Accelerated Reader

love reading

While in my ideal world children would be thrilled at the prospect of being allowed to read in school for extended periods of time, for those who find reading challenging this can be a virtually impossible task. Incentives are required to address their lack of interest, or to encourage students to try something a little more taxing.

This is only the second year that we have signed up to use the Accelerated Reader package at work, and this time around it’s good to feel a little more familiar with the format.

The premise of the package is simple. Pupils are tested at the start of the year on their ability to contextualise words and to show understanding of a passage of text. This information is then used to identify their reading age and a ZPD (or range of recommended reading material). From this, they are then set a target number of points to accrue over a term, which is based on them reading for a specified number of minutes a day. Whenever they finish a book, they complete a short quiz.

For some, this has been a great incentive to get reading and develop their interests (or at least pass quizzes so they can collect for our school reward system). For others, I can almost hear the tortured breathing as they watch the clock and count down the minutes until they are free to do something they consider useful.

As someone who reads avidly, I love the idea that students can be encouraged to develop their reading habits and that they are encouraged to try new writers/more challenging material. However, this year’s work has made it abundantly clear to me that this package is nothing more than a tool for dedicated librarians/staff/parents to use in order to nurture readers. Without people talking about books, talking about their interests and creating an environment where students see the value placed on reading this could quickly become nothing more than a gimmick.

There’s no quick fix to the issue of developing children’s literacy levels, but I do feel that helping them to become confident independent readers goes a long way towards this.

‘The Paying Guests’ – Sarah Waters

the paying guests

Having purchased this as a gift, my interest had been piqued and I couldn’t resist picking up a copy from our local library. Although some time since I’d read anything by Sarah Waters, I thought I knew a little of what to expect. While that was the case to a certain extent, I was totally unprepared for what I got.

I don’t want to reveal too much. Reviews are widely available, so I’m not giving anything away by talking about the basic premise of the novel. It’s 1922 and the effects of war are everywhere. We are quickly drawn into this once genteel environment, on the cusp of great change, as Frances Wray and her widowed mother prepare to open their home to lodgers Len and Lillian Barber, the ‘paying guests’ referred to in the title.

Although the first section felt slow at times, I found the attention to detail absorbing and I was fascinated by the way in which Waters immerses us completely in this past world. As the inevitable occurs, I was more taken by the way in which Waters focused on the consequences of these shifting relationships. I certainly was not prepared for the two actions – one planned; the other not – that become so pivotal to the novel. From that moment on this book became something far more appealing and I, literally, could not put the book down.

‘The Witch Hunter’ – Virginia Boecker

the witch hunter

Elizabeth Grey is one of the nation’s best witch-hunters. From the opening of the novel we are told just how hard she has trained to earn her place working alongside Caleb, her childhood friend. Yet we are also told just enough to suspect that things with Elizabeth are not quite what they seem.

When she is rescued from prison – and certain death – by Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in Anglia, everything she holds dear is called into question.

Elizabeth may or may not be the only one who can save Anglia from Blackwell, a man determined to hide his true nature as he plots to rule the country. She has to rely on the help of those she would previously have hunted, as she hunts for a cure for the curse placed on Perevil.

Some of the reviews I’ve read of this book criticise Elizabeth’s obsession with Caleb and John. I can’t help but feel this is a little harsh; the ‘love stuff’ is certainly no more distracting than the Bella/Edward/Jacob triangle in ‘Twilight’ or any other ‘teen’ read.

The depiction of 16th-century England will interest some, and the focus on witchcraft will appeal to others. I’ve no doubt that this series will have its fans, and may even make it to the screen. I enjoyed it, and will probably read the rest of the series, but I’m not sure it’s one I’d go back to.