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Student motivation is a critical element of engagement, learning, and achievement. With this in mind, teachers are particularly interested in motivating their students to read. However, getting students to do so can be a difficult task, especially if they lack confidence in choosing personally interesting books. We advocate for carefully nurturing confidence in choosing as a critical step in the development of confident readers. We also advocate for employing Read-Aloud as a scaffolded instructional strategy within a specific framework and collecting reading behaviors data from a sample student group as a way to hasten the development of reading motivation for all.


Early adolescence is a time when reading skills are reinforced and refined. Students are expected to read with fluency and prosody, reading attributes that begin to develop in the early elementary grades. As a critical focus, the National Middle School Association (2010) sets forth the importance of middle level students developing the capacity to "read deeply to independently gather, assess, and interpret information from a variety of sources and read avidly for enjoyment and lifelong learning" (Major Goals of Middle Level Education," para. 3). For teachers, this necessitates motivating students to reach important, progressive reading goals.

Motivating students to avidly read can be challenging. Something to consider is that students who are unsure of their skills or who have met with reading difficulty in the past often feel uncertain about making text choices. They may need encouragement to take vital steps toward choosing to read. Given that every student is unique with varying abilities, interests, and personal goals, successfully managing student motivation for reading becomes a multifaceted undertaking. The process can be accomplished, however, by setting into place a teaching framework that conditions student reading behaviors toward a love of reading. Nurturing students' continued growth as a reader is certainly within a teacher's influence.

Research on Motivation

Teachers know that their students are complex beings who bring with them to school a wide range of experience and myriad interests. While we might imagine that same-age children who go to school together will watch the same TV shows, play similar sports, and eat the same foods, this is not usually the case. Even though there may be similarities given such things as regional tastes, family resources, and marketing influence, children are unique from their peers and unique even within their families. Translate this to school and we see how interest and competence for something like reading will naturally vary. And, as interests and competence vary, so does motivation for reading.

Within the research literature on motivation, the impact of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on learning and achievement is studied with great interest (for example, McGeown, Norgate, & Warhurst, 2012; Patall, Sylvester, & Han, 2014). Intrinsic motivation emanates from within a learner (I feel confident about this project or this topic is interesting) while extrinsic motivation involves external incentivization, such as a concrete reward (candy or a sticker) or promise of social gain (a better grade or more recess time) (Corpus & Wormington, 2014). Understanding the difference between motivational types is important since many studies suggest that intrinsically motivated students perform better in school than those who desire or require external motivators (for example, Becker, McElvany, & Kortenbruck, 2010; Corpus & Wormington, 2014; Froiland & Oros, 2014). If this is the case, we want to do our best to nurture students' intrinsic motivation for critical learning activities like reading that impact both immediate and long-term school success (Froiland & Oros, 2014). Developing confidence in choosing helps students to develop intrinsic motivation (Thompson & Beymer, 2015).

Integrating Choice

Teachers sometimes offer choice as a way to kindle interest or even to assuage negative feelings about having to engage with a particular task. Providing opportunities for student choice in the classroom also seems like a generous and useful thing to do because there are always students who enjoy opportunities to express preferences. However, tendering choice must be thoughtfully done given that choosing is a complex action (Patall, Cooper & Robinson, 2008). For example, many students find choosing easier if their perceived competence is reasonably high (Patall, Sylvester & Han, 2014). If this is not the case, choosing can feel risky, since an unfortunate choice may actually reveal incompetence. The last thing young adolescents want is to have fragilities exposed. The goal must therefore be to offer choice in a way that lessens risk and capitalizes on the positives we want students to experience. In this article, we offer a framework for helping students to build choice behaviors and choose just right books that complement their proficiency level and tap into their interests.

Interest, Competence, and Context-Evaluate Student Motivation

Research suggests that intrinsic motivation evolves in relation to an individual learner's interest or competence in particular content areas or the influence of a learning context such as the classroom (Thompson & Beymer, 2015). For example, a student may intrinsically move toward tasks in mathematics where they perceive some level of competence but away from writing, which involves diverse skills and a particular layer of perseverance. Furthermore, a student may respond reasonably well within the classroom context, but not when work must be completed outside of school. When it comes to reading, teachers must know their students well enough to understand the extent to which motivation varies and how that unfolds in any particular location.

