Thursday, February 25, 2016

Research Inside My Own Classroom

For the past two weeks, I have been reading research on a much debated subject among educators - Accelerated Reader, also known as AR.  I have read page after page of research, blog posts, and articles.  I even stayed up until 1:00 on a school night immersing myself in this topic.

Why?  I am very much against AR for many reasons, but I want to have conversations with the teachers who support it and the decision makers in my school district. Thanks to Pernille Ripp and Donalyn Miller and their session at Nerdcamp in Michigan last summer, I have requested an opportunity to open the discussion about AR.  I want to be prepared with research to back up my beliefs.  I want to have counterpoints to their points.  My mission is to protect the love of reading in my classroom, and I cannot just talk from my heart.

But sometimes I reach a point where I start doubting my beliefs.  I start asking, "Are they right?  Am I wrong?"

This week I had three incidents in my classroom that helped me put those thoughts back into perspective.

Incident One

One of my students finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone this week. He came into my class complaining because he could not take an AR test on it and wanted to know why.  I explained to him that he could not take a test on a book he has already read.  He said he had not read the book "this year."

When I explained to him that the books he read in elementary school follow him to the middle school, he replied, "You mean I read that book for nothing?"

I said, "Did you enjoy the book?"

He nodded his head yes, and I replied, "That is what matters the most."

Incident Two

A co-worker's third grade daughter came into school proudly announcing, "I met my AR goal and made the 100 point club today, and now I don't have to read anymore."

My heart sank.  I know she is a reader because I share books from my classroom library with her, and I know she will continue to read.  But this attitude towards reading is prevalent in so many of our students.

Incident Three

Last week I started book clubs with my students, and today was our first Discussion Day.  In one of my classes, we discussed what worked and what didn't work.  One student who has become a reader this year said, "We talked about the book and asked questions about the confusing parts.  It was fun!"

I stopped him right there and told him that he had just made my day.  That is what reading is all about.  No points, no incentives, no tests...just reading for fun.

Maybe I should stop reading the research.  Maybe I should pay more attention to the research right inside my own classroom.


  1. I am so proud of you for being willing to start the conversation. When the things we do, however well-meaning, are harming the love of reading then we must speak up. good luck and keep me posted.

  2. This is such a heartfelt and well written piece. It's also something I wrestle with. Several years back few if any students (or teachers) at our Title 1 school were reading. It was before I discovered Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, Penny Kittle, John Schu, or anyone else that could give me a solution to turn around our school and get our students reading. Another school in our district was celebrating their Million Word Readers, so I went to check it out. Our entire district had AR, but no one in our school was using it. So, I looked into it, read what I could find, went to training and spearheaded a campaign to turn our school into a school of readers. Without other knowledge or research at hand, we built our community on using AR. The amount of reading in our school, and truly the love of reading and joy in books has skyrocketed over these years...but I also have heard and seen the issues you mention above. And it breaks my heart!! As I've learned better, I moved my classroom away from AR as the focus and focused on my students joy of reading, but the program continues to be a part of schoolwide culture. If we could get everyone on board with a reading life that would be great, but that seems a long way off! Thank you for your post...I wish everyone could build communities of readers without falling back on programs like this.

    1. This is my 9th year of teaching, but it has taken me several years to fully see the light. I have never really liked AR because of what it did to my own kids, but I supported it in my classroom because that is what was expected of me. Now, I have tried other things and realize they work better. I am more confident in what I know is best practices and have more courage to practice them in my own classroom. Building reading relationships is the best part of my job.