In the past ten summers of the summer reading program, there has been little to no cheating as children log their summer reading hours. There’s been no reason to cheat, since pride of achievement has been the main feature of summer reading, and also since children can only earn a maximum of eleven prizes over the summer (three yellow prizes, four blue prizes, and four red prizes). Occasionally a child will come up to the desk on the second day of summer reading with twenty-four hours of reading time logged, only to have the harsh realization that the fibbing in their reading log hasn’t gained them anything – they won’t earn any additional junky plastic prizes from that point on. There has been no point in cheating, and any temptation to cheat has been replaced by a real desire to achieve a personal reading goal over the summer, and to take real pride in that accomplishment.
So I was really surprised to have kids ask me about cheating in this year’s class visits. I meet with each elementary school class individually over the course of two weeks, which is important because the cheating question has come up in almost every single class this year (but has never been raised to me in past years’ class visits). The difference this year? The online summer reading program.
We have used an online summer reading program for almost every summer that I have been at the library. The Massachusetts Library System (MLS) very kindly provides access to the program for all public libraries in the state, and I have absolutely loved using the online program. Kids log in to their accounts from either their home computers or the library computers, enter their reading time, write book reviews of books they have read, and then check in with the children’s librarians to find out what prizes they have earned. Easy for everyone, and I love that writing and comprehension skills are being maintained over the summer in addition to reading skills.
The online program has always been fairly bare-bones, not flashy, just functional. This year is exciting, since the MLS has changed to a new program that has a game component to it. Each child has an avatar as part of their summer reading account, and as children enter their reading time, they earn points that they can spend to buy new body parts for their avatar. It’s really cool: current, accessible, and fun. In addition, this program has a challenges feature, in which I can set up various challenges that kids can choose to attempt. There are no points or prizes awarded for completing a challenge; it’s all about pride of achievement. I have set up book review challenges (write a book review), secret code challenges (visit the library and ask the children’s librarian for this week’s secret code), and scavenger hunt challenges (fifteen different challenges that encourage children to read different genres and types of books).
I LOVE this new program, and I’ve been so excited to present it to the classes. The kids in the classes LOVE the new program, too, and are very excited to try it out.
The surprise, for me, has been that in each class there has been at least one child who has asked me, “won’t kids cheat and lie about their reading time so that they can earn points to change their avatar?” Huh. It hadn’t occurred to me that this might be an issue – but once the first child asked me that question, I can see how it is a problem. If a child is more focused on the game aspect of summer reading than the reading aspect of summer reading, and if they want instant gratification when changing their avatar, then yes, they probably will cheat. Which is quite unfortunate.
My reply to the “won’t kids cheat?” question has been to say that we use the honor system for summer reading, and that I know they are all honorable people. In addition, I say, there is pride in accomplishment in summer reading – if you earn a bookplate that goes in a library book, you want that bookplate to reflect your actual summer reading achievement. There is pride in that bookplate, and cheating won’t feel good.
I hope my answer has been sufficient, and that the children participating in summer reading this year will continue to set reading goals for themselves and feel good about their summer reading accomplishments. Only time will tell if this is true, but I have hopes that it will be.