Accelerated Reader Quizzing & Picking the "Right" Book

Guest blog by Andrew from Match Next

For a few weeks I’ve been describing our approach to getting kids hooked on reading. Jamie G. commented on my Accelerated Reader post:

Couple great points in there. Thanks, Jamie! (btw, I hear Johan is looking for a new team these days)

If you missed the Accelerated Reader post, AR is a website with a short quizzes about a bunch of books. When a kid finishes a book, we have them go and take a quiz.

Jamie, to your last question, the quizzes are not part of the students’ grades. We only use the quizzes:
a) to make sure the student actually read the book and understood it on a very basic level, and
b) for the team competition. 

I’m not sure how I feel about including something like AR quiz performance in a student’s grade. On one hand, once ‘pleasure reading’ turns into a chore, it can lose its spark. On the other hand, people often need a little push to actually go and do the things they themselves enjoy. Like exercise.

Here’s a picture of the big velcro board we use to track students’ reading.

On the left side, we track how many points each individual student has earned just for that week. On the right side, the figures represent the team totals for that week. All of these markers reset to 0 every Monday.

A bit more on our teams. All 50 of our students are divided into 8 teams. Each team has a collection of students that, when you add up their historical weekly reading averages, read about the same amount. So in theory, each team has a similar shot at reading the most each week.


To your first question - is fiction better than non-fiction, even when it comes to pleasure reading?

Let me add to that - are books better than articles, essays, shorter works?

Ie, let’s say you have four options (assume they’re at the same reading difficulty).
1) a fiction novel.
2) a nonfiction book.
3) a short story.
4) a news article.

You’d want every student to get exposure to each of these options. Take that as a given.

Your question seems to be - why do we always focus on #1 - the novel - when it comes to pleasure reading and kids?

Reflecting on our own program, I think there are a few reasons:
1) Preference. Our school’s ‘librarian-types’ (ie, the people who seem to know what to put in most kids’ hands that will get them reading like a maniac) simply know more about kids’ fiction books. Maybe its their personal preference.
2) Volume. There are way more young adult novels out there than nonfiction books.
3) Longevity. It’s way less work to get a kid hooked on a series of novels than on shorter stuff. Let’s say you get someone hooked on The Hunger Games. That’s like a thousand pages of reading. Done. But if you get a kid hooked on one newspaper article, you’ve gotta keep finding more articles to keep them hooked. Even if it’s the Mets' nightly recap, that’s only like 5 minutes of reading a day.
4) It seems to work. In our handful of attempts to get kids reading nonfiction, we’ve been less successful than with novels.

But maybe we haven’t tried hard enough here. We’d love to hear any suggestions for ways folks have gotten their students hooked on nonfiction.

Next year we’re thinking of incorporating a set chunk of time into our day for students to read news articles. There’s a neat website called Newsela which publishes multiple versions of news articles, each version at a different level of complexity. We’ll try this out over the next month or two and let you know how it goes.