Growing up if I read books and completed my reading log I would get points and if I earned enough points a month I received a free personal pizza from Pizza Hut. Man did I love pizza and that motivated me. Most months I earned my pizza. I can’t remember any of the books I read as a kid but I can remember getting my personal pan pizza.
I jump forward to my first year as a teacher. I thought coming in to my new job about all the things I learned about authentic literacy experiences in university. At the time Guided Reading and Balanced Literacy were the big deals. The Cafe and Daily 5 model were catching on everywhere and kids were developing a love for reading because they could read with partners and had good fit books and… the list goes on. Then I was introduced to the Star exam and Accelerated Reader. Computer programs that I was told would really help me determine my marks in reading because it just prints it all out for you. Imagine that, I can get everything I need from a computer print out, check to see if my kids are getting the wrong answers and just let the computer do most of the work…I was horrified by the idea. I watched students struggle with the computer programs frustrated and giving up, not just on the tests but on books. A student would test at a grade 9 level in grade 3 then the next test would be so hard they would fall to grade 4 and look defeated. They would compare their dot colours and remind each other who the better reader was. AR and its competitive formula was creating a toxic reading environment and I would have nothing to do with that. I changed my teaching, focused more on talking to my students and things got better. I changed schools and grades and eventually escaped the direct reach of AR and Star Reading.
My students are not always so lucky. The librarian at my new school told me about a student that was an avid reader and then the combination of AR and frustration did them in. Now at a much older grade they still are a self proclaimed “hater” of reading. It breaks my heart. When I told my students this year in my class there would be no AR, no levels on books and no computer programs just reading and talking about books they cheered.
3 months in some of them probably wish I would let them just read books and take tests because well you can detach from that. It is not about connection. Book talks, sharing with classmates and friends that is about connection. The deafening silence as you pause after the wall of Mahmoud’s apartment it destroyed in Refugee-Connection. The laughter as Freak is going crazy about Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur in Freak the Mighty-Connection. The two students wanting to skype with the author of Some Kind of Happiness because it was “So Awesome”-Connection
Reading is about Connection. You can’t get that when focused on answers while staring at a screen. We need to be replacing mouse clicks with page turns. Unfortunately some teachers will continue to fight for their “precious” AR and other programs and I will continue to speak out against them. In the end a conversation with my students about the books they are reading will tell me more about their reading life than a print out with trend lines ever will. In the end it is about one thing to me. If only one reader is put in jeopardy because I sat them in front of a computer to take a test instead of sat with them and talked about the things they love when reading a great book I have failed that one reader. If only one reader in my class is lost to the perils of AR and other programs like it for me that is too many.
Where is your line? How many more stories must teachers tell of the readers lost before we start to say ok maybe (big maybe) there are some good things but what about the ones we lost because of the bad?
Reading is about Connection. Between readers and their books and the conversations that follow.
If only one reader…