Encouraging Literacy: How Reading Can Transform a School

At Thomasville Heights Elementary School (THES), we have a strong focus on literacy, with the awareness that reading is the core of all learning. Studies have shown that just reading 20 minutes a day can positively impact a student’s academic growth substantially.

THES has an ongoing mission to increase our students daily reading within the school, and more importantly, beyond the school’s walls. Overall, we would like to encourage and nurture lifelong readers, who read not only by habit, but for enjoyment as well.

My team and I have designed an umbrella of reading programs that are flexible and ever-changing based simply on our students’ interests. We strive to keep the program exciting and engaging, while also acknowledging progress by incentivizing them for meeting goals, challenges and new achievements. Celebrating our students and their efforts are at the top of our agenda.

Accelerated Reader (AR):

THES has a variety of customized reading initiatives based on what we’ve learned about our kids, what they consider fun, what will motivate them, and the tools needed for student success. Most of our programs use Accelerated Reader (AR) as a tool to measure progress and for student accountability. AR is a digital resource that manages independent reading practice. It allows students to match comprehensive assessments with books of choice.

THES Reading Programs:

AR Report of the Week

Throughout the school year students are given a report during our morning announcements every Thursday that highlights the following:

  1. Weekly Top 5 Readers: Students on each grade level who receive the most points in a week.
  2. Cumulative Top 10 Readers: Students on any grade level who received the most points since the beginning of the school year.
  3. Top Grade Level Classrooms: Teachers who have accumulated the most cumulative points for the year on each grade level.
  4. Top 3 Grade Levels: Grade levels with the highest cumulative points for the year.

Each student who makes the Weekly Top 5 or Cumulative Top 10 receives a shoutout during the morning announcements. Students also receive the opportunity to “dig for AR Treasure” in the AR Cart, which is full of various toys, bracelets, glow rings and more. The weekly AR Report has been a consistent process throughout the entire school year and will culminate with awards and recognitions during the end-of-year award programs.

AR Leaderboard
A report is shared throughout the week to teachers and posted on the media centers bulletin board for students to check their weekly progress.

AR Point Club
Point Club posters are placed in each grade level pod (updated weekly), showing where students are in particular point ranges. This is more of a goal focused initiative where students work to make it to the next point range. An incentive is given each time a student reaches a new level.

Grade level Reading Challenges
As part of an overall school-wide push to enhance students’ reading levels at THES, we piloted the implementation of a Reading Challenge Program aimed at increasing the number of minutes 3rd grade students are reading (or are read to) outside of school in the 2018-2019 school year.

To date, THES has increased this group of students achievement by 19% in ELA since last year and by 40% in Math since 2016. This growth is the third highest in reading and highest in math out of 50 elementary schools in APS. Therefore, we decided to strategically scale the program throughout 2nd, 3rd and 5th grade this year due to the success from the previous year.

Reading Challenge

  • Read at least 20 minutes a day for at least 4 days a week
  • Pass an AR quizzes with 80% or better for at least 4 days within a week

A pod meeting is held at the end of each week for each grade level to celebrate the students who meet and/or exceed the challenge.

We also have a brief open dialogue about some of the strategies others are using and how to identify the right material for individual reading levels. Each student who meets the challenge receives the incentive that’s designated for that week, such as: Amazon gift card, slime party, or premade slime. However, incentives change frequently to maintain student motivation and excitement.

While we are aware that we still have work to do, we are very pleased with the current work we’ve done around reading within THES. All you have to do is walk the halls of THES to see that real change is happening— books are available everywhere, and it’s not unusual to see students with their nose in a book anywhere from the cafeteria to the principal’s office. Just a simple walk down the hall and I hear students in all grade levels calling my name just to inform me, “I read last night!” or “I passed my test!” or “I’m up to 40 points now!” A key driver of this program’s success was not only the incentives (which were a critical part of initially engaging students and motivating them to pick up a book), but also the way in which reading has truly become ingrained in the school’s culture. Every task, every day, in every classroom is in some shape, way or form tied to reading.