Confession: I loathe Accelerated Reader. Perhaps the title of this post was a spoiler. My friend Jen Marten wrote this terrific article about what’s wrong with Accelerated Reader. I would like to add a few points to her wonderful list.
Much has been written about the problems with Accelerated Reader, and surely I am not original in my plea to schools to step away from reading for rewards.
Although I could go on and on, I will focus on my three biggest objections.
1. I’m a Libra.
The scales are my sign, and I love justice. AR is biblioinjustice. Accelerated Reader gives Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance a value of 71 points, while Homer’s The Iliad weighs in at a paltry 25. Go ahead and read a little of each and let me know what you think.
Accelerated Reader all too often makes the error of confusing length with complexity. And who is the judge? Who decides that E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan is equivalent in value to Flour Babies? This is insupportable, in my opinion. Of course, I’m not sure it matters, when all the reader has to look forward to are knowledge and comprehension questions.
2. Rewarding reading sends the wrong message.
Do we reward kids for going to the movies? Do we reward kids for playing with blocks? Why? Because we don’t reward what is already enjoyable. By rewarding, we send the message that the activity is undesirable and must be rewarded to get people to do it. Is that the message we want to send about books?
Read Dan Pink or Alfie Kohn to learn more about this.
Reading should be a lure, not a push. Reading is joyful, not choreful. AR is reverse reading alchemy – turning gold into dross.
3. Reading should be inclination, not prescription.
I guess you can tell how I feel about that by my use of the Samuel Johnson quote. I read at a 20th grade level. Yes, that’s a grade. Do you know what’s written at that level? Academic research papers. Should I have to read them all of time because I can?
What about when I was really little and wanted to read books in which I had to look up every five or six words because I didn’t understand them but just really, really wanted to read them? This I believe: read with wild abandon. Read whatever you want. Repeat.
Look, I get it. AR gets kids to read books they would not otherwise read. I think there are other, better ways to invite kids to do that. I have two degrees in English. I read like they’re going to stop publishing books tomorrow, and I believe in reading great books. I believe in reading hard books. I also believe in loving it.
So, well done, Jen, and thanks for letting me join the choir.
This post is worth .5 points on the Good Reader Award. Except how it’s not. It’s just here to read. You know, because reading is fun, not a chore, an assignment, or a competition. At least it shouldn’t be.