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These Two Things Made My Kids Hate Reading

Let's do away with AR tests and reading logs and focus on fostering a love of reading.
Let's do away with AR tests and reading logs and focus on fostering a love of reading.

Dear Schools, Please STOP with the AR Tests and Reading Logs

It’s not helping my kids read. It’s not helping my kids learn to love reading. In fact, it is stifling my kids.

I am not a trained teacher. I am a mom.

I am not an expert in literacy.

I don’t have a degree in teaching or early education but do you know what I do have? Twenty-one years of on-the-job-training with over 15 of those being a homeschool mom. I’ve taught ten kids to read. I’ve cultivated a house full of avid readers. In fact, as I type these words, seven-year-old Apollo is tucked in next to me engrossed in a book.

My kids read for information, sure, but I would argue that reading for pleasure is essential for growing well-rounded kids who become well-rounded adults.

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Reading Logs Don’t Help Kid Learn to Love Reading

When we made the difficult choice to stick our younger children in school in 2012 I noticed something almost immediately, my kids stopped reading for fun*. Now, part of it was simply that they had less time to read because they were in school all day, but that wasn’t the main reason they stopped. They stopped because they didn’t want to be bothered to fill out reading logs.

Hezekiah, who was reading within a month of his fourth birthday and was reading chapter books before he was 4 1/2, suddenly didn’t want to read at home. As a third grader, he was required to fill out a reading log that included name of book, name of author, pages read, and time spent reading. Now, he could, of course, have read at home and not recorded it in his reading log, but his teacher said they “needed to record their reading” and Hezekiah is Type A. So he dutifully recorded his reading. And because it was an unpleasant (and certainly unnecessary task) he chose to read less.

Reading used to be fun. Something my kids did in their leisure, on car rides, on long, lazy days. Now suddenly, it was a chore. A box to be checked.

Homework.

boy choosing library book

AR Tests Don’t Help Kids Learn to Love Reading

What is the one thing worse (in my opinion) than reading logs? Accelerated Reader Tests. In their own words, “The Accelerated Reader program is a computerized program that tests reading comprehension”.

In elementary school, my kids have been required to set Accelerated Reader (AR) goals and take AR tests. This consists of reading a book and then finding the corresponding AR test on the computer program at school. The tests consist of comprehension questions to make sure the child understood what they read.

In addition, the kids set AR goals for themselves and track them throughout the year.  The kids are acutely aware of how many AR points any given book is worth. This is not what I want my kids basing their book selection on.

Sorry Kids, Those New Books Don’t Count; There Are No AR Tests Yet

The problem?

I can think of several, actually, but one main problem has been this has limited the books my children choose to read. You see, they have to set their AR goal and read enough books (and take enough tests) to reach that goal. As a blogger, I get sent dozens of books every year to review, many of these are not even available for purchase yet.

Matchstick Castle is a timeless adventure novel that kids will love.

If you look closely at the book in Tucker’s hand, you can see it says Advance Uncorrected Galleys. Tucker read this book. Tucker enjoyed this book. But guess what? It won’t count toward his AR goal because they don’t have an AR test written on it yet. I have seen my kids pass over brand new (unreleased!) books in our house in favor of one on the AR list.

There is No Solid Evidence that AR Tests and Programs Improve Reading

You don’t have to look far to find opponents of the AR program. Pennington Publisher has an article listing 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader. Reason number one is limited book selection.

Amen.

Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh makes a great case against AR in her article Why I Believe AR is Bad for LIteracy and Bad for Students. 

This excerpt from the Read-Aloud Handbook expresses the author’s negative feelings about the program…even as he admits he has been a speaker at AR conferences.

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What Should We Do Instead of AR Tests and Reading Logs?

So what’s the answer? Kids learn to love reading by getting excited about the stories within the books. Yes, I know not all kids are raised in homes full of books or with parents able to read to them every night. But does anyone actually believe AR tests are going to help those kids?

Teachers need to work to instill a love of reading in our kids. This means reading out loud to them. Showing kids the wonder and mystery in books. Letting kids pick out their own books even if they aren’t at their “reading level” (believe me, my kids could share stories of not being able to pick books out of the school library because they were the “wrong” level). Encouraging kids to read for fun, not to get a certain number of points.

Let’s bring back the love of reading. 

A couple of notes:

1. I am not blaming teachers, they work under their own set of rules and guidelines.

2. I am not talking about never assigning a book for kids to read. I am saying let’s find ways to encourage a love of reading for the sake of reading, aside from any books that might be assigned for classwork.

3. Thankfully, over time, my kids are back to reading for pleasure, but still often base their choices on AR points.

4. If you have a child who struggles with reading, check out my review of Reading Buddy. You can improve your child’s reading by 50% in just three months.

