Tuesday, June 16, 2009

AR, a plaque and a race to the finish!

In no particular order. . .

Yesterday, I ran into one of my gifted first graders for the next school year.  We were catching up on what she had done the first few weeks of break.  She told me she had "raced to the finish" with the summer library program.  It had a car theme, and she had already completed the whole course. The first week of break. 

It reminded me of a program that my school had when I was growing up.  If you read a hundred books, you received a plaque at the end of the school year.  As a kid, I read about that many books a month!  I was excited to receive my plaque at the end of the year assembly with all the other kids, however it was kind of anticlimatic. 

Which brings me to my third point.  AR.  Many of you may be familiar with the Accelerated Reader program, however if you are not you can check it out here.  Accelerated Reader was designed to motivate kids to read.  They receive a series of prizes and incentives for earning points.  The points are received for answering questions about books. 

What these programs all have in common is that they were created by well-intentioned adults trying to motivate kids to read more.  Which all sounds great, doesn't it?! 

But not really when you look closer, and especially not when we are talking about gifted kiddoes. 

My primary concern- we want kids to be intrinsically motivated to learn.  We want them to learn for the love of learning, which gifted children do by nature.  They only become extrinsically motivated when we get in the way and start trying to bribe them to do what comes naturally!

Second off, gifted kiddoes work the system.  I know I did, and my students do!  Take AR.  You can read a Harry Potter novel or five Dr. Seuss books for approximately the same amount of points.  Which one are you going to do?   The questions are also part of a multiple-choice, computer-based system.  That causes them to be surface and lower-level thinking.

Same thing goes for summer reading programs. . .  Your child read five Dr. Seuss books and is five steps closer to the finish line in the summer reading game.  But have they really learned?  Have they truly grown in their love of reading?

Why bring it up?  To keep things in perspective.  Summer reading programs and AR are a great distraction.  If you want to play along, feel free.  But recognize that they are not an indictator of your child's reading abilities nor a measure of their success.


  1. That is what I like about our library summer reading program. It is "minutes" based. Students are required to read 500 minutes to get a halfway prize and 1000 to get to the final incentive. My 6 year old daughter reads because she loves to, but she also enjoys filling in her graph. She'up to 200 minutes, the program started yesterday. As her parent, I still have some control over how she does the programs. I will not let her count a book that she's read before, or one that is too simple or way under her reading level. It is great that she still can enjoy short chapter books and picture books, but those should not count as read books for this purpose.

    She is also doing the Barnes and Noble program. What is working for her with that one, is the writing. She is not as ahead in writing as she is in reading, and simply writing her favorite parts has been a fun way to practice this.

  2. This is a great subject to blog about. My gifted 8 year old son's school does AR and in the beginning he worked out the point system so wasn't reading challenging books. After we talked to him about it, he did change to the more appropriate level. I always try to get him to do the summer library program's reading log, but he has no interest in the incentives they offer. He loves to read and reads quite a bit during the school year and summer, so I guess I should just relax about the log book. :)

  3. Our school uses AR but you have to read books within your reading level for your points to count for your goal. If you take too many low level test your average will drop below your reading level and your points don't count. Reading levels and goals, are different for each kid, & are changed every quarter.
    I like AR at our school. I think it is a good way to track reading level growth and helps motivate kids who may not read otherwise.

  4. My son became obsessed with his school's AR program to the point of it being unhealthy. An avid reader from the beginning, by third grade he practically had a breakdown if he wasn't the #1 AR reader in his class each week, and the teacher used him as an "incentive" for the other kids to up their points and try to beat him. Rather than encourage reading enjoyment, I think AR has the potential to make reading just another school assignment. My daughter (not as competitive) hated that she could only read those books deemed at her appropriate level. She wasn't free to choose books she wanted to read, but forced to read and reread her AR book until the teacher let her go to the library to pick another from the correct level. Now, that we are homeschooling, both my children read for pleasure and choose books from a whole spectrum of levels and subjects.

  5. My daughter was obsessed with the AR program in first grade. She read the equivalent of 187 books (one of which was the first Harry Potter) by the end of the year.

    Fortunately, they didn't restrict her reading level for AR books and she chose many 3rd grade books, some 4th grade books, and of course HP was a 5th grade reading level and ended first grade averaging about a at 3.7.

    So, she was both competitive and loved to challenge herself. I did worry a fair amount though that she'd burn out, or that her other subject areas would slip because she's too obsessed with reading, but so far that hadn't happened.

  6. My 8 yr old son decided at the beginning of 3rd grade to beat the previous AR record of 400 pts and told his teacher that he would get 1,000 this year. I was worried at first bc thought it was a bit lofty and, prior to this year, he was not really interested in reading (liked math, computers and science). He started with The Harry Potter series and has read the Percy Jackson, Wolf Brother, Twilight, Piers Anthony's Magic of Xanth and just finished the LOTR series. He is competitive but doesn't melt down like I've seen in other gifted kids if he suffers a set back. He does read some "easy read" books like Box Car Children in between the larger ones or more difficult like Oliver Twist. He was given special permission to visit the high scool library bc he was running out of books in the elementary library within his reading level/preference. He loves it, and he does have other interests, but when he's in the car, waiting for appt.s, when he's finished his work in class, etc., he's reading. The school redid their pts/prize list to accomodate his goal, and this week he will get to "slime" the Principal in an assembly in his honor. He is a mini-elementary celebrity :)


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