Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How Fast is Fast?

I recollect once when my father, uncomfortable with inactivity, suggested I sit up while reading. I pointed out (sorry, dad) that I read the same number of words per minute lying down as sitting up. It comes back to me today because I read (thank you, Sunflower Scoop, for sending me a manageable weekly set of links that enable me to sound well read) a New York Times article discussing (negatively) AR.

AR, Accelerated Reading, is endemic to the K-12 experience, in many schools. It is an online "reading management" software that enables kids to log in and take comprehension quizzes on many thousands of books in the system. They can accumulate points, see percentage of comprehension scores over a number of quizzes, and learn how many words were in their book, and keep a running total.

Our elementary school buys in. Son participated in his second semester of first grade and loved it. But we certainly all got caught up in counting. Number of minutes per week (sign the form, return on Fridays; not AR, but all-school reading program). Number of words read in the semester: 300,000. Our school participates across the board for all second graders and up. Your name goes on the wall at 100K words. You get a special party at 200K. There's a special prize for a million word readers. It is pretty exciting stuff.

The article points out that: alas, the system is flawed. Many of the "classics" have low point values while other "popular" books have much higher point values. Even in the space of his first semester doing AR tests, and without his name on the wall, son got canny. He did the reading, alright, but he was driven by word counts rather than by stories. I'm wondering if we should downplay or opt out of AR altogether, since he isn't a reluctant reader.

Perhaps I've become a reluctant counter. I religiously counted the minutes son read all last year, and dutifully recorded them and sent them in on Fridays. The class minutes were posted inside the classroom and son was locked in competition with Jeremiah. I enabled. It was even fun. This year, knowing that son will read in great excess of the minimum number of minutes required for whatever prizes are going, we are simply attesting to that minimum number of minutes per week. It actually feels like cheating, even though we are reporting far fewer than actual minutes read... Hey, I'm competitive too. But I think reading and 'rithmetic should perhaps be kept apart more?

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I was thinking that, too. Especially since pretty much all of my colleagues make jokes about how we're English profs, which means we don't "do math."