April 5, 2012

Bye Bye AR Freebies!

Does your school use the Accelerated Reader program? I used it for almost 2 decades and was a fan of the program for many years. Back when AR was introduced, it was not available online so each school had to purchase tests and upload them to their school servers. It seemed that we never had enough tests, so I was always writing new ones. Over the years, I created a huge bank of teacher-made tests and other printables to go with the program, and I created an AR page on Teaching Resources where I could share these resources. One example is the AR Point Record form show here that my students used when working to earn 100 AR points.

Unfortunately, after many years of using the program, I realized that a steady diet of AR might have some unintended side effects. It became clear that kids were reading to earn points and prizes, and it wasn't motivating most of them to enjoy reading for the sake of reading. I saw it happening to my students, and I finally faced the truth when I talked to my own daughters about why they didn't enjoy reading. Both of them were completely turned off by the pressure to read AR books, rack up points, and earn high scores on tests.

During my last year of teaching, I completely abandoned the AR program in favor of the Reading Workshop approach, and I saw a dramatic difference in my students' feelings about reading. They began to love reading and they made excellent progress on their state exams, even without AR. I loved Reading Workshop so much that I eventually wrote a book about it - Power Reading Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide.

Because of my change of heart regarding AR, I've struggled with whether or not to remove those teacher-made tests and other materials from my website. Although I no longer wanted to promote AR, I knew that many people still liked the program or were required to use it, and they enjoyed my free resources. So I left that page online .... until now.

A few days ago I received an email from an intellectual property rights lawyer stating that I was not properly crediting Renaissance Learning with owning the trademarks for AR and Accelerated Reader. The lawyer wrote that I must include a statement on my home page and on every page where I reference AR with a statement saying that AR and Accelerated Reader are registered trademarks of Renaissance Learning, Inc. On my home page? I think not! For now, I have added the proper credits to the Accelerated Reading page and I'm leaving it in place for a few more days so that anyone who needs those materials can download them. Better download those freebie now if you want them!


However, at the end of the day on April 10th I will remove all Accelerated Reader content from my website. It was a step that I probably needed to take because one of the top Google search terms for my site has been "AR test answers." Hmm.... I'm quite sure that those searches are not by educators! So I'm actually glad for receiving the nudge I needed to remove those resources from my site. By the way, did I remember to properly credit Renaissance Learning in this blog post? In case I didn't make it crystal clear, AR and Accelerated Reader are registered trademarks of Renaissance Learning, Inc. I wouldn't want anyone to think that I was profiting from the company's trademarked resources - especially since all my AR resources were free.

Do you use AR in your classroom? What are your thoughts about the program? Have you seen it used effectively? If so, what made the program effective? If you don't think it's effective, what caused you to feel this way? Let's all be respectful in voicing our opinions. I know this can be a hot topic!



20 comments:

  1. Laura,

    I always loved AR until I read your book. I totally changed my reading program because of you. It is the best thing that has ever happened to my classroom. I'm still required to use AR but feel like I've found a happy medium. This is the first year I'm not stressed about the literacy part of the standardized test because they've done so much real reading. I highly recommend your book to every teacher. I'm disgusted at the AR legal stuff, and that's all I'm going to say about that silly business.

    Selina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Selina. I love how you ended your comment! It is silly, isn't it? They are losing free promotion for their program as a result of their request.

      Delete
  2. We have Renaissance Place at our school, this means we have test on almost every book we have. I love using it to monitor their comprehension and reading level using the STAR test. I also really like the vocab tests and Literacy Skills test they have on some novels. I don't give them certificates earned till the end of the year and set individual goals for each student. They earn prizes for every 50 points earned they are little prizes. We celebrate each achievement for every individual. I use it to complement your Reading Workshop that I love also.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I think that when AR is used with reading workshop, it can work fine as long as long as students aren't restricted to certain reading levels. Sounds like it is working well for you!

      Delete
  3. I have always seen the danger of AR and hate to see it misused. I also use the Reader's Workshop and have found AR to compliment it perfectly. I personally needed a way to monitor the independent reading vs. fake reading. I wanted to have a way to collect data and measure their reading. I sit with individual students and create individual goals. One student may have a goal of 20 points, another 5. I encourage other reading as well...and make their goals in a way that they can still do both. I use the ZPD level, and have always hated some of the practices of assigning one level and waiting until they have 3 100's until they move on. I think we as educators do need to be very careful with this program. I do have to give props to Renaissance training, once I received that and was not following the misguided ways I have seen others use it, it did make sense to me. Anything we use can become a poor tool and detrimental to our kids...we have to be careful with all things.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments on this topic!

