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'No More Reading For Junk': an Interview With Barbara Marinak & Linda Gambrell

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Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell agreed to answer a few questions about their book, No More Reading For Junk: Best Practices For Motivating Readers.

Barbara A. Marinak, Ph.D. is Professor and Department Chair of the Education Department at Mount St. Mary's University where she teaches literacy and research courses. Dr. Marinak is the co-author of No More Reading Junk and Maximizing Motivation for Literacy Learning: Grades K-6.

Linda B. Gambrell is Distinguished Professor of Education at Clemson University. She is a former classroom teacher and reading specialist. She has written books on reading instruction and published articles in major literacy journals, including Reading Research Quarterly, The Reading Teacher, and Journal of Educational Research.

LF: As you point out in the book, plenty of research demonstrates problems with using extrinsic motivation as a teaching tool. Could you give a short summary of it, particularly as it relates to reading?

Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell:

Teachers want students to be motivated readers--to choose to read for personal pleasure and information. And we want our students to be intrinsically motivated to read, rather dependent upon extrinsic incentives and rewards. The research is clear that "reading for junk" like prizes, money, and candy can be counterproductive. Over twenty years ago, a large-scale analysis of the research conducted on the classroom use of rewards and incentives concluded that extrinsic rewards do not necessarily have a positive or negative impact on intrinsic reading motivation, attitude, time on task, and performance. Using extrinsic rewards made little difference in increasing children's motivation and achievement.

Research suggests that, in general, rewards and incentives actually decrease motivation. In fact, the research indicates that if you reward a student who already enjoys reading with an extrinsic reward, the student may choose to read less frequently once the incentive or reward is discontinued. It appears that extrinsic rewards may have a detrimental effect on intrinsic motivation to read, particularly for those students who are already motivated and engaged readers.

There is also evidence that individuals are motivated by the reward itself. For example, if we are paid to do a task such as reading, it may result in a decrease in our desire to read; however, being paid may be very effective in motivating an individual to make money. We tend to view the "reward" as desirable and valuable. If we want to develop the intrinsic desire to read, books and extra time to read are great examples of the kinds of rewards we want to offer to our students.

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LF: Since the research shows extrinsic motivation doesn't work, why do you think it is so prevalent, whether it's classroom stickers or a principal saying he/she will sit on the roof if students read a certain number of books?

Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell:

Extrinsic rewards and incentives are all around us in our lives. We are rewarded with a paycheck for the work we do, we promise ourselves a "celebration" dinner when we've lost ten pounds, or we shop at the same supermarket each week to get points for a Thanksgiving turkey. None of these "rewards' are necessarily bad or negative. What the research strongly suggests, however, is that we must be very thoughtful about how and when we use rewards in the classroom. In a study that Barbara and I conducted with elementary students, we found that giving children extrinsic rewards that were related to reading--such as books, time to read, and choices about where and when to read--supported the development of intrinsic motivation, while "junk rewards" such as prizes and tokens decreased students' motivation to read.

We think it is important to recognize that not all extrinsic rewards have negative consequences. Research indicates that the "principal on the roof" will most likely not be effective in nurturing students' motivation to read for a number of reasons. The reward of seeing the principal sitting on the roof is too far removed (by weeks and perhaps months) from the actual act of reading that the students do. When rewarding a behavior in an attempt to foster motivation, the presentation of the reward must be immediate. Students value the reward less the longer they have to wait for it. On the other hand, the "principal on the roof" does draw attention to reading and perhaps the important notion that the principal values reading. The important thing to remember is that activities like "principal on the roof" and giving students "junk rewards" for reading are not likely to increase students' intrinsic motivation to read. Intrinsic motivation is critical because intrinsically motivated students enjoy reading and are more likely to choose to read more often than students who do not enjoy reading. And, the more students read, the better readers they become. We don't really need to be convinced that reading is a good thing for our students. The larger question is, "How do we create classroom environments that support our students in developing the reading habit"

We think that because we know how important it is for every child to learn to read, that many of these types of extrinsic activities are done to get children excited about books and reading. It is important to distinguish between the types of activities that are designed to get children excited about reading (such as the principal on the roof) and activities that are designed to help children develop the intrinsic desire to read such as the ones we describe in our book (See Book Blessing and Personal Invitation to Read). Teachers promote students' intrinsic motivation to read every day as they create classroom climates that inspire children to be engaged and motivated literacy learners and provide a rich array of reading materials, tasks, and activities that are relevant to students' interests.

LF: In the book, you criticize book leveling - just having students read books on their "level."  Can you elaborate on why you think that is not a helpful teaching and learning practice?

Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell:

Book leveling and matching text to a reader is absolutely critical when choosing text for instruction. Our leveling concern is related to independent reading and student choice. One of the most disturbing trends we have seen in recent years is the restriction of access to books and periodicals in the school and classroom libraries. We have seen classrooms where children are not permitted to explore and choose books from sections of library that are deemed to be "not on their level." We have also seen libraries where books are marked or labeled to coincide with a school-wide leveling or incentive system. In this case, children are permitted to select independent reading materials marked at their level. If a child's reading level has been identified as "double orange," that child can only select books from the double orange shelves or lower.

