My daughter attends an International School here in Singapore. It follows an American curriculum. She has been attending the school since first grade (she’s now in middle school, 6th grade), and she feels a warm sense of community and perceives it as a second home.
Quite recently, I attended an orientation about the school’s Accelerated Reader programme which started last year, but is said to be in greater effect this year now that they have ironed out quite a number of technological kinks in the system. I am familiar with the programme as my eleven year old daughter has walked me through the website, and I did have quite a few queries.
I was initially excited to find out that my daughter’s out-of-school reading would be earning ‘points’ through this system. I remembered being such a voracious reader when I was also her age – I devoured the entire Sweet Valley High series, Sweet Dreams series, and a few classics too (Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Mark Twain’s novels), whenever I get my hands on them from relatives. My daughter and I started typing down a few titles that she has read over the summer just to check whether AR has them:
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is a novel that we read for our book club of 9-12 year olds (GatheringReaders) at the Jurong West Public Library in August this year. Not on the list. I begin to realize that perhaps the recently published books (2013) may not be in the catalog as yet.
And so, I tried a well-known classic, one that has been published in the year 1918 in Australia and has been reprinted by the NYRB Children’s Collection: The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay.
Again, not on the list. A few warning bells start ringing in my ears. This is also one of the books we have discussed in our book club at the library for the month of September. Hmm.. Does this mean that only American titles can be found on the AR list? Yet, this celebrated Australian children’s book classic has been reprinted by the NYRB in 2004. Still, doesn’t matter. The title could not be found on the list. And so my daughter automatically “loses points” for these books. The minute I started thinking that way, the more I begin to feel, something’s not right here.
When I attended the orientation a few weeks back, I was in the thick of reading Penny Kittle’s Book Love, and I already finished reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and what you can do about it.
These are only some of the books that I am reading in preparation for a new course that I hope to teach in January next year: The Use of Multicultural Children’s Books to Promote Socio-emotional Learning. This will be opened to higher degree students, teachers who are taking their Masters of Education by Research, those who are pursuing their PhDs, and even teachers who are taking their Masters by Coursework. So I am pretty excited about this. Hence, I was just reeling from the information I have just gained from these two beautiful books when I attended the orientation, which may have prompted me to write this overly-long piece.
I have also shared this piece before I published it today to our Librarian, Middle School and High School Principal. Our MS Principal very kindly told me that the AR only functions as a supplementary program and that it is not meant to replace their Literature class where the students can still be exposed to a variety of titles and that it is meant to encourage reading outside the classroom.
During the orientation, the parents who attended were walked through the website – some are more familiar with it than others. It was also noted that different teachers make use of the AR program in a variety of ways in their own classrooms. I could see that our librarian feels very passionate about the programme and that she is devoted to motivating kids to become readers. She even gives out little rewards and prizes to kids who have met or exceeded their reading goals. My daughter has received quite a few of those and she does get extremely excited by it.
Then the discussion about the AR reading levels ensued. This is where most of my issues lie.
A few concerns about AR
Concern #1: How to deal with already-motivated students, the avid readers?
My field of specialization is in gifted and talented education. While the children from this group belong to the other extreme of the “bell curve,” and are relatively fewer compared to the larger number of children, I believe that they should be fed as many quality books as they wish. And so where I am coming from, I see nothing wrong with precocious first graders checking out fourth-grade level books (something which is not recommended by the AR programme) if the titles speak to them and they have the requisite scaffolding to guide them through the text either through a helpful mentor-teacher or a parent and emotional readiness to understand some of the bigger themes covered in the book which is largely contingent on what the family considers to be valuable or important. I tend to regard children’s recommended reading range as such – just mere recommendations.
I am well aware of Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, one of the foundational theories I teach at the university. I am deeply aware that as a child’s mind develops and matures, they move beyond concrete ideations to abstractions, and that there are stages to this. Yet, these stages are never etched in stone – some may soar and fly, while others may be slower to warm up, others may not even fall neatly in the pre-established categories.
