In preparing a new Afterword for the 25th-anniversary edition of my book Punished by Rewards, I’ve sorted through scores of recent studies on these subjects. I’m struck by how research continues to find that the best predictor of excellence is intrinsic motivation (finding a task valuable in its own right) – and that this interest is reliably undermined by extrinsic motivation (doing something to get a reward). New experiments confirm that children tend to become less concerned about others once they’ve been rewarded for helping or sharing. Likewise, paying students for better grades or test scores is rarely effective – never mind that the goal is utterly misconceived.
Reading logs are extrinsic motivators. They are almost always presented as mandatory, going so far as to require parent signatures. This reduction of autonomy undermines intrinsic motivation and diminishes interest in recreational reading.
Pursuits that are mandatory and tracked are not fun. Removing autonomy turns reading into a chore. To nurture a love a reading, stop the logging. Reading is an end in itself. Punctuating a reading session with the surveillance of logging replaces a pleasurable ending with a forced one. Logging reading sessions makes logging the purpose and the ending, not reading.
Tracking and obedience create resentful readers, not motivated ones. Let reading become an escape once again, one where time loses meaning, clocks aren’t watched, and compliance isn’t logged and signed.
The goal of these logs is to promote the habit of recreational reading, or at least to create the appearance of it. The basic idea seems to be this: If kids who read regularly gain significant benefits, then it should be mandated that all students read regularly so they, too, can enjoy those benefits.
Unfortunately, this well-intentioned strategy may have serious pitfalls.
As a psychologist (and a parent), I have long opposed reading logs because of abundant research on the negative effects of external controls (such as rewards, deadlines, and assigned goals) on intrinsic motivation. In other words, when motivation to do an activity comes from outside, via rewards or mandates, it tends to undermine people’s interest in doing that activity for its own sake. This decline in motivation ultimately affects enjoyment, creativity, and even performance.
This research would suggest that reading logs have a similar effect on children’s reading habits, especially their desire to read for fun, making reading less of a pleasure and more of a chore. Imagine telling your child that she must draw pictures for at least 20 minutes daily-and also record how much time she spent drawing and how many different colors she used.
Students assigned the mandatory log showed diminished interest in recreational reading and also more negative attitudes toward reading after the study concluded. In contrast, the voluntary group showed an increase in both interest and positive attitudes. Although this study wasn’t exhaustive, it suggests that reading logs may undermine their intended goals.
“When reading is portrayed as something one has to be forced to do,” the authors write, “students may draw the conclusion that it is not the kind of activity they want to engage in when given free time.”
“Reading logs ruined my reader. [My daughter] used to love reading but when it became something she had to do, she stopped doing it for fun and only read as much as the teacher required.”
Although lack of autonomy undermines intrinsic motivation (Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973), no study has examined the effect of logs. Second and third-grade students (N=112) were assigned either a mandatory or voluntary log and surveyed about their motivation to read at baseline and after two months. Students with mandatory logs expressed declines in both interest and attitudes towards recreational reading in comparison to peers with voluntary logs, and attitudes towards academic reading decreased significantly from pre to post test across conditions. Future research should explore alternate ways to promote reading.
Reading logs are designed to encourage reading by assigning daily reading homework for a minimum number of minutes and are popular in many elementary schools. Although research has shown that diminished autonomy, defined as the ability to choose one’s own actions, undermines intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000), no research thus far has investigated how mandatory reading assignments, like reading logs, affect children’s intrinsic motivation to read. In an effort to fill this gap, the current experiment examined the effect of mandatory reading logs on children’s motivation to read.
The long term effect of reading logs may, however, be a decline in student motivation to read, and the logs ultimately may lead students to spend less time reading. Research has established that there are two distinct kinds of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Individuals are intrinsically motivated when they pursue an activity as an end in itself, without external motivators (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Considerable research evidence shows that the introduction of external controls such as assigned goals, evaluation, deadlines, and surveillance can undermine intrinsic motivation (e.g., Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999; Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 2001; Deci & Ryan, 1985). Moreover, the undermining of intrinsic motivation is associated with serious costs, including showing less interest in and having more negative attitudes towards the activity, producing lower-quality work, and being less creative (e.g., Cordova & Lepper, 1996; Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999; Ryan & Deci, 2000).
