Accelerated Reader programs motivating students

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 18, 2000

&uot;I’ve never seen children read like I’ve seen them read with this program.&uot; Karen Foley speaks with conviction about the Accelerated Reader curriculum she uses in her sixth-grade class at Cathedral School.

And, after 19 years as a teacher, Foley believes she speaks with experience.

&uot;I’ve had kids who … in one year have read 50 books,&uot; she said. &uot;We’re sending kids to the high school library (for reading material). We’re not talking ‘Nancy Drew’ here …&uot;

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The premise of the read-at-your-own pace program is simple: Students read books from the program’s book list, then take a computerized comprehension test on what they read. They earn points for correct answers and progress onto more challenging books, with the computer keeping track of scores and progress.

Depending on how the program is structured, points can be used for any number of incentives, from class parties to currency at special &uot;Accelerated Reader&uot; stores to credit toward goals set and, at Cathedral, grade point averages.

Reading incentive programs aren’t new. &uot;As long as there have been librarians pushing books on kids, there has been some type of enhancement program,&uot; said Nancy McLemore, who oversees the library programs for the Natchez-Adams School District. &uot;Even if it’s just, ‘I’ll give you a bookmark if you’ll just read this book.’&uot;

But the Accelerated Reader formula — a nearly 20-year-old program that is part of the larger Reading Renaissance — has hit on a successful approach.

&uot;They read on their level, and read books they choose, and they’re sitting down a computer to test strictly on reading comprehension,&uot; McLemore said. &uot;If they did read the book, they will succeed on the test…

&uot;It’s an encouraging, totally positive, no-lose situation,&uot; McLemore said.

In the public schools, the program is used strictly to develop recreational reading. It was introduced to the district more than five years ago, but its popularity has grown in the last three years as computer networks were developed to allow the program to build.

&uot;It started at Morgantown and McLaurin (in the libraries) and the found it was really useful; it made the students want to read,&uot; McLemore said. Soon, &uot;the primary schools were jealous.&uot;

And the district began offering the program to emerging readers — those who benefit from&160;&uot;read-to-me&uot; books or who can read themselves on beginning levels.

Now, the program is offered in Frazier and West primary schools as well, with students in the enrichment program offered up to 100 titles to choose from at Frazier.

And McLemore, who oversees the library at Central Alternative School, uses the program there also to encourage students at all grade and ability levels.

&uot;It’s primarily to spark an interest in children and a love of reading,&uot; she said.

And the popularity of the program is measurable. While the district has yet to directly track the programs impact on language arts and reading comprehension test scores, McLemore said its popularity is easily seen through the increased circulation at school libraries.

At McLaurin, where more than 1,300 titles are offered in the program, total circulation increased by 3,665 from the 1997-’98 to the 1999-2000 school year. &uot;That’s a healthy increase,&uot; McLemore said.

Schools add titles to the program by purchasing computer software, at about $80 per disk, with tests for groups of titles — grouped by skill level — on each disk. In the public schools, the program is funded through Title 1 money, and schools have varying levels of investments, with the largest at Morgantown School, with about 2,400 titles available through the program.

At Cathedral, Accelerated Reader is integrated into the curriculum — students are actually graded on the progress they make toward their AR goals, Foley said.

&uot;You still have to teach the skill, but you do it in a different way,&uot; Foley said. The program at Cathedral begins in second grade, and carries through to the middle school.

Foley, for example, marries her course work to Accelerated Reader by encouraging students to read books on topics they are studying — from the Holocaust to medieval history — yet leaving the door open for them to pursue any interests they may have.

Foley sets reading goals for her students each quarter — based on progress and ability — and she sets aside nearly 40 minutes each day for students to read.

&uot;You think they do a lot of reading in school, but they don’t,&uot; she said. &uot;Every child, no matter what their level, will succeed if you just insist that they read 60 minutes each day. We give them 40 minutes in school.&uot;

And, in addition to the points they earn, students are graded on their progress in the Accelerated Reader program.

&uot;You’ve got be a realist,&uot; Foley said. &uot;Today’s children are motivated by things. But a lot of kids don’t care as much for the points in the AR program as the goal setting … they say, ‘I’m going to set this goal and make it.’&uot;