Accelerated Reader: Instigator of Readicide

06/03/2012 § 21 Comments

AR book labels

Image from Victoria Leon at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com

Let me start off by saying, I am NOT attending Library School to become a Library Media Specialist. My knowledge on the topic of Accelerated Reader and other reading management systems is something that I have only begun to explore. I’d like to thank fellow Hacker, Britt Foster and my cohort at Pratt SILS Camille Baker for sharing their AR resources and viewpoints with me.

I wanted to write a post on this topic ever since I visited my sister’s classroom in California. Back in August 2011, I was helping her prep her classroom for the first day of school. Out of the various tasks that I was given, one of them was to sort the books from her library into baskets. Upon inspecting the books, I noticed that each book was labeled with a sticker that had a number attached at the spine. I asked her, “What’s this number mean?” it certainly wasn’t a Dewey number. She briefly introduced me to what is known as Accelerated Reader. This introduction incited my curiosity as well as questions like how is reading by a number level limit the reading choices of students? Does reading to reach a number of points change the choices that students are making in what they choose to read? Is this in every school across America? The following is some of my findings.

Accelerated Reader (AR) is a reading management program that a product of Renaissance Learning, it’s designed to track students reading activity.  The software that accompanied with AR provides computerized diagnostic tests to determine students reading levels, lists of books that correspond to their reading levels, book quizzes, as well as a data management system for teachers to use to keep track of students reading progress. The way AR works, is first, students take a diagnostic test to determine their Zone of Proximal Development, upon attaining their ZPD, student are to start reading books that fall in their book level (BL), and are to increment their book levels by reading books and taking book quizzes that test their reading comprehension of said book. Based on their performance of the book quizzes students receive points. The more a student reads and passes book quizzes the higher their reading level will be and the more points they will accumulate. The fact that points are awarded for passing a book quiz is to serve as a motivation for more reading. The collection of points can lead students to receive awards such as recognition at a school assembly, toys, gift certificates or even a pizza party.

Now, what’s “Readicide”? And what does it have to do with AR? Readicide is a new term I discovered in while learning about AR, it was coined by a English high school teacher and author, Kelly Gallagher. He defines readicide as “the systematic killing of love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools”. Let’s look at some of the various criticisms that exist for AR, and how such criticisms lead me to believe that AR is a contributor to readicide rather than the solution.

One of the primary criticisms of AR that make it such a controversial subject is what it does to student’s exploration of books and how it limits their recreational reading because students are limited to a list of books that fall in their book level. In my experience that’s what I enjoyed the most, having the autonomy to choose what books I wanted to read, to not have to adhere to a list or a book level. That freedom that I have to choose from across genres is what made reading engaging to me. That doesn’t happen with AR, rather than students having the choice of what they want to read students are choosing books according to what’s dictated by their book level, and only choosing books according to how many points the book is worth. When teachers or schools encourage children to read for points, and to strive to reach X points by the end of the year, term, semester, etc. for X reward this alters a students book choice tremendously. This essay I found in the New York Times written by Susan Straight, sums up the problem, she says, “the passion and serendipity of choosing a book at the library based on the subject or the cover of the first page is nearly gone, as well as the excitement of reading a book simply for pleasure.” That fun that used to be in browsing, noting intriguing titles, favorite authors, cover art, is stripped down to “how many points is the book worth?”

The next critique of AR which is the content of the book quizzes that children are required to take and pass in order to move up book levels. Most of the book quizzes, are based on the students memory recall of the book they have read. The questions are shallow, and don’t require the critical skills that students should be mastering. My fellow hacker, Britt Foster, who happened to be young enough to have had AR in her school had the following to say about book quizzes “The ability to remember detail has nothing to do with critical thinking, analysis, and, especially for elementary students, their developmental level.”

Another concern that involves both School Libraries and Public Libraries, is whether or not a students’ rights to privacy is being compromised. When books are labeled and shelved according to BL, classmates can now see what BL the student is reading at. There aren’t just privacy issues to deal with, but there is also the issue of how a children’s library collection should be organized. Should Public Libraries and School Libraries be labeling their books according to book level?  In my local library I saw that books were now being labeled with BL, and it saddens me to think what books are being missed when schools have adopted AR.

Lastly, I should say that  the way that AR is implemented, is completely unique and depends upon the school and the teacher. Not all schools across the country are using it, there are other reading management systems. What I have found astounding, is that as school continue to use such programs, or begin to adopt them, there has been no conclusive data or research that can conclusively point to AR as a main factor in children’s reading success. I hope that the readers who are in Library School for a Library Media Specialization or who are current Teacher Librarians, or Public Children’s Librarians share their thoughts on Accelerated Reader and reading management systems in general. Would you agree that AR is an instigator or Readicide? Have you been a witness to success stories of students who have used AR? What positive aspects are there to having AR in schools?

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