I have subscribed to Accelerated Reader for the last two years at Oasis Academy Enfield and feel that it is time to reflect on this tool.  While I think that the scheme can be a valuable one, I have a number of issues that I feel I need to address:

  1. Pupil participation across year seven is not as wide as it should be
  2. Pupils are not choosing and reading books in line with the AR scheme
  3. The availability and form of data to measure impact is not ideal

Choosing books using the ZPD

Accelerated Reader is a tool to help motivate pupils to read.  Through assessing pupils’ literacy levels using a Star Reader test, it is able to match reading competence to particular books that should challenge pupils sufficiently without being too difficult using a score called a Zone of Proximinal Development (ZPD: I will not go into what this means specifically here).  This should help to motivate readers because by using their Accelerated Reader ZPD they will be guided to books that they should be able to access, in literacy terms, understand sufficiently and enjoy.

As a tool, this has had mixed results in my experience so far.  Pupils do not react particularly well to the suggestion that a book is too difficult or too easy for them.  I do not discourage a child from reading a book if it does not match their ZPD, as if they want to read a particular book then they should be encouraged, but explain to them that they may find that it is not appropriate in terms of its’ difficulty.  So, I find that the first challenge of getting pupils to choose and actually read a book within their ZPD to be a difficult one and this is particularly true of those that are not confident readers.

An approach that I am going to attempt this year is to have a range of books, pre-chosen, for pupils to select a reading book from for their independent reading time during their Library lesson.  This will mean that I can pre-select books that match the ZPDs of most pupils in a particular class, and will also mean that pupils do not waste valuable reading time browsing bookshelves for a book that will interest them as many lack the skills to choose their own reading material (something that I hope to address in Library lessons).  I hope that this will help to address the problem of pupils’ book choices.

Incentivising reading through quizzes

Once pupils read a book, they took an AR quiz about that book, which assessed their comprehension of the story and records the result.  Pupils were encouraged to read books and take quizzes on the books they had read through a number of initiatives.  They would be rewarded using the academy merit scheme for scores of 70% or more, with a 100% score resulting in triple-merits.  A 100% score would also result in their name being added to the 100% club board in the Library, with all names on the board being entered into a prize draw at the end of each term to be presented at assembly.

This was a fairly successful approach to rewarding achievement, in that it seemed to encourage some pupils to want to take quizzes on the books they were reading.  The difficulty would be to assess whether it had any impact with increasing reading habits of any pupils, or were the pupils taking part just as likely to read at the rate they were regardless of the AR incentives?  This would be difficult to measure, except through student feedback or assessment of the scheme which would be purely qualitative in form.  I am not currently convinced that incentivising reading further would have significant impact on increasing levels of reading and participation in AR, and so I have decided to continue with the current system of rewards.

Encouraging participation

This year, I am working with a member of the Academy Leadership Team (ALT) to implement further independent reading time in the timetable.  We are going to begin a  Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) initiative in which pupils will spend twenty minutes reading at the end of the school day every other Monday, with their Learning Guide (form tutor).  We aim to use this as a way of raising the profile of reading, encouraging independent reading outside of English and Library lessons, and getting the support of Learning Guides in encouraging reading and participation in AR.

Measurement of impact on students’ learning

The key issue I have with AR is measuring the impact on literacy.  If it does indeed inspire greater participation in reading, and as a result progression in terms of literacy levels, then I need to be able to present this as data to ALT in order to exemplify the impact of my work.

The availability of a wide range of reports in Accelerated Reader (and Star Reader) is useful and you are able to use these to see any growth in ZPD, scores in quizzes and a huge range of other data.  However, these reports are not particularly visual and require close scrutiny across a number of different reports when trying to interpret impact across, and at the end of, the year.

In order to address this I have created a spreadsheet into which I will transfer data from a number of reports from AR.  This will include three ZPD scores, number of quizzes taken and number of quizzes passed, as well as number of books borrowed from the Library.  Any growth in relevant data will show up in green, with falls in red, which will help to give analysis a more visual approach.  The transfer of this data into Excel spreadsheet will also facilitate greater, more bespoke analysis of data trends and impact.

Now what?

I know that there are many ways of acting to help improve the use of AR in schools, and I believe I have taken these into account when reflecting on my current practice.  The recommendations by AR are useful, but need to be integrated and adapted to work within the confines of the particular context within which I am working.  I believe AR as a scheme has the capacity to work, and work well, and I hope to be able to make it work well within the context of my Academy and its’ pupils to encourage reading and raise attainment.

This year I will be relaunching AR with the new year seven pupils.  Having re-vamped Library lessons, as outlined in a previous post, I will be implementing the changes above in order to help to raise participation in the AR program and to better highlight the impact that the scheme can have.  I hope that by the end of the year I am able to utilise the new reporting format to be able to present a case for measurable impact of AR and the Library’s work in raising attainment of our year seven pupils.