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Student Choice:


A Case Study into attitudes towards reading


Choice Equals Power: How to Motivate Students to Learn (Katrina Schwartz)




A Case Study into attitudes towards reading


I first began this piece of Action Research with my class because I was concerned that whilst I always carefully planned Guided Reading sessions with my Year 4 students, particularly with regard to their ability and individual or group reading targets, I felt that introducing an element of student choice, in terms of text read, may result in greater levels of motivation amongst my students and therefore reading progress.



The idea of choice being a motivator for students is borne out by a number of researchers and classroom teachers. Harvey and Daniels (2009, p53) refer to making “…every possible adaptation and invitation …” in order to overcome resistance in young learners. They go on to say “we try to find out their interests and concerns, we confer with them, we offer alternatives and choices.” Layne (2009, p116) refers to “the interest level…” being “… off the charts …” for a selection of books that are already favourites. Kathy Collins in her presentation ‘Small Group Instruction that Sticks’ at the Hong Kong Literacy Conference (24th – 25th, January, 2015) suggests allowing students to have self-chosen texts for guided reading. She also refers to the issue of students who are “not empowered to have tastes and preferences” and the problem presented by “same old – same old reading” which suggests a lack of choice. In her presentation ‘Reading Goes In, Reading Goes Out' at the same conference, Collins implies that “… books that matter to you” or are special are an important motivator when it comes to reading. Ellin Keene, also at the Hong Kong Literacy Conference, makes a point about pursuing “… study in areas we find compelling” which is suggestive of giving the learner a choice. She also makes a number of points about engagement and, by implication, motivation. She says “… engaged children … are willing to put time and considerable effort into learning more.” They “… describe experiences when a concept is imprinted in the heart as well as the mind.” They “… are aware of how others’ knowledge, emotions and beliefs shape their own.” And “engaged children are able to describe moments when they find something beautiful or extraordinary, hilarious or unusually meaningful. They may speak of a book or illustration that seems to have been created just for them.”







Class Survey 1



The purpose of this initial survey was to build a picture of my class in terms of reading behaviours. I wanted to get an idea of their reading experiences, reading choices and what reading means to them when they are outside the school environment. The supporting graphs help to explain this picture. Clear findings include the following:-



Favourite books/themes/authors: preference for fiction genres of ‘adventure’, ‘mystery’, ‘fantasy’ and ‘humour’. Factual books are also popular. Favourite authors include fantasy writers such as J K Rowling and Rick Riordan.


Home reading culture: there is a strong culture of reading in most families, particularly amongst parents, although a number of the children are not read to by anyone (even though this is a much discussed issue between school and home); children have a range of favourite places where they like to read, they all have books at home and they are all familiar with libraries; many of the children also have access to magazines comics and newspapers.

Importance of reading: the children felt reading was important for things like ‘getting ideas and knowledge’, ‘learning new words’ and ‘new things’, ‘enjoyment’ and ‘to help with writing’; in terms of seeking help with reading, most children sort help from an adult if it was needed, but others were aware of self-help reading strategies including re-reading, reading on, predicting and ascertaining meaning from context.

Class Survey 2



Having built this initial picture of the class, I was interested in then investigating student perceptions of their Guided Reading experiences.


I run Guided Reading/ Reading Workshop sessions with my class every week. My students are differentiated into 4 or 5 groups. The make up of these groups varies depending on need. Group size can be anything from 3 or 4 students up to 8 or 9. Tasks undertaken by the students will include such things as developing/practising very specific reading strategies in order to develop comprehension, vocabulary work, language structure, text organization, phonics/spelling, etc. Reading Workshop can also incorporate elements of Writing Workshop when desirable and when specific areas of need manifest themselves. Some of the time Reading Workshop can take the form of a rotation but this would only be the case when the same tasks are relevant to the learning of more than one group. 

Clear findings include the following:-


How Guided Reading can help me/opinions: most students felt that GR sessions help improve their understanding of texts; students generally enjoyed reading together, experiencing new/different books and learning new ideas; those students that didn’t enjoy the GR sessions mostly expressed discontent about the choice of books – this was under-scored by responses to the final question about book selections.

It is the results from the second survey that I found most interesting as they reveal student opinions about the Guided Reading sessions. Whilst the majority of students are positive about the sessions, those that are not refer to teacher’s choice of text as being the issue. It is this that forms the basis of the next stage of my investigation.




