Friday, September 26, 2014

Motivation and Literacy

This morning I read a fascinating story in the Weekend Australian Magazine entitled "Magic is probably the most honest art form in the world" (27th-28th September) about a young magician in the tradition of David Copperfield by the name of Paul Consentino.

He is an Australian super star on the rise. Recently he performed at the Singapore Grad Prix alongside big names like Jennifer Lopez and Robbie Williams. However, this success wasn't indicative of his formative years as a young person at school. He struggled to read, in fact it wasn't until year three that he read his first word.  In the article Paul recounts the embarrassment he experienced as a 12 year old being chosen to read aloud  in front of his year 7 class at a prestigious school in Melbourne. He recalls the secret inner voice that said, "Please don't pick me, please don't pick me." After reading aloud and laboriously stumbling over the words he sat down to nurse his deflated self-esteem.

In our society it is perceived as a shameful and humiliating thing to be unable to read. Paul's embarrassment echoes the experiences of thousands of our young people today, who struggle with reading. Fortunately, Paul's fortunes changed, he was interested in magic and came across a book about this topic in the library. He was fascinated by the pictures of magic tricks but was reluctant to read. His mother helped him to analyse the words. He reported, "It was a very different approach to the rote learning at school... but I had to do the learning my way."

 At this point Paul believed that his motivation to read changed. It wasn't that Paul had not been motivated in the past. All behaviour is motivated and goal oriented. Children generally are not unmotivated. It would seem that Paul was motivated to avoid reading until he found something he was passionate about.

According to Ryan and Deci there are three vital elements to motivation: competence, autonomy and relationship. It is evident that this third element linked to his interest and passion was the basis for building Paul's reading competence and reading autonomy. It would seem evident that the relationship of reading to his interests was the key element while the support of a significant person prepared to invest time and believe in him was also important.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1991). A motivational approach to self: Integration in personality. In R. A. Dienstbier (Ed.), Perspectives in motivation. Nebraska symposium on motivation (pp. 237-288). Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press.