Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Should kids get time to read for pleasure during school? (Part 2)

(For part one, please see http://skrashen.blogspot.com/2015/05/should-kids-get-time-to-read-for.htm.)

Prof. Willingham accepts Kamil (2008) as a definitive study showing that  (1) recreational reading/sustained silent reading (SSR) alone doesn't work, and (2)  with extra instruction it does.

But Kamil's version of SSR is bizarre:  In his first study, the treatment was not pure SSR, but used a variety of incentives: rewards for reading a certain amount (pencils, books, t-shirts, public recognition via names on a public list of heavy readers, and certificates and medals at an award ceremony.  There is no evidence that providing incentives is helpful (eg Krashen, 2003) and there is some reason to believe it can be harmful: Kohn  (1999) reviews the research on rewards, and concludes that when we provide rewards for an activity that is already pleasant, it sends the message that the activity is not pleasant, and that nobody would do it without a bribe. These kinds of rewards can thus extinguish the behavior. There is no long-term research on the effects of rewards on recreational reading.

Kamil gives no information about the comparison group, and provides no details about the results, other than telling us that SSR didn't work. No means, standard deviations or the results of statistical tests are provided.

Willingham notes that in Kamil's second study, SSR worked because the texts were more challenging (nonfiction) and students received some instruction. We are not given any details about the books, nor any information about the kind of instruction the students received, other than it was designed to help students understand informational texts. A second group who also read challenging books with no instruction did not show improvement. 

The results of this study suggest only that when students are given difficult texts, they do better with some help. They do not address the question of whether reading comprehensible and interesting texts is good for literacy development. Also, once again, means, standard deviations and the actual results of statistical tests were not presented. We are only told that the researchers used multiple regression.

In other words, Prof. Willingham has gathered support for his position from two very questionable studies.

Kamil, M. (2008). How to get recreational reading to increase reading achievement. In Y. Kim, V. J. Risko, D. L. Compton, D. K. Dickinson, M. K. Hundley, R. T. Jiménez, & D. Well Rowe (Eds.), 57th Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 31–40). Oak Creek, WI: National Reading Conference.
Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Second Edition.
Krashen, S. (2003). The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of
accelerated reader. Journal of Children’s Literature, 29 (2), 9,16-30.


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