There is an interesting editorial in the May/June issue of Horn Book (http://www.hbook.com/magazine/editorials/may11.asp) discussing the dangers of setting reading quotas with children. Whether it be a contest, or for school, Roger Sutton points out that setting a quota for anything often backfires, because suddenly, the point of the exercise is lost, and the mission becomes reaching that goal by any means possible. In the case of reading quotas (such as the 50 book a year requirement recently set by UK Secretary of Education Michael Gove) kids might zip through 50 books a week, but the question becomes what are they actually reading? Does a book designed for infants actually count?
Sutton's comments took me back to my 3rd grade read-a-thon, which I remember being pivitol in turning me into not just a good reader, but a veracious one. What I remember most clearly is wanting to win by reading the most books. (I don't remember if I did or not) The purpose of a read-a-thon is obviously to encourage reading, but now I wonder how much the exercise accomplished in the long run. Kids who already enjoyed reading kept on reading, but what about those who weren't already readers? Once the contest was over, did the non-readers become readers? I honestly don't think so.
Sutton also points out that one of the greatest faults of educators/parents/librarians is that many pay lip service to the importance and the pleasure of reading, but don't provide reading examples. He states that while it's nice to say that reading is fun, we have to do more than just say it. We have to let kids see us doing it. Some of the most effective silent reading programs in schools are ones where the teacher/librarian uses that time to actually read instead of doing other work. Studies also show that boys who see their fathers reading are more likely to be readers than those who don't.
While I agree that these are all valid points, I think there is another important element to getting kids reading, and that's choice. Take the Ontario Forest of Reading program for example. In order to be eligible to vote for a winner, children must read a minimum of 5/10 books on the list. Which 5 is up to them, and the level of enthusiasm they have for the winners is contagious. Why? Because in a program like this their preferences matter, and that's far more valuable than turning reading into a quota that has to be reached.
So here is my question to all of you: Do you think that setting quotas is an effective means of encouraging a love of reading, or should we be placing value on more than just a number?