Researchers often use individual interviews as well as survey completion (for example, Malloy, Marinak, Gambrell, & Mazzoni, 2013) to determine student motivation, but this process may not be practical for teachers to systematically use with their own students. Fortunately, teachers usually know quite a bit about the intrinsic motivation of their students if they set aside time to reflect on student responses to various activities and listen to their conversations during the school day. Non-verbal communication similarly apprises teachers of student feelings about a particular task or topic of study. As you will see below, collecting data at this point is critical to developing a cogent plan of action for inspiring students to be readers by nurturing choice.

Establish a Baseline and a Sample Group

Gathering data by reflecting on student reading interests and intrinsic motivation is key to establishing a baseline for nurturing intrinsic motivation and building the capacity to choose. While data gathering for each individual student may take many weeks, it can be important to first acquire a general sense of the group as a whole. Teachers are usually able to ascertain a few student interests and develop a general sense of motivation levels, especially if one is able to compare a current student group to previous classes. After the initial appraisal, we advocate for choosing three students who may characteristically represent lower, mid-range, and higher reading motivation and interest levels. Focusing on a sample group allows for speedier implementation of an intrinsic motivation development plan for all. Keeping things "small" at the start eases the process and preserves the likelihood of a teacher's success.

Identify Representative Students Using Data

For early service teachers, capitalizing on a partitioning strategy can be a way to more successfully begin the process of increasing student motivation for reading. However, focusing on three representative students with varying motivation and interests is also important for experienced teachers to do because thinking about a classroom of learners in this way moves a teacher beyond the common practice of creating priority lists of students in need of reading assistance. Using data to inaugurate an important evaluation and instructional process is essential and effective. The following are examples of data collected for a sample student group.

The Story of Ivan. As a fifth-grade student, Ivan's initial Direct Reading Assessment (DRA) score and Running Record confirm a reading level that is at least two grade levels below state and district standards. Fluency and prosody are weak and other criterial issues such as writing to read and reading to write cause the teacher to wonder about the range of learning needs Ivan might possess. While Ivan presents multiple challenges in terms of helping him to learn, the greatest early challenge is that he is not motivated to read. To begin the year, he chooses books where the text is either too easy for him or much too difficult. The teacher feels that he selects overly challenging texts to please her, but also because doing so seems to reinforce feelings of reading inadequacy that he has already developed about himself--I can't do it so why should I try? Choosing too simple texts highlights the fact that he can not read grade level books and allows him to reject them outright--this is too easy.

The Story of Stefan. As a fifth grader, Stefan seems to possess reading and writing skills that rival most middle school students in his district. However, getting him to complete reading and writing tasks is going to be difficult. For example, he read a book halfway through and then wrote no more than one strong paragraph until the teacher implored him to go further. Sometimes teachers and parents suggest that students who present with behaviors similar to Stefan's are simply "lazy." However, it may be important to characterize this type of student as unmotivated rather than lazy. Saying that a student is lazy seems to place responsibility for unfinished work squarely on the child. Identifying a student as being unmotivated does not. A teacher must equally share with students the responsibility for nurturing motivation for learning.

The Story of Natasha. In many Grade 5 classrooms, Natasha might be considered a "perfect" student-motivated, eager to please, never complaining. She loves to read and is a grade-level reader. However, Natasha does not want to make her own choices when it comes to selecting books. She prefers to rely on the teacher's book choices because Natasha may believe that this will both please the teacher and result in a perfect read. Natasha has the potential to be an even better student and a leader in her class--leading discussions, creating questions and eliciting others to engage in keen verbal discourse. However, moving in this direction will require building confidence in making choices to extend interest into a wider range of topics and inspire real passion for reading and writing.

Organize Initial Evidence

A table such as the one shown below is a helpful tool for organizing early evidence related to students' intrinsic motivation. Initial data for three representative students is displayed. Including evidence dates within the table sections is essential to the ongoing reflection process.

