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The value of the graphic novel

This year, I’ve really pushed my students to embrace graphic novels. It’s helped my low readers to access the same information as their peers, and although some students read it because it’s “easier,” they’re reading. What I find myself conflicted with now is that my school is part of the Accelerated Reader (AR) program, where students are awarded points for taking quizzes about books they read. I think it’s a great incentive for strong readers, and I like the concept of the program.

What’s difficult for me is that the graphic novels I’m offering and encouraging are worth no more than 3 points on AR. Online, the program says it determines points based on the difficulty and length of the book. Text based books like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (12 points), Holes (7 points), and The Lightning Thief (13 points) fare well. Popular graphic novels for children like Diary of a Wimpy Kid (3 points), El Deafo (2 points), and Smile (1 point) are valued less. However, books like Maus (2 points) and Persepolis (2 points) cover complex topics…so shouldn’t that be worth more than 2-3 points?

AR tries to address in this in their FAQ’s, saying some books are “longer and provide more reading practice time.” I’m not sure if I’m convinced by this statement. Their goal is to have kids read for long stretches of time and be rewarded for their comprehension. Yes, that’s all good but what about the depth of content?

I’m pressured to have all my students meet a certain goal for AR points, and I see my low readers struggling to meet this expectation. I want to give more quality graphic novels but it will not help them much in AR. I’m certainly not saying AR is a bad program; I think it has many merits. I’m feeling conflicted with this small part of how they grade graphic novels.

I wish graphic novels were valued more in this case.

(Information for parents:

Briana Chan About Briana Chan

Briana Chan is an elementary school teacher in California.



  1. Catherine says:

    What grade level are you teaching? I provide quite a few graphic novels in my 4th grade classroom. I especially like the graphic versions of standard novels, and I try to have both available whenever possible. I’m not sure that I think AR always rates the books at as high a reading level I would. This contributes to the low number of points the books earn. I am pretty satisfied overall with the way they value graphic novels for points. Word count, which is directly related to fluency and time spent reading the book, is important. A student reading a book with 7,000 words probably should earn far fewer points than a student reading the 30,000 word version of the story. I am able to adjust my students’ AR goals, and this is where you can personalize and accommodate the graphic novel fans if you wish to, and if your administration allows. I hope you are able to make the program work for you. I know it is not perfect, but I have found it to be a good tool. Talk to administration, if necessary, about giving you the ability to adjust goals to a level that is motivating and not discouraging to struggling readers. An achievable goal first quarter might be encouraging, and the goal second quarter can be higher.

  2. Ì have found that, regardless of what the site claims, the number of points a book is worth is determined SOLELY by length, not by difficulty. For that matter, even the difficulty level can be awfully misleading, as that’s determined by an algorithm of letter and word counts that result in easy readers about dinosaurs, because dino names are long and Latin, being labeled as a 6h grade reading level, and Seuss’s If I Ran the Zoo AND Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises BOTH being marked as on a FOURTH grade level. AR numbers are next to meaningless if you’re actually trying to measure challenge level. You get points for length, period. The levels are bsed on how long words and sentences are, not on content. I think there’d be a lot less confusion if everyone was more up front in the way they talk about these numbers!

    I’m a public librarian whose library has a computer on the school district’s AR system for patrons to use outside of school– this is EXCEEDINGLY rare, and I believe if you ask Renaisance Learning about it they go, “NO, AR is not for public libraries, school only, stop asking!” I’m not sure how this deal was worked out, but I’m pretty sure the fact that it’s pretty much all the school district’s doing has something to do with it. But that means we’re constantly having to juggle the concerns of –often confused and who can blame them– parents rather than trained teachers who can rely on the numbers less. So I’m always jumping in when parents are saying “No, that one’s too hard/easy, find one on YOUR level” when half the time the book actually IS appropriate for the kid after all. The poor parents wander around looking helplessly at the AR labels and it’s awfully frustrating!

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