Literacy as a Tool for Rewards

By Flor Saldaña

This post is written by a student in READ 4351 Learning through Literacy. Students in this course are part of the high school and all-level teacher preparation programs and are pursuing certification in a wide variety of subject areas.

The Accelerated Reader (AR) programs are designed to quiz students from K-12 on certain books they have read. The grade on the quiz shows teachers whether students read the book or not by asking simple recall questions on the lower ends of Bloom’s Taxonomy instead of checking for comprehension. Many school districts offer incentives for reading books and testing on them to earn points which students can later cash for prizes. I, myself, grew up with the AR system and would read long, thick, books because they would offer the most points, and the more points I acquired, the greater prizes I was able to attain. I still continue to be an avid reader despite my involvement with the AR system; however, that is not the case for every student.

While conducting an adolescent literacy interview with my 16 year old brother for a class project, I discovered that the only reason he stopped reading once he entered high school was because the prizes went down in quality. He said, and I quote, “I stopped because in high school they don’t give good prizes, they are all cheap. What was the point if I was not going to get anything good out of it? I just wasn’t going to waste my time for nothing. I would read again if they gave better stuff.” When my brother was in seventh grade, every time he earned a hundred points, he would receive a Nintendo DS. By the end of the year, he had acquired two DS systems not to mention the other prizes he had won. When he entered high school, all he would receive were gift cards to local restaurants or movie theaters, something that he obviously did not find satisfying.

My 10 year old brother is also falling victim to the incentives of AR. He is beginning to read thicker books in order to gain enough points for a pizza party at the end of the year. A pizza party? Seriously? I can take him out for pizza anytime, in fact, we have pizza at least twice a month. Yet why does he want to attend this pizza party? Well because all his friends are going and he does not want to be the only one who stays behind. I have taken it upon myself to change his mentality. Okay, he can read books for points and prizes, I’m not going to discourage him from that, but I want him to understand, or everyone to understand for that matter, that do not let a silly AR label stop you from reading books that has less or no points at all. If you really want to read a book, and it does not have a red, or blue, or yellow sticker that indicate points, do not let that stop you from reading it.

I will not deny that the AR program does increase a student’s reading level. I believe that the more a student reads, the higher his or her reading proficiency will become. However, this system does not teach every student to read for pleasure, it teachers them to read for points, prizes, and grades. Once the incentives stop or diminish in quality, most students will also stop reading. A great teacher once told me, “The reward for reading is reading itself.” This is exactly the mentality students should have towards literacy. They need to be intrinsically motivated to read for pleasure and for entertainment not for some silly prize they can buy at Walmart.


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