I have been part of a few discussion recently regarding “reading incentive” programs, and it has caused me to do a lot of thinking about motivating readers. I have also done quite a bit of reflecting about my own reading life.
As a kid, my mom and I (and brother) read together every night – every night well into my preteen years. We read picture books, chapter books, novels – it was a shared time to experience books together, and we both loved it.
As a kid, I participated in the library’s summer reading program every summer. I read frantically, zipping through books to fill in Bingo cards. I read and filled out “book reports” at an alarming rate to try to get a trophy for reading the most books that summer (which I never got by the way.)
As a kid, we had to read several novels in fifth grade. As we read, we were required to read round robin in the class. We then had to search for vocabulary words in the pages we had read, and copy the sentences. I still deeply hate each of those novels to this day.
As a kid (really a preteen) I participated in Accelerated Reader quizzes and incentives at school. Once again I flew through books and quizzes in hot pursuit of points and prizes. I read A LOT, and I even learned that you could pass plenty of quizzes without reading at all…..
As an adult, I read to learn. I just ordered a book on neuroscience and its interplay with social development because I had to have it. I want to know more, and I turn to books to help me.
As an adult, I read to get lost. I find stories and experiences that suck me in, and I get to that place in books where I just can’t stop reading. And then, when I get to the end of the book, I grieve, because the book is over, and I feel lost without that world.
As an adult, I love talking to my good friend about books. If we happen to read the same book, we call each other when we are finished and talk for ages about the characters and what we thought. We share book recommendations and we trade books. We love to chat about our reading experiences.
In reflecting, I have had varied reading experiences. Some things were consistent – they got me to read often. One thing we know about reading is that, in order to get better at reading, you need to read. The contests and incentives did get me to read. However, I question how much I absorbed from any of those experiences. I was reading for speed, and not for much else. I doubt that I truly enjoyed too may of those books, because I was regularly checking to see how many pages I had left until I was done.
Reading with my mom, though, was different. There was no contest or prize, other than the time we spent together with the books. It did not matter how fast we read a book. The only incentive to read another chapter on any given night was that we just couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen next.
I am a reader – a lifelong reader who loves books. I was a reader before the incentive programs, and, lucky for me, they did not destroy my love of reading. However, I think it is worth considering what those type of reading experiences do for kids that did not have my mom. Are they learning to love to read? Are they wanting to find out what comes next, or are they simply checking to see how many pages they have to go? Do they remember anything that they read? Are they even reading, or just taking the test and hoping to score enough to win a prize?
In our classrooms, we have the chance to create readers like my mom did. We have the chance to give children the experience of begging for one more chapter. We can teach them how fun it is to talk with friends about books, and how books can help us learn more about things we are curious about. Shouldn’t we take that opportunity? Shouldn’t we build readers?
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