If you work in education, you already know the value of incentivizing reading for students. It can be challenging to find new ways to motivate kids to pick up a book, and reading challenges offer a solution to this problem. For more than 100 years, these programs have promoted community literacy and helped establish a culture of reading – and recently, they’ve received an upgrade.
In the digital age, software tools like Beanstack by Zoobean leverage technologies such as apps and data analytics to make organizing a reading challenge fun and simple for schools and libraries, and to provide valuable data that supports community-wide efforts to boost literacy rates.
In this post, we’ll explain what a reading challenge is, offer a little history, and then talk about how the programs have changed over time. Ready to get reading?
Many of us were introduced to reading challenges through our local libraries during summer vacations, but the importance of these programs goes much deeper than the fun worksheets we remember checking off as kids. Reading challenges offer a set of shared goals for a community of readers over a defined period. They typically target specific populations – for example, elementary school students in a local school district – and provide goals and incentives to encourage the target audience to track their reading. Unlike a reading log, where the focus is on individual growth, reading challenges center on community – often, the goals are collaborative, and include both individual and group milestones.
Ultimately, the goal of any reading challenge is three-fold: to build a culture of reading in a community, to increase book circulation, and to offer insight into the reading habits of students and library patrons. For school administrators and teachers, these insights can provide powerful data to support library funding and to understand how their students measure up to national benchmarks.
When librarian Linda Eastman created the first reading challenge in 1895, her Cleveland Children’s Library League sparked a movement, inspiring summer reading programs in public libraries around the world. Though Eastman’s focus was on promoting student reading during the summer months, reading challenges have since evolved to encompass a wide variety of goals, timeframes, and themes.
Today, reading challenges often focus on encouraging students to move out of their reading “comfort zones” to sample diverse authors or themes. To that end, Beanstack has developed reading challenges for observances like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Women's History Month. Unlike summer reading challenges, where the focus is on fighting the summer slide, themed reading challenges encourage participants to consider new ideas and experiences and engage in community dialogue.
If you’re creating a reading challenge, remember that it can be as specific or sweeping as you like, but it should have a defined start and end date, an attainable yet optimistic goal, and clear milestones for readers to measure their progress.
Reading challenges work on the principle that the more students practice reading, the more likely they are to reach national benchmarks – and incentivizing students makes it all the more likely. Today, technology has allowed reading programs to move online, making it easier for parents to get involved, for students to connect with one another, and for educators to track progress.
Broward County Public Schools in Broward County, Florida is a case in point. Instructional Facilitator Lourdes Meyer and Curriculum Supervisors Neena Grosvenor and Lynne Oakvick had developed an ongoing paper reading program, Read Across Broward, to support literacy across the district. But after studying reading proficiency among the district’s third graders, the team realized that their existing program wasn’t providing the support their students needed to thrive. They started a coalition called the Broward Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and made it their mission to find innovative solutions to increase participation in their independent reading program. Beanstack’s digital app was the solution they were searching for.
Using Beanstack, Broward County Public Schools ditched their clunky paper-based program, moving Read Across Broward into the digital realm. To make sure teachers and librarians felt supported, the team organized an official Beanstack launch, which included technical training and insight on Beanstack’s data analytics platform.
The program was wildly successful, with more than 350,000 books logged from August 2018 to March 2019. At the top performing elementary schools, as many as 92% of students are now using Beanstack. As they move forward, Broward County Public Schools is looking to take the ongoing excitement about Beanstack and use it to support other school-created challenges, including a Minutes Read challenge and Makerspace challenges.
With the ability to track readers’ choices and habits, online reading challenges also offer school districts an incredible opportunity to get to know their readers. Understanding students’ reading habits and where their interests lie can help educators target reading initiatives to support students the way they prefer to read, while the data can help identify struggling students who might need more help. This is where Beanstack shines.
For administrators, Beanstack provides an analytics dashboard to understand student reading habits and demonstrate the role that school libraries play in academic success. The data also helps administrators and teachers determine how their students match up to national standards. For librarians, Beanstack offers insight into the books students are reading, which guides purchasing decisions and activities. And for students, Beanstack turns reading into a game, with a record of books read, interactive activities, the opportunity to write reviews their peers can read, and badges for reading streaks.
When you know your readers, you can fully support them – whether you are an administrator fighting for library funding or a parent tracking your child’s reading habits. Fostering a culture of reading is a community effort, and digital reading challenges provide the structure and motivation students need, along with the data to support long-term student success.