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Today, all teachers are expected to regularly assess and monitor student's reading progress through formal reading assessments. Current reading assessments put emphasis in the five components of reading competency, which include fluency, grasp on phonetics, comprehension abilities, phonemic awareness, and/or vocabulary. When students struggle with one of or all five components of reading competency, they could have negative feelings about themselves as a reader (Wigfield, Guthrie, Tonks, & Perencevich, 2004; Henk & Melnick, 1995). In turn, they may (a) have low self-efficacy towards reading, (b) feel less motivated to read, or (c) not perform as well on reading measurements. There needs to be assessments that emphasis the five components of reading as well as students' self-efficacy needs. This article provides educators a user friendly way to evaluate students' perceptions of themselves as a reader.

Self-efficacy refers to students' self-perceptions and is that which allows students to (a) attempt different activities, (b) improve on different achievement activities, and (c) persist even if they have trouble completing the activity (Bandura, 1997). Self-efficacy beliefs are specific in nature; it is impossible to discuss "general" self-efficacy. For example, students may have strong self-efficacy beliefs about their abilities to thrive in music but weak efficacy beliefs regarding their ability to succeed academically in reading (Bandura, 1997). According to Wigfield, Guthrie, Tonks, and Perencevich (2004), students spend time reading if they feel that they are capable of reading effectively. Once teachers evaluate, understand and have carefully pinpointed the students' self-efficacy beliefs toward reading, they can carefully design instruction that meets their unique academic and emotional needs in reading.

Teachers can assess students' self-perception of themselves as a reader by interviewing students with the constructed situation methodology which includes a friendly cartoon scenario titled "How Jamie and Sam Feel About Reading." The cartoon scenario is fun to read and the students will not feel like they are being evaluated. Questions in the cartoon scenario have been designed to give the evaluator a full understanding of how students feel about themselves as readers.

Constructed Situation (CS) Methodology

The interviewing method, called a "constructed situation" (CS; Grotberg, 1996), combines a short scenario conveyed in words and illustrations with subsequent questions related to the scenario. The CS method of questioning was designed and recommended by Grotberg and Graue and Walsh (1998) because it will give youth the opportunity to honestly and openly articulate their perspectives without feeling as if they were answering direct questions about themselves or their personalized knowledge of school facts, namely on reading, and/or the more general academic realm. Hypothetical and third-person questions can be less threatening for students who fear failure and help students provide honest answers since the questions are not specifically directed toward them. Indirect questions allow students to openly share their thoughts and opinions honestly and freely without having to reveal information about personal academic success or failure. Direct interview questions could be threatening and force participants to focus on providing the "right" answers (Graue & Walsh, 1998).

The CS interview methodologies indirect format is not self-incriminating and caters to the variety of needs among students relating to differences in attention span, communication skills, and interest in reading (Graue & Walsh, 1998). For example, the visual illustrations in the CS methodology (a) help make the story more concrete for youth; (b) help sustain attention; (c) allow for clarification of questions; and (d) generate more expressive, descriptive, and comprehensive responses. Research by Downey (2001) on educational protective factors indicated that the CS methodology can be an effective way to discover perspectives of youth. Research by Wangsgard (2008) regarding students with E/BD, who are struggling readers, perceptions of the learning to read process indicated that students who struggling in reading responded freely in the CS interview methodology. Participants' positive responses to the hypothetical scenarios in Wangsgard's study showed that the CS methodology is an effective way to discover the perspectives of students with E/BD, who are struggling readers.

Steps for Administering the CS Cartoon Scenario

The CS cartoon scenario "How Sam and Jamie Feel About Reading" was designed to investigate the self-perceptions of students who struggling with reading. The six points in the scenario were illustrated by a professional artist in a youth-friendly manner. The six points originated from research-based information acquired during a literature review of how to effectively discover how students feel about themselves as readers (Henk & Melnick, 1995; Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997). The six points will give students the opportunity to report perceptions and insights as well as feelings about their current and past reading experiences. The characters in the scenario were designed to match the participant's age, gender, and ethnicity. Using Sam and Jamie as the main characters allow the participants to relate more personally to the hypothetical characters in cartoon scenario increasing the validity of the student's responses to the questions. The final product for the scenario was a laminated color drawing with six pictures.

