Children's Attitudes Toward Reading and Their Literacy Development.
Reading research (Analysis)
Reading (Study and teaching)
Students (Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Wang, Yuxiang
Pub Date:
Name: Journal of Instructional Psychology Publisher: George Uhlig Publisher Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2000 George Uhlig Publisher ISSN: 0094-1956
Date: June, 2000 Source Volume: 27 Source Issue: 2
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
Full Text:
Children's attitudes toward reading are getting little attention in developing children's literacy ability. This article analyzes the factors that influence children's positive attitudes toward reading: children's personal experiences in reading, children's confidence in reading, parents' attitudes toward reading, and teachers' ways of teaching reading. Suggestions are provided about how to cultivate children's positive attitudes toward reading.

Children's literacy development has attracted the attention of teachers, researchers, parents, and society, not only because of what has been termed the "literacy crisis", but also because children's literacy development determines children's future success in reading and writing. Researchers and teachers have explored the problem from various aspects, such as teaching methods (Eldredge, 1991; Mckenna, Stratton, Grindler, & Jenkins, 1995; Morrow, 1992), classroom environments (Grambell, 1996; Reutzel & Wolfersbersger, 1996), family involvement (Danielson, 1997; Thornburg, 1993), and community and societal environment (Noll, 1998). Different results have been found and suggestions given to help to develop children's literacy in and out of school.

Morrow (1992) found that children in literature-based classes not only read better, but also read more books and magazines than those in nonliterature-based classes. However, McQuillan (1998) insisted that teaching reading methods were less important than children's access to books. He claimed, "It is conceivable that the variations in the supply of reading materials may overwhelm differences in teaching methods, given that teachers and children are limited by the resources available to them" (p.68). At the end of his book, McQuillan (1998) concluded, "There is now considerable evidence that the amount and quality of students' access to reading materials is substantively related to the amount of reading they engage in, which in turn is the most important determinant of reading achievement" (p.86). Many researchers and teachers hold a similar view that schools, teachers, parents, and the society should provide chances for children to access a large amount of books (Brenna, 1995; Elley, 1996; Goodman and Goodman, 1979). However, reading is a process of getting meaning from the texts. If children do not want to get any meaning from the texts, it is not reading (Dombey, 1999). Whether children read or not is determined by their attitudes toward reading. If children do not like reading or they think that reading is boring, their negative attitude toward reading will hinder their reading improvement. Some researchers have used cash rewards to improve children's reading attitudes (Johnson, 1995; Meyer, 1995). However, McNinch (1997) found in his experiment with cash rewards that no significant changes were found in children's attitudes toward academic reading. Cash rewards, therefore, are not effective in changing children's attitudes toward reading over the long term.

There are various factors that influence children's attitudes toward reading: children's personal experiences in reading, children's confidence in reading, parents' attitudes towards reading, and teachers' ways of teaching. In this article, I intend to analyze factors that influence children's attitudes toward reading, and provide suggestions on how to cultivate a positive attitude toward reading.

Analysis of the Factors that Influence Children's Positive Attitude toward Reading

First, children's personal experiences in reading are directly related to children's attitudes toward reading. Can children get access to books? Are the books that children read interesting? Interesting books are that are predictable, have vivid pictures, and are related to children's lives. Do teachers and parents believe that children can read? Do children often fail in reading tests? If children get discouraging answers to these questions, it is impossible that they will like reading in or out of school because reading seems alien to them. They cannot get anything from reading. Gradually, they may form a negative attitude toward reading. As Feitelson & Goldstein (1986) have shown, 61 percent of low-income families have no books at all in their home. On the other hand, the standardized reading tests may make children suffer stress, illness, and long-term test anxiety (Smith, et al, 1991), which greatly frustrate children's interest in reading. Murphy (et al) (1998) point out the phenomenon: "`Failure' on one or more of these assessments might be interpreted as being caused by `low ability', `low intelligence', `dyslexia', or some other construct" (p. 90). When teachers come to believe that children do not have the ability to read because of one or more failures on tests, children may doubt their ability in reading, and may never succeed in reading

Moreover, children's confidence determines whether they can succeed or not, and their confidence in reading is built up as they read. Positive feedback about children's reading from teachers, peers, and parents makes children confident in reading. In various reading activities, children tell their classmates who they are, what they know, and what they care about (Oldfather & Dahl, 1994). Children can find their identities in the classroom, and may find that reading is related to their lives. From the praise of teachers and peers, children can build their confidence in reading. On the other hand, children who lack confidence often suspect their reading ability (Cole, 1999). The inappropriate interpretation of standardized tests hurts children's confidence:

Furthermore, parents' attitudes toward reading influence their children's positive attitudes toward reading. Children whose parents received a good education were interested in books and had many books at home (Morrow, 1983). If parents do not like reading, it is hard to imagine that they will buy books for their children, so children have nothing to read at home. Children may have no idea about getting pleasure, information, and ideas from reading, which may have bad effects on children's attitudes toward reading.

