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  • Case study

Pedaling towards better grades

Quality of Life Observer

- Education

- Dec 11 2014

What happens when schools combine reading and bike rides? School counselor Scott Ertl discovered the benefits of active learning when he launched his out-of-the-box program, Read and Ride.  

For most young children, reading is not always fun. As these young minds learn to read, and more importantly learn to comprehend the words on a page, it can seem like work. Hard work. But Scott Ertl, determined to engage and excite the students at Ward Elementary School in North Carolina, instituted a unique program.

The concept of the Read and Ride program, launched by Ertl in 2009, is quite simple: schools collect donated stationary exercise bikes and allow students to ride while reading books or magazines. These reading sessions are positioned as “rewards” and encourage students to participate in daily learning activities in order to gain points. Once a class has collectively accumulated a certain number of points, they are rewarded with a session in the Read and Ride room.

Putting a spin on reading

“Only 25 percent of the kids at our school actually have bikes at home – so you can imagine their excitement when they get to spend time in a room full of 30 bikes,” says Ertl. On top of the novelty of the room itself, much of the reading material is new to students. With shelves of donated magazines, students are able to discover topics that they find interesting. Many children have asked their parents or family members for magazine subscriptions to continue reading at home. “Parents are surprised and thrilled that their children are asking to read more,” says Ertl.

Over the past five years, Ertl noticed a clear chain of events: as students learn to enjoy reading, that enjoyment also translates into increased comprehension. In fact, students who were most active in the program also had the highest reading proficiency scores – 89 percent proficiency versus 41 percent proficiency of those who were the least active.

A stress-free sport

In the same way that reading may not be fun for those who struggle with it, exercise can be daunting for kids who are overweight. “Getting picked last for the team, or losing a game can cause overweight kids to avoid sports, perpetuating the problem. This program gives kids the chance to exercise without any stress or shame.”

As most Read and Ride sessions last for roughly 15 minutes, students are able to pedal as much or as little as they want. The program provides the opportunity to exercise, without pressuring kids to perform.

Eliminating excess energy

The simple act of getting out of the classroom and engaging in a physical activity creates huge benefits as well. “Most kids are expected to sit still for five to six hours every day,” says Ertl. “No adult is expected to do that – we’re constantly getting up, getting a glass of water, taking a phone call. Kids have even more energy than we do, how can we expect them to sit still all day long?”

This benefit is even more marked for students who struggle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other types of learning disabilities. Allowing them to release extra energy or frustration through physical activity enables them to read longer, concentrate more and actually enjoy reading, according to Ertl.

“I hope that more educators will decide that active learning is the way to go,” says Ertl. “We can’t just expect kids to sit still and be quiet. Passive learning just scratches the surface as to how well we can teach kids.”

For tips on how to start a Read and Ride program and how to find donated bikes, log onto ReadandRide.org.

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