Written in response to a very nice article in the local newspaper.
A suggestion for the Book Swap: Don’t include incentives
Sent to the Cañon City Daily Record, March 10, 2012
I was very pleased to read that as a result of my presentation at the Colorado Reading Association conference, there are plans to add a book swap along with the summer free lunch program in Cañon City (“Cañon City School District collecting books for summer reading,” March 10). I’m very happy that McKinley teacher Jamie Davis came to my presentation and passed my message about the importance of access to books to others.
The organizers of the summer program, according to the Daily Record, are considering providing incentives (prizes) for reading.
I have reviewed the research on incentives and reading, and have concluded that there is no clear evidence that incentives help. When students read more when incentives are provided, I suspect it is because of the increased access to books, not the prizes: As is well-known, access to interesting books stimulates reading, and reading itself stimulates more reading.
There are other reasons to be wary of providing incentives. Programs such as Accelerated Reader test children on what they read, award points for passing tests that can be cashed in for prizes. This encourages children to read primarily to earn points, which alters the nature of reading, with readers focusing on often irrelevant details in order to pass tests.
Incentives could also have the effect of discouraging reading in the long run: Reading is intrinsically pleasant. Substantial research shows that rewarding an intrinsically pleasant activity sends the message that the activity is not pleasant, and that nobody would do it without a bribe.
My suggestion: If there is extra money for the summer program, I would spend it on books, not prizes, and certainly not for tests.
For those interested in the research, please see articles available for free on my website (www.sdkrashen.com, in the section “Free voluntary reading,”) and Alfie Kohn’s book, Punished by Rewards.
University of Southern California