expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Spark Motivation Saturdays (AR Tracking)!!

Happy Saturday everyone!  I am linking up with my beautiful friend, Joanne, at Head Over Heels for Teaching for her Spark Student Motivation Saturdays linky! 
 My post today is about a strategy I just learned about when using the Accelerated Reader program.  I read this post by the fabulous Jennifer at Mrs. Laffin's Laughings where she blogged about how she uses AR and the STAR assessment (my school also uses both of these) to give each student a point goal for each quarter based on their ability (determined by the STAR reading test).  She has a super cute race car chart where they move their car up as they earn more of a percentage of their goal.  This idea really started me thinking about my reading goals for next year.

For the past two years, our 4th grade team had switched groups for ELA and we grouped them by ability.  There were three groups (high/average, average/below average, and well below average).  We really liked how this worked for the lowest and highest groups especially.  We kept the low group numbers as small as possible (10-13 in a class) with a reading specialist who pushed in for additional support and the top group was really challenged to move at a faster pace.  We never had a reading specialist push in during the 4th grade ELA block when we didn't switch groups and the admin told us that we could have support if the struggling students were in one class.  So, we changed that (I don't know if they thought we would do it!).  When you have a class of 20 and there are at least four students reading at a 1st grade level with no extra reading specialist support (or teacher assistant...anything!), those students suffer, or on the flip side, you focus much of your energies on the low and the top don't get the attention they deserve.  You know the story...all teachers can relate to that cycle!

So, I taught the top group for two years and my reading requirement for these students was to read four books a month.  I had 23 students in my class last year (some were truly "high" but most were closer to "average") and in September about half the class is always really overwhelmed by this FOUR book requirement! You want us to do what??  After reading the Book Whisperer last summer, it verified that this was not too lofty of a goal, especially for the top readers. 
 I always start the year letting them choose just about any chapter books they want to read even though they are all technically reading at the 4th grade level.  If they WANT to read Junie B. Jones, Magic Tree House, Nate the Great, etc., I don't care!  As long as they are reading, it can be a chapter book of their choice.  Once December rolls around (we start school in September), the students have to read AT LEAST 3.5 AR level books for their 4 books a month and in March it is bumped up to at least a 4.0 level to count.  I conference throughout the year with students and encourage some to challenge themselves if they are "stuck" on a certain level and are more capable.  They get a printed AR report each month with their top four scores circled for the month.  It is important to provide some type of tracking system to keep students motivated.  Most of them love getting these reports to take home and show their parents!  Within a few months, the students are always amazed that most of them are reading MORE than four books a month!  Also, for those students who read larger chapter books, I always counted books that were more than about 250 pages as "TWO" books for the month but they never counted for more than two, no matter how long they were.  

With that being said, now we are changing our 4th grade schedule and moving to departmentalization.   I will be teaching ALL the ELA and keep wondering if the four book a month goal is too much to ask for all my struggling readers?  Then, I saw how Jennifer uses AR to customize their goal by points and thought, "Bingo!".  She sent me a link to this 148 page document with a TON of useful information about using AR in the classroom.  Um, why haven't I ever seen this before?  We have used AR at my school as long as I have been teaching there (14 years this fall!).  Even if you don't use AR, you should check out this document because it has many useful tips for any classroom!

Since I had never used AR to set a "goal" for points for the year, I was curious if my top readers met what would have been their goal last year.  Indulge me for a minute while I brag about my wonderful class last year! :)  Here are two screenshots (they wouldn't all fit on one screen) of their points and percentage of goal reached for the year:

As you can see, everyone except one student (94.3%) surpassed the goal AR set for them based on the STAR test.  The one student who didn't meet their goal also didn't pass the state exam.  It just goes to show you how important independent reading is!  I think it is the most important part of my program.

I also didn't know that students can check their progress toward their goal at anytime when they login.  It helps them take responsibility for their progress and is a great reinforcer of accomplishments!