Step I: Introduce Cartoon Scenario

The CS interview session will begin by the teacher placing the cartoon scenario on the table in front of the student (Table 1). At this time introduce the characters and ask the student if he or she wants to take the role of the teacher and read the scenario out loud in order to help the teacher understand their thoughts and opinions regarding the situation in the pictures. If student does not want to read on their own, the teacher will offer to use a shared reading method or read the scenario out loud to student.

Step 2: Proceed with the questions

The teacher or student will read the sentences below each picture one by one as if they are reading a story on their own. Read the words underneath the pictures then the words expressed within the picture (Table 1).

After the cartoon scenario has been read out loud, the teacher will begin asking interview questions with the cartoon scenario displayed on the table in front of students to enable them to refer back if they chose (Appendix A). Answers to these questions will help guide and direct interview prompt questions. For example, an awareness of students' feelings about reading interests will allow teachers to construct interview conversations that address current interests.

Step 3: Use sequence of prompt questions

The teacher will use a sequence of prompt questions (Appendix A) following the interview questions to generate responses relevant to each picture in scenario that were not addressed during the interview questions. The teacher's selection of prompt questions from the large pool of questions presented varies from student to student depending on their responses. The teacher might construct prompts in addition to those found in prompt questions to gather as much information as possible. For example, if the student provides information that influences the need to ask another question(s) that related to their response(s), the teacher spontaneously composes a question(s) relevant to their unpredicted response(s). Again, during the prompt questions, students can be invited to take the role of teacher and help the teacher understand their opinions on the situations illustrated in the scenario. Like the interview questions, the prompt questions are hypothetical or stated in the third-person.

Step 4: Reflection

Immediately following each interview, the teacher should take time to make notations of reflections and impressions of the CS interaction. Reflections consist of post-interview notes that contain immediate insights suggested by non-verbal behaviors, the teachers' feelings and thoughts about the interview experience, and/or anything the researcher felt was important to include in the process of collecting information.

Step 5: Pinpoint Themes for Instructional Use

Answers to the questions above will help teachers effectively pinpoint the self-efficacy needs of their students. For example, if a student stated "I normally don't pay attention to what they [teachers] say and all that or I should have focused more and it is too late." These statements demonstrate that the student is lacking persistence. Knowing this theme will help a teacher incorporate strategies to increase persistence. Once teachers understand and have carefully pinpointed the students' self-efficacy beliefs toward reading, they can design instruction that meets their unique emotional needs in reading. In the process of designing reading instruction, teachers can implement the following strategies in order to improve self-efficacy in reading (Henk & Melnick, 1995; Wangsgard, 2011).

* Carefully decide what tools (reading strategies) and materials they need to succeed.

* Design reading activities that help students make positive associations with reading.

* Provide several opportunities to communicate reading progress to students and be very generous with praise.

* Adjust the classroom learning environment by providing a reading environment in which they feel confident and comfortable.

* Create oral reading practices that consider the students reading out loud comfort levels.

* Modify grouping techniques by creating (a) reading opportunities where their performance equally compares to that of their peers and (b) reading opportunities where they can observe effective readers perform.

* Provide positive direct and indirect signals to students regarding their reading performance.

* Teach the class and people involved in the students learning to read process how to provide constructive feedback.

* Provide visual illustrations of progress as well as rewards for progress.

* Encourage positive reinforcement from all educators, parents, and peers in the classroom.

* Model enjoyment of the learning to read process.

Redesigning reading instruction that includes strategies that address low efficacy needs in reading will enable students to (a) try different activities, (b) improve on different academic activities, and (c) persist when the activity becomes challenging (Bandura, 1997).

