As teachers we know how important it is to encourage reading in our classrooms, no matter what subject we teach. We equate reading success to lifelong success all around. As teachers we also know how incredibly busy our days are and how difficult it can be to meet children’s needs who either need daily remediation or daily enrichment.
Enter the Accelerated Reader, or AR, Program. When Renaissance created this program the founders anticipated classroom teachers using it as a motivational tool to encourage students to read while rewarding their efforts. According to Renaissance, “It’s all about practice. AR encourages substantial differentiated reading practice to create strong readers. Based on each student’s independent reading level, AR helps teachers set personalized goals for each student, and select books that are difficult enough to keep students challenged, but not too difficult to cause frustration. In addition, AR helps teachers monitor students’ vocabulary growth, literacy skills development, and reading skills taught through basal readers and other reading textbooks.” (Renaissance AR website).
Unfortunately many school districts have begun utilizing the AR Program as an actual grade requirement for classrooms, cutting the idea of self-motivation for students out of the picture and leaving reluctant readers in the dust. Many grade levels require students to obtain a certain number of points each quarter or semester, don’t allow students needed access to a computer to test and will give the students a grade according to how much, or how little, the students have met out of the set number of points, which is usually not a student-driven goal, but rather a goal established by the teachers.
These requirements are acceptable for those students who love to read, who read on or above grade level and who can retain information long enough to test. But what about those readers we all have who struggle with just basic classroom reading and testing, not to mention the added outside requirements of reading for AR points?
I always tell my students and parents that reading is ten percent know-how and ninety percent confidence and that reading is a cycle. As young children are learning to read and become more confident they will want to read more. The more they want to read, the better they will read which will continue the cycle.
However the same is true for reluctant and struggling readers. If requirements are made of the student to do something that is difficult and the student doesn’t get the help needed to overcome the difficulty, it is going to be very challenging for that student to reach the point goal. Then if a student doesn’t reach that point goal, it adds ’insult to injury’ by actually giving the student a low grade. Talk about breaking confidence and harming the reading cycle. Why do some school districts not understand this?
Not every struggling reader has an ability issue either. Sometimes all a reluctant reader needs is for the right book to be put into his hands. For instance in my experience most third and fourth grade boys love non-fiction books. Developmentally this age thrives on facts. Give them books on cars or electricity or gross body functions and most of them will gladly read and retain what they have read. However, for the most part there is not a huge selection of non-fiction books available to test over in the AR Program.
As teachers we need to look at the real challenge in our classroom such as: being able to help our students become better readers, identify those students who need remediation and meeting them where they are. We should equip them on a daily basis with the tools they need in order to build their confidence, which will in turn build confidence in other areas and create strong, well-rounded students.
Motivational reading programs should be used as they were intended: to motivate reading and build confidence, not tear down students.It’s ten percent know-how and ninety percent ability. How can you make a change in your classroom?
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