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Benefit of self-selecting reading materials.


According to the reader response theory, the readers bring their interests, personal backgrounds, and prior experiences to the reading process. Research related to self-selection of reading materials shows that through this shift in power, learners take greater ownership in their learning process and their motivation to read increases. In this study, learner perceptions of such shift in decision-making power were examined among teacher education students. It was found that this shift in power contributed to their professional development to become a more critical reader.


Involving students in the decision-making of their curriculum is known to positively impact their willingness to learn and improve their learning process (Moss & Hendershot, 2002). One form of this decision-making power is to provide students the opportunity to select their own reading and learning materials. According to reader response theorists, the readers bring their interests, personal backgrounds, and prior experiences to the reading process (Rosenblatt, 1982). Based on the readers' purposes of reading, the reading strategies they employ may vary (Rosenblatt, 1991). Schema theorists also suggest that different readers have different prior experiences and knowledge and the readers' schemata will determine how the readers construct their understanding of the reading materials (Anderson, 1984; Rumelhart, 1981; Fuhler, 2003). Thus, in order to relate students with varied backgrounds to the reading materials and to motivate them to read and construct meaning, the students should have choices or are allowed to select their own reading materials (Goodman, 1986). Research related to self-selection of reading materials, such as reading workshops where students read self-selected literature during sustained silent reading and later share what they read with their peers (Atwell, 1998; Bryan, 1999; Kletzien & Hushion, 1992; Reutzel & Cooter, 1991; Swift, 1993), showed that through this shift in power, students take greater ownership in their learning process and their motivation to read increases (Pierce & Kalkman, 2003; Walker, 2003).

In this inquiry, teacher education students enrolled in a "technology application in education" course were allowed to select their own reading related to their individual interest, whether that be in a specific content area, certain age group, or a particular teaching practice. The task for these certified teachers was to identify a research study and critique this research. The rationale of this assignment was to encourage students to be critical readers as well as active learners to further their professional growth, deemed to be valuable lifelong skills to be informed consumers of research (Perry & Collins, 1998). The purpose of this study is to (a) understand students' perception of this assignment's contribution to their professional development, and (b) explore students' processes of article selection.

Overview of the Context

This graduate-level educational technology course was offered at a northeastern college for certified teachers. It introduced educational technology applications for classroom integration and management, all to connect the teacher, the instructional experience, and learners in ways that enhance learning. The objectives of this course included a broad overview of new technologies, strategies and resources for effective learning environments, and introduction to an array of skills needed to become successful teachers. Students also assessed and shared instructional strategies and resources applicable to their own particular areas of instruction. The ultimate goal of this course was to encourage each student to independently pursue topics of his/her individual interest. Internet tool BlackBoard 5, a web-based courseware was used to compliment and extend beyond classroom interactions.

In this course, one of the requirements was a research critique. Students had to (a) identify a research article related to "using technology to enhance student learning;" (b) write an academic paper of his/her critique following APA convention; (c) develop a PowerPoint presentation and share their critiques with their peers; and (d) select one article shared by one of their peers that they found to be particularly interesting, read that article along with the accompanying critique, and then write a brief response/reaction paper.


Fifty-one teacher education students, 38 females and 13 males, were surveyed in this study. This survey was designed to investigate students' responses to the research critique assignment. There were ten questions in this survey. Students were asked about their article selection criteria (Questions #1 and #2)[1], the effects of this assignment on their learning/development (Questions #3, #4, and #5)[2], ownership/decision-making power/autonomy (Questions #6 and #7)[3], and feedback/suggestions related to the administration of this assignment (Questions #8, #9, and #10) [4]. After this survey was created, a non-education major social science research assistant reviewed this survey for clarity in language and organization. His feedback was obtained and necessary changes were made.

In order to help students acquire necessary knowledge and skills to complete the research critique assignment, the instructor designed and implemented a series of instructional activities, including review of library research skills. Students completed their assignments during the fourth week of the semester and then submitted their work to the instructor for her comments and assessment. During the fifth week, this survey was 'posted' on Blackboard courseware and was electronically accessible to the students for a two-week period. All students were encouraged to respond to the survey but participation was not required and had no bearing on their assignment grade. In addition, to protect their anonymity, students were informed that this online survey was designed so that their individual responses could not be traced to a particular respondent. As a result, forty-eight students completed this survey with the responding rate of 94.1%.

The survey data were initially analyzed and organized by the assessment tool available in Blackboard. Blackboard calculated percentages of answers of multiple answer items and generated a report that listed all responses to each open-ended item. Then, these data were re-organized into three categories: (a) positive, (b) neutral, no response or not applicable, and (c) negative by the researchers. Generally speaking, positive responses referred to responses that supported the research critique assignment and negative responses referred to responses that disagreed with the components or administration of the research critique assignment.

Results from the Survey

Motivation to Read. When the students selected research articles to read, "the topic of the article" was the most important criterion. This was consistent with the responses of other items related to students' preference of having the opportunity to select their own research articles or being assigned a particular research article. 93% of the students believed that selecting the research article by themselves was more meaningful to them than being assigned a particular article. Also, 43 out of the 48 students indicated that they preferred having the opportunity to select their own reading materials. Students explicitly stated, "My interests may be different [from] the professors' and what they assign may not be interesting to me so I may not learn anything and if I did learn from it, I would probably forget it after a while." "My teaching field is very unique, so personalizing my study is very important to me." "As an adult, I believe that I am able to make good decisions about what to do." "Although I had problems finding a research article that was related to my field, I did think that finding the article on my own helped improve my research skills." Only one student preferred being assigned reading materials. Also, students' interest in reading other research studies at their own initiation either increased (45%) or remained the same (52%). Only 2% of the students felt that their interest decreased. Clearly, students felt that it was important that the article/reading materials were specifically related to their own practices or areas of interests.