Final Thoughts

The cartoon scenario titled "How Sam and Jamie Feel About Reading" is a friendly researched based constructed situation interview assessment method proven to effectively discover how these students feel about themselves as readers. Students will have fun reading cartoon scenarios and answering questions. Students will not feel like they are being assessed or judged and these students' perceptions will help teachers effectively design reading instruction. The self-efficacy needs of students who struggle in reading must not be ignored. This indirect method of assessment will provide valuable data to help teacher monitor reading progress. An understanding of how students feel about themselves as readers will give teachers valuable information to intervene and educate students more effectively. In addition to research-based reading instruction that emphasizes the five components of reading, students who struggle in reading deserve a reading curriculum that incorporates their academic and emotional needs.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.

Downey, J. (2001). Understanding children's resilience: A guide for early childhood teachers. Colorado Early Childhood Journal, 3, 1, 4-7.

Graue, M. E., & Walsh, D. J. (1998). Studying children in context: Theories, methods, and ethics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Grotberg, E. (1996). The international resilience project: Findings from the research and the effectiveness of interventions. Paper presented at the 54th Annual Convention of the International Council of Psychologists, Banff, Canada.

Henk, W. A., & Melnick, S. A. (1995). The reader self-perception scale (RSPS): A new tool for measuring how children feel about themselves as reader. The Reading Teacher, 18(6), 470-482.

Wangsgard, N. (2008). The Perceptions of Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders Regarding the Learning to Read Process. (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Northern Colorado, 2008).

Wangsgard, N. (2011). The 6th Component of Reading: An exploration of the role of self-efficacy in the development of reading competency. Utah Journal of Reading and Literacy, 14 (1).

Wigfield, A. (1997). Reading motivation: A domain-specific approach to motivation. Educational Psychologist, 32(2), 59-68.

Wigfield, A., & Guthrie. J. T. (1995). Dimensions of children's motivations for reading: An initial study (Reading Research Report No.34). Athens, GA: National Reading Research Center.

Wigfield, A., & Guthrie, J. T. (1997). Relations of children's motivation for reading to the amount and breadth of their reading. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89,420-432.

Wigfield, A., Guthrie, J. T., Tonks, S., & Perencevich, K. C. (2004). Children's motivation for reading: Domain specificity and instructional influences. The Journal of Education Research, 97(6), 299-309.


How Jamie and Sam Feel About Reading Cartoon Scenario

Narrative: Sam thinks Jamie is a good reader. Jamie thinks so too. Sam does not feel good reading out loud. Jamie feels fine. Jamie volunteers to read in class. Sam avoids being called on. Jamie's favorite subject is science. Sam does not like reading his history book. Sam hurries through assignments that require reading. Jamie likes reading assignments. Jamie reads outside of school. Sam does not.

Interview Questions

1. Why do you think there is a difference between Sam and Jamie?

2. Why do you think Jamie likes to volunteer to read in class? (Why doesn't Sam?)

3. Why do you think Jamie is better at reading?

4. If Sam was going to become a better reader, what could he do?

5. Why do you think Sam hurries through reading?

6. Why do you think Jamie likes to read outside of school even when he does not have to for an assignment?

7. Why do you think Sam does not like to read outside of school?

8. How do you think Sam feels when he is the first one done?

Prompt Questions

1. Do you think your best friend feels that he or she is a good reader? (Why do think he/she feels this way?)

2. What do you think students think of each other as good readers? (Why do you think that?)

3. How do you think students feel when they read out loud? (Why do you think they feel that way?)

4. How well do you think students read in comparison to each other?

5. Tell me how you think students feel when they are given an assignment that requires reading. (Why do you think they feel this way?)

6. How do you think students feel about reading the books they are asked to read in school?

7. What do you think students think of the books in each classroom? (Which books do you think they would prefer to read? Which books would they prefer not to read?)

8. How do you think students feel when they read out loud to their teachers?

9. How do you think students feel when they read out loud to family members? (Who else do you think they like to read to?)

10. What clues do you think your teachers give you that make you know what they think of other students as readers?

11. What do other students think about your friends as readers?

12. Do you think students want to become good readers?

13. How do you think becoming a good reader will benefit students?

14. What difference does it make to be a good reader?


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Article Details
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Author:Wangsgard, Nichole
Publication:Reading Improvement
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2019

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