JustinHaney.org

books, tech, lessons from a librarian

Category: 1. Creativity and Innovation

Danger, Will Robinson! Computerized, Incentivized Reading Ahead!

Wally_Cox_Lost_in_Space_1966

As an elementary school librarian, fostering students’ lifelong love of reading is my penultimate duty.  I embrace technology like few around me, but this unit study has been a personal struggle.  My exploration of the ISTE Standard 2 for Teachers (Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the ISTE Standards for Students) was centered on assessment of students.  My guiding question became:  What forms of assessments and digital tools would be appropriate for 1st through 5th graders to use during the course of an independent summer reading program?

My district (like many) is always striving for excellence in our students, and (like many) we measure our students’ success primarily with summative test scores and data.  With that in mind, we will be encouraging students at the elementary and middle school level to participate in a summer reading program.  Students are tasked with reading (primarily independently) with testing immediately following completion of books.  The students’ results on these comprehension tests will serve as proof of their understanding and efforts.  Our district is contracting with Renaissance Learning to provide summer-month access to their Accelerated Reader (AR) program.  My immediate concerns: (1) staff training (2) equitable at-home access for this online resource (3) ELL supports in place? And (4) cost.

I’ll be honest… Librarian-me wants no form of formal assessment in the summer months for my students.  Dad-me wants my three boys to read for pleasure while on break.  Today’s kindergarten students are yesterday’s first and second graders when it comes to academic expectations.  It’s vital that we allow our young readers to discover joy in reading at an early age, so it’s an ingrained part of who they are.  In her wonderful books The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller talks about the keys to developing lifelong reading habits. “Wild readers” as she refers to them: (1) Dedicate time to read (2) Self-select reading material (3) Share books and reading with other readers (4) Have reading plans, and (5) Show preferences for genres, authors, and topics.  

So what’s absent from this list? Summative assessments.  A student who is reading and making connections to text and self is fully engaged in their task.  Readers often talk of getting lost in a book.  At the same time, I’ve never once in my 14+ years in classrooms and libraries and homes ever heard a child say the words, “I can’t wait to take a test on this book to prove my understanding” or the follow-up “And please make it multiple-choice, and focused on vocabulary and short-term memory questions!”  Miller says, “Comprehension tests feed into a classroom cycle of assign it, then assess it.  But where is the learning and teaching in that cycle? Teachers assign these summative assessments in order to motivate students to read and to determine whether students did, in fact read a book. Where is the joy that we hope reading will engender in students?” (Miller, 2011, 131).

Going beyond my gut reaction as a librarian to many and a dad to three vibrant readers, I have to ask: is AR what’s best for kids? Is it truly the most cost-effective way to approach reader development?  Or are there better, more meaningful ways to inject reading into summer reading programs and beyond?  According to their website, the Institute of Education Sciences  “is the statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. [They are] independent and non-partisan. [Their] mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public.”  The IES website What Works Clearinghouse summarizes its findings: “Accelerated Reader was found to have no discernible effects on reading fluency, mixed effects on comprehension, and potentially positive effects on general reading achievement.” (Institute of Education Sciences, 2008) This is a remarkable statement when you consider that AR is the flagship product for Renaissance Learning, Inc., a privately-held company with a market valuation of over $1.1 billion.

So is AR the right tool for the job? In my experience and research, I would strongly argue it is not, especially when you consider the service we’re contracting for is on the low-end of the SAMR model.  In my opinion, any funds would be far better spent on providing more access to reading content, whether it’s printed books, online databases, or even e-content providers such as Overdrive, especially as we shift to a 1:1 device model at our upper grades. Reading guru, Jim Trelease: “Before committing precious dollars to such a program, a district should decide its purpose: Is the program there to motivate children to read more or to create another grading platform?” (Trelease, 2013)  Dr. Stephen Krashen is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, and he’s written extensively on the topic of incentivising student reading with programs such as Accelerated Reader.  “It remains mysterious to me why the obvious, most pleasant, least expensive, and probably the only effective way to improve reading ability — providing readers with interesting, comprehensible reading material — appears not only to be the last resort, but is often not even mentioned.” (Krashen, 2009, p. 25)

So now I’m a Luddite?  Not yet!  Technology definitely has its strengths.  We can encourage our students to communicate with classmates and kids around the world at sites like Wonderopolis and Biblionasium.  Responding to books is so different and so much more powerful on a longterm basis than online multiple-choice book quizzes.  We can encourage our kids to research online for the joy of it, seeking out answers to questions that arise during the freedom of summer months.