Finally, teachers' different ways of teaching provide children with different views about reading. Eldredge (1991) found in his research that children in his whole language class had an extremely positive attitude toward reading because the whole-language class was a student-centered, cooperative way of learning, in which children could choose books that they liked and read many literature-based books. Children in the literature-based classroom read various books under the help of teachers, while teachers are the coaches or facilitators (Morrow, 1992), who provide help to those who need it in phonics, words, and background knowledge for comprehension. Teachers in the whole language class valued children's differences and provided chances for children with different backgrounds and different levels to develop their strengths with the help of teachers:

In the whole language class, children may learn that reading is a process of getting ideas, during which they enjoy the pleasure of reading.

Phonics, however, focuses on skills in decontextualized situations. Basal readers are not literature-based. Harste (1990) points out the harmful effect of basal readers: "They [basal readers] are as dangerous to the mental health and critical thinking abilities of teachers as they are to children" (p.270). Children get little chance to read, and cannot choose books that they like, which fails to arouse children's reading interests. In these kinds of classes, children may think that reading is just for the skills of producing sounds or the identification of words.

How to cultivate children's positive attitude toward reading

Firstly, children need to experience success in their reading and build up their confidence. When children read stories aloud and tell stories to parents and their classmates, it makes them feel that they can read. Parents' and teachers' praise may reinforce their sense of success. Therefore, parents and teachers should try to notice each instance of progress or achievement in order to praise children and encourage them to make more progress, which might make them feel that they can succeed in reading. On the other hand, children's frequent failure in reading, such as failing to get correct understanding of the text, makes them lose their confidence of success in reading. At the initial stage, parents and teachers should provide chances for children to experience success. According to children's interests and hobbies, teachers and parents may choose different kinds and levels of books to arouse their interests, help them understand what they read, share their pleasure and enjoyment with them, and praise them as well. Building children's sense of success and their confidence in reading is the first step for them to form a positive attitude toward reading.

Secondly, parents should themselves have a positive attitude toward reading, create a book-rich environment for their children to live in, and provide support for their children' s reading. The family literacy environment and parental support are the initial steps for children to learn reading. Parents should buy as many books as possible for children, or borrow them from libraries. Parents should often read and share stories with their children so that the children learn that reading books is fun and that they can get meaning and information from them, which may encourage the children to find fun and information through reading for themselves. As McQuillan (1998) has stated, parents' reading to children provides models for children to learn how to read. Martin (1998) also found that mother's paraphrase of stories helps their children understand the stories and enjoy reading of books. Parents should believe that children have the ability to read. Goodman and Goodman (1982) reported how their daughter learned to read, "She has always been read to, listened to, and talked to. Singing, poetry, nursery rhymes, and oral family language games are daily fare in her home" (p.221).

Parents and their children often go to public libraries and borrow books they like or parents introduce different books to their children to arouse their interests in reading. Visiting libraries helps children to know that there are many books to read and reading is one of the ways of getting knowledge and information.

Parents and teachers should be consistent in providing help to develop children's literacy ability. Parents, however, have their own ways of helping their children with reading and writing, which sometimes conflicts with what teachers do in school. Families often provide different literacy experiences than schools do (Anderson & Stokes, 1984; Weinstein-Shr, 1992). Families use different strategies for reading books to children (Cazden, 1988; Snow & Ninio, 1986). If classroom approaches do not change to adapt the ways in which literacy is taught in home or community, children have the possibility of school failure (Cummins, 1989; Weinstein-Shr, 1992). Therefore, teachers and parents should communicate frequently about providing help for children's reading. When teachers provide information about children's successes and problems, it may help parents know how to help and what to help with. Teachers' talking to parents about the ways that children are taught in school may help parents to provide consistent support to their children at home. Parents may be invited to observe classes, which may help parents have a clear idea about the teacher's way of teaching and what their children need. Therefore, teachers' interaction with parents is helpful for children's literacy development. Otherwise, children might be confused and not know what strategies to follow in reading.

