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Along the path to a more reader-centered classroom, it can be easy to veer off the road. Sometimes it’s due to distracted driving. Sometimes it’s a result of our longing for a short cut where there is none. But most often it’s due to navigational confusion as we strive to get things just right, make things more manageable, or feel a greater sense of control over our daily lives.

This post is the second in a series of six, exploring common detours, dead ends and shortcuts that can lure us away from responsive, kid-centered teaching. Today’s focus is on Detour #2: The Rewards-Centered Detour.

Detour #2 – The Rewards-Centered Detour

The rewards-centered detour is SO easy to get pulled into.

We go there with the best of intentions here because we just want kids to do more reading and we’re willing to do “whatever it takes” to get and keep books in their hands.

Hearing our colleagues talk about the reward systems and contests they’re offering to readers, it can be tempting to jump on board. Besides, who doesn’t love a little friendly competition?

On the reward-centered detour, the focus is on promising and prodding kids by offering things like points, prizes, pizzas, parties and other forms of payment in exchange for their time spent with books.

And for awhile, things can look really promising. Numbers of minutes read, books completed, points earned, quizzes passed can show a temporary spike that leading us to believe we’re really onto something.

But the problem is, this rewards-centered path to high volume reading usually results in very short term returns. We soon find out (and research verifies) that unless the rewards are directly related to nurturing more reading (i.e. books or parties where more time is spent reading), when the pressure, prizes and hoopla are gone, so, too is the commitment to reading.

And not only are the results short lived, but relying on carrots and contests in the first place can easily confuse young readers, leaving them with the absurd notion that these tangible rewards are the real reasons for reading!

Few student become lifelong readers because of points, prizes or rewards. Instead, they become lifelong readers because they find that book, that series, that author, that topic, or that genre that finally hooks them. They become readers because of their desire to escape into a different reality, to understand the human experience on a different level, or to become more expert on a topic of interest. And they become readers because of the meaningful conversations and connections they make with other readers along the way.

On the road to a Reader-Centered Classroom . . .


On the road to a reader-centered classroom, you learn to celebrate books and reading with more books and reading. You celebrate and support authentic engagement. You celebrate ideas shared between readers. You celebrate students setting and striving toward their own meaningful goals. And you celebrate students getting lost in books, rather than getting caught up in competition.

In reader-centered classrooms you offer four critical and consistent rewards for readers every day:

  • Protected time for uninterrupted reading every day
  • Freedom to explore texts and topics that match their own interests and curiosities
  • Access to an abundant and diverse collection of great texts in the classroom library
  • Opportunities to exchange recommendations and ideas with other readers

In a reader-centered classroom, you never ask kids to choose a book based on how many points it can help them earn or what they will “get” for reading it.  Instead, you patiently and persistently teach them how to find books they can’t wait to dig into and don’t want to put down.

In a reader-centered classroom, readers are motivated by passions, personal goals, access to amazing books, and the simple power of choice. Joyful engagement with books and other readers is both the goal and the reward.

Here, instead of spending time wondering, “What could I offer as a reward for reading?” you spend time considering, “How can I help them find more authentic and meaningful reasons to read?”

You’re firm in your own understanding that reading is in fact it’s own reward, and you are fiercely committed to help every child find their way to that reward, because you know how it will enrich and empower them for a lifetime.

You pursue this commitment to every reader, not through points and prizes, but through responsive, kid-centered instruction. You work to deeply understand your students as people, so you can guide them as readers. And in doing so, you help kids build their own prize stash . . . in the form of piles (or lists, or boxes, or bags) of books they are hungry to spend time with because of how they support an interest, inquiry, or aspiration that is important to the reader.

Rather than invest in prizes and rewards . . .

The journey toward a more kid-centered classroom is a journey toward a more joyful and inspired teaching practice. You get there one reflective moment . . . one brave next step . . . one child at a time.

Engaging Every Young Reader without the Need for Points and Prizes

If you’re a K-5 teacher feeling stuck in the rewards-centered detour but uncertain how else to motivate and engage all readers, you won’t want to miss my 6 week online course beginning June 10, 2018.

You might also want to check the books I’ve written to help you on your journey . . .

Simple Starts; Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom from Heinemann Publishing.


To Know and Nurture a Reader from Stenhouse Publishing, co-authored with Christina Nosek.

We also have a blog together all about conferring with readers.