Educators know that children who read and are read to are more likely to become life-long readers but, like so many other things, children often aren't able to grasp the importance of reading until they are no longer children. In the meantime, many schools are providing incentives -- from reading honor rolls to "prize patrols" -- to ensure that kids keep reading. Included: Advice to help you establish a "reading prize patrol."No purchase is required to enter and no entries have been lost, but participants do need to provide a permission slip signed by their parents. In Rock Hill, South Carolina, kids hope for a visit not from "Publisher's Clearinghouse" but from the Northside Reading Prize Patrol.
"Seeing the faces of the children is absolutely priceless," says media specialist Cathy Nelson, the "author" of the program. "After my first involvement in a home visit, which I initially dreaded, I found myself anxious for the next visit. The enthusiasm of the kids and parents was contagious, and I found that I couldn't wait to go home and edit the videos we would showcase the next day."
The Reading Prize Patrol at Northside Elementary School was established through a grant from the Rock Hill Foundation, a local school organization and community partnership. Parents received a letter asking them to participate in literacy-based activities with their children every Monday-Thursday evening from 5:00-7:00 during the month of February. The students returned their "pledges" to take part.
"The letter explained that the activities could be as structured as doing or checking homework, playing word games, reading to or with the child, or having the child read to another sibling," Nelson told Education World. "From the pledges returned, once a week we drew a name. We took to that student and his/her family a bouquet of helium balloons, a poster-sized certificate of achievement for the family, and a gift certificate to an area restaurant."
The "prize patrol" is comprised of Nelson and the school's curriculum specialist, the classroom teacher of the week's winner, and Northside's principal, Linda Crute. It arrives in Nelson's car, complete with a banner-sized sign on the side. Nelson captures each delivery in digital still photos and on video for the in-house news program produced by the school.
Playing a supportive role in the reading incentive program, Crute is the self-proclaimed "Ed McMahon" of the group. She speaks to the camera and "hosts" the 2-4 minute video highlight of the prize patrol that students view the next morning. Each impromptu interview includes a look at the student's homework and a brief chat with the family about reading.
"When the first video was shown on our school television, you could have heard a pin drop in the building!" reports Crute. "The students were glued to the TV, watching excitedly, and wondering who would be the next winner. Staff members were also excited because students worked on homework and continued to make sure they read at night."
After each presentation, Nelson prepares the highlight for the news program. As the coordinator of this project, she handles scheduling and procurement of the award items. Each family is given a copy of the video that showcases the child's visit. After the first week's presentation at Northside, there was a surge in returned pledges that doubled the initial response.
"Kids were suddenly asking everyday if we were going to visit a home," said Nelson. "Teachers reported that students were begging for homework and relaying that they had done their homework or read with their parents. After our final visit in February, we unanimously decided to continue the project at other intervals during the school year because of the excitement students showed in response to our Reading Prize Patrol."
The project also sparked teachers' interest in digital video and editing. Says Nelson, "The result perhaps in the long run will be more parental involvement in literacy efforts, and more teachers using video as a tool to teach or have students demonstrate concept mastery, by integrating video and editing in the class curriculum."
Crute feels that the success of the prize patrol is a testimony to the importance of being receptive to and working with staff members who are creative. "It's important to make time for the extra incentives that students and families will remember," she adds. "We're about building relationships because relationships with our students and families help them to be successful."
"Reading is such a vital part of a child's education, and it takes everyone to reinforce and encourage children to read," says library media specialist Monica McCollum. "As a teacher-librarian, I think it is vital we teach reading using a balanced approach that involves two components. We must teach children how to read, and at the same time give them a purpose for reading."
Among other activities, McCollum's students at North Crossett (Arkansas) Primary are encouraged to become members of the "Library Honor Roll" and "100 Book Club."
"In the fast-paced world we live in, children do not spend as much time reading as in generations past," McCollum stated. "My goal for the reading incentive is that it will help students to develop a love for reading and become life-long readers. I tell my students when they come into the library that books can come alive and take them on a variety of adventures. Reading incentives are just one way I try to encourage students to participate in a book adventure."
The students track their reading on log sheets that ask them to respond to what they have read. They complete a sheet for each book read during the year. To reach the library's honor roll, each student must read nine books in a 9-week period. Students who make the honor roll have lunch in the library and receive certificates. At one time honor roll members were given traditional prizes, but McCollum has found that the opportunity to eat pizza in the library and listen to a guest reader or storyteller is more motivating.
"Students may sign up at anytime to participate in reading incentives," McCollum explained. "At the beginning of the year, each student is given a reading incentive sheet telling about the Library Honor Roll. Students' participation is strictly voluntary. After the students sign up, they are given a folder with reading log sheets."
To keep costs in check, McCollum purchases reading folders in bulk when they are on sale at the beginning of the school year. She offers reading sheets on the school Web site so parents and students can print them out at home. One of the inexpensive incentives she provides as a "perk" of being part of the Library Honor Roll is special time to shop at book fairs.
When any student reads 100 books during the school year, he or she joins the "100 Book Club." The feat earns each student a trophy that is given at an award assembly or family night. North Crossett Primary is a K-1 building, and ten students have earned membership in the "exclusive" club since its inception three years ago.
"At the beginning of the year, over 50 percent of our students sign up to participate [in incentive programs]," reports McCollum. "The teachers are wonderful and encourage the program. Parents who participate are very supportive and miss the program when their children move to the second-fourth grade campus."