrument included: (a) applicability to grades one through six; (b) applicability to all teaching approaches and materials; (c) suitability for group administration; and (d) accuracy in reflecting the appropriate dimension of motivation (i.e., self-concept or value). All survey items employ a Likert-type response scale. A 4-point scale was used to avoid neutral, central response patterns. A 4-point scale also seemed more appropriate for elementary students as there is some evidence to suggest that young children have difficulty simultaneously discriminating among more than five discrete categories (Case & Khanna, 1981; Nitko, 1983). In order to avoid repetition in the presentation of the response alternatives and to control for the threat of "response set" (i.e., children selecting the same responses for each item), some response alternatives proceed from most positive to least positive while others are ordered in the opposite way.

    An initial pool of survey items was developed based on the criteria described above. Three experienced classroom teachers, who were also graduate students in reading, critiqued over 100 items for their construct validity in assessing students' self-concept or value of reading. The items that received 100% agreement by the teachers were then compiled. The agreed upon items were then submitted to four classroom teachers who were asked to sort the items into three categories of function: (1) measures self-concept, (2) measures values of reading, and (3) not sure or questionable. Only those items that received 100% trait agreement were selected for inclusion on the Reading Survey instrument.

    The final version of the Reading Survey instrument was field tested in the late fall with 330 third- and fifth-grade students in 27 classrooms in four schools from two school districts in an eastern state. To assess the internal consistency of the Reading Survey, Cronbach's (1951) alpha statistic was calculated, revealing a moderately high reliability for both third grade (.70) and fifth grade (.76).

    Development and Field Testing of the Conversational Interview
    Approximately 60 open-ended questions regarding narrative and informational reading, general and specific reading experiences, and home and school reading practices were developed for the initial pool of interview items. These items were field tested in the spring with a stratified random sample of 48 students (24 third-grade and 24 fifth-grade students). These two classroom teachers were asked to identify these students according to three reading-ability levels: (1) at grade level, (2) above grade level, and (3) below grade level. The teachers were then asked to identify, within each of the three ability level lists, the two most "highly motivated readers" and the two "least motivated readers." Twenty-four students from the list of most highly motivated readers and 24 students from the list of least motivated readers participated in the field testing of the 60 interview items. Two graduate students, who were former classroom teachers, analyzed the 48 student protocols and selected 14 questions that revealed the most useful information about students' motivation to read. These 14 questions were used for the final version of the Conversational Interview.
    Validation of the MRP
    An additional step was taken to validate the MRP. Responses to the survey and the interview were examined for consistency of information across the two instruments. The survey and interview responses of two highly motivated and two less motivated readers were randomly selected for analysis. Two independent raters compared the student responses on the survey instrument with their responses on the interview for each of the 4 students. For example, one item on the survey asks the students to indicate whether they think they are a "very good reader," "good reader," "OK reader," or "poor reader." Comments made during the conversational interview were then analyzed to determine if students provided any confirming evidence regarding their self-perceived competence in reading as they reported on the survey instrument.

    Two raters independently compared each student's responses to items on the survey with information provided during the interview, with an interrater agreement of .87. There was consistent, supporting information in the interview responses for approximately 70% of the information tapped in the survey instrument. The results of these data analyses support the notion that the children responded consistently on both types of assessment instruments (survey, interview) and across time (fall, spring).

    Administering the MRP

    The MRP combines group and individual assessment procedures. The Reading Survey instrument can be administered to an entire class, small group, or individual, while the Conversational Interview is designed to be conducted on an individual basis.

    Administration and Scoring of the Reading Survey

    The administration of the Reading Survey instrument takes approximately 15-20 min. Teachers should take into consideration grade level and attention span when deciding how and when to administer the survey instrument. For example, teachers of young children may decide to administer the first 10 items in one session and the final 10 during a second session.

    The survey is designed to be read aloud to students (see Appendix for Teacher Directions). One of the problems inherent in much of the motivational research is that reading ability often confounds the results so that proficient, higher ability readers are typically identified as "motivated," while less proficient, lower ability readers are identified as "unmotivated." Research indicates that this characterization is inaccurate and that there are proficient readers who are not highly motivated to read, just as there are less proficient readers who are highly motivated to read (McCombs, 1991; Roettger, 1980). When students are instructed to read independently and respond to survey items, the results for the less proficient, lower-ability readers may not be reliable due to their frustration when reading the items. For these reasons, the survey instrument is designed to be read aloud by the teacher to help ensure the veracity of student responses.

    It is also important that students understand that their responses to the survey items will not be "graded." They should be told that the results of the survey will provide information that the teacher can use to make reading more interesting for them and that the information will only be helpful if they provide their most honest responses.

