Monday, October 22, 2012

Destructive Incentive Plans

There were a number of comments left on my post called "Daddy, I want a book buck!" where I detailed how the school's reading incentive plan was distracting my daughter from her love for reading.

Here is a comment left by Julie:
As the parent of a now 14 year old son who avoids reading for pleasure, I can attest to the damage done by school reading bucks, teacher required reading logs, Pizza Hut Book-It programs, school-wide Battle of the Books, and classroom posters charting the oral reading speed of every child in the class. All of these supposedly motivating things turned reading into just another chore for my son. Reading became something that was assigned, rather than something that he chose for pleasure. Reading became so graded, recorded, judged, timed, tested and tracked that he rebelled, despite our best efforts at home, and now rarely picks up a fiction book.

If I had to do it over again, I would politely but firmly let his teachers know that he would not be participating in any of these forms of manipulation. Better yet, I would have homeschooled him and let him read widely and freely for hours on end.

Don't let the school system and their misguided approach to reading ruin your daughter's love for books. Don't let them turn reading into a chore and don't allow them to manipulate the joy she find in words with cheap trinkets. It's worth fighting for.


  1. we have so many high school students HATE reading we must be doing something wrong somewhere......

  2. I dunno, Joe. While in general I agree with you, I'm a little hesitant to make such a blanket condemnation of incentive programs, because I'm an exception. I've always loved to read (my dad tells me that before I could speak or stand I was fascinated by print). And I remember LOVING that Book-It program.

    It was like I had discovered this wonderful, LEGAL scam. Those FOOLS! (insert evil cackling here) They were paying me to do something fun!

    So, while I'm willing to admit that I'm probably an outlier,
    I think that the problem is more the broad, one-size-fits-all approach to such programs, rather than the use of extrinsic motivators.

  3. I join those who believe incentive programs in school are actually counterproductive. If the goal of reading incentives is to get students to read a set number of pages or books, that goal may be met. However, schools should embrace the larger goal of developing both their students' reading skills and enjoyment of reading. These programs are the icing on the cake for kids who already love to read. However, kids who struggle with reading are likely to view it as something only worth doing for a prize. In that case, the school had better hope those students consider the prize worth the effort.

  4. My son stopped reading for pleasure once we had to keep a reading log. I started signing it without actually keeping track, and he's started enjoying reading again.

  5. My son stopped reading for pleasure once we had to keep a reading log. I started signing it without actually keeping track, and he's started enjoying reading again.

  6. I have witnessed reading incentive programs be used as another way to exclude kiddos. I have seen this happen with two different groups of children who participated in the program for completely different reasons. Each year the reading incentive program program was launched school wide with a major assembly. During the launch the entire school was bribed with an ice cream party for the class that read the most.

    One group decided that they were more interested in how many hours they were actually reading instead of the reward (free pass to an amusement park) that would be given to them if they read the most hours. The other group was also not interested in the reward, but instead decided that they would each read the minimum required hours (at the least) and donate the reading reward to children and families who don't usually get to go this amusement park. Each child read, recorded, and submitted the reading they did; well over the minimum. As a result each group had read the most hours in the school.

    That first group did not receive their ice cream party. Another class received it in their place. I have to say that those kiddos were not disappointed, they never once said a thing. The second group, which was 2 years later than the first, did not receive their ice cream party either. This group was not disappointed either; they never mentioned it. Yet, the group

    As the adult, while in awe with how the students handled themselves, I was quietly upset at how these two groups of children were treated. Particularly because there was a class in between these 2 groups that had 'earned' the ice cream party and received it.

    Long story short, rewards and incentive programs have many ways that they can punish children because all of the power is with the adults.


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