Saturday, April 10, 2010

Competition -- Good for Reading??

Today I may lose some friends with what I am going to say. But it is something I feel very passionate about, and I have to speak out.

I went to work with kids again on Thursday and was reminded of how much I really do not like incentive programs for reading. Call it AR, star charts, pizza parties, what have you -- getting kids to read for a reward or points RUINS IT. Not for all kids, but in my experience -- most.

Here's what happened. The little guy Mrs. C asked me to work with had picked out a book for AR and, instead of even sitting down to read it, had taken off to the library for a computer to take a "test" on it.

As I headed out the door to find him, I heard her say, "That's probably why he's not passing the tests." OH. That was a good discovery - lots of kids do it, but it's not easy to catch.

So I found him, already logging in. "Hey there friend," I said. "Can we read that book together? I want to hear it -- I have heard great things about it."

He slumped into the chair next to me. "Why? Reading it is a waste of time," he replied -- so loudly, I might add, that even the librarian heard him.

Now, if that had been the first time I had heard that, I might have been shocked. But this is not my first run in with AR and kids trying to rack up the points.

ARGH! I have heard it all -- "Is this an AR book?" "How many points is this?" "My parents say I can't read anything but AR until I reach my goal points..."

I will tell you - those statements have made my blood boil and my eyes water too many times to count.

I do see the merit in having comprehension quiz after a child reads a book. I see how the leveling helps select books...I GET IT. I am not saying it has no good to it, BUT...

AR isn't the first incentive/levelling program to hit the block. If you are of my age (yes, old) you remember the SRA kits that sat in our classrooms. You read a passage, answered questions, and moved up the color levels. I loved it...I moved up those levels as fast as I could...yet I don't remember ENJOYING anything I read. In fact, I don't remember anything I read.

But boy, did I get satisfaction from being at the "gold level."

Here's where I get upset, and yes, I may need to see a therapist because it is my own issue, but I don't think so.

Let's go back to my little guy. After he told me reading was a waste of time, I exclaimed, "Oh my goodness! Really? Well, I know you are a good reader, and good readers know that there are always favorite parts or funny parts or aha parts in books and the only way to find them is to read them! Come on good reader...let's do it!"

Notice what I did. I did not react or even address what he said. I refocused, and told him I knew he was a good reader...and what he, as a good reader, was going to do.

We began reading, and yes, I found out, as I suspected, that reading isn't that easy for him. But we worked through the book. I made it a point to really show my enjoyment of different parts in the book. At first, I caught him looking at me like, "What is this woman on???" But soon he was talking and laughing right along with me, and predicting what would happen next. Of course I praised him for his good thoughts.

When we were done, I asked him what his favorite part was. He pointed out it was when a mouse was sneaking into the pantry and then eating so much he fell asleep. I asked him if he would have known about that part if he didn't read it. He admitted, no.

Hah! I win!

Rather than focusing on the test, we focused on the book, and look - he enjoyed something from it!

We then went over to the computer where he took the AR test, and did better than he had done on most of his surprise.

My deal today...if you have a struggler, don't make it about rewards outside of the reward of reading. That will create that external drive to make reading a competition, or simply something measured by quantity.

I want kids to fall in love with reading. Not winning.

So sorry, AR...sorry, chart driven star users...I am not a big fan.


  1. I am not a fan of AR either. Like you, I "get it", but I've noticed that, with my own struggling readers, it actually heaps negative feedback (test failure and ineligibility for rewards) onto negative feedback (trudging through unrewarding work).

  2. Thank you so much for writing this! AR was a huge pifall when we moved to Texas from Maryland. My then 5th grade son went from being in a "gifted" program to failing AR tests. He wanted to read for pleasure, not being told to read for points.