Our Theory of Change

A theory of change is an articulation of how the components of a program, curriculum, policy, or intervention is expected to bring about the intended outcomes. In the Center’s work, the theory of change draws on best practices from literacy and motivation research to design an approach expected to improve both motivation for reading and reading comprehension for middle-school students who struggle with reading.

Our theory of change draws roughly equally on research around motivation – how to foster confidence in one’s abilities, how to support students to develop meaningful interests that can spur effort, and how to develop the ability to monitor and harness one’s emotional experiences to promote positive outcomes – and research on how to improve reading comprehension for this age group. This was a purposeful and, perhaps novel, choice in designing a theory of change. We could instead have focused exclusively, or primarily, on literacy-related components to improve reading outcomes. Instead, we began with the emotional experience of early adolescents who do not read well.

Guided by recent research in the “affective sciences” (psychological and neuroscience research into emotions), we consider the emotional and motivational aspects of literacy as important to address as the cognitive or academic aspects. We consider this particularly true for this age group of students who have experienced years of difficulty. In fact, we consider the emotional and cognitive aspects of literacy so intertwined as to be impossible to disentangle, as is increasingly the perspective emerging from neuroscience research. And, so, we developed a theory of change that addresses both simultaneously – we seek to design literacy instruction that support students’ development of more positive views of themselves as literate individuals and that improves their skills as such.

The components of this theory of change – the aspects of a literacy environment designed to address both motivation and reading comprehension – are described in the pages on this site. Please visit them for ideas about strategies to incorporate in your instruction.