Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rewarding Reading, Ruining Readers

I've received a number of comments and emails in response to my post where I detailed how an incentive reading plan is undermining my daughter's motivation to read for its own sake.

Here are a couple points that I would like to address:
1. Unfortunately there will be a significant number of homes where there is no parent support or modelling for a love of reading, and even more unfortunate, no shared reading times either. In these circumstances "Book Bucks" and other extrinsic rewards might be the only chance the teacher has to foster a very young child to start reading.
Firstly, why do so many assume that kids with little parent/home support need extrinsic rewards to be motivated to learn? Regardless of the quality or quantity of parental involvement, our long-term goal for all children should remain a love for books not rewards. Not only does it make little sense to distract children who already have a love for books with rewards -- but it might make even less sense to entice reluctant readers to read by telling them reading is something one would not want to do unless bribed (or threatened). If we want to inspire children to have a love for reading, shouldn't our schools focus on a culture of reading rather than a culture of rewards?
2. Some parents and teachers can't get children to read without some kind of incentive program.
That some children will only read when bribed or threatened is as unfortunate as it is predictable, but I don't see this as an argument for more rewards and punishments -- rather, I see this as an indictment of such programs. If children become acclimated to reading only when extrinsically induced, should we really be surprised that they refuse to read when the rewards and punishments are removed? In fact, this might be one of the best arguments against trying to entice reluctant readers with rewards and then weaning them off -- which is really nothing more than the ol' bait and switch.
3. How will it affect your child if you opt them out of the school's rewards program?
When schools employ reward systems, they put progressive parents in a difficult spot. Because the only way anyone can experience the absence of a reward is as a punishment, it is very likely that when parents opt their children out, their children will experience this as a punishment. This doesn't make opting out impossible, but it certainly makes doing the right thing challenging for parents and their children.
4. If parents express their concerns for incentive programs, how will that affect their relationship with the teacher?
The only way to guarantee not to rupture the parent-teacher relationship is to remain silent -- that is to say, go along to get along. But then what kind of relationship is built on submissive silence? It is likely that the most progressive teachers will see an informed parent who plays an active role in their child's education as an ally; and yet, it's very likely that the most unimpressive teachers will see these parents as nothing more than problems to be dismissed.

If you want to read about how a school nurtures a culture of reading around reading (not rewards), check out principal Chris Wejr's school in his post Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading.

I would also suggest you read Alfie Kohn's How to Create Non-Readers: Reflections on Motivation, Learning and Sharing Power.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Joe,

    Another book to recommend is Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn.

    Great posts! Currently the conversations I am having with my staff and parent group...tough conversations for sure, but worth it in the end.

    For me the key is how do we create a culture of love of reading...exactly what you have been writing about...

    Take Care,

    Sue Tonnesen @suetonnesen


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