Letters to the Editor 24.3

NON SEQUITUR ©2010 Wiley Miller
Reprinted by permission of Universal Uclick
All rights reserved.

Pros and Cons of Accelerated Reading

I’m writing in regard to Susan Straight’s article, “Reading by the Numbers” (Winter 2009). I successfully used the Accelerated Reading (AR) software at the junior high level for seven years. If used with fidelity, the program does what it is set up to do: provide students with time to read in a classroom setting, provide teachers with software that helps place students in books that are in their zone of proximal development, and give incentives to students. While the program does have a point system, it is not recommended that the points be tied too closely to a student’s grade.

AR is a management software and is not intended to replace the teacher as instructor, nor does the testing give information about the student’s ability to make inferences or use other higher level cognitive thinking skills. AR merely tracks the number of books a student reads and with what accuracy. If the program is not being used properly (for instance, if students are required to get a certain number of points without being provided appropriate time within the school day), then students are not going to meet the goals.

The criticism of AR by Ms. Straight is really a problem with teacher/school use of the software, not the software itself. I encourage you to take a look at the factors surrounding the proper use of AR before deciding whether or not it should be banned. It could be that professional development has not been provided to the teachers using the software and the program is not being used with fidelity. The AR program does help motivate students and provides a structured format for individual reading that is especially helpful to students who have never developed the habit or discovered the joy of reading.

—Carolyn Hondo
Principal, Burley High School, Burley, Idaho

Susan Straightrsquo;s “Reading by the Numbers” accurately describes problems with Accelerated Reader’s scoring system. AR could easily fix this. However, Straight also points out that AR encourages reading only to earn points. This is a very profound criticism. The program alters the nature of reading as it pushes readers to focus on often irrelevant details in order to pass tests.

AR could also have the effect of discouraging reading in the long run: Reading is intrinsically pleasant. Substantial research shows that rewarding an intrinsically pleasant activity sends the message that the activity is not pleasant, and that nobody would do it without a bribe. AR might be convincing children that reading is not pleasant. No studies have been done on the long-term effect of AR.

There is no clear evidence that AR works, even in the short term. AR has four components: access to books, time to read, quizzes, and prizes for performance on the quizzes. It is well established that providing books and time to read are effective, but AR research does not show that the quizzes and prizes are helpful. Studies claiming AR is effective compare AR to doing nothing; gains were probably due to the reading, not the tests and prizes.

—Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus, University of
Southern California

Warning Labels on Books?

I write to commend you for publishing “Save the Muslim Girl!” (Winter 2009). As a U.S. citizen of Pakistani heritage who is a classroom teacher and academic, I believe this important piece should be required reading for anyone who teaches literature. The popularity of the books mentioned and the acclaim they have received give them great power to convey prejudicial messages about Muslim women and girls to large numbers of people. Therefore, it is imperative that these messages are offset by critiques such as the one that Sensoy and Marshall provide. They state: “These novels can be best used to teach about the common Western stereotypes that are universalized in these books rather than teach about Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Islamic cultures.” Personally, I would like to see this quote on the back of books like The Breadwinner (like a warning on cigarettes).

As the wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, and, in effect, Pakistan, continue to escalate and the misinformation against people from these countries continue to abound, it is particularly important to remember that “young adult literature about the Middle East cannot be separated from the post-9/11 context in which these books are marketed and increasingly published.”

It is likely that those who read and teach these books have never actually met a veiled woman or even a Muslim woman, and have no real experiences to counter the false and often disrespectful views put forth in these books. I shudder to think that readers might believe that the millions of Muslim women who practice their faith are simply oppressed, or that these women’s marriages, customs, families, and life stories amount to nothing more than a narrative of an uncivilized “other.”

If we are to live in a socially just world, then we must teach children to work towards tolerance and understanding of those who are different, and to be able to identify and critique stereotypes. Articles such as “Save the Muslim Girl!” provide us with a means to achieve this goal.

—Carolyne Ali-Khan
New York, N.Y.

The suggestions in “Save the Muslim Girl!” are immediately useful to my work as a teacher educator. I can see using this article to illustrate to teachers how to help students think more complexly about Islam and Muslim children. I think it is particularly important for teachers as they relate to girls who wear hijab because of the extent to which damage has already been done to these girls through the very images this article discusses. Finally, at a deeper level, it may help teachers understand and begin to make space for the girls who don’t wear hijab because they are worried about discrimination but live with guilt as they pass through the school system.

—Seema Imam
Elementary and Middle Level Teacher Education
National-Louis University, Lisle, Ill.

‘Baghdad Burning’ Warms a Heart

I am an Iraqi asylee currently residing in the United States. I read “Baghdad Burning Heats Up World History” and found it very touching and informative. With people like you at Rethinking Schools, I feel there is so much hope for giving a message about the damage caused by wars to everyone in this world.

I really admire that you are working hard to pass the message of peace and justice to people. I think we are all wounded, and once we understand that, we will realize that wars are no more than another way for us to wound each other. I thank you very much for what you are doing by teaching people a culture of peace.

—Louis Yako
Eastern Mennonite University Harrisonberg, Va.