An interesting article in Psychology Today: The Reading Wars
The debate over whether natural learning is possible in a classroom is interesting, but I think the discussion is also useful for homeschoolers. As usual, the most effective learning comes from the motivated, interested student. I like the comparison in the article between learning and training. We can train students to parrot answers or complete certain tasks, but learning is student driven.
With reading, in a home or free-form environment, the challenge often comes when a child is interested in more complex stories, but only has the ability to read very simple ones. Staying motivated to read “See spot run.” is hard when you are interested in Narnia or the Hobbit. I think we really need to work to provide the most interesting material possible at any level. Also having an environment where everyone is constantly reading interesting things and sharing them with each other produces a natural desire to participate.
As discussed previously, I like using “pull” techniques rather than “push”. I think that time invested creating an internal motivation for the child is much more valuable than trying to provide external motivations. For example, rather than using punishment, or just a strict environment with no choices, we are better served by inspiring and showing the very real benefits to reading. Children will naturally be ready to read at different ages, and it is important to know when to back off and let curiosity develop over time.
I think that applies to external reward mechanisms as well. While offering some reward like candy or a certificate from the library reading program may motivate some students, internal motivation will generally be more effective. Rather than trying to achieve some specific metric, the student is driven to read to gain understanding.
More about our philosophy of teaching reading here.