OREM – Provo’s Westridge Elementary School changed things up a bit. Instead of the usual reading challenge of so many pages or so many minutes to get a reward, school officials made reading the reward and had the kids do challenges to earn a reading-related activity.

Ten classes, ranging from first to sixth grade, volunteered to participate in the event, which was held at Utah Valley University. It featured Utah County resident Brandon Mull, the author of numerous fantasy books for young readers, including the "Fablehaven" series and "The Candy Shop War."

The reward of the program was for the students to meet Mull and have books signed by him. The event was six months in the making and came about as the result of a grant from UVU to encourage reading among youth.

Doug Gardner, an associate professor at UVU, said part of the project has been teaching the teachers about strategies to increase reading motivation. Many programs teach students how to read, but not many teach them to want to read, he said.

“We are trying to attack the problem of aliteracy, when students can read, but don’t want to read,” he said.

The grant allowed the school to purchase $5,000 worth of books. They are both for the classrooms and the individual students.

“Each student had a Brandon Mull book purchased for them,” Gardner said. “One of the things that has been the most rewarding is that the school community council has made the decision to have $5,000 to rebuild the reading library at the school.”

“It is the community partnership that made these things happen,” said incoming Westridge principal Becky Thomas.

Neicca Butts, a first grade teacher at Westridge, said the effort has been productive.

“It has been really nice to help me get things off the ground," she said. "When I started almost every one of the students was far below grade level. Now they are above. This grant and this experience of reading books has helped.”

With the grant augmenting their resources, teachers jumped at the chance to fill their classrooms. Butts said the first thing on their list was to obtain more nonfiction for her classroom's library, which particularly interested the young boys.

“That is exactly what we are trying to develop in our students,” Thomas said. “We want them to develop the desire to explore the world around them.”

“This grant has brought a whole bunch of energy to the school,” she said.

Among the principles Gardner taught the teachers to use was to offer the students a choice to read instead of selecting one book for the whole class. They also suggested read-alouds in the classrooms. And instead of making reading the assignment, they made it the reward.

“They get to meet the author and shake his hand,” Gardner said. “That is what truly motivates students to want to read.”

There can be an additional incentive.

“Reading can be the reward itself,” Thomas said.

Events at the school were geared to both students and parents. Each classroom had different activities.

“One of the teachers created an event in the evening,” Gardner said. “It brought the parents to the classroom to talk about reading.”

Not only that, but it gave the parents the chance to see others interact with their children.

“That allowed parents who may not have had experience and modeled it for them,” Thomas said. “They are actually being shown how to have interactions around literacy.”

Daily Herald reporter Barbara Christiansen can be reached at (801) 344-2907 or bchristiansen@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @bchristiansen3.