Using Accelerated Reader with ESL (English as a Second Language) Students

Article excerpt

"When second language acquirers read for pleasure, they develop the competence they need to move from the beginning ordinary conversational level to a level where they can use the second language for more demanding purposes. . . ." (1) Most reading teachers and librarians set great store by Stephen Krashen's The Power of Reading, the book from which this quotation is excerpted.

Being a librarian in a four-year high school has allowed me to observe how students use and develop reading and language skills. Especially interesting is observing English as a Second Language (ESL) students who have entered school their ninth grade year with little or no English use or comprehension. Watching them become fluent in their second language by the time they graduate is a priviledge.

In some cases, mental practice is almost as effective as actual physical practice. Concert pianists practice mentally as they travel from one performance to another. Coaches use that same tactic as they encourage athletes to concentrate on plays before a game. It would be reasonable to assume, then, that a person who does not speak fluently in a second language would improve as he or she "practices" the second language in silent sustained reading. Krashen's statements support this theory, although he calls it "FVR," free voluntary reading.

On our high school campus, all incoming students take reading tests to determine if they are reading on grade level. If they are not at a reading level that allows them to function well in a high school classroom, they enroll in a reading improvement class. Our two reading teachers work closely with each student and provide silent sustained reading time, well-stocked classroom libraries, and rewards for points received on Accelerated Reader tests.

USING ACCELERATED READER

Accelerated Reader (AR) is a computerized program that instantly provides scored tests covering a large number and variety of books. Although the tests are not considered "hard," they are thorough. Generally a student cannot pass a test unless he or she has actually read the book. TOPS (Three Opportunities to Praise Students) reports print out automatically and must be signed by the test monitor for validation. Based on the number of points earned, the student "earns" a prize.

Last year, our first full year to use the AR, only reading improvement classes took the computerized tests; this year we have made it available to all students, depending on each teacher's preference. Only reading improvement students, however, are currently receiving rewards for points. Others are fulfilling class requirements. The school library assures a good selection of AR titles so all students will have reading material that they like.

Many students who are channeled into reading improvement classes are there because they are not yet adept at using English. When that occurs, they have a class with an ESL teacher, but they also attend reading improvement classes to give them a "double dose" of English and reading. Reading teachers work individually with each student, so ESL students receive equal amounts of one-on-one time in reading class.

All of us watch for books that are of appropriate age-level interest yet are reading levels that are "reachable" for ESL students. Sometimes it takes a bit of discussion and re-reading before ESL students are ready for the Accelerated Reader test, but reading teachers use whatever method works for a particular student.

We print lists of tests that we have on our networked Accelerated Reader program and keep them in a loose-leaf notebook at the circulation counter so students can tell which books will provide them with points. We also mark the spine of each AR book with a strip of fluorescent red tape. If students want to read a book either from reading class or from the library that does not have a test on the network, reading teachers or library staff will read the book and make tests. …