Over two thirds of students in U.S. high schools are below a proficient reading level. What better way to bring them up to speed than with the Foursquare  and Nike Running-style gaming incentives that captivate adults? The latest version of Read 180, a Scholastic reading intervention program that combines a software program, small group instruction, independent reading, and whole group instruction, does just that.
Launched in 1999, the Read 180 program has grown to serve over one million kids each day. The previous version of the program featured a software dashboard that allows students to track their progress, but the newest version adds a gaming layer on top that, according to Dan Abramson, Director of Product Development for Read 180, gives kids "achievements based on certain behaviors, tracks the number of words they're reading, and gives trophies to highlight key moments in the software experience." It's similar to the way Foursquare gives badges for certain achievements, or how Nike Running lets users track their progress and set custom goals.
Scholastic started investigating how to implement gaming into its software by looking at research papers about game dynamics and gaming mechanisms in school. The company worked with the Center for Applied Special Technology to figure out how to have certain gaming elements in Read 180 without turning the whole thing into a game. "A lot of us at Scholastic are runners," says Abramson. "When Nike released a running app where you could track all of your runs, target goals and set personal bests, we wanted to take that same message we use in our lives and apply it to kids."
Pilot testing of the new software has proven successful. "Kids change their posture. They're leaning forward [towards the software] instead of leaning back," says Abramson. The kids are, in other words, excited about reading. Maybe rock-star game-designer Jane McGonigal  is right: gaming can really make the world a better place.
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