With regard to reading, studies have shown that individuals who are not intrinsically motivated read for shorter periods of time and are less likely to choose reading as a recreational activity than extrinsically motivated readers (e.g., Baker & Wigfield, 1999; Paris & Oka, 1986; 253 Journal of Research in Education Volume 22, Number 1 Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997). Research has found that positive attitudes towards reading are the strongest correlate of reported time spent on recreational reading (Allen, Cipielewski, & Stanovich, 1992; Greaney & Hegarty, 1987; Scales & Glenn, 1984) and therefore can serve as an estimate of time spent in the activity.
A more recent meta-analysis of the use of tangible and verbal rewards concluded that children appear to be particularly sensitive not just to rewards, but to an array of controlling tactics, such as imposed goals, deadlines, and surveillance, and that this result is especially true for children of elementary age (Deci, et al., 1999).
So, just to be clear, the reading logs that return from my house, faithfully filled out each week or month – those reading logs are big fat lies.
My older daughter (unlike my little one) started kindergarten as a fluent reader, who had already moved on to reading simple chapter books (Magic Tree House, Beverly Cleary, etc.). More importantly, she started kindergarten as a lover of books. My biggest concern (and oh-how-I-wish-my-mom-was-here-to-laugh-as-I-finally-emphathized-with-her-experience-with-me) was how to pry her away from books. But within weeks, the reading log began to change all of that: “Mom, am I done with my fifteen minutes yet?” “Mom, why do I have to write this?” “Mom, I don’t know what to say.” And worst of all: “Do I HAVE TO read?” This, from my voracious reader. This, when previously my bigger concern had been prying books out of her hands: “Stop reading! Go outside and play with your friends!”
I discovered that I didn’t care in the least if the reading log was accurate or not, because I knew that she was doing far more reading – with far more joy – on her own than the reading log required. Accurate logging was sucking the joy out of reading. It was like my billable hours requirement. For first graders. As a lawyer, tracking my time at work is a necessary evil. But I’m in my forties. My daughter is nine.
Teachers, my kid doesn’t want to constantly track, track, track. And my kid doesn’t want to constantly be tracked, tracked, tracked. My kid wants to escape into the world of fiction, where time loses its meaning as she inhabits its characters. My kid wants to read last thing in bed at night, and first thing when she wakes up in the morning, and in the bathtub. She wants to bring her “emergency pack” of books to her little sister’s family picnic for school, and she doesn’t complain when she doesn’t see the iPad for weeks on end, because she has her books.
On the other hand, what teachers clearly have the ability to do with respect to students’ motivation is kill it. That’s not just a theoretical possibility; it’s taking place right this minute in too many classrooms to count. So, still mindful of the imperative to “write the other way,” I’d like to be more specific about how a perversely inclined teacher might effectively destroy students’ interest in reading and writing.
Nothing contributes to a student’s interest in (and proficiency at) reading more than the opportunity to read books that he or she has chosen. But it’s easy to undermine the benefits of free reading. All you need to do is stipulate that students must read a certain number of pages, or for a certain number of minutes, each evening. When they’re told how much to read, they tend to just “turn the pages” and “read to an assigned page number and stop,” says Christopher Ward Ellsasser, a California high school teacher. And when they’re told how long to read – a practice more common with teachers of younger students – the results are not much better. As Julie King, a parent, reports, “Our children are now expected to read 20 minutes a night, and record such on their homework sheet. What parents are discovering (surprise) is that those kids who used to sit down and read for pleasure – the kids who would get lost in a book and have to be told to put it down to eat/play/whatever – are now setting the timer…and stopping when the timer dings. . . . Reading has become a chore, like brushing your teeth.”