Develop an Instructional Plan

Using district or school provided assessment tools and surveys as well as qualitative data gathered by the teacher during early classroom activities, evidence collected for the three sample students illuminates a representative range of intrinsic motivation levels and interests present in a diverse, inclusive classroom. With these elements varying even further in the sample group's classroom, the teacher decides to begin the overall "nurturing choice" process by incorporating into the daily literacy routine an interactive Read-Aloud. As an instructional strategy, Read-Aloud provides an access point where students are introduced to different authors, characters, and genres. This decision is also made because reading aloud to students usually elicits many important reading behaviors. We want students to actively verbalize cogent ideas and integrate their own ideas with those of peers. We also look to provide opportunities for oral comprehension and verbal discourse both during and after each session (Corcoran & Mamalakis, 2009). Additionally, interactive Read-A loud as a literacy strategy promotes the following (for example, Braun, 2010):

* A non-threatening way to stimulate comprehension

* Time to become excited about a book

* An anxiety free context for thinking about reading for those struggling with fluency

* A context for complex questioning --Using Bloom's updated taxonomy (Anderson, et al, 2001) teachers create thoughtful and insightful questions that stimulate critical thinking without the burden of writing. Then as the school year unfolds, students begin to create questions and have thoughtful dialogue while the teacher only guides the discussion.

* A chance to take turns and validate opinions with specific text references --this increases verbal skills.

* High quality discussions with interspersed teacher guidance

* Note taking and jotting down of questions or answers in a shared, non-evaluative way. This increases writing skills.

* Opportunities for the teacher and students to co-author pieces of writing to serve as mentor and model texts.

Note: Even though the initial plan is to focus on interests and motivation for three sample students, active engagement with the full class should also provide opportunities to collect rich data on other students.

Choose Read-Aloud Texts for the Class

When choosing read-aloud texts for a range of early adolescent readers, we advocate for choosing situational interest stories such as those with characters facing a moral or emotional dilemma (see Schraw & Lehman, 2001). We also suggest revealing why a story was chosen from a personal point of view. What drew me in?--I enjoy stories with an emotional grip! Age-appropriate emotional content draws early adolescents into a story by connecting with their emerging emotional development.

For sample students in the above vignettes and their classmates, the teacher chooses material likely to reinforce important fictional elements such as character development and theme in addition to moral or ethical dilemmas. Emotionally charged moments spark discussion and engage students. For example, students grasp the moral or emotional dilemma of a character such as Magpie in the story Fox by Margaret Wild (2006). In this story, a maimed bird named Magpie relies on blind Dog to be her wings. Then the plot thickens. After Dog gains Magpie's trust and an important friendship ensues, Fox comes along and tempts Magpie, ultimately inducing her to leave Dog as her protective companion.

With a high interest story, students become actively engaged in the reading process at an advanced level, thinking more critically without the associated stress that some experience when reading themselves. For example, students who struggle with reading are listening to the story multiple times for understanding, and those who are readers make a leap into inferential thinking. When an enthusiastic teacher reads to students, the burden of personal reading is removed. All students have access to a text with multiple points of entry into their thinking.

Since Fox is a picture book with limited text, incorporating a chapter book into interactive Read-Aloud sessions is an important next step. Students need a volume of text so they can experience how characters grow and change as a plot unfolds with many twists and turns. Complicated circumstances stimulate focused listening engagement for fifth graders in our illustrative case.

An example of a stimulating Read-Aloud chapter book is The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (2016). The main character is a robot that encounters fear, discrimination and the challenges of motherhood while stranded on a wilderness island. At one point, Roz the Robot must care for a gosling when she accidently kills the mother goose. Students are riveted by the unexpected dilemma this robot character faces. Even though the author effectively entices an audience's ear with circuitous plot turns detailed with beautifully crafted, rich and engaging text, the teacher/ reader also strives to deliver the story with an active voice (Hurst & Griffity, 2015), artfully relaying the tale so that each page is tantalizingly exciting, so much so that students do not want any Read-Aloud session to end. Why do all of this? An overarching goal of the interactive Read-Aloud is to elucidate and discuss fictional elements such as character analysis, plot, and theme that become important for students to recognize within their own chosen books. Teachers want students to focus on and eventually critique these elements in their response writing and in-class book group discussions over time.

