Reading Matters

The article below is a piece I wrote for Renaissance on our successful implementation of the Accelerated Reader programme. The original is here.

During my first lunch duty at the school, not a single student was reading in the library. Students were only paying attention to their devices. I looked at the number of books being taken out of the library. In the lower school, the numbers were great, but they dropped off considerably in year seven. Therefore, it was evident that the development of reading culture in the school was needed. I was previously responsible for implementing and overseeing Accelerated Reader (AR) in a different school and experiencing it from the English teacher’s perspective in another. Both schools saw an increase in reading score and ZPD score. Since then, I have brought the learning from AR to Harrow Bangkok in Thailand.

Since introducing AR to our school, we now have an established reading culture. Our new culture includes a half-term routine to ensure students get the most out of reading enjoyment and reading development. In the first half-term, we have a focus on reading loads. During the second half term, we focus on the accuracy of reading. In the third half-term, we look at the number of words read. And finally, in the fourth half-term, we go back to focussed reading time.

“With Accelerated Reader, students who are not avid readers can still quiz correctly can celebrate success when reading short books.”

With Accelerated Reader, students who are not avid readers can still quiz correctly can celebrate success when reading short books. Using AR prompted us to purchase short reads to win over reluctant readers and EAL students. We have been fortunate enough to have graduate interns working in the library, delivering guided reading, and engaging the reluctant readers. We also give graduate interns a list of students who haven’t quizzed, so they target children in their library lessons to complete their first AR quiz of the term. Keen year 9 and 10 students read with students on our urgent intervention and interventions lists twice a week to ensure students get focused reading support.

Also, the older students get to develop their leadership and mentoring skills while the teacher oversees this. We reward students with word millionaire badges and present them in assemblies, celebrating new millionaires on social media and our school magazine. Out of 400 students, we have 23 word-millionaires so far this academic year, and our top student has read over 7 million words. For World Book Day, the Head Master will host a brunch with all of our word millionaires to give them the recognition they deserve.

We have prepared and carried out lots of training with staff to ensure they are familiar with how AR and Star Reading (SR) work. We have organised a troubleshooting guide which includes helpful information such as who to contact if a student quizzes on the wrong book and would like their quiz deleted. In my previous role, I attended a training event at the Renaissance Learning UK head office in London where we were introduced to the idea of “gentle pressure relentlessly applied”, so now at Harrow Bangkok, we are continually talking about AR and reading. Even more so, we are regularly celebrating reading success in public with both our house system and individual students. I email tutors every Monday with their students’ latest reading report and encourage them to praise students. I also send regular AR, and SR reports to each Head of House to show which students or classes struggle with reading. These reports allow leaders to offer support to those students in need of intervention.

“When we carried out our January Star Reading test, students made at least twelve months of progress on average.”

When we look at novels in English, we get students to design their own film trailers of books they have read. These film trailers allow the next cohort to watch them at school to build excitement around the upcoming texts. But most importantly, we know we always have to be talking about reading and continuously reminding people about it. Compared to last year, we are delighted. When we carried out our January Star Reading test, students made at least twelve months of progress on average. Considering we were in lockdown for four months and had two months of summer holidays, that is quite impressive. We were back altogether from August to December, and on average, students made seven months of progress. So we were pleased with how well students’ reading skills developed. 

Our students carry out Star Reading assessments at the start of every term in August, December and April. Once we complete each Star Reader test, we run off the screening report. We share this report with English teachers but also with the tutors. We also use the Instructional Planning Report, which allows us to group students in library lessons for guided reading. Students from years six to nine have a weekly hour-long library session. Staff can refer to the screening report to identify students in need of urgent intervention. 

“We find the Learning Progressions and Focus Skills from Star Reading very useful. With the Instructional Planning Report, we can show parents how their child is progressing.”

We use the parent report to send letters home to parents with information on their child’s reading development. Parents can be quite competitive, so they enjoy seeing how their children are doing. On the Reading Dashboard within Harrow School’s Renaissance Place, we can see a chart for our students’ projected growth. We issue these charts to tutors before parents’ evening and ask them to talk to students in the red zone, identifying students making the least progress. Similarly, we remind tutors to praise students in the green zone who are making accelerated progress.

We find the Learning Progressions and Focus Skills from Star Reading very useful. We are very much benefiting from using the Instructional Planning Report. Parents often come in and ask, ‘what should I work on with my child to support them’ especially concerned parents of English Additional Language students. With the Instructional Planning Report, we can show parents how their child is progressing. They like to see that their child is working above their unique benchmark. The Instructional Planning Report breaks down progress very specifically for parents. So, rather than just advising parents to simply ‘read more with your child’, we can show them the specific skills their child needs to develop. 

We can also send parents a PDF copy of the report to show them what skills they can work on at home, and parents are keen to engage with the help we offer them. We also use resources and activity plans from the Star Reading Dashboard Skills and Resources page. The Resource page allows me to click on specific skills to work on with each student or group. The Resource page will enable me to select skills and areas of learning that I want to focus on with a specific student based on their Star Reader assessment data. The resource site will identify the skills needed by a particular student or group.

All of the reports within Star Reading are very easy to follow. Staff do not require much training to interpret and use the reports within the initiative. We take the time to train staff about each acronym within the reports, for example, the student’s ZPD range. The reports are also useful for English teachers to assess students’ progress and intervene in learning where necessary.

“I absolutely would recommend Accelerated Reader and Star Reading. It makes promoting reading and measuring progress much more tangible, making it easier to identify students who are not reading.” 

Harrow Bangkok is the second school of which have been the lead on Accelerated Reader. Both schools have seen a noticeable culture shift amongst all students from not reading to engaged reading. My last school went from very few children reading to ensuring reading is a fixed part of its culture.

We use myON, the digital library for students whose first language is not English or with visual impairment or dyslexia. myON is very useful for reading beginners or students with deficient English levels, so it helps them hear words aloud with myON’s audio feature. It is an excellent resource for SEN/EAL students.

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