This post is part of a series from ASCD Emerging Leaders who received an Innovation Grant. The ASCD Innovation Grant program is designed to support innovative approaches to whole child education; help emerging leaders grow professionally; and gather information that may help improve the way other educators learn, teach, and lead.
By Annie Huynh
“Look! I’m a super reader. I got my log signed every day,” Alonzo beamed as he held his Super Reader ring. Alonzo was not the only proud student in our K–2 school who shared his accomplishment with staff after being recognized at the schoolwide assembly. The reading initiative, “Super Readers: Up, Up, and Read Away!,” was made possible by the ASCD Innovation Grant, which provided incentives for students to read independently each day at home, initiated small book clubs within the school community, and stocked the classrooms with high-interest magazines, audiobooks, and bilingual books for students.
At the school’s regular monthly assemblies, there was a standing Super Reader portion in which students were recognized for getting their reading log signed each day of the month for reading at home. For each of the ten months, students received one part of their Super Reader costume, which consisted of a mask, poster, one cuff, second cuff, ring, utility belt, Super Reader t-shirt, cape, bookmark, and superhero book. Many of these items were handmade by volunteers and aides, while others used the grant and funds from other efforts. Families attended the assembly, and each time the Super Reader slide went up, there were waves of applause. Students walked up on stage to receive high fives from a line of teachers and family members followed by their incentive from the principal. Over 88 percent of our students were recognized as Super Readers throughout the school year. To ensure each student received the correct incentive, classroom teachers entered their Super Readers into a spreadsheet tracker from September to June.
After reflecting on this year’s reading initiative, here are some tips for successful implementation.
Communicate Clearly and Often
To launch a Super Reader program successfully, it is imperative that teachers know the purpose and how to track the Super Readers. Moreover, it is important to let families know about the initiative and the expectations in a variety of ways—through e-mail, paper flyers, Open School Night, and telephone calls. Next year, we will collect signatures but focus on the number of hours read in school and at home with incentives planned for every 25 hours read. That way, by including the 30 minutes read at school and the potential 30 minutes read at home, the hours will accumulate from month to month, guaranteeing that students are recognized at least a couple of time times during the school year and thus ensuring 100 percent participation. In addition, it is important to communicate to staff how to use the audiobooks, magazines, and bilingual books to supplement their classroom libraries by providing resources and offering different times and opportunities to take advantage of the resources.
At the outset of the grant, we intended to use the funds to facilitate a pep rally, an author visit, guest readers, and reading to dogs. In reality, we were able to leverage personal contacts to connect students with authors via Google Hangout and Skype in different classrooms, and we were able to host mystery readers in the month of December for family and staff members to visit with in the classrooms.
Although we hoped to host monthly small book clubs with the entire staff, we compromised with quarterly book clubs and enlisted teams to invite family members to come in to read to students in small book clubs. In addition, we combined the books and the idea of small book clubs with other schoolwide activities, such as Male Hero Day. By leveraging an existing program where families would be on-site, we made better use of the resources. Moreover, the racial and linguistic diversity of the resources made our families—particularly families of English language learners—feel more welcome at school.
Mix It Up
The grant provided incentives and classroom resources for the classrooms. The Super Readers reading log recognition was the main component of the program, but it was also important to ensure schoolwide reading experiences to further encourage reading. A team of three or four teachers formed the Reading Initiative Committee and brought diverse experiences and ideas to brainstorm other ways to engage the entire school community. One event a teacher suggested was hosting a weeklong Read-a-Thon in which every classroom timed its reading and families and friends served as sponsors. Also, the month-long Tower of Reading Challenge engaged students in reading books of different genres each day. These schoolwide reading experiences ensured that 100 percent of students were successful and reading.
Overall, this program allowed our students to become more excited about reading and our school staff to become intentional about promoting the importance of reading. In terms of reading results, 71 percent of 2nd graders met the benchmark for accuracy on DIBELS, which improved from only 41 percent meeting the benchmark in the 2014–15 school year. About 80 percent of our kindergartener scored at or above benchmarks on various DIBELS measures.
I encourage you to consider these tips to increase reading engagement and achievement in your school and help each child become a Super Reader!