At the year-end awards day last spring, Mineral Point Middle School students who reached their Renaissance Accelerated Reader goals formed an impressive line of nearly 100 that stretched the length of the gym. Students from all achievement levels came together—from reading intervention to gifted and talented levels.
“It was the neatest thing to see this huge line of kids across the reading spectrum being celebrated for their personal accomplishments,” said Mineral Point Unified School District’s library media specialist and Accelerated Reader coordinator Kris McCoy. “Recognition is so powerful in motivating kids to keep reading. Plus, we know that they can’t help but become stronger readers with all of this reading practice tied to comprehension expectations.”
About two years ago, when this district in Southwestern Wisconsin added Renaissance Star Reading, it also switched the emphasis from striving for Accelerated Reader points to reaching individualized goals and comprehension. McCoy said this new approach to using Accelerated Reader as a guided reading tool versus an add-on, combined with the use of differentiated goal-setting based on Star Reading scores, is creating an improved culture of reading at Mineral Point Middle School.
As reading quantity jumps, quality is the focus
Results comparing the 2012–2013 school year to the 2013–2014 school year “are dramatic,” noted McCoy. The average percentage correct has grown by 3.5 percent, and points earned over the same time period have more than doubled—from 4,352 to 9,404.
“That’s a growth of over 5,050 points, and while we don’t focus on points anymore, it goes to show that our students are definitely reading a lot more now,” McCoy said. “Accelerated Reader has become a pivotal player in our students’ growth because they know that successful, independent reading is now the expectation in our middle school.”
All students must read independently for a minimum of 20 minutes per day and demonstrate comprehension through at least an 85 percent score on quizzes, with an opportunity to earn extra credit for reading five points of nonfiction. Teachers run weekly reports through Star Reading and Accelerated Reader and meet with students to set individualized goals and monitor progress, which counts as a percentage of their grades.
Achievable, personalized goals drive student motivation
Students who achieve their goals are further rewarded with recognition in the school newsletter and a small prize, with a chance to earn a free book for tripling their goals. Recognition also comes in the form of a prominently located “Words Read Wall,” which recognizes individuals at every 250,000-words-read increment and tracks total words read. This triggers some friendly competition—not to mention attentiveness to regular updates.
“Students stop me in the hall to say, ‘I’m higher than that on word count, and my mom is coming into the building, so you need to update it’,” McCoy said. “That’s definitely a positive change in culture here.” She added that the students had already read 91,187,972 words by mid-May. “Many of these kids have never experienced successful goal completion, let alone surpassed it,” said McCoy, who loves that students compete only with themselves, not others, through Accelerated Reader. “There’s so much excitement and confidence that accompanies this, and they also become stronger, better readers by working at their levels.”
Teachers see results in assessment data
McCoy said the addition of Star Reading has been critical to the buy-in of using Accelerated Reader as a guided reading tool. Star assessments taken three or four times per year show concretely the amazing things that happen with the best practices of data-driven, individual goal-setting, plus teacher guidance and progress monitoring.
Seventh- and eighth-grade reading teacher Amy Harrison closely watches students’ quiz scores and progress toward their goals with the Student Record Report in Accelerated Reader, and she finds the Instructional Planning Report in Star Reading especially valuable in identifying and targeting specific student needs.
“I like to break up students into literature groups to work on needed skills, and the Instructional Planning Report shows me groups of students that need help and the exact skills they’re struggling with,” Harrison said.
As Accelerated Reader Coordinator, McCoy counts on the Diagnostic Reading Report to keep an eye on students’ comprehension scores, reading time per day, and average book level. Last marking period, 93 out of 126 students achieved their goals, with 27 of those doubling and 11 at least tripling their goals.
“As our students are reading more, their engagement with reading is growing,” said McCoy. “It’s amazing to see busy middle-school kids excited to talk about what they’re reading and sharing lists of books they want available.”