Written by Sandra Williams
“I just don’t like to read.”
As a reading specialist who’s tasked with inciting kids to read, this is a refrain I’ve heard over and over again. However, it’s not as simple as not liking to read; there are a variety of legitimate reasons for why some kids aren’t readers; they haven’t been exposed to books that capture their imagination, they’re afraid to read out loud in front of their peers because they think they’ll be ridiculed, they have language barriers or they have difficulty grasping the material, and are worried they’ll be labeled “stupid” because they can’t keep up.
As educators, we have to find ways around these obstacles in order to give them the gift of reading and that sometimes means going a bit outside the box.
At my school, lack of enthusiasm translated to low state test scores. Two years ago, we had a new principal and he made the decision to try a different approach in order to not only raise our test scores, but more importantly instill a love of reading in our students.
Our new approach came in the form of Academy of READING® from EPS Literacy and Intervention. Initially, the students made no effort to hide their apathy about it; they didn’t like the repetition, a major component of the program, and my English Language Learners (ELL) didn’t like that they were required to echo what they heard, as many of them are hesitant to speak aloud in class due to their verbal challenges. I, however, was extremely excited to dive into the program. The Academy of READING presented a powerful solution to an ongoing problem; one that I knew would help the kids achieve rapid, permanent gains in their reading abilities.
As time went on and the students began to master the concepts of Academy of READING, such as blends and sounds and get to the fun stuff. And then it just clicked for them and they couldn’t get enough. They began to realize, “This is reading.”
Besides turning students into avid readers, the program made my job easier. One of the biggest challenges any educator faces in the classroom is adapting to the learning styles of each individual student, as well as the different levels of proficiency. Some students will be ready to move on, while others still require more time, a luxury we don’t always have in the classroom. Tier 3, or extreme strugglers, often miss coding, vocabulary, enrichment and sometimes comprehension, which can make it challenging for them to decode words or passages. Because of the deficiencies they have to overcome, they often forget what they’ve read once they’ve reached the end of a particular section. If I see a student not mastering the concepts, I can stop and remediate on the spot. If they still need additional help, I can pull them away from the computer and work with them one-on-one, all while the other students continue to work independently and at their own pace. Everyone receives the instruction they need, when they need it.
Academy of READING provides me and the students with instant feedback, allowing us to address issues on the spot, rather than finding out there are cracks in the foundation of their learning. Because the instruction caters to the individual needs of the student, they can see immediately when they are doing well, because they receive a thumbs-up or all-stars from the program.
Parents have also become a huge advocate for this type of reading program. We had one mother who was so elated about her son’s progress in the program; she actually cancelled the summer vacation she planned because she didn’t want him to lose any of the strides he had made with reading. In fact, his sister, who wasn’t in the program, became so jealous of the attention her brother was getting, she started tagging along with him so she could work on her own reading! We even had the parent of an ELL student come in to volunteer and it wasn’t long before she was improving her own English skills and learning to read right along with her son (I’m happy to say that my ELL student has continued to make tremendous strides during his time with the program).
This will be our third year with Academy of READING and I am excited to get started, as I know it will continue to propel my students to scale new heights in reading. It is an incredible thrill to be able to help my students “flip the switch” and go from dreading reading, to running into class, with a book in hand and saying, “I love to read.”
Williams is a reading specialist at Ridgegate Elementary in Sugarland, Texas.