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Middle School Monday: Reading Incentive Programs Limit More Than Choice

MSM1That a school librarian has something to say about reading incentive programs is not new. I’m not here to tell you whether or not to do them—but rather to talk about the one aspect of incentive programs that I see to be particularly damaging.

Several teachers I’ve known have used (and use) Book Adventure to track and or quiz student reading. Students then come into the library for an ‘ADVENTURE’ book. [When I first started at my current school, I misunderstood and thought students were asking for an adventure story. After initially thinking, ‘wow, these kids are really into adventure,’ I then understood.] Sigh. We’ve all probably been in this situation…and felt miserable watching a student put a book back on the shelf because it is not on an arbitrary list.

Here’s the problem with Book Adventure that came apparent very quickly as I started searching for books that students and I were choosing to see if they ‘qualified’. THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH #OWNVOICES AUTHORS AND STORIES. Let me give some examples of gaps that are simply not acceptable.

  • Ahem. Not one Matt de la Peña book is part of Book Adventure. Not one. This is our 2016 Newbery Award Winning Author. This is the author who just won NCTE’s Intellectual Freedom Award. Where is he?
  • Walter Dean Myers. Walter Dean Myers! Some of his novels are there, but no Monster. Monster! Printz Award Winner (and still fits within the K-8 Book Adventure framework).
  • Jason Reynolds? Not one.
  • Meg Medina? Nope.
  • Daniel José Older? Rita Williams-Garcia? Kekla Magoon? No. No. No. What?
  • Gene Luen Yang who is currently our National Ambassador for Young People’s LIterature has American Born Chinese included in Book Adventure, but that’s it. No Boxers. No Saints. No Shadow Hero, Avatar or Secret Coders.

You get the idea…

Reading Incentive programs that are tied into quizzes from outside sources [like AR or Book Adventure] can limit choice for students. What is the single biggest factor for reading engagement? Choice. Choice! In this way, reading incentive programs obviously limit access to choice-based reading, but they also limit access to books written by diverse authors.

[If you’re wondering, I searched for white authors of comparative success/critical acclaim and found a higher percentage of books included. There is definitely a Masters Project there, MSLS students!]

So, what are we to do? Our 7th Grade English Teacher, Ms. Thomas, has devised a wonderful work-around. Her students pick any book they want to read for her classroom reading. If there already is a quiz in Book Adventure, great. If not, she reads the books herself and writes quizzes for the students using Quia. Is that time consuming? Of course. But she rightly felt like it was necessary to support students’ reading AND support diverse authors and literature. [Yea, Ms. Thomas!]

I’m not trying to pick on Book Adventure—it is a free program and I love free programs. I also appreciate that the text on their site indicates that they WANT more quizzes created and they recognize that more quizzes = more choice for students. [For Book Adventure, you can submit to be a quiz creator.] During this coming year and summer [and well forever], I want to make sure that more books are included that are #ownvoices stories. I just read Ghost by Jason Reynolds this weekend. [Wonderful!] That is the first quiz I’d like to create. Then, I’ll start with the authors/gaps listed above and move on from there.

Will you help? If you’re already a quiz creator for Book Adventure or a similar reading incentive program, will you be intentional about including more diverse books? Or, will you consider registering to upload quiz content? I just filled out my application for Book Adventure. [Find more information at bookadventure.com/frequently_asked_questions.aspx.]

Does this make me love reading incentive programs? No. I’ve read too many valid arguments against them. However, realistically, I know teachers are going to continue to use them, so we have to work to support and promote #ownvoices titles to ensure that they are included.

I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib. I see a lot of quizzes in my future. And, I don’t even LIKE quizzes about books that have only one correct answer. But, that’s another post…

Have a great week!


  1. I inherited an AR based reading course two years ago. Last year I wound up creating quizzes on there as well in order to keep my kids’ choices wide open. This year I’ve stopped using the quizzes altogether because of so. many. reasons. This is a good work-around if you are forced to use a quiz-based program, although it certainly could get time consuming for the teacher!

  2. Our school division did a big push a few years ago on Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading. Since we had never had a reading program in the library before, my work around was to let the students have an extra book (3 instead of 2), as long as one book was at their level. In grades 4-9, the rule is that the student needs to have one book that will be read from cover to cover, at an appropriate reading level. That means they can’t take out 3 drawing books, or 3 Berenstain Bear books if they are in junior high, that sort of thing. I hoped that by doing so, we’d get the best of both worlds. Students read at the “right” level, but can still choose books that interest them. Of course the teachers have to be on board, and not insist that the students be locked into only reading books at their level.

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