Since I am seriously thinking about switching my student goal of four books a month to an AR points goal based on their STAR assessment, I would like to create an owl themed display to show their progress by percentage of the goal reached.  Jennifer used a race car theme and this is the picture of one that is suggested in the AR manual:
Do you have any thoughts on using a number of books per month goal (at student's reading level) versus an AR points goal per quarter (also based on student's level).  Also, I would like to use these cute owl mini cutouts (3" x 3") that I found on Amazon for $2.99 on a tracking display in the classroom for student motivation.  
I will write their names on the books.  
Also, do you have any suggestions for a cute "owl" themed title for the AR points display?
Thanks, friends!!

Be sure to check out the other link ups at Head Over Heels for Teaching today!  
Joanne has some super cute Welcome Back to School Coupons that she posted about!

Also, don't forget about the Back to School Sale at TPT starting tomorrow!  Yay!!  
You can check out ideas for wish listed items at this link up here or link up if you are a blogger!!


  1. We do AR at my school and my third graders all read over 60 books last year, mostly chapter books, I use star and set the first quarter goal and then the students set their own goals with guidance after that. They usually choose much loftier goals than I do and they always make it.

  2. Holly, is that screen-shot for the whole year or just one month? If it's one month, you are blowing me away right now! Here's what I do: Depending on what is going on that grading period is how I set the goals for my class. For instance, I know that the library will be closed the first few weeks of school, so I don't want to set my point goal too high for the first nine weeks because it's not really fair if they haven't had access to only books in my classroom(I might not have something they are interested in). Each 9 weeks our PTO gives a party for any students that meet their goal with at least 85% and whatever their point goal is. K-5 is invited at different times throughout the day. It might be something as simple as having a 45 minute extra recess. All year, students are working towards making it into the "Millionaire's Club". Any students that read one million words(can be checked on A.R) get to dress up like a millionaire for the day(out of school uniform) and a special breakfast is planned for them with a guest speaker(this year the lady from the Public Library came) In the lower grades, a whole class can try to read one million words together. Students that read one million words get their picture taken and it is placed on the wall in the library. During awards ceremonies at the end of the year for 3-5 they announce the top three AR point winners in each grade. The top AR student for the whole school gets their name on the plaque in the front office and a $25 gift card to the local book store. What motivates MY students...I ALWAYS take AR tests too. They try to beat me in points. I always ask who doesn't mind if I put a chart up on the board with the words read for the whole year and the points earned for the whole year. We all try to bump each other out of our spots. Two years ago I had two students earn over 1,000 points for the year. This past year I had a 4th grader earn 800+ points all because he was determined to beat me. At the beginning of the year he didn't even want to take a test. It's amazing what a little competition will do! Sorry this is so long!
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

    1. WOW, Alison!!! Thank you for the AMAZING response! There are so many ideas here that I don't know where to begin. First, the screenshot is for the whole year! So, 800+ points is just unbelievable to me!!! The student who read over 555 pts. literally reads A.L.L. the time and didn't really need any motivation from me. I can just imagine what a little more motivation and competition would do!!!

      We have some AR contests school wide but not nearly to the extent as your school. Our library holds a grade level contest about 2x a year and the 4th competes against grades 5 and 6. Again, not to brag:) but the 4th always wins! Last year we broke the record for the most points earned in a month and I wasn't doing anything different to promote the contest. The students just naturally start to read once the realize at the beginning of the year that they must read 4 books a month (they have to score at least a 70% on the 4 tests and, if they don't, they miss recess everyday until they get caught up). Many teachers require reading at night in my school with a reading log, but out of at least grades 3-6, I am the only teacher that requires a certain number of books read. I just don't buy it that they are actually "reading" at night when they sign that calendar unless they are FINISHING books and taking AR tests!

      I LOVE that you take AR tests right along with them! I can usually read one good book a month but I know they would be excited to "beat" me! I love the millionaire's club too and thought about having a "club" where they move up levels too posted in the room. The perfect spot would be in the space above the boards.

