Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

The power of reading

All hail the power of the “home run book!” Our 9 year old started third grade reading almost on grade level but a little low, but in the last two months has found and ravenously consumed his first “home run book” – Eragon. Dr. Stephen Krashen (author of “The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research”) shared that term with me and many others at the Encyclomedia conference in Oklahoma City this past fall. Today with his report card, Alexander brought home the following note:

All Hail the Power of the Home Run Book!

I recognize the STAR reading test is just an estimate of reading skills, but it is wonderful to see it reflect a TWO grade level increase in reading ability in about 4 months. My wife and I can attest to this ourselves, since his improved fluency is quite evident when he reads aloud to us. He wakes up in the morning and reads, and even asked to read today after school instead of playing at the playground. (We’re not going to abandon playground play, of course, but I can relate to how he feels drawing close to the end of a good book– I have felt the same way near the end of a Tom Clancy novel!) This is a HUGE change in behavior for him when it comes to reading. Thank you Christopher Paolini! Thank you WikiPedia!

Note that this HUGE jump in reading ability is NOT due to an expensive and research-based phonics program implemented in the school. It is NOT due to a rigorous battery of benchmark reading tests that are administered every two weeks at school. This is NOT due to a ream of worksheets and spelling tests forced down the throats of learners every week in school. This improvement in reading is due to a simple but powerful dynamic: the habitual act of READING regularly, after finding reading material that is of interest and engaging to the learner!

The fact that Alexander is loving to read is not just a reflection on him finding a book he loves: It is also a VERY positive reflection on his teacher who loves to read and encourages her students to read every day (and provides them with time to do so), and a positive reflection on his choice of friends at school– many of whom are well-read and share their love of reading frequently with each other.

Hallelujah! We are so happy for him, I feel like dancing! Report cards and grades can be overrated, but the cultivation of a true love of reading is a REAL BIG DEAL that deserves celebration. Alexander has now officially joined “the literacy club.”

We’ll have to figure out a meaningful way to celebrate with him when he finishes Eragon, which will probably happen this week or next. For now, I’ve commemmorated this moment by creating a new WikiPedia entry for “Home Run Book!” 🙂 I think Dr. Jeff McQuillan coined the phrase based on what Dr. Krashen said at Encyclomedia, but I’m not sure. If you have more ideas or information related to this term, please edit and add to the WikiPedia page I’ve started!

Addendum: Dr. Krashen chimed in and corrected me: Jim Trelease originally coined the term “home run book.”

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16 responses to “The power of reading”

  1. Brian Grenier Avatar


  2. Leif harboe Avatar

    It is really fascinating to watch children when they break the code of letters/reading. I was so fascinated by my youngest son when he started to read. He read almost every waking hours. I remember I thought this is what learning is about, I also remember that I wondered why I see so little of this in our class rooms (I work with students age 16-19) – they are often not logged into the activities that they are prescribed, they are in the classrooms with their bodies but not with their minds.

  3. Stephen Krashen Avatar

    Credit where credit is due. The term “home run book” was coined by Jim Trelease.

  4. Anne Reardon Avatar
    Anne Reardon

    Congratulations, Alexander!

    This shows the power of giving students some choice and responsibility for their own learning. The skills they develop will certainly transfer across the curriculum.

    Thanks for sharing this great story!

  5. Cathy Nelson Avatar

    I just hope your son’s school is not using STAR testing to “dictate” the levels of books Alexander is allowed to read. Apparently they are not since AR says Eragon is a 5.8 (5th grade, 8th month) reading level book. Way too many schools that I know of use STAR testing to “assign” a range (ZPD – Zone for Proximal Development) that students are “allowed” to read in. This is the VERY REASON my sons, now aged 16 and 19, stopped checking out books at school. They were not allowed to check out books that were not in the ZPD. Imagine how that made their school librarian mom feel! (I did ask that they not be held accountable to that standard since both were testing on or above grade level each year on our standardized tests, but to no avail, they both COMPLETELY quit getting books from their school libraries. Don’t get me wrong, they do read books for pleasure, and have found many “Home Run Books” to have at home. But they both hated the AR program and STAR. One of them even intentionally manipulated the test each time it was administered (making sure he had a low ZPD) so that IF an AR book was required by a teacher, it would be one that was an easy and quick read. I got a call about that one!! How do you defend your child in that situation? How do you punish him when you see he is literally thinking outside the box. What did I do—I just told him not every teacher effectively uses all teaching tools, and that in this case, he needed to learn the game called “school” and play by the rules. It is a sad, but a true story. Of course he got the one book that would get him EXACTLY the number of points required so that he did not have to take any other quizzes in AR. He despised the program. And he shamed me for using it. All I could say was that some kids respond to it, while others don’t.

