Getting Kids to Read More

Children’s literacy is a big concern for the nation. We, as a society, all want our children to read, but getting them to read through intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation can be difficult.

When I was a kid, we had extrinsic types of motivation for reading—if we read, collectively, a certain number of books, we got a pizza party in second, third, and fourth grade. In fifth grade, we were offered a root beer float party for reaching our goal. In sixth grade, we had points we’d get for books read, and with those points we could buy stuff from the teacher’s store—things like cute animal erasers and pencils.

These actually really suck as erasers.

I enjoyed the books I read, but I know a lot of my other classmates read for the rewards rather than reading the books for the content. That’s the problem with extrinsic motivation—the motivation is external, and that external motivation can circumvent the purpose of the motivation for the promise of a reward.

But extrinsic motivation is easy, which is why it’s often used by teachers in the classroom. Kids can understand material rewards for the work that they do, but that isn’t necessarily something that should be reinforced in a classroom.

Intrinsic, or internal motivation, is a much harder thing to manage within a classroom. How does a teacher or parent help their child develop a lifelong connection to reading? The REALM Charter School in Berkeley, California, offers one solution.

At this school, the students designed and built their school’s library. These kids were able to execute their creativity through design and see the actualization of their work come to life through their own efforts.

These kids are now all invested in their school library. When they go there, they see a part of themselves taking up physical space next to the books that they will now feel more connected to and, more than likely, will be more internally motivated to read because the library space is an extension of themselves.

While building a library from scratch might be out of the range of possibilities for every school or parent to do within the home, the design aspect is not. Schools can ask students how they want to arrange the desks in the library or how the books should be arranged on the bookshelves within the classroom. Parents can have their kids design their own reading nook at home. Kids can paint the bookshelves at the beginning of every school year. Classes can vote on what new books are to be added to the library every year.

There are multiple ways of getting kids involved at a little-to-no-cost level that will help them feel connected to the library or books in general, without having to offer them root beer floats or pizza in exchange for reading.

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