Andrea Bertschi-Kaufmann illuminates how reading motivation can change the way children and adolescent develop their future abilities

Wanting to understand a specific text at a specific time, making all the necessary efforts to do so and gaining personal meaning from reading – this is what reading research, in a nutshell, calls reading motivation. John Guthrie and Allan Wigfield (2000) and their research groups have repeatedly shown how crucial the motivational pre-conditions for reading are. These are closely related to the inner conviction that reading benefits one, to the self-confidence that one can read, and finally to reading engagement, i.e. attention to and concentration on the text and on conversations about the text.

Reading motivation is, therefore, the precondition for successful reading; it is at the same time also the result of a successful reading. People who like to read, read more and increasingly better; and those who read better have confidence in their abilities. They read more often and more, gain in routine and fluency and thus also increase their reading enjoyment. This, in turn, encourages further reading – a cycle that we can only wish for to spiral in positive ways, because…

Reading is a key competence. We need it to deal with the endless information we encounter in everyday life. From the short messages on our mobile phones to the demanding articles in the press or the contributions we find in the internet and that extend the horizons of our knowledge – we can access them all only if we are able to read.

Reading competence has become such a central concept within discussions on education because it captures all the skill dimensions required to get ahead and to access the worlds of writing, schooling and further levels of education, the world of work and democratic society with its discourses and multiple ways to make decisions.

The importance of reading motivation

PISA: Results from PISA – the OECD programme which has been periodically measuring the reading performance of young people at the end of their compulsory schooling in over 80 countries, mostly since 2000 – prompt reflection. Recent years have seen little or no improvement in reading skills in many countries; and in some reading enjoyment has declined. Moreover, current data from 2018 also shows that reading is socially bound. In many countries, children’s reading literacy depends to a large extent on families’ economic and migration backgrounds. There is also a deep gender-gap, with boys lagging far behind girls in both reading skills and the desire to read. These are problematic results for democratic societies which count on adolescent citizens who inform themselves, strengthen their personal reading skills and engage in public life through reading and writing.

And the schools? Even well-positioned and adequately equipped schools in which competent teachers are at work cannot completely solve the problems of society. Schools do, however, stand a chance of being effective if they can concentrate on reading promotion if they receive a framework with which they can address the differences in performance among children and young people, and if they can orient reading and literature teaching to the pupils, their interests and their motivations.

Our own research on reading and literature teaching in lower secondary schools has shown the positive influence on reading motivation when pupils themselves perceive teaching as learner-oriented (Fässler, Bertschi-Kaufmann, Pieper et al. 2019). In these positive cases, the beneficial cycle of reading motivation, reading activity and reading competence can be realised. For this to happen, schools need a differentiated concept of reading promotion.

How can schools promote reading?

They must train the various skills that belong to reading competence: understanding the meaning of words and texts, reading fluency, reading strategies to cope with texts and a critical reading attitudes. In addition, they must strengthen the joy of reading and stimulate reading in a variety of ways: with texts and media which currently interest pupils; with interesting books, comics and graphic novels for children and young people; and with approaches to literary texts that convey cultural traditions.

Last but not least, they must give space and time to read so that reading activity can unfold. All three approaches – practising reading competence, dealing with interesting texts and intensifying reading activity – need to be adapted to pupils’ abilities and inclinations. In other words, these approaches must consider pupils’ learning levels and distinguish among them in the classroom. These are high expectations for schools and their teachers. Those who face and master these demands deserve our greatest respect.



Guthrie J. T., & Wigfield, A. (2000). Engagement and motivation in reading. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2, pp. 403–422). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Fässler, D., Bertschi-Kaufmann, A., Pieper, I., Weirich, S. & Böhme, K. (2019). Student reading motivation and teacher aims and actions in literature education in lower secondary school. RISTAL, 2, pp. 118–139.

Additional information about the study on reading and literature instruction in lower secondary schools in Switzerland and Germany:


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Professor of Reading Research and Literature Learning and Teaching, Lecturer
University of Applied Sciences, University of Basel
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