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Thoughts on reading and rewards July 8, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Books, Education, Parenting.
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Reading has been on my mind a lot lately, especially a Ruth is starting to read more on her own and as we have the first day of school quickly approaching.  I have a semi-formulated (or semi-unformulated, depending on our outlook) plan for creating some structure and incentives around reading at home.

To start with, look at this website for Marietta, GA.  Marietta evidently has a big Accelerated Reader program, and they publish their AR book lists to their website.  There are thousands of books on their book lists, including grade level and points.  I like AR for two reasons – first, I’m somewhat familiar with it, since Mom used it in her classroom in Wink.  Second, AR assigns point values to books, so you have an idea of how much a book was “worth” when reading it.  (Easy, first grader books might have point values of 0.5 or 1 point per book, more complex or longer books like Moby Dick or Little Women have point values in the 30’s.)

I would like to pare down this list of several thousand books to a few hundred that are especially good for “classical education”.  Specifically, I would like to end up with a family book list that:

  • Contains a diverse selection of books from history, science, literature, economics, and art.
  • Emphasizes classics and books that require critical thinking
  • Maps to a points/rewards system, similar to the Accelerated Reader system, that can be used in our home.

Here is a chart from the Accelerated Reader program that shows how many “points” a child at a certain reading level could be expected to earn if they read for 20, 30, or 60 minutes per day.

There are some books that I would add to the list, particularly those that align with the values I want my kids to learn.  There are others that – while I would not be opposed to my kids reading them (thoughts on censorship are beyond the scope of this post) – are not ones that I would want to provide incentives for.  With those things in mind, I envision a “point subsidy” and “point tax” that the Benevolent Dictatorship of Mom & Dad can dole out.

For example, let’s say that we want to provide incentives to read both The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx.  If each had an Accelerated Reader point value of, say 20 (I’m making this up), we might give a 100% point subsidy to it to make each worth 40 instead.  This way, we don’t have to say things like “Come on, kids, you really need to pick up your copy of The Communist Manifesto.”  Instead, the higher point values – and associated rewards – would say that for us indirectly.

Likewise, suppose there is a book we specifically do not want to encourage, like Bozo & Cookie Explain Economics.  In this case, a book that has an AR point value of, say 10, might get hit with the point tax and only show up on the list as a 5 point book.  Others might not show up on the list at all, and would effectively be worth 0 points.  This doesn’t mean that the kids can’t read those books, it’s just that they don’t have the built in incentives that other books have.

Ruth is, right now, working her way through Eloise and the Big Parade.  I’ve assigned this a point value of 0.5, because I haven’t found it on any AR list yet.  When she finishes the book, she’ll have 0.5 points which, for now, is enough to earn her a reward.  (Surprise!  The reward is another book.  🙂 ) I think that as she becomes more advanced in her reading, she’ll have the opportunity to read longer or more advanced books to work up to a certain number of points and each of those point levels will have an associated reward.  I don’t know what the rewards are yet – feel free to give your input or thoughts on the idea here in general.

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