Fantasy Reading League Swaps Football Players For Readers

One Massachusetts middle school has turned its students' love of fantasy sports into a book nerd competition. The Fantasy Reading League at Franklin W. Hartnett Middle School pits teams of nine students against each other in a bracket-based reading contest. Each team is headed by a faculty or staff member who acts as a mentor, coaching kids on strategies for reading success.

Each weekend, teams have the chance to advance in the competition. To earn points, students log their weekend reading times in an app developed by their school principal, who officially wins the award for coolest school principal ever. And just to make sure students aren't padding their records, the school emails parents to confirm their kids' reported reading.

Just like football players can lose points for fumbling, students in the Fantasy Reading League get penalized for failing to have a pleasure-reading book on hand in study hall. Forgetting a book costs their team five minutes of weekend reading time.

Thanksgiving break serves as the league's Super Bowl, giving students the opportunity to put in massive reading hours for their teams. By the beginning of the holiday, only two teams remain; whichever one of them logs the most reading time over the holiday break wins the competition.

According to Common Sense Media, 53 percent of 9-year-olds read for fun every day, but only 27 percent of 13-year-olds do the same — the same percentage who say they "never" or "hardly ever" read. The number continues to drop as students age, with an abysmal 19 percent of 17-year-olds reporting a reading hobby.

The Fantasy Reading League, then, gamifies reading during a critical period in a child's life. By encouraging kids to read for fun during their early teens, and teaching them strategies for building a reading list that they can complete without discouragement, the faculty and staff at Franklin W. Hartnett Middle School are putting their students on the path to becoming lifelong readers.

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