Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Reading Workshop > Accelerated Reader

I get why you want to use Accelerated Reader (AR). If you're anything like I was, you are thinking, "My kids are reading all these books that I have never read. How can I really know if they are understanding if I haven't read the book? How can I monitor them effectively if I don't know what their book is about?"

Good news: You don't need to read all the books your kids read to know if they are getting the most of their independent reading. Also, you most certainly do not need to make them take a test on a computer to track them.

Let me tell you some more:

I used AR religiously during my first through fourth years of teaching. My students were only allowed to check out AR books from the library and our library was organized by AR level. All the books we did not have a test for were organized like real life books are - according to the Dewey Decimal System. This particular school called these books 'fun books.' (Aren't all books fun books?)

Anyways, as a new teacher who didn't know much about reading instruction, this worked for me. I tracked their reading, set their AR goals, watched them meet them, and then awarded them accordingly. They were reading and that was what is important. AR worked for me....until I learned more about reading instruction.

In grad school, the more I learned about Reading Workshop, the more of an issue I had with AR. 

First, AR is not authentic. In real life we do not check out books according to a level and we do not need to take a test on the computer about it when we're done reading. Instead, we do what real people do with books: read them, talk about them, consider what happened to the characters or what new things we've learned,  talk about them some more, and then put them on our shelf and move to the next.

That's what children should be doing.

Another issue I have with AR is that kids are essentially reading to get something - some kind of award or prize or incentive. Shouldn't kids be reading because reading is such a great way to pass time or escape? Shouldn't they read to have "lived through" experiences from the characters in their books, who might do something they are contemplating, and by reading the book they can see the consequences of such actions? Shouldn't kids be reading to learn new things related to their interests or read because they love, Love, LOVE a character or setting or series of books? If that is the case, then why are we giving children prizes for doing what real-life adults do for pleasure?

Finally, I have an issue with the tests - these quizzes are not exactly calling for students to do lots of higher-order thinking about the texts they read. Children aren't able to articulate opinions or discuss possible alternatives the character may have taken or reflect about the text they just finished. Aren't these quizzes mostly just recall of trivial facts from the book? Do you always remember some random minor character in the books you read? And if you forget a characters' name, does that mean you are a poor reader?

Do you need more research? on with the links below.

What Works Clearinghouse - Accelerated Reader

JSTOR articles: (JSTOR - Read these articles free online, but you have to pay to download them.)

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy
Vol. 45, No. 1 (Sep., 2001)
contains: The Argument against Accelerated Reader
Deborah Biggers
pp. 72 - 75 (4 pages)

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy
Vol. 46, No. 4 (Dec., 2002 - Jan., 2003)
contains: Accelerated Reader: What are the Lasting Effects on the Reading Habits of Middle School Students Exposed to Accelerated Reader in Elemenatary Grades?
Linda M. Pavonetti, Kathryn M. Brimmer and James F. Cipielewski

pp. 300-311 (12 pages)

So have I persuaded you? Maybe you're considering a new view point, but you're thinking, "Great, Michelle. But what am I supposed to do if I don't teach my kiddos how to do AR?"

Well, more will be coming on this. If you'd like to get a jump-start, I recommend reading The Daily 5 or The First 20 Days of Independent Reading (This is found in Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3 - 6. You can find info about both of these books on my recommended reading page!)

Just know that this process will not be cut and dry. Your Reading Workshop will be a little messy because reading isn't black and white....and, you'll be learning along side your students. You might not have all the answers. That's okay. Sometimes you have to give up a little control to see kids flourish. Trust me, if you do....they will.

Your thoughts?

Until next time,


  1. I agree with you on AR. Could you share a little about how you maintain accountability for independent reading, when you have not read the book yourself. Thanks
    Judy Connelly

    1. I guess I never did do that follow up yes! For sure! What grade level do you teach, Judy? Thanks for stopping by BigTime Literacy!

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