Summer Reading Contest…. blah!

Let’s start this post with some Alfie Kohn:

The reward buys us a behavior — in this case, the act of checking out a book and reading it.  But at what price? The quality of performance in general and of learning in particular tend to decline significantly when people are extrinsically motivated. Moreover, once the library runs out of baseball cards, children are not only unlikely to continue reading; they are less likely to read than they were before the program began. Think about it: reading has been presented not as a pleasurable experience but as a means for obtaining a goody.

Needless to say, when I saw the Scholastic Summer Challenging popping up everywhere in the EduBlog world I became oddly angry.  Can we not get past the summer reading programs and develop truly meaningful experiences for students to enjoy novels and reading.  Scholastic will reward your children if they read books!  You can track their progress!  Blah!

Instead, I have developed a Top 10 list of things Scholastic could have used the money on instead of rewards.  Some of these ideas could be used by individual teachers in their classroom but some might be a little hard (we don’t all have Scholastic money).  Some could be used throughout the year to encourage reading.  Seriously, these were not hard to think up and many are better than the “read (or lie) and you might win a prize!” promotion.

  1. Create a website with online forums for students to discuss Scholastic’s best selling books.
  2. Weekly web chats with their most popular authors.
  3. Develop a summer novel/graphic novel that gets released week-by-week throughout the summer and culminating on Labour Day weekend with the final chapter.
  4. Create a weekly summer reading suggestion email/webpage for those students and teachers interested in keeping their reading minds going.
  5. Create an iPhone or web app that would allow students to track their reading.
  6. Instead of encouraging teachers to track their students, provide them with a virtual classroom to engage incoming students to read by connecting in a collaborative, safe setting.  This might include allowing access to exclusive content.
  7. Create and provide students with access to online/downloadable high interest magazines for the summer (ie. skateboard magazines, music, entertainment, etc).
  8. Daily news updates – create a website with links to high interest stories, videos, and websites.  Include a comment section for students to engage in discussion.
  9. Create a special online community (eg. Facebook group) where students can create a profile, share novel reviews and meet other kids from around the world.
  10. Give away one book, per student for the summer months.  A nice gift for dealing with all those stupid flyers throughout the year.

Just saying…. this program is further “evidence of just how many parents and educators are trapped by Skinnerian thinking” (Kohn)

Can you think of anything else?

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5 thoughts on “Summer Reading Contest…. blah!

  1. How about taking that money and putting it into summer programs or camps and getting kids active? If reading happens, let it happen because of the love of reading.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    I work at Scholastic and helped develop the Scholastic Summer Challenge campaign. At Scholastic, we know that reading a great book is a reward unto itself – but the truth is, for many of today’s students, summer is a time when they are less likely to keep up in their reading, and their academic skills suffer. Many teachers tell us that they can see the results of the “summer slide” every fall. The Scholastic Summer Challenge was created to address this issue – to keep kids reading all summer long, get them excited about books, and help motivate them to find new books to read.

    Several times in your post, you called out the rewards that kids can earn for reading. It’s important to know that the rewards kids earn are always book related, and range from sample chapters of popular titles, to activity sheets (for younger kids), to virtual badges kids can collect. In order to collect a prize, kids must complete the week’s reading challenge by reading a certain number of minutes. Once kids complete the week’s challenge, they can spin the prize wheel. We do not encourage kids to lie about how many minutes they log each day, and the Summer Challenge site also includes a pledge form that teachers can download and ask their students to sign, in which students agree to log their minutes truthfully throughout the summer. We have also developed checkpoint messages that pop up if a user logs a suspiciously high number of minutes.

    Kids are also encouraged to enter several sweepstakes – all book related – with prizes ranging from winning a summer book pack, to autographed books, to a personal phone call from some of Scholastic’s most popular authors. Again, these sweepstakes are designed to keep kids excited about reading, and a user can only enter the sweepstakes after logging minutes.

    You also wrote “Top 10 list of things Scholastic could have used the money on instead of rewards.” I want to point out that many of your ideas are already in action:

    1. Create a website with online forums for students to discuss Scholastic’s best selling books.

    The Scholastic Summer Challenge is part of the STACKS, Scholastic’s online book community for kids age 7 and up. On the STACKS, users chat about their favorite books and other book-related topics in moderated message boards. Kids often use these message boards to discuss books that they’re reading. We encourage kids to share reviews and start discussions for all books, not just Scholastic published books.

