Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Krashen on rewarding reading

Sent to American Libraries, October 11, 2008

The October issue of American Libraries carried two short notices that might be sending the wrong message: Bug Bites (on page 33) told us that the public library director in a Midwest city bet children in a summer reading program that they could not read a certain number of books. He lost, and as a result had to eat barbecued mealworms. The suggestion is that the reason the children read so much was to see the director eat worms.
"Most Valuable Reader" (page 32) reported that a youngster won a plaque from a professional football team as an award for reading. Other prizes included footballs and a visit to the team's training camp. The suggestion is that the reason these children read so much was to get football-related rewards.
The appearance of these notes suggests that American Libraries thinks that rewarding reading in this way is a fine idea. There is, however, no evidence that rewarding reading increases reading competence, despite claims made by producers of reading management programs, and there is evidence that rewards can have long-term damaging effects.
Many studies show what readers of American Libraries know: Reading is pleasant, and for many people, a positive addiction. Studies also show, however, that if we reward children for doing something intrinsically pleasant, we run the risk of their loosing interest in the activity when the reward is no longer available: We are sending the message that nobody would do it without a bribe. Researchers Barbara Ann Marinak and Linda Gambrell have recently provided evidence that this happens when we reward reading, extending and confirming findings of Vonnie McLoyd from 1979.
Until more studies are done on the effects of rewarding children for reading, we should reconsider endorsing these practices, either explicitly or implicitly.
Stephen Krashen

No evidence that rewarding reading increases reading competence: McQuillan, J. 1997. The effects of incentives on reading. Reading Research and Instruction, 36:111-125. Krashen, S. 2003. The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of accelerated reader. Journal of Children's Literature, 29 (2): 9,16-30. Krashen, S. 2005. Accelerated reader: Evidence still lacking. Knowledge Quest 33(3): 48-49.
Reading is pleasant: Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Portsmouth: Heinemann and Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
Providing an extrinsic reward: Kohn, A. 1999. Punished by Rewards. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Second Edition. McLoyd, V. 1979. The effects of extrinsic rewards of differential value on high and low intrinsic interest. Child Development, 50, 636-644. Marinak, B. and Gambrell, L. 2008. Intrinsic motivation and rewards: What sustains young children's engagement with text? Literacy Research and Instruction, 47 (1): 9 - 26


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