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Student reading goals – whose are they?

Everywhere you turn there are programs out there to motivate your students to read. Some of them are commercial products. Some are business-based that have hidden agendas. Most of them purport their motivation is to get students to read. But who is determining the goals and reasons for these programs? What are sample goals of these programs?

Read X number of minutes
Read X number of books
Read at X level of proficiency
Read X amount with family members
Read X number of specified genres
Earn coupons from businesses
Earn coupons and tickets for events
Earn certificates for levels of achievement
Earn certificates for number of books or minutes

One interesting product on the market is called Mark My Time - a bookmark and stopwatch device in one. It has two essential functions – a countdown timer with alarm to release the child when they have finished X number of minutes and a cumulative timer to store total time for multiple reading sessions. While this was named "Best New Product of 2004" by BookExpo, I have to question the entire underlying premise. Some librarians tell me it helps students track and beat the clock. Whatever happened to losing yourself in a book? If you are a good reader, will you read less? If you have studied this as action research, please let me know.

Are we motivating students to read or are we simply holding them accountable to jump through the hoops to reach our own goals? While many teachers work with students to set goals, many other goals are arbitrary. Is this good for students? Some children will always benefit from motivational programs. Some children will resist participating. Aren't there other ways to motivate than extrinisic rewards and outside measures?

Book clubs, book discussion groups, integrating technology, extended hours, interactive gaming with book tie-in's, free time, attractive environments, a collection based upon student requests (including graphic novels), and a sense of ownership of the place (library) and the process (learning). Won't all of these build stronger readers? Take a look at Broward County's program including their link for parents about What Makes Children Want to Read.

I hear from librarians across the country who talk about their students still needing an extra push to read and the extrinsic rewards. I acknowledge this and respect how all of us are willing to try whatever it takes to inspire students life-long reading.  I do have a variety of programs available within my school and do provide social rewards for reading if that's what it takes with some of my readers. Isn't that our job as educators to find the tools to help our students and staff while at the same time philosophizing about the practice? Let's continue to add tools to our belt.

Here are some additional sources on reading motivational programs and I encourage you to add more:
SLJ's article on Reading Motivation by Marilyn Shontz and Leslie Farmer
Stephen D Krashen's articles and books
Book Adventure from Sylvan Learning
Accelerated Reader  from Renaissance Learning
UK's Literacy Trust book title list
Book titles to explore reading motivation from RIF
Reading Rockets research on motivation
Education World's article on 25 ways to motivate (based upon the Book-It program by Pizza Hut)
South Jersey Regional Library's Book Page is full of resources
An article from 2001 by Becca at everything2.com

Many of the articles are highlighting resistance particularly by males to being forced to read. Having 4 test subjects, I mean sons, in my house, I did an informal survey with them. All of their comments boiled down to this: "When the library or the bookstore has what I want to read, then I read."

I joked with my principal last week because a group of 10 boys from 3rd and 4th grade had created a shopping list for me to take the next time I was at a bookstore like BooksAMillion. I made the trip, using my educator discount card (I also have one of those for Barnes & Noble) and my own funds, and was able to pick up some of the Seventh Tower and Warrior series books the boys had to have for spring break. I slapped a barcode on the book and stamped it with our school name once then made an intercom announcement that they were in that Friday before Spring Break.

Their teachers reported havoc breaking out because they had to come down that Friday morning and get their books. The boys gathered at tables for an impromptu discussion, agreed who was going to read which book, and exchanged phone numbers in case one of them finished before school started again. When I explained to them that book #2 wasn't in the store, but that the store had given me a $10 coupon so I could order online, two of them said, "Well, aren't you going to do it right now? We'll do the checkout." I think you can see they feel ownership of their library. We really do work in the best spot in school.

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