The Motivation to Read 2.0


About a week ago, our lovely teaching assistant recommended a YouTube video to us on motivation. I was curious because motivation has always been an interesting subject to me. The essential question is why do people do the things that they do? Why do I take at least 5 minutes to read each night before going to bed? Why do people teach, especially in NC? (Yeah, I just said that. Slip of the tongue!) What makes kids want to read? (See where I’m going with this?)

So I went home and watched the video. Here you go:

I was super inspired by what I watched, and wanted to write a post on it. Unfortunately, that didn’t work so well last week. I got a little too carried away and wrote loosely on motivation theory in reading (Ideological and Autonomous Approaches).

But today is a new day, and time for a new, and relatively more focused post!


How do we motivate kids to read?

Like most topics related with kids, it varies. Not every child is the same when it comes to their developmental process; however, here are a few ideas that I’ve come up with and observed:

  • They don’t need motivation. There’s a culture of reading in their house or among their friends, so it’s only natural that the child wants to learn how to read and enjoys it.
    1. Though, one could say that there are social factors motivate one’s reading development.
  • It’s not a choice.
    1. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post about my own experiences with learning to read, sometimes kids don’t choose to learn how to read. It’s something that just happens and continues to be forced on them, until they enjoy it (if they ever do)
  • Positive Reinforcement
    1. There’s something attached to reading: a grade, Accelerated Reader (AR) Points, parties, sometimes even a simple: “Good job!” or “Did you read all of that? You’re so smart!”
  • Interest – there’s something that the child wants to learn or experience that causes them to read
    1. Maybe there’s a new movie coming out that was a book first (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Fault in Our Stars, and so on) or the kid really likes planes and wants to know how they work. The point is, they read to get something personal from it.

Don’t Forget to Talk about the Video

I haven’t gotten so carried away that the video isn’t relevant anymore, it still is!

Keep in mind that I am extrapolating from the video a bit (it was about working in a career, not necessarily reading). However, there are three things that matter for motivation when basic needs are met: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In the context of reading…

  • Autonomy: having the freedom to read what you want
  • Mastery: reading more difficult texts, comprehension, finishing
  • Purpose: Answer to the question, “Why am I reading this,” or, “Why do I want to read this?”

That’s all we really need to take form the video…

Now, the question becomes, what happens when schools and communities provide incentives for students to read? Do they become reinforcement junkies? Or does it simply encourage students to actually, you know, read?

The Answer: It depends

I could be paraphrasing, but the RSA video says something like, ‘When profit and purpose aren’t connected, bad things happen.’ In this case, think of profit as the reinforcement and purpose as the reason why a kid wants to pick up a book in the first place.

Let’s say a kid has to read 2 books over the course of a semester about anything they want. The only criterion are that they have to finish at least two and they should learn something. From there, they can read whatever in the world they want from raunchy city fiction to biographies about Martha Washington (whoa, what a juxtaposition there).

Another scenario uses accelerated reader. The goal this time is to accrue a certain amount of points for rewards and maybe an end of the year party. It doesn’t matter what you read, but you get points faster with certain books (not all books are weighted the same).

In scenario one, the reader will likely choose something that’s of interest to them – or pick a few easy books and move on. In the other scenario, the focus is on getting points – once that goal is met, the game is over, and the kid didn’t necessarily learn anything. The rewards of the first has a more clear connection to the motivations of an avid reader. The other, however, is focused on a reward – and doesn’t necessarily encourage a reading mindset.

Why does it matter?

One approach shows the relevance of reading. If you want to learn something or enjoy a story, go pick up a book that’s of interest to you. The other says do this and you’ll get stuff. One helps foster a long-standing mindset. And if the goal is to develop lifelong readers and learners, I think helping students find their individual passions in literature is important. In no way saying that incentive programs are a bad, I’m just saying that, in the long run, they aren’t best.

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