books, tech, lessons from a librarian

Category: 2. Design and develop digital age learning experiences and assessments

Danger, Will Robinson! Computerized, Incentivized Reading Ahead!


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.



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



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


Reflection on Final Unit Project


It happens every February and March.  The calendar keeps creeping along.  Lesson ideas keep piling up.  Yearly SBAC and MSP testing is getting closer and closer.  And yet, we’re tasked with cramming as much content as we can into short weeks.  And don’t forget to make it engaging.  And so, I tried, and continue to try…

Each morning at my school, a fourth or fifth grade student presents the morning announcements via our building intercom system.  The contents vary slightly daily, but typically include:  “Good morning” recited in another language; the lunch menu, any pertinent school announcements, a Washington state fact, a history fact for the day, and closing with a book talk.  My goal is to work with a group of fifth grade students to explore ways of integrating technology into the AM announcement process and to increase student engagement, especially in regards to the daily book talk process.  This project is intended to demonstrate an understanding and application of technology integration into the planning and implementation of a classroom activity or lesson.  I will be utilizing the framework of the ASSURE Model:


Here’s a link to the full .pdf file of my unit plan and revisions:  Individual Project Haney

To be honest, the formality of the ASSURE model was a struggle for me early on in the process.  While it did force me to consider and reconsider and continuously revise my goals, the reality is I felt hamstrung with constantly trying to make sure I had forgotten anything.  The more time I spent following this ASSURE format, though, the more I realized that much of what I naturally do in my typical lesson planning already follows these steps.  Time is consistently the biggest hurdle to overcome.  As a specialist on a fixed schedule, my weekly time with each class is painfully short.  Add to the mix: holidays, field trips, assemblies, NCCE conferences, a guys’ weekend at a convent for one of my partner teachers (I can’t make this stuff up!)…  Put it all together and it quickly becomes apparent that lessons and skills can’t be introduced and mastered during the students’ library time alone.  That has been my biggest challenge during the quarter, and indeed, during the past few years of teaching.

So how to respond?  Blended learning is a promising next step in my library/classroom’s instructional model.  The idea of creating videos that students can watch independently on-demand, thereby freeing me to work with other groups at the same time.  There’s only one of me, but a blended lesson is about as close as I can come to cloning myself (it’s a bit unnerving to look around and see a video of yourself playing on all of the student’s Chromebooks!).  I’m excited to see where this leads, especially as troubleshooting becomes less necessary.  The kids cannot wait to start trying out web conferencing with Google Hangouts!

My first attempt at an on-demand lesson video for my students:

In many ways, my planned unit has been an utterly incomplete failure, and yet, I don’t think I’ve seen the students more engaged or enthused in quite some time.  But I’m not giving up.  Thanks to one of my fifth grade students, I know that when things seem bleak…student 1

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