Monday, October 13, 2008

Ethical Dilemma

I started an upper grade reading program at my kids' elementary school a couple years ago. Each year we tweak it a little bit, trying to get more kids to participate. Well, we've hit the jackpot. We have so many kids participating this year, I don't even know how we will afford the prizes for every one.

But this is where the dilemma comes in. The kids get different prizes for reading certain amount of books. 10 books is a small prize, 20 books a bigger prize and 30 is the biggest prize. At least half of the books must be read off of a certain list of books to get each prize.

We had our first prize redemption day today and almost all of the kids coming to get prizes had read 10-17 books--a reasonable amount for less than 2 months of the school year. But these brothers came in with 30 books signed off. All 30. These boys are not smart kids or fast readers. At least the one Emma's age is in resource/special ed. Their mother is more than half a bubble off as well. What I think they did is write down all the books the boys have ever read, that they can remember.

The younger one, who's Emma's age even told me, "Some of these I've already read."

"Well," I said, "I don't want to know what you've already read, bud. I only want to know what you've read this school year. If you read it during the summer or last year--it doesn't count. Here's a pen. I want you to circle all of the books you've read this school year."

"Oh," he said, "but I read all these this school year so do you want me to circle them all?"

I ended up sending the boys in to get the prize for reading 10 books and asked them to come back next month to get the prize for 20. As I said, these boys are far from bright. I could get them another prize out of the 1st prize level next time and they'd never know.

I suppose I have no proof that they didn't read all those books, but I just don't know how to deal with it. I mean I have 20 honest kids, then 2 dishonest ones. Do I penalize the honest kids? Do I make them all do book reports?

Next year I'll just have to get crappy prizes, but this year the prizes are awesome. $2 prizes for reading 10 books, $5 prizes for reading 20 and $8-$10 prize for reading 30. Plus, all the kids who read 30 are supposed to get a gift card to go to a book store. Last year we had only 2 kids do the reading. This year, we'll have tons!!! But not all of them will deserve the reward.

That is my quandary. Do you have any ideas?


Anonymous said...

That is a tough one. Can you have the parents sign the sheet confirming that those books were read this school year? And if you do, and the parents do sign...I'd say just give them the things. You don't want to penalize the good kids, and if the kids are being taught dishonesty at home, I don't know if they'll "get it" from you. Sad.

Debbie said...

Debbie read this to me. I can give you a teacher's point of view. I would be very careful because if a parent comes back and accuses you of treating their kid differently because they are in special ed (regardless of the reason you do it), there is a whole can of legal worms you and the school don't want to open up. If the rewards are for reading the books and they do everything everyone else is required to do to (ie. parent's signature, or just verbally reporting it to you, etc.), you have to give it to them. If they find someone else got a better prize than them and mom finds out and wants to raise a stink, it would be better to pay the $16 out of your own pocket than deal with what could happen. (Sorry . . . just seen a few psycho parents.)

Emma said...

I think that Julie P has the right idea. Make the parents sign. And if the parents sign, give the kids a prize. It stinks to give rewards to kids you are pretty sure aren't doing the work, but sometimes it's all you can do. I have had the same problem with students claiming they have earned prizes for practicing. Not a fun situation.

mumple said...

Is there any way to tweak the program now, and add a short (one or two paragraph/10 sentences) book report? Or have a questionnaire for each book--3 or 4 questions for each book? Even if you considered doing it for the 20 or 30 book prizes?

If you can't tweak now, you may be stuck just "going with it," and hoping that these boys will figure out that earning the prizes would be better. It may be a case for "positive peer pressure" where the kids doing the work put pressure on them to be more honest.

It's a hard place for you to be, but in the long run, not singling them out as "dishonest" may be the best thing. (I'm gonna guess that their self-esteem isn't all that great as it is.)

queenieweenie said...

isn't it sad that few people can "ruin" a good thing?

Shaharac said...

You have some good comments here - I have seen the crazy parent thing happen to often, I agree that you need to be very careful, mom be off in the head a little, which may be more of a reason you need to be careful how you handle her. This is tough - And - Julie is right - you aren't going to teach these kids values if they aren't getting them at home.

dh said...

I wrote a big long comment the other day, but when I clicked "post", something happened and it disappeared. Or, maybe you didn't like it. So now I'm gonna try again but make it WAY shorter.

I think that you need to give the boys the benefit of the doubt. I don't think 30 books in 60 days is unreasonable, even for a slow reader. FWIW, my daughter is not great at reading and we read every day just because she needs to practice in order to maintain her reading skillz. The ultimate thing is, what would Jesus do? Cliche, maybe, but I would rather err on the side of compassion than shortchange a set of brothers just because of the stereotype that is often associated with 'slow' or 'special ed' kids and their supposedly low cognitive parents. Please don't hate me.

Jenna Wood said...

Hyn Girl, The catch is that it isn't just any books. These are novels that are in many cases a couple hundred pages long. That is the astounding part. I agree that 30 books in 60 wouldn't be that hard--thus our program has serious problems. But 30 200 page novels? I don't have a kid who can do that.

Sean and Janet Eyring said...

I'm all about "testing" them to see if they can answer basic questions about the book. Plot summary, main characters, setting, etc. If you make this mandatory for the whole program, they won't feel like they are singled out, and it will make them think twice about saying they have read them if they have to prove it. And if the mother complains, you can say, that if they have read the book they should be able to answer these questions. The questions don't have to be in depth or impossible to answer either. You say that they have read all 7 Harry Potter books, a simple question of "What is a Horcrux" will let you know right away who has read them.