A Tale of Two Schools: Two Different But Successful Approaches to Tracking Student Reading Minutes

Two first-time participants in READ 100,000 — a program through which schools can set, track, and achieve reading goals — started the school year off with reading resolutions, taking very different but equally successful approaches.

Librarian Michelle Miller from Gorham Elementary School in upstate New York, with a student body of 253 third- through fifth-graders, started the school year with a districtwide charge: “Our superintendent had directed all principals to launch a reading initiative in some form. My consultant mentioned READ 100,000, so I looked at the site and decided it would be a good way to put a reading initiative in motion,” she says.

Michelle’s school set and reached a goal of 500,000 minutes read, celebrating its success along the way and finishing with a bang. Her approach is in stark contrast to that of Media Specialist Kathy Corbiere of Oakridge Middle School in Clover, S.C. Kathy launched the program for her sixth-graders, giving kids ownership of the program with limited incentives. And her students have risen to the challenge: Already Kathy’s 300 sixth-graders have racked up more than 210,000 minutes read.

Here are some ways Michelle and Kathy achieved their reading resolutions through READ 100,000:

• Get faculty behind you. “You have to have grade-level, team, or school buy-in,” Kathy recommends. “If you’ve got a classroom teacher who is requiring reading, that makes your job a whole lot easier.” Michelle says faculty involvement is a huge selling point with kids. “Any time teachers are willing to be silly, be scary, or wear costumes, that’s a selling point you can’t beat,” she insists.

• Take advantage of English- and Spanish-language promotional materials from www.scholastic.com, as well as resources directly from the READ 100,000 website. Michelle recommends constant reminders: “The more promotion you put into it, the more likely students are to buy into it,” she says. At Oakridge Middle School, teachers emailed information home to parents, and Kathy even welcomed parents into the computer lab to explain the program and the logging process.

• Ask teachers to give older students homework grades for minutes read. Kathy’s sixth-grade students aren’t vying for fun events or prizes; they’re logging minutes read toward homework grades. “You don’t have to provide many incentives because students like the site,” Michelle says. “It’s fun to see the accumulation of their minutes, and the fact that reading is fun in itself is intrinsically rewarding.”

• Print out the website name, student screen names, and passwords on address labels. “You have to be prepared for kids to lose their names and passwords,” Kathy says.

• Provide additional library access so students can log their minutes. “I make sure students have time in their day to come to the computer center and log minutes. We heavily promote before school and recess hours and the fact that they can come any time with a pass. They’re always welcome to come get it done,” Kathy shares.

• Keep students in the habit of logging minutes year-round by participating in Read for the World Record. “It helped that we did Read for the World Record the summer before,” admits Kathy, whose school was eighth worldwide in the challenge, earning it a place in the 2013 Scholastic Book of World Records. “It was definitely easier giving them instructions the next fall.”

• Kick off the program with a Book Fair. Kathy’s incoming sixth-graders received a free book from the Book Fair and were given a walk-through of their reading challenge, including how to log their minutes.

• Find an untapped source of income for incentives. Michelle drew upon money from the school-picture fund, part of which comes back to the school for use on student events. The entire $1,000 went toward their final celebration of their 500,000-minute milestone, where 20 students per grade level received prizes ranging from Kindles to book bags to cash. “We felt this was a very good use of the $1,000 to encourage reading,” she says.

• Consider no-cost incremental rewards. Students at Gorham Elementary enjoyed a pajama day when they reached the 125,000-minute mark that put them a quarter of the way toward their goal. At their halfway point of 250,000 minutes read, Michelle’s faculty rewarded their students with a lip-synched rock concert in which Michelle was a member of the ‘70s rock band Kiss, and her principal performed in a Beach Boys band. “Students enjoyed listening and dancing to the newly famous ‘Gangnam Style,’ as well as ‘I Love Rock and Roll,’ ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ and ‘Fashion Is My Kryptonite.’”

• Encourage competition. It’s okay to get kids on board by telling them “you don’t want to be the person to let everybody down,” Michelle says. “Everybody does their part.” Competition is a “reality check,” Kathy says, that drives minutes and pushes the entire school toward its goal.

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