21 Comments

  1. Tanya Redfield

    Your points are very valid…I have also seen books chosen for the points and books unread because they aren’t AR approved. We don’t do reading logs…I would hate those too! I see the drawbacks. However, I have kids spanning 20 years, and the good that I see in AR is that it allows kids to read at a level appropriate to them. 25 years ago when our oldest entered kindergarten, he was already an early reader. He had to suffer through hours of sitting with his peers as they learned the alphabet, one letter at a time. Fortunately he had a fabulous teacher for kindergarten who caught on quickly to his boredom and gave him things to do that were appropriate and stimulating for his level. But then came first grade and the WORST TEACHER EVER. Our son started acting out…clearly bored. Sadly we had the WTE for a second year due to classroom sharing in our tiny school. By year two our son was crushed…hated school…was being constantly punished which meant he missed out on all the fun things the class did and only sat through the reading lessons and math, too, which were way below his levels. At one meeting with a whole group of very intimidating school employees I brought up to the teacher how his kindergarten teacher had kept him busy with more level appropriate work. Her answer? “I don’t have time to teach every child separately. He is going to have to sit there nicely and wait for the other kids to catch up.” He was reading at a 7th grade level. She expected him to sit and learn nothing for 5 years? It is unfortunate that this was my first child and I did not yet have the courage to advocate as I should. Although we did one thing right…we pulled him out and homeschooled him for awhile until we found a charter school that better suited him. So this very long story is to say that had our oldest had AR and AM, school would have been very different for him. He could have moved at his own pace and not sat listening to kids learn the alphabet when he had just read “Little House” books at home the night before. There has to be be an answer between that and reading logs. I don’t know what it is, but at least AR and AM were some sort of a step forward. Our youngest is in 4th grade now, advanced like his brother but on the autism spectrum. If he had had the same experience as his oldest brother he would be in a much worse place than he is.

  2. Danielle

    I had to do AR in middle school and hated it. I got so mad that some books were worth so many points and some were worth squat. We didn’t set our own goals, we just had to earn x points per period. There were several times where I informed my Mom I wasn’t going to meet the goal because I couldn’t find books I enjoyed to get the points. I showed her everything I had been reading and she was satisfied with that. My grade dropped some, but I didn’t care. Thankfully my Mom didn’t either! I HATED AR stuff.

  3. Sally Saur

    I am not a fan of reading logs. I think they get filled in to satisfy the teacher. I do support Accelerated Reader. I have been teaching for 32 years at three different grade levels, predominately sixth grade. Out of 26 students, I could count on about six to have caught the reading bug. I have been an avid reader my entire life and couldn’t imagine why someone wouldn’t want to read. Television, after school sports, and computer games are stiff competition for a teacher trying to sell kids on reading. I found Accelerated Reader created readers. Perhaps it was the computer, perhaps it was the prizes I offered….I don’t know. I just know that about two months into the year using Accelerated Reader, I had students sharing books and suggesting titles….I had students asking if they could read ahead in a novel we were reading……I had students telling me about their latest books…..I had students who begged to go to the library before school started. This winter I took a job teaching third grade during a young teacher’s maternity leave. There are 28 students in my class. Two were “readers” when I arrived. I introduced Accelerated Reader and helped the class find books that were at their independent reading level. I now have 25 “readers” who love books and ask for more time to read. (Darn — I am still working on those other three!) These kids talk about books, have opinions about books and inspired to write as well as read! I see confident children who are so proud of their reading ability. I hear parents comment that their child really loves reading this year. Wow! No, Accelerated Reader isn’t for every child, but I am pretty proud of my 89% success rate of getting 8 year olds to enjoy reading.

    • Renee

      I am THRILLED that you have had a great experience with AR. And I hope it goes without saying I think you are one of the best teachers out there (literally). However, it has been (and continues to be) a real deterrent to my kids. All of my kids (with exception of the two with special needs) entered school as avid readers, so that may contribute to my feelings. I just really hate seeing my kids choose their books based on an AR level or how many points they are going to get. Especially when I see them turn away from other books (such as the ones I get to review) or say, “I want to read such-and-such a book but it doesn’t have enough AR points”.

  4. AH

    I also support AR as a 6th grade teacher. I allow students to read some books below and above their levels and work with those students who are struggling with the program. I have seem some students who do not like the program, but these students have also admitted that if there was not an accountability piece that reading would fall below Fortnite, Snapchat, TV, and texting. In addition, this program pushes the 85% of my students who are struggling/reluctant readers and/or English learners. For these students, reading is a difficult task that they need to diligently practice in order to become readers. Developing proficient reading capacity is critical to our students and society as a whole. My own children did not like to read when they were in school, but now in college they are beginning to love reading and all the benefits it brings. I understand the perspective of an educated mother who has a house full of children who are gifted and love to read, however in my classroom there are fairly high stakes and repercussions for those students who do not share these attributes. We have very little time to help our most disadvantaged to become adept at this most important skill and AR provides the immediate feedback that allow both students and teachers to know how they are doing.

    • Renee

      I am happy that you have seen such success with AR. I agree, reading is such a critical skill and I would argue that reading for pleasure is an equally critical skill. Sadly, in my own children, I have seen the pressure of AR tests and goals limit the books they are willing to read, cause stress, and prevent them from rereading old favorites (since they already took an AR test on them) and these are from strong readers who love reading for pleasure.

