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.