Category Voices
Author By Marcia Davis, PhD

The 50th anniversary of CSOS provides the opportunity to examine how my current research on reading motivation and achievement connects to and was made possible by foundational work at the Center as well as contemplating future directions for reading research at CSOS.

In looking over a list of hundreds of research reports and papers by Center faculty over the years, I noticed many reports on reading published by John T. Guthrie. For example, while he was at CSOS, John Guthrie published the paper, Motivational Effects of Feedback in Reading. In this study, Dr. Guthrie examined the effects of immediate and delayed feedback on learning and perseverance.

John is currently a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland. His early work as assistant professor of education and project director at the CSOS from 1968 to 1970 was an early start to his career focused on reading motivation. Not only was John an active member of the CSOS family back in the 60s, he was also my advisor at the University of Maryland.

I feel that my current work on reading comprehension and motivation is linked to John’s early work at the Center in the late 60s. Of course, there are new and important extensions as study builds on study and new questions are asked and answered. As you can see from the examples below, my colleagues and I are focused on students from high poverty neighborhoods who, with the right supports and greater access to books and reading strategies, can and will achieve.

Adolescent Literacy: I came to the Center as a postdoc in 2006 to work with Dr. James McPartland. My main responsibility was to conduct components of a research project, Supporting Teachers to Close Adolescent Literacy Gaps. This was a cluster randomized trial to evaluate methods of guiding teachers to improve adolescent literacy instruction. The student population of interest was ninth graders who entered high school at least one year behind in reading skills, were disengaged from school, and were on the path to dropping out of school. I was very excited to work on this project with Dr. McPartland since my dissertation, which I had just completed at the time, was on reading comprehension of ninth grade students.

Although there were many studies examining literacy coaching for elementary school teachers, I was surprised to find that this was the only study to examine literacy coaching at the high school level. The results indicated positive effects on teachers’ uses of recommended literacy practices such as modeling reading and student team discussions. In addition, we found a positive effect on students’ reading comprehension.

Content Area Reading: Based on our earlier findings on literacy coaching for high school English teachers, we decided that we would expand literacy coaching to other high school content areas such as math, social studies, and science in addition to English. If students are having trouble reading in any of these content areas, they will do poorly in these classes because reading is a necessary skill for success in all subjects. However, many teachers in these content areas do not see teaching reading as their responsibility, nor do they have experience in reading instruction.

Dr. McPartland and I wrote a second grant proposal, Engagement of High School Students in Content Area Reading, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The rationale of the project was to address the serious content literacy challenges of struggling high school readers, who often fail their core academic subjects and drop out. Our assumption was that by providing content-area teachers with instructional tools and practical support to better integrate reading assistance into their regular instructional activities, more students would increase their content literacy skills and stay in school. We found that not only did students increase in their use of reading strategies such as summarizing and finding the main idea in content area reading over only a few months, but this increase was found for all four content areas.

Reading Motivation: A year or so after completing my postdoc, I was offered a position as an assistant research scientist at CSOS. During that time, I joined a team of research scientists and professors from University of Kansas and Northern Illinois to write a research proposal to the U.S. Department of Education on reading motivation. The goal of our project, Development and Validation of Online Adaptive Reading Motivation Measures (ARMM), was to develop a computer-adaptive measure of adolescent reading motivation. We received the grant and developed the measure over the next five years. This measure is the first computer-adaptive measure of reading motivation and was developed for grades five through twelve. Students are measured on intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, social motivation, reading avoidance, self-efficacy for reading, and reading autonomy. Our findings indicated that the ARMM is highly correlated to reading behavior, engagement, and achievement. Since the measure is computer-adaptive, it is relatively quick to administer. Although more adolescent reading motivation measures are being developed, none have spanned that many years, measure that many constructs, or used a computer-adaptive format.

School Libraries: CSOS became part of the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University and I became an assistant professor of education. Along with teaching in the Educational Doctoral program, I joined a team evaluating The Baltimore Elementary and Middle School Library Project funded by The Weinberg Foundation. The library project is a multi-year, collaborative effort to design, build, equip, and staff new or renovated elementary/middle school libraries in high-poverty neighborhoods. Not only did The Weinberg Foundation build the libraries and provide new books, but they also provided updated technology, flexible book shelving, electronic readers, computers, a parent center, and library clerk to help with library upkeep. In comparison to students in other schools in Baltimore that improved their libraries without The Weinberg Foundation contribution, students in the library schools reported significantly more reading enjoyment and teachers reported more collaboration with the librarian. Teachers in the library schools reported that their students were four times more likely than those in the comparison schools to use the library for research. Across all schools, students mentioned that they would like even more books such as those about favorite topics such as sports or cooking, and those in favorite book series such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid. We also learned that many students were not able to afford lost book fees. Therefore, not all students were able to check out books every week or even every month. Something to work on in the future.

3rd Year Report-Years 1-3: There are many questions that remain to fully understand reading motivation and its links to student learning and success in school. For example, with better measures of adolescent reading motivation, especially those that span fifth to twelfth grade, we can now study longitudinal changes in reading motivation from late elementary grades to high school graduation. Further, with an adolescent reading motivation measure we can study motivation changes that occur during adolescent literacy interventions such as literacy coaching and content area reading strategy instruction. Finally, findings from the library evaluation indicate that students in poor urban districts have a need and love for books, but those books are not making it home with many students. Students in more affluent neighborhoods, who can pay missing book fees are more likely to take home books weekly, if not more often. We need to study effective ways to help students in poor communities take home books to read for pleasure.

Research on reading comprehension and motivation is a field of study where research really can be useful in practice. At CSOS we will continue to conduct important studies to help improve students’ reading skills at all grade levels, provide access to books, and improve their success in school.

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