How does AR deal with students who are already motivated to read? How would the incentives for them be differentiated? Do they get penalized for reading books that are not included in the list? While they don’t get clear ‘penalties,’ they are not given points as well, which is essentially withholding reinforcement, something that may be perceived as a penalty by others. Would the same token system of reinforcement work for them in the first place? And what about first graders who do read third or fourth grade novels? Or fifth graders who read Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (I know of one in particular who is part of my book club)? They can’t take the test because they shouldn’t be reading those novels in the first place?
And so I tentatively raised a question during the orientation. While my heart was full and my head was brimming with so many ideas I longed to write down, I also did not want to appear negative or unsupportive of the programme, because on the one hand, I could also clearly see its value. Perhaps, it is made for a different purpose, and so I asked the question: what is the objective behind the programme? Apparently it is meant to motivate students to read more, for them to enjoy reading. For other children, they need a ‘carrot’ dangled in front of their noses to get them to read, which I agree is true enough for most.
However, this made me ask even more questions in my mind, and I invite fellow teachers, librarians, other friends to share their thoughts about this, because I truly want to know. This is not meant to disparage or belittle a programme which I am sure has received a great deal of research and support. I even debated with myself whether I should blog about my thoughts, but I know that I feel very passionately about reading and books and teaching to not raise a few issues that concern me, and that they are being shared here in the spirit of a more dynamic conversation about our children’s appreciation of literary texts.
Concern #2: On Recommended Reading Range/ Leveled-Readers
In the book that I co-edited and published quite recently (Beyond Folktales, Legends and Myths: A Rediscovery of Children’s Literature in Asia),
the first chapter of the book is my conversation/interview with children’s literature expert and historian, Leonard Marcus from New York. One of the questions I asked him had to do with this:
(Myra Garces-Bacsal): What are your thoughts about the labels that indicate the age– appropriate level at the back of most children’s books? We discussed earlier that board books are important because developmentally that is how children would engage with the actual book itself. Do you ascribe to the recommended age-range often found at the back of the books? What are the pros and cons of using such age-specific labels for books?
(Leonard Marcus): Well the principal con is that a label of that kind contradicts the fact that a book can be used in different ways by children of different ages. And a parent who does not know that already might be led to believe otherwise. The labels can promote overly-rigid thinking about the uses of children’s books. That is the primary con. Take Goodnight Moon as an example.
It is a book that you can read to a newborn for the sake of the rhythm. Read it with a two year old who is just learning his or her first words and it becomes a great chance for the child to practice pointing–and–naming different words and things. At five years old, a child who is learning to read independently can feel the satisfaction of reading a book with a short text from beginning to end. At seven, a child can read the book to a younger brother or sister. So, there are several different ways of using Goodnight Moon.
I have taught at various colleges over the last many years, and I once had an art student come up to me after class with a question she was too embarrassed to ask in front of her peers. She said she had a 12 year old sister who still looked at picture books. Did I think there was something wrong with her? I said, “Well, no. It could be that she is interested in becoming an artist. Maybe, maybe not. But either way, if it interests her, why not? What could possibly be bad about that?” Of course there is an answer that people have given, which is that reading books that are below one’s supposed age-level may indicate some kind of intellectual laziness or failure in development. In fact, a lot of people would say that. Sadly, here and maybe in other countries too, there are many ambitious parents who want their children to go to good colleges, and begin thinking from the start how to accelerate their children’s education in order to give them the best chance at breaking through the competition for acceptance by Harvard or Yale. One of the principal ways in which a parent tries to do that is by pushing their child to read books that are more and more advanced, at an earlier and earlier age. To me, that is sad because the most likely consequence of forcing a child to read a book that he or she is not ready for is that it will eventually turn that child off to reading altogether.
