Start a Reading Rewards Program

A master teacher is often one of the first people to encourage her school to start a reading rewards program, such as the Accelerated Reader program developed by Renaissance Learning, Inc. or the Reading Counts program developed by the Scholastic Corporation or other such software systems developed by Broderbund, Davidson & Associates, Edmark, The Learning Company, and others. A reading rewards program can help students become avid readers by assigning a certain number of points to particular books; those points are then awarded to students who successfully read the books and pass computer quizzes keyed to the books. The points can ultimately count not only toward a student's grade in reading, but also toward the reward of incentives such as trophies, certificates, etc.

However, a possible drawback to a reading rewards program is its high initial cost. If you want such a program for your school, you'll need to work with your teaching colleagues to convince your administration to purchase it because the cost for the sophisticated software that runs the computer quizzes may be considered somewhat high.

If your school successfully obtains and installs the software, it can prove a boon to many kids who might otherwise turn out to be reluctant, unenthusiastic readers. You and your colleagues can begin the reading rewards program by getting printouts of all of the book titles included in the program you've purchased. Each teacher can arrange the printouts in a three-ring binder and label the binder so students can find and use it in the classroom. Students can then make tentative decisions on the books they might like to read after referencing the binder. If you've got any of the titles in your own classroom library, create a check-out procedure for your kids and let them take the books home.

Of course, your classroom library may be sparse or nonexistent due to limited materials and funds, especially if you're a new teacher. That's why, regardless of the size of your classroom collection, you should try to schedule frequent trips to your school library — at least once a week if possible. Once in the library, your kids can fan out and look for books that your librarian has identified as belonging to your school's reading rewards program, usually by placing a color-coded sticker on the book's spine. The kids can use the library's three-ring binders to confirm that a particular title is part of the program. The library will generally have multiple binders that cross-reference the books not just by title, but also by author and subject.

Creating your classroom library might be easier than you think. Many public libraries sell used books, videos, CDs, and DVDs for a fraction of their original cost. Softcover books might sell for twenty-five cents, hard-covers for fifty cents, and videos, CDs, and DVDs for $1. Visit your local public library soon to load up on grade-appropriate books.

Time in the library can be spent checking-out books and, ultimately, for sustained silent reading. If students finish their program-related books in the library or have finished beforehand and they're ready to take a computer quiz, they can complete the quizzes in the library if one or more computer terminals are available.

To take a quiz, students generally use a previously issued username and password. The username and password are necessary so that once a student passes a quiz he is correctly credited with the points for that book. In this way, a record can be kept of all the points students are earning under the rewards program, and trophies or other incentives can be rewarded later, possibly in a ceremony at the end of each semester, trimester, or quarter.

The quizzes themselves are not too difficult, as long as the student has read diligently and with good comprehension. For example, for the 1922 novel Babbittby Upton Sinclair, one of the screens displayed during the quiz might ask questions such as the following:

Which statement accurately reflects one of Babbitt's typical views?

  • He valued books more than money.

  • He resisted any form of corruption.

  • He cherished the gift of music.

  • He respected “bigness” in anything.

  • The student then clicks on the correct answer, which is letter C, then moves on to the next screen until finished. Afterward the student's score is displayed, at which point you might want to ask the student to make a hardcopy printout of his score, which you'll collect.

    If you wish, keep a progress chart in your classroom, noting which students have read which books and how many points each student has earned to date. Use a simple graph or gold stars, etc., to indicate every student's progress.

    Are rewards really required in a reading rewards program?

    No. However, incentives such as trophies have become traditional in many schools, and kids seem to love them. Such incentives seem to motivate even reluctant readers to get with the program and read. You, your colleagues, and your principal will decide if rewards will constitute part of your program.

    Reading rewards programs can be fun and can help students read like crazy and pass quizzes like crazy in hopes of getting a reward. Sure, motivation should be intrinsic as much as possible, but a little extrinsic motivation such as a trophy or certificate isn't such a bad deal, either. You and your colleagues will decide if a reading rewards program is right for your school.

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