Debatable topic #5: Who’s In the Driver’s Seat…You, Or Your Reading Incentive Program?

A simple search of GALILEO, google, or any other search tool yields many results when researching reading incentive programs such as Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts. Some writers are vehemently opposed to such programs, while others tout its amazing contributions to student development of lifelong reading habits. There is strong support from both camps, so let’s briefly examine some of the arguments.

Comments in support of reading incentive programs:

  • Provides self-paced tests so students can proceed at their own best rat
  • Provides immediate, constructive feedback from AR/RC quizzes
  • Motivates reluctant readers with incentives to read more
  • Enables frequent, detailed, consistent, and stable assessment
  • Provides formative feedback for the teacher
  • Improves student test scores
  • Increases circulation of materials in the media center
  • Allows for individualized and differentiated instruction for students
  • Provides wide range of accompanying tools that help students remain focused and motivated to read
  • Allows students to set their own goals for reading.

Several research studies purport the effectiveness of AR among school students. Johnson and Howard (2003) found that three groups of students who used AR to improve reading skills and vocabulary development all showed improvement when taking the Gates MacGinitie Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary Tests. Likewise, Sayaman (2003) conducted a three-year study at Harlem Elementary School that revealed gains of five percentiles per year on the ITBS for students who used AR as a component of their reading program. Also, circulation in the media center quadrupled, with each student reading an average of 158 books a year. A reading specialist was hired to guide the implementation of the program, so that was a major factor in the program success.

Comments not in support of reading incentive programs:

  • The point system has negative effects on struggling readers
  • Students can very easily cheat on tests covering books read
  • The program can replace reading instruction rather than be used as a supplemental tool
  • Students often do not read what they prefer to read if it is not on the approved list, therefore, students lose their desire to read for pleasure
  • Proper administration of the program is time-consuming and requires dedicated personnel in order to function properly
  • Many excellent books are excluded from the program because no test exists for the titles
  • Unhealthy competition between students is often fostered
  • Students who do not read at grade level are labeled as slow readers by classmates
  • Teachers are usually not trained in how to properly implement a reading incentive program.

While some studies show that AR increases student reading levels, some studies reveal opposite findings. Melton, et. al. (2004) found that AR did not significantly increase reading achievement growth among 5th grade students when compared with another class who did not use AR. Instead, students who did NOT participate in AR actually showed a significant increase in reading achievement growth.

Some media specialists suggest that reading incentive programs make a tremendous impact on creating lifelong reading habits in their students. Others suggest that students are “trapped” into reading limited titles because they are AR/RC books, and they miss excellent literature and books on topics of their choice because they are not AR/RC books. This practice inhibits lifelong reading habits.

The success and effectiveness of reading incentive programs is contingent upon HOW it is implemented within the school. Some students soar with the program, reading a mixture of what they enjoy whether AR/RC or not. Other students walk away from the media center broken hearted because the book they WANT to read doesn’t have a “dot” on it, so they cannot select it! Most media specialists agree that, when implemented as a supplementary, supportive tool where students are encouraged to read based on their interest and not whether a book is “dotted” or not, reading incentive programs are quite successful. As media specialists, we should use all tools that benefit our students by helping to develop lifelong reading skills and habits.

Perhaps the media specialist should make it known that he/she has the expertise to share in the development of a successful reading incentive program in his/her school. Perhaps this is the type program that, when implemented correctly, could be the catalyst that is needed to improve reading skills and develop a love of literature amongst our students. The issue here is: correct implementation and administration. Are these tools worth exploring, and are they worth the time investment to implement correctly? This is an issue that each media specialist should have a voice in determining within their school.

Then there’s the question…how should reading incentive program books be shelved – intershelved with other titles, or pulled out from the general collection??? Another debatable topic!

Johnson, R.S. & Howard, C.A. (2003). The effects of the Accelerated Reader program on the reading comprehension of pupils in grades three, four, and five. The Reading Matrix 3, 87-96. Retrieved July 10, 2006 from http://relearn.com

Melton, C.M., Smothers, B.C., Anderson, E., Fulton, R., Replogle, W.H., Thomas, L. (2004). A Study of the Effects of the Accelerated Reader Program on Fifth Grade Students’ Reading Achievement Growth. Reading Improvement, 41, 18. Retrieved July 15 from http://relearn.com

Sayaman, A. (2003). Average ITBS reading scores at Harlem Elementary School Rise 5 Percentiles Per Year. Retrieved July 10, 2006 from http://relearn.com

Phyllis R. Snipes
University of West Georgia

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Posted on September 25, 2008, in Reading and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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