Now, the pro of reading age–level indicators on books is simply that they give otherwise uninformed adults, parents or others, some guidelines to start from. But it needs to be understood that these are not hard–and– fast rules. (pp. 24-25)
Concern #3: Titles that are not included on the AR list
How about books written in a foreign language? Does this mean that if you read a book written in your first language (e.g. Spanish, Chinese, Filipino) or are written in English but are not published in the US or the UK, that it does not count as ‘legitimate’ reading as well, as defined by the AR programme? I searched for Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, classic novels and required reading in Philippine literature, and was not surprised to not find them on the list.
My fear is that parents might even start restricting their children’s reading materials and to “read smart” so that they earn points for their recreational reading, which would be a serious tragedy as there are wonderful titles out there that are not even included in the AR list, as you’d see more below.
Concern #4: Bias Against Graphic Novels and Novels-in-Verse?
My eleven year old daughter is crazy over graphic novels. Much to my chagrin, I see that she could not even take the test for some of the graphic novels we have discussed in our book club sessions at the public library – because they fall way far below her recommended reading range. Take for instance, the multi-award-winning graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang - is only deemed to be in the 3rd grade level.
American Born Chinese: Finalist for the 2006 National Book Awards in the category of Young People’s Literature, won the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award, the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album, the San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, the 2006/2007 Best Book Award from The Chinese American Librarians Association
Even if my sixth grader takes a multiple-choice quiz that is supposed to magically demonstrate her full understanding and ‘comprehension’ of the material, she would only earn 1 point for it.
I remembered discussing this novel with my book club kids (aged 9-12) – we talked about issues such as finding home in a foreign land (something that most of them are struggling with, being children of expatriates in Singapore; even local kids shared issues about contending with the changing landscape of their community).
GatheringReaders, my book club for young readers, after discussing Gene Luen Yang’s “American Born Chinese”
We also talked about self-loathing, how language shapes thought, and how one finds self-acceptance. Our book club discussion marked one of the most beautiful conversations I’ve had with young children: so heartfelt, authentic, and true. But a multiple-choice type of assessment would only give this book a measly 1 point. Then I typed a few more graphic novels that I enjoyed, and here were the results:
A Wrinkle in Time: CCBC Choice (Univ. of WI), Eisner Award Nominee, Eisner Award Winner, California Library Association – Best Graphic Novels, Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award Maser List
Anya’s Ghost: American Library Association Notable Children’s Books, American Library Association Popular Paperbacks for Young Readers, American Library Association Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adults, YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens, BCCB Best Book of the Year, CYBIL Award, Eisner Award Winner, Graphic Novel Reporter Best GN of the Year, Jezebel.com Best Female Creator of the Year, Amazon.com Best of the Year So Far, Booklist Editors’ Choice, Booklist Top Ten First Novels for Youth, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Award, Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List, Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year, Library Media Connection Best of the Best, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, Bram Stoker Awards – Nominee, Indiana Young Hoosier Award Master List, New Jersey Garden State Teen Book Award Master List, North Carolina Children’s Book Award Master List, Virginia Readers’ Choice
2 points for Maus II, 3 points for Maus I. Evidently, graphic novels are perceived to be lacking in literary merit to even deserve precious points, never mind that they won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature like Maus.
And it appears like novels-in-verse suffer the same fate as could be seen below – see the points allocated to these award-winning-books:
Inside Out & Back Again: Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, 2012 Newbery Honor Book
The Surrender Tree is a 2009 Newbery Honor Book, the winner of the 2009 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and the 2009 Bank Street – Claudia Lewis Award, and a 2009 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.
On a lark, I typed The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney - a novel which, by the way, my daughter is crazy about:
I find it a trifle odd that taking the test for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, perceived to be at the fifth grade level (middle grade) would earn a child even more points than a Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel (with Maus II being given only two points, this being classified under upper grade level). Granted that my daughter and I read Maus when she was in the fourth grade – but clearly its themes and the conversations that Spiegelman’s stories engender are of a different world altogether – in fact, the two stories are not even comparable, to be fair. Yet, AR does make such a comparison, however subtly, despite one novel being in the UG and the other in the MG level, by reducing both to seemingly-arbitrary points that tackle widely different themes for the sake of convenience.
