Thursday, March 27, 2014

See How They Grow

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I finally found something good about Accelerated Reader.

This week I had my Pre-AP students, 8th graders, “analyze” their AR reading records from kindergarten until now. I haven’t done this before, but I needed a “filler” activity. And I had an ulterior motive…to gather intel on what the kids really think about AR, and what they remember about the program from elementary school where we still have incentives.

The amount of conversation this simple filler activity generated was amazing. Students were up around the room comparing records, many spent a lot of time looking up book covers to remember those very first books, and they were genuinely excited to see their independent reading career laid out before them.

I wandered around the room, asking questions to get them to think more deeply about what they were seeing, answering questions for them, and helping them figure out which books represented which year in school.

I also had them complete a reflection about their AR record, asking the following questions:
·       What trends do you notice in what you were reading (series, genres, periods where you tested a lot or not at all etc.)? What stands out to you the most as you look at your record.
·       How did your reading change from primary (K-2), to intermediate (3-5), to middle school (6-8)?
·       What do you think your record shows about your growth as a reader?
·       What do you think your record doesn't show about your growth as a reader?
·       One of the purposes of AR is to motivate younger readers to read to earn points. How do you feel about that as a motivator for reading?
·       What do you think are good ways to motivate kids to read?

As expected, the answers were all over the place. A lot of the students talked about how much they had read in primary, but not as much as in intermediate or middle school. I reminded them that we only require them to test on one book a marking period in middle school, so unless they were taking it upon themselves to test on every book they read beyond fifth grade, that might not be a fair analysis.

That led into a class discussion about the difference between being able to read and being a reader. Most of the students in my class are at least two grade levels ahead, and most of them are consistently advanced on the standardized tests. Looking at their reading records, most of these students have read over 300 books in their career, many even more than that.  However, over half of them admitted, in our discussion, that if I was not requiring them to read additional books for a blogging/AR grade, they would only read what they were assigned as whole-class reads. They are the most advanced readers in the school, but most of them no longer identify themselves as “readers.”

When I asked about the elementary incentives, again, most of them agreed that they read to get the points they needed for the parties and the awards. And in some respects, they are still only reading for incentives, now it just comes in the form of points in my gradebook.

I liked having students be able to see their “reading history” with AR. They enjoyed talking about their old friends Clifford and Arthur and Jack and Annie. But at the end of the day, it’s still all about the points for a majority of these students. Maybe it would happen anyway, that reading would take a backseat as they grow and their time becomes more divided into social and athletic activities, but I still can’t help but wonder if having students start their lives as independent readers counting points isn't causing them to become too reliant on external motivators to give them a reason to read.

My district still isn’t ready to dump the program. We have had it too long, and we cling to it like a raft in a stormy sea, afraid to let go because what if it really is help our students become better readers? However, I am committed next year to looking closely at the program and really using the data it provides to better assist our students to become readers, rather than students who can read. 

1 comment:

  1. is so cool that these kids have been in the same place for so many years...amazing data...I feel a dissertation coming :)