JustinHaney.org

books, tech, lessons from a librarian

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

 

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing and going to bat for your kids and students. When this program was first unveiled I thought it was a great idea as the book options (this was for 8th grade last year) were so interesting and varied. I hate the idea that they’re moving away from that to get results. What would you say is the general reaction from other teachers and parents about the program?

  2. Thank you for sharing your passion about reading for enjoyment through your post. I’m glad that you are keeping calm, but at the same time holding to your core beliefs that reading itself can be the source of a sparkle in the eyes of a student. Insert image of Keep Calm and Sparkle here >>>.

  3. We use the same tools in my school district (Renaissance Learning/Accelerated Reader) so I really appreciate you taking a critical look at the topic of summer reading using these tools. You ask some great questions that open up for a great discussion!

  4. Cheryl Steighner

    April 30, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    What a wonderful post, Justin! Our school finally nixed AR two years ago, and we have never looked back. The kids certainly don’t miss it, and it has allowed me to focus on having meaningful conversations with my students about their reading. We use the AR money to stock our library with relevant and new books, instead, and it has made such a difference in the reading lives of our students. We also provide a backpack full of self-selected books for our students receiving reading intervention right before they leave for summer break. Research has shown (but don’t ask me to cite right now…) that this type of program can be as effective as summer school for kids.

    You are right, though – we are so quick to want to assess students’ knowledge that we often forget to just step back and let them breathe a little…especially during the summer!

  5. Ann Hayes-Bell

    May 2, 2016 at 5:02 am

    Justin, your immediate concerns to summer reading AR are justifiable. How has the district responded to these questions? Did they consider alternative programs besides AR? Are they supporting readers without access to consistent technology by opening up schools on a regular basis? Is there funds to do so? I think the more librarians show the data that supports AR as negatively impacting the love (sparkle) of reading, then that’s one more advocacy hat we need to wear to support our students. Providing alternative goals or challenge like Scholastic Resolutions can be just as motivating, different, and fun for students (everyone)!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

© 2018 JustinHaney.org

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

css.php