Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bribing kids to read = bad idea

The School Library Journal featured an article late last year that warned parents about employing bribery as a means through which to promote reading amongst children (see here).  According to a study conducted in the U.K. many adults feel that children, attracted to the allure of new technologies, are growing bored by the idea of reading analog books.  This study reflects both the parents' and the teachers' belief that providing increased access to online reading options would promote a child's desire to read.  While there is little doubt that the novelty of reading an ebook may entice some readers, the article clearly states that incentivizing output has little impact on achievement.

The truth of the matter, however, is that although new technologies have their allure, the emergence of specific reading behaviors are not contingent upon the format through which information is accessed.  By focusing too heavily on technology, this article fails to address a fundamentally important element in the "reading achievement equation."  People become successful readers because they value reading, not because they can do it with a specific tool.  They are moved by their individual and collective expriences with the written word, and they shape their behaviors accordingly.  As I was reading this article I kept thinking of Daniel Pennac's The Rights of the Reader and I found myself wondering:  What are the reading behaviors of adults in these households? Do they unwind with a good book at the end of a long day?  Why should we expect children to value reading, if we ourselves, do not?  What sorts of messages are we sending about analog books if we oursleves choose not to read them?  While I agree that incentive based reading programs alone fall short of creating good readers, are new technologies the key to enticing new reading audiences?  Or, should libraries focus on creating communities that value the pursuit of knowledge and merely let the rest fall into place?