I also typed in Raymond Briggs’ graphic novel Ethel and Ernest which won the “Best Illustrated Book Of The Year” at the 1999 British Book Award and tells the story of Briggs’ parents’ lives and is a truly remarkable piece of work:
No surprises, it’s not on the list. Which brings me to my next point:
Concern #5: On Visual Literacy and the Value of Picture Books
Does the AR not consider visual literacy as an important component in a child’s journey to literature? There seems to be an expectation that as kids become older, they must outgrow picture books. An indicator that they are progressing in literacy is evidenced by the thick pages they read with neither pictures nor dialogue. The more information packed in the thick book, the better it is perceived to be. I am reminded of the first few lines found in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?”
There is such a thing as visual literacy, the appreciation of intertextuality, the synergistic interaction between images and narrative, the multiple layerings of artwork and text. These are important elements that are totally lost in the entire world wrapped around the point-system-ranges of AR. My heart constricts and I find myself hyperventilating each time someone claims with absolute certainty that picture books are only for babies, or picture books are not for advanced readers, and that the market for picture books should only be for kids nine years old and below.
How about the picture book British classic which has an almost cult-like following Raymond Briggs’ Fungus the Bogeyman, a book that talks about the existential crisis faced by a bogeyman who contemplates about a life different from the one that is set out for him by virtue of his birth?
No surprises: not on the AR list.
I searched for Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, a cinematic visual and wordless masterpiece which incidentally made it to the top 100 Great Children’s Books as selected by children’s librarians at The New York Public Library and won all of these other major awards:
New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award
2006 Cybils Award
Bologna Ragazzi Award, Special Mention
Junior Library Guild Selection
World Fantasy Artist of the Year
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2007
A New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2007
Amazon.com’s Best Teen Book of 2007
2007 Parents’ Choice Gold Award
A Book Sense Winter 2007-2008 Top Ten Children’s Pick
A New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing
A New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2007
Rocky Mountain News, A Top Ten Book of the Year
The Columbus Dispatch, A Best Book of 2007
Booklist Editors’ Choice 2007
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2007
A Washington Post Best Book for Young People for 2007
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon for Fiction
ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2008
ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2008
ALA Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2008
Horn Book Fanfare Book 2007
Metropolitan Home Magazine’s Design 100, 2008
An IRA Notable Book for a Global Society, 2008
2008 Locus Award, Best Art Book
2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, special citation for excellence in graphic storytelling
CCBC Choices 2008
Nominated for an International Horror Guild Award, Illustrated Narrative
Not on the AR list.
I looked for Anthony Browne’s exquisitely detailed picture books layered with multiple meanings and visual metaphors. I found a few and are rated as such:
Voices in the Park won the 1998 Kurt Maschler Award and was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.
Gorilla won the 1983 Kurt Maschler Award and 1983 Kate Greenaway Medal
I also looked for other picture books that deal with big themes such as The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan which is an allegorical tale that confronts highly sensitive issues about colonization from the point of view of the colonized; or Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti that talks about the devastation of war.
Picture Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council in Australia
Winner of the Batchelder Award, 1996
The AR list does not include Armin Greder’s disturbing picture books such as the one that I reviewed a year ago:
Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book.
My fear is that parents who may not be familiar with these picture books and poetry books, and who may simply be relying on the point-system allocated in the AR may even go as far as dissuade their children from reading these wonderful titles as they would not earn as many “points” as other books and would not help them in reaching their ‘reading goals’ much faster.
Increasingly, there are more picture books that tackle sensitive issues and themes that are worth discussing at a middle school or even upper grade level and would work as a great companion text to a few of the social issues being discussed in class or even in some of the historical details covered in the curriculum – something which is not captured in the point system used in the AR programme. I teach graduate school and I read picture books aloud in class. Never fails, always works.
