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Celebrating Literacy Leadership: John Guthrie

By Alina O'Donnell
 | Oct 05, 2017

GJohn Guthrieuthrie is the recipient of the William S. Gray Citation of Merit Award, recognizing a nationally or internationally known individual for his or her outstanding contributions to the field of reading/literacy. To learn about 2018 award and grant opportunities, visit our Awards & Grants page.

John Guthrie has devoted his career to exploring what he believes is the “big, empty hole in human development for reading”—motivation.

He discovered this uncharted territory while serving as codirector of the National Reading Research Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

“The theme was motivation and engagement. We said, let’s shine a light on this topic that hasn’t gotten high awareness. What are motivators for students, and what kinds of classroom contexts and teacher practices boost motivation and engagement?” Guthrie recalls.

Guthrie’s research focuses on the positive relationship between reading motivation and literacy achievement. He says skill and will go hand in hand.

“If a student is relatively well motivated in several different ways, they then become engaged in reading. They’re putting out effort, following their passion for reading. Motivations drive effort, energy, and enjoyment,” Guthrie says.

Guthrie, who received both his master’s and doctoral degrees in educational psychology from the University of Illinois, began his career as an assistant professor of education and project director of the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University. In addition to his stint at the National Reading Research Center, he has served as the director of research for ILA and director of the Center for Educational Research and Development at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Although he retired in 2007, Guthrie is currently involved in four research projects examining motivation in digital literacy. Like the field itself, his research has evolved to reflect the increasing multimodality of 21st-century texts.

Guthrie says his research is helping to establish new tools in digital literacy engagement. Right now, he’s studying how computer systems can teach struggling readers in a way that’s motivationally adaptive (responds to the motivation of kids), helping teachers to develop practices that inspire a fuller range of motivations.

When asked how he felt about receiving ILA’s William S. Gray Citation of Merit, Guthrie says he is humbled to receive an award named after one of his idols.

“William S. Gray was my hero when I was working at ILA. He was one of my inspirations in terms of how he read and how he wrote and what he did,” Guthrie says. “It is a special honor to have this award linked to him.”

Alina O'Donnell
is the editor of Literacy Daily.


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