At our school, our upper elementary students HATED to read. Accelerated Reader was a BIG deal. And I don’t mean it’s a big deal in a positive way, but rather everyone felt the pressure to make it happen. All students were expected to read books within their Zone of Proximal Development, answer questions with 90% accuracy or more, and earn an obnoxious number of AR points per school year. It was stressful, both for the students and the teachers in our building.
As a fifth grade teacher, I had two problems. My class average HAD to be 5.8 by the end of the school year. No ands, ifs, or buts about it. Because of my special education endorsement, I had a classroom full of students who struggled to read. Getting a vibe for my dilemma here?! Although each of my students were reading within their ZPD, the overall average ZPD of my class full of special education and low average students was low. Each week, I would receive a paper filled with red circles of students reading below grade level. It honestly infuriated me.
So, what’s my second problem? My higher level students were extremely limited on the books that they were able to read. For example, I had one student who had a ZPD of 7.2-8.2. Do you know how many books actually have a ZPD within that range and are appropriate for fifth graders to read? This student was an amazing reader who had always enjoyed reading. Yet as she got older, she began to hate it. She was very limited on her choices. Why on earth would she look forward to reading?
After several teachers voiced the same or similar concerns, our principal decided that each grade level could develop an alternative plan for encouraging and rewarding students to read.
Our first change was to completely toss the ZPD bull****. Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I know and fully understand the importance of reading within your zone of proximal development. However, when the limitations of that requirement are negatively influencing their love for reading, something has to change.
In our new system, we challenged our students to read ten books of their choice each nine weeks. We do not put restrictions on the books that they choose but do require them to be chapter books or books from our nonfiction section. All of the books in our classrooms are really considered acceptable books. At the end of the nine weeks, any students who were able to read all ten books are invited to a Technology Party.
Our biggest obstacle was developing a system to hold them accountable for their reading. In the past, we had relied on their AR test scores. In our reading instruction, we use graphic organizers quite frequently. We decided to create graphic organizers that coordinate with our reading skills and alternate them as we move throughout various skills. So far, this has been a great way to keep them accountable without torturing them.
You would be amazed at the level of excitement that our students have for READING! If I order new books from scholastic, they don’t have to ask what the levels are. They don’t have to ask if it’s “ok” to read it. They don’t have to read it, but not earn credit for it, which is sadly what many of our students did.
I copy a simple recording page on colored paper for each student. On this paper, they record the date and title of each book that they read. As they finish a book and complete a graphic organizer, they stick it behind their colored page. By quickly flipping through the binder, I can see who is on track to meet their goal, and who is falling behind.