Once again, let me quote from the interview that I have with Leonard Marcus:
(Myra Garces-Bacsal): Most people do not seem to realize that there are a lot of picture books for older readers, and it is something that is often not explored.
(Leonard Marcus): That is becoming more and more common, to have picture books that trend upward in sophistication. And it seems fair to say that the picture book is merging with the graphic novel to some extent. We are moving into a period when the stigma that was once attached to the heavily illustrated book is probably going to disappear. In other words, it used to be that people started with books with pictures, then graduated to books without pictures and that was considered an advance. Now, I think people understand that complicated, sophisticated books for older readers can have lots of pictures too—that there is nothing babyish about that. (p. 25)
Concern #6: What does research have to say about AR?
As an academic, I can not help but ask this question. For this, let me quote from a passage that I’ve read in Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide:
… it has become increasingly popular in school districts across the country to stick struggling or reluctant readers into packaged programs that reward students with points for reading books. Accelerated Reader (AR) is one such program. In AR, students are given mindless multiple-choice quizzes after they finish each book, and if they pass these quizzes, they are awarded points. Earn enough points and they progress to higher-level books in the program. In AR, the good news is that students read a lot of books. The bad news?
- Students can only read books found on the AR list. If a good book is not on the list, students are not allowed to read it.
- Students choose books for high point value, rather than for their level of interest.
- The reward system sends the message that the reason students should read is not to enjoy reading but to earn points. Students are taught to read for the wrong reasons.
- Chenowith (2001) found that although students did a significant amount of reading in the program, their reading dropped lower than nonparticipants within one month of exiting AR. Without the points, their motivation significantly decreased.
- Pavonetti, Brimmer, and Cipielewski (2002/2003) found that once students left AR they read on average ten hours a week less than nonparticipants. The program had short-term success but actually set young readers back in the long run.
Many teachers like Accelerated Reader and similar incentive-laden programs because they see students do a significant amount of reading. What they don’t see is that programs such as AR and others that offer extrinsic rewards often lead to demotivating students after they have left the classroom. (Gallagher, 2009, pp. 74-75)
I also welcome other academics, teachers, librarians, programme coordinators to share with me other research studies that might show otherwise, or demonstrate different research results, or even just a different experience in their schools altogether.
I understand that it may not be the objective of the AR programme to develop “lifelong readers” but merely to encourage and entice children to read, particularly the reluctant readers. I am not disputing that. We need to ask ourselves, though, why do we encourage them to read? What is it about reading that makes it so important? And if we are indeed successful in encouraging even the most reluctant reader to pick up a book and read, what next? Where to go from there?
I see that the Accelerated Reader programme is well-intentioned, and that it provides the much-needed incentive for a lot of children to read. However, it is only one facet in a child’s reading life, and it is disastrous to perceive it as the entire picture. If our intention as educators, as parents, as book enthusiasts – is to develop lifelong readers, then we need to move past multiple-choice assessment tools, honor the children’s choices of reading materials (irrespective of recommended reading levels), and encourage the reading of more multicultural titles that are not only exclusive to those published in the US or the UK. As such, I have a few recommendations on how the programme may be enriched.
Recommendation #1: Reading Notebooks and a Reading List
Children could be encouraged to keep their own reading notebooks where they could make a list of titles that they have read. Here, they can jot down and include some of the titles that are not found on the AR reading list. Their teachers may or may not choose to reward them for this, but it would make for good conversations with other students who may want to consider the titles in their own reading list, despite their not earning points for them, especially if they are outstanding reading materials. It also serves to demonstrate the variety and the diversity of a child’s reading life that goes beyond the Accelerated Reader Programme. Their list may even include National Geographic titles (which by the way are not found in AR), Horrible Histories or Horrible Science titles by Terry Deary (also not included on the AR list), interesting newspaper articles that they may have read over the past weeks, Charlie Brown’s encyclopedia (again, not on the AR list), graphic novels, or even picture books that caught their eye. We are also doing this here in GatheringBooks with our Annual Reading Calendar. Erik Weibel from This Kid Reviews Books has his own reading list that you can see here.
