Reading Mislead!

This semester, students in READ 3325.20B were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Servando Lopez

Starting from elementary all the way to high school, they have integrated the Accelerated Reader (AR) in schools as a form of assessment for us students to “motivate” us to read. Coming from Mexico and my native language being Spanish, I found this not very motivational since I was in a way being forced to read books and test on them. At times they would even require certain amount of points at the end of the month for a class grade.  This only added more stress and I started to see reading as something I had to do rather than something I want to do.  In addition, reading to me became just the reading of words that I had to read and test in in order to get a good grade in class.

But is this reading is all about? No. Reading is more than just reading words off a book. Reading is something people do as a hobby, as a form of distraction, to gain knowledge from; it is where students use reading to learn whatever the reader is interested about. The definition of reading changes from expert to expert, but the reality is that reading is a mixture of those definitions that include fluency and comprehension of the text. Schools should have more sustained silent reading (SSR) or drop everything and read (DEAR) time within the classroom as a form of motivation to show the students that reading is not only used as a form of assessment, but as a form of incentive and for fun. Incorporate more read alouds and shared readings so we as teachers can display the importance of reading by showing that reading is fun while also educational.  Teachers should have a large variety of books with easy access for students in the classroom (like a mini library) so as an effect, students can have books close by to read in their free or designated times. This is what reading should look like to teachers and students rather than seeing it as a form of assessment.

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Accelerated Reader

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Garcia

Accelerated Reader is a software assessment tool used in the elementary, middle school, and high school grade levels throughout the nation; it helps teachers know their students’ reading level. The Accelerated Reader program is supposed to motivate all students to read, and improve their fluency and comprehension as well. There are many varieties of books that can be tested on by students from different grade levels. However, some of the AR quizzes I have read are comprised of very simple questions, which mean that students do not have to think in a higher order level to answer them.

It is recommended that in order for students to take an Accelerated Reader quiz, they read the book at least three times, without considering if the book is of the student’s interest or not. To add to the burden, students are expected to complete a certain amount of points every six weeks, which is called an AR goal. Many students get bored by having to read a book all those times just to take a quiz, and they sometimes lie, taking the quiz without reading the book, whichcauses them to get a bad grade. Furthermore, struggling readers get frustrated to know that sometimes they are the only ones that have not met the AR goal or that sometimes they already met the goal, but their average is too low and does not meet the requirements to accomplish the AR goal. The last day before each sixth six weeks end, we can see students outside their classrooms, siting on the floor in the hallways reading in a hurry just to meet the AR goal. Meanwhile, the teacher is teaching the rest of the class that has already completed their points, and those students that are reading outside fall behind because they are missing instruction.

I have seen students that are fluent readers that don’t take any quizzes, simply because they don’t want to read for that purpose. Due to that, there is always constant pressure to read, their purpose has changed to just take an AR quiz and complete the goal imposed not only by the school district but also by the campus that usually sets the AR goal higher than the school district does. This was the case with my youngest son when he was an elementary student, thankfully he still reads for pleasure, and ever since he was in fourth grade his reading level according  to a Diagnostic Report by STAR Reading was at a twelfth grade level or higher. What he would do because of the pressure for completing the AR goal, was that he took several quizzes at the end of each sixth six weeks from books that he had read before. He was always the top AR reader in the campus with more than a thousand points each year, but it was just because my husband and I, along with his teacher persuaded him to take those AR quizzes. His response was always, “I don’t have to prove to anybody that I read and comprehend.”

Students are supposed to read for pleasure, so that they can choose the book of their preference, and teachers must provide them with opportunities to write a short summary about the books read. Unfortunately, most of the time, we are not able to do so because of the pressure we have to make sure that our students complete their AR goal.

The Famous AR program

By Ruby

This post is written by a student in READ 4351 Learning through Literacy. Students in this course are part of the high school and all-level teacher preparation programs and are pursuing certification in a wide variety of subject areas.