My initial search lead me to an adult reading challenge on the PopSugar website.  What I especially loved about their approach was that it focused on exploration and playfulness on the part of the reader.  “Read a book with a blue cover.”  “A book that takes place on an island.”  These were seemingly random identifiers, but I loved that aspect of it — what a great lead-in to get kids to explore library shelves for unread books!  So the search was on… was there anything similar already prepared for elementary and intermediate students?  The best example I could find was Scholastic’s 2015 100 New Year’s reading resolutions for kids.  They have published similar pieces before and since but the 2015 list is the one I’m going to adapt for my students’ use.  I am required to follow the district plan (AR testing for all books completed), but I’m going to do all that I can to encourage reading for fun and joy.  My hope is that students will use this checklist as a tool for self-reflection and self-assessment.

Reading is an art. It requires practice. It requires connections and support and beauty and time and freedom and curiosity.  The problem lies in the inherent difficulty of quantifying that sparkle in a child’s eye when they find a book that is right for them. There’s no rubric for it, but it’s a very real thing.  We get so caught up in 5-Finger Rules, and SBA scores, and Lexiles, and AR results, and we are losing sight of the sparkle.

 

Resources

Common Sense Media. (2014, November). Accelerated Reader educator review | Graphite. Retrieved April 24, 2016, from https://www.graphite.org/website/accelerated-reader

Greene, P. (2015, November 17). Accelerated Reader’s ridiculous research | Curmudgucation. Retrieved from http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2015/11/accelerated-readers-ridiculous-research.html

Hill, H. (2015, March 26). 37 Ways to help kids learn to love reading | Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/37-ways-help-kids-learn-love-reading

Institute of Education Sciences. (2008, October). Accelerated Reader™: What Works Clearinghouse. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/interventionreport.aspx?sid=12

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-teachers

Kohn, A. (2011). How to create nonreaders: Reflections on motivation, learning, and sharing power. In Feel-bad education: And other contrarian essays on children and schooling(pp. 87-99). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Krashen, S. (2003). The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of Accelerated Reader. Journal of Children’s Literature, 29(9), 16-30. Retrieved from http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/does_accelerated_reader_work.pdf

Krashen, S. (2005). Accelerated Reader: Evidence still lacking. Knowledge Quest, 33(3), 48-49.

Krashen, S. (2009). Anything but reading. Knowledge Quest, 37(5), 18-25.

Lapowsky, I. (2014, February 19). Education company Renaissance Learning raises $40 million from Google Capital | Inc.com. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/issie-lapowsky/renaissance-learning-40-million-google-capital.html

Miller, D., & Anderson, J. (2011). The book whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Miller, D., & Kelley, S. (2013). Reading in the wild: The book whisperer’s keys to cultivating lifelong reading habits. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Neary, L. (2013, June 11). What kids are reading, in school and out | NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2013/06/11/190669029/what-kids-are-reading-in-school-and-out

Pennington, M. (2010, January 24). The 18 reasons not to use Accelerated Reader | Pennington Publishing Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/the-18-reasons-not-to-use-accelerated-reader/

Platt, R., & Wolfe, J. (2014, August 20). AR killed my dog and now it’s coming for you | We teach, we learn. Retrieved from http://www.weteachwelearn.org/2014/08/ar-killed-my-dog-and-now-its-coming-for-you-a-defense-of-accelerated-reader-and-a-plea-for-less-drama/

Renaissance Learning. (2012). The research foundation for Accelerated Reader goal-setting practices. Retrieved from http://doc.renlearn.com/KMNet/R001438603GC81D6.pdf

Shin, F. H., & Krashen, S. D. (2008). Summer reading: Program and evidence. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

Trelease, J. (2013). The Read-Aloud Handbook chapter 5, pg 3. Retrieved from http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/rah-ch5-pg3.html

Photo

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c4/Wally_Cox_Lost_in_Space_1966.JPG

By CBS Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Getting Creative With Booktalks

creativity_1ISTE Student Standard 1: Creativity and Innovation
Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.

