Incentives and Reading Levels
When I began teaching, parents were all about the level their child was reading on according to the Accelerated Reading (AR) program. Students were all about reading to get points, too. There were school wide reward parties for the “top readers” in each grade level. Funny thing is, I usually did not let my students participate in AR. The program itself has many benefits. The problem was how it was implemented.
This post will not be about nixing all reading incentives or disregarding tested reading levels altogether. The points I want to drive home in this post are that you may need to reexamine your incentive practices and not rely solely on a one-time computer generated reading level for your students.
First, there were the issues with the parents. Why didn’t their child get picked for the AR party? “That’s not fair!” they would whine. The truth was, it wasn’t fair. Some students were reading at levels far above the others and therefore better able to earn points and rewards. When I was in middle school I would read the first and last page of lengthy chapter books, take the book’s quiz, and rack up some major points even if I did not score well on the test overall. I think I missed the point of reading! The above examples are what you want to avoid if you choose to use reading incentives in your classroom. Students should not feel behind others or judged by their reading levels any more than they already do. Some incentives promote excitement in reluctant readers who enjoy games and contests. Some incentives make those readers who are behind become even more hopeless and they give up. If you do offer incentives, make sure there are not ways students can cheat the system, too!
If I have your student in my class, I am going to find out his or her reading level from a computer generated test that we administer to all students at the beginning of the year. This score is conveniently accessible and gives me a good place to start my further investigation of your child’s reading abilities. I never stop at just the one score. Sometimes students test far below or above their actual abilities (blame test anxiety or lucky computer clicking). Students’ reading abilities may progress slowly or quickly and many times another computer test is not available to be administered in a timely manner. There are many factors that contribute to skilled reading and one test score is not going to give you the whole picture of the readers in your classroom. Please do not leave your students on the same book level all year just because there has not been a time for another reading test on the computer.
My biggest take away from using AR in the classroom was discovering the root cause of why parents and students liked it so much. Parents like to be informed about their child’s progress. If they see a simple test score that says “reading at grade level 2.2” parents can easily think about that number in terms of their child’s grade level. As educators, we know it’s not as simple as a single number and we also know these scores are sometimes inaccurate. Please take the time to explain to your parents exactly how their students are performing. What are the student’s strengths and weaknesses? This may take longer than placing a score in front of them, but it is well worth it! Students like reading incentives because they like to have fun. Make the enjoyment of reading the incentive! Take the time to truly find out what your students are interested in reading and reward them with great literature. Continue to use incentives and reading levels if they suite your needs, just proceed with caution to avoid the pitfalls!