Survey explores boys’ feelings, attitudes about reading

Kindergarten teacher helping student with reading skillsThe attitudes, beliefs and motives of adolescent boys towards reading are shrouded in mystery for many educators. When one all-boys high school invited a researcher to help develop interventions to improve boys’ reading practices, her first step was to get  a more informed perspective about how they felt about reading and about themselves as readers.

An 83-item Likert-type questionnaire called The High School Literacy Project Questionnaire  (HSLPQ) was developed for this purpose and is included in a recent issue of The High School Journal, which published the researcher’s study. The questionnaire used as its foundation 48 items from a theoretically driven questionnaire developed by Allan Wigfield et al. called the Motivations To Read (MTR) instrument. That questionnaire was built on data collected from 4th and 5th graders.

The following items, which were tested for reliability, were added to this foundation to create the HSLPQ:

  • 12 items that asked students to rank how frequently they read a variety of materials
  • 16 items on flexibility in reading, the use of text supports, reader identity and gender constructs about reading
  • 4 items that asked students to speculate about their English teacher’s belief about their ability
  • 3 items that asked students what they enjoyed learning about as well as their favorite book and album

One of the most surprising discoveries from the responses was the dissonance between how boys and teachers in the school viewed the students’ reading abilities. “While students generally identified themselves as good readers, teachers’ perceptions of ability did not always match,” researcher Amanda Bozack writes. Data was collected from 330 students in grades 9, 10, and 11 and also matched with student achievement data.. Eight English teachers also responded to a teacher’s version of some of the questions.

Four items on the HSLPQ asked students to identify their beliefs about their English teacher (e.g., My English teacher thinks I am a good reader.)  For each student on their roster, the 8 English teachers were asked to complete a 4-item, Likert-type questionnaire that mirrored these questions (e.g., I think_____________ is a good reader.) On a scale of 1-4, students generally identified themselves as good readers—the median for the sample was 3.02.

Dissonance between boys’ and teachers’ responses

The 4 items on teacher beliefs that the students completed are as follows:

  • Teacher thinks I am a good reader
  • Teacher thinks I read the assignments
  • Teacher thinks I could do better if I tried harder
  • Teacher knows what I struggle with in class

The most significant differences between teachers and students were with items 2 and 4.  Students were more likely to think that teachers perceived them as having read the assignments than teachers actually indicated, writes the researcher. Students also were more likely to indicate that the teacher believed they could do better if they tried harder than teachers indicated.

“Students seemed to indicate that lack of reading on their part might be interpreted as lack of effort. However, teachers appeared to attribute it to lack of ability,” the researcher writes.

The responses to the HSLPQ questions about whether teachers are aware of what students struggle with suggest that the English teachers were missing important information about their students.

The study indicated that boys had some confidence in themselves as readers and that teachers may need to overtly acknowledge and validate that identity to strengthen students’ engagement in in-school reading.

The researcher observes that  teachers and students are responding to different cues in forming their judgments about themselves and their students as readers, and that interventions might be more effective if they were working off similar cues.

One finding from this study conflicts with other research on adolescent boys’ motivation and achievement. Most mixed-sex research reports boys scoring more negatively in motivation and achievement as they get older but this was not the case in this study. This finding may be partly attributable to the single-sex setting, the researcher speculates.

Based on the responses to the questionnaire, the boys’ school has decided not to focus on increasing test scores in its efforts to improve literacy, but to restructure teaching practices in a way that promotes and supports adolescent boys’ literacy, the researcher reports.

“Reading Between The Lines: Motives, Beliefs, and Achievement in Adolescent Boys” by Amanda Bozack, The High School Journal, Winter 2011, The High School Journal, pps. 58-76. 

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