3 Alternatives to Accelerated Reader (AR)
Guest Blog Post by Shaelynn Farnsworth
Accelerated Reader, Reading Counts, and any other program which substitutes students’ intrinsic motivation to read and replaces it with an extrinsic, point-rewarding system is wrong and is not what’s best for kids. While Research supports an increase in page numbers read through the use of points & rewards; research also concludes that there is where the gains end. Students do not become lifelong readers, and in fact, research shows that overall, extrinsically motivated readers will not increase achievement in the long term (Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997).
I recognize that no program in and of itself is inherently bad, and a few educators firmly believe in AR, I can honestly say that as a teacher I witnessed, first-hand, students despise reading when they entered high school because of the forced point quotas they were expected to meet each quarter. As a parent, I have seen my own son’s love of reading dwindle to nonexistent from the moment he was told to “find a book with a test” instead of the one he chose, The Ed Thomas Story (an Iowa football coach and beloved teacher who was tragically killed), because it was too new, wasn’t his lexile level, and didn’t have a test yet.
Taking a test does not make kids excited about reading. Readers read, write about what they read, and talk about what they read; this promotes habits that will transfer into lifelong readers. In fact, AR is shown to diminish the love of reading and according to What Works Clearinghouse, it received Effectiveness Ratings of Mixed to No Discernable Effect. In short, there is no research to support using AR increases student comprehension or fluency. In an education system ruled by data & research, it is surprising that money continues to be used to purchase these programs. It’s time to consider alternatives to AR!
3 Alternatives to AR
Objective – to increase the volume of books read by students.
1. Book BINGO Increase your students’ reading palate through Book Bingo. Borrowing
Increase your students’ reading palate through Book Bingo. Borrowing upon the concept of a BINGO Card, students can choose books to fit genres, concepts, or topics. If your students are like mine, I had a few that would only choose comic books to read all semester. Kids don’t know what they don’t know, and an observant and expert teacher or librarian can help to place the right books in the hand of a child. Book BINGO gives students and teachers a place to start. I have created an example found HERE. Feel free to create your own copy and edit!
Objective – to test kids to see if they read the book and understand what they read.
2. WBA Strategy
Writing is generative. It helps us discover ideas that weren’t at the surface and allows us to put into words our thoughts. While a motivation for using AR may reside in the fact that books have an accompanying test, the same objective could be met by having students write about what they read. This could be done in a Reader’s Notebook, completed through a Google Form, or posted in a discussion thread to be shared a the community of readers. The WBA strategy is one borrowed from Fountas & Pinnell which asks the reader to think in terms of Within the Text (summarize, recall, apply), Beyond the Text (predict, make connections, infer, synthesize), and About the Text (critique, analyze). Using these overarching areas, students write about all 3 areas to show that they read a book, but also demonstrate their understanding at a higher cognitive level than a multiple choice quiz. See my example questions HERE. Remember, depending on the reader, offering questions as a way to launch them into the writing may be a perfect way to start. For others, the larger 3 areas along with the verbs may be enough to get them writing!
Objective – to use computer software so that more kids are able to take the test and show that they read at the same time.
3. Book Discussions
Book Discussions make reading social again. And let’s face it, as adults, when we read something that moves us we want to talk about it, share it, and see if others have the same emotions and thoughts as you did. Get students talking about what they read. This could be done Teacher to Student, Student to Student, Whole Class, Small-Groups, Face to Face, and even in a Digital Space (Check out Recap or Flipgrid). When talking about what they read teachers can truly understand what the student thought notices and connected with in the text. Book Discussions are perfect for fiction and nonfiction texts, questions posed can be similar to the ones used in the WBA strategy. Or, use the Common Core Reading Standards to help you get started. When categorizing the standards, educators can clearly create 3 groupings: Standards 1-3 ask – What the text says, Standards 4-6 ask – How the text is saying it, & Standards 7-9 ask – How can you connect it to other texts, modes, etc.
Not Every book will turn every student into a lifelong reader, but any One book can. Alternatives to AR are vast, I am hoping that the three illustrated above will get your ideas flowing. When money that used to be spent on extrinsically motivating reading programs is freed up, my suggestion is to invest in teachers, through professional learning, largest gains in student achievement are found!
Finally, the last alternative I have to AR is to simply let kids read!
Shaelynn is an expert in reading and writing strategies. Specifically how to effectively integrate technology into reading and writing strategies. See more of her ideas on her blog: shaelynnfarnsworth.com. Bring Shaelynn out to your school for professional development. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
6 Alternatives to Reading Logs
Be sure to check out Shaelynn’s previous blog post “6 Alternatives to Reading Logs.”