Contributions to Professional Growth. The results of the survey also indicated that the students did recognize the connections between the research critique assignment and their professional growth. Most of the students felt that learning to use educational databases (79%) and presenting their critiques using PowerPoint (81%) contributed to their academic or professional growth. In addition, most of the students commented that reading current research was a good way to build their theoretical knowledge, improve their practices, encourage preliminary thoughts on their master's projects, or help them be more informed consumers of research studies. Nonetheless, 4% of the students stated that this assignment had no significant impact on their learning. Finally, 41 out of the 48 students stated that this research critique assignment was appropriate for the educational technology course. Because the students had to use "the computer to search for the article and then had to present it using PowerPoint" and "the article had to do with technology," they felt this assignment showed "numerous ways that technology can support teachers and students in their quest for knowledge" when asked about the appropriateness of such assignment.

Closing Thoughts

Encouraging continual professional growth is notably an important goal of teacher education programs. As indicated by the findings of this study, relating reading materials and learning to students' lives, experiences and interests is highly valued and critical to extend learning beyond the classroom. Learning becomes more meaningful when the materials are relevant and owned by the learner (Goodman, 1986). With shared decision-making described in this study, the learners had the power to apply and extend their newly acquired knowledge. While teacher educators try to convey this notion/principle to present and future teachers, it is helpful to model it in their own practices. Although small in scope, it is hoped that the results of this study may provide useful information for course improvement as well as program design.


Anderson, R. C. (1984). Role of the reader's schema in comprehension, learning, and memory. In R. C. Anderson, J. Osborn, & R. J. Tierney (Eds.), Learning to read in American schools: Basal readers and content texts (pp. 243-257). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle: New understandings about writing, reading, and learning (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Bryan, J. W. (1999). Readers' workshop in a kindergarten classroom. The Reading Teacher, 52, 538-540.

Fuhler, C. J. (2003). Joining theory and best practice to drive classroom instruction. Middle School Journal, 34(5), 23-30.

Goodman, K. S. (1986). What's whole in whole language? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Kletzien, S. B., & Hushion, B. C. (1992). Reading workshop: Reading, writing, thinking. Journal of Reading, 35, 444-451.

Moss, B., & Hendershot, J. (2002). Exploring sixth graders' selection of nonfiction trade books. The Reading Teacher, 56, 6-17.

Perry, L. A., & Collins, M. D. (1998). Incorporating peer response to writing in a teacher education course. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 41, 670-673.

Pierce, J. W., & Kalkman, D. L. (2003). Applying learner-centered principles in teacher education. Theory into Practice, 42, 127-132.

Reutzel, D. R., & Cooter, R. B. (1991). Organizing for effective instruction: The Reading workshop. The Reading Teacher, 44, 548-554.

Rosenblatt, L. M. (1982). The literary transaction: Evocation and response. Theory into Practice, 21, 268-277.

Rosenblatt, L. M. (1991). Literature--S.O.S.! Language Arts, 68, 444-448.

Rumelhart, D. E. (1981). Schemata: The building blocks of cognition. In J. T. Guthrie (Ed.), Comprehension and teaching: Research reviews (pp.3-26). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Swift, K. (1993). Try reading workshop in your classroom. The Reading Teacher, 46, 366-371.

Walker, B. J. (2003). The cultivation of student self-efficacy in reading and writing. Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 19, 173-187.

Hsiang-Ju Ho, National Chiayi University, Taiwan

Cynthia C. Choi, Le Moyne College, NY


[1] Survey Question 1: What considerations did you make in finalizing your article selection? Please rank the following factors in order of priority (I being the highest priority).--topic of article; length of article; that it was a research study; population/subject of this study; research methodology used; available online. Survey Question 2: Please explain your rationale for your selection consideration. (Include other factors that influenced your article selection.)

[2] Survey Question 3: The following component(s) of this assignment positively contributed to my academic and professional growth. (Select all that apply.)--learning to use educational databases; being able to identify a research study; critiquing a research study; presenting to my peers using PowerPoint; critiquing my peers' writing; no positive contribution. Survey Question 4: After completing (going through) the process of searching for my own research article, my interest in reading other research studies at my own initiation --. greatly increased; increased; remained the same; decreased; greatly decreased. Survey Question 5: I feel that reading current research articles is a good way to --. (Select all that apply)--Improve my practice; build my theoretical knowledge; encourage preliminary thoughts on my master's project; help me to be a more informed consumer of research studies; no significant impact.

[3] Survey Question 6: Compared to having a particular article assigned to the entire class, selecting my own research article made my reading --.--significantly meaningful; somewhat more meaningful; equally meaningful; less meaningful; not meaningful. Survey Question 7: Please explain which you prefer. A. Having the opportunity to select your own research article. B. Being assigned a particular research article.

[4] Survey Question 8: Do you feel this assignment is appropriate for this course? Why or why not? Survey Question 9: Please explain whether the guidelines and resources provided for this assignment were adequate. Survey Question 10: Please share your suggestions on how this assignment might be improved. Hsiang-Ju Ho, Ph.D., is Assistant Profession of Early Literacy. Cynthia C. Choi, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Educational Technology in the Graduate Education Program.
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Author:Choi, Cynthia C.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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