With more than 15 countries represented in its English Language Development program, Amphitheater High School in Tucson, Arizona, is wonderfully diverse in culture. Regardless of their native language, students quickly embrace yet another pervasive culture at the school—the culture of reading.
Last year, Amphitheater’s English language learners read more than 20 million words and passed over 3,000 Renaissance Accelerated Reader® quizzes. And while the state only expects students to pass the Arizona English Language Development Assessment to exit the ELD program, 55 percent of intermediate ELLs passed the high school graduation test, AIMS Reading, and 64 percent passed AIMS Writing.
“This is an extraordinary accomplishment,” said Jayne Huseby, ELD Department chairwoman, who attributes these results to their curriculum design and the Accelerated Reader program that reinforces and complements it. All ELLs at Amphitheater High use Accelerated Reader, and Emergent and Basic students also use Renaissance English in a Flash®—software that complements Accelerated Reader by teaching content-area vocabulary and boosting listening comprehension skills to facilitate phonemic awareness.
“As our students continue to gain academic ground at an unbelievable rate and are reaching parity with their mainstream peers as evidenced by the state tests’ results, I am convinced that we’re onto something, and I know that Accelerated Reader plays a significant role in that success,” Huseby said.
For Huseby and the ELD Department, the challenge was not just creating a love of reading, but getting students to want to read in English. That took getting the right books in the library.
“The main reason we went with Accelerated Reader was to put as many leveled books in the hands of the ELLs as soon as possible,” Huseby said, noting that before Accelerated Reader, the high school library by its very design and not intent had nearly no books for ELLs. “Now more than 1,000 books with Accelerated Reader quizzes are there, with reading levels from first to seventh grade. We could never have this sustainable design for reading for our 150 ELLs without Accelerated Reader.”
The students see the library as a welcoming place, and they enjoy working toward their Accelerated Reader goals with every book they finish. Huseby said the ELD teachers excel at making content comprehensible to ELLs, modeling good reading strategies and reading aloud to students while moving them to higher thinking. Accelerated Reader is the practice component, and teachers require students to read 30 minutes each evening and monitor that reading with quiz performance.
English in a Flash also provides valuable practice at Amphitheater High. According to Carla Garcia, ELD Emergent Conversation and Basic Reading teacher, the software is a great tool for exposing ELLs to high-frequency vocabulary within a meaningful context.
“The repetitive nature of English in a Flash in conjunction with the visual aids gives students ample opportunity to learn vocabulary quickly,” Garcia said. “Spelling has also improved for most students since we started using it.”
Huseby and Garcia have spent endless hours selecting books with appeal to their students, knowing it will make them eager for more—and perhaps also help them through difficult times. Huseby recalls when one of her students, who had been living with his mother in a homeless shelter, said, “Mrs. Huseby, I’m addicted…” (taking her from shock to relief as he continued) “…to books, especially Haddix’s series.”
“Yes, I’ve got you now, and reading is a sweet addiction,” Huseby told him, then purchased every book by his favorite author for their library.