Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reading Levels Jump 5 Months in just 2.5 Months!

The reading levels of my students have increased an average of 5 months in the last two and a half months.  I am thrilled!  How did it happen you ask?  Metacognition.

The BrainSMART courses I am taking are chock full of fantastic metacognitive strategies.  I feel like I’m opening a present every time I start a new course.  Seriously!  I’ve been blogging about my experiences, so some of this will be a bit of a review.  But after seeing the jump in reading scores…I just can’t keep my mouth closed!!

How it Started
This fantastic increase in reading came together when students started learning thinking for reading skills.  These skills include: inferring, schema, visualizing, questioning, monitoring understanding, noticing, etc. (See this post for more details: Good Readers)
Students even made a video about their favorite thinking skills here:  Once we had a firm grasp of our thinking skills, we chose great books.

Choosing Books
I have learned that choice is an important metacognitive strategy.  Students will be much more likely to read if they are actually INTERESTED in the book!  I talked to my students, found out their interests, and brought books in targeted to those interests.  It worked.  I saw two of my boys who are reluctant readers reading during RECESS this week!  I saw another reluctant reader sharing the book he was reading with a boy in another class.  Wow.

Students choose what book they want to read, and who they would like to read it with. We have book clubs for students reading the same book.  All students take part. They read for 20 minutes every morning.  As a group reads, they stop occasionally for discussion and utilize their thinking skills.  I walk around and eavesdrop on the conversations, and sometimes ask questions of my own.

The books must be at an appropriate reading level.  We use the five-finger test to check for readability.  Turn to a random page towards the back of the book, as the student reads he holds up a finger for every word missed. If a child can read the entire page with no more than five errors, then the book is a good read for them.

Checking for Understanding
Now that the kids are reading and discussing, how do you know they really understand?  Thinking stems are the answer! I was introduced to ‘Thinking Stems’ by Angie Rumsey.  In a thinking stem, students use their thinking skills (see the Good Reader poster at the top, left of this page) to share information about books they are reading.  Here is an example from my class:

I am reading Gullivers Travels by Jonathan Swift. In my story Gulliver is taken care of by GIANTS! I’m thinking about how Gulliver will get back in a world HIS size. I’m curious about what will happen next. I’m glad I started reading this book!   ~Ethan
I have students write about one thinking stem a week as they work their way through a book.  I have a rubric for my thinking stems here: Thinking Stem Rubric.  Students choose what thinking skills to include in their stem (more choice). 

Once they finish a book, students write a summary.  They have the option of blogging the written summary, making a video summary, or doing an ‘Oprah Winfrey style’ interview (more choice).  Here is my written summary rubric: Written Summary Rubric.

Needless to say, my students writing skills have gone through the roof as well!

Yes, blogging.  My second graders are proud international bloggers. ( I discussed the impact of blogging in my last post.  Comments are very motivating for students of any age.  The comments give them an audience, so they try harder!  They are very proud of their blogging accomplishments.

Putting it all Together
Thinking skills are crucial.  The skills help students learn HOW to think rather than WHAT to think.  Students learn to analyze, critique, and synthesize (see the good reader poster at the top of the page).  Daily reading, choice of reading material, choice of reading buddies, weekly thinking stems, summaries, and a blog audience.  These factors combined have brought my students reading levels up an average of 5 months in just two and a half months! (Prior to this, students were showing a month growth per month.) Give it a shot in your class.
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  1. Congratulations on your success. I enjoyed the student video which demonstrates how your students are owning and using their strategies.

  2. Diane,
    Congratulations! In our school we are also monitoring reading skills so I can only imagine what a feeling it was to see the scores jump so much! I am very interested in your BrainSMART course and will be looking into it!

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Awesome gains!

    I might have missed it, but how did you measure the reading levels/progress?

  4. Hi Mathew,
    That video was a lot of fun to make. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. ~Diane

    Hi Jennifer,
    Thank you, yes it was a terrific feeling! You'll love the BrainSMART program. Let me know if you have any questions. ~Diane

    Hi Keith,
    I used the STAR reading computer program to measure their reading levels. :)

  5. I like the video......Nice post, thanks for sharing this wonderful and useful information with us.

  6. Hi Janie,
    I'm so glad to be able to share the things I'm learning in BrainSMART. I'm just thrilled with the results! Let me know if you have any questions. :)

  7. You are doing such great things with your kids. Rock on! Isn't it great that we can improve kids reading abilities through the kinds of specific strategies that you are teaching them. How great that you include choice. It is such an important factor in motivating kids to read. No longer do we need to rely on having kids just read on grade level, now we can bring them to levels never thought of before.

  8. That is so true Joanne! I'm having difficulty finding reading material appropriate for a 2nd grader who is reading at a 9th grade level. What a wonderful problem to have!

  9. i love the video very informative. I gotta try this since i am student. printing maryborough