Reading in CarsOctober 5, 2022

Eli does pretty well traveling in a car. We’ve done a few relatively long road trips over the past year and, for the most part, he’s been quite a trouper. While en route to our various destinations Eli peruses his board books like he does at home, only in the car he’s also balancing the books in his car seat. On our most recent venture out east as I glanced over at Eli “reading” a book about an Easter egg hunt, I started to reflect on how and when someone begins to read for pleasure. What motivates someone, regardless of their age, to pick up a book, in a car or at home, and read? 

Motivation for reading and engagement in literacy has been well-researched*. And if you are or were a classroom teacher, then you’re likely nodding your head yes, motivation matters. We read for enjoyment and stay engaged in reading because we’re interested, we’re curious. Interest often drives someone to learn more about a subject or stay entertained by a topic. Or if you’re like me, you discover an author who has a certain writing style that catches your attention and you spend all your free time reading every book they’ve ever written (it’s so satisfying). Any teacher can likely point out an engaged reader—someone who spends long stretches of time reading, is focused and concentrating, picks up a book in the car, at home, or in a cozy book nook at school, and often wants to tell you all about what they’ve just read. They’re also given a choice about what to read—choice is certainly a driving force and has been linked to greater autonomy, higher engagement levels, and better comprehension. 

I like how reading researcher, John Guthrie puts it: “An engaged reader comprehends a text not only because she can do it, but because she is motivated to do it.” Of course, an engaged reader must know the basic skills of reading, like sound-symbol correspondences and decoding, and attaining these skills can be motivating in itself. However, do the basics always need to come first, before someone feels motivated to read for pleasure? Probably not, as any kindergartener listening to Robert Munsch read aloud The Paper Bag Princess would tell you. 
Motivation for reading and literacy can certainly be seen as a foundational component of reading comprehension, foundational to all the various aspects of reading, like vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and fluency. Dale Willows, former member of the National Reading Panel, created a nice visual representing motivation for literacy. Similar to the Cognitive Foundations of Learning to Read Framework and The Simple View of Reading, The Reading Pyramid depicts language-related skills (in blue) and print-related skills (in yellow) as both being equally essential to reading comprehension. Here, she’s added Motivation for Literacy as one of the pyramid’s foundational blocks.              


I hope to visit a school or two while I’m in eastern Canada. And during these upcoming visits I’ll be curious to not only learn about how reading is integrated into the school’s curriculum, but also how the teachers and educators engage their students in literacy. What does reading for pleasure look like in these alternative contexts? Will there be patterns, regardless of the approach? What types of reading activities are especially effective in supporting students’ motivation for reading?

*A few articles that might be of interest: 

Teaching for Literacy Engagement

Teaching Practices that Impact Reading Motivation

Relations among intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation, reading amount, and comprehension: a conceptual replication
Reading in Cars–October 5, 2022