The toughest part of being a good reading teacher, with a vibrant independent reading period and a wide-ranging library, is knowing all the books. Even if you’ve efficiently organized your library around series and reading ladders, it’s not really possible to have read all of the books in your library and remember them well enough to conduct thorough comprehension conferences. This is where Accelerated Reader (AR) comes in to save the day. The good people at AR have read and written multiple choice comprehension questions for nearly every children’s’ and teen book…ever. I have yet to find a book in our library that doesn’t have an AR quiz.
Here’s an AR question for Dork Diaries: Tales from a NOT-SO-Fabulous Life:
In case you’ve been deprived of reading this work of high art, the answer is “C”. This question is representative of all of the AR questions. It is:
- Multiple choice
- Tests literal comprehension only
- Filled with distractor questions that are wrong because they did not happen at all. There is very little subtlety or nuance in the incorrect options.
- Asked in the same order that the event in question happened in the book.
In order to pass the quiz, students must get 60% of the questions correct. This is the default setting and can be changed to increase or decrease rigor. Most quizzes are 10 questions long, but quizzes for longer books are occasionally 20 questions. So, if a student passes this quiz, it tells you that they read the majority of the book and understood it at a literal level. They were likely able to follow the plot and subplots and understand the central problem.
AR doesn’t test for inferential skills or theme skills. As such, Rob and I still conduct reading conferences and discussion groups. Even with its limitations, Rob and I have found AR to be a very useful tool and one we use everyday in our classroom. It gives me the confidence to say that a student has “read” a book and is ready for the next book in the series, or a more challenging book. Conversely, it allows me to identify students who are struggling or not reading at all. It gives me a window into students’ reading lives. Unless you’ve read every book in your library and have a photographic memory for plot details, you need to buy Accelerated Reader.