Wednesday, December 21, 2016

No AR, No Big Deal

This post was co-written with Rachael Peck (@rachaelpeck23, you can check out her blog here).  Rachael and I are both elementary school principals in the Roseville City School District.  

Last year when the decision was made to stop using Accelerated Reader.  Since we posted our blog post Why We Are Moving on from AR, we keep getting the same two questions: What are you doing now that AR is gone? How are teachers and students feeling without it?


As principals we get the opportunity to be in classes and talk to students and teachers on a daily basis.  We have the opportunity to see kids in all grade levels reading and engaged in activities with their reading.  So what have we seen?  There has definitely been a shift in how students show their understanding of what they are reading.   Teachers have been creative with their activities allowing kids choice and a chance to share what they are learning in multiple ways.  We are both seeing things that weren’t in our classrooms a year ago when we relied on AR quizzes.  


Some of the things we see include:

Book Conferences - Teachers are meeting with kids one on one to talk about the books they are reading.  Teachers are asking questions.  Kids are talking.  Conversations are taking place not only about the book, but also about if the books are a good fit, and recommendations are being made for other books to read.

Book Talks - Kids are sharing their book with others.  They’re talking with partners, small groups, and in front of the whole class. This not only shows their understanding, but also generates an excitement for other students to read the book.  

Book Reviews - There are a variety of formats on how this looks in classes.  Some teachers are incorporating technology and using Padlet or Bookopolis for their reviews.  Others are using traditional paper and pencil for kids to write a review.

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Keeping Track of Books Read - Some teachers have created graphs or Google forms to log the book genres.  Others have students make their own Google sites for students to log books they read and their overall rating of the book.  

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Reader’s Notebooks - Some classes have created personal notebooks where kids get to respond in writing or pictures about their reading.  The kids get to choose what they want to write about and/or draw.  The kids loves these books!  They love that they get to choose.

Sharing what we see is important, but we also feel it is important to hear from our teachers.  After talking with them there is a mixed response.  For those that had their students take AR quizzes on a regular basis, some miss the accountability they feel that they quizzes gave them. Others however love that their kids are talking more about books and not having the pressure around reaching a goal.  

“I love the Reading Response Notebook and how I've seen the students take pride in them. The only negative for me without AR is not having the ease of looking online to see how many books a student has read and their comprehension (on details at least) of them.”
Jill Padilla, 2nd Grade Teacher, Sargeant Elementary

“No longer the stress of taking test and wondering if a student should read a book because of its point value. Kids are reading a book because they want to.”
Erin Roberts, 3rd Grade Teacher, Stoneridge

“Negative-AR is a quick way to check in with student reading. I liked that it was an option for kids to take a quiz if they wanted. Some kids really liked it.
Positive- Some kids got stressed out with goals/points. Parents also felt this, so it's a positive to not have ‘worry’ as a part of reading.”
Sheila Schue, 3rd Grade Teacher, Stoneridge

Mr. J, a 4th grade teacher as Sargeant put it best, “I really didn't look for something to replace it. I have been blessed with a group of students that truly love reading and we make time to read (for pleasure) everyday.”

That is exactly what we want for all of our kids.  We want them to find time to read every day and truly love it now and for years to come.  

Not only are we seeing differences in what kids are doing, but we also see teachers sharing ideas with others.   Two of the teachers from Stoneridge Elementary are even providing professional development to other K-5 teachers in our district at upcoming professional development.  Here is their session description:

If you’re looking for some engaging, practical, and motivating strategies to track your students’ reading, then look no further! Our techniques will help your students fall in love with reading and books and we will you help build a classroom community of readers.  We will be discussing some electronic tools such as Padlet and Bookopolis, as well as some good old fashioned paper and pencil strategies.  We will share best practices that incorporate writing, speaking & listening, and more. Your students will be begging for time to read and you will be amazed with their growth and love of reading.  

That description sounds a lot better than teaching teachers how to give an online multiple choice test.  
When we asked students if they missed AR, there were a variety of responses.  Some students mentioned that they miss the rewards aspect of it.  This isn’t hard to believe since most kids like a reward if one is offered.  However, once again the research is clear on rewards for students and that they produce short-term gains but not long-term results. We want the long-term results.  It was interesting to us that when we talked to students, even the ones that liked AR, not a single student said they read less because AR is gone.  We could find many students who did not like the pressure of meeting their AR goals and are enjoying reading more than ever.  

At the end of the day, take away AR, and your school will survive.  We can’t say for sure that kids are reading more without AR, but we know they are not reading less.  Without a doubt, kids are talking more about what they are reading than ever before.  Kids are sharing books with others and getting excited about new ones they hope to read.  Teachers are coming up with creative ways for their kids to share their reading and understanding with others; something that a multiple choice quiz doesn’t do.  There is also the cost.  Our school combined are saving over $7,000 by not having AR.  So yes, some students miss the point rewards.  Some teachers miss the accountability piece they felt the quizzes provided.  If students are talking more about books, reading just as much (if not more than ever), and teachers are coming up with more creative ways to know what kids are reading, then there is no reason to go back to AR.  



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