Sunday, March 8, 2015

Is AR Killing the Love of Reading?

Over the past year, I have really taken it upon myself to immerse myself in the world of children's literature.  I believe that in order to be the best reading teacher, I must know what's available and be able to make personal recommendations to my young readers.

I have come to this conclusion by learning from people like Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer), blogs like Nerdy Book Club, conferences like All Write, and through various chats on Twitter.

We all know that to become a good reader, children must read.  A lot.  Like, really, really a lot.  Look at the top readers in your classroom.  What do they do?  They read a lot.  Now look at your lowest readers.  What aren't they doing?  Reading.

Our goal as teachers should be to teach our students to become passionate about their reading lives, to be so excited about a book that they just can't help but talk about it in hopes of getting others to love it as much.  That's what I do as a reader.  As soon as I finish a book, I have the perfect student reader in mind for it.  The next day, I go into class, find that student, and say, "Have I got a book for you!"

In my school district, like many school districts, Accelerated Reader is a program we use to monitor students' reading.  In case you aren't familiar with AR, students read a book in their assigned level then take a quiz on the book to test their comprehension.  Each book is assigned a point level and when students finish a quiz, they earn points.  Their goal is to earn a certain number of points each quarter.

At first, I loved AR.  It was a way that I could do a quick check of my student's reading ability and the amount of reading they did.

However, now I feel this love affair is ending.

After taking on this mission to immerse myself in children's lit, I am beginning to see the shortcomings of programs like AR.

My students are looking at books for the point value they offer, not for the ideas and stories they contain inside.  Let me say that again -- students are equating books with points, not with the love of reading.

The quizzes that students take after finishing a book are very surface level.  After taking enough of these quizzes, my students have figured out what they need to remember about a book in order to pass the quiz.  There is no deeper level thinking required by the quiz.

Many of the newer titles that get released take awhile to make their way into the AR quiz system.  I have actually been told by students that they couldn't read a book I was recommending because there wasn't a quiz they could take at the end.


All of my thinking came to a blowing point this past week when one of my students revealed to me in a reading conference that he felt like he needed to abandon a book.  This is one of my students who has worked so hard to improve as a reader and has made amazing gains.

I asked him why he wanted to abandon his book.  Wasn't he enjoying it?

He said he loved the book, but he was worried that he wouldn't pass the AR quiz.  You see, the book was slightly above his level and he was concerned that he wouldn't remember the minute details that the quiz would surely ask.

I asked him if he would keep reading the book if I didn't require him to take the quiz.

"Really?" he asked.  "I can do that?"  His eyebrows shot up and a smile spread across his face.

Yes, you can.

I want my students to become lifelong readers.  Readers who are excited about reading.  Who take chances and try new things in their reading.  I make lots of books available in my classroom, and I want my students to feel like they can read any one of them just "because."

After all, how many of us book lovers take a quiz when we finish a book?