  6. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Thanks Dr. Krashen for the correction! I love communication in the digital age. 🙂 (For the record, I emailed Dr. Krashen last night and asked him to clarify this.)

    It is interesting to see that my WikiPedia entry for “home run book” has been deleted, apparently by a WikiPedia administrator. I guess they perceive it is not a legitimate entry. Oh well. I’m glad to know the source of the term though, and here is a link to Jim Trelease’s website. (Another great source for resources on reading and literacy, in addition to Dr. Krashen’s).

    Cathy raises the VERY important literacy and educational technology issue of Accelerated Reader. AR is the reason all our elementary classrooms at Wheelock Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas, first received computers in the mid 1990s, thanks to PTA money. Dr. Krashen’s article “The (Lack of ) Experimental Evidence Supporting the Use of Accelerated Reader” from 2003 is a worthwhile read on this subject. My perception is that like other things, there is not a “one size fits all” approach to teaching reading, but unfortunately the factory-model approach that is generally taken in traditional schools leads to stories like the one Cathy shared. Thankfully, Alexander’s school is NOT requiring that students check out books in the STAR test’s identified ZPD. I think he loves Eragon so much because I’ve read him the entire “Chronicles of Narnia” series and we’ve almost finished the “Lord of the Rings” series. It’s great that he is loving a book that challenges his reading level. As I recall, that is a good place for most readers, on the edge of their skill level so they are challenged but not overwhelmed. This fits with what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” regarding our need for complexity that challenges but does not overwhelm. I know AR does work to help motivate some students to read, but there are (in my perception) at least equal numbers of students who are NOT helped by the AR approach to reading which emphasizes instrumental reasons to read rather than intrinsic reasons with an internal locus of control.

  7. Diane Quirk Avatar

    This is really great! This connections with an experience in my district – Some of our elementary teachers read a book called The Daily Five this year. The Daily Five are 5 things that students need to do to develop their literacy skills which are: reading to self, read to someone, listen to reading, work with words and writing. The authors also talk about the “gradual release of responsibility” concept which is training students to be independent in their literacy development so that the teacher spends her time teaching while students spend their time working on their skills. This is one way that our teachers have increased the amount of time that students spend engage in literacy development. Prior to this, their time was spent in “centers” and classroom management was the bigger issue.

    Congratulations to Alexander but more importantly to his parents and teachers who have clearly supported the development of his literacy skills.

  8. Chris Prout Avatar

    Congratulations Alexander,
    In my classroom the students are using the Accelerated Reading program. It started at the end of our 1st quarter slowly. Students gradually became more interested in it as other students earned certificates for their reading achievements. I have no requirements for my students, just encouragement and praise. I have two classes of fifth grade students. Most have a language barrier of some sort and are on the low end of reading skills. We’ll be celebrating soon as the two classes passed over 500 tests in the 2nd quarter! We also use Star Reader and I am anxious to see their improvement. The most common phrase in my classroom is “Can I take a test?”

