3-Step Reading Motivation Playbook

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Amidst TikTok notifications, text pings, and countless other distractions, just how do you stir up a kid’s enthusiasm to sit down, open a book, and focus on a story out of the sheer love of reading? During a recent webinar hosted by the School Library Journal, Christy James, MLIS, district librarian & media services coordinator for Charleston County School District (CCSD), and Rosie Herold, teacher librarian at James Simons Montessori School, shared how they reignited their students' passion for reading. Using Beanstack for their district-wide 15,000,000 Minute Reading Challenge, they successfully countered the troubling trend of students reading less for enjoyment and surpassed their goal. Drawing from their experience, we uncovered three steps on how to pull off a successful reading challenge using Beanstack.

Body Image 1_Crushing Your Reading Challenge

Set a Collective Reading Goal

CCSD encompasses 1,000 square miles of the beautiful lowlands of coastal South Carolina. The district is responsible for educating over 50,000 students from 74 schools in culturally and economically diverse rural and urban areas and boasts the fastest-growing multilingual population in the state. Recognizing the need to grow a more cohesive reading culture in her district, Christy searched for an online platform that would meet the needs of the K-12 student body while offering ease of use and various reporting features that could incentivize students and teachers alike. Most important was finding a platform focused on the joy of reading rather than assessment tests, which is why Christy ultimately chose to partner with Beanstack.


“Kids have to read more to read better.” - Christy James, District Librarian, Charleston County School District, South Carolina


With the insight that literacy comes from all kinds of reading (whether from books, fan fiction, or the backs of cereal boxes), as well as understanding that creating a community goal is key, Christy set up the 15,000,000 Minute Reading Challenge for the 2022/2023 academic year to rally all K-12 students, teachers, and staff around one collective goal.


Approaching this challenge, Christy’s first step was onboarding other librarians and teachers into Beanstack’s software. Due to the ease of functionality, getting everyone on board and excited about Beanstack’s leaderboards, badges, and gamification features only took a few minutes. Another big hit? Beanstack’s rich reporting options for district, school, and classroom levels offer invaluable data for teachers and administrators to see how much the program has impacted student engagement and boosted the reading time spent. The ability for teachers and librarians to check the data and run reports effectively distributed the responsibility across schools to achieve the district’s overall reading goal. By the end of the first semester, CCSD had a 90% school participation rate!

Body Image 1_9 Tips to Build a Strong School Reading Culture

Use Friendly Competition to Motivate Readers

After Christy issued the district-wide challenge, school librarians like Rosie Herold from James Simons Montessori School took up the baton. Remarking how easy Beanstack made the challenge compared to the duress of quiz-based approaches, Rosie began by offering classes on how to use Beanstack—first to the students and then to their teachers—understanding that they would be attracted to the logging aspect and a sense of competition.


Within the overall district challenge, Rosie divided her school’s goal into various smaller challenges throughout the year that encouraged student interaction with the library, including activities beyond reading books. Wanting her students to think “outside the book as well as inside the book,” Rosie expanded the challenges to include any kind of reading—not just book chapters. No reading material was considered off-limits, including graphic novels, fan fiction—even podcasts. Sometimes simple ways to activate reluctant readers involved bingo cards that could be marked off by tasks such as asking questions of their new principal, getting students acquainted with the library’s Dewey system, or challenging them to pick up something to read around their home such as a blender manual or a parent’s copy of Popular Mechanics. Students discovered through these challenges that literacy goes beyond books—reading is everywhere—and how that applies to life’s everyday needs.


Rosie also noted that using Beanstack as an instructional tool is key to getting teachers involved. By handing out assignments and engaging kids in ELA lessons, Rosie convinced teachers who were initially reluctant to participate. She also began using a curriculum connection for her Montessori students in grades four through six. Partnering with the teacher, she created a Beanstack challenge using primary sources focused on what the students were learning that year—a strategy that reinforced learning about the topic and added more reading minutes to complete the challenge.

Provide Recognition & Rewards Along the Way 

Acknowledging that everyone loves to be in the spotlight, Christy said she would recognize achievements through social media—making sure to tag the school—and give them a shout-out in weekly newsletters. She also found ways to spread the love by giving school shout-outs using alternate metrics on Beanstack’s leaderboard—this helped avoid repeatedly rewarding the same schools, which could demoralize others and defeat the overall purpose of the challenge. Christy also addressed the competitive drive of teachers and staff and offered advice on harnessing that energy to boost reading achievement. To add to the fun, she brought small trophies to her principal meetings for them to parade around at their schools.


Rosie likewise shared various awards and recognitions that kept her students focused on their reading goals throughout the year. Noting that recognition was based on overall class achievement instead of individuals, Rosie offered incentives such as bringing bunnies to the library for “bunny snuggles” or having a class pizza party.


Another fun way to reward reading challenges is to align the reward with the reading challenge’s theme. For instance, one reading challenge centered around hockey—and when the students reached their goal, they were rewarded with a field trip to see their local hockey team, which was having an education day.


Like Christy’s strategy, Rosie also advocated mixing up the kinds of recognition and incentives so that students couldn’t anticipate who would get the shout-out or win the prize. Rewards could include movie tickets, lunch at Chick-fil-A, or small gift cards donated by local businesses. She also suggested larger rewards, such as getting to meet a favorite author like Kwame Alexander (who was visiting a nearby public library), while other rewards ranged on the wilder side, like getting to duct tape a teacher to the wall or pieing the principal in the face—anything to mock the adults; Rosie gleefully added.


Continuing to think outside the box, Rosie incentivized another successful reading challenge by partnering with a local avian conservation center. When kids met their “birds of prey”-themed reading challenge, the avian center brought hawks and owls to the library—Rosie commented that the library was packed that day because so many kids had completed the challenge in order to see the awe-inspiring birds.

Working in tandem at both district and school levels, Christy and Rosie demonstrated how Beanstack’s platform leads students to read more and contributes to a community oriented around the joy of reading. Aside from all the incentives, Christy reminded us that the core purpose is to honor kids’ reading efforts to get them to want to read more. 


As Christy remarked, “It’s crucial that students start seeing themselves as readers—and Beanstack lets them do just that.” Since smashing their reading challenge last year, CCSD was thrilled to raise the bar in 2023/2024 to create a 20-Million Minute Reading Challenge. We can’t wait to learn the results!


Three-Step Reading Motivation Playbook:


1.)   Set a collective goal for the district, school, or class

2.)   Use friendly competition to achieve that goal

3.)   Provide recognition and incentives along the way


Make an Impact in Your Reading Community

Are you as inspired by CCSD’s success as we are? Reach out to our team today to explore how Beanstack can enhance the reading culture in your school. Let's collaborate to guide your students toward a successful reading journey.


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