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Motivating Literacy Learners in Today’s World

Libby Limbrick
Year published: 

Reviewed by Libby Limbrick, University of Auckland. published in the New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies Vol 46, Number 1, 2011.

Motivating literacy learners in today’s world is certainly more challenging than in yesterday’s world. This is a timely, readable, well-edited book and should appeal to teacher educators, teachers and researchers alike. The book is organised within a theoretical framework that recognises literacy as a “craft within a community whose art and forms of life are dynamic, rather than a robotic acquisition and automisation of core skills”  (Luke, 2006, cited in this text by Yelland, p.135). In today’s world, this is an apposite definition of literacy and the chapters of the book reflect this view through the diverse components of literacy they investigate and broad perspectives on literacy they provide. Each chapter follows a similar format: the writers examine the research background relevant to the topic; outline the theoretical concepts that underlie the issue; and then discuss some practical implications of the topics.

As indicated in the title, the theme that ties the chapters together is motivation. In the first chapter, Cremin argues that to motivate literacy learners teachers must, themselves, be readers and writers. They must be knowledgeable about the texts children read, and be seen by students to value and engage in literacy endeavours. This may seem to be self-evident. Cremin, however, reports on recent UK research that identifies low levels of knowledge about children’s literature amongst UK teachers. No comparable data exists in New Zealand although anecdotal reports from teacher educators suggest that the situation may be similar. 

The next two chapters focus specifically on motivation and writing. McKenzie acknowledges that early visual and verbal communication is integral to literacy learning for young children, and Parr and Glasswell argue that motivation requires more than interest in a topic. Motivation to write is the outcome of self-efficacy and viewing writing as a purposeful activity, and these are both the outcomes of classroom environments which value writing as a communicative, not a performance, task. In relation to this point, in a later chapter, Gillon and McNeill draw on current research that suggests that phonemic awareness is pivotal to early success in literacy learning and that this early success is in turn key to motivation. The authors present their argument convincingly but do not appear to recognise the power of purpose and enjoyment in ongoing motivation.

The chapters by both Yelland and Greenwood explore wider motivational parameters of literacy. They reinforce the view that literacy is integral to life. Yelland emphasises the need for “multiliteracies” in today’s world, and Greenwood proposes drama as means of contextualizing, deconstructing, engaging, and critically reflecting on literature and life. 

Chapters by McFarlane, Fletcher et al, and Parkhill and Fletcher, address issues related to cultural diversity in our classrooms and specifically to understanding not only what is motivational for students, but also what is de-motivational. Although their comments relate to Māori, Pasifika and Asian students, the arguments posited are pertinent to all learners