Jim DeLuca, a middle school teacher, summed it up: “The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read. Some teachers use log sheets on which the students record their starting and finishing page for their reading time. Other teachers use book reports or other projects, which are all easily faked and require almost no reading at all. In many cases, such assignments make the students hate the book they have just read, no matter how they felt about it before the project.”
Unfortunately though, with a teacher’s good intentions notwithstanding, forcing a person to complete a reading log can actually do the opposite of what it is intended to do. I actually explain this to my children’s teachers and exempt my kids from doing a reading log if it is assigned. Reading logs can make children want to stop reading. Here’s why.
There’s this phenomenon that happens in a person’s mind called counterwill. Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank first coined this term, but Gordon Neufeld, PhDhas normalized this word in parenting education circles to explain what happens when you perceive that someone is trying to coerce you into doing something. Children who are “misbehaving” or “strong-willed” are usually experiencing counterwill.
When children are told how much to read, they sometimes zip through the pages, not really absorbing the story or information just so they can get to the assigned page number to end at so they can stop. Forcing a child to read can stir counterwill, which instinctually will tell them not to.
Who came up with the idea of reading logs? I’d like to know, because I’d like to tell that person what he or she can do with their joy killer. What were they thinking? And how did they go about marketing the idea to schools and teachers so effectively that there may not be a single classroom below the high school level in the United States of America that doesn’t utilize reading logs nowadays?
What is the point of reading logs, anyway? Teachers want kids to read – I get that. But a reading log says, “I don’t trust you to read, so you must prove to me that you actually read for the prescribed number of minutes by writing down what you read and for how long you read. And even then, I won’t take your word for it, so have your mom or dad sign the reading log as a witness that you actually did said reading, because you cannot be trusted.”
And frankly, I resent being expected to sign these silly logs. Take my kid’s word for it, okay? Is she doing okay in class with reading materials? If so, then leave her alone with the stupid reading logs. If she’s struggling with reading, can’t we come up with a better plan of action to get her reading than demanding that she read for twenty or thirty or however many minutes per day and then provide an accounting of it?
Here’s what reading logs actually do: they turn reading into a chore. They teach kids that time spent matters more than content or understanding of content. Reading logs tell kids that they are untrustworthy and must continually prove themselves. They send the message that kids cannot be independent learners – they must rely on Mom and Dad to back them up.
This is not learning – it’s obedience.
To all my fellow educators, especially those who are in leadership positions and/or the teachers of reading, literacy, ELA (or whatever it’s called today), please take note that some of the practices we are employing in our schools, specifically as they relate to student reading, are actually killing the love of reading in our kids. It’s true – in our effort to “educate” kids and to make sure they are “college and career ready,” we may be indirectly killing the love of reading that many of our children come to school having nurtured (with the help of family members, other readers, etc.) through their own book readings and explorations.
This post is not directed at any specific teacher, school or leader because I know everyone is working hard and that most are doing what they think is best for kids. This post is not an attack on ELA or reading teachers because I know they are trying to help kids grow as readers. Instead, this post is a plea from me, Tony the dad, who has watched his son’s love of reading be pushed to the brink of extinction.
But as he progressed in school, that love for reading started to change. Yes, at some point he did receive his first iPad and iPhone and those screens pulled him away from his books but the battle to read started when reading was associated with an activity/assignment/expectation that was being done to meet someone else’s reading expectations – not his own. Some of those activities included…
- Reading logs… ugh… the dreadful reading logs that we would eventually just signed off on even if Paul hadn’t read because they become more of a chore than anything else;
I regret assigning reading logs as a teacher.
A recent study by Scholastic found that fewer children are reading for fun these days. In fact, out of the kids in the study, only 31% of kids say they have ever read a book for fun. I think that’s sad. Research shows that the more kids read, the better they do in school. That’s the theory behind the reading log assignments. However, a study by Princeton University found that when kids are forced to use a reading log, overall interest in reading and motivation to read declines.