Much of my work in the first months of 2016 has been focused on exploring ISTE’s first standard for students and how that should look in an elementary library.  I celebrate the value of creativity every day: when I share stories books with my students; when I introduce them to the work of amazing artists and authors; when I encourage them to think creatively in their search for answers.  But as I have reflected these past weeks, I’ve been reminded of how much more I need to allow for creativity in student work.  

For the past several years our school has followed a morning routine during announcements over the intercom loudspeakers. It is very scripted, and in the past couple of years, most mornings it has also included a student book review. I love that the students are reading and sharing their responses, but I’m hoping to find ways for them to share that aren’t as formulaic and are more memorable. I’m also hoping to involve more 5th graders — there has been little interest on their part with the project as it’s been presented in the past.

Guiding Question:
Using technology, how can fifth grade students create memorable and meaningful book reviews in response to reading and how can these products be shared with a wider audience?

So the question became, what technology could I introduce to the students that would effectively introduce more creativity into the booktalk process?  My goal was guided by Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model.  Augmentation, where tech acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement — I really like the book talk process we’ve started and feel like technology could ramp up the fifth graders’ efforts (Puentedura & SAMR).  

With that in mind, I dove in. I read journal articles. I scoured websites. I scrolled through endless pages of Twitter tweets (feel free to follow me: @JustinHaney509).  A deep wade through a plethora (yes, I would definitely say it was a plethora) of outdated and inactive links did finally yield results when I discovered the work of an amazing team of librarians and technology specialists in the School District of West De Pere in De Pere, Wisconsin.  Their “Book Talks on Air” project and their yearly “Read Across America” project are exactly what I had in mind, though I didn’t know it at the time!  

The next afternoon, about twenty minutes before the final bell, and with no warning for the fifth grade teacher or his students, we dove in.  A student volunteered to give an impromptu book talk using a couple of our Chromebooks and Google Hangouts. Within the next five minutes, the fifth grade students had spent more time than they had all year on book talks, both as participants and as an attentive audience!  

tech_1tech_2

Next Steps

Now that I’ve found a tool that I think will work for sharing students’ work and now that it’s already proven effective in energizing students for the project, I want to explore the book talk process we have in place (written book talk form, with blanks to fill-in, 5-star rating scale) and open up more opportunities for injecting creativity into student products.  P21, or Partnership for 21st Century Learning, highlight the vitalness of creativity and divergence in student learning throughout their student learning framework. Puccio and Figliotti write: “Divergent thinking occurs when we apply the gas pedal to our thinking process and generate lots of options in response to a particular challenge (without taking the time to evaluate them). We race our engine, producing many, varied and original options.” (Puccio & Figliotti, 2014)

I know I am not providing enough opportunities for creativity in my classroom assignments. The ISTE and P21 standards are clear and well-founded in research. So why have I held back on letting go of control? The reasons are many, and the realities can’t be ignored.  As a teacher-librarian, I only see each class once a week, and that’s assuming there are no holidays/field trips/district trainings/etc.  There’s a lot of curriculum to squeeze into the year, and it’s easy for more open-ended projects to quickly extend from weeks into months. And there’s a library system to run and books to shelve…  But the reality is, if we want our students to more fully engage in their learning, it’s time to get creative. Quietly. But not too quietly.

Resources

Hemlock Creek Elementary School Library. (n.d.). Book Talks on Air – Hemlock Creek Library. Retrieved February 7, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/a/wdpsd.com/hc-library/events/book-talks-on-air

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-students

Puccio, G. J., & Figliotti, J. (2014, April 21). How to foster creativity in the 21st century classroom? – P21. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/news-events/p21blog/1398-how-to-foster-creativity-in-the-21st-century-classroom

Puentedura, R. (2014, September 24). SAMR and Bloom’s Taxonomy: Assembling the puzzle. Retrieved from https://www.graphite.org/blog/samr-and-blooms-taxonomy-assembling-the-puzzle

Images

Creativity in Progress by Amanda Hirsch; Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0); https://flic.kr/p/5tLtoq  (original image cropped/edited using pixlr.com)

Photos by Justin Haney

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