      If you let them help set their own point goal and they can change it each quarter or month, do you just calculate the percent yourself? I am trying to work out the logistics in my mind of keeping the percentage tracking board up to date for 50 students and how often I would be able to do it.

      Thanks again!!! You motivated ME!! :)

  3. Holly, I don't use AR in my ELA class, but another 4th grade teacher in my building does and she always sets their goals by point level. I think it is a great way to help even things up for all your students since your struggling readers will go through those smaller books more quickly than an advanced reader. Thanks for the link to the document. I'm going now to check it out!
    Polka Dot Lesson Plans

  4. My school doesn't use AR so I can't be any help there but I was thinking about your Owl themed bulletin board. Here's what I thought of:

    "Owl" Climb to the top of Reading
    Reading Owls Flying or Climbing to Success
    Flying High in Reading

    Just my thoughts, with your cute owl cut outs in a tree & the AR levels going up the tree so as they move up AR levels their owl gets higher in the tree. Similar to the race car idea.

    Hope this helps. Good luck with this this year.


  5. My school uses Scholastic Reading Counts instead of AR. I require a set number of points per quarter instead of per month, so my suggestions have not been "tried." But if you allowed the kids who are struggling readers to read lower level books I think it is fine to keep your requirement at 4 books a month...if you want them to read books that would be more challenging-maybe your require 3. Just a thought!

    Hunter's Teaching Tales
    Find me on Facebook

  6. Hi Holly!

    I'm glad I could help!

    I also wanted you to know that their is an AR Parent Home Connect that parents can log into to see what their kids are reading. It can even be set up to send them an email when their child takes a quiz. This worked really well for me in the past, especially for the reluctant readers.

    I could agree more that independent reading is one of the most important things you can do in your classroom! My team read "The Book Whisperer" last summer also, and dedicated at least 30 minutes a day to DEAR time. Our scores improved GREATLY and the kids LOVED all the reading time!

    Mrs. Laffin's Laughings

  7. They have to have at least 85% each grading period, school-wide, in addition to their grading period goal in order to attend the AR party. I set their goals each new grading period. I'm probably not doing it the way that AR/STAR expects it to be done, but I've found they go WAY beyond my expectations if I compete with them. When I do the chart for the whole year, I fill in a table on Word and display it on the SMARTboard. They would like me to do this every day, but I try to do at least once at the end of the week. You can access the Word Count in AR too by grading period or the whole year. When I do the whole year, they get super pumped because they really want to make it to the Millionaire's Club. I used to do a sticker every time they scored a 90% or higher on a test. I don't hang up anything anymore in the room because they are taking tests ALL the time. It's impossible to keep up with like that and I'd have to buy stock in stickers. One day a week posting the chart on the board is enough for me!
    My school does a Reading first plan, so we are really only supposed to have Reading homework each night. I do a reading log where I write the title of the book, their parents initial that they sign. I initial on top of them the next day. The kids write the pages read, the minutes read, and whether they have taken an AR test. I call this their RAH(Read at Home) folder. I used to require at least 100 mins a week. They could do it each day or all in one day. It didn't matter to me as long as they did it. I have a few here and there that don't read consistently, but I know who they are and keep on top of them. They definitely don't want to be the only kid sitting in the room while the rest of the class goes to the AR party. In my county we are not, under any circumstances, allowed to give grades for AR. It is purely for motivational purposes only.

  8. Wow Holly! Your post has motivated everyone! :O) We do Reading Counts at my school and I couldn't live without it! It's such a huge motivator for kids, plus like you said, you know they're reading if they pass the test. I've never been a fan of the reading log (no offense if anyone uses one). I know parents just sign it so their children don't get in trouble, something else to check in, and I don't think that piece of paper truly motivates any child to read. I think your book goals are perfect!
    For your AR board:
    We are "owl"some readers!
    Can I get a hoot hoot for these readers??!!

    Thanks for linking up sweet friend!
    Head Over Heels For Teaching