The Results: All of my students in grades 4+ are fully literate. These students are reading at a higher level than the average 11th/12th grade student. Students who actively participated in the reading program surpassed the predicted growth metric by an average of 6.7 points. Students who did not actively participate in the reading program fell 1.2 points shy of the predicted growth metric. To put this into perspective, students average about 5 points of growth per year on this assessment.
All data is based on NWEA MAP Reading results, normatives, and metrics.
Elements of a Successful Reading Program
No “junk” books. This is really important. No Diary of A Wimpy Kid. No Dork Diaries. No Captain Underpants. No “I Funny.” None of those books written in “text message” format. These books set children on an endless loop, reading and rereading the same books that say nothing and mean nothing. They’re laden with poor grammar, “stupid” humor, rude comments, and unappealing characters. As soon as a child reads these books, they begin to expect all books to be like this. Students begin to associate books with instant gratification and thoughtless, mind-numbing entertainment.
Instead, we must encourage students to read high quality literature. High quality literature contains conflict, strong character development and thought provoking content. High quality literature is written to set an example. High quality literature makes students want to read because they can’t put the book down. They develop a relationship with the characters. They become invested.
"Not too hard, not too easy -- just right." A good reading program doesn’t just recommend high quality literature; it also encourages students to read books at, or slightly above, their tested reading ability. Again, this is very important. We cannot simply assume that a child in fourth grade reads at fourth grade level. This is not true for our gifted students. This is not true for our remedial students.
Appropriate Content. Appropriate reading material contains themes, conflicts, and events that a child can relate to. Some might call this censoring. I don’t. All of my fourth grade students are now reading at an 11th/12th grade reading level. This doesn’t mean that they are prepared to read “13 Reasons Why.” This doesn’t mean that they’ll enjoy Roger Penrose’s “The Road to Reality,” or novels encountering more “adult” content and conflicts that they cannot yet relate to or understand.
Just Reading, No Summaries. I’m not requiring them to write book reports or complete projects based on their reading. I never require students to summarize their reading. If I wanted a book summary, I would go to Amazon and read the summary. The back of the book has a summary. If I wanted to know about the “theme” of the book, the conflict, the plot, or the characters then I -- or the students -- could easily “Google” these answers. It’s the 21st century. The ability to answer these questions no longer requires students to actually read. This is what I want to know -- the only thing that I want to know --- Did you enjoy the book? I might also ask a student: Would you recommend it to a friend? What did you like about the book? What did you not like about the book? What was your biggest take-away? Has this book changed you? I talk. I listen. I respond. I use this response to determine which book to recommend next. I use these responses to encourage students to recommend their favorite books to other students. This makes the reading bug contagious.
Don’t Push. Guide. I think that this is key. I’m not sitting children down, waving my finger in their face, and lecturing them. I’m not forcing them to read. I’m not locking them in their bedrooms. I’m not quizzing them. I’m not setting a timer. I am inspiring them. I am setting an example. My students know that I love to read. They know that I spend my time reading. They see me read. I talk to them about what I’m reading. I share my passion for reading with them.
Your Child Can do This Too. I revamped my reading program so that it is easy to use at home or in your school. “Passport to Reading” aims to improve students’ reading comprehension ability by recommending books that are high quality, high interest, and appropriate. In order to fully benefit from this program, students should select reading “passport” lists based on their tested reading comprehension level. Their reading comprehension abilities should be re-assessed at least once per year. For a full description of the “Passport to Reading” program, please click here.