      Delete
  4. We use it at my school, but it isn't "pushed" like I've seen at other schools where I've taught. I don't mind it this way, but at other schools...even as the teacher, I felt the pressure to make sure my kids made model classroom or master classroom. It did take out the fun. Kids that liked to read, didn't want to, because the books they would have chosen...weren't AR.
    At the school I'm in now, we use it - more as a way to check how kids are comprehending and "getting" what they read. It does encourage them to read more closely, but without the pressure. Some teachers don't really use it at all; others use it more...no pressure at all though for model classroom, etc. I've heard that we may not have it next year due to funding...and I haven't really heard any teachers (or students or parents) that were really upset about this possibility. I am going to make sure I have some of your materials, in case we need them later, but I've always been of the opinion that I'd rather my kids (personal or students) read what they are interested in and WANT to read, than just read to get through something. I have told parents to let them read a sport magazine if that was the only way to get them reading - it is the practice they need!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am a kindergarten teacher who doesn't have to use the district required AR program yet, but I have three children going through it right now. As a parent, I hate the program. It has taken the joy of reading away from my kids. I cultivated a joy of reading as small children but when they got to school, it became more about the points and less about the stories read. They read for points - who cares what it's about. And, their principal requires that their AR scores become 30% of their reading grade!!! As a teacher, I guess it is a good program to monitor comprehension, but I would much rather see discussions and old fashion book reports and not the pressure of points.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! This is so sad and so difficult for you as a parent. What a shame! Hopefully your early lessons in the joy of reading will win out in the end.

      Delete
  6. After spending an entire year instilling a love of reading in my 5th grade students, I am always deeply saddened when the middle school LA teacher destroys it by requiring every kid to earn 50 A/R points a quarter. Students who couldn't wait to tell me and their classmates about their latest reading adventure are suddenly looking for ways to cheat, work the system or just get by! So sad!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a former 5th grade teacher, I feel your pain, Lynn!

      Delete
  7. AR has never really been my style in the years I taught Kindergarten and First grade. I saw the same things you saw and I changed over to Guided Reading, Daily 5 and other reading solutions that were much better for my children and better met their individual needs. It was a good "nudge" Laura so smile, move on and leave the attorneys to their business....

    ReplyDelete
  8. For the past two years we have been using the A.R. web based program. Between that and getting about $10,000 of new books for our library, our program is on fire. It was a very frustrating program previously when we had to purchase or make our own tests. I didn't like telling students that the book they were reading was not yet an A.R. test. I love that the on-line version has now connected the STAR testing to A.R. so that when the students set their goals everything is right in front of me. Our school is being pushed to to Reader's Workshop, but I feel I already do a lot of the components along with A.R. My kids set their own goals and we set class goals as well. I do not have difficulty with them meeting their goals because as I meet with students each week, we talk about what it will take for them to meet the goal they set. We also discuss what happened when they didn't do as well on a test as they thought. I don't have difficulty with the ZPD levels either because my kids all have at least a year range in fourth grade. I have not read your book about Reader's Workshop, Laura. Perhaps it would give me a different perspective, but for now I love knowing my kids are really reading--not pretending to read. I'm sorry that A.R. is giving you a hard time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Teresa, it sounds like you are already using many of the components of reading workshop and the AR program is very effective for you. I do think it can be effective when it's used the way you are using it, and the online version appears to be so much better than the old one! Thanks for sharing!

      Delete
  9. Laura:

    I can see why Renaissance is intimidated by you. YOUR questions are better than theirs!!! What a shame that they are acting like this. Perhaps, this is a good thing…they might realize that they need someone like you to help them out!

    In either case, a big company like theirs, ought to be ashamed of themselves. This is not like you are asking us for money. You are doing this as a free gesture to advertise for them----free advertising…what more could they ask for?

    Keep up the good work. The funny thing is, I did not even know this was part of your site until now. So, thank you for the warning!

    Hugs,
    Susan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the vote of support, Susan! Yes, Corkboard Connections is just another facet of my website, and one that I enjoy greatly!

      Delete
  10. Silly business, exactly.
    I applaud the way you've handled yourself through this. Such a shame that their first contact was through a lawyer. It speaks volumes for our future. When teachers have a choice, they will seek classroom teacher's resources, and not corporations' offerings.
    Cheers to you, Laura!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks so much for the kind words! I'm sure that my response was not exactly what they expected when they contacted me! As if anyone might think that I was trying to take credit for the AR program!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have never been a huge fan of AR and after doing a research paper in grad school about the assessment tool STAR that is used to get the AR level, I looked for other ways to encourage reading. I too, stumbled across the Reading Workshop approach and became a fan instantly! This year I took it even further, abandoning my reading anthology and focusing more of my reading time on the true workshop approach. The results have been phenomenal! I work at a Title One school where reading has always been a struggle. This year, for the first time, I feel that my kids will be able to pass their EOG and I haven't had to do the drill and kill approach. Thanks for this post :)

    Twins, Teaching and Tacos.

    ReplyDelete