Chapter 6 of The Reading Mind: “Becoming a Reader”: Summary, Implications, and Discussion Questions

“Chapter 6: “Becoming a Reader” Summary, Implications and Discussion Questions


  • Reading attitudes are largely emotional. They are derived from past reading experiences and from emotions connected to things associated with reading. Motivation to read is a product of the value one expects to derive from reading, and the expectation that the value will actually be obtained if one reads. Reading self-concept comes from the sense that you read more than your peers.
  • To change reading attitudes, reading motivation, or reading self-concept, kids must read. That sound like a catch-22. But there are ways of getting kids to read even if they do not currently have strong reading attitudes, motivations, or self-concepts.
  • Rewards should not be the first strategy to get reluctant kids to read, because they have the potential to depress reading attitudes once the rewards stop.
  • Changes to the environment that can boost reading include: making books very readily available—that is, visible in the environment—and restricting access to other choices, especially screen-based entertainment.


  • We tend to focus on getting kids to want to read for the pleasure of reading, but that’s just one positive outcome the child might expect. Another is utility. Parents and teachers can try to exploit situations where reading is useful to the child. Young children can help parents in ways that call for reading: sorting household mail, reading a recipe, helping to find a store by reading signs. When an older child wants something—to be allowed to try out for a sports team, or to own a pet—parents can require they learn something about it by reading first.
  • Because reading attitudes are emotional, there’s not much point in haranguing children with logical reasons to read (for example, saying it will help them later in life). Sure, its worth mentioning because children should know it’s true and you think it’s important, but don’t expect it to influence what kids do.
  • Communicating that reading is a family value is not just about parents modeling good reading habits, although that is, of course important. It’s about intellectual hunger; being the sort of family that likes to learn new things, and likes to have new experiences, for their own sake.
  • As much as access to books should be easy for kids, it should also be easy for parents. Sure, libraries are great, and parents may really intend to visit them, but it’s not always easy to find time. Putting books directly into the hands of parents may help, but research indicates it’s especially important that parents follow up with kids by encouraging them to read the books and by discussing them.
  • If positive associations can rub off one object or activity and onto another (as in the Old Spice example), that offers an opportunity to improve reading attitudes, even in the absence of reading. Books (and other reading material) can be associated with birthdays, Christmas, and other happy occasions via gifts. New reading material can be a regular part of vacations. And if there is a time that reading already holds positive association in the child’s mind—for example, if the child enjoys being read to before bed, or the child has a cozy spot where she reads the same book again and again—that positive association probably shouldn’t be disrupted through parental badgering. For example, a parent might be tempted to practice reading during that bedtime book, or to nag the child to read something else in her cozy chair. Pick another time for these encouragements, and let a happy reading child be happy.

Discussion Questions

  • Research indicates that children’s attitudes toward reading are positive in first grade, but drop off every year thereafter. Attitudes level off in high school, settling around “indifference.” That’s a correlation, of course, and we don’t know that experiences in school are making attitudes toward reading less positive. What’s your take? What do you think contributes to reading attitudes becoming less positive?
  • We elect to do something (or not) based on our estimate of the value of the outcome of making the choice, and the probability that we’ll get the outcome. We typically focus on personal pleasure as the main contributor to the value of the outcome, but as I mentioned, sometimes the social concerns play a role—I might read a book because all my friends are reading it. Teens, as we know, are hyper-social. What might parents and schools do to leverage teens’ social awareness to promote reading.
  • Children are sensitive to the family values their parents communicate, but they are also sensitive to values communicated by other people they respect. Which people in the public eye do students pay attention to? Would they be credible as promoters of reading? Would they be willing to take on the job?
  • Some parents are not interested in reading and do not consider it a family value. Do policymakers and educators have a right to persuade them otherwise? Should anyone be in the business of telling parents how to parent?”

Excerpted from: Willingham, Daniel T. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.

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