    Directions for scoring the Reading Survey as well as a scoring sheet are provided (see Appendix). When scoring the survey, the more positive response is assigned the highest number (i.e., 4) while the least positive response is assigned the lowest number (i.e., 1). For example, if a student reported that s/he is a "good" reader, a "3" would be recorded. A percentage score on the Reading Survey can be computed for each student as well as scores on the two subscales (Self-Concept As A Reader and Value of Reading). Space is also provided at the bottom of the Scoring Sheet for the teacher to note any interesting or unusual responses that might be probed later during the conversational interview.

    Administration of the Conversational Interview

    The Conversational Interview is designed to elicit information that will help the teacher gain a deeper understanding of a student's reading motivation in an informal, conversational manner (see Appendix for Teacher Directions). The entire interview takes approximately 15-20 min but can easily be conducted in three 5-7 min sessions, one for each of the three sections of the interview (narrative, informational, and general reading). Individual portfolio conferences are an ideal time to conduct the interview.

    We suggest that teachers review student responses on the Reading Survey prior to conducting the Conversational Interview so that they may contemplate and anticipate possible topics to explore during the interview phase of the MRP. During a conversational interview, some children will talk enthusiastically without probing, while others may need support and encouragement. Children who are shy or who tend to reply in short, quick answers can be encouraged to elaborate upon their responses using nonthreatening phrases like "Tell me more about that . . .", "What else can you tell me . . .", and "Why do you think that . . . ." Probing of brief responses from children is often necessary in order to reveal important and relevant information.

    Teachers are also encouraged to extend, modify, and adapt the 14 questions outlined in the Conversational Interview, especially during conversations with individual students. Follow-up questions based on comments made by the students often provide the most significant information in such an interview.

    Using the Results of the MRP to Make Instructional Decisions

    Information derived from an analysis of the results of the MRP can be used to plan instructional activities that will support students in their reading development. The following list provides some ideas for ways in which the results can be used to enhance literacy learning. First, specific recommendations are presented for using the results of the Reading Survey and the Conversational Interview. Then, general recommendations for using the MRP are provided.

    Using the Results of the Reading Survey

    Using the Results of the Conversational Interview

    General Recommendations for Using the MRP

    These are only a sampling of ideas of the ways in which the MRP can be used in the classroom. Each teacher will have his/her own particular insights about ways in which the MRP information can best be applied to meet the needs of students.

    Cautions About Interpreting Responses to the MRP
    It is important to recognize that although there is support for the reliability and validity of the MRP, it is a self-report instrument, and it has limitations that are commonly associated with such instruments. For example, it is impossible to determine from self-report instruments alone whether or not students actually feel, believe, or do the things they report. Even though the elaborate, descriptive information gleaned from the interview can substantiate survey responses to some extent, it is only through careful observation that teachers can verify information derived from the MRP.

    Also, one should be cautious when interpreting responses to individual items due to the contextual nature of reading motivation. For example, a student might feel highly competent as a reader when reading high-interest, self-selected narrative materials and yet feel far less competent when reading content area materials. It is more important to look across the survey and interview responses to determine patterns that reveal factors that are relevant to the student's reading motivation.

    Finally, as with any assessment, the MRP should be used in conjunction with other assessment instruments, techniques, and procedures. Teachers should consider the MRP as one source of information about reading motivation.


    Teachers today view motivation as an integral component of reading instruction. In addition, there are a number of studies that suggest a connection between motivation and achievement. Current motivational theory emphasizes the role of self-perceived competence and task value as determinants of motivation and task engagement. The Motivation to Read Profile was developed to provide teachers with an efficient and reliable instrument for assessing reading motivation by evaluating students' self-concept as a reader and the value they place on reading. In addition, the assessment instrument provides both quantitative and qualitative information by combining the use of a survey instrument and an individual interview.

    There are a number of ways in which the MRP can be used to make instructional decisions, and teachers are in the best position to decide how they will apply the information gleaned from the MRP in their classrooms. Ideally, the MRP will help teachers acquire insights about individual students, particularly those students about whom teachers worry most in terms of their reading motivation and development. The individualized nature of the information derived from the MRP makes this instrument particularly appropriate for inclusion in portfolio assessment. Careful scrutiny of the responses to the Reading Survey and the Conversational Interview, coupled with teacher observations of student behaviors in various classroom reading contexts, can help teachers plan for meaningful instruction that will support students in becoming highly motivated readers.


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    Motivation to Read Profile

    Reading Survey
    Conversational Interview
    Teacher Directions: MRP Reading Survey
    Scoring Directions: MRP Reading Survey
    Scoring Sheet
    Teacher Directions: MRP Conversational Interview