Now that final grades have been entered, the classroom library is back in order, and students are officially on break for the next two months, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the 2015-16 school year.
Before I display my students’ end-of-year reading results, here are a few thoughts I wanted to share:
- We need to improve students’ reading attitudes before we can improve reading outcomes. Our first goal, then, has to be to help students see the lifelong value of reading, and understand that the only way they can get better at reading is to read more.
- We need to be patient and remember that it’s never too late for someone to become a reader. I had several students tell me this year that this was the first time they had read an entire chapter book on their own, and they (and I) couldn’t have been more proud. So, if we’re able to convince high school freshmen that reading is cool, there’s no reason we can’t instill a love of reading in all of our middle school and elementary students, too.
- We need to be consistent and give students daily time to read in school. Although Nashville’s high schools run on a block schedule, which means that I only get to teach my English students every other day for 90 minutes (and that’s a blog post for another day), I dedicate the first 20 to 30 minutes of every class period to silent, independent reading. It has been a game-changer in my classroom.
- If we want students to become lifelong readers (and we absolutely should), we have to give students choice in what they read. One of the best parts of my job is handing a book to a student and knowing that he or she won’t be able to put it down.
- Therefore, it’s important that English teachers a) read a lot themselves, and from a wide variety of genres, and b) truly know their students by talking to them constantly about their interests, likes, dislikes, favorite authors, challenges, goals, etc.
- We need to remember that creating skilled, confident readers is a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, instead of looking for shortcuts or quick fixes, we have to trust the process and accept that students will grow and improve at different rates. At the end of the day, if students are reading constantly from elementary school through high school and receive high-quality literacy instruction and support along the way, I am confident that they will graduate as confident and capable readers and writers.
- Finally, while I believe in patience, we also need to have a sense of urgency about this work. We all know that if students cannot read well, their options in life are severely limited. The reality, however, is that our schools have failed to create enthusiastic or skilled readers. That’s 100 percent on us as educators. We can and must do better.
With that said, here’s a look at how my students at Maplewood High School performed this year. While there is certainly a lot of room for improvement, I am proud of what my ninth-graders accomplished and proved possible. The following chart displays my students’ attitude towards reading, based on 11 Likert-scale questions that I administered via Google Forms:
How do my students feel about reading?
Put simply, these results suggests that the majority of my students have a positive attitude towards reading, read more often than they did in the past, exhibit more confidence as readers, see the value of reading, and are on the path to becoming lifelong readers.
But, are my students getting better at reading?
The short answer is: yes.
Because the majority of my students were invested in their reading growth and read all the time (both in school and at home), their reading levels also increased significantly this year. One hundred ninth-graders were assessed in early October and then again in May, and here are the results:
Here are the results in a slightly different format:
A few of the positives from the results (I will focus on shortcomings and areas for growth in a later post):
- We started the year with zero out of 100 students reading at or above the ninth-grade level, and ended the year with eight.
- We started the year with eight out of 100 students reading at or above the eighth-grade level, and ended the year with 19.
- We started the year with 17 out of 100 students reading at or above the seventh-grade level, and ended the year with 37.
- We started the year with 40 out of 100 students reading below a fifth-grade level, and saw that number drop to 27 by the end of the year.
There was also a huge correlation between the number of books a student read and how much his or her reading level increased. Consider these numbers:
- 36 out of 100 students showed exceptional reading growth (their reading level increased by more than 1 year). These students combined to read more than 200 books (of their choice and of an appropriate level), for an average of approximately six books per student.
- 44 out of 100 students showed slight reading growth (their reading grew by 0.1 to 1.0 grade levels). They read an average of 3.5 books per student.
- 20 out of 100 students did not show reading growth (their reading level stayed the same or decreased by 0.1 to 1.0 grade levels). They read an average of 1.5 books per student. In chart form, those numbers look like this:
While I do not find the results particularly shocking, I do believe they are important for a number of reasons. For starters, this data supports the countless studies that have found that the more time students spend engaged in independent reading, the better they perform on reading assessments.
Additionally, here are four final takeaways:
- The results show that good things tend to happen when you read all the time, and that it’s hard to improve when you don’t.
- Even just 20 to 30 minutes of independent reading every other day is enough to help most students (thought not all) become invested and engaged in reading, and I’m confident that students’ performance would be even higher if they were given time to read independently at school every day.
- We need to have better interventions in place for our extremely reluctant readers.
- The results remind me that we have a lot of work to do, but that it can be done.
Lastly, thanks for reading! If you’re a teacher (or just a fan of teachers), I hope that you have a wonderful summer. We deserve it!