Gather More Data--Student Sample Group Responses to Two Read-Aloud Experiences

For Ivan, experiencing the interactive Read-Alouds:

* Increased engagement with texts appropriate for his independent level, setting the stage for self-confidence in choice

* Increased his interest in fiction

* Resulted in him reading more books

* Conditioned Ivan to increased motivation for texts that connected with him in various ways

Note: A personal goal for Ivan is to read like his peers. It is imperative at this age that students feel as if they are part of the group--they want to be "on the same level" as those around them.

For Stefan, interactive Read-Aloud participation had the following effects:

* Increased motivation for discussion

* Improved confidence and response accuracy--text-based rather than associative responses

* Improved interest in the written word after active text discussion

* Increased motivation not to read more books, but to read more challenging and thought-provoking ones

For Natasha, the interactive Read-Aloud experience provided opportunities for:

* Stepping into a leadership role during discussions and supporting answers with text evidence, as well as guiding those within a group to do so

* Elevating the level of verbal discourse to keep discussion moving in a productive way

* Elaborating upon text supported answers, always an important goal (no right or wrong answers)

* Increased risk taking-for example, taking a risk with a challenging book that had been passed up because "it looked too hard"

Add More Evidence--Involve Families

After gathering evidence in school, it is important to engage sample students' families in conversations regarding reading responses at home. At this juncture, working with the three-student sample group streamlines the process since the goal is to set into place a reading motivation development plan without delay. After feedback is collected from families, additional data is included in the evidence table. Over time, data for all students should be collected and reflected upon.

Move the Instructional Plan Forward--Teacher Tasks

After a review of data collected for sample group students, the teacher proceeds with a series of teaching tasks. As a reminder, focusing on sample students helps to contain instructional ideas to promote teaching and learning efficacy.

Listen for clues about reading confidence. As students grow more comfortable with tasks associated with fiction, they provide clues about emerging reading confidence. For example, they communicate interest in a book they are reading by making offhand comments about characters or plot. They may engage the teacher in conversation about a compelling story theme. Nonverbal communication can be a key engagement indicator at this point. A student may smile, maintain eye contact when speaking about a book, or leaf through a text to show different enjoyable sections. Importantly, students are beginning to grasp their independent reading level and are soon ready for the guided choice process. The ultimate goal is for them to choose a book they can digest for meaning, so they will be stimulated to continue reading. This action empowers them as readers.

Arrange selections for book surfing. Book surfing is an opportunity to peruse books as if in a library or bookstore. Before students participate in such an activity, we advocate for animated teacher modeling about how to review the back cover, inspect chapter titles, and read a few lines of the text to see if something captures interest. A goal for students is to read for about ten minutes from several books exhibited in baskets or book displays of some sort.

Note: Selection of texts for the display takes into consideration student reading level, interests and a few teacher choices. A well-stocked classroom library is essential, and teachers should be thoroughly acquainted with the books they have. A school librarian can also play a key role in selecting materials for students if classroom libraries are insufficient.

It is important to remember that we want students to read and read for volume. To set the stage for this occurrence, display books available in series (for example, author Kate DiCamilo), since text sets often stimulate voluminous reading. Students also seem to engage with different writing styles (for example, author Rick Riordan). Add interesting genres: expanded folk and fairy tales, myths, sports, thrillers and historical fiction. Consider anything that will kindle excitement.

Note: A teacher may feel good about opening the door for students to choose, but it is important to avoid circumventing the wonderful benefits of intrinsic motivation by prematurely releasing readers into a sea of materials. This is a critical procedural element. Students still need teacher guidance.

Prepare for guided choice. This process actually unfolds for all students by first thinking well about sample group students before they engage in book surfing over the course of a few days.

Guided choice for Ivan. 1) Encourage him to make just two book choices and then begin to think about choosing a book for an upcoming Read-Aloud or Book Club type of activity. 2) Introduce the idea of videotaping as an option during reading--Ivan would be able to see himself making improvements over time and target areas to work on. By doing this, Ivan may feel empowered to take control of his own reading behaviors and not be overwhelmed by what other students are doing. 3) Ivan can choose to send his reading video to the teacher within Google classroom, using this private platform for communication and to receive supportive feedback. Providing space to improve in a less visible way could advance motivation to set intrinsic goals.

