In this issue of Topics in Language Disorders, guest issue editor Dr. Eunsoo Cho invited authors to present research and ideas related to the role of human motivation in providing effective instruction and intervention for at-risk children and those identified with learning disabilities. Motivation is complex and multidimensional; nevertheless, it is an important factor to consider, as this collection of studies demonstrates.
In the first article, Louick et al. conducted a systematic review of research that incorporated motivational constructs in vocabulary instruction for at-risk learners or those identified with learning disabilities. Of the 21 studies they reviewed, all integrated at least one aspect of motivation when providing vocabulary instruction/intervention. Many involved processes associated with self-regulation, such as goal setting and self-monitoring or using positive self-talk, or methods to enhance student interest in materials or the instructional delivery. Few studies explicitly acknowledged a theoretical framework for their approach to addressing motivation.
In the second article, Cho et al., following a comprehensive review of major motivation theories and constructs, report a meta-analysis of 53 studies to examine the impact of motivation supports and strategies on reading outcomes for children with reading difficulties. They employed a “piggyback” approach to their analysis, using identified studies from a prior meta-analysis of reading interventions for K–5 students with or at risk for dyslexia. Of the 70 treatment conditions in these 53 studies, less than half included any motivational practices. Almost all of these (nearly 85%) included only motivational supports (e.g., game-like activities, opportunities for peer collaboration, focus on improvement), whereas the rest taught motivational strategies (e.g., setting goals and monitoring progress, making constructive attributions, using self-talk). Almost all of the treatment conditions that provided motivational strategy instruction also incorporated at least one motivational support. Although interventions with motivational strategy instruction tended to have larger effects than interventions with no motivational practices at all when examining effects on overall reading outcomes and word-level outcomes, these differences were not statistically different with various covariates considered. For reading comprehension outcomes, interventions with motivational strategy instruction and interventions with motivational supports had, on average, relatively larger effects than interventions that did not incorporate any motivational practices, but interventions with supports appeared slightly more beneficial. Again, these differences were not significant when covariates such as grade, sample size, intervention dosage, and so forth were included in analysis.
Next, Al Otaiba et al. present results from a study, conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which the effects of a reading intervention with embedded growth mindset (i.e., reading ability is malleable) training delivered one-to-one through a virtual meeting platform was compared with business-as-usual instruction (most of reading instruction in this control condition was Tier 1) among fourth graders with weak reading skills. Although the authors did find a significant effect favoring the treatment group over the control group of the mindset-enhanced reading intervention on untimed letter and word reading, only nonsignificant but promising effects on untimed decoding and passage comprehension were observed. In addition, the research team found significant moderation by initial mindset for the word reading fluency and oral reading fluency outcomes, suggesting those with an incoming fixed mindset (i.e., reading ability is not amendable to change) may have benefitted more from the intervention and those with a more growth-oriented mindset may have benefitted more from the control condition on these outcomes. Thus, students with an intact growth mindset may not benefit much from more growth mindset training.
In the last article in this issue, Camacho et al. explore the association between different motivational profiles, generated through cluster analysis, and writing performance in a sample of sixth-grade Portuguese students. Motivational profiles were based on students' implicit theories of ability (i.e., growth vs. fixed ability mindset) and achievement goals. Cluster analyses revealed two distinct writing motivation profiles—students with a growth mindset who were less oriented toward performance-approach and performance-avoidance goals and students with a fixed mindset who were more oriented toward performance-approach and performance-avoidance goals. Students in the growth mindset and less performance-oriented profile cluster wrote opinion texts with better quality and earned higher writing grades than students in the fixed mindset and more performance-oriented profile cluster.
Overall, the articles in this issue of Topics in Language Disorders suggest that attending to motivation when providing instruction and interventions to students who struggle with literacy may be beneficial, though the evidence is in the emergent stages of development and thus far appears mostly suggestive but not conclusive in terms of the positive impacts associated with the addition of motivational supports and strategies. This issue should help readers come away with a greater understanding of the complexities of human motivation and ways in which it can be addressed in instructional and intervention contexts.
—Gary A. Troia, PhD, CCC-SLP
—Sarah E. Wallace, PhD, CCC-SLP