Reading attainment and attitudes have been of concern in recent years. Participation in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, centering on children aged 10, has led to considerable focus on raising attainment levels in primary schools.
The first PIRLS, carried out in 2001, reported that English children were amongst the most able readers of the 46 participating educational systems although the low achieving pupils ranked much lower than other countries, on average. Despite high attainment, attitudes towards reading were relatively poor, with English children reporting reading for fun more infrequently than comparative countries (Twist, Sainsbury, Woodthorpe & Whetton, 2003).
On its first five-year repeat, the 2006 PIRLS found that despite still scoring significantly above the mean, children in England were no longer amongst the highest reading achievers and performance had dropped since 2001. Attitudes had also declined, and reports of reading for pleasure were still notably lower than in other countries (Twist, Schagen & Hodgson, 2007).
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By 2011, attainment had improved and England's ranking had almost reached its 2001 level. However, the low achievers of the English system were still scoring significantly lower than the weaker readers of other high scoring participants such as Hong Kong, Finland and Northern Ireland. Motivation for reading had improved since 2006 and was even greater than in 2001(Twist, Sizmur, Bartlett & Lynn, 2012).
The PIRLS has shown that reading attitudes and attainment in England are by no means consistent and it remains to be seen what the 2016 PIRLS will reveal.
In 2008, the Every Child a Reader (ECaR) initiative was rolled out across schools in the UK in a bid to improve levels of attainment and other interventions are in place in schools across the country (Tanner, et al., 2010).
Our research group comprised two former primary school teachers, one TA, one former boarding house matron and a recent undergraduate. Our personal knowledge of these interventions quickly led us to our topic of reading in the UK, and we began to look for gaps in the relevant literature.
Cremin, Mottram, Collins, Powell and Safford (2009) identify the current implicit message in the classroom as one of attainment and proscriptive reading instruction with little emphasis placed on reading for pleasure. Martin (2003) supports this with his explanation of minimum entitlement (for a child to leave school with a secure level 4 in reading) and maximum reading entitlement (for a child to become a reader for life). However, with such importance being placed on targets and league tables, it seems that in primary schools the minimum entitlement is deemed sufficient, as shown by the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy in 1998. Sainsbury and Schagen (2004) report concern amongst children's authors that the overwhelming effect of the NLS was to discourage children from reading for pleasure. Worryingly, Sainsbury and Schagen discovered that since its introduction, whilst children reported that they were less likely to find reading difficult, they were also less likely to enjoy it.
As Lesesne (1991) explains, "the love of reading is not innate; it is a habit which must be cultivated" (p. 61). The first step begins at home. Baker and Scher (2002) found that children who exhibited greatest motivation for reading were those whose mothers demonstrated enthusiasm for reading. However, there will not always be a positive attitude towards reading at home. Therefore, the challenge for teachers is to follow instructional practice guidelines, whilst simultaneously creating an environment which encourages engaged reading (Applegate & Applegate, 2004).
Reading takes effort and therefore is an activity requiring motivation (Baker & Wigfield, 1999). Several studies including (but not limited to) Becker, McElvany and Kortenbruck (2010) and McGeown, Norgate and Warhurst (2012) show that levels of motivation can be predictive of reading skill. More precisely, the higher the level of motivation, the more likely the child is to be a proficient and competent reader. As clarified by Lepper, Corpus and Iyengar (2005), intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are not necessarily mutually exclusive. That is, it is possible to be motivated for both inherent and external reasons. However, Becker et al. also demonstrated that a high level of extrinsic motivation could be linked to poorer reading skills. For a child to want to read, and to therefore improve, they have to be motivated by personal reasons above and beyond extrinsic reward (Gambrell, Palmer, Codling & Mazzoni, 1996).
Teachers as Readers
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
Applegate and Applegate's 2004 study into the reading habits of trainee teachers described the 'Peter effect' taken from the story of the apostle, Peter: the notion of teachers trying to instill enthusiasm for reading into the children they teach, without having that enthusiasm themselves. Of 379 trainee teachers questioned, over 50% were classed as unenthusiastic readers. The United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA) carried out a similar study on practising teachers which Cremin, Bearne, Mottram and Goodwin (2008) report on. Results showed that primary teachers generally consider themselves to be keen readers, although their knowledge of children's literature was considerably limited, and time spent reading was minimal.
