Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Unbelievably Hard Job of Raising a Reader

I grew up 20 minutes from town, and the last of six children.  My closest sibling was 10 years older then me, so I was pretty much an only child.  We didn't have cable or even internet, so I spent my time reading and exploring the outdoors.  I had an unending imagination, and spent most of my time alone.  My favorite books growing up were A Wrinkle in Time, and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  I can only imagine that if Harry Potter had been in print back then, I would have loved them then as much as I do now.  So when I had my little girl I was excited with her growing up and getting to share my love of reading with her.  As these things go, life becomes busy and I spent more time at work and less time reading to my little girl.  TV, internet and Nintendo DS's were so much more fun to her.  Being my one and only little girl (with medical problems since she was born) I gave her what she wanted.  As she started school and began reading I thought she would just naturally pick up a love for books because she was my child.  I was wrong.  In second and third grade when the kids were graduating from picture and chapter books into real stories and novels, she had no real interest.  In our school system we have what is called the Accelerated Reading Program, or AR for short.  The program assigns a level to each book depending on its vocabulary and other factors.  It also assigns a point value per book.  Each child then takes a test to tell the teacher what level the child reads at.  Subsequently the teacher uses this information to determine what level the child should be reading at and then they assign an amount of points the child will have to earn per semester.  The child reads the book, then has to use a computer at the school to take a test on the book, depending on how they score on the test determines how many points they earn.   At first I thought this was a wonderful program.  Then as my child struggled to earn the points assigned to her I started to find flaws.  The AR program is a computer program where all of the AR books are listed, with ratings and points.  Back when my child was still in grade school, there was just a huge list that parents had access to.  Searching through it took forever.  The teachers had access to an online program that they could search, because the children would take the tests from their computers.  Back then it was hard on me as a parent because the lists we were given and had access to were not updated with current books.  For example my child would start a series, really get into it and then the newest books would not be added to the catalog and she couldn't read the newest, at least not get any points for it.  This was discouraging to her.  Some teachers would offer for the child to write up a book review and then the teacher would assign some amount of points for the report, but of coarse my child never had one of those teachers.  As she got older she got more bored with books, and had less time to even read because of other school work and activities.  This is by no way me excusing my child for dropping the ball on her reading.  I take a lot of responsibility as a parent for letting her get away with it.   As she got older, her level got higher and more points were needed and she struggled even more to find books that she could get into and like.

When she was in fourth grade I started listening to audiobooks.  I listened to everything, from Twilight to Harry Potter.  Then it hit me, if I could get her to listen to the books maybe it would spark in interest in her.  So I started her listening to Harry Potter.  I also bought the books so she could follow along with it.  I created a monster!  She would put them down.  She absolutely devoured each book.  To be honest, I would catch her not following along in the books, but I didn't care!  She was finally understanding the wonderful different worlds she could enter and the adventures she could have.  I would catch her just lying there, and ask if she was asleep.  She would say no, I just like to imagine it in my head! I knew it then, I had her hooked.

Then came my new problem, finding other books that kept her interest and sparked her imagination.  She read and listened to all Percy Jackson, Scott Westerfelds Uglies series, and Maximum Ride.  In between all these books, I slowly weaned her off audiobooks.  Then there was the Hunger Games phase, she read all three books before the movie was even a thought! She is now twelve and started to read YA. Can you imagine how excited I have been to get to share all my books with her now?  Recently I introduced her to Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments, and here we went again.  It is pretty bad when you have to threaten to take your child's BOOK away because they won't do her chores.   

The brings us to my now newest problem with the AR reading program.  At the beginning of her 7th grade year she scored a little low on her reading level.  She was considered to be at a 6th grade reading level.   Her new teacher assigned her a new reading level with a certain range.  The books she were currently reading were considered to high for her, but the teacher let her read them anyways.  Recently she just re-took her testing, and in one semester she went from a sixth grade reading level to a 10th grade reading level.  The teacher was ecstatic and I was so proud.  Then she assigned her new reading level, with explicit notes that she was not to read below this certain level.  Of coarse the next book in the series she loves so much is now below that level! I looked up books that are at that level, and The Lord of The Rings was one of them! As I scrolled these the titles of the books that she could read I came upon one thing in common, these books divulge into situations inappropriate for a twelve year old.  Not that I want to shelter my child, but seriously?  I mean I let her read City of Lost Souls and stuff got hot and heavy in it.  But now she has to stop reading a series she loves because it is 0.3 points less then her level?  I have not spoke to the teacher about this yet, and it may be something we can work with.   I know the teacher wants to challenge her, but to make her stop reading seems a little far fetched.

I am unimaginably proud of my daughter and how far she has come with her reading.  To this day I am curious about other parents experiences with the AR program.  I discuss it with my friends a lot and they all seem to have their own problems with it.  The program is well done, but seems to force kids to read things they do not want to.  It also seems to put too much pressure when trying to accumulate points.  A point based reading system to me emphasizes more about quantity then quality for the readers.

I would really like to hear other parents thoughts!     


  1. I love this post, especially since I'm at the beginning of your journey. My boys are 4 and they love when I read them books, and will pretty much let me read them almost anything. But I've heard that as they get older boys are harder to keep them interested. Still I have high hopes that there will be another generation of books like Harry Potter & Percy Jackson to keep them interested!!

    1. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson will be perfect for them!! Also earlier then that there is How to Train your Dragon, and Diary of a Wimpy kid.

  2. Okay I love and hate the AR testing program. I hate that its only done through the schools to test. My kids are not up with their reading levels at all. Right now my oldest dd is on a wimpy kid kick. But my boy is read 180 and very low reading level. He loves to read comics. But you can't test for that :(

    I want my kids to read but don't have to many audios to listen to for them. I don't like the point system either.I am just happy when they read.

    There was one year I could have my dd take tests from home, but now its all done with the district.

    1. I understand the need for a standardized system that all teachers can use. Still, the pressure of the points system is a little too much. Too bad you can't do the tests at home anymore. I joined audible for audiobooks, and also get some from the library.