Building Motivation in Students Who Have Dyslexia or Other Reading Difficulties

by David Clark | Oct 3, 2016

Building Motivation in Students Who Have Dyslexia or Other Reading Difficulties

What leads to reading success?

In 2000, the National Reading Panel labeled the five critical components of reading instruction for developing strong readers:

  1. phonemic awareness
  2. phonics 
  3. fluency
  4. vocabulary
  5. comprehension


These five components of an effective reading curriculum are also known as “The Five Pillars of Reading.” The research of the National Reading Panel found that when all five components were “effectively taught,” learners had the highest chances for reading success.

Even if students have a sound elementary reading program that meets these five components of reading, many who have been identified as having learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, continue to struggle as they get older. Reading researchers have recognized that older struggling students may have already become proficient in phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle, and as a result, may benefit more from instruction in advanced word study. Further evidence has also emerged as to the connection between motivation and reading success. Students who struggle are not motivated to read, and as a result miss out on opportunities for “reading practice and for learning from what they have read” (Roberts et al., 2008, p. 63). Reading motivation plays an important role in supporting the acquisition of the comprehension skills necessary for student success. Thus, for older readers, the essential components of reading intervention have been adjusted to include these five areas:

  1. word study
  2. fluency
  3. vocabulary
  4. comprehension
  5. motivation


What builds student motivation?

There are three powerful motivations that drive students’ reading, both in and out of school:

  1. Interest
  2. Dedication
  3. Confidence


An interested student reads for enjoyment; a dedicated student reads for value; and a confident student reads out of belief in personal ability. Confidence is the motivation shown to affect student success more than the other motivations. In their article, “Motivating and Engaging Students in Reading,” Cambria and Guthrie state, “Belief in yourself is more closely linked to achievement than any other motivation throughout school. The reason is that confidence, which refers to belief in your capacity, is tied intimately to success” (Cambria & Guthrie, 2010, p. 17).


This becomes a little like the “chicken before the egg” concept. A student needs to be confident to be successful, but he or she needs to be successful to build confidence. Success needs to occur in simple, daily reading tasks. Students with dyslexia or other reading disabilities often have unsuccessful reading experiences that lower their confidence and set them in a cycle of continued doubt and failure. This does not need to be their experience.

How can we help students build motivation when they are struggling with reading?

As educators, we should learn ways to help increase students’ motivation and build their confidence. Students who struggle benefit from small, quantifiable successes in reading. If students are given effective, research-based structured literacy instruction in a way that empowers them with tools and strategies to help attain success, their confidence will build.

Students are also motivated by choice. Providing students’ choice in their learning and practice, in a way that supports their needs and ensures their success, will yield great dividends. Having choice in what they read based on their interests is also incredibly valuable.

When working together, confidence and choice propel students forward. Choice and confidence directly feed into dedication, further fueling motivation. This is because a dedicated reader will persist in working hard because he or she sees the value in it based on personal experience.


We want every student’s experience to be one that builds confidence. We want to support students in their interests and help them find value in their efforts. When a struggling student starts to experience success, the motivation becomes intrinsic and the student’s confidence grows. Our greatest role as educators is to help build our students’ confidence by providing them with effective instruction that ensures their success.


Dyslexia Resources

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia in Children

Dyslexia in Adults

Literacy Talks

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