Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky., Don Wilkins column [Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.]
(Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, KY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 05--When I was in elementary school, I loved reading for the sake of reading.
That concept became a lost art when Atari and Nintendo came along.
Who needed a book to entertain them when Space Invaders accomplished the same goal
It was hard enough for my parents to drag me away from the television, especially when the "The Dukes of Hazzard" was on the tube.
But when the video game age began in the 1980s, it was as though books never existed.
I'm as guilty as the next Generation X slacker who refused to let the Super Mario Brothers die. Killer mushrooms, gold coins and flying turtles are forever singed in my brain.
Now, kids have the Xbox, PS3 and the Wii that put my old Nintendo game system to shame, competing even more with books.
It wasn't until my junior year of high school that I rediscovered my passion for reading.
Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and the "Autobiography of Mark Twain" are my two all time favorites. Not sure why "Frankenstein" stands out, other than it was a book I was forced to read as an assignment in high school. But it re-ignited the fire I once had for reading.
Although I consider William Faulkner the greatest American author, there's something about Twain's wit and style that I appreciate more than any other writer.
My three kids have yet to discover Shelley, Twain or Faulkner.
However, they do have a love for reading. They may grumble, whine and fuss about brushing their teeth, taking a bath and cleaning their rooms, but they've never complained about reading.
Some of it may be genetic, but I attribute most of their passion for books to their school's Accelerated Reading program -- software created to assess a student's reading level by testing through book comprehension quizzes -- administered from kindergarten through fifth grade.
There was a time when the AR program was mandatory, but both the Owensboro and Daviess County school systems have gone to allowing each elementary school to choose how much it's emphasized.
Schools such as Sutton Elementary (an Owensboro city school) and Tamarack Elementary (a county school) promote the AR program through rewarding students who achieve certain point levels. Points are earned by how much the student reads and then ultimately performs on the software's comprehension quiz.
"We choose a theme every year, and this year it's Top Dog Readers," said Susan Rouse, Sutton's library media specialist. "The kids love to go put their picture on the wall. It's a big achievement for them. I see parents come in and they'll say, 'Where's your picture' And then at the end of every month, I put up a list of the top three point earners in each classroom."
In the past, the rewards have included T-shirts and pizza parties for the students who accomplished their reading goals, which vary depending on grade level. However, not achieving the goal doesn't affect the student's grade.
"The sole purpose of Accelerated Reader is to motivate reading," said Tamarack Principal Allison Coomes. "It's never punitive at Tamarack. Through surveys, we asked how it would work best for parents and teachers. We have clubs. The 10-point club gets a picture on the AR Wall of Fame; the 25-point club gets to pick a seat in the classroom for the day; the 50-point club gets to eat lunch with the principal. The rewards get bigger as their points go higher."
Students who have parental involvement and teachers who make the AR program a priority will no doubt have greater success. But I do believe the AR program inspires all children to read more than they might otherwise. The added reward element places the fun back into reading instead of being seen as another homework assignment.
Even though I enjoyed reading at a young age, I never came close to the number of books my children have read in the same period of time. The AR program has made a positive, lasting impression on the way my kids view books.
Reading for the sake of reading doesn't have to be a lost art. And the schools that are emphasizing the AR program are ensuring that the great works of Twain and Faulkner will live on through future generations.
Don Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 691-7296, Twitter: @DonWilkinsMI
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