There will be no reading log in my classroom when I go back as a teacher. I now see that they cause more pain than reward. Reading should be a wonderful experience, not a horrible chore.
When you read for pleasure do you record the date and pages read on a worksheet? How does this activity make reading more enjoyable?
On this relaxing afternoon, sharing a hammock and a love of reading with my youngest daughter, neither of us paused to think, “I better write this down on my reading log.” That just isn’t something real readers do; it’s unnatural.
When I read a book that I really enjoy, I want to share it with others. I do not show them my reading log and say, “Hey you should read this, it’s really good.” I want them to read it too, so that we can talk about it.
So I had to ask myself, “Why exactly do I assign students to record pages, titles, summaries, and minutes of reading on a worksheet?” I want them to read, but how is this table with parent signatures making them want to read? It may be enforcing some sort of accountability, but it doesn’t foster a love of reading. But if you can make them read, won’t they eventually see how great reading is and learn to love it? Are you a parent? If so, when was the last time you “forced” your child to do something and they decided you were right and they loved it?
Why not ditch the reading log for a method of accountability that encourages sharing your love of a book with others?
“We are breeding a new generation of kids who are well trained to be reward and recognition torpedoes,” Berkowitz writes.
But a substantial body of social science research going back decades has concluded that giving rewards for certain types of behavior is not only futile but harmful. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pinkidentifies seven drawbacks to extrinsic rewards: they cripple intrinsic motivation, limit performance, squash creativity, stifle good conduct, promote cheating, can become habit-forming, and spur a short-term mindset. Giving prizes for routine and mindless tasks can be moderately effective, Pink writes. But offering rewards for those tasks that are “inherently interesting, creative, or noble…is a very dangerous game.” When it comes to promoting good behavior, extrinsic rewards are “the worstineffective character education practice used by educators,” Berkowitz writes.
Many contemporary writers on psychology – specifically the psychologies of work, business, and economics – have written about the value of intrinsic motivation. First observed by researchers in the 1950s, and built upon in the 1970s, intrinsic motivation is often contrasted with extrinsic motivation. The latter is akin to “the carrot and the stick,” while intrinsic motivation originates from internal drives to be good at things and to enjoy them – drives that seemingly have very little to do with carrots and sticks.
People who write about business psychology agree that, in our current economy, fostering intrinsic motivation in workers creates the best outcomes for businesses. Some businesses (and business gurus) call that sort of motivation “happiness.” Others focus on “culture” to foster motivation. But what keeps coming up again and again across all of the business psych books and articles I’ve read (none of which I endorse as products, by the way) are three main concepts that work together as a coherent motivational entity: agency, mastery, and legacy.
Typically, you have to have agency in order to acquire mastery. And you have to have mastery in order to leave a legacy.
Ph.D.s leave academe in search of opportunities for – you guessed it – agency. Then mastery. And then, hopefully, legacy.
The author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink has studied findings in psychology and economics, as well as practices in the business world, and identifies three factors as particularly conducive to performance and personal satisfaction:
- autonomy, which he defines as “our desire to be self-directed, to direct our own lives”;
- mastery, or “our urge to get better at stuff”; and
- purpose, the drive to contribute to making something better.
How can we maximize learning? By respecting individuals, by letting their innate curiosity and intense drive to explore and master things do its job. As Sir Ken Robinson and James Marcus Bach have both argued, human development is incompatible with industrial, assembly-line thinking. A far more accurate and helpful metaphor comes from traditional agriculture, where success follows from supporting natural growth processes without attempting to control them.
Intrinsic motivators are drivers like autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
We’ve built most of our learning environments with sticks and carrots.
We’ve negated the power of choice and the power of letting folks craft an education that is grounded in their aspirations, their vision for themselves.
How do we build learning environments that embrace intrinsic motivation? Autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Source: The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed