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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Reading incentives

Reading incentives

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Hello! I am new to this group and am also the newly hired Project Director for The Engineers' Leadership Foundation's(ELF) program, "Engineering Better Readers." We've just initiated a new reading incentive program for elementary schools which are low-performing (Stage 3 or 4)and also have rates of F & RL rates of 85% or higher. Basically, children will read books for points which they can use to purchase in the school store for both big (Wi's, bikes, Ipods) and small toys. ELF will donate $5000 at the beginning of the year to purchase the toys and will replenish in Janauary. Children can save points or spend at will. Is this something that you feel would work in your school? Is it something that you would WANT in your school? What are your feelings about incentives? I would really appreciate your feedback as the program is in its infancy! Thank you so much! Patty

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Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator 2014

Now Playing>>
Artist: Jimi Hendrix
Song: Freedom

"1) kids can't read, which is often confused with, 2) kids don't get excited about particular books."

I totally agree with this observation!! I'm always getting reports, evaluation cards, emails, etc...from second grade teachers in the summer before a particular kid walks into my classroom. "They struggle with reading." "They can't comprehend." "They don't like to read." I've learned to ignore them all and find out for myself. Most teachers already have a kid labeled and on a certain level before they walk into the classroom. I spend about a week just watching my kids interact with books before I make any kind of evaluation. I observe their reading patterns, topics, genre, how long they can sustain, etc. Most of the time a kid "can't read" because he hasn't found a likable book.

The same goes for writing. Since I am boy, I get the boys. I get the same comments. "They can't write." Bologna!
They walk in and I say, "Go write."
They say, "About what?"
I say, "Anything you want."
They look at me crazy. "Really?"
"Yes." Now go write.
They go and never look back.

To engage the so called "resistant" student, all you need is Freedom.

"Freedom, give it to me
That's what I want now
Freedom, that's what I need now
Freedom to live
Freedom, so I can give"
Jimi Hendrix

More info on boys.

Boy Writers: Ralph Fletcher
Misreading Masculinity: Thomas Newkirk
Guys Read Network: http://www.guysread.com/

Julie Tremmel's picture
Julie Tremmel
3rd Grade Teacher

I'm not sure what Patty BB is using, but it sounds a little like AR (Accelerated Reader.) We've had AR at our school for years. Students earn points for reading books and taking quizzes. We've never had a "store" or any organized method for providing incentives, but individual teachers sometimes reward certain point goals. We had one superintendent who took students who earned 100 points out for ice cream. This was excellent. Not only did the kids enjoy it, but the supe learned about the goings on at school from the students' perspective.

In general, taking the quizzes and getting feedback is a motivator. Students get a report that tells them how well they did reading and comprehending a book. The key is to make sure students are matched up with books they can succeed with. AR makes this easy, especially if your school has the accompanying assessment piece called STAR (Standardized Test for the Assessment of Reading.)

As far as my feeling about incentives.... They ARE a slippery slope, but they are also realistic. For example, I love teaching, but I probably wouldn't put much effort into it, if I didn't get that paycheck every month.

Sharon Vogelsberg's picture

We also use AR (Accelerated Reader)at our K-6 school. It has been in use for close to twenty years. It was started with the "spend your points in the AR store" by a previous LMS. When I started at the school, I could see that we were always struggling to have items that the kids wanted. Most wanted to save their points until the end of the year, but not to buy those "big ticket" items, but multitudes of small trinkets, which were mostly junk. Funding was also an issue. Most of the cash profits from two book fairs and some community donations were used to support the program. The "store" changed to a specific prize for a specific point level....bookmark at 5 points, pencil at 10, etc. Eventually, we did away with the store completely.

For the past several years, we have awarded "dog tags" to students. For K-1 students, it is a dog tag and chain at 3 pts and a dog tag at 5, 10, 15pts. etc. For the 3-6 graders, they received a dog tag at 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% of their personal point goal for each 9 week grading period. The dog tags were relatively inexpensive and with the older students, I knew the max number that I needed (4 tages per nine weeks x # of students) Each year, I had the tags stamped with reading slogans and we reused the leftover tags the following year. The younger kids didn't care about what the tags said, they just wanted a lot of tags to make a lot of noise.

