In a world of multimedia technologies that can distract and even isolate students, educators must work ever more resourcefully to entice schoolchildren back to the basics of learning. Mary Scott, assistant principal at Peterson-Central Elementary in Weston, West Virginia, suggests that a successful strategy combines creative programs, dedicated educators, and a relentless focus on fundamentals. “Our teachers and parent volunteers are committed to helping students learn both in and out of the classroom. Together we champion a wide range of activities to promote a culture of reading and help students develop a real passion for learning.”
Scott describes Peterson-Central students as friendly, caring, and addicted to reading. “We want our students to read, read, read—the more they read the more they learn, and the more they learn the more they want to read. The Renaissance Accelerated Reader® application serves as the foundation for many of our school programs. Accelerated Reader helps engage students, making the learning process fun for them while giving parents and teachers the progress data they need to provide guidance and positive reinforcement. We also use Accelerated Reader as the basis for an incentive structure that drives reading activities as well as participation in events like Kindness Week that teach responsibility and citizenship. The application delivers significant benefits to both teachers and students, from time savings to improved reading comprehension and a greater sense of community.”
The challenge: Engage their hearts and minds in learning
Transiency, socioeconomic issues, and a world of distractions can easily sidetrack learning. Scott describes the impact at Peterson-Central. “We’ve seen a steady increase in the number of students reading. The special education, lower economic level, and transience student populations are all reflected in this uptick. Taken together with the ubiquity of attention-diverting social media and other modern technologies, these factors magnify the challenges teachers face in trying to engage students in basic learning activities.”
“Our objective in implementing Accelerated Reader was to help educators capture the attention of students and foster a real love of reading. The application suits our needs for an easy-to-use solution that personalizes reading practice to individual interests and skill levels. Accelerated Reader helps motivate our students to read more and gives teachers valuable data for assessing progress, identifying trends, and providing encouragement and support to students.”
Today, Renaissance solutions are used across the Lewis County Schools district. At Peterson-Central Elementary, all second- through fourth-grade students participate in the Accelerated Reader program. Students select appropriately leveled books from both the school and local public libraries, and when they’ve finished reading a book, they take an assessment quiz that measures comprehension. Point values are determined by the difficulty and length of books read and awarded based on the percentage of correct answers. Students are encouraged to set their own reading paces and point goals.
The results: More reading, more learning
Engaged and motivated students
“We’ve found the program to be very self-motivating,” continues Scott. “Students have the flexibility to take quizzes in our computer lab or online in their classrooms. Every Thursday, we run the student record reports and display progress on the school’s Accelerated Reader bulletin board. Depending upon the season, the board may take the form of a football field, a flower garden, or a heart-filled landscape. Children and teachers alike eagerly watch the board to check on point totals and progress toward goals. As students accumulate points, they earn incentive tickets they can exchange for small prizes—bookmarks, rulers, snacks, extra free time, and such. Although prizes are typically inexpensive, they serve as both encouragement and reward for work well done.”
Greater comprehension and caring
Scott points out that because Accelerated Reader promotes practice and comprehension, students gain important reading fluency. “We want students to understand that reading is more than flipping from page to page—it’s the comprehension of content that will help them grow and learn. And since Accelerated Reader quizzes measure comprehension, educators know that if students are earning points, they’re improving their academic performance.
“We also encourage kindness and citizenship through our Accelerated Reader program. Students recently had the opportunity to exchange their tickets for cans of food to donate to a local food pantry. During the drive, our children donated 471 cans. For a school with an enrollment of just over 500, that’s commendable participation and indicative of the caring nature of Peterson-Central students.”
More time to teach
“During our school’s annual planning and budgeting process, teachers always include Accelerated Reader in their list of must-have applications,” notes Scott. “They cite the benefits of having informed insight into the reading abilities of each student along with actionable data to use in the development of learning plans. This information helps pinpoint any areas of difficulties so teachers can quickly respond with appropriate resources. Traditional methods for evaluating comprehension—book reports, for example—simply can’t deliver equivalent insight and would require significantly more of each teacher’s time. With Accelerated Reader, teachers spend time working with individual students rather than on developing quizzes or grading book reports for hundreds of students.”
Peterson-Central educators also utilize Accelerated Reader data to identify reading trends and develop the school’s library collection. “Because the program is easy to use, we’re saving time and deriving value across the school,” adds Scott. “We have a team of parent volunteers, for example, who manage all the incentive tickets. They use our weekly reports to track points and distribute tickets. They do all the work for us—from putting away library books to purchasing prizes and planning the year-end popcorn parties for the classes that read the most books.”
Scott comments that the Accelerated Reader application can deliver rapid value to schools of every size and to students of every ability and background—an important criteria for a school striving to reach an increasingly transient and mixed-socioeconomic student population. “I’ve now used Accelerated Reader at a large school and at a very small school with fewer than 100 students. The program works equally well for both. It’s a valuable tool for helping teachers engage and meet the needs of every child, from at-risk to gifted learners. Here at Peterson-Central, we consider Accelerated Reader an essential program in our efforts to develop caring students who love to read and learn.”