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How We Learn

Making kids read makes them less interested in it

Reading logs and mandated reading are intended to give children the benefits which enthusiastic recreational readers enjoy. A study published in the Journal of Research in Education showed that mandated reading actually reduced student interest in reading for pleasure

As suggested by self-perception theory (Bem, 1967), when reading is portrayed as something one has to be forced to do, students may draw the conclusion that it is not the kind of activity they want to engage in when given free time

The importance of reading for pleasure is huge, there are well documented benefits for children who read for pleasure, including being likely to have more academic and economic success. Some schools have tried to counter students lack of interest in reading with mandated reading for homework, with set amounts of time to be achieved and signed off by parents.

Despite the popularity of reading logs and required reading there had been no previous study into how effective they are. A study published in the Journal of Research in Education tested the hypothesis that they might actually be counterproductive, as the inherently controlling nature of the activity acts to make children feel reading is an externally imposed activity and therefore not something fun.

Most importantly, externally motivated individuals do not pursue the activity of their own accord after external motivators are removed

Ryan & Deci, 2000; Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 2001

The study compared children given voluntary and mandatory logs, asserting that children given the mandatory logs would report: 1) less interest in reading, 2) more negative attitudes towards academic reading (using reading as a tool by which to obtain new information), and 3) more negative attitudes towards recreational reading.

This hypothesis was borne out by the results. Students assigned mandatory reading logs reported a decrease in interest, while students who were given voluntary reading logs reported an increase in interest.

The mandatory reading log, with its minimum requirement of 20 minutes of reading, may have undermined children’s sense of autonomy and subsequently reduced their interest in reading in the same fashion that reduction in autonomy – in the form of deadlines, surveillances, and threats – have been shown to lead to decreases in task interest.

Amabile, et al.,1976; Deci & Cascio, 1972; Plant & Deci, 1985

The study noted that all students – both the voluntary and mandated group – expressed a decrease in interest of academic reading which may be accounted for by the fact that such reading often took place in class and involved little choice or volition of the individual students. They suggested more research into the effect of offering students more choice to ascertain if this made a difference to the negative attitudes towards academic reading. This decrease in interest had occurred over the two-month time period of the study whereas mandatory reading logs are used by many schools over many successive years. Additional longitudinal research was recommended, to see if the negative effects were additive, leading ultimately to the complete rejection of reading by some students.

The Effect of Mandatory Reading Logs on Children’s Motivation to Read, Sarah S. Pak Princeton University Allyson J. Weseley Roslyn High School (p251-262)

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