Now, even the $800 spent on the dog tags has become more difficult to raise and we have used dog tags for about 6 years. For this coming school year, we are planning to use up the leftover tags (and those "recycled" by older students) for k-2 students. For our 3-6 graders, they will receive a coupon as they reach 100% of their goal. The coupon will be good for computer time, completing 1/2 of a homework assignment (ex. half of the math problems), bringing a snack or drink to the classroom) Our sixth grade teachers have used this incentive and the kids love it. All it "costs" us is the paper the coupons are printed on.)

We track student progress with point club punch cards for k-2 and and a small booklet that is stamped at each % of goal for 3-6. I tie these into the library theme for the year. For 09-10, the theme was "Westward on the Reading Trail". We are a small school with about 320 students K-6. Kids have earned at least 30,000 AR points each year and this past year, over 39,000 books were checkout of the library media center.

The only other incentives are "parties" at the end of the school year for those who reached 50, 100, 200, pts and maintained an 80% average percent correct. 50 pts. earned ice cream, 100 points - pizza, 300 points - sub sandwich lunch, 400 points - $50 savings bond donated by a local bank. The 200 point club must have an 85% correct in order to go on a field trip. We have traveled to zoos, swam at an out-of-town YMCA, bowled, roller skated, etc. Mostly, the kids just like the day away from the classroom.

Some people believe that AR "limits" what the kids can read. We use the STAR test to determine reading levels, but also use teacher input if a student finds a book that is outside their reading level. Most of the time, when a student complains that there is nothing to read and a parent contacts me, I offer to run a list of the books in their reading level. After running the report (but before printing) I will tell them that the report is 20+ pages long with 42 titles on each page. The parent will look at their child and say "There are plenty of books to choose from...find one!" We benefit from the ability to purchase AR tests with funds from a local grocery store. People turn in their grocery receipts and the grocer reimburses us 1 cent for each $1 spent. Doesn't sound like much, but it does keep us in AR tests.

Our AR incentives have changed over the years. I think we are moving more to fewer incentives and more to reading for fun and personal growth. I always tell the kids that reading is a skill. If you don't practive the skill, you don't get any better. It is a skill just like shooting baskets, playing the piano, dancing, gymnastics, hitting a baseball, etc. To get better, you have to practice and those AR points show how much you are practicing.

We would love to upgrade our AR program to the web-based Renaissance Place. We would not have to "buy" tests, but would have access to all the available tests.

Also, the success or failure of AR is with the monitoring of student success. If a student is failing their AR tests, the teacher must intervene and determine the problem...book too difficult?, too long?, didn't get read completely? read in the car on the way to the soccer match with two younger siblings crying? You can't just assign a point goal to a student and not monitor their progress. On the other side, if a student is getting 100% on every book, perhaps the need to be encouraged to try a higher level book or a longer book at their current level.

My challenge is to match students with appropriate level and length books about a topic that they are interested in. Believe it or not, but I have had student requests for "a book about a boy and a dog who live in Arizona, but travel to Arkansas looking for gold and it needs to be pretty short but worth a LOT of points!" Pretty short worth a lot of points doesn't exist, but we can usually find the "boy and his dog" part!

Most of our kids like getting something for reading. Some just like the points, others like the small items. Funding to purchase incentives is a challenge and once you start giving incentives, it is hard to pull back. Our kids have come to understand budget cuts and that there is a lack of money to buy things for the school, so cutting back this past year has been easier.

Sorry, this is so long.

Julie Tremmel's picture
Julie Tremmel
3rd Grade Teacher

Sharon, don't apologize. Your response was interesting BECAUSE it was so long! I think it's important to note that even though you're using fewer rewards, the students still read. It's almost like magic that way AR enables that. I have to say that since our school started using the online version of AR we have been much happier. I hope your school finds the way to fund it. I feel your pain when you mention the "there are no books for me to read" ploy. The Web based version has eliminated that complaint. It's wonderful to know we have access to all the AR quizzes.
Perhaps we've strayed from the original topic, but on the other hand, I want to emphasize the effectiveness of AR as a motivator/incentive. There's something about simply taking quizzes and getting objective feedback that motivates most students to read more.

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia
Staff

This is such an interesting discussion! As a parent, I am constantly calibrating how much to reward/incentivize my daughter to do various things. I see how well it works, but I also am a little leery of creating an expectation of payoff every time she does something "good." I want to nurture her intrinsic motivation. Plus she's not old enough to read. So I may see things totally differently once she's reached that age!