Recommendation #2: Reading Journals
In Penny Kittle’s Book Love, she made mention of notebooks where students can write down their unstructured thoughts about the novels that they are reading. If we truly want to develop lifelong readers and want to see how much they have understood their reading materials, then their capacity to engage with the characters of the book is one of the best ways to go about it. Recall that these are not full-length graded essays or even book summaries; this is the student’s private space to reflect on specific lines that moved them, to wonder about a character’s growth in the novel, their frustration with the narrative or the plot.
As a teacher, I would like to see my students argue with the characters in the book, I’d love for them to discern their motivations, their strengths, commiserate with them over their losses – I want them to tear the pages apart and see the pieces there that resonate with them, the aspects of the book that reflect their own truths, their own inner journeying and deep-seated questions about who they are and their place in the world. I want them to follow a specific author and see how much the author may have grown in his or her writing style over the years and discuss the finer points of one book over the other and perhaps cull out similar themes from the novels.
I want them to extract pages from the book and turn these over in their hands, rolling the words over with their tongue, poking the pages in multiple ways, and having them wear the words to see if they make a good fit. I want them to bring who they are to the pages and listen to the book’s voice, despite its being an unfamiliar tongue – coming perhaps from a different world, or a different dimension altogether, yet honoring its truth nonetheless.
Recommendation #3: Book talks with Kids
This is predicated upon knowing each child and seeing which book would work best for them. It is more than just looking at the AR program and typing down their recommended reading range and seeing the titles that they should check out to make the most number of points. There are kids who are into trucks, what books might engage them? There are kids who are deeply into fairies, enchantment, and magic – perhaps the Warriors series, the classic Wizard of Oz, or Neverending Story by Michael Ende might work for them. Are they into poetry, then share with them a few novels-in-verse.
Are they into war and fighting and revolution, then it would be good to share the website of the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children with them. Are they suffering from a recent loss, then perhaps Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls might speak to them. Are they into horror novels and are already reading Goosebumps or Darren Shan? Perhaps Mary Downing Hahn may challenge them to think a little more differently, then gradually moving towards, say, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Recommendation #4: Book talks with Parents
I believe that it is important for parents to have a more informed knowledge about the different facets of the Accelerated Reader programme and to regard this as only one aspect of their children’s reading life. During the orientation, I could see that there are a lot of parents who are hungry for titles that they could share with their own children. Organizing book talks with them would be wonderful. They could also be linked to so many fabulous websites that exist out there that look into multicultural children’s book titles.
Aside from Newbery Medal and Honor titles, there are so many other award-giving bodies out there that parents may want to familiarize themselves and their kids from various parts of the globe. In fact, we made a list of this as we are currently hosting the Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge here in GatheringBooks for two years now. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it would make for a good start. Here is an extract from my blog post:
If you want to have a complete list of children’s and YA book awards from different parts of the globe, click here to be taken to a comprehensive list prepared by the UCalgary. Library Quine from Loons and Quines has also provided us an updated version from the web site of the Book Trust (UK) which provides links to newer UK awards. For the Carnegie and Kate Greenway Awards, you may want to check out this website for a more updated archive. The Scottish Book Trust lists Scottish awards here. Many thanks to Library Quine for all these links.
Other examples would include the Newbery and Caldecott Honor/Medal from the United States, the Pura Belpre, Coretta Scott King Award, Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, Michael J. Printz Award, The Stonewall Award, Cybils Awards among others.
Recommendation #5: Reading Levels as only one pathway to book selection for children.
Just a few days ago, one of our book blogging friends, Amy Broadmoore has just shared her own thoughts about this issue entitled Leveled Early Readers: Valuable Tool or Marketing Ploy. In her post which I read quite avidly she shared how some of the ‘early readers’ books may contain difficult words that may discourage a lot of kids from reading through the entire book. And she has provided very clear and incisive suggestions on what a high quality reader book must have including a vocabulary that matches the developmental level of each child, short sentences, repetition, and the value of illustrations. She also has an amazing list of excellent early reader books that parents should check out.
