Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reading Is Not A Sport, Take Three

Yesterday my 6-year-old was inducted into her school's Reading Hall of Fame.  In order to be inducted, the child has to read a certain number of books and/or do a certain number of book-related activities (taking online quizzes about the books, for example) over a specified period of time (here, summer vacation).  The required amount of reading varies with the children's grade. 

The inductees were called up to the stage by name and received a certificate and a badge, with the rest of their class watching.  Then the principal announced that they would also get a special snack in the cafeteria and extra recess time.

I have mixed feelings about this.  Oh, who am I kidding, I have mostly negative feelings about this.  First of all, as I've said repeatedly here, here, and here, I'm opposed to rewarding reading.  Reading should be its own reward.  Reading for donuts (the special snack) just doesn't cut it for me.  The principal's speech about how the kids would "get lost in their books" was rendered less convincing by those donuts waiting in the next room.

Second, the idea of rewarding quantity doesn't sit well with me either.  My husband likened it to the testing craze.  There is such desperation to measure student progress, which is only partially measurable, that administrators have to pick something they can measure.  Number of books (or pages) is an easy, objective, measurable item.  The book's degree of difficulty, or how much the student learned from the book, or how much effort or time the student put in, or, heaven forbid, how much the student enjoyed the book are not quantifiable.  But real literacy and a real love of reading are not about racing through books just to list them on a reading log.

Finally, there was a shame element to the ceremony that I was really uncomfortable with.  The kids who weren't up there on the stage, did they really need to witness their peers being rewarded?  And then watch them as they marched off for their special snack and extra recess time?  There's something to be said for incentives but I'm not sure this is the way to do it.

On the upside, my daughter said that she would definitely participate in the next reading challenge, because she wanted more donuts, although she would read even without them.  She told me "I think my school really wants kids to read so we can learn and stuff."  Admittedly, seeing her happy, proud face as she ascended the stage gave this mother naches (Yiddish for parental pride).

What do you think about rewarding reading and measuring reading by the number of books read?


  1. I also have mixed feelings about reading rewards. We always do the library's summer program, which is time based, but our family is clear that we are reading *anyway* and just recording for extra fun. Sometimes I have the kids (and me) write down titles or genre just so we can see what we are reading, but again it's just for fun.

    On the other hand, it makes sense for me that a school wants to have a culture that prizes reading, that has Reading Stars, and that honors them. I don't think it is shameful *not* to win an award so I do disagree that the kids not on stage were being put down. Praising one person does not bring down anyone. It's not like there was a corresponding Walk of Shame were the kids who read the least were kept in and forced to scrub the floors or something.

    I prefer time based reading awards, but schools are very into "good fit" books so I can see them wanting to peek at titles. Also, for kids who read a lot and at every opportunity it may be easier to track number of books read rather than time spent. In general as long as the focus of the organization and the kids is on reading rather than the prizes, I don't mind it. And if someone forces themselves to read in hopes of getting donuts, maybe they'll get hooked and just enjoy the ride while munching donuts for the rest of school

  2. I have to admit, this all doesn't sit well with me. In general I think there are too many little minor rewards and certificates in school. They become meaningless after a while. I admit, I'm a bit of a grouch, though. Wouldn't it be better to have some sort of reading event where all kids get to participate and share books that they love?