Ever wonder what you and your students can accomplish just by trying a reading challenge?
One of these challenges achieved inspiring results last year in Texas. So we chatted with the man behind the team who implemented it: Wacey Tobler, the digital learning coach serving Hays CISD in Kyle, Texas. A principal asked Wacey to assist with a reading challenge using Learning A-Z resources; the goal was to help every student read at grade level or above by the end of the year.
As a result of the challenge, reading scores rose dramatically across the campus! The principal won the District Principal of the Year Award for her work creating a campus culture of literacy, positivity, and growth.
Here’s our interview with Wacey about the process of doing the challenge. After the interview, we have a list of tips in case you’re inspired to do your own!
How did this reading challenge get started?
One of my campuses in Hays CISD discovered their population was reading below grade level. As a result, they implemented Raz-Plus to improve reading performance and literacy skills.
The principal came up with the idea of