Sunday, May 2, 2010

Accelerated Reader

I have read many tweets about AR lately and thought I would share my family's experience with it. My son Luke is in second grade and loves reading. This has not always been the case. He started AR in first grade and went from enjoying reading books with me as a toddler to being forced to read stories to me. I blindly followed the advice of his teacher to have him read each book twice each night. It turned into a power struggle between us and he hated it. The books were boring and mostly non-fiction nonsense about eating fruit and vegetables or brushing your teeth or something. He always choose the shortest, easiest books he could find.

Luke made his goals, but hated every minute of it. I partially blame AR, but also myself for pushing too hard. I think he would rather of had me still read interesting stories to him than reading himself. About half way through the year I backed off and Luke read less, but still met his goals. Over the summer he read some but not really that much.

Now in second grade (and still in AR), I continued to not push him to read and he has now taken off.
He reads all of the time. 
He reads fiction that he loves and chooses books above his level. 
Every night he reads for around a half hour before going to bed. 
Last weekend I woke up to him reading a story to his sister. 
He has trouble getting ready for school because he gets up and starts reading instead of getting ready.
And the other day he told me "I love reading."

These things have been music to my ears. Again I can not place all of the blame on AR, but it is definitely a "system" set up to push kids in reading with artificial rewards. There is nothing about AR that was positive or helpful for helping my son learn to read. I think reading is best learned naturally when a child is ready by reading to your child until they are willing to read themselves. Then all that is needed is exposure to lots of interesting books and stories.

I am not a literacy expert by any means but this natural, common sense approach seems the best route to me. What do you think?

10 comments:

  1. Michael, Your son's and your negative experience is about how the teacher used AR, not AR itself. AR is only a tool that can be used in many different ways. The way your son's teacher seems to have used it is not how I've used it in the nine or more years that I've successfully used it with students.

    I wrote about my use of AR herehttp://developingprofessionalstaff-mpls.blogspot.com/2009/11/peter-and-sword-of-mercy.html

    The fact that your son is now reading fiction 'above his level' would indicate that your son's love of reading was not destroyed by AR. Go ahead and take credit for keeping in on track. If you run into more difficulties as he moves into 3rd grade, get a hold of me and I'll do what I can to steer you around some of the issues that may crop up.

    AR can most definitely be used without pushing students to read what they don't want to read. If that's happening, it's the teacher's fault, not A.R.'s

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  2. My experience with AR and my children is that it is almost impossible to NOT suck the joy out of reading with AR. Students have to find books at their level that they find interesting that the school has purchased the quiz for. The quizzes are multiple choice fact based stuff that my über-reader found less than interesting to read for. My twins found the public humiliation of stickers for making goals (or no stickers for not making goals) demoralizing. We live in a house full of interesting books that the girls wanted to read but weren't AR books.

    And please don't get my started about the Bataan death march of the reading log. My girls read - now - because we are a readers and the house is full of books that are of high interest. AR is a tool, and yes @Dan, it is the fault of how it is used - but the tool - the quizzes themselves are frustrating and leave no room for nuance. The levels are based on vocabulary - so a book like Holes has a 4.something reading level, but it has this shifting timeline that takes some abstract reasoning to grasp. So is it a good tool? I don't think so.

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  3. @Kate, thanks for sharing. I agree about the worthlessness of the trinket rewards and have also been puzzled by the rating system. Multiple choice tests are not a favorite of mine in any context!

    @Dan, I appreciate the differing opinion from someone who has used AR. I read your post and have some questions/pushback for you. As teachers we usually share our most successful stories and I am wondering about the rest of your class? What percentage of students do you feel AR helped? Were there any students that AR seemed to be drudgery to do?

    I also am wondering if you use a reward system with AR? I am not a fan of that. My son earns the right to go to AR parties that he comes home and says are boring.

    Finally and the biggest question to me is how much credit for Frankie's success is from your relationship with him, you demonstrating a love of reading, and his parents support and concern vs. AR? These factors seem more important to me than the tracking system of AR.

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  4. My daughter learned how to play the "game of school" courtesy of AR. She was an avid reader before her school adopted this program. She learned to read books based on points. These points added up to her grade. She chose high level point books to get the A, then started reading books she enjoyed and wanted to read.
    What a crappy lesson for a kid to learn.

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  5. Michael,
    The point of my story about Frankie is that I used a variety of tools. In the hands of someone who knows how to use a variety of tools skillfully, A.R. works to help many students become better readers.
    Of course, there are students who've found the 1600 titles in our A.R. library of quizzes too limiting. The job of a teacher is to help each student find out what works for them to learn.
    I would never say that A.R. works all the time for every student. Helping students to learn how to navigate the stuff of school is a big part of a public school teacher's job. The more I treat each student as an individual with unique talents and needs the better they seem to do. And the best part is that I get to read great books to kids. I'm still having a hard time not choking up as I read Because of Winn-Dixie, our current book.

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  6. Some of my sixth graders learned they could get points through AR just by watching the movie and taking the test.

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  7. My son goes to a 'freeschool'. No one is pushing him to read. If he were in public school, I'm guessing he'd be below "grade level" so far. He's in second grade, and just starting to choose to read on his own. (I read to him a lot.)

    He's been reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Calvin and Hobbes. He loves books and stories, and I trust that he'll zoom past "grade level" soon.

    Rewards for reading are terrible. The implication is that there isn't enough reward in the reading itself to make it worth a kid's while. I love books, and I want my son to love them too. I am so glad I'm able to keep him away from that, and so distressed that so many kids in public school must have the love of learning compromised by a system that uses rewards and pressure.

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  8. My now 7th grade daughter learned to read very early. From the time she was 6 months old she had a book in her hands. So imagine my distress when she came home shortly after starting 5th grade and told me she wasn't going to read anymore. Her reason: she didn't want to be told what level she had to read, she didn't want to take "stupid tests" to prove she was reading, and she didn't want to get points for reading. Luckily, she had a teacher who was very accommodating and after I talked with him, agreed to another assessment for her.

    I don't think AR is evil in and of itself, but it should be a tool that is used for the students that it benefits. In a differentiated classroom, not all students need this sort of program. I have seen it become the curriculum too often.

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  9. @LeeAnn I strongly agree with your last statement "seen it become the curriculum too often." The problem with AR, Read 180, FastForWord, and other canned programs is that they become the set curriculum that dominates how a classroom is run.

    Again I am glad that Dan is able to use it effectively in his classroom, but am afraid he is a rare teacher who would do a great job without AR. The larger number of negative feelings toward AR reinforces my feelings of distaste for the program. Thanks for sharing folks.

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  10. I went back and forth with WmChamberlain on Twitter regarding the classification of AR as a tool. I consider it a system, made up of tools. Unfortunately, I see few of the tools as beneficial for students. The quizzes are not; they teach students that remembering "what happened" is all that's important. The rewards/points are not; they teach students to look to "get something" for reading besides learning.

    Remove some/many of those tools and are you still really "doing AR"? I don't think so. When a teacher has to remove so many pieces of a system for the system to work, should we really be crediting the system for any benefits from its very modified use?

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