      • Minda

        They still use AR? I remember using and hating it in elementary school. I struggled with reading and could not keep up with the rest of the class. They teased me for it. I got tired of constantly losing and started cheating. AR is an anxiety inducing mess.

  5. John

    The issue is how to promote reading. Many, perhaps most, of my ESL students say they hate to read. They grew up in homes with few books or readers to emulate. To them, books are boring and stupid, maybe because they’re reading at a 3rd to 5th grade level in 8th grade. Language Arts teachers have far too much to do to allow their students to read for a half hour every day in class. Therefore, reading becomes homework. But how can I enforce that? AR (if the kids aren’t scamming the tests) allows me to account for my students’ reading. I have seen students reading more, which is my goal. While AR has issues, I found that the majority of my students benefitted by having AR as a part of their grade.

  6. Steve

    Renee, your heart is in the right place, but I am dismayed regarding your reasons against AR. As an elementary classroom teacher for twenty years I have learned an important fact – any program, any assessment, any curriculum is only as good as the teacher teaching it. Some of my elitist friends say AR is not a good way to gauge comprehension. They are right. The questions are simple recall questions. You do not use AR to promote comprehension. It is an incentive and accountability program that ensures children are actually reading and not pretending to read. I have seen hundreds of uninspired students catch fire with AR and take ownership for their own reading. I see reading stamina and test scores go up when a competent and active teacher uses AR as a small component of a deep and well rounded reading program. It all comes back to the teacher or parent. Their mindset. Their commitment. Their follow through. Their positivity.

  7. Renee

    I totally hear you Steve, and I have heard this from more than one teacher. But I have also seen first hand how AR tests discourage my children from ever re-reading a book (because they don’t earn points) and how they don’t want to read the brand-new, just-published books I get sent because there are no AR tests for them. My kids read, and read for pleasure…but as soon as AR tests and reading logs come into the picture, they read less. And I know my kids can’t be the only ones.

  8. Lorelyn Loepp

    I hate them! My kids hate them. My daughter used to LOVE to read, she read everyday like no tomorrow. Then the AR tests started and the reading logs. My daughter went from an everyday reader to no longer reading. She stated that she loved to read because she was able to get lost in the book and imagine that she was actually in the story. Since AR, she’s not been able to because she’s afraid she’ll be focused on the wrong thing and miss something that might be on the test. My son, ame thing. It actually made my kids hate reading because like you said, it is a requirement or chore, rather than something they can enjoy. I’m all about them reading a classic book together as a class, just as we did when i was in school, but these daily/weekly reading logs are ridiculous.

  9. chunziker75

    At my kids’ school they have a rule that they can’t use a book for AR points if the book has been made into a movie.
    Do you have any idea how much that limits the selection?! I mean, I’m sure there are great books that were never made into film, but a great many of them also are. It’s horrible.

  10. Renee

    That is CRAZY! Apollo is currently in 4th grade and hates that he isn’t supposed to re-read books. Recently he forgot Fellowship of the Ring at home, so grabbed Frog and Toad during reading time. Apollo’s teacher told him if he didn’t start choosing more challenging books (thank Frog and Toad) she would have to start picking them for him…

  11. Curt

    Another problem with AR tests is the questions themselves. 99% of them are based on tiny details that only a person who has read the book multiple times will even remember. That was a huge problem for me in my early days of school. I was homeschooled through 4th grade and then went to school in 5th grade. The school had not purchased the entire “package” (or whatever it’s called) of AR tests, so only a small percentage of them were available. Had this package been purchased in its entirety, there were many (and I mean many) books that I had read multiple times during my homeschool days that I could have taken right then and there, but I couldn’t. Most of the books I had to read were books I had never set my hands on. And believe me, I did really try. Most of those books I could give an entire accurate plot summary of, but I was quickly horrified to discover, upon taking my very first AR test, that the questions were all based on tiny insignificant details that there was no way I was going to remember after reading the book only once. Needless to say, my AR points weren’t exactly very high that year, though I am proud to admit that I continued to follow my preferred method of reading by not even looking at how many points a book was worth before reading it, and only taking the AR tests as an afterthought. For me, what was important was whether I enjoyed the book or not.

    In 7th grade, I discovered that, unlike my elementary school, my middle school had actually purchased the entire “package” of AR tests. For some reason, this fact didn’t hit me during my 6th grade year (which was my first year of middle school), but when I found out in early 7th grade, I couldn’t help but log into one of the computers and rattle off a whole bunch of AR tests for many, many, many of my favorite books that I had read multiple times, and I ended up getting full points on 99% of them, because I had read them so many times. Then, at the end of the year, students with a certain high percentage of AR points ended up getting a pizza party like they did every year, and I got into the pizza party for the first time simply because I broke the system. I wasn’t even trying to get that pizza party. I was just trying to take the AR tests that I knew I could actually pass, just as a game, and I was completely surprised when I got the pizza party because I wasn’t even trying to get anything. I still laugh about it to this day.

  12. Asia

    In 5th grade when you didn’t meet the requirements of a.r points that day then you would sit in silent lunch. It was the worst 🙁 and my social skills was bad as it is. I’m in 7th now going on 8th a.r is not enforced as it used to be.

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