I have my own personal reservations about leveled-readers. I understand their significance and their overall function in the larger scheme of things, and if done correctly could prove to be a valuable and indispensable tool for a lot of parents out there, as was likewise pointed out by Amy. I personally do not use it as an indicator of whether or not I would pick up a book. I strongly believe that there are multiple ways of using a book.
For a child who may be too impatient to hear you read the words aloud, it’s a perfect opportunity to allow them to “read” the book to you. Not in the words or the language that the author uses, but their own interpretation of the story based on the illustrations and what they can deduce from what is going on in the pages. I tend to see reading beyond the proper enunciation or articulation of the words on paper, I see it as a personal and transformative experience between a child and the page. I see it as a journey – a way for a child to bring fragments from their own experience to what a frightened white mouse with an empty space, a bear who has a story to tell, a lost little girl in the forest – have to say about the world around them. I see it as an opportunity for a child to ask questions about words that confuse them. I see it as a shared wonderful experience between parent and child – the gift of storytelling. I see it as conduits to conversations a parent and a child might not even dream of having if not for what they read in a book that came to them at the perfect time. I see it as a chance for children to not only make sense of the letters and the words in the literal sense, but to also feel what the words mean.
Recommendation #6: Make Books More Accessible to Children
One of the sure-fire ways to get children interested in books is exposing them to a variety of titles that may speak to them or whisper its secrets in their ears. I am aware that there may be some limitations when it comes to availability of titles here in Singapore, or even budgetary restrictions across schools. It would be worthwhile then to organize book drives or even request for gently-used books from fresh graduates/parents who may want to share their beloved titles. There are also quite a number of discounted bookstores here in Singapore, ongoing book fairs and book sales that teachers or librarians could explore. I do blog about this during my Book Hunting Expeditions on Sundays.
Recommendation #7: Parents and Teachers Must READ.
As Jim Trelease (2006) says, “You can’t catch a cold or a love of books from someone who has neither” (101).
Reading teachers read. (p. 158, Penny Kittle, Book Love)
Students/children need to catch their teachers/parents reading. You can’t preach what you don’t practice. I feel very strongly that teachers and parents themselves must be readers so that they would be able to discern which book might be perfect for a child at a specific juncture or point in their lives. They need to be constantly updated by new titles that are out there and are available in our amazing public libraries here in Singapore. My fear is that the AR program may be used as a convenient cop-out for teachers or even parents who would rather refer children to the AR list to get their students/kids to read (and to select books on the basis of points rather than interest), instead of exploring new titles themselves.
Recommendation #8: Organize Book Clubs
If we truly want to develop readers, they need to be able to interact with likeminded individuals who share their passion with the written word. It would be lovely to hear them argue about a plot, reflect on a character’s folly, laugh about the same series that they are reading, and challenge themselves by reading more complex materials as they gain greater confidence and perceive themselves as readers.
Let me end this longwinded post by an extract from Penny Kittle’s Book Love:
It’s hard to write about love. There are a lot of cynics out there. They’ll tell you love is lots of things love isn’t. Not just book love, which really makes the cynics snicker, but any love. You cannot manufacture love. Love is something that does not respond to “must,” or force, but love is deeply rich, hopeful, and lasting. We leap – we follow – we rest in its peace. When we know love, it owns us. I believe once we love books, it lasts. And once we know love, we pass it on… (p. 93)
I will be seeking that first-love experience for some of the students I’ll meet this fall; they don’t know yet what books can do. I’ll be trying to charm others back to books that once captivated them. And I’ll work to keep others burning with passion and interest- across genre, over time, from what is easy to what will compel them to struggle and grow.
But with every one of them, it is love that I’m after.
Book love is what we need. (p. 95)
Are you using the Accelerated Reader Programme in your schools? What is your experience with it so far? What do you believe to be its strengths and weaknesses? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.
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