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Offering Reading Choices While Using AR in the Classroom

Sunday, July 16, 2017

I didn’t want it to happen, but it did. That’s right– school supplies came out in the stores this week. My heart skipped a beat and butterflies consumed my stomach when I walked into Target today. I tried to fight it, but what can I say? I’m a total teacher nerd! I left Target feeling partially nauseated and really motivated! I promised a few teacher friends I’d post on how I use AR in the classroom while offering reading choices and without using the point system.  So lo and behold…here it is!

Before I dive in completely, I want to give a shout out to my friend, my mentor, my first and best ever principal Stephanie. She’s to thank for the handy and FREE downloadable graphs you’ll find in this post. It’s my passion to educate and inspire young people. This passion stems from the love (sometimes tough love) and devotion that Stephanie showed to me over our 6 years together. Mrs. Tear, you inspire me to be a better teacher. Thank you.  xo

You Don’t HAVE to Use AR?

Lucky you! Stick with me until the end, though. You’ll see that I am not the program’s biggest fan, and will  learn how I incorporate CHOICE reading into my classroom!

No AR Points? What?!

You heard me right! Those point values given to each book? They mean nothing to me or my students. Don’t get me wrong, they have their place. That place is just not in our classroom. In my opinion, using points just encourages kids to read a lot of books quickly instead of reading on-level books thoroughly.

So How Is  Progress Monitored?

My students monitor their own progress through these AR graphs. Students receive one graph a quarter with their starting AR level marked on it. They read a book at their level, but before they can test they must tell a friend about the book, write a report on it, or email me a 3-5 sentence book review.  Once they take a test over a book and pass it at 80% or better, they can graph that level and move on to the next.

If I’m being 100% honest, though…I don’t rely on STAR to teach me what my students need to know. The fact is, I make those kids’  my priority for the 9 months that I spend with them. We talk about what they love, what they hate, what they struggle with, and what they pride themselves in. I listen to them read to me. I read aloud to them. You can learn a lot about young people when you simply get to know them!

What Motivates Students?

Success! We talk so much about growth from day one. Seeing their own progress really boosts their confidence, making them more successful. Not only that, but in our 9 months together I befriend these kids. I become their biggest advocate while giving them the confidence to be the reader they want to be. I hope they know they can always come back to me when they need a sounding board, some encouragement, or even a little tough love.

What Resources are Used?

I use CAFE strategies from The Cafe Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser in conjunction with a Daily 5 approach. We focus on the parts of CAFE:

C: Comprehension

A: Accuracy

F: Fluency

E: Expand Vocabulary

CAFE-mrs pennington-AR-Accelerated reader

daily 5-reading-mrs pennington for your thoughts

By less than a month into the school year, my Nerds in Third are using these terms regularly in their vocabulary. They are also engaging in the strategies to improve their reading in each area of CAFE. While using the graphs mentioned above is a big motivator for some of the kids (those will be the kids who are total data nerds like me someday!), applying these strategies and being able to talk about what they’re doing is a pretty big motivator!

Is There a Tangible Incentive?

This, my friends, is the fun part! When a student passes 10 levels in AR, he or she has achieved “Sweet Success”! I keep a stash of sweet treats under my desk in my top secret hiding spot that they can pick from. I also purchased a lifetime supply of these awards from Amazon.

Sweet Success awards  from Amazon are given to students when they pass 10 AR levels!

Of course, they also get their 15 minutes of fame on our Class Dojo parent board and class Facebook parent page. This year I also intend to create a “Sweet Success” bulletin board. On this board, they will have their photo posted, like the one below. They also will be responsible for typing a paragraph book review of their favorite book out of the 10 they read to achieve their “Sweet Success”!  I’m really excited about this new addition! Not only will the book review be a nice culminating activity for passing those 10 levels, but it will help other students to choose a book to read!

Let me just say, though…these material things don’t even come close to the pride students feel! Nothing holds a candle to that.
AR-Accelerated Reader-reading teacher-mrs pennington

Shouldn’t We Just Let Them Read What They Want?


Levels suck, you guys! I know that. You know that. Kids know that. If you’re lucky, you have administration that know that. Alas, not everyone is so lucky. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that using DRA or STAR Reading or other leveling programs really do have their place in the classroom. It is valuable to have an idea of where our kiddos are. I do NOT, for even one second, think their entire reading instruction should revolve around that level!

My ultimate goal as a reading teacher is  to foster a love of reading in my students that lasts a lifetime. I want them to be that 35 year old who can’t keep herself out of bookstores, who has her nose in a book or magazine or newspaper 24/7, who loves reading SO MUCH that she or he just can not get enough! Will that happen through only reading texts that are “on level”?


reading-teacher-AR-mrs pennington

How Is Choice Reading Incorporated?

Every. SINGLE. Day my students are encouraged to read what they love! Yes, there is a time for leveled reading in our classroom. I make the best of that time by making it engaging, enticing, and motivational for my young readers. However, one of their favorite rotation choices during Daily 5 time is to read WHAT THEY WANT!

I do not mind one bit if a student whose level is in the first grade range chooses to pick up a Harry Potter book that’s supposedly for fifth graders. If that child is absorbed in the book and loving every second of it, then it’s a perfect choice for him/her.

If you’re an adult who read the Twilight series, the Harry Potter series, or any other book geared for teens/young adults you have seen the beauty in reading something that isn’t “on level”.


choice books-reading-mrs pennington                                                                                    reading choice books-mrs pennington-reading

Fun Feet Fridays =FREEDOM

Fridays in our classroom are my favorite thing. Ever.

Students love to celebrate “Fun Feet Friday”. That’s the day we come to school proud to wear our most wacky, crazy or mismatched socks. Let’s face the truth here, mismatched socks may be all some of our students have. This one day a week lets these kids be proud to show off what they have.

fun feet friday-mrs. pennington

On Fridays we kick off our shoes, flip off the lights, bust out flash lights, get comfy, and READ WHATEVER WE WANT! No levels, no testing, no graphs. Every one of us, Mrs. Pennington included, cracks open a book we love and just enjoy our time! I always encourage my third grade friends to tell each other about what they’re reading, but during this time in class, you can almost always hear a pin drop. They’re truly that invested in reading what they love!

And I love that. More than anything.



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One comment

  1. Kathy Wright says:

    Nice post.
    AR is used in my daughter’s elementary school. She actually loved it. What their teachers did was set their grade level and then they could read anything that they wanted as long as it was at or above grade level. Similar to what you are saying.

    But what she loved the most was silly “drop everything and read” times. Even if it was just for 5 minutes…. It’s the playful, spontaneous aspect that she responds to.
    Thanks for sharing! The more reading fools out there the better!!

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