So, do teachers need to be keen readers in order to teach reading effectively? Are their personal reading preferences impacting on their professional abilities? As Mour (1977) puts it, "teachers should begin to practise what they preach" (p.401). Teachers telling pupils to set aside time for reading, to make it a priority over other activities, and believing that a lifelong reading habit is important, must heed their own advice. From a more practical point of view, teachers who are keen readers are more likely to foster similar qualities in their pupils and create self-motivated, engaged readers (Cremin, 2011; Dreher, 2002). McKool and Gespass (2009) found that teachers who reported reading for more than 45 minutes a day used solely intrinsically motivating practices such as discussion of books. Teachers who read less frequently tended towards extrinsic methods of reward in order to promote reading. Additionally, Cremin et al. (2008) and Nathanson, Pruslow and Levitt (2008) reported that teachers describing themselves as enthusiastic readers often cited a former teacher of their own as a key factor in the development of their love of reading.
The literature suggests that enjoyment of reading amongst children in England is below average (Twist et al., 2012). It appears that this has been an unintentional effect of increased focus on attainment targets (Sainsbury & Schagen, 2004). After parents, teachers are next in line for having responsibility over children's motivation to read (Baker & Scher, 2002). Motivated children tend to become more successful readers (McGeown et al., 2012). Teachers who are enthusiastic readers tend to use better instructional practices with greater focus on intrinsic motivation (McKool & Gespass, 2009). Based on these key readings, a gap in the literature was identified with regards to the direct impact that an enthusiastic reader teacher has on a child's motivation to read and this informed the current study.
We began formulating our research questions in quite a quantitative manner, discussing 'relationships' and 'correlations'. We then realised that the qualitative approach we were aiming for would not allow us to assume cause and effect and so began to frame questions that formed an exploratory approach. We felt that the literature made a clear case with regards to reading and motivation, and were led to our main assumption.
What is the reality of 'teachers as readers' for our participants?
Are children in the class of the teacher with the greatest love of reading more motivated to read?
Our assumption: Classroom teachers who have a greater enjoyment and love of reading will have higher levels of reading motivation in their classroom.
In hindsight, our approach to research design was not as systematic and thorough as it should have been. We had many pre-conceived ideas and initially came from a more positivist angle. We believed we knew the answers to our research questions and were more focused on proving a point than exploring the reality (Coleman & Briggs, 2002). The children's motivation was treated quantitatively through the use of closed-question questionnaires. The primary reason for the use of questionnaires was the number of child participants. As we aimed to collect data for 50 children, we wanted a manageable, quantifiable result. We moved closer to an interpretivist approach, deciding to conduct in-depth interviews with the teachers rather than also issuing them with questionnaires as we had initially considered. We felt that this would be the most suitable method of data collection as we were aware that topics may be raised by the participants that we had not previously considered. We attempted an heuristic approach, whereby we would share our own experiences of reading in order to create a collaborative atmosphere (Ritchie & Lewis, 2003).
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All 11 teachers and 324 pupils of the school were issued with consent forms (see Appendix A and B). A random sampling technique was to be deployed on consenting participants in order to acquire a sample of five teachers and 50 pupils.
We decided that demographical information would not be considered, so the only criterion for the interviewees was that they be qualified, practising teachers.
Likewise, demographical information about the pupils, such as gender, reading ability, SEN or time at the school, was not considered although in hindsight these clearly could have impacted heavily on motivational levels.
In the event, the head teacher of the school went against the outlined sampling procedure and chose five teachers to participate and issued parental consent forms only for the pupils of those teachers. We felt this decision to be particularly controversial, as amongst the teachers chosen were two Heads of Year and the Literacy coordinator which would be a potentially less representative sample. In addition, there were concerns over the ethics of this as it was not clear whether the head teacher had outlined to the teachers their right to not participate. To alleviate this, consent forms were re-issued to the teachers before the start of the interviews.
