Saturday, September 12, 2009

Harry Potter, 44. Hamlet….7?

I, too, am unfamiliar with this “Accelerated Reader” program and perhaps I’m the better off for it.  Books are assigned a point value, and students, upon reading those books and passing a test, are awarded those points.  It’s unclear what happens when you reach your point goal.

Putting aside the debate over whether any of that is a good idea, we jump to the meat of the matter, the point list.  For a formula that is supposedly based on reading difficulty and word count, we get a list in which the big fat Harry Potter books score a 44 out of 50, while Hamlet scores a 7.  Gossip Girl (I thought that was just a movie, shows how old I am) even rated an 8.

I think the problem should be obvious.  Hamlet, being a play rather than an overrated novel written specifically to turn into a movie franchise, has far far fewer words than JK Rowling’s juggernaut.  It’s all dialogue.  Even with a brief swag at it, you look at say 800 pages of Harry Potter compared to the maybe 30-50 pages that it takes to print Hamlet, and it’s no contest.

That would be even somewhat acceptable if the other variable, reading level, was realistic.  And that, obviously, is where it fails.  Maybe Harry Potter gets a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level, while Hamlet gets 10th grade.  Who knows, but really, who cares? Harry is still going to win.

I think this system needs a third variable.  Maybe we call it “depth”, “value” or even “relevance”.

Harry Potter books?  2.

Hamlet? 1000

Now we can have a conversation about relative merit.


JM said...

Harry Potter books? 2. Hamlet? 1000 Now we can have a conversation about relative merit.
Although I'm tempted to offer what might amount to a novella-length comment :) on this subject, I'll cut to the chase and only write what the point of the whole harangue would be...

Hear, Hear!

Ann said...

Oh, the Accelerated Reader program made all my kids nuts. They couldn't get points for challenging books that weren't on the list, and they noticed the weird valuations too. The theory souns good, but in practice? Meh.

Buxey from Willy's Wily Wenches said...

At the local schools, students can use their accumulated AR points to 'purchase' items from a store. The items are donated and tend to be toys and the like.

I simply cannot believe that Harry Potter nets more points than Shakespeare! I will definitely make my displeasure known about that to my children's school.

Justin said...

Yeah, but then again I don't think our best students are going to pay attention to what their teachers tell them to read. Folks should come to Shakespeare out of curiosity and not with the threat of punishment or offer of reward.

Duane said...

But Justin, that just contributes to the gap - the best students go seek out Shakespeare as they always would, while the rest are left to say "I don't need it, I don't get points for it, the teacher didn't make me, so tell me why I should care?"

I'd much rather a system that tells the kids, "Gossip girl is worth 50 points, Hamlet is worth 450, now you decide what you want to read." Exposure by any means necessary.