On Sunday night, John Evans tweeted out this query:
Can any of my Aussie friends provide some feedback on the success of the Premier’s Reading Challenge initiative? ow.ly/cdsUE
— John Evans (@joevans) July 13, 2012
I replied saying that I would get back to him with some insight as it was just as I was about to go to sleep. Then ….
… I realised this evening that I hadn’t done anything about it!
So, in South Australian schools, the Premier’s Reading Challenge (known more commonly in schools as the acronym PRC) is an initiative championed by the State Premier to get kids reading more. There is a website, plenty of posters and other materials that school libraries can use to raise awareness. Actually, each state has their version – more information here at Wikipedia. The Challenge was first started nine years here in SA by the then Premier Mike Rann. “Media Mike” as he was known pushed this concept as his major contribution to boosting literacy levels, as outlined in this article from 2004:
Rann sets students new reading challenge
Posted January 14, 2004 21:22:00
South Australian Premier Mike Rann has set young students a challenge for the new school year: to read more books.
Mr Rann has released a catalogue of more than 1,800 titles for the Premier’s Reading Challenge.
It is spread over four years with the task being for students from early primary school up to year nine to read at least 12 books a year.
Mr Rann wants to excite children into reading and they will get medals for their achievements.
“But we’ve really got to encourage our children to spend less time in front of the television, less time in front of computer games and more time exploring and discovering the enjoyment and pleasure of reading,” he said.
I was teaching Year Six and Sevens at the time, and I recall that the most avid readers in the class boycotted the Challenge because they saw the curated list as being too limited, and taking the joy out of free reading. There was also frantic activity in school libraries as they developed a fluorescent sticker system to easily identify the books on the Challenge list. Not all teachers were enthused either. I heard about one teacher who read books from the list to his class of junior primary students, and recorded the books down for all of his students on their record sheets, subverting the free choice component of the PRC. Students also became creative in filling out their record sheets, faking parent signatures and in one case, writing in bogus titles and authors hoping to slip past the eagle eyes of our teacher-librarian. (One sheet featured titles from a Lady Gaga album!) But like all new initiatives (like NAPLaN) as time went by, the PRC became part of the school landscape where assemblies would announce the latest students who had achieved the PRC, read out comparative totals from classes across the school and library purchase orders were heavily influenced by the recommended lists.
My two sons have participated in the Challenge throughout their primary school years so far. My oldest has every medal since the first year, and even he has a disability, has been supported by us (and the school) to complete each PRC. As parents, we have downloaded the list PDFs, scoured bookstores for books from the list and set aside time to quietly read at home. I’m not sure that the Challenge has raised either of their literacy standards but generally they have both enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that completion brings. My youngest probably sees reading in book form as a chore at the best of times, so the purpose has helped him to stay the distance.
What are other Australian educators’ experiences with the PRC?