Bribing Readers: Brilliant or Insane?
By Catherine Beck
I am a shameless briber. That’s right. I’m a fan of bribing readers.
I have just returned from an incredibly inspiring reading conference. Some of the most notable literacy experts in the country presented. I attended many break-out sessions to increase my knowledge of great literacy practices.
One of the controversial topics that was addressed often was whether or not bribing readers to read is a good idea. My school has reading challenges over the breaks that reward children for reading while not in school. For every break we have a challenge and the ante continues to go up, and I’m not afraid to say, I’m fine with this practice of bribing readers; I will do anything to get children to read. Anything.
We bring in authors to do assemblies with children. We have Minute-to-Win-It games for children who read over breaks. There are experience incentives such as “Principal for a Day” and soccer lessons with the high school coach. I beg anyone who can offer time with a child to donate an experience to reward children for reading.
We have an annual Vocabulary Parade where children dress up to represent their favorite word. Families decorate pumpkins to be the favorite book character. We bring the local library in to sign families up for library cards during parent teacher conferences and all adults in the building, everyone, has to keep current a sign that displays what is currently being read. This includes the custodian, cafeteria workers, and the office staff.
We spend all of our money on books, beautiful engaging and interesting books that we hope children cannot resist. We used Allington’s model for summer school whereupon we send every child home with 15 self-selected books for the summer. We are not just interested in teaching reading-we are invested in creating lovers of reading!
For those critics who say, ”They are reading only for the incentives,” I ask them to consider the first three words they just said: “The are reading!” And with all of this reading that we are so shamelessly bribing them to do, students just might find that perfect book that hooked them. They just might cross the threshold to become a strong reader. They just might acquire the skills to propel them further in their education and finally they just might develop a skill that will last for their entire lives.
And who cares if students choose to read initially for the chance to put pie in their principal’s face?
Not me? I say, grab a book, and bring on the whipped cream!
Catherine Beck is the principal of a dual language IB elementary school in Colorado. She is the co-author of “Easy and Effective Professional Development.”
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