Why Assess Reading Motivation?

by Peter Dewitz | Oct 8, 2020 10:16:47 AM

Educators like to measure things. We regularly measure a student’s reading level, his growth in reading ability, his skills in decoding, fluency and comprehension. From all these assessments we hope to know our students better and improve instruction. The one thing we typically fail to measure is motivation, yet the research indicates that motivation plays a significant role in how well students learn to read and in how much they read (Toste, Didion, Peng, Filderman, & McClelland, 2020).

In the new Assessment and Intervention Guide we include assessments for the cognitive side of reading including text structure, reading strategies and skills, but we also further develop the idea of engagement, or the idea that reading requires interest and intellect at the same time (Guthrie, Wigfield et al. 2008). 

What is Motivation?

Motivation has many sides just as does fluency, decoding and comprehension.  Motivation is a complex construct (Conradi, Jung & McKenna, 2014). In the broadest sense students are motivated by forces inside of them and forces outside of them. We typically call these forces intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but each has several components. Understanding what motivates students helps you establish a program that boosts their interest in reading.

  • Intrinsic Motivation: Students are motivated by interests, attitudes, beliefs about their reading ability, their goals, and their sense of mastery.
  • Extrinsic Motivation: Students are motivated by grades, praise, rewards and acceptance.

Reading Motivation Questionnaire (RMQ)

In the Assessment and Intervention Guide, we provide a tool for learning about each students’ level of reading motivation—both intrinsic and extrinsic—through the use of the Reading Motivation Questionnaire (Schiefele & Schaffner, 2016).  Within the RMQ, you will also learn how much your students read on their own.  You will learn about their reading habits during the school week, on weekends, and over the summer.   For many students what happens during the summer is as important as what happens during the school year (Kim & White, 2011).

The Reading Motivation Questionnaire will help you design a motivation program and interact with individual students.

  • For students who are high in curiosity start with non-fiction; they like reading to learn more about the world.
  • For students who score high in involvement start with fiction; they like reading to be lost in a story.
  • If a student is motivated by external factors, provide a reward or public recognition for their accomplishment. Sometimes an incentive is a way to kick start reading at the beginning of the school year. “Everyone who reads a book this week will earn a get out of homework card.”

Don’t stop there, begin to nourish their intrinsic interest in reading. Discover their interests, find books that align with their interests. Encourage and praise their efforts. As their intrinsic motivation kicks in you will be able to phase out the rewards.

Interest Survey

Another tool provided in the Assessment and Intervention Guide is the interest survey. Knowing what might interest your students helps you shape their independent reading experiences. Some are interested in mystery or adventure; others enjoy history, science or engineering. Students are much more likely to read at home if they have been provided some suggestions catered to their interests.

When Students Don’t Know What They Like To Read

For readers who haven’t yet developed their reading interests, their favorite TV shows and movies might help you match them to books. Knowing that a student likes WWII stories on the History channel is valuable in matching the student to a high-interest book.

  • Get to know their favorite shows and movies.
  • Suggest books that are popular in the class and within the grade.
  • Encourage students to read series or multiple books by one favorite author.
  • Get to know award winning titles, especially the Children’s Choice titles.
  • Once students are snagged by one book you can suggest other books.
  • Once the hook of reading is set you can mold their taste in literature.

Final Thoughts

The relationship between reading comprehension and motivation is complex (Toste, Didion, Peng, Filderman, & McClelland, 2020). The two concepts correlate; students with higher comprehension are more motivated to read, and students with greater motivation have better comprehension. However, causality tends to run more in the direct on the former than the latter. The greater the students’ comprehension the more motivated they are to read. Everything we can do to build comprehension will build their motivation to read. As competence grows so does confidence. As students’ confidence grows, they read more and that improves their reading ability (Bus & Mol, 2011).


Written bypeter

Peter Dewitz

Researcher & Consultant

 Read Side by Side Publications, LLC.


Conradi, K., Jang, B. G., & McKenna, M. C. (2014). Motivation terminology in reading research: A conceptual review. Educational psychology review26(1), 127-164.

Kim, J. S., & White, T. G. (2011). Solving the problem of summer reading loss. Phi Delta Kappan92(7), 64-67.

Mol, S. E., & Bus, A. G. (2011). To read or not to read: a meta-analysis of print exposure from infancy to early adulthood. Psychological bulletin137(2), 267.

Schiefele, U., & Schaffner, E. (2016). Factorial and construct validity of a new instrument for the assessment of reading motivation. Reading Research Quarterly51(2), 221-237.

Toste, J. R., Didion, L., Peng, P., Filderman, M. J., & McClelland, A. M. (2020). A Meta-Analytic Review of the Relations Between Motivation and Reading Achievement for K–12 Students. Review of Educational Research90(3), 420-456.

Wigfield, A., Guthrie, J. T., Perencevich, K. C., Taboada, A., Klauda, S. L., McRae, A., & Barbosa, P. (2008). Role of reading engagement in mediating effects of reading comprehension instruction on reading outcomes. Psychology in the Schools45(5), 432-445.


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