Note: When teachers include students in the Read-Aloud journey, they feel empowered to suggest other stories by an author, decide to end a book due to lack of class interest, and even become a guest reader. Even within these scenarios, they may exercise choice. When teachers are receptive to student comments and ideas, the Read-Aloud experience is a powerful instructional strategy for fostering love of reading and a positive reader mindset.

Guided choice for Stefan: Since the task of reading fluency is already accomplished for this student, delving into subject matter that provides a more nourishing reading life is the primary goal. 1) Guide Stefan toward Greek Mythology (there is a plethora of material for younger readers), so he gains insight about why the literature was created. Have Stefan choose from only a few books at first. This path serves a double objective by encouraging more substantial reading-life choices and increasing vocabulary while expanding schema.

Guided choice for Natasha: The skill of reading has been mastered but stepping out of a comfort zone and into more challenging and thought-provoking texts is the goal. 1) Guide Natasha toward more challenging books such as Out of My Mind (Draper, 2012), Tuck Everlasting (Babbit, 2007), and Esperanza Rising (Ryan, 2002), which for her present familiar schema. Familiarity will allow Natasha to more confidently choose. This path will help her to grow as a reader and a thinker.

Note: For all of these students, growing a mindset and a new set of reading behaviors is the ultimate goal. It is important to remember that conditioning behaviors to foster a love of reading and continued growth as a reader is within a teacher's influence.

When students are done perusing options during a book surf, they oftentimes discover that a classmate has also selected the same book. This natural occurrence lends itself to discussion of material and heightens student interest levels even before they read further. Having multiple copies of a various title is crucial if a teacher wishes to foster a classroom literary buzz.

Move forward with students reading books. After students have made book choices, check in with each about their reading as the next two weeks unfold. Ask them to insert small bookmarks or use self-stick notes on particular pages to mark sections of special interest or where new and exciting vocabulary emerges. Have students write short, one-sentence reviews to insert into pages as they go along, also indicating whether any passage is confusing, interesting, enjoyable, or even tedious to read. Keep students engaged, busy, and accountable.

Evaluate strategies set forth for the sample group. The last step is for the teacher to reflect on guided choice approaches developed for the sample group students and whether the strategies were effective for them and for other students. The overall goal of this framework is to coordinate an instructional plan that works for all by focusing efforts on just a few at the start. By doing this, exciting and important options can be offered to all students even before a complete evaluation of reading abilities and behaviors can be reasonably accomplished.


Teachers ultimately want students to engage with books in powerful ways as they establish long-lasting reading behaviors that support achievement and help them to persevere in the face of learning challenges. To understand reading behaviors for an entire class, it is helpful to utilize a partitioning strategy whereby a small representative student group is established at the start. This can be extremely helpful for a teacher who ultimately looks to collect data and plan instruction for an entire class.

When teachers offer choice to their students it is almost always meant to be a motivator. However, choice without explicit guidance may not have the desired motivational effect depending upon the curricular context and the relationship a child has with the content. Connecting research to instructional strategies is important for educators if they are to make meaningful connections for their students.

Text engagement can be realized by employing a process of guided choice. When students build confidence in choosing and skill sets around reading, a sense of autonomy, competence, and personal vision positively colors their school experience. We want students to embrace choice as a viable tool for personal learning (Parker, Novak, & Bartell, 2017).


Manhattanville College


Jefferson School


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Babbit, N. (1975). Tuck everlasting. New York: Square Fish.

Becker, M., McElvany, N., & Kortenbruck, M. (2010). Intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation as predictors of reading literacy: A longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(4), 773-785. doi: 10.1037/a0020084

Braun, P. (2010). Taking the time to read aloud. Science Scope, 34(2), 45-49.

Brown, P. (2016). The wild robot. New York: Little, Brown Books.

Corcoran, C. A., & Mamalakis, A. (2009). Fifth grade students' perceptions of reading motivation techniques. Reading Improvement, 46(3), 137-142.

Corpus, J. H., & Wormington, S. V. (2014). Profiles of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in elementary school: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Experimental Education, 82(4), 480-501. doi: 10.1080/002 20973.2013.876225

Draper, S. M. (2012). Out of my mind. New York: Atheneum Books, Simon & Shuster.

