Foundational Research: Literacy & Motivation Among Struggling Middle-School Readers

Much rich and rigorous work has informed our understanding of the role of motivation in reading. One of the Center’s research goals was to contribute a deeper understanding specifically focusing on students with reading difficulties in middle-school. Focusing broadly on students who struggle, whether due to disability or limited English knowledge, or for unknown reasons, we used a range of methodologies to investigate the dynamics of literacy in this diverse population, with a particular emphasis on aspects of motivation and engagement.

Research Highlights

  • For middle-school students with disabilities in a remedial reading program, self-efficacy is more predictive of reading comprehension than intrinsic motivation. This suggests different reading motivation dynamics than seen in typical and high-achieving readers at this age and highlights the relevance of supporting students’ views of themselves as readers.
  • The use of qualitative research methods reveals complex dynamics of reading motivation among struggling students in varying school contexts, uncovering important nuances not apparent with survey measures.
  • School context plays a role in the relationship between self-efficacy and reading motivation. Schools with overall lower academic-skill levels may potentially foster high self-efficacy despite students’ continued reading challenges.
  • Rather than struggling middle school readers having an overall view of their literacy abilities, reading self-efficacy and writing self-efficacy are meaningfully distinct in this population. Educators may leverage the perceived stronger area to support self-efficacy in the other.
  • Early on in the middle grades, the reading – writing connection is strong for struggling readers, whereas in 7th and 8th grade the relationship is attenuated. Instructional approaches that leverage links between the two modalities may be warranted in later grades.


Proctor, C. P., Daley, S. G., Leider, C. M., Louick, R., & Gardner, G. (2014). How motivation and engagement predict reading comprehension among native English-speaking and English-learning middle school students with disabilities in a remedial reading curriculum. Learning and Individual Differences.

Louick, R., Leider, C. M., Daley, S. G., Proctor, C. P., & Gardner, G. L. (2016). Motivation for reading among struggling middle school readers: A mixed methods study. Learning and Individual Differences, 49, 260-269. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2016.06.027

Proctor, C.P. & Daley, S.G. (July 2017). Literacy technologies for English learners: Do affordances affect outcomes? Contribution to panel to be presented at the American Psychological Association annual conference (Div. 15: Educational Psychology), Washington, D.C.

Proctor, C.P., Xu, Y., Louick, R., & Daley, S.G. (July 2017). The role of language and reciprocity in the reading-writing connection. Paper to be presented at the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading annual conference, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Proctor, C.P., Daley, S.G., & Xu, Y. (March 2017). The relative contributions of word reading, vocabulary, and syntactical knowledge to reading among struggling readers in middle school. Paper to be presented at American Association of Applied Linguistics annual conference, Portland, OR.

… we used a range of methodologies to investigate the dynamics of literacy in this diverse population, with a particular emphasis on aspects of motivation and engagement. ~ Samantha Daley