We Can’t Nurture Intrinsic Reading Motivation Using Rewards or Punishment

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Research tells us that when schools provide rewards as incentives for reading, despite their best intentions, the results lead to a decrease in long-term reading motivation for students. Authors Barbara A. Marinak and Linda Gambrell led the study on this topic and, combined with their classroom experience, have written No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers. Below is a section from the opening of chapter one, written by Barbara. This is followed by a video of Barbara talking about one reluctant reader who made it clear she wasn't interested in reading. Or was she?  

We Can’t Nurture Intrinsic Reading Motivation Using Rewards/Punishment

Written by By Barbara A. Marinak

They say the first step in recovery is admitting that you have a problem. Well, I admit it. I spent many years of my career wanting so badly for my students to love reading as much as I did that I sometimes resorted to motivation practices that were, shall we say, not helpful. However, that admission puts me a little ahead of the story. I spent several decades in public education in a variety of positions including special educator, reading specialist, reading supervisor, elementary curriculum coordinator, and acting superintendent. Along the way, in each position, I worked tirelessly—though sometimes unwisely—to nurture intrinsic motivation in the students for whom I was responsible. So this is my journey, from an educator with a little knowledge and good intentions to a literacy professional with the same good intentions and more insight. Experiences, studying, working with colleagues, and, most important, listening to children have taught me a great deal about nurturing intrinsic reading motivation. This initial discussion shares a few of the lessons learned—the most powerful from the children I have been privileged to know.


"If you tell anyone… I'll never read another book." 


In the video below, Barbara explains how she worked with a reluctant student who, in the classroom, was openly against any book suggestion. Barbara had an idea. 


Learn more from co-author Barbara Marinak when she presents the session "Motivating Adolescent Readers and Writers with Dr. Barbara Marinak" at the Lenawee Intermediate School District in Adrian, Michigan. For more information, click here.


No More Reading For Junk: Best Practices For Motivating Readers is out now. Click here to learn more.

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Barbara A. Marinak, Ph.D., is a Professor and Chair of the Education Department at Mount St. Mary's University where she teaches literacy and research courses.

Linda B. Gambrell is Distinguished Professor of Education at Clemson University. She is past president of the International Reading Association.

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