Thirdly, teachers in the classroom should provide chances for children to read and help for children in solving problems. Teachers should use literature-based textbooks that provide many chances for children to read in the classroom and for children to have access to "real language" (Goodman, 1989). Freppon (1991) showed that children in the literature-based classroom spend much more time in reading meaningful stories or being read to than those in the skill-based classroom did. There is no evidence that skills or phonics-based instruction produces better results than literature-based instruction (McQuillan, 1998). Teachers should create various activities for children to participate in. Children can read, talk, and discover and construct meaning and then share the meaning with others (Olderfather & Dahl, 1994). They need to experience literacy by themselves, to use literacy to convey their ideas and express their feelings, and to experience success in reading and writing. In classroom activities, children can apply their reading strategies in literacy activities to realize their purposes. These will help children to relate literacy to their own lives, which is necessary for children to form a positive attitude toward reading.

Teachers' support in the early stage provides models for children to learn to read. Young children need teachers to read together with them, during which different children's needs can be met, different interests can be aroused, and different strengths can be strengthened (Dombey, 1999). In order to bring children' s background knowledge into their reading, the teacher can design different questions for pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading so that children can discuss and understand what they are reading. Teachers and children can discuss the characters and the main ideas of the stories, and teachers can encourage children to have their own understanding of the stories and the characters if their understanding is reasonable. Teachers should tell children that different levels of understanding might occur when they read and re-read the stories. They can encourage children to re-read stories, the familiarity of which can help children build their confidence (Dombey, 1999). Children should be allowed to choose the books they like, but teachers should give suggestions and recommend some books that are helpful to them according to children's reading level. Otherwise, some children will always resort to pictures instead of reading words.

A book-rich environment in the classroom creates chances for children to have access to books. Classrooms should be rich in pictures, poems on the wall, a bookshelf full of various kinds of interesting books, and even books composed by children themselves. Children should be asked by their teacher to show books that they borrowed from the school library or elsewhere to the class and tell the class why they like them. Children should be often asked by their teacher to share in class their interesting stories that they read or heard of, or poems they wrote or read. Dombey (1999) points out that children enjoy themselves and find pleasure in sharing stories and poems in class, which will trigger children to read more and find that books are the sources of enjoyment and pleasure.

Finally, standardized reading tests should be replaced by other forms of evaluation because standardized reading tests are not consistent with the present theory of validity. Standardized reading tests make teachers focus on test preparation in the class, and the anxiety and stress from the tests torture teachers and students (Murphy, Shannon, Johnson, & Hansen, 1998). Portfolio assessment, however, provides a comprehensive view about children's literacy achievements. It is children-centered with the involvement of teachers, parents, and even community. It focuses on the process of children's literacy development rather than the products. Children are empowered and teachers are mediators and facilitators. Therefore, portfolios are the ideal way of evaluation, which overcomes the weakness of the standardized tests.


When children have a positive attitude toward reading, it helps them greatly in their literacy development. Children's experience in reading, children's confidence in reading, parents' attitudes toward reading, and teachers' ways of teaching contribute to children's attitudes toward reading. A large amount of access to books is important in children's literacy improvement, but without the support, guidance, and encouragement of teachers and parents, children may not acquire a positive attitude toward reading and may get very little from the books that they read. Through the support, guidance, and encouragement of teachers and parents, children can experience success and enjoy reading, and children can build their confidence in reading. By using portfolios as means of evaluation, children and teachers can be liberated from the tedious and laborious standardized tests. Children and teachers can concentrate on the development of children's literacy, and children may increase their motivation in reading and form a positive attitude toward reading. Children may relate reading to their lives and get many valuable things from it, from which children will be motivated and may form the habit of reading. Children can succeed in reading in the future after they acquire a positive attitude toward reading.


Anderson, A., & Stokes, S. (1984). Social and instructional influences on the development and practice of literacy. In H. H. Goelman, A. Oberg, & F. Smith (Eds.) Awakening in literacy (pp. 24-37). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Au, H. K. (1998). Social constructivism and the school literacy learning of diverse backgrounds. Journal of Literacy Research, 30(2), 297-319.

Brenna, B. (1995). The metacognitive reading strategies of five early readers. Journal of Research in Reading, 18, 53-62.

Cazden, C. (1988). Classroom discourse. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cummins, J. (1989). Empowering minority students. Sacramento: California Association of Bilingual Educators.

Coles, G., (1999). Literacy, emotions, and the brain. In Reading On Line [Online]. Available: coles.html (1999, April 2).

Dombey, H., (1999). Reading: What children need to learn and how teachers can help them. In Reading On Line [Online]. Available: dombey.html (1999, April 2).

Eldredge, L. (1991). An experiment with a modified whole language approach in first-grade classrooms. Reading Research and Instruction, 30, 21-38.

Feitelson, D., & Goldstein, Z. (1986). Patterns of book ownership and reading to young children in Israeli school-oriented families. Reading Teacher, 39, 924-930.

Freppon, P.A. (1991). Children's concepts of the nature and purpose of reading in different instructional settings. Journal of Reading Behavior, 23(2), 139-163.

Gambrell, L.B. (1996). Creating classroom cultures that foster reading motivation. The Reading Teacher, 50(1), 14-25.

Goodman, K., & Goodman, Y. (1982). Spelling ability of a self-taught reader. In F. Gollasch (ED.), Language and literacy: The selected works of Kenneth S. Goodman, 2, 22-1226. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Harste. J. C. (1989). The basalization of American reading instruction: One researcher responds. Theory into Practice, 28, 265-273.

Johnson, R. C. (1995). Speaker Gringrich touts reading programs payoff (earning by learning). Education Week, 14, February 5.

McQuillan, J. (1998). The literacy crisis: False claims, real solutions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mckenna, M.C., Stratton, B.D., Grindler, M.C., & Jenkins, S.J. (1995). Differential effects of whole language and traditional instruction on reading attitudes. Journal of Reading Behavior, 27, (1) 19-44.

McNinch, G. W. (1997). Earning by learning: Changing attitudes and habits in reading. Reading Horizons, 37(3), 186-202.

Meyer, R. (1995). Two bucks a book: Gingrich launches national program (earning by learning). School Library Journal, 41, 626-633.

Morrow, L.W. (1992). The impact of a literature-based program on literacy development, use of literature, and attitudes of children from minority backgrounds. Reading Research Quarterly, 27(2), 250-275.

Murphy, S., Shannon, P., Johnston, P., & Hansen J. (1998). Fragile Evidence: A Critique of Reading Assessment. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Noll, E., (1998). Experiencing literacy in and out of school: Case studies of two American Indian youths. Journal of Literacy Research, 30(2), 205-232.

Oldfather, P., & Dahl, K. (1994). Toward a social constructivist reconcepturalization of intrinsic motivation for literacy learning. Journal of Reading Behavior, 26(2), 139-158.

Reutzel, D. R., & Wolfersbersger, M. (1996). An environmental impact statement: Designing supportive literacy classrooms for young children. Reading Horizons, 36(3), 266-282.

Snow, C. E., & Ninio, A. (1986). The contribution of reading books with children to their linguistic and cognitive development. In W. Teale & F. Sulzby (Eds.), Emergency literacy: Reading and writing (pp. 116-138). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Thornburg, D. G. (1993). Intergenerational literacy learning with bilingual families: A context for the analysis of social mediation of thought. Journal of Reading Bahaviour, 25(3).

Weinstein-Shr, G. (1992). Literacy in the family and across generations. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education Forum, 15(5), 1-3.

Yuxiang Wang, graduate student, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Yuxiang Wang, 2116 Hazelwood Drive, #303, Urbana, IL 61801.
The greater the press for accountability through standardized tests, the
   more likely it is that teachers' descriptive assessments of children's
   literacy development are brief, standardized, and global rather than
   extensive, specific, and personalized; focus on what children cannot do
   rather than on what they can do; are cast in impersonal, distancing
   language; emphasize a simple linear, technical view of literacy; exclude
   reference to books the children are reading (Murphy, et al, 1998: 92).

Thus teachers in whole-language programs value differences among learners
   as they come to school and differences in objectives and outcomes as
   children progress through school. They view the goals of education as
   expansion on the learners' strengths and maximum growth, not conformity. In
   whole-language classrooms learners are empowered. They are invited to take
   ownership over their learning and given maximum support in developing their
   own objectives and fulfilling them (Goodman, 1989: 209).
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.