Laura Campbell, the principal of Tara Elementary School, put a small treat in her mouth and bent down toward Daisy, a pig.
Hundreds of students watched in anticipation.
“Kiss the pig! Kiss the pig!” erupted from the students.
Daisy moved her mouth toward Campbell and kissed her in order to get the treat.
The students cheered.
A visit on March 30 from Daisy; her owner, Paul Minor, who goes by Farmer Minor; and Dixie Cup, Minor’s pug, was a reward for all the students for completing a challenge to read more than 1,000 books in two weeks.
The students collectively read 1,484 books in two weeks. In order for a book to count toward the challenge, students had to receive an 80% or higher on a comprehension quiz of the book they read.
Teachers said providing incentives, such as promising that Farmer Minor would visit, have helped their students become more engaged in their learning.
“Doing an incentive with (the challenge) motivates, helps with comprehension and overall reading practice,” said Lori Bederman, a third grade teacher.
When Shannon Rivard’s pre-K class heard about the challenge, she created a chart for each student to put a sticky note with the name of the book they read next to their names to keep track of their books.
“They were competing with each other, which was cool,” Rivard said. “They were excited just to be able to write the name of the book they were reading. They just had to look through the pictures and kind of make up a story through what the pictures are saying. That’s what got them excited.”
Rivard said her students also spend more time with the books rather than going through the pages quickly and returning them to the bookshelf.
Besides reading, Rivard’s students were able to work on their writing because they were the ones writing what book they read on the sticky note.
The third grade decided to make the reading challenge into a friendly competition to see which class would read the most books. Bederman also challenged her students to see who could read the most books.
“They always have a goal every month they have to meet through this Renaissance Learning Program, but (the challenge) accelerated it because they all wanted to be able to beat the other class and also to be the top person in the class,” Bederman said.
Third grade teacher Chuck Rogalla’s class won the competition among the third grade, and third grader Ariella Skalskie read 22 books in two weeks, which was the most books read in Bederman’s class.
Bederman said reading more books helps increase students’ reading levels, practice their vocabulary and remember and recall important details.
“It’s just like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you get,” Bederman said.
The reading challenge inspired students to help others who weren’t reading as many books, Rivard said.
“They would go get books for them and read with them and encourage them to read more books,” Rivard said.
With the Farmer Minor reading challenge complete, Rivard’s class has decided to set a new challenge.
The reading challenge has encouraged Rivard’s students to continue reading every day.
“They have options (for activities) in the morning, and now the majority of them are going right to the library and grabbing books and even sharing the books with each other and guessing what the pictures are,” Rivard said. “They’re reading to each other now. Knowing the pigs are already gone, they’re still excited about reading.”
Another reading incentive for Tara Elementary students this year comes from the school’s media specialist, Kimberly Brown. Students who read 15 books on the Sunshine State Reader list by the end of the year will be invited to an ice cream and pizza party.
“One of the prizes is to be on the morning news, and they have their names announced in front of the whole school,” Bederman said. “That really motivates a lot of them who are reluctant to read. They’re so proud of themselves. You just see on their faces how excited they are, and my excitement is not only about them raising their reading levels but also seeing that they’re loving books.”
Rivard and Bederman said the reading challenge has inspired students who have been struggling with reading and writing or had little interest in reading to pick up books in their free time.
“The children that weren’t excited about reading or writing are getting sticky notes, and even if they’re putting one or two letters or attempting to write on a sticky note,” Rivard said. “They’re doing that now, and they did not do that before. It’s reached all the levels of children in my room. They’re all excited about it now.”