Awards, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity

On Reading Rewards

He finally found a book he liked.

She actually has a book she wants to read over summer.

He read more books than he ever has before.

She tried a new genre and liked it.

He finally actually read a book rather than just pretend.

These major accomplishments are some that my students shared today as we gathered around to do our end of year reading celebration.

Some of my students read more than fifty books this year, some only read a few.   And yet, within that number lies the story of a child who tried, who didn’t give up, who kept investing themselves as a reader, no matter what their relationship was before they came to 7th grade.  I am so proud of how they have grown.

And yet, when I look around on social media I keep seeing posts about how teachers are throwing special celebrations only for the kids that met their 40 book challenge goal.  That met their AR level.  That reached the growth target set for them.  And I cannot help but get sad, and perhaps, a little angry, because are we truly thinking about what these types of celebrations do to the kids that once again are excluded?  That once again did not get invited?  That once again did not get any recognition no matter how hard they worked?

Once again it appears our well-meaning intentions have gotten the better of us.  That we get so focused on the goal, on the quantity, that we forget about the growth.  The incredible mountains that some of our students have overcome to simply find a book, read a book, love a book.

When we reward only those who have met the goal we have set, we tell the rest that while they tried, it was not enough.  That while they may have finally read a book, they are still not enough of a reader for us to recognize.   That our experience together was never about their growth but was about this arbitrary number that they needed to reach, this goal they did not set.  That while they may have felt like they accomplished something, they really didn’t.

Which teacher really wants students to think that?

What if we instead celebrated all of our kids?  What if we instead asked every single child to reflect on how they have grown as a reader?  What if we instead asked every single child to give themselves an award based on their own perceived accomplishment?

You might get something like this if you did…

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Students who contemplated over their own reading experiences and then wrote their own award.  (To see the template for the certificate go here).

Kids who know they have grown as a reader and who see the worth in what they have done.  Kids who see that the teachers recognize this year’s worth of work and dedication and are so proud of them.  Because we are.  Kids who are proud of themselves, because they should be.

So I implore you, do not make your end of year reading celebrations about the number.  Instead, ask the students what they are proud of.  What they have achieved and celebrate them all.  Let them have the time to see how far they have come so that they can leave our schools with a sense of accomplishment that they might not otherwise have had.

PS:  Next year, start the year by having students set their own goals, as explained here, so that they too can work on something meaningful.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

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7 thoughts on “On Reading Rewards”

  1. Oh my word! Yes!!!
    As a teacher who does not reward reading with a prize or a treat but with deep meaningful dialogue with a student over a book completed or a series inhaled, this article makes me smile.

    Let’s show students that reading IS the reward! Time spent inside a story IS the gift!
    Thank you, Donnalyn Miller!
    Thank you, Pernille Ripp!

  2. I like to reward them with a personal conversation at the end of the year to show them how far they have developed as a reader! I show them how many words per minute they have grown on Benchmark passages; I also encourage them to keep reading and exploring magazines, books, comics, anything they find enjoyment in reading! Summer is theirs to enjoy. I celebrate improvements that aren’t always measurable also. Everyone deserves to hear some kind words.

  3. Yes times 100! I am so sad when I see only those that did X amount of AR points get rewarded. One principal said to me, ‘those students that have high AR points do well on THE test’. I cringed!

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