Monday, July 3, 2017

Life After Accelerated Reader

Those of you who know me or have read my blog for awhile, know that I have a strong disdain for Accelerated Reader. I teach in an AR district, but thankfully, I am not forced to use it. Sadly, it is not like that for everyone in my district. I know we have teachers who do not like using AR in their classroom, yet we also have teachers who would struggle without it.

I recently had a conversation with a teacher who knows my opinions and knows that I have been successful without using AR.  She asked me what would be the first things I would do. My first response was that I would buy every teacher a copy of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.

I fear that many of our teachers would struggle if we discontinue AR because we have used it for so long, and they do not know anything different.  I am sure many teachers, not only those in my district, have this same fear.  I am proof that there is life after Accelerated Reader.

If you know teachers who use AR and are afraid they can't teach without it, then send them a link to this post.  Let this post be their life preserver; give them something to hang on to and let it buoy up their strength to make the decision that is best for readers.

Is there life out there?

You have to believe that a reading community can and will exist without AR. You not only have to believe it, but you have to live it.  Is it easy? No. One of the positives (if there truly is one) of AR is the ease in its implementation and the little work it places on teachers.
Easy is not always best for our students. 
(click to tweet)

To believe in this new path, you need support.  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller or other books, articles or websites that support reading communities.  This is where you will read real stories about real teachers who have been in your shoes and have broken the chains of AR.  
  • Know the research.  Donalyn Miller has a great blog post with links to research. When someone questions your practices, you must be knowledgeable and you must be confident. You must know that research supports that giving students time to read and access to books is connected to reading achievement. Reading achievement is not connected to answering multiple choice questions after reading a book. 
  • Find your tribe.  I always thought I was the only one in my district who did not like AR. I learned that I was not alone, but many were afraid to take that stance for fear of backlash from other teachers or administrators. Becoming a connected educator through blogging and Twitter and attending literacy conferences made me realize that I am not alone.  Other people who believe in the same things as I do really do exist.
Where do I start?

The biggest obstacle for any teacher wanting to build a reading community without AR is knowing where to start.  If you ask teachers this question, you may get different answers, but many would include these five steps:

  1. Live a literate life.  Would you send your child to swim lessons with an instructor who never gets in the water?  Of course not.  So, why should our students have teachers who do not read? Being knowledgeable and excited about the books in your library is one of the best ways to motive kids to read.  Create a display of the books you have read. Have conversations about books with your students. Hand them a book and say, "I thought about you when I read this."  Building this connection with your students shows them that you are a reader.
  2. Plan regular book talks.  Make it a point to talk about a book(s) each and every day. After I do a book talk, my students can't wait to read it.  Many times, I have to have a drawing to see who gets it first. When I intentionally write book talks in my plans, I tend to do them more. It becomes part of my day.
  3. Build your classroom library.  Having access to books has a positive impact on student engagement.  If we want kids to read, they must have a quick and easy way to get books in their hands. Having access to books makes it easier for us as teachers to match kids with books.  And this is one of the most important jobs of being a reading teacher. 
  4. Make reading its own reward. Tangible rewards do not work.  Having students earn points and using them as motivation may be a quick fix for a grading period, but it does not create lifelong readers. And that should be our ultimate goal. I know teachers who punish students for bad behavior or for not making their AR goal by keeping them in for recess and making them read.  This is wrong. This is teaching malpractice. As Donalyn Miller says,

    "When we communicate to children that the only reason to read is to earn a reward or grade, we fail to impart reading's true value. 
    Reading is its own reward, and it bestows immeasurable gifts on readers."

  5. Find value in all reading.  This will be one of the hardest actions for an AR teacher to do because many are used to handing kids their ZPD and monitoring these levels. But let them read. If they want to read a graphic novel, let them read.  If they want to read a magazine, let them read. If they want to read a book that is too hard or too easy, let them read. With your professional knowledge as a teacher, you will guide them to find books that interest them and that they are capable of reading. To paraphrase Donalyn Miller, find value in all reading and let them know that all readers in your classroom are valuable.
Eliminating Accelerated Reader from your classroom and building a true reading community takes time and takes a lot of work. You must trust that your readers will read, and they must trust you to create an environment that nurtures a reading life.

When you have a true reading community, trust is the glue that holds it together.
(click to tweet)

Yes, there is life after AR. Be brave enough to seek it and find comfort in knowing you are not alone.


  1. We are on the same page here. I do live in an AR district and sadly one of my schools even uses it for grades, not to mention leveling so that kids can't read outside of a given level. To me there is so much wrong with that system, but I tried to fight it and was not successful. In my classroom behind closed doors you will see an active classroom library and readers who read what they want to read. Thanks for being brave and writing this post.

  2. The punishments, including grades, of AR are so, so sad. Luckily I have had principals that see what I do and will let me do my own thing. It's a tough battle, but one I am willing to fight. I remember reading a quote from The Sisters that said something like, "nod your head, close your door and do what you know is best for kids."

  3. Fantastic post! I've not had to battle AR, but RAZ Kids, Lexia, iReady and Moby Max are options in my building. Thankfully I'm not required to take on any of these, however I'm saddened by how many teachers do rely on these programs and feel real teaching and reading are taking place. I shudder to think how many new books could be bought each year with the money spent on these subscriptions.

  4. You ROCK!! I've read Ms. Miller's book. Love it! Another great book along the same lines is Penny Kittle's "Book Love." Our district has recently adopted the reading workshop model using Ms. Kittle's book for our reading classes. Supposedly they will begin rolling out the model to the ELA classes this year. I totally plan to use your idea of having a display of books that I have read--probably on my door.

    I've never been forced to use AR, but I'm so glad that you have offered actionable advice for others!