I was sitting outside my car filling up at the gas station, across the parking lot there is one of those quick payday loan money lender establishments. These types of businesses offer quick loans that individuals can pay back when they get paid, if not the interest can be crippling. As I was looking at this sign that had, “Come in and get your $10,000 today”. Funny in that moment I thought about a program like Accelerated Reader. The promise of students developing comprehension skills all while earning points and having fun and… What they forget to mention just like the sign on the quick loan establishment is the interest rate, what we will be paying for long-term for using their services.
This morning at the gym I was checking my twitter feed (in between sets) and came across a few tweets, teachers, parents and administrators all lamenting about AR and the damage it has done to students and the joy of reading. Now before anyone gets all worked up I know the program is not to blame, the educators that continue to use it are. We know better and we should do better.
I started the year this year asking my students about their reading life, likes dislikes, all that great stuff. Over and over I received comments that dragged computer reading programs. They were: boring, too easy, too hard, the questions didn’t make sense, the computer voice was creepy, I could just watch the movie and pass the test, my friends would just tell me about the book and I could usually pass, I picked easy books that I could read fast to get more points, I intentionally failed tests because I liked the series I was on and did not want to move up a level. That last one really made me angry. Angry because students that love to read felt forced fail a test because they didn’t want to be told they had to move up and read different books. I know that is not AR that tells them this but it is the teachers misunderstanding of how to use AR that created this mess. This is that hidden interest that just builds.
The AR quizzes can be mindless but they can also be tricky. I heard an author once failed an AR test on his own book…I have direct conversations with students that would help each other to pass just for points or speed read. Did their comprehension go up at all? Sure maybe marginally. Did their love of reading grow? NO, of all the students I talked to as they came out of an elementary program that has supported AR NONE gave it credit for building their love of reading. Some said they liked it because they read anyway so they got a lot of points but what about the ones that don’t read anyway? They are either being forced to read and take quizzes (negative) or they struggle to make the points their peers make because they are not reading at a high enough level or high enough volume but that point disparity (negative) defeated them as readers.
The hidden interest of programs, of which AR is the example, but there are others creating a debt load that our teachers can not pay off. We are losing readers to bad reading experiences because we want the fast easy money instead of putting in the work learning how to manage our reading instruction and the payday being students reading joy increasing. I am a broken record on AR, I know this. But if the first thought I have when I see some lending company promising riches if only you sign away your paycheck next week and I think hmm that is like AR maybe there is a problem.
I can’t convince everyone because hey, “It is the teachers using it not the program” or “AR is great my kids love the points” or “It makes checking if they are reading so much easier” but if we continue to have the conversations maybe people will stop defending a program that does not take into account the reader only the answers they give. I choose to invest in the reader. In the end that will pay off.