Of the 4 students that expressed negative feelings about texts used for Guided Reading and Workshop sessions, there were 2 that described the texts as ‘boring’ or ‘not interesting’. The 2 students are of quite different reading abilities but both are at a similarly low level in terms of motivation and general interest in reading.


I decided to interview them both separately in order to dig a little deeper into their reading behaviours and interests.

Student  ‘A’



  • below average ability
  • doesn’t always read the books sent home by school (Home Readers)
  • often forgets his home reading (little parent support in this regard)
  • relatively little modelling of reading behaviours at home
  • says he likes reading but only when he can choose his own books
  • tends to gravitate towards humorous books in the school library – collections of funny stories, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, etc
  • likes David Walliams.

Student  ‘B’



  • fairly able reader
  • quite selective about what he will read
  • reluctant to read non-fiction
  • even in library he selects from a narrow band of texts in spite of advice/suggestions about other possible authors he could read
  • almost always chooses fantasy novels.
  • tends to like to read everything by one author before he moves on
  • has read J K Rowling, Rick Riordan and Tolkien (The Hobbit) – none particularly deeply
  • seems to get really switched on by fantasy.
  • currently reading ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’.

Returning to Guided Reading



For my next set of Guided Reading sessions I decided to give each reading group a choice about the text focused on. By carefully selecting a range of texts, I was able to give each group a choice without compromising the desired learning intentions of the guided session. Group members had to reach a consensus about chosen text.


Students ‘A’ and ‘B’ are in different reading groups. In order to cater to the needs of the two students, I selected texts for ‘A’'s group largely

along humorous lines, and ‘B’’s group largely along fantasy lines. Therefore, whichever texts the groups chose, the favoured genres of ‘A’ and ‘B’ would be satisfied.

All groups were very happy to be given a choice. I decided to use these texts over several sessions. This enabled the groups to not only feel they were given a choice but also to experience the texts chosen over a sustained period of time.

I next carried out a mini-survey of all students with regard to choice of Guided Reading text. Almost all students were very positive about having the choice (even though in my initial survey this had not been mentioned by many as an issue for them). One ‘dissenting’ voice (in the group with the humorous books) said the reading was ‘too fun’!

I then re-interviewed students ‘A’ and ‘B’. I was interested to see if there was any sort of transformational change in attitude and, therefore, level of engagement.


The change in approach to text selection (ie giving students the choice) definitely appealed to student ‘A’. He said he enjoyed the text we read. He was also clearly far more enthusiastic about the reading sessions than he had previously been. This was actually the case with the class generally when given a choice of text. Motivation had definitely stepped up a notch. Student ‘B’, by contrast, was surprisingly little moved by the change in approach. When asked if he was happy with the text his group chose, he said he was but showed little change in attitude when engaging with the text during the guided sessions.


I have subsequently tested the idea of giving the students a choice of text a little more broadly by asking another teacher in my year group to try the same approach with her class. She reported a similar pattern of response from her class. Most students liked the idea and, most importantly, showed an increased level of motivation for Reading Workshop as a result (seemingly) of having a choice.

We all know that when students are motivated and enthusiastic, they are likely to be engaged, and that when they are engaged, they are learning. Based on the evidence of this case study, it is clear that with this small student sample, motivation was enhanced, engagement improved and, hopefully, learning increased, by adopting a relatively simple change of approach, ie giving students a level of choice in what they read. I would be fascinated to see this idea tested with other student groups to see if similar findings are revealed.




Collins, K. (Keynote Speaker) (2015, January 24-25). Reading Goes in, Reading Goes out. Hong Kong Literacy Conference. Lecture conducted at Hong Kong International School.


Collins, K. (Keynote Speaker) (2015, January 24-25). Small Group Instruction that Sticks. Hong Kong Literacy Conference. Lecture conducted at Hong Kong International School.


Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action. Portsmouth, NH, USA: Heinemann.


Keene, E.. (Keynote Speaker) (2015, January 24-25). All in: The Role of Engagement in Comprehension. Hong Kong Literacy Conference. Lecture conducted at Hong Kong International School.


Layne, S. (2009). Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers. Portland, Me. USA: Stenhouse.