A Culture of Reading Without Points, Prizes and Pizza Parties

A gr. 6 student read

s aloud to gr. 2 students during lunch.

Originally posted at the Wejr Board Blog. This is the second part of a series on motivation called “Creating the Conditions”. For part one on student discipline, click here.

No charts. No stickers. No certificates. No Points. No prizes. No pizza parties. No awards…. and LOTS of reading!

Following the post by Joe Bower, “Daddy, I Want a Book Buck!“, Joe and William Chamberlain encouraged me to share the story of how Kent School has created a positive culture of reading without the use of prizes and incentives programs.  It is difficult to sum up in a few paragraphs but I will make my best attempt to remember the MANY things that the staff and community of Kent School have done to create the conditions for students to motivate themselves to learn through an interest in reading.

In the past year there have been many moments that have made me step back and take note. Here are a few:

  • A student running into me as I walked down the hall because he was so into reading the book he just checked out from the library.
  • Our teacher-librarian shouting out to a primary student passing by, “Leila, I found some more books on pixies for you” and the student responding, “Yay, I will come see them in the morning!”.
  • A student, who less than 2 years ago was a non-reader, coming into the library and asking for any more Dav Pilkey books.
  • Seeing and being part of the seemingly endless activities in our “For the Love of Books” month. Please check out our teacher-librarian’s blog posts on “For the Love of Books”.
  • Getting the results back from our student survey that asked: do you like to read? 97% said  YES
  • Seeing a teacher holding up a huge poster board that had all the book and author recommendations from students from the previous year.
  • Seeing EVERY teacher in the school reading aloud to their students on a consistent basis.
  • Being part of numerous author and illustrator visits.
  • Checking out all the teacher “Hot Picks” books on display outside their doors.
  • Hearing teachers ask powerful reflective questions about teaching reading; also observing teachers trying new things (to our school – like the Daily 5/CAFE) to help teach and encourage reading.
  • Having a teacher-librarian working virtually side by side with our community-librarian to promote reading.
  • Seeing a line up of kids so excited to read with our volunteer community readers on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before school.
  • Seeing students so excited to write letters to their favourite authors
  • Observing our grade 6 lunch leaders reading aloud to both groups and individual students.
  • Being part of a school-wide “Read-In” in which all our students packed into the library (in shifts) to read.
  • Watching children aged 4 and under take out books in an area of their interest as part of our Family Library Card program.
  • Walking into a classroom and seeing kids sprawled everywhere – in every corner and even in cupboards – choosing a spot in which they LOVE to read.
  • Discussing the idea of our kindergarten students walking to our senior care facilities to have our elders read to them.
  • Seeing students so excited about our book swap and book shops in our library.
  • Observing our teacher-librarian read to our Strong-Start (birth to age 5) students each Friday afternoon.
  • Hearing our staff state how important the teacher-librarian position is to our school and using their voice to ensure that we maintain this in our budget. (although I need very little nudging to keep this as a key part of our budget ;-)).
  • Having our previous librarian choose to go back to the classroom to share her passion with reading with her students AND state that she felt the position should go to our current teacher-librarian who was completing the TL program and was excited for the opportunity.
  • Seeing our buddy readers march from the intermediate end down to the primary end each Friday.
  • Having a student so excited to say to me, “Mr. Wejr – I finally got a book on girls’ hockey!”
  • Knowing that every teacher is committed to DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time – and students are not forced to read books in which they have no interest.  Not enjoying the book? Head on down to the library and get a different one.
  • Watching groups of teachers and staff members meet and discuss on their own time how we need to work to create a culture of reading at our school.

I am sure there are so many things and conversations that occur in our classrooms and libararies that I do not see but the items in the list above have significant impact on our kids’ interest in books. The best part of all of this is that I have had very little to do with leading this culture of reading; all I have done is work with staff to create the conditions for this to occur.  Teachers have used their professional autonomy to meet during professional development time (and beyond) to discuss and implement many ideas to help our students become more engaged readers. One group of teachers used Steven Layne’s book, Igniting a Passion For Reading, to fuel professional dialogue around doing just what the title has stated; these conversations have spread to the staff room, staff meetings and into other classrooms.  At our school, I am so proud to share that we have large number of teachers who are truly excited about reading – they model this in how they teach and what they do every day.  We also strongly believe in the role of the teacher-librarian in our school; our library is slowly converting into a learning commons area and is definitely the literacy and learning hub of our school.

Although this post is primarily to share the story of how a staff can create a positive culture of reading without the use of prizes and other extrinsic rewards, there are embedded stories about the importance of professional autonomy, tapping into the strengths of teachers, teacher leadership, instructional leadership, student motivation, staff collaboration, and the power of a school library with a passionate teacher-librarian.

I often hear that students with little home support NEED extra incentives to get them to read.  The staff of Kent school, with over half of our students at or below the poverty level, have worked hard to prove this theory incorrect. It is not about pizza parties, book bucks, and stickers – it is about creating the conditions for ALL students to develop a love of reading.

Thank you to the students and staff of Kent School for all they have taught me about the power of promoting a real love of books. Images are a powerful way of sharing stories; please check out the video below for images of what we do to encourage reading at our school (I realize there is a spelling mistake as I could not fit the title in :-)).

21 comments for “A Culture of Reading Without Points, Prizes and Pizza Parties

  1. Judy
    October 19, 2012 at 2:40 am

    How does this love of reading transfer to the high school? Are teachers, librarians, and others cultivating a true love of reading for students at this grade level, or are students so busy doing assigned reading and homework, that little time is left for reading enjoyment? It is easier to cultivate a love of reading in the lower grade levels when students are not filtering from one subject area to another, and one classroom setting to another? What about the summer reading lists provided to high school students? Are the students reading the books? Does this method cultivate a love of reading among this age group? What would a “love of reading” Animoto or video look like for this age group?

    • October 21, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      Judy – great question! I was discussing this with an English teacher the other day and he does a “book blitz” a few times a year in which they go to the library and write down every book they would be interested in reading that year. Then, he sets aside a few minutes each class for personal reading time. He said this has led to some great discussions in class and more of a love for reading. Hoping more high school teachers comment to share stories to help with this question.

      • Aliisa
        October 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm

        I think it’s harder to do in high school. In my class (a science class) it hurts me to have to ask the keen readers to put down a book they are reading to do something else. I participate in drop everything and read, I read aloud to the class (there are a lot of great picture books out there about science topics that I use to introduce units), I bring in science related news articles, I tell them about books I’m reading and if I see them reading I always stop to ask about the book. But am I really engaging the less than keen readers in my class? I’m not sure I am, but I’m trying.

  2. Leslie
    October 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    In a world where most of students’ efforts are motivated by outside factors (grades, scholarships, money for good report cards, prizes/rewards, etc), it has become increasingly more difficult to find students working, reading, learning without that “carrot” or “stick.” (To use a “Daniel Pink” phrase). To instill an inherent love of learning in a child is truly a gift! To love for the love of reading… Wow! Now that is its own reward!! Great article!!

  3. alicia
    October 20, 2012 at 9:03 am

    I have had some of these same experiences at the high school level. I taught English for a while, and the first day I introduced my reading program, built around student choice. It was the single most rewarding and stimulating experiment that included student projects, vocabulary, grammar, reflection, group processing skills, cooperation skills, literacy skills, and at times technology integration. It was all of our collective efforts, and made a marked improvement in literacy rates, test scores, and student self esteem. It can work at the high school level; teachers and administrators must first be willing to try it, believe in it, and participate in it themselves. What was surprising is the way in which it informed the rest of my teaching in that content. Each class is different, and so it cuts down on that burnout that comes with having multiple classes a day that are the same subject/level. It’s energizing and can easily be molded to fit the particular situation, grade level, and subject. There are innumerable ways to involve integration of subjects in this as well as add any technology at hand. I am quite proud of my program, and constantly revise it to explore new things. I will be excited to get back into the classroom to continue working with it and learning how to improve it to empower and inspire students to own their education. It’s all about student control by teacher influence/example.

    • October 21, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing this narrative. The power of student choice is so often overlooked and leads to creating the conditions for students to motivate themselves. Also, your comment shows the benefit of a staff working on a similar purpose – great teacher leadership there. Thanks again.

  4. October 21, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    I love this post and just shared with our literacy coach and Head of the English Department. With much begging on my part, our school has finally given up a long established Accelerated Reader program which is based on everything but the “love of reading”. I would love to have our faculty read Steven Layne’s book; this is the second time it has been recommended to me in the past week. Congratulations for doing it right and allowing your staff to foster a love of reading for your students.

  5. October 22, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Great post. I especially like the idea that there is no magic to replace bribery – just a systematic approach to giving students the opportunity to discover for themselves that reading is a more wonderful and powerful activity than nearly anything else. In regards to applying these ideas at the high school level, I taught LA in all four HS grades for nine years in three states (IN, CA, AL). I never did wholly disconnect grades from what I am describing here, but I was learning about and beginning to implement standards/mastery grading, so the grades I did give were worth a minute fraction of the overall grade. I “required” students to read at least 10 books during their time with me – usually one semester (on the block). I also required some evidence that they actually read the book – I offered at least 10 different options for doing this, the last of which was “make me an offer”. All options required one-on-one interaction with me. I scheduled DEAR/SSR time at least three times a week. I established the expectation that during any “down” time students were allowed (and expected) to pull out their book. The only real restrictions I imposed was to limit the number of books far below grade level that each student read … Captain Underpants and Dr. Seuss did drop by occasionally, though. The system wasn’t perfect, but it definitely did what it was meant to accomplish: introduce (or reintroduce) students to a love of reading for its own sake. Anecdotal evidence: countless students – “This is the first time I have read 10 books in four months”; very many students: “This is the first time I have enjoyed reading a book since 3rd grade”; at least once a semester: “This is the first time I have EVER read an entire book”.

    I have no idea how their state test scores were, but my students had the opportunity to make their own choices and to read with (almost) no strings attached … and they responded enthusiastically.

  6. October 22, 2012 at 2:03 am

    We’ve been so lucky to have a teacher-librarian who makes daily connections to kids and puts bookks in their hands because she knows what they like to read. I made some observations about how she and her “space” invoke a love of reading among students… check out “Islands in the Stream” about half way through the post

  7. Allison Jackson
    December 24, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    I shudder & cringe when I think of all the time I used to waste putting stickers on charts and filling out certificates for free pizza and organizing the class pizza party and…. and…. and…..
    And yet I still had kids who no longer read after they left my classroom. I’ve realized it’s more important to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. So now I read to my kids every day; give my students at least 30 mins of self-selected reading every day; require my kids to read at least 40 books in different genres; give book talks; recommend specific books to specific readers; host voluntary Wed. Book Club during which students give up their lunch recess time to stay in & read with me; etc. I am convinced I can eventually hook every child on reading, and it has nothing to do with pizza parties! Great post!

  8. December 24, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Ah, I love a kindred spirit. I’ve been singing the “down with AR, Pizza Hut rewards, etc. for decades – LONG before the philosophy was even marginally acceptable. I still meet a fair amount of resistance when I share my feelings from the podium at IRA state conferences, but I’m not giving up – ’cause I know we’re on the right track.

  9. Sarah
    December 27, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Mr. Wejr, I am curious about the teacher-librarian training…where is that offered?

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