Ready, set, read: nurturing kindergarten and pre-K independent readers

“Miss Nelson, Miss Nelson, I need a new book!” He’s five, beaming with pride, and nearly dancing out of his sneakers as he spies Miss Nelson in the hallway. He can’t wait to tell her he’s just scored 100 percent on his reading quiz and wants his next book. While not every five-year-old is ready for independent reading, over one third of kindergartners and a number of pre-K students at Wicklow Elementary School in Sanford, Florida, have the literacy skills to participate in an independent-reading program.

Janet Nelson, a paraprofessional at Wicklow Elementary, developed and manages the pre-K and kindergarten aspect of the program built on the Renaissance Accelerated Reader® application. “Scholars in the program make measurable skill-level progress each trimester, with many of our kindergartners mastering first-grade reading standards throughout the school year,” Nelson says. “At the same time, they’re developing self-confidence, independence, and an enthusiasm for reading that’s contagious. Their absolute delight in doing well is the apex for me! I can’t begin to describe the happiness it gives me in my own work!”

“They’re developing self-confidence, independence, and an enthusiasm for reading that’s contagious. Their absolute delight in doing well is the apex for me! I can’t begin to describe the happiness it gives me in my own work!”

Janet Nelson
Paraprofessional - Wicklow Elementary School

The challenge: tap into early enthusiasm for reading

Wicklow Elementary serves students in pre-K through grade 5 and is one of 15 Title I elementary schools in the Seminole County Public Schools district. “Students come into our school at widely varying developmental and skill levels, and many have limited opportunities to read books at home,” says Christy Bohnstadt, assistant principal at Wicklow. “Three years ago, Miss Nelson approached us with this idea that she believed would help more of our students enter the first grade at or close to grade-level reading.”

Observing that several kindergartners in one of her instructional groups showed surprising levels of reading comprehension, Nelson saw untapped potential. “Wicklow Elementary has a history of success using Accelerated Reader in the higher grades, but we had never enrolled kindergartners. It only made sense to extend its use to younger scholars demonstrating the requisite levels of skills and interest.”

Administrative staff agreed to allocate 45 minutes of Nelson’s daily instructional schedule to the program, and pre-K and kindergarten teachers committed to helping identify participants. With the support of Katie Fuchs, Wicklow’s Accelerated Reader program manager, Nelson developed a detailed plan for a highly monitored program featuring personalized support, incentives/rewards, and regular parent communications.

The results: excitement for learning, grade-level reading, and inspirational achievement

Wicklow pre-K and kindergarten teachers recommend scholars to the Accelerated Reader program based on foundational-skills, data, and educators’ classroom observations. With enrollment, students work one-on-one with Nelson who collaborates with their teacher, starting them on their first books, teaches them how to log into the Accelerated Reader program to take reading-comprehension quizzes, and monitors their progress with continued support. An accuracy score earns both Accelerated Reader points and the opportunity to continue with the next book.

Nelson involves parents with a poem she authored to send home with pre-K and kindergarten scholars upon their enrollment in the program:

I focused on all my letter sounds and learning my sight words, too.
And now I am a Kindergarten AR (Accelerated Reader) Shining Star and proud to share with you!
I read a book several times, and pictures help me with the words.
The more I read, the more I learn—so this is what I’ve heard!
Reading is a journey and I know I will go far...I am proud to be a Kindergarten AR Shining Star!

Parents also receive student quiz results, as well as a reading-program summary included with each trimester report card.

Pictures worth thousands of words and immeasurable confidence

Nelson’s approach pairs nurturing with high expectations. “We impress upon our scholars to read each book three times, focusing on the details of the story. Then we orally review questions they’ll likely encounter on Accelerated Reader quizzes. Accuracy on quizzes confirms comprehension, so we make a very big deal out of their first 100 percent score, marking the event with lots of praise and shared excitement.”

But Nelson says it’s the Shining Stars photo gallery that generates the most excitement. Holding an “I am a Kindergarten AR Shining Scholar” placard, each scholar poses for a picture that’s displayed in the kindergarten hallway. Beyond bestowing heady fame upon five-year-olds, the recognition helps build self-esteem and confidence in reading potential.

Fuchs also helps highlight student achievements, organizing events and activities around Accelerated Reader objectives. “Scholars read independently and at their own pace, but we do set goals with rewards—including Accelerated Reader Club T-shirts—to mark individual accomplishments. School-wide celebrations and award celebrations at the end of each trimester help showcase successes and spread the excitement for reading to other students.”

One year’s growth in one year’s time

Seminole County Public Schools is the twelfth-largest district in Florida. Many of the district’s elementary schools, including the majority of Title I elementary schools, utilize Renaissance Accelerated Reader and the Renaissance Star Reading® assessment programs. “The Accelerated Reader program helps our educators more precisely monitor and manage what students are reading,” says Fuchs. “The quizzes align closely with our Florida Department of Education learning standards, and we take full advantage of the wide variety of reports available in the program to help teachers quickly identify students who may need additional reading practice, keep parents up to date, and show students their progress in achieving individual reading goals.”

“We take full advantage of the wide variety of reports available in the program to help teachers quickly identify students who may need additional reading practice, keep parents up to date, and show students their progress in achieving individual reading goals.”

Katie Fuchs
Accelerated Reader Program Manager - Wicklow Elementary School

Bohnstadt says that Renaissance applications help Wicklow Elementary teachers meet the district-wide objective of ensuring each student achieves one year’s growth in one year’s time. She notes the particularly strong results with the extension of the Accelerated Reader program to early scholars. “Miss Nelson very effectively uses Accelerated Reader to engage pre-K and kindergarten scholars in the reading process, helping them develop reading independence and giving them a foundation that’s essential to success in school and in life. They’re excited to learn, and that interest carries over into other subjects and classes.”

Paid in love

“Pre-K and kindergarten scholars do remarkably well in the program,” concludes Nelson. “In fact, their accuracy rates on Accelerated Reader quizzes are the highest of all of our grade levels. They’re already applying word analysis skills, decoding words, practicing story retelling, recognizing text features and standards of English grammar usage, and distinguishing between information delivered via text versus in illustrations—all first-grade standards.”

“They’re already applying word analysis skills, decoding words, practicing story retelling, recognizing text features and standards of English grammar usage, and distinguishing between information delivered via text versus in illustrations—all first-grade standards.”

Janet Nelson
Paraprofessional - Wicklow Elementary School

“What’s harder to quantify is the sheer joy they experience in learning to read. It’s a tremendous thing to witness. I see it when they score 100 percent on a quiz and enthusiastically tell me in the hallway, eager for their next book. Most days I feel like I get paid extra in love.”

“Miss Nelson, Miss Nelson, I need a new book!” He’s five, beaming with pride, and nearly dancing out of his sneakers as he spies Miss Nelson in the hallway. He can’t wait to tell her he’s just scored 100 percent on his reading quiz and wants his next book. While not every five-year-old is ready for independent reading, over one third of kindergartners and a number of pre-K students at Wicklow Elementary School in Sanford, Florida, have the literacy skills to participate in an independent-reading program.

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