    2. Weekly web chats with their most popular authors.

    The STACKS hosts many live chats with authors throughout the year. All Summer Challenge participants are welcome to join. In addition, the first sweepstakes on the Summer Challenge gave kids the chance to win a personal phone call from Goosebumps author R.L. Stine.

    3. Develop a summer novel/graphic novel that gets released week-by-week throughout the summer and culminating on Labour Day weekend with the final chapter.

    We’re actually in discussions right now with a literacy non-profit and a major media outlet to do just that.

    4. Create a weekly summer reading suggestion email/webpage for those students and teachers interested in keeping their reading minds going.

    The STACKS has a newsletter for kids that contains news, interviews, and suggestions for great books to read this summer. We also have dedicated site pages for teachers and parents. Parents receive progress emails for their kids and teachers can track their students’ minutes via a teacher dashboard. Parents and teachers are also encouraged to download our Summer Challenge Book Lists, which are segmented by age.

    5. Create an iPhone or web app that would allow students to track their reading.

    We agree with you! This is something we are currently working on developing.

    6. Instead of encouraging teachers to track their students, provide them with a virtual classroom to engage incoming students to read by connecting in a collaborative, safe setting. This might include allowing access to exclusive content.

    This is a good idea. However, as you know, there are always challenges with connecting teachers to an incoming class. With so much movement in the teaching force, because of the economy, it makes it even harder.

    7. Create and provide students with access to online/downloadable high interest magazines for the summer (ie. skateboard magazines, music, entertainment, etc).

    Scholastic has several magazines that post up-to-date news articles on current affairs on http://www.scholastic.com/news, open for kids as well. Kids and families can also visit http://www.scholastic.com/kidspress to see the latest news coverage by our Scholastic Kids Press Corps, a team of about 50 reporters, ages 10-14, who report on current events, breaking news, entertainment, and sports events from their hometowns across the country.

    8. Daily news updates – create a website with links to high interest stories, videos, and websites. Include a comment section for students to engage in discussion.

    We couldn’t agree more that daily news updates are important and keep the page fresh. Scholastic’s own Kids Press Corps works with kid reporters around the country to bring timely reports to Scholastic.com and the STACKS. The STACKS also has a book blog called Ink Splot 26 that has daily content to keep kids engaged at http://blog.scholastic.com/ink_splot_26/.

    9. Create a special online community (eg. Facebook group) where students can create a profile, share novel reviews and meet other kids from around the world.

    As you may know, there are COPPA laws that restrict the use of social networks site to kids over 13. The STACKS, our online book community for kids, is a moderated, kid friendly environment. The Summer Challenge is part of the STACKS, where kids can share messages, create profiles, add widgets to heir profiles, create avatars and connect with other kids on the site.

    10. Give away one book, per student for the summer months. A nice gift for dealing with all those stupid flyers throughout the year.

    Scholastic works with many school districts and non-profits to ensure that students have books to take home over the summer. In addition, Governors’ Spouses from across the country have joined the Summer Challenge as Reading Ambassadors, hosting reading events at local schools and helping to promote literacy in their states. In support of their participation, Scholastic donates 500 books to a school of each First Spouse’s choosing.

    We always welcome suggestions for how to improve our summer reading program. So thank you for contributing your thoughts. You made some very good points about ways to engage kids in summer reading, and I think it’s clear that we share the same goal in encouraging kids to read more – not because someone told them to – but simply for the satisfaction that comes with enjoying a great book.

    Thank you,

    Ivy
    Scholastic Inc.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ivy! I am quite honoured that you took the time to read and reply to my post. Truly, this speaks volume to your company’s belief in social media, teachers and our students. It seem that it is more than a business.
      I agree with your last paragraph that we are all in it to encourage kids to read more – especially in the summer. In my experience, I don’t see incentive programs as the best way to achieve this. It is obvious from your comments that Scholastic is also looking for other ways to motivate our young readers – which I absolutely appreciate.
      In regards to your last point (my number 10), do you have a similar program in Canada? Being a Canadian educator means that we sometimes miss out on amazing resources. Just curious…
      Thanks again.
      Jeff

  3. Jeff,
    Thanks for giving me the chance to voice my thoughts and for the kind words about our company’s commitment to teachers and students. I’m glad we can have this open dialogue. Your response made my day!

    I am looking into what Scholastic Canada has in terms of your point in #10. As soon as I get more information, I will let you know.

    Thanks,
    Ivy
    Scholastic Inc.

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