For more than two years Patrick A. Judge, an American educator teaching in Japan, conducted research on what motivates student reading. He looked at nine students who were participating in an extensive English language reading program at a high school in Osaka.
"Using an ethnographic approach to case study research, the project explored nine [students], their motivations for reading, and what English study means for them," said Judge, who now is an instructor at several universities in Japan. "I thought it was helpful to understand why so many students seemed to love reading in English so much more then they seemed to love other aspects of English."
Judge says he wanted to learn why these particular students were more motivated than their peers and what personal habits and attributes contributed to their motivation. The school where the study took place was known to have an intensive English program where many students took several years of extensive reading and intensive reading. Classes were held once a week, but students were expected to read consistently throughout the week and had a library of more than 600 books at their disposal.
Judge, who was the English coordinator and a teacher at the school, evaluated the students on how many pages they read each week, but not on the difficulty of the reading material. The students were allowed to select their books and many times brought their own materials to class.
"The literature is full of evidence that suggests the power of autonomy. Most students (but certainly not all) do much better when given the power of choice in learning," said Judge. "The question becomes how to implement as much autonomy as possible while still providing the learner with a structured program. [Extensive reading], however, lends itself to autonomous activity, enabling student agency while at the same time giving them a clear and understandable set of procedures and goals."
During the study, Judge asked students for feedback on what they liked and did not like about the program and to explain why they enjoyed reading their respective literature. Judge felt that the students were honest about the program as it progressed over the years.
Judge used an ethnographic method to collect data and observed students in his classes, in other classes, and when they were reading at other times. However, the primary way to collect feedback on what motivated the students was through interviews with them. The first interviews, mainly in English, were structured with questions prepared in advance, while the final one was more informal and open-ended.
Through the interviews and other data collection methods, Judge was able to find patterns and trends regarding what motivated the learners. Many of the students were avid readers in and out of school and just enjoyed reading, some were in early-reading programs that spurred their motivation at earlier ages, and some were motivated by the fact that they picked genres they liked. And some students reported that they liked that they had the autonomy to choose whichever books they liked and found motivation and enjoyment in that.
Judge concluded that extensive reading programs like the one he studied are important to a school's curriculum and that they can help students identify what literature they enjoy and increase their love of reading. It also helps them learn a foreign language in a comfortable setting. He says that there are many ways to promote reading amongst students.
"Better libraries, with comfortable warm and cozy places to read. More books; more choices," Judge said of promoting better reading. "Also, I think the key at our school was the use of three very different reading instruction approaches (extensive reading, intensive reading, and grammar translation) so there was something to appeal to all types of learners."
In the future, Judge hopes to do more research into the English reading programs to find even more ways to bolster motivation for student reading.
"Reading is a key part to learning," he said. "I wanted to study the most voracious readers to see if they had qualities that could be encouraged in others. What I found was that they had an ever-changing mix of motivations and that they saw reading as a path toward becoming proficient English speakers. What I hope to see in the future is research that looks at the unmotivated—that is the next frontier."
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