Introducing the Premier’s Reading Challenge.
If you’re an educator or parent in Australia, I’m guessing this sounds familiar.
So many children don’t like reading. They struggle with it. They avoid it. Or they simply prefer to engage with a screen than a book.
The question asked by parents, teachers or government is ‘how can we encourage more children to read? To be motivated to learn this essential life skill?’
Enter the Premier’s Reading Challenge, an annual project promoted in classrooms and celebrated by our politicians.
Children are asked to read and document 12 books in a five to seven month time frame (this varies slightly from state to state). Eight of the books must be from a set booklist, the remaining four may be of the child’s choosing. Those who complete the challenge are awarded a certificate or medal, based upon how many previous years they’ve participated.
I cannot fault the intent of this challenge. I too want to see more children succeeding in their reading. And to develop a lifelong love of books.
But the question is, does the Premier’s Reading Challenge actually achieve this outcome? Or do damage in the process?
Instead of encouraging a true love of learning, I fear that we’re simply bribing children to participate through medals and accolades. Children who want to read will do so, regardless of what’s on offer. Their reward is being immersed in the knowledge or narrative tucked within the pages of the book.
Book List Limitations
Where are the books about farts and burps? Or about an upteen story treehouse? Why aren’t these included on the booklist? I thought the idea was to engage children in the process of reading.
Because while there are many gorgeous ‘high quality’ books included in the challenge, the reality is that some children are only drawn to funny or politically incorrect texts. Let’s meet them where they’re at.
My other gripe? It pigeon holes our young readers. What about children who are in year three and ready to read books on the year six to nine list? Or alternatively, students in yearthree who are only able to read those on the Reception to year two list? What about them?
Children in the first three years of school are encouraged to participate in the program, however the 1twleve books can be read by them or to them.
While this supports our beginning readers, it does mean that many children are participating without any awareness of doing so.
For example, my son is in year two and this is the first year that he’s aware of the participation requirements. In his first year of school he was awarded a certificate as part of the challenge. And in his second year he was given a medal. Yet he wasn’t a knowing participant. He just liked the prize.
And that’s because in many early years classrooms, the responsibility of filling out the twenty plus forms falls on the teacher. The best way to do this? Record twelve books shared as a class, photocopy it multiple times and individualise the form with student details at the top.
The difference this year for Mr six is that participation in the challenge at our new school is left to us as a family. We fill in the form. We return it by the deadline. Three years in and he’ll actually understand what the medal is in acknowledgement of.
The Illusion of Change
Anyone else feel that the Premier’s Reading Challenge may just be a ploy to throw some positive statistics our way? To give the illusion that more children are now engaged readers?
The reality is, if we look at how much a child reads (or is read to) in and outside of the classroom, it surely totals more than twelve books per year. And this is true even in my ‘no homework’ household. So the Premier’s Reading Challenge may make things look good but in truth, nothing’s changing.
Good Intentions BUT…
Good intentions dear government, but to really improve children’s engagement with reading we need to do far more than dish out participation medals.
We need to make play a core component of every classroom.
We need whole school engagement with movement programs such as Move to Learn.
We need to remove academic push for children who are not yet ready.
We need to value all reading, the topics and books that children are drawn to, not just the ‘high quality’ ones on a predetermined list.
We need more support for children who are struggling, to engage them in foundational skills work, followed by academic catch up.
We need real projects and initiatives for creating positive change, designed by educators, the learning professionals.
Do you see positive outcomes for children as a result of participating in the Premier’s Reading Challenge? Tell me in the comments…
Edited to add: In the years since writing this article, more books have been added to the reading lists, including the 13 Storey Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton.