Computerized reading programs

“If we expect the students in front of us to look to reading for pleasure and solace in their adult lives, we need to give them the gift of reading today. We need to create beautiful reading rooms with calm, uninterrupted reading hours. Above all we need to fill our bookcases with the best books available. I wouldn’t have attempted to read if my bedside didn’t boast the best novelists, journalists, historians, and poets. When we have the best books, and use them in thoughtful and well-informed ways, our children will need their favorite views out the window. Their reading will inspire them to pause and think deeply about their own lives and the lives of others. Isn’t that what reading is for?”

Writing through Childhood by Shelley Harwayne

This week my daughter is being introduced to a computerized reading program called “Raz Kids.” While I’m still waiting to see if it’s a choice and not mandatory, as a teacher who became familiar with reading programs like Accelerated Reader, I’m very concerned about the use of this program in creating life-long readers.

Reading in simplest terms is interaction with text. It is an understanding of the text read and taking it much deeper through connections, questions, inferences and evaluating how those words inform and change how we interact with life. You get much more out of it by participating than sitting on the sideline or in the audience. Reading involves action. But computerized programs, like Accelerated Reader, do not allow for kids to pause and think deeply. Instead it forces kids to sit on the sideline and watch.

Kids who are required to use programs like AR understand reading to be answering multiple-choice questions that someone else has deemed important. These simple recall questions are supposed to provide teachers with information about a reader’s understanding of the words on the page.

As I think about the desired conversation I want to have with student readers, I think of adult readers. Do they read a book and then go to take a multiple-choice quiz? Or do they sit and drill each other for short simple answers? I’ve never experienced this as an adult reader. As adults we read a variety of text and talk about what sticks out to us, or more importantly what a text means to our own lives.

Shelley Harwayne writes,

“I learned from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain what it was like to fight for survival during the Civil War. . . I learned from Virginia Hamilton Adair’s poetry collection, Ants on the Melon, to look at the world with new eyes and insights. I learned from Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, to be ever so grateful to have left the hospital and ready to appreciate each day awe. . “

So let’s get back to reading that will inspire readers to pause and think deeply about their own lives and the lives of others. Instead of spending all of that money of glorified technology quizzes, purchase books and text that kids will want to and need to read. Get back to the heart of reading. Let kids interact with text.


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Who are you again?

“The goal is not what you learn today; the goal is to expand on your capacity to learn every day.” Seeds of Tomorrow by Angela Engel

One of my favorite teacher/authors is Franki Sibberson. I have read two of her books and particularly like and used Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop as a guide in how to assess reading behaviors. I’ll talk about that assessment in another blog.
And if you have read my first blog and can agree that reading/learning is not linear like today’s market based reforms lead you to believe, I would like for us to explore that even more. In one of Franki’s blog entries she shares who she is as a reader.
I’m going to share 10 things about me.
1. I love to read certain types of literature like historical fiction, biographies, novels, and professional books around teaching pedagogy.
2. My favorite reading spot is on my bed, under my comforter after my kids have gone to bed. Our bed was specifically bought to cater to my reading needs.
3. I have many favorite authors. Most recently this list includes Kate Morton, Maeve Binchy, and Tracy Chevalier.
4. When I find an author I like, as the ones listed above, I choose other books to read by the same author.
5. After reading a lot of a certain genre, I get sick of it, and have to switch to a different genre.
6. I have at least 2 or 3 books and various articles spread all over my bed stand ready to read. Right now the books in waiting are Education for Life by J. Donald Walters, The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, Tested by Linda Perlstein, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
7. I have to read the endings of fiction books sometime during the story. I hate surprises and once I know how it will end, I can enjoy the book.
8. The librarian at my elementary school inspired my desire to read by always asking me about what I liked to read and then making a strong effort to find the perfect book stating, “I think I have a book you’ll love. Let me know what you think.”
9. If a person asks about what I’m reading, I have a hard time orally retelling it. It takes a few attempts for the person asking to get an idea about what I’m trying to say.
10. I wish I could figure out a way to enjoy poetry, but I just haven’t yet.
I could go on, but won’t. What do you know about you as a reader? Please share a few with all of us.

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What do you see?

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? I see a red bird looking at me.” Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? By Bill Martin Jr.

