Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Teaching, encouraging, and testing reading

This article introduces you to the somewhat bizarre world of Accelerated Reader, which has an odd way of deciding what a book is worth. For me, it’s another data point.

Discussions - 6 Comments

Most of the books in that program make for mighty poor reading. My daughter was in the A.R. program for the semester that she was in the local public school. She was there because I was not able to teach her to read, and I was desperate. They said they could help. Well. They were nice people and they tried.

She was NOT an accelerated reader, being dyslexic, but she knew literature. It was not only the books we had read aloud to her. She had discovered audio books from the library and listened to classics on her own. At eleven, she had, thereby, listened to all of her beloved Austen, much of Twain, E. Nesbit, Dickens, Shakespeare’s plays, as well as lots of ghastly girl-books that I refused to read to her.

She knew what she liked, and the latter indicates that she had a taste for literary Velveeta, as well as the good stuff. There were a few good authors on the A.R. program list at her low level, but not many. She hated what was left after she’d read the better stuff. Some of the questions on the comprehension quizzes were incomprehensible, too, even to me. They need better authors, there, as well. After reading this article, I feel a little better about not understanding the "intricacies" of the program.

My son hated A.R. when he was in public school, and we concurred, permitting him not to engage in the very popular program (rewards were denominated in terms of pizza and ice cream).

The school where I taught for eight years had the AR program, and while students may not have always enjoyed the forced reading aspect, it did get them to read and it did improve reading scores on standardized tests.

At our school, the AR list was very long and varied to include a wide range of genres. And, on the rare occasion that they didn’t have a test for a title that a student wanted, there was a way to make a test. I made many tests on books for students ranging from Alexander Hamilton to JFK. As with anything done in education, it is how you use the program that counts. We used it as part of their English grade, but I gave my students extra credit for reading historical books. The teachers implementing this program need to instill in students a love of reading, not just a desire to pass a test. Only then, will AR be successful.

What ever happened to book reports? I used to love doing those as a kid. Book reports got me excited about reading. It taught me reading comprehension as well as writing skills. As a very small child, it even taught me how to draw (as we were required to draw a scene from the story as part of the report). Moreover, it was my own work and it was something I could take pride in and a small part of my education over which I had control. But then, we didn’t have computers in our classrooms in those days. So much of this stuff seems to me to be slick marketing to the schools about the virtues of technology. Schools think we parents are very impressed with students taking a test on a computer. We should not fall for it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a test on a computer--but it’s over-rated, in my view.

I don’t think my daughter’s school does A.R.--but they do have a program called "Reading Counts." I think it is very similar--though there are no distinguishing values assigned to the books. They just have to pass a certain number of these tests each semester. They choose the books based on their own reading level but 20 books is 20 books. Does anyone know anything about Reading Counts? Is it the same kind of thing?

Book reports take time to grade. Computerized reading comprehension tests take no time nor thought in the grading.

20 books of low quality are not comparable to 20 well-written books. Well-written books inspire a love of reading and a love of language. I am not saying that kids might not read valueless books and enjoy them. Kids may read comic books or anything at all on their own time, knowing what they are reading and the difference between that and literature. I do say that to force a kid to read a vacuous book, say a whole succession of such books, is a waste of the kid’s time and is valueless in educational terms.

The problem with book reports is that too often the parents do the work for the students. Even in history, I don’t assign very many outside projects in class...I want the students work, not the parents. The AR program proves if the student reads the book or not because they have to take the test in the library and (at our school at least) they had to present the book to the librarian before they could take the test. Oh, and once a movie came out about a book, they couldn’t do a test on that book anymore (unless the movie was drastically different from the Gone with the Wind).

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