Using nonfiction digital text to engage and empower all readers

Librarian and media specialist Nancy Hniedziejko (neh-JAY-koh) of Myers Elementary in Pennsylvania briefly stepped away from her fourth-grade remedial students to work with another group. When she returned, she found them giggling and full of commotion. It was all due to their sheer excitement over figuring out, on their own, how to have a virtual, text-based discussion through Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360®.

“My first words were, ‘Wow, show me how you did that!” said Hniedziejko, who is piloting Accelerated Reader 360, the latest version of Accelerated Reader, which still includes independent reading practice but also now includes a collection of nonfiction articles—each with built-in skills practice activities. She is using the program this year with fourth-grade remedial and third-grade enrichment students during Core Extensions (school-wide small-group instruction). “What this program has done already, especially for remedial students, has been staggering.”

Gaining a feeling of freedom and control, particularly in reading, is huge for my students.

Nancy Hniedziejo | Library & Media Specialist | Myers Elementary

Interacting in digital text an instant hit

Most of the remedial students in her class have never before been in a leadership role, having long struggled with plowing through books in their entirety. They immediately took to the shorter, engaging Accelerated Reader 360 articles, which connect them to the world around them. They are intrigued by the ability to read, cite, tag, and write thoughts in the text for discussion, and they especially love the power of choosing their own topics of interest.

“Gaining a feeling of freedom and control, particularly in reading, is huge for my students,” said Hniedziejko, noting one fourth-grader who had transformed from an angry student to a more confident, eager, and successful learner—showing greater comprehension with higher reading levels of digital nonfiction than previously with his independent reading at lower levels.

That includes not just becoming better readers but also leaders for the entire school, running back to their classrooms to share their excitement about Accelerated Reader 360 and even teaching the program to peers and other teachers. Hniedziejko invited each classroom, one at a time, to the library for hands-on Accelerated Reader 360 training. A student from Hniedziejko’s remedial class sat at each table as an ambassador while she walked through program capabilities on the interactive white board.

Immediate—and deep—support for Common Core skills

Hniedziejko has enthusiastically forged ahead with Accelerated Reader 360 training for herself and others, not wanting to miss this opportunity to explore the program. “Accelerated Reader 360 lets you cover an entire menu of skills across different subjects, from cause and effect to main idea to inferences, all while getting kids engaged through highlighting and tagging passages for discussion,” Hniedziejko said. “This is very interactive, with kids attacking the text and talking about what they’re reading, which goes hand in hand with comprehension. It’s not just learning in a bubble through a textbook. It’s authentic metacognition.”

Myers Elementary fourth-grade teacher Mike Schmidt, who uses Accelerated Reader 360 during Core Extension time, also finds that it supports Common Core practice, giving students countless opportunities to communicate with him and their peers while interacting with the text. “Students can readily see and read their classmates’ thoughts as they formulate and defend their own ideas,” Schmidt said. “Also, the vast selection of nonfiction articles and question sets holds their interest and helps alleviate that feeling of ‘repetition grind.’”

Schmidt said Hniedziejko has been influential in rolling out Accelerated Reader 360 at Myers Elementary, providing all staff with a comprehensive “cheat sheet” reference binder and making herself available as the go-to resource for questions and support. There’s much more ahead, as Hniedziejko hopes to see every classroom embrace Accelerated Reader 360 as a group activity and perhaps even use the program to teach digital citizenship by importing articles found on the web.

New-found confidence in state test performance

“With all the pressures of Common Core and a significantly different state test, many expect scores here to go down, but I can’t wait to see my kids’ scores because I feel so confident about them after working with Accelerated Reader 360,” Hniedziejko said. “My remedial fourth-graders are already working through a fifth-grade level with help, and my enrichment third-graders are flying through the articles so fast I can hardly keep ahead of them.”

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