Are you going to take a quiz on that book?

51Z6V9NQKkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished reading aloud Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz to my daughter. It’s about a farm pig named Flora who hitches a ride with explorers and takes a journey over the oceans toward Antarctica. Flora thinks she is a part of the crew as a “sledpig”, but the ship’s cook has other intentions…

After finishing the book, I almost asked her if she wanted to take a quiz on it at school the next day. Fortunately, I stopped myself and, instead, briefly discussed the book’s ending with her. She wanted to know if there was a second book about Flora. I said that I wasn’t sure and that I would check into it.


Our school resides within the city that serves as headquarters for Renaissance Learning, home of Accelerated Reader. It is one of our area’s biggest employers. Renaissance Learning has a national and global presence in the educational world. I know educators who have left teaching and taken positions within their company related to sales and training. Some of my staff have spouses who work there. You can understand the internal conflict I might experience as I write this post.

If you are not familiar with Accelerated Reader, students take a quiz about the book they just read to check for comprehension. They can earn points based on the complexity of the text. According to Eric Stickney, Director of Educational Research for Renaissance Learning, “Points are a mashup of three factors: volume of text, difficulty of text, and student comprehension of that text.” I have never observed the use of the phrase “mash up” within the context of educational research. Have you?

Anyway, students can earn points toward their Accelerated Reader goal with each book they read and then pass the quiz. There is a flower visual that fills with color, which creeps closer up to the petals with each book read. Is a student a proficient reader if his or her flower blooms? Is a student a poor reader because his or her flower failed to reach maturity?? Why are they using flowers?!?

We have these technologies in our classrooms, and we know that we should use them thoughtfully and with intention. We understand this, and yet their mere presence, just even knowing that they exist in a learning space, has some type of pull where we want to maximize its use regardless of its impact on student learning and engagement. If we are used to having these technologies in our classrooms, it can be a hard habit to break, even when we come across knowledge that clearly shows that external rewards do not building lifelong readers and learners.


After my daughter went to sleep, I went to Chris Kurtz’s website to find out if a sequel to Adventures of a South Pole Pig did exist. Alas, no. That’s okay. Kids need to understand that some books as good as this one deserve to stand on their own.

What I did find on his website was an interesting reflection from the author about his school experience:

The most important thing I learned in school was how to read. But it was not the most wonderful thing. The most wonderful thing I learned was to love books. Reading words connected me to a page of paper. Reading books connected me to the entire universe, hundreds of new thoughts, millions of people, and to myself.

This quote gave me pause. If I had asked my daughter if she wanted to take a quiz on the book we read together, would I have stopped her from wondering if there was sequel? Would that simple question have reduced her desire to keep on reading within this genre and lessen her relationship with the written word? Would she have connected reading as something that we do exclusively in school instead of something to love? I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that I am glad that I didn’t ask.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

5 thoughts on “Are you going to take a quiz on that book?”

  1. I so pleased you didn’t ask too, Matt. In the rich literary environment you provide for your daughter one question may not have had a big impact. Taking a quiz after every book read is not going to encourage lifelong readers. It is only going to shut them down. I can almost hear the moans now.
    And “mash up”! Yes, I agree with you.
    Thanks for sharing your reflections.
    Trouble is these days, if it can be measured it will be measured; and the most important things are beyond measurement.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Matt, thanks for your thoughtful post. I, too, spend a lot of time thinking about engagement and how to balance that with the accountability we have as teachers. Engagement is highly personal and what motivates one kid can be a turn-off for another. I find that I have the most success when I know my kids deeply and engage them in the decision-making process. I have never used Accelerated Learner but, as reading specialist, I have to have ways to check comprehension for the books they read. I often have them write a quick summary and their thoughts about it but that becomes burdensome as well. Recently I have lessened that requirement and added lots of choices of way to communicate this to me (various ipad apps, podcasts, etc). I am always open new ideas so any thoughts on this are appreciated. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Lorinda. Good to connect with you again.

        With the dearth of interim and summative assessments in our schools today, we are not lacking for accountability measures. For checking comprehension, I have found no better way to do this than conferring with the student. Two of my favorite books on this topic are Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers by C Landrigan and T Mulligan, and So What Do They Really Know? Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning by C Tovani. Both are Stenhouse titles and are excellent for describing authentic assessment practices.

        That said, I am not against a student taking a quiz if it is for a quick comprehension check. Same for reading logs – I do the same thing with Goodreads. Where it gets tricky is when the technology, the tools and the incentives become the reason for reading, instead of reading for its own sake.

        Educreations is an excellent app for students to create book talks for their peers. iMovie is also fun for summarizing and recommending a title via a book trailer. Teachers don’t have time for students to do this for all of their books, so it forces students to select the very best titles to promote. Speaking and listening, persuasive writing, and using multimedia to convey knowledge are all addressed with these activities.

        Like

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