Teachers interviewed were: one from Year 3, one from Year 4, one from Year 5 and two from Year 6.
Ultimately, 140 parental consent forms were issued and 59 returned by the due date resulting in a 42% response rate. Of those with completed parental consent forms, 48 pupils were issued with questionnaires, consisting of 24 boys and 24 girls although this spread was not equal in each class.
An interview schedule was designed in order to assess the teachers' love of reading. Questions were developed (see Appendix D) in order to assess each teacher's personal reading habits without directly asking them whether they considered themselves to be a lover of reading. All questions were open-ended and teachers were encouraged to elaborate upon shorter answers. The final question made the primary research assumption clear and teachers were asked their opinion on this.
A pilot interview was carried out prior to the teacher interviews by each researcher in order to test the suitability of each question and the answer it attained.
As the five interviews were carried out by five separate researchers, it was decided that the interview should be semi-structured in order to ensure some consistency.
The questionnaire used to assess pupils motivation to read was the 'Motivations for Reading Questionnaire (MRQ)' developed by Wigfield and Guthrie (1997) (see Appendix C).
A pilot questionnaire was carried out on a seven-year-old (the youngest age used in the study) to check comprehension and ease of completion.
The MRQ was chosen as it had been widely used in many pieces of research on reading and it covered many different aspects of motivation.
On reflection, the MRQ would not be used again in such a study. The questionnaire itself is lengthy, comprising 53 separate statements and it was felt that the pupils might have got bored resulting in poorly thought-out answers towards the end. It was also felt that a four-point likert scale was too ambiguous for children of this age and that a three-point likert scale with 'Agree, disagree and neither' would be more appropriate.
The questionnaires were carried out simultaneously after afternoon registration. A script was issued and read out by each consenting class teacher outlining the pupils' right to non-participation and withdrawal (see Appendix E). Two instances of withdrawal occurred. Each researcher took a group of consenting pupils from the classroom along with a Teaching Assistant. Due to the response rate, in some instances a full sample was not achieved and the number of completed questionnaires was:
Class A - 10; Class B - 9; Class C - 10; Class D - 9; Class E - 10.
The researchers went through the example statement with the children and then checked their understanding of the likert scale. The questionnaire was read aloud to the children leaving time between each statement for them to circle their answer.
The interview with Teacher B was carried out in the morning during a lesson (although out of the classroom) due to time constraints. The other interviews were all carried out simultaneously after school hours and took between five and 10 minutes to complete.
A key issue that occurred during data collection was Teacher B having not been informed of the interviews taking place that afternoon. I had previously worked at the school and therefore knew all but one of the teachers being interviewed so it was decided that I should interview the teacher I didn't know to avoid issues surrounding a prior relationship.
As Teacher B was not going to be available after school hours, and I was the only researcher present at the school that morning, I had to interview Teacher B myself. The interview went very well and if anything, we felt that in retrospect my prior relationship with Teacher B resulted in fuller and more honest answers.
The total MRQ score, mean score for each construct, and mean scores for intrinsic and extrinsic motivation were calculated for each questionnaire. Mean scores were calculated for each class for the overall MRQ score, intrinsic motivation score, and extrinsic motivation score in order to create a hierarchy of class motivation levels and, finally, each score was calculated as a percentage of its possible total, for ease of comparison (see Table 1).
As shown in Figure 1, the overall motivation scores gave a hierarchy of Class B, Class A, Class D, Class C then Class E. Intrinsic motivation scores gave an identical hierarchy. Interestingly, in most classes (with the exception of Class B), extrinsic motivation levels exceeded intrinsic motivation levels with the most extrinsically motivated class being Class D, followed by Class C, Class B, Class A, with Class E once gain displaying the smallest level of motivation.
Our analysis ended up taking an inductive approach, with themes arising that did not directly relate to our research questions, but that we felt could not be discounted (Braun & Clarke, 2006). We followed Braun and Clarke's thematic analysis process in order to make sense of our data and came up with 11 themes which we felt gave a good overall picture of our data. I have condensed these into three themes which I feel are specific, mutually exclusive and avoid overlap (Evans, 2002). See Appendix F for an example of interview transcript.
