Indiana Reading Journal Volume 44 Issue 1 - Page 25

From Apathetic To Avid: Motivating

African-American Male Readers

Dr. Anita Manwell

Diante: “I like reading!”

Chase: “Yeah, reading is fun!”

Those were not the comments I expected to hear as I began interviewing a group of five boys (pseudonyms used), all African-American fifth graders who qualified for meal subsidies and were considered by their parents and teachers to be reluctant readers. My time spent with the boys was intended to explore the phenomenon of reading motivation from the perspectives of this specific group of individuals. Although our meetings were held in a setting away from school, they were quick to sense my interest in reading and later admitted to secretly calling me the Reading Lady. What began as an attempt to give me the right answers and to appear as avid readers gradually transformed into an honest and insightful response to reading. Over the span of many weeks, the observations and conversations with the boys resulted in a rich collection of data, unveiling three major findings pertaining to reading motivation, all of which are shared in this article.

A Review of Reading Motivation

Boys are not less capable or less intelligent than the opposite gender, but they are not finding the same success in literacy when compared to girls, especially those boys of minority background living in poverty (Entwisle, Alexander, & Olson, 2007; Fleischman, Hopstock, Pelczar, & Shelley, 2010; Smith & Wilhelm, 2004; Tatum, 2005). Young boys are behind girls in the beginning stages of early literacy and continue to show even greater differences as they progress through school (Smith & Wilhelm, 2004; Tatum, 2005). The inconsistencies of reading success from one gender to the other suggest not only that boys learn differently than girls, but also that boys may be at a disadvantage to girls at school.

Most reading research neglects to acknowledge reading attitudes, but instead focuses on reading skills. In order to meet the expectations of high-stakes testing and education standards, very little attention in literacy achievement is given to motivation and pleasure of reading; yet, students with more positive attitudes toward reading spend more time reading, and become more successful (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000; Lever-Chain, 2008). While boys do not achieve as successfully as girls do in literacy, there is an even more significant difference in boys’ and girls’ reading attitudes (Lever-Chain, 2008; Merisuo-Storm, 2006; Schaffner, Schiefele, & Ulferts, 2013). Due to the gender differences in reading attitudes and reading performance, boys seem have less reading motivation and reading ability. Yet, although boys may have less intrinsic reading motivation than girls, when boys are truly engaged in reading, they demonstrate a higher level of text comprehension than less-engaged girls (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). The conflicting results demand additional research in the areas of gender and reading motivation.

Reading research continues to grow as local, state, and national standards demand more of educational institutions. The areas, though, which receive the most attention, are not always the topics most worthy of research. High-stakes testing and scripted programs receive too much time, money, and attention. These topics do not meet the needs of those who are struggling most in literacy (Cassidy & Grote-Garcia, 2014; Cooter & Perkins, 2011). One area that may have the greatest influence on reading success is that of reading motivation. Pressley (1998) states, “I never lose sleep over test scores” (p. 254); however, what he does lose sleep over is the declining motivation of young readers. According to the 2015 Indiana Reading Association annual survey of topics that are considered hot in literacy research, at least 75% of the respondents agreed that motivation/engagement is not hot; yet, the same amount of respondents expressed that it should be hot (Cassidy & Grote-Garcia, 2014).

Most literacy research in the area of motivation explores the perceptions of adolescents (Dunbar, 1999; Hamston & Love, 2005; Roswell & Kendrick, 2013; Smith & Wilhelm, 2002; Tatum, 2005).