I can see how using incentives can really motivate kids who have been previously difficult to motivate. But as a strategy for all kids, I wonder if it's emphasizing reward and not the actual joy of reading? Do these kids learn to love reading on their own eventually? I'd love to hear from folks who are actually using these techniques.

There are a couple of videos that are floating around that I think really illustrate these complexities nicely.

1) RFA illustrates writer Dan Pink's ideas on motivation and reward (from his book Drive) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

2) Carnegie Mellon professor Jesse Schell draws a darkly comic future where games (with points and incentives) are in every single aspect of our lives. Start at about 17:30 in the video:

http://g4tv.com/videos/44277/DICE-2010-Design-Outside-the-Box-Presentation/

Anyway, this is a great discussion... I look forward to hearing more from everyone.

Clay Boggess's picture

Great comments with no easy answer! I was raised with the ideal that everything that we achieve came from "within" and was therefore completely intrinsic. We now reward our kids monetarily for academic performance. As a result of my upbringing, at first I was apprehensive but soon realized that is how they are going to be rewarded out in the real world so why not teach them early. I think though that we, as parents must do a better job of teaching our kids the importance of balancing both internal and external motivation. There are always going to be times when we are low on one or the other and need a catalyst. Again, no easy solution!

Clay Boggess
http://www.BigEventFundraising.com

Deticia Chambers's picture
Deticia Chambers
2nd grade teacher Cleveland GA

Sharon thanks so much for your post, it was very informative and useful. I have only been teaching 4 years, 2nd career, and my love and passion is reading. I was hired on at a very established primary school and the AR system in place was wonderful. I have since had the opportunity to go to a newly built school, going in our 3rd year, and the media specialist there isn't a big fan of AR and as a new school everyone has had a difficult time agreeing on incentives. Your ideas are wonderful. I am blessed to be on our school improvement team and I plan to let our principal know about how your school uses the AR program. I love the % part because the system I set up in my classroom last year wasn't as effective as it should have been. I had students who made their goals but the % was low. I can't wait to put this plan in place in my classroom and hopefully the entire school! I may be contacting you about more advice because I set up a mini library in my room and labeled all my books with AR stickers. I now need to get them in a computer program so that I can see what all I have and make sure we don't loose them. Thanks again!!!

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator 2014

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Band: Dave Mathews Band (the summer concert series is upon us)
Song: Seek Up

"Things change, but basically they stay the same."

I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around all of these incentive programs. I'm pretty progressive when it comes to education, but there are two things in education that are pretty much fixed and always have been.

1. Writing: There is no different or new or cutting edge method to teach kids to write. Everybody tries to reinvent the wheel to try to sell a new writing program. This is a very short explanation: you need the skills (grammar, spelling, etc..) You need teachers who will show you the craft of writing in action and give you the time, space, and freedom to try it out (totally mess up in fact) You need something to write about. You need to read. It never has changed.

2. Reading: The incentives drive me crazy. They usually burn off like morning fog. Here's what works for me. Are you ready for this groundbreaking new way to get kids to read? Drum roll............. You read. huh? what? Yes, you read. When you want your kids to read, you read as well. I'm telling you, this works. No rewards or dog tags or gold stars. When my kids read independently, I read a book too.

When a kid sees a teacher reading, writing, picking up trash, etc...they want to do it. This isn't some bogus, floaty theory. The first week of school I spend most of the time saying, "Please be quiet, I'm trying to read." or "Please be quiet, I'm trying to write."

Thanks for the talk ya'll

Ellen Girod's picture

I have never liked giving my students physical rewards (candy, toys, etc) but I have often given them privileges for academic work (free time, extra time on the computers, eat lunch with the teacher, etc). Reading is so important I strive to build an intrinsic motivation through reading exciting text, new authors, getting to know my students so that I can recommend books that they will like, making sure that the kids are reading within their zpd. All of these things help build motivation to read and help develop a love of reading that will grow with the students.

cheryl Best's picture
cheryl Best
Fifth Grade Teacher from Bunker Hill,IL

I do not agree with incentives for reading. We do it at our school but it does not improve reading.... which is what we want right?

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