Froiland, J. M., & Oros, E. (2014). Intrinsic motivation, perceived competence and classroom engagement as longitudinal predictors of adolescent reading achievement. Educational Psychology, 34(2), 119-132. doi: 822964

Hurst, S., & Griffity, P. (2015). Examining the effect of teacher read-aloud on adolescent attitudes and learning. Middle Grades Research Journal, 10(1), 31-47.

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Wild, M. (2006). Fox. La Jolla, CA: Kane Miller Books.
Table 1.  Early Evidence for Three Sample Group Students

          Previous Year    Current
          DRA              DRA

                           No genre interests.
Ivan      Below            No specific goals.
          grade            Date:

                           No genre interests.
Stefan    Above            No specific strategies.
          grade            Date:

Natasha   On grade         Extensive interests.
          level            Little focus.
                           Just wants to read more

          Previous Year    Verbal Discourse

                           (Teacher will listen for
Ivan      Below            responses connected to
          grade            the text.)
          level            Date:

                           (Teacher will listen for
Stefan    Above            responses supported with
          grade            text evidence and inferential
          level            thinking.) Date:

Natasha   On grade         (Teacher will listen
          level            for responses supported with
                           text evidence.)

          Previous Year    (Family/Home)   (Social/Emotional
          DRA              Reading         Nonverbal
                           Response        Behaviours
                                           During RA

Ivan      Below

Stefan    Above

Natasha   On grade

          Previous Year    Interactive
          DRA              Activities/
                           Social Settings

Ivan      Below

Stefan    Above

Natasha   On grade

Table 2. Additional Evidence for Three Sample Group Students

Criteria   Previous    Current Year           Verbal Discourse
           Year        DRA                    During RA
           DRA         Interest

                       No genre interests.    Lacks grammatical
Ivan       Reading     No specific goals or   structure.
           well        strategies.            Very few details.
           below       Reading books          Repeats what others
           grade       below independent      are saying.
           level.      level.                 No original ideas.
                       Date:                  Date:

                       No genre interests.    Not engaged.
Stefan     Reading     Wants to read more     Looks to stay off
           well        books.                 topic.
           above       Reading books          When prompted,
           grade       below independent      can make an
           level.      level.                 accurate and
                       No specific            insightful response.
                       strategies used for    Date:

                       Too many interests!
           Reading     Wants to read more
Natasha    on          books.
           grade       No specific goals or   Afraid to be
           level.      strategies.

Criteria   Previous    (Family/               (Social/ Emotional)
           Year        Home) Reading          Non verbal
           DRA         Response               Behaviors
                                              During RA

                       Lacks details. Very    Difficulty staying
Ivan       Reading     short responses.       focused.
           well        Lacks grammatical      Difficulty
           below       structure.             repeating what
           grade       No original ideas.     has been said
           level.      Repeats others'        and adding
                       ideas.                 to it.
                       Writing very           Looks to finish
                       little.                quickly.
                       Date:                  Date:

                       Lacks details. Very    Avoidant.
Stefan     Reading     short responses.       Will give a
           well        Excellent grammar      short response
           above       and vocabulary.        and then look
           grade       Reading books below    to engage students
           level.      level.                 in "silly"
                       Writing very little.   behavior.
                       Date:                  Date:

                       Lengthy responses      On topic.
                       follow the model.      Looks to back
           Reading     Repeats same ideas.    responses with
Natasha    on          Reads books on         text support.
           grade       independent level      Will let others
           level.      and does not want to   speak, as well
                       try to read more       as listen.
                       challenging text.      Date:

Criteria   Previous    Interactive
           Year        Activities/
           DRA         Social Settings

Ivan       Reading     Engages
           well        with others.
           below       Verbal responses
           grade       are
           level.      immature.

Stefan     Reading     attention
           well        seeking
           above       behaviors.
           grade       Date:

                       Engaged and
           Reading     social.
Natasha    on          Has many
           grade       friends.
           level.      Is well-liked.
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Author:Allen-Lyall, Barbara; Davis, Victoria
Publication:Reading Improvement
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2020

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