There appear to be two reasons for this practice: (1) the desire on the part of teachers and/or librarians to guide children to books "on their level", and (2) the leveling of materials is suggested by a school-wide or classroom incentive program. Both reasons give us pause. First, inherent in the notion that teachers and librarians want to guide students to book "on their level" is that students have a "level." In reality, young readers have many levels. They can read a wide range of text, depending on their prior knowledge, experience with genre, and motivation. We have all seen the child who can read a dinosaur book years above a perceived grade level because he is a walking talking dinosaur encyclopedia. The more knowledge he has about dinosaurs, the more background he brings to harder books. And the more challenging books children read, the more knowledge they gain. Second, leveling is often associated with reading incentive programs. Any reading incentive program that limits free choice will not result in nurturing intrinsic motivation and can actually result in eroding reading motivation.

We believe in the library values Benjamin Franklin envisioned in 1727: access, diversity, and the public good. Imagine how you would feel if someone tapped you on the shoulder in the library and said, "Sorry, I don't think you will understand that book" or, "No, you are not allowed to borrow from the section." A way to achieve this is to afford your children the same freedom and privileges you expect in a library. Allow independent reading time to be truly independent.

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LF: You suggest in your book that ARC (access, relevance and choice) is the alternative to extrinsic motivation for reading. Can you share a few of your favorite specific and practical strategies from the book that fall under that umbrella?

Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell:

One of our favorite under Access is "Recognize your Superpower!" Teachers matter! You are critical to nurturing and supporting the reading motivation of your students, regardless of their age or grade level. Even though they might not look like they care about your feedback and encouragement (as is often the case during adolescence), your words and actions do not go unnoticed. You are a hero, and your super power is the ability to motivate! No need to dress in a duck suit or climb on the roof of the school. Trade these fun but not helpful practices in for a steady diet of thoughtful questions and actions. Your passion and interest can go a long way toward helping your students recognize the relevance of reading. Rather than asking, "What are you reading right now?" put passion into that inquiry and ask, "What do you love reading right now?" (Condon 2014). And never give up on less engaged or struggling readers. These are the students who need you the most. Set aside time every day to check in with them. Focus on what they read or can read versus what they shy away from or struggle to get through.

A great idea to promote Relevance is "Your Reading Life." There is nothing more relevant, and motivating, than to honor the significant books in a child's life. Your Reading Life invites children and their families to revisit the print they have shared. Invite them to bring in the books that have been important in their lives. Examples: the first book mom read aloud; the book grandma gave me when I started kindergarten; the book I reread every summer, to name just a few. Your Reading Life celebrates that reading is and always has been a huge part of their lives. Thinking and talking about past readings, connecting them to important people and events, and being invited to share their experiences reminds children they have and always will read for purpose and pleasure!

No doubt, our favorite suggestion for Choice is "Offer Choice of the Teacher Read-Aloud". Why do we always select the read-aloud? There are, of course, good reasons. Teachers select books they love--and passion is contagious! Read-alouds are often selected to introduce students to new genres or topics. All good! However, several of our studies revealed children's desire to be involved in selecting books. They expressed a desire for choice in the teacher read-aloud. We heard comments that students do not enjoy the teacher read-aloud because "he/she never asks me what I want to hear," "he/she always reads girl books," or "he/she never reads things I am interested in." Inviting students to help select the teacher read-aloud is a powerful and easy way to offer choice. In fact, when this is an option in classrooms, we're amazed by the newfound enthusiasm for the teacher read-aloud.

LF: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing teachers who want to move from the extrinsic model to the strategies your recommend, and how can they overcome them?

Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell:

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing teachers who want to move from the extrinsic motivational practices is a belief that such a shift is hard, time consuming, or that it might compromise their current curriculum. We wrote "No More Reading for Junk" to dispel these very notions. Our research indicates that less can be more! Small changes can make a significant difference in reading motivation. Merely providing choice of the teacher read aloud or inviting students to share their reading lives can go a long way toward nurturing intrinsic reading motivation in those who are less than enthusiastic readers. Our book contains a variety of effective ways teachers can easily incorporate access, relevance, and choice across into their instruction.

LF: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing teachers who want to move from the extrinsic model to the strategies your recommend, and how can they overcome them?

Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell:

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing teachers who want to move from the extrinsic motivational practices is a belief that such a shift is hard, time consuming, or that it might compromise their current curriculum. We wrote "No More Reading for Junk" to dispel these very notions. Our research indicates that less can be more! Small changes can make a significant difference in reading motivation. Merely providing choice of the teacher read aloud or inviting students to share their reading lives can go a long way toward nurturing intrinsic reading motivation in those who are less than enthusiastic readers. Our book contains a variety of effective ways teachers can easily incorporate access, relevance, and choice across into their instruction.

LF: Is there anything I haven't asked you about that you'd like to share?

Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell:

We hope the ARC of motivation proves helpful to all the teachers out there working hard to nurture intrinsic reading motivation!

LF: Thanks, Barbara and Linda!

 

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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