Last night Sidney, my oldest daughter, read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? to her younger siblings and me. When she turned the page before she had read it, I told her of the forgotten page. She quickly told me that she was just looking to see what animal came next, and then she went back to the previous page and proceeded to read.
During a pause, I told her how impressed I was as I know one thing readers do is use pictures and other ways to help them understand what they’re reading. I told her that’s exactly what she did when she checked to see what animal came next. I didn’t make her rely on sounding out words, but I did state that I also know the word was red because it starts with the “r” sound. In fact right now, Sidney’s reading relies heavily on meaning, and I’m happy about this because I get the importance of meaning in reading.
You see, I read Dr. Brian Cambourne’s comments on my first blog, and it seems he also does what Sidney is doing. “I think I have a very strong need to make sense or construct meaning around symbol systems-when Nature selected meaning-making using symbols as a human survival attribute I think I must have gotten a triple dose.” So she’s in good company.
I love paying attention to what my young readers are doing. As I’m writing this, Bryson, my 1 ½ year old, is sitting on the floor with a book in his lap mumbling as he looks at the pictures. I have become an observer in this way because I began teaching before No Child Left Behind was implemented. During that time, teachers were paying attention to the research done by actual researchers. These researchers are people who have spent many hours watching and paying attention to readers. These people include Brian Cambourne, Marie Clay, Yetta and Ken Goodman, Richard Allington, and Peter Johnston. I was very fortunate to have teacher mentors who were Reading Recovery teachers, and their knowledge behind reading acquisition was mind boggling.
But No Child Left Behind forced the teaching profession to follow a corporate driven model instead. In my last few years of teaching, I felt like we were being indoctrinated into a data/number driven craze that was all about number crunching. Instead of following our scholarly experts, we have been following companies out to make a buck off of our children. These companies decide what “research” we pay attention to and what we teach. We have been forced to count how many words a student could get correct in a minute all in the name of data collection.
I can’t help but wonder if our literacy experts feel like Galileo must have felt when the powers that be squelched his findings in regards to astronomy. He was so controversial that he was placed under house arrest, and only later was his work recognized for the brilliance that it was. No doubt the brilliance in our field will be recognized in a much broader sense someday as their work around reading acquisition is just as important as Galileo’s work around astronomy. But unfortunately, my children need their expertise now.
Parents and teachers, what do you see?


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I’m a reader, what are you?

How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work. What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ his own powers in activities that have meaning.

John Dewey

Democracy and Education, 1916



Recently I attended my daughter’s school’s PTIO meeting and left with a heavy heart.   A  chunk of the conversation revolved around programs being implemented to work with below proficient, proficient and advanced readers.  From what I understood, these ratings were decided by the yearly TCAP test as well as the computerized MAPS test.  (I have never understood how a multiple choice test of any kind could determine a person’s reading ability.)  It was also my understanding that kids that were below proficient met before school to do a reading program implemented by advanced readers in the upper grades.  It was then that I wanted to turn to each parent and teacher in that group and ask them what kind of reader they were.

As a teacher who implemented a reading workshop model, I truly wasn’t smart enough to determine a child’s reading ability and because of this, we were all readers in our classroom.  We were not advanced, proficient, or below proficient.  Instead we talked about various skills, strategies, and thinking processes that would enhance our reading processes.  These artificial labels restrict literacy achievement and very seldom empower a reader to reflect and grow.  But when we’re all readers, the possibilities are limitless.   And I still wonder how and who determines what questions are asked on these high stakes tests that determine a person’s reading ability. 

And while I get that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a little more complex than Bill Martin Jr. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You You See?, I get that beyond that, the ability a reader brings to their reading is all about opportunities.  The best opportunity for every reader is to be immersed in literacy through choice reading, quantity of reading, and writing.

My overall reading goal was to addict readers to reading.  In this addiction all would continue to reflect on their reading and grow as even I continue to grow as a reader today.   I often told students there is nothing passive about reading.  You don’t sit on the sideline passively watching the game.  Reading involves getting in the game and there are times when your brain can be quite sore from the activity.  And for my musically invested students, I told them readers aren’t in the audience watching the concert but instead are playing many different instruments.

Due to a manufactured need to collect data, reading has become defined in a linear and numeric way, which tells us absolutely nothing about the reader.  The reading process is much, much more complex than this, and I can’t help but wonder what damage we are doing to readers by using such a simplistic, error ridden model to label them as readers.
The more I think about it, I don't know what my reading ability is, but I do know one thing. . . . I'm a reader.  How about you?


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