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Read all about it - books really can be fun

Kids hate books... don't they? Accelerated Reader from the US might just persuade them that it's cool to read again. Pam Turnbull looks at this reading management software about to make its entry into the UK How keen are you to motivate your children to read? Willing to dress up as a squirrel and sit in a tree all playtime? Thought not, but that's what one head in the US did during a school's Nuts About Books week.

But this was no gimmick to promote a "new and improved" government literacy programme. Instead his antics came from a project started 12 years ago in the US by a woman who created a quiz that tested whether her pupils had understood what they read and awarded points to motivate them to read more. The idea caught on, Accelerated Reader was born and it will debut in British education this month after a year's trial in 15 schools.

This is not an Integrated Learning System like SuccessMaker - it's far simpler. Accelerated Reader comprises a kit of teacher management software and quizzes covering classics by the likes of author Robert Westhall, to reading schemes such as the Oxford Reading Tree, Longman Book Project, as well as Sunshine and Heinemann plus a set of mainstream non-fiction titles. You can create your own and add them, too.

The management side of the package produces three main reports: children receive a printed certificate showing whether they met or missed the 60-70 per cent pass mark, how many points they have scored so far and what their next step is. For teachers there is an individual reading record which lists the name and level of each book read, success rate, types of book read and so on.

A diagnosis report can be produced weekly for a class with various types of flags. For example, children will be flagged if they are scoring high marks but only reading low level books; teachers can see whether they should be encouraging children to read lower or higher level books; or can investigate why a child has taken no tests that week. The report doesn't pretend to hold all the answers but gives information you can use to ask the right questions.

And it can be incorporated into the literacy hour. The Everyone Reads in Class (ERIC) model continues with litte change: a child reads a book (with an adult, in a group or independently) and then takes the quiz on the PC. The test contains between five and 20 questions and usually takes about five minutes. Questions are written and use the language level of the book.

Ray Barber, who ran the pilot, concedes some schools will have to make room for 20 minutes reading time, but his discussions with literacy co-ordinators have convinced him this will pose no problems as reading time can be monitored and accounted for when children prove they read the book.

The concept works by finding the right level for each child and allowing them success which leads to motivation to read. Points are awarded for higher levels of text and, in the US, points can be traded for locking up the principal or becoming principal for a day. In one UK pilot the most popular reward was going to the front of the dinner queue.

Ian Dixon, who worked with Year 3 and 4 children at Farne First School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, says he found the initial information overwhelming, but: "It soon became evident the children were reading far more with the most gain made by the boys. They rushed into school to get on the list for a test. Children who wouldn't normally pick up a book were reading in any spare moment and stayed after school to complete tests. The majority of parents became more interested in their children's reading at home.

"The children took the STAR test before and after. The original showed four per cent of the class were above the 50th percentile, after one term it was 54 per cent. Since then a mother of one Year 4 boy says he would now rather read than watch TV and our target setting this term has also motivated some of our less able children."

And the head in the tree? He had set a seemingly-impossible target to see how many points pupils could get, with the motivation of seeing him in costume and up the tree. They did let him down for lunch though!

Accelerated Reader from Advantage Learning Systems Price: pound;249 for 150 quizzes or pound;429 for 400 quizzes.

BETT 2000: Stand M40 Tel: 0208 804 0453 TESONLINE January 7 2000 hands on With free support materials on the Online website

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