If you’ve ever managed AR for your school, you may have heard and witnessed things like this:
- “I didn’t even read the book and I got a 100!”
- “I didn’t have time to read a book. I guess I’ll take one on something I read a few years ago.”
- “I read the book three times, and I still failed the quiz!” (Cue tears…)
- Teacher: “What do you mean did you didn’t read a book? The due date for your AR quiz is today! Well, you better take a quiz on something.”
- “I didn’t read a book, but I know a lot about football, so I took a quiz on a football book.”
- “I read (insert title here), but now I hate that book because I failed the AR quiz.”
- “I failed the AR quiz, so my teacher wants me to read a short book and take a quiz by tomorrow. Got any short books?”
- “I need a really short AR book because I’ve been reading this new book that just came out, and it doesn’t have an AR quiz, so I need to read something really fast so I can get back to what I really want to read.”
Did you ever hear- “I love taking quizzes on books!” I sure as hell didn’t. I saw straight A students and avid readers not care, I saw students who don’t read very much give up, and I saw students spend more time trying to figure out a short cut of the system than actually read a book. If I could go back and do anything differently in my career, I would have yanked the plug on this program years ago and instead, built a culture of reading based on choice, based on interest, based on curiosity.
Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.
Do students love to read at my school? Yes! A resounding yes! They love to read because we share books all the time. We have numerous author visits. We speed date, book taste, have book clubs, show book trailers, and share book talks. We have a thriving reading culture. Did AR have anything to do with that? Not one thing. By requiring this accountability piece, that came in the form of the AR quiz, we were ultimately stifling our readers. It’s as if we had this beautiful garden with this one giant weed casting a shadow over everything.
I’m embarrassed at how many years I tried to make it work because we have a large school. Teachers needed a quick way to account for outside reading assignments. I used to be a 7th grade ELA teacher. I know that if you have the choice between spending a weekend grading 160 reading projects or running an AR quiz report, the AR quiz report seems very appealing. I now know that AR may be a temporary win as a timesaver, it’s a loss in the long run for students. It doesn’t create life long reading habits. It doesn’t create readers. It doesn’t grow readers. I can’t name one positive thing it did.
In recent years, I discovered some incredible voices in literacy education, like Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, Mr. Schu, Colby Sharp, Chad Everett, Penny Kittle, Jarred Amato, and I started listening. Really listening. I started really understanding what made readers, and I started envisioning how our reading culture could grow even more. What if our students could read a book purely for the sake of enjoyment? Do we have to have an accountability piece? Do we have to have a system?
I’m excited to report that we’ve yanked that ginormous weed out of the ground! We said no more AR, and we are starting this school year with choice based reading! ELA teachers have been following the leads of Pernille Ripp with the 25 Book Reading Challenge and Donalyn Miller with the 40 Book Reading Challenge and creating a vision for our school based on their examples. Together, we’re collaborating more than ever before and discussing ways to grow readers this year. We’re asking our PTO to help boost classroom libraries, and for the first time in a long time, the ELA teachers are excited. They are excited to create classroom reading cultures based on loving books and not based on keeping track of who hasn’t completed their AR quiz yet. When teachers are excited and motivated, watch out! Their excitement is contagious. I can’t wait to see what happens!
As I begin my 19th year in education, here’s what I know. It’s not too late to amend a broken system, to forge a new path, to seek the advice and expertise of others, to change. If it’s not good for kids, throw it out! Don’t be afraid to try a new way. We still have questions as to how our reading challenge will work, but we’re forging ahead, and we’re giving this our best shot because we know that freeing the kids up to read based on choice, is what’s best. There’s nothing that has to be perfect about it. It’s already perfect. The ground is clear, and I can’t wait to see how students and teachers blossom this year!