Tagged: Children’s literature

Motivation: The Quest for One Million Words or Ten Points?

Quest for a million

Quest for a million

Proud Father…Concerned Teacher

Naturally, the father in me is proud to share a photo of my 3rd grader lost in a book. Although my son excels at math, understands numbers, and absorbs statistics, Maddox loves to read. He is a logical, rational, concrete thinker, so my English teacher persona smiles every time Maddox says he is going to bed early to read for thirty minutes.

The English teacher hesitates to admit the unorthodox methods used to instill Maddox’s early success as a reader. Many of his first words were read off the ESPN ticker scrolling across the bottom of the television screen (we skipped most educational programming in favor of sports in our house…guilty). After mastering team names and major universities, Maddox moved on to the sports page of the morning newspaper. He would find an article that looked appealing and circle all the words he recognized. Of course, he kept word count stats at the bottom of each column. Who needs lexile scores?

Of course, my wife and I read stories to Maddox and introduced him to traditional children’s books, but reading was and continues to be something he explores independently because he wants to. Maddox is also a role model for his sister, a kindergartner who aspires to do everything like her big brother. Watching her follow his lead is most encouraging from a parent’s point of view. My children should be avid readers and healthy learners, yet I anticipate conflict along the way.

I am grateful for Maddox’s positive elementary school experiences with teachers who instill a love of reading beyond carpet-time sessions–educators who invest the time to introduce my son to new books based not only on reading level, but on their knowledge of his interests. They provide opportunities and present challenges, knowing he will reach and likely exceed their expectations.

As soon as Maddox’s third grade teacher recognized his competitive spirit, she challenged him to select from the shelf of higher-level, more complex chapter books; predictably, Maddox attacked it. He began with one series at a time and has not slowed down. I know this sounds like parental bliss, so what’s the problem?

The experienced (realistic, slightly cynical) English teacher in me fears the worst–a gradual decline in my son’s love of reading as a result of misguided motivation and purpose. I have witnessed this downward trend in so many students as they approach high school and no longer want to read books (even given freedom to select an independent text). Now that I’m a parent, I am gaining an insightful perspective of potential sources of ruin.

Maddox currently selects each Accelerated Reader book according to its points rating, reads the book, takes a ten question quiz, and rushes home with a print out of his performance. He needs six out of ten correct answers to pass, but the competitor expects a perfect score. These recall questions can be unnecessarily fastidious; they do not engage complex thinking or stimulate a reader’s passion. It has been a challenge to convince him that his scores of eight or nine out of ten are most acceptable as long as he is comprehending (and enjoying) what he reads. The magic printer confirms Maddox is reading well above grade level–praise that inspires him to conquer the next book on the shelf–and the cycle repeats.

The magic reader has spoken

The magic reader has spoken

I encourage and support my son’s third grade quest to read one million words–an awesome milestone–but cannot hide my concern for the day Maddox does the math and tires of the ten-point reading game. He, like so many others, will discover shortcuts to undermine the system. Students of all ability levels master this skill at an early age (too bad that doesn’t get assessed nationally).

My wife and I are well aware of society’s test-crazeddriven obsessions and will continue to make learning something special in our house. But what about the students and parents who do not have the advantage of identifying flaws in the system from the inside? They are unprepared for and unknowingly persuaded by sales pitches of political and educational jargon spewed in conferences or on the news–bombarded with Common Core speak, standardized test scores, charts, benchmarks, acronyms, lexiles, grades, trend lines, and national percentiles.



With little explanation or background knowledge, this is overwhelming. The numbers couldn’t possibly lie. Translation: apply label to robot student immediately, accept without question, and have a pleasant day.

Thankfully, I’m a parent and an educator.