After doing an adolescent literature project for my Reading course in UTPA, I realized that not much has changed to incorporate literacy in elementary and secondary schools. Growing up, I faced a new challenge each six week cycle to read a certain amount of books in order to be tested on these and obtain points. These points would buy small rewards in the library such as pencils, candy, bookmarks, and maybe even more books. This program was called Accelerated Reader (AR). Accelerated Reader is actually software used by many schools to monitor the amount of books the students read.  

After doing several interviews to a specific adolescent attending an Edinburg middle school and observing a class in an elementary school, I noticed that schools have not tried to modernize the literacy students do in any way, nor have they tried to approach this issue with other more appealing methods. Books are by no means bad forms of literacy, but trying to promote reading by instead forcing students to read is not the best way to allow this literacy to flourish. This AR program is not voluntaristic. Students do not have a choice as to whether or not they want to participate in reading books. This type of method to check whether or not students read does not teach any content, but rather teaches reading for recall. A student can easily just read a low level book, get tested, and meet the goal set by the school.

The schools that still use this AR program should instead invest on other more successful ways to promote reading and not just books, but also periodicals, online articles, or even blogs. Modern times call for the use of technology and this, as far as I’ve seen through my observations, is not very great in public schools. I have heard that some schools have done away with textbooks in order to save money and are instead assigning ipads with the textbooks in them. This is a start, yet more has to be done to target those children and teens who are not interested in reading because they view their school material “boring.” Content textbooks are not the best choice of recreational reading that a student may do. If this doesn’t change, students will not learn to appreciate and cherish a good form of literacy in their adulthood. I do not know how well other districts or states are doing in involving literacy in their schools, but the Rio Grande Valley has a lot of progress to do.

Literacy as a Tool for Rewards

By Flor Saldaña

This post is written by a student in READ 4351 Learning through Literacy. Students in this course are part of the high school and all-level teacher preparation programs and are pursuing certification in a wide variety of subject areas.

The Accelerated Reader (AR) programs are designed to quiz students from K-12 on certain books they have read. The grade on the quiz shows teachers whether students read the book or not by asking simple recall questions on the lower ends of Bloom’s Taxonomy instead of checking for comprehension. Many school districts offer incentives for reading books and testing on them to earn points which students can later cash for prizes. I, myself, grew up with the AR system and would read long, thick, books because they would offer the most points, and the more points I acquired, the greater prizes I was able to attain. I still continue to be an avid reader despite my involvement with the AR system; however, that is not the case for every student.

While conducting an adolescent literacy interview with my 16 year old brother for a class project, I discovered that the only reason he stopped reading once he entered high school was because the prizes went down in quality. He said, and I quote, “I stopped because in high school they don’t give good prizes, they are all cheap. What was the point if I was not going to get anything good out of it? I just wasn’t going to waste my time for nothing. I would read again if they gave better stuff.” When my brother was in seventh grade, every time he earned a hundred points, he would receive a Nintendo DS. By the end of the year, he had acquired two DS systems not to mention the other prizes he had won. When he entered high school, all he would receive were gift cards to local restaurants or movie theaters, something that he obviously did not find satisfying.

My 10 year old brother is also falling victim to the incentives of AR. He is beginning to read thicker books in order to gain enough points for a pizza party at the end of the year. A pizza party? Seriously? I can take him out for pizza anytime, in fact, we have pizza at least twice a month. Yet why does he want to attend this pizza party? Well because all his friends are going and he does not want to be the only one who stays behind. I have taken it upon myself to change his mentality. Okay, he can read books for points and prizes, I’m not going to discourage him from that, but I want him to understand, or everyone to understand for that matter, that do not let a silly AR label stop you from reading books that has less or no points at all. If you really want to read a book, and it does not have a red, or blue, or yellow sticker that indicate points, do not let that stop you from reading it.

I will not deny that the AR program does increase a student’s reading level. I believe that the more a student reads, the higher his or her reading proficiency will become. However, this system does not teach every student to read for pleasure, it teachers them to read for points, prizes, and grades. Once the incentives stop or diminish in quality, most students will also stop reading. A great teacher once told me, “The reward for reading is reading itself.” This is exactly the mentality students should have towards literacy. They need to be intrinsically motivated to read for pleasure and for entertainment not for some silly prize they can buy at Walmart.