Saturday, 12 March 2011

How We Are Demotivating Readers

I read today in the TESS that East Lothian Council was leading the way in the use of Accelerated Reader and my heart sank. Have we not moved on from all of that?
You see the problem with packages like this is that they look really nice. They also ensure children read lots of books, which is never a bad thing, is it? Well, that depends on what we want from our children. Do we want to encourage them to read, to allow them to develop into lifelong readers who’ll value the things that we value? Or do we just want to make sure they are reading?
With Accelerated Reader, books are assigned points and pupils must complete a multiple choice (yes, multiple choice) test on the computer after reading to get the points. There appears to be free choice but only if there is a test for that particular book. Everyone in the class reads though. Why wouldn’t they? They get to go on the computer at the end. So what’s my beef?
Well, if all you want is to look into a classroom and see a class full of wee kids reading then Accelerated Reader is your man. However, I will throw a wee spanner in to the works. I would suggest that Accelerated Reader not only fails to encourage children to read for pleasure, it actually causes damage in the long term.
I was initially fairly impressed with the package the first time I tried it. A relatively reluctant class of mostly boys were quite happy to read away and complete their multiple choice tasks. Then I started to notice something. The boys began to look at the number of points assigned to a book before they’d even read the blurb or, dare I say it, judged it by its cover. So the book was valued on its points rather on the value of the book itself. After we moved on from Accelerated Reader, which they all must at some point, they stopped reading.
What happens when these children move on is that they become de-motivated when those points are not there anymore. Children are taught to read for the wrong reasons. The short term successes have serious long term drawbacks.
In his book ‘Readicide’, Kelly Gallagher cites some research done in the USA by Karin Chenowith. She found that:

            “...although students did a significant amount of reading in the program (sic) , their reading dropped lower than nonparticipants within one month of exiting Accelerated Reader. Without the points, their motivation significantly decreased.’
                                                            (Readicide, Gallagher, p.75)

Some teachers like the programme because it ensures a class full of readers; but believe me when I say it is merely window dressing.


  1. Really interesting post! I don't have experience of Accelerated Reader, although I did attend a short presentation on it recently. I did like the fact that it uses "real books" as opposed to a reading scheme - but I do remember wondering how meaningful the discussion surrounding a book could be when everyone is reading something different.
    (Yay! Now I can use my new login instead of my Alpacas of Lewis pseudonym!)

  2. Hi,
    Thanks for the prompt response. Don't get me wrong. I've nothing against every pupil reading a different book - in fact I actively encourage everyone to do that. See my post on Reading Journals. What I dislike about reading programmes is that they are the epitome of style over substance. They are an attempt to take the teacher out of the equation when, in actual fact, we are the most experienced readers in the room.
    Again, thanks for your comments, they are always welcome and encouraging.

  3. I loved your post on reading journals and think it is an ideal way to encourage reading for pleasure - I have recommended it (your post) to a few people as well! This is ideal in your setting. I suppose, I view everything with my Primary glasses on. Where I've seen AR being used in Primary they are replacing a reading scheme - and as a result there is no shared reading /discussion/appreciation of other books at the same time(other than short extracts)which there will be in your class. The joy of discovering a text can be lost when there is no-one to share the journey. (and just incase you haven't joined the dots with my many pseudonyms I am also Pandora's Pencil Case!)