The Tyrone Area Elementary School reading curriculum has made leaps and bounds over the years, and the Accelerated Reading (AR) Program in the fourth grade classrooms is an excellent example.
AR is a computerized program that provides reading practice on an individualized reading level and motivates children to read. As students read books, they take short quizzes on the computer through “Renaissance Place,” which can be accessed through the school district’s web site. Passing quizzes allows the students to earn points towards their own personal goals that are assigned each of the four marking periods.
Once a students’ goals are reached, they earn small rewards and are eligible to win larger prizes by earning bonus points beyond their personal goals. The prizes are incentives for the students to go beyond their goals. Not every child wins, but the more a child reads, the more chances that child has to win.
At the end of each marking period, the fourth grade students’ accomplishments are celebrated by having a prize assembly to raffle off the prizes for the students who earned bonus points during the marking period. The prize assembly is possible due to the local people, organizations, and businesses that provide prizes or monetary donations.
Among those contributors are TAES PTO, Tyrone Renaissance Education Foundation, Albemarle, Judy Norris, owner of Raystown Bait and Tackle, Family Dollar of Tyrone, Cowfer’s Custom Design and Margaret and Cummins McNitt.
The TAES fourth grade teachers are large contributors also, teaching and guiding the students through the AR Program so that the kids can reach their goals. Fourth grade teacher Cheryl McMillan said that the program is designed to encourage children to want to read and to boost their comprehension skills.
“At the beginning of the year the kids take a test on a program called ‘Star Reader’ and this gives us a pretty good idea of what their reading level is,” said McMillan. “Based on that reading level, we establish a goal for the child for each marking period.”
What’s unique about the AR Program is that the kids get to select what books they want to read based on their interests, and the books can come from the library, the classroom library, or even from home. The student finds a book and goes to “Renaissance Place” on the school district’s web site, and that allows the students to check to see the level of the book and how many points it’s worth.
Fourth grade teacher Carol Judy said that the web site also informs the student if the book is approved for the AR Program. She said not all the books are AR approved. Some older books can’t be used in the program, but most of the newer books are eligible.
The reason the book must be in the AR Program is due to the short quizzes the students must take to show they are reading the book. The questions are very specific to the book being read, which eliminates watching the movie based on the book, because the student will not pass the quiz by just watching the movie.
McMillan said that the average fourth grader at TAES in a marking period may earn anywhere from 10 to 20 points per marking period. A student who reaches 100 points by the end of the marking period would be considered above average.
One TAES fourth grader, Anthony Politza, has thus far earned an astronomical total of 500 points heading towards the end of the fourth marking period. What’s even more important, Anthony’s percentage on his book quizzes has been steadily in the 90-plus percentile.
“We’ve never even had many reach the 100 point mark at the end of the year, but we’re getting more and more,” said Judy. “Anthony’s reached 500 points, and that’s amazing.”
Anthony said that he likes the AR Program because he can read whatever he wants to, and he doesn’t have to read books that he doesn’t like. Some of the books he has read were Harry Potter, Stargirl, and Love, Stargirl. He is currently reading a book entitled Rules.
“I just like reading,” said Anthony. “I think some of my friends are reading more than they use to also, and I think that’s good.”
Although not all of the fourth grade students reach their goals in the program, the teachers hope it encourages those students to surpass their goals next time around. Regardless, the students are gaining comprehension skills, and according to the teachers, parents are also noticing how much their kids are reading now.
Judy noted that the students’ interest in reading has gone up. She said that kids who haven’t read much before are now really interested in reading.
“They’re paying attention to the details in the book,” said McMillan. “They’re not just reading for enjoyment, which is certainly what we want them to do also, but they’re paying attention to what they are reading.
She added, “They’re using the reading strategies that we taught them in class, but independently.”