  9. Sarah Mcintosh Puglisi Avatar

    I read this tonight, i’m a teacher in CA, 1st grade. My son who is twelve and struggling just a bit with what we are now told is a Sensory Dysfuntion Disorder. Anyway he learned to read because hewanted to read a book on snakes. AR put it far out of his 1st grade reach but he was determined. I’d flashed at his teachers demand and my skeptisicm the 100 then 200 word cards and then used the AR at his level…mostly chasing him. But that snake book, it did the trick. It was a complicated book. I had two daughters who read very well early. One who read Cherries and Cherry pits at 4 to her kindergarten on her first day. Again they self-selected and were motivated. My room at school holds all the tubs of their old books. Anyway I just thought i would like to recommend a few books. If he loved that book then he’s really love the Belgariad. In a way much of the book Eragon has some pretty straight forward lifting of Eddings. And then The Ropemaker, I think the writer is Peter Dickenson…not as sure on author but the title is good. Not saying its the same. Just loved by my kids as Eragon was.
    Many people are searching for a Holy Grail. I look at AR as a program that gives a lot of comfort to some. The more yu read the richer you are, but engaging as you read with someone to discuss and someone to share, to mediate …this seemed to me to be why my son jumped in his ability in that good book. Oddly he was terrorized by snakes. I suppose that was a part of why he wanted to know more.
    In my class I am working on getting every child to take these required AR tests. The STAR if it is the same is the level piece , basically word definitions from a sentence construct. I found levels could widely vary in one week based on many factors including offering a doughnut. I’m sorry to say but it was rather eye opening to see this. One week I had a friend teacher go in the lab and administer the test, levels dropped. I’m not sure what this then told me.
    A starting place to find a book?

    So far I think this story best relates how I approach AR. An author visited our school-well known, rewarded author. She looked at the AR test as a child pulled it up on her book. ( I’m shamefaced to say I forget her name). She said, “Who wrote this test” I explained AR. She said how dare anyone write this about my book. These questions are not what matters in my story, these are trivial facts and I don’t want a child tested on this, I want them to love it.

    I kind of explained our drive to get all kids reading. She looked at me. Why not give them a book then(they give toy prizes at our school). I knew if we kept talking I was going to really get into some worse places so I thanked her for coming to read to us. In the end it is important to instill a love of reading. If this works…or if it doesn’t, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. And I so prefer reading for the joy of that…best reward ever. If we tell kids this early and we mean it, they believe with us.Or they do for me.
    Sarah Puglisi

  10. Nina Liakos Avatar
    Nina Liakos

    I read the post and comments with interest. My 14-year-old special needs miracle child learned to read a bit late (2nd grade) but she loves reading now. Due to vision issues related to sensory processing problems, she prefers to listen to her books, but she also enjoys reading aloud to me, and she reads fluently and with expression, stopping frequently to comment, ask a question, or link what she is reading to something she’s read before. Her favorite genres are fantasy (Harry Potter, Bruce Coville’s books), what you might call funny-realistic girl lit (currently the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor), and manga (Sailor Moon, Inuyasha…). She is uninterested in nonfiction, unfortunately! Despite her academic struggles, I feel that her love of books/audiobooks will stand her in good stead throughout her life.

  11. Rob Darrow Avatar

    Sounds like Alexander’s school is using the STAR program in the correct way: to increase a love of reading. The intrinsic love of reading is the key! Unfortunately, some schools use the STAR reading test in partnership with the Accelerated Reader program and kids read because they get “prizes.” As Stephen Krashen has shown in his research, when we read for our own enjoyment (no matter what our age), we don’t need a bunch of extrinsic rewards other than the joy of reading and learning.

  12. Adrian Bruce Avatar

    Way to go Alexander!

    May I suggest you take your Dad on a trip to the movies or the DVD shop to experience the movie Eragon. Seeing the film will lead you to a great deal of discussion as there is a lot left out of the movie that will be very hard to explain in the second movie.

    Then (just between you and me) let me know if a tear forms in your Dad’s eye when the old dragon rider goes out with such style 😉 I know I had a got a little choked up at this point.


    Adrian Bruce

  13. Maria Henderson Avatar

    From my 9 year old Alexander to yours.. the next book on the list.. which was his “home run book!” Peter and the Star Catchers. I had to turn the lights out twice one night as he was trying to get through the good parts before he stopped reading. Makes a mom cry tears of joy!

  14. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Thanks for that recommendation. Yes, it is amazing how powerful the experience is of seeing your child get fired up about reading…. big stuff indeed! I’ll take a look at that book and pass along the recommendation to Alexander!

  15. Callie Avatar

    What website can I look at to see all the A.R. tests I’ve taken?

  16. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Callie: As far as I know, school-based AR systems don’t have web portal features that allow you to log in remotely from home and look at the tests you’ve taken. You can only check that from a computer at your school that is running AR.