Building a culture of lifelong readers

Terri Kirk recently got a Facebook request from a student who graduated several years ago, describing and asking for the title of a book she’d read in high school and wanted to read again.

“That’s pretty special for a high school librarian!” said Kirk, the librarian and media specialist at Reidland High School in Paducah, Kentucky. “Students—past and present—often come up to me and share what they’re reading, in college or just on their own. It’s great to see that love of reading continue even after they leave here.”

Despite the fact that many Reidland students are considered at-risk due to low socio-economic status, and they generally do not have books at home or parents who are readers, the reading culture is strong at this high school. Kirk says Renaissance Accelerated Reader® has played a huge role in building and maintaining the appetite for books.

“Without Accelerated Reader, I would have a much harder time getting students to read,” said Kirk. “Not only are they learning to read more voraciously, but they’re learning to love reading. They’re also getting the valuable chance to experience things through books that they may not experience in life.”

Without Accelerated Reader, I would have a much harder time getting students to read. Not only are they learning to read more voraciously, they’re learning to love reading. They’re also getting the valuable chance to experience things through books that they may not experience in life.

Terri Kirk | Librarian & Reading Specialist | Reidland High School

Reidland High School started using Accelerated Reader around 2001, because their block schedule was not allowing time for reading during class and students were not picking up books on their own. In 2002, only 2,803 books were checked out for the entire school year. In 2011, 8,113 books were checked out—and the average age of the collection has improved drastically as well. “I’d say the necessary ingredients for success are Renaissance Star Reading®, Accelerated Reader, lots of variety in books, and TIME to read at school. I can't harp on that enough!” Kirk said. “If we didn’t use Accelerated Reader, I’m afraid that dedicated time would be taken away and reading would suffer.”

Kirk, who reads 100 young adult books each year and views it her role to connect students with stories they will love, says the program’s element of reading choice is also critical. Reidland students know Kirk will try to buy the books they ask for, and their active engagement in the process gives them ownership and greater interest in the collection.

“I like that Accelerated Reader doesn’t mandate which book to read, because the flexibility teaches them to love reading,” Kirk said. “If they get stuck on one genre, we encourage another, but they still have crucial freedom on which book in that genre they choose.”

Kirk has seen that freedom transform even the most emblazoned book haters into avid readers. She’s had two students, in particular, this year who said they hated to read and are now “reading up a storm.” One of them was just awarded a “Student of the Month” honor by her English teacher, in part because she excelled in her Accelerated Reader goals.

The goals, Kirk said, level the playing field because they’re calculated individually based on Star Reading scores. With everyone reading at their appropriate levels, struggling readers are no longer frustrated with overly difficult assignments. “Accelerated Reader is both a motivator and a way to determine that the book is actually read—instead of just checked out,” Kirk said. “The program is a vital part of our day.”

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