This theme arose mostly from voluntary statements from the participant teachers and goes some way to answering the first of the research questions of this study. Although questioned initially about free time, timing issues were mentioned at other points during the interview. In response to the initial free-time question, only teachers D and E responded with 'reading'. Teachers A, B and C reported lesson planning, home improvements, television, and shopping amongst other things, but only mentioned reading when prompted. When questioned about when they normally read, teachers C and E both responded that they read at least once a day, usually before bed. Teachers A and D both read during term time, but emphasised that most of their reading is done during the holidays, whilst teacher B explained that: "I do tend to read quite a lot, but I only tend to do so during the holidays".
Whilst it is easy to sympathise with the busy lifestyle of a teacher (not one teacher failed to mention planning in their supposed 'free-time'), this issue of time seems to come down to basic priorities. Mour (1977) expresses the view that if a teacher is asking children to find time in the evenings to read, then it is important that the teacher does the same. If one has a love of reading, then one will always find time to indulge that pleasure.
Reading for pleasure.
This was the basis for the response to the second research questions. All of the teachers reported some measure of enthusiasm for reading: "Mum always has her head in a book so I probably picked it up from her" (teacher A); "I do tend to read quite a lot" (teacher B); "I love books really" (teacher C); "I read a lot for enjoyment" (teacher D); "They [the pupils] know how much I love it [reading]" (teacher E). However, other answers mentioned during this theme allowed a deeper insight into the enthusiasm for reading these teachers had.
Four of the teachers named a book they were currently reading, including a contemporary book lent by a friend (teacher A), a repeat reading of a favourite book (teacher D) and a well-known classic (teacher E). All five teachers talked about preferred genres such as romance, science-fiction, and detective novels. Only teacher E mentioned regular voluntary reading of children's books.
The biggest indicators of a love of reading came from discussions about the feelings that reading a book induced and the debate over 'film first, or book first'.
Interestingly, teachers A, B and C all discussed their feelings towards reading in the third person: "you just really get into your book" (teacher A); "you can really get involved in a book" (teacher C). Only teachers D and E talked in the first person: "I hate getting to the end of a book, I will delay it as long as possible" (teacher D); "I can shut out the rest of the worldâ€¦ I just sit thereâ€¦ I can feel I just calm down. It's my escape" (teacher E).
This was seen as a difference in attitudes. The first attitude seems a standard view of why reading should be pleasurable. The second attitude, a true account of how they felt when reading.
It was felt that the majority of keen readers would favour the written version of a story over the film version and would tend towards reading the book before seeing the film, if at all. Three of the teachers said that they would always read the book first. Teacher A varied. Only teacher C reported that they would watch the film before reading the book.
In the final interview question, the teachers were told the main assumption of the study and asked their views. All of the teachers agreed that an enthusiasm for reading would likely have an effect on the motivation of the children in their class. As teacher B explained: "As a teacher you try to be enthusiastic about everything, but I think everyone does have their own personal things they like, subjects that they enjoy teaching particularlyâ€¦ teachers that have got particular strengths in Numeracy or Literacyâ€¦ it does tend to reflect in how well the children learn."
Results of transcript analysis
We agreed upon a hierarchy of love of reading. As I had previously taught at the school and knew the staff members well, my input was kept to a minimum whilst this decision was made as my prior knowledge may influence this.
The current study had two key aims. Firstly, to discover the reality of teachers as readers at our participant school. Secondly, to determine whether teachers with a greater love of reading would have a class that was more motivated to read.
The five participant teachers in the study are regular readers. However, they could not all be classed as enthusiastic readers by Applegate and Applegate's (2004) standards. A key issue in this study, also reported by Applegate and Applegate, is the lack of knowledge of children's literature. Only one of the participant teachers was a regular, voluntary reader of children's fiction. As Allington (2007) explicates, an effective teacher of reading will have a good knowledge of literature which they will use to recommend books to struggling readers in order for them to read more successfully.
The key assumption in the study was in fact incorrect. The reverse was found to be true (see Table 2). The teacher with the greatest love of reading had the least motivated class and the teacher who was the least enthusiastic reader had the most motivated class. Possibly, a teacher with a lesser personal ability in a subject area will often make greater attempts to deliver the subject matter effectively. For example, a teacher who finds mathematical concepts difficult, will spend more time researching topics to be delivered and have a greater understanding of why a child finds a concept difficult, having experienced the difficulty themselves. Thus, a teacher with a reduced interest in reading may work harder to convey the importance of reading, than a teacher who believes their inherent love of reading will come across naturally and inspirationally.
A further potential reason for these results is a reduction in autonomy. As focus falls on achievement levels, there is a common standardisation of practice and materials in order to improve attainment (Quirk et al., 2010). This inhibits the flexibility of the teacher, ensures that classroom instruction is skill-focused rather than pleasure-focused, and the children of the class begin to associate reading with ability levels and competency rather than an enjoyable activity. Additionally, a teacher with a love of reading may feel the pressure of a low-achieving class more strongly, make greater endeaveours to improve the situation, but in doing so, inadvertently focus more on improvement than on instilling a life-long reading habit.
Finally, as Sainsbury (2004) identifies, changes in technology that allow children to access stories via film and television with no need to read could be the primary issue. To instill a love of reading when there are so many competing leisure- time activities is challenging.
However, the situation is not irreparable. Cremin et al.'s (2009) study aimed to improve teachers' knowledge of children's literature in order to increase children's motivation to read. The participating teachers became more familiar with children's fiction and found a renewed love of reading. The children's attitudes improved considerably with far more children choosing to read at home and school. Dreher (2002) makes several excellent suggestions to improve a school's reading profile, such as teacher book reviews in the school library, an adult section in the school library so that children are able to see their teachers checking books in and out, and teachers reading during silent reading sessions with follow-up whole-class book.
Limitations and Self-reflection
The limitations of this study and the effects they may have had on the results must be considered. Primarily, the time of year that the study was conducted may have been a factor. The questionnaires were conducted three months into the autumn term, which means that the teachers will have had little time to get to know their classes, or have any definite influence on the children's reading habits. It would be useful to repeat the study towards the end of the school year in order to ascertain what influence the teacher has had on the class in that time.
The interviews might have had limitations. The fact that the teachers were interviewed at the school, immediately after school hours, by researchers who had recently assessed levels of motivation in their respective classes could have caused social-desirability issues (Baker & Wigfield, 1999). Participant teachers may have felt inclined to report answers that made them appear more infallible and therefore gave a less precise picture of each teacher's true attitudes towards reading.
The questionnaire itself could have been too complex for some of the younger pupils, causing inaccurate answers. Coddington and Guthrie (2009) report using basic questions in their assessment of reading motivation as declarative statements (as used in the MRQ) can be confusing for younger children. Additionally, conducting the questionnaires on a one-to-one basis, whilst more time consuming, may produce more accurate responses.
When we began our study, I felt unenthusiastic about working in a group. I couldn't imagine any particular benefits and felt that the group setting just added confusion and complexity to the process. At the end of the study, I had completely different views. Whilst it was very trying at times, the experience was invaluable. My co-researchers had ideas and opinions that I would never have thought of and the occasional necessity of convincing others of my ideas and opinions meant that I had to examine my motivations and beliefs a lot more closely than I might have done otherwise. I certainly won't be reluctant to work in a group in the future. I believe that our group worked very well together and disagreements were minimal. However through the process I have become a better collaborative worker, learning when to let a matter drop, but also being more confident in sticking to my point when necessary.
With regards to the study itself, there was some initial disappointment that our assumption had been so spectacularly disproven, however even this has had its benefits. Firstly, it taught us the importance of accepting your results no matter how much you want them to be different, and gave us the skill of suddenly looking at your study from a completely different and unexpected angle. Secondly, I now realise more than ever how important the design aspect of a study is. Our initial approach was confused and I hadn't fully considered the importance of understanding your research perspective. Clearly we were limited by time, but for a future study, I hope that I will be able to use this experience to consider any potential limitations in much greater detail and consequently avoid as many anomalies in my results as possible.