Thursday, April 19, 2012

It's Not a Competition, It's a Reading Challenge!

As I look around at the world all I see is competition and competition is a wonderful thing!  However, everything does not need to be a competition.  I think that sometimes in elementary schools we forget that a part of what we do is teach children how to compete.  How to win, how to lose, and how to deal with all that goes with both.  This is best done on a small scale in classrooms or the gym.  It is generally not an easy lesson to teach to a whole school at once.

At our school we have a reading challenge called, "The March Reading Madness Challenge." It's a wonderful event and I look forward to it each year.  The basic premise is that the children need to read 40 pages or 40 minutes per night for one month depending upon grade level.  At the end of the month, the principal does a wacky stunt if the school meets its goal.  Nine years ago when I began doing the challenges, we used to announce the classes and students that read the most at our culminating assembly and those classes would get an ice cream party (pre-nutritional guidelines) or a pizza party.

Over the years,

  • I've been duct taped to a wall three feet off the ground
  • I've been pulled to the ceiling of the gym with rock climbing equipment and read to the school
  • I've dyed my hair blonde and shaved my beard
  • I've been dunked in a dunk tank (cold day!)
  • I've been raised to the roof of the school in the fire truck bucket and spent 24 hours on the roof (29 degrees that night).
  • I've kissed a pig
  • I've been wrapped in a boa constrictor
  • I've demonstrated a big rolling tube that would be added to our field day (hard to describe, but the children loved it). 

Then, of course, there is this year.  Well just look below to see what I did this year.
If you prefer video, you can watch it here.

This is a wonderful time of year at the school.  The children always come up to me and tell me how much they have read and that they are going to meet their goal so that I will do the stunt.  Of course, the purpose of the event is to get children to read more.  Hopefully, after the month is over a few more children catch the reading bug and keep on reading.

Over the years, we have eliminated the individual and class rewards.  This was not met with support from all.  The reasoning was because the main goal of the reading challenge was for the school to work together as one community of readers to reach a goal and cause me to keep my promise to them.  However, at our assemblies early on it was clear that the triumph of the larger challenge was lessened because the majority of the school did not get the party.  We sat down and had a great deal of conversation about the goals of the challenge and among those goals was not competition.  I think that it is important to keep the goals in mind when deciding whether competition should be an ingredient in a lesson or challenge.

That was about five years ago and our students continue to read just as much as they ever did.  Competition does have its place; however, when working with young children it is wise to decide where and when.  This may be a somewhat Pollyanna viewpoint, but as I said in the beginning, competition is everywhere and they will get a chance to compete probably more often than they want.  What are your thoughts on competition?  If you are so moved, please comment below.
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