Forum Friday – Using Online Rewards for Reading

Every Friday I like to pull an interesting and/or topical discussion from the Tech Savvy Forum to share with a wider audience. Unfortunately, due to illness and negligence, I missed last Friday, so I’m making up for ti today with a topic that has potential to stir quite the debate. One of our newest members on the forum, creativeteach, asked about a specific online reward program offered by Weekly Reader, and whether others use it or use similar online rewards for motivating their students to read.

I wanted to see if anyone else here has signed up through the Weekly Reader for the UBoost rewards program. I signed my class up for it, and it seems to be a good way to incorporate and encourage online reading in combination with our traditional curriculum. They essentially read the Weekly Reader articles online, and then they take quizzes on the information from those articles; if they answer questions correctly, they earn reward points for different prizes and gift certificates. I know that some of my students are logging into the web-based program at home to take quizzes and earn points, and they talk about the virtual world and reward points frequently in class.

Unfortunately, I don’t have my own class to try out uBoost with, but I was immediately intrigued with the the concept of online rewards. I’ve always been an educator on the fence when it comes to extrinsic rewards. While still in college, I decided that I would focus my lessons, activities, and rewards for my students on purely intrinsic motivators. No “gold stars” or smiley faces on charts for me. No sirree, instead I was going to find a way to ensure all of the students in my classroom were motivated by their own learning goals, and not shiny plastic stickers or pencils.

However, when I started teaching, and was thrust into the role of “prize keeper” for the entire school’s Accelerated Reader program, I quickly began to see just how motivated some of the students were with their reading, when they knew they could come to me to get stickers, pencils, candy, and other prizes. There were still a small group of students that couldn’t have cared less about the sugary treats and plastic toys that they received for reading, but most of the students enjoyed their prizes. A few even went through the prize list two times throughout the year, but I suspect it’s because they were just infatuated with reading.

Which brings me to today. After 4 years of teaching, I’ve learned that students need both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for learning. They come from varying backgrounds, so it’s with little surprise that they require varying methods of motivation. Personally, I’ve tried to stay away from the whole “points” systems, and prefer to do a class award or an individual’s major achievement such as finishing the entire typing program rather than every time they just finish a lesson. I would love to try the reward program that uBoost offers, but alas, I don’t have a class or a subscription to Weekly Reader. It’s just nice to see industry and educators are moving the whole motivation for learning onto the web, to mimic what the students’ might be doing at home in their free time. Because the last time I checked, there weren’t a lot of kids getting gold stars, balloon prizes, and check marks for keeping their rooms clean.