Do Summer Reading Program Incentives Work?

I guess this question depends first on what libraries hope to achieve by setting incentives with their summer reading programs.

Is it to get kids to enjoy reading?

Is it to create a community of readers?

Is it to reward kids for their growing love of reading?

Is it to get kids to come to the library who may not otherwise do so during the summer?

And maybe it’s a combination of a few. But amid all the research on the harm that extrinsic rewards and even reading logs themselves can have on students’ intrinsic desire to read, it does make me stop and think.

Don’t get me wrong. I love our community’s summer reading program–the story times, the crafts. My daughter even pretend plays “library,” directing her cousins to call her by the name of her favorite local librarian. But it’s the incentives aspect that I wonder about, both in the library and at school.

Take the third possible question, for instance. Aren’t the kids who are being brought to the library on a regular basis also typically receiving reading immersion at home? (habits like laptime reading as babies, bedtime stories, healthy book collecting, watching parents read, etc.) So it seems to follow that kids who receive summer reading program rewards are being doubly rewarded–mostly for their parents’ initial commitment to cultivate a love of reading. Which further follows that the incentives aren’t actually rewarding growing reading habits, but existing reading habits.

Then there’s the matter of tracking books. Libraries and schools will often put stipulations on books to “qualify” toward the quota–after all, we don’t want to give the same reward to a nine-year-old who read 20 picture books vs. one who read 10 hefty chapter books, do we? (I have certainly bought into this thinking in the past)

But consider this anecdote from Misty Adoniou:

“When my son was nine years old, he put aside the large Harry Potter novel he had been slowly, but enthusiastically, reading each evening and instead began ploughing through lots of fairly uninspiring books that he brought home from school each day.

It turned out the Year 4 teachers had devised a competition at his school – whichever class read the most books would be rewarded with an end of term pizza party.

The aim, I presume, was to motivate the children to read. It is ironic then that the effect was that my son stopped reading for pleasure and instead began reading for the numbers.”

Don’t students get enough of this numbers game without summer reading programs jumping on that bandwagon, too?

I really appreciated how Nancy Bailey put it in a recent article, “Those who control what a student reads, really mean they don’t expect the student will read without being pushed to do so. They actually have low expectations, or no expectations, of the student.”

Of course, every summer reading program is different, and many strive to give as much choice as possible to their readers. But for the sake of protecting and cultivating our readers’ authentic love of learning, we need to be ever-vigilant for incentives that make reading about a carrot and stick instead. 

featured image: Bethany Petrik

10 Signs Your Child Might Be at a 20th Century School…and What to Do About It

Your child might be attending a 20th century school if:

  1. Silent seat work is more common than collaboration with peers
  2. The teacher asks all the questions (and most speaking in general…)
  3. Students wait on the teacher for most everything
  4. Basal reading programs and other delivery/content-based programs are heavily depended upon
  5. Technology is only used to consume–never to create, connect, and explore
  6. Seats are in rows facing the teacher
  7. Worksheets are the go-to in almost every lesson.
  8. Signs of extrinsic motivation through charts, cards, tokens, etc. for behavior control are more prominent than cultivation of intrinsic motivation through student voice, choice, and ownership
  9. The day is portioned into individual activities without interconnection between subjects or overarching concepts
  10. Questions like “Can I go to the bathroom” are frequently asked

***Bonus flipped sign: Play is a rarity. (***We call this flipped because just a couple of decades ago, practices tended to favor more play, especially for younger grades; today, even kindergartners are often laden with paperwork).

So what happens if you are devoted to exploring the edges of 21st century best practices, but your child’s school seems to match the above description?

  1. Send positive and supportive communication to the teacher. Odds are, she is drowning in all the meetings and paperwork that are often mandated at such schools, and can use all the support she can get.
  2. Frequently discuss with your child his/her motivations and passions. When she comes home with a sticker for cooperation, discuss whether stickers are the bottom-line for her choices. Would she cooperate without stickers? Why or why not?  
  3. Share those kinds of above conversations with your child’s teacher. During conferences and other opportunities, share your child’s thoughts on personal motivation (or better yet, encourage the child to do so). Get the conversations going that may help broaden perspectives and initiate reflection.
  4. Implement 21st century practices at home. MakerSpaces, coding, SOLE’s, blogging–the list goes on. Whatever you do, the point is to allow your child to drive the learning.
  5. Make play a high priority at home. As tempting as it may be to push your 6 year-old to prepare for next year…and the year after that…and the year after that, we must remember that “in play, children develop a lasting disposition to learn.”

Mr Rogers Play Quote

As parents and teachers, we can take action to cultivate our children’s pursuit of genuine learning, despite conflicting policies or practices. Please share some strategies that you have found effective below in the comments!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

What Teaching Study Skills REALLY Involves

The long term effects of learning to study can stretch much further than than the average high school sophomore may think.


Bart’s Story

When Bart started school with a half-tuition scholarship that would renew yearly pending his GPA performance, his college career future looked bright.  Once classes began, however, he says he “blew off” his classes and lost the scholarship after two semesters.  This required him to get a part time job on campus, and eventually a full time job–ultimately extending the time until graduation as he had to cut back on classes in order to function.  He hadn’t realized the thousands of dollars he could lose–beyond just the scholarship itself–until it was too late.

Declining Studying Stats

Bart’s story is becoming an increasingly familiar one for college students.  Research shows a significant decline in time students are devoting to their studies.  Until the 1960’s, undergraduates spent about 40 hours per week academically.  Today, that number is down to 27 hours each week–which includes both class time and studying.  The time spent on studying alone is comparable; in 1961, it was 25 hours per week–by 2003, it had whittled down to 13 hours.

The Math and Money of Study Time

Bart urges other students to carefully examine the monetary value of their time spent studying.  Below are some figures to consider:

  • $19 per hour: studying 13 hours per week over a 16-week, $4,000 tuition semester
  • $10 per hour: studying 25 hours per week over a 16-week, $4,000 tuition semester
  • $67 per hour: studying 13 hours per week over a 16-week, $14,000 tuition semester
  • $35 per hour: studying 25 hours per week over a 16-week, $14,000 tuition semester

Whatever the tuition rate, the value of time spent studying to keep up grades and scholarships is worth more than the $7.25 minimum wage jobs students would otherwise need to work.

Genuine Preparation for the Future

University of the Fraser Valley students and teachers. Rick Collins Photography - UFV 1-604-799-0219
University of the Fraser Valley students and teachers.

Informing our students of the numbers listed above is just one small step in preparing them for the realities of college and beyond.  We believe that it is paramount that students cultivate intrinsic motivation if we hope they will dedicate every effort required to succeed in their desired field as adults.  What do the child who has always been denied sugar and the student who always been denied opportunities for self-directed learning have in common?  Both are likely to spend their time and resources unwisely the moment they gain autonomy.

That said, we also find value in encouraging “college and career readiness” strategies to help students view the long term effects of developing study skills.  An example might be teaching a third grader to develop stamina in reading a book without distraction.

As we empower students to develop such motivation and skills, our expectations of them should remain high–not out of pressure-inducing fear that they could otherwise fail in the “real world,” but out of belief in their ability succeed.  This is key in fostering the kind of love of learning now that will truly prepare them prepare them for the future.

What are some ways you prepare students for the future while still encouraging them to live and learn with passion now?  Share in comments below!

Sources:

Campo, Carlos. Jan. 29, 2013. “A Challenge to College Students for 2013: Don’t Waste Your 6,570.” Huffington Post.

Photo Credit:

Featured Image: Francois de Halleux

University of the Fraser Valley