6.13.2012

Summer Reading Prizes ...Or Not!


In a recent blog post in School Matters, Stephan Krashen goes back to one of his themes - rewarding kids for reading.  He questions public libraries offering rewards during their summer reading programs. "Research consistently shows that rewarding people for activities that are inherently pleasurable can result in less interest in doing the activity. Rewards send the message that the activity is not pleasurable and nobody would do it without a bribe."


That paragraph knocked me on my heels. It is not new news for me.  I am familiar with Krashen's work and philosophy.  But this time he wrote about it in a way that echoed an observation made by my co-worker, Sara Bryce, when we were struggling with our boat issues: "Why are we rewarding kids for expected behavior?"  Why indeed?

I have never minded rewarding kids for reading - kind of based on my own feeling that I really enjoy my twice-monthly reward for working - my paycheck!  We give a fair amount of doo-dads to the kids but also make sure they can earn a book as an ultimate reward.  But I also appreciate and admire folks who have made the break with prizes...just couldn't quite see my own way through to it.

This week, we are giving kids one of the primo SLP gifts  - a plastic book bag. This was, with the exception of the book prize, our most expensive purchase (think bookmarks, stickers and tattoos as the usual prize in our arsenal). Kids have been slightly blase. And one of the parents expressed surprise that we were giving out a prize so quickly. In other stealth or passive programs we do (1000 Books Before Kindergarten; Reading is Key Club; Cookie Club), there are very few prizes despite many return visits and check-ins. And here we are... giving out weekly loot.

And, most troubling of all to me, it isn't like more or better prizes are bringing greater numbers of kids into our summer reading program. Numbers of participating kids are continuing at about the same rate as they have in the previous three years I've been doing SLP here.

It also occurred to me that, in our summer Rubber Ducky Club for kids birth through three, we give the kids just two incentives: a rubber ducky and a book. In our summer teen program, we give the kids just two incentives: a USB drive and a book.  What is so different for the age 4-10 years old program that we think we need to give out so much loot?  As a co-worker pointed out to me, we are still thinking in the same manner we did when we ran the program much differently and traditionally.  We have broken new ground with our stealth programs and with redesigning and re-imagining our SLP for elementary-aged kids. Now we need to complete the evolution.

Fear of change is a powerful de-motivator. Despite being a change agent in bringing in and/or welcoming new initiatives and ways to give great service, even I have my balking-at-the-precipice moments.  But, on the no-prize/low-prize front, I think I may be almost ready to leap.

[Note: To see where we are on this issue in May 2014, stop by this post: Summer Prizes - Goodbye!]

Image: 'Sinister Ducks'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/49503078599@N01/141843714


18 comments:

  1. I am gently weaning my patrons away from the "we must be rewarded for every single bit of reading" model. We're starting with the bookmark idea which I borrowed from you (-:) and this first week the kids and parents are adjusting to the idea of just one prize each week!

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    1. Let me know how the bookmark transition goes for your kiddos. I think if we can keep making it fun and less rewards based, we will all be fine!

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  2. For our summer program, we have kids set their own goals (the number of books or pages they hope to read over the 8 weeks of the program). They get prizes twice: once when they're halfway to goal, and once when they hit goal. This structure works well for us!

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    1. Yes, fewer doo-dads and more power to the kids!

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  3. We have greatly weaned this year. We went from four-five prizes per level where multiple levels could be earned per week to just a single prize per week. (Pencil, tattoo, bubbles, coupon book, book of their choice.) It has been fine! I haven't heard any complaints from parents, and while we have had a few kids whine -- it hasn't been a repeated affair.

    And I'm also doing the bookmark log that you posted about, with SO MUCH SUCCESS. I think everyone appreciates the program being streamlined.

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    1. I'm glad to hear the bookmark format is working for you. And I think streamlining prizes makes a huge difference too!

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  4. A few years ago we switched from a daily reading log with 6 weeks of weekly small prizes (tattoos, stickers, plastic choking hazards, etc) and a book at the end to one prize (squirt gun, jar of bubbles) and a book, both given out when kids reach the goal. We hand out coupons at sign up, at goal, and at programs during the summer. I feel much better about this structure than I did the weekly little stuff. (The teens get a book and candy.) I LOVE giving out the books and I don't mind a little something extra just for fun, but I don't think our prizes are bringing in new families or really encouraging non-readers (though I could be wrong). I do think they are a fun thank-you to our regular patrons...maybe that's how we could be framing SRP prizes, as thanks instead of rewards for reading. I love Amanda's plan of having kids set their own goals! Thanks for writing this post!

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    1. Mel, exactly - a thank you present for coming into and using the library. I love that thought. All these comments are making me even braver!

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  5. I often wonder about this too. All of the reward systems in place for reading, and really the ones who keep coming back continuously are the ones who would have done it without any kind of rewards.

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    1. Good post. I always enjoy reading about the advantages/disadvantages of prizes/toys/books/nothing. When I first started at my current library, kids got a fairly good prize (squirt gun caliber) as often as every week, with a book bag and several prizes at the end--no books involved. Every year I've tweaked it a bit. It's still an evolving process, but right now instead of earning a prize each week, they earn two virtual tickets, which they can then redeem for a small prize or save up for a bigger prize. Although we've thrown in leftover prizes from previous years, we're really emphasizing books this year. Most of the large prizes are books.

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    2. Hosta Nerd (Jen is that you?),I agree - the kids who would read no matter what are unmoved by rewards and those who don't like reading pretty much don't like our doo-dads either ;->.

      And anonymous - I love the idea of of virtual tickets (so much more exciting than the real world kind!)

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  6. The only prizes I remember getting and keeping were books. Everything else ended up in the trash can, it seems. Something I remember doing as a child in a summer program was getting a star with my picture on it (oh the lack of privacy!). The star was hung up in the library and every time we came or read x number of books or whatever, I got to add a sticker to the star. There were a lot of stickers on my star.We probably got to take the home at the end, I don't remember.

    Good luck with weaning off prizes!

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  7. In these times of budget cuts and no money, it seems almost wasteful to me to hand out as many little trinkets as we do for summer reading. And the prizes seem to mean much more to the parents than to the kids. That is why we continue to do incentives, I think, out of sheer dread of the parents' reactions if we were to not give out prizes. I do like that the kids earn a book after reading 15 hours, but the trinkets? I wish I didn't have to give those out.

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  8. When I first started at my library kids got increasingly larger prizes for each level - with prize drawings at the end. I was told that there used to be "really good/exciting" drawing prizes, like a bike, radio, etc. What I was able to dredge up clearly did not come up to standard! I've been whittling it down year by year - the first to go was the drawings and then increasing magnificence by levels. I would like to do some kind of a super reader club at some point, where kids can read for charity, but I think we'll always have to have some little prizes as it's something the kids look forward to all year. I do avoid the really junky stuff as much as possible and try to buy little things the kids can DO something with - paintable wooden shapes, bouncy ball, etc.

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  9. I still give out reading rewards and they vary based on what I have in my wallet and what I see on the dollar row or snack row--they get stickers, or bouncy balls, or juice pouches, or cookies, or chips. No books. Why--because the parents got frustrated by the volume of books and the staff got frustrated trying to keep them in some semblance of order. So we read for fun and every 25 books you get a brown paper bag. If you like what is in it--terrific! If you don't then read some more and try again.
    We also issue a challenge (as a group, read so many books and I'll do something to my hair)--the last two years I have put my hair up in a faux hawk and this past year liberty spikes (top readers got to spray the spikes with temporary color). My daughter with the waist length hair has offered to stand her hair up as a reward for a group reading challenge. Since this is week two and the group has already read 734 books, I'm thinking a goal of 2500 is not unreasonable. At the end of the season we have a party with ice cream and recognize those that read and celebrate the group total.

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  10. Great post, Marge. I suggest: less focus on transaction, more on interaction!

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    1. I am so with you. It's what we truly say and do as we chat with the kids and lead them to books that is the fundamental magic of our work!

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  11. Thanks for the thoughtful piece. This year my staff talked me into doing some spectacular prizes (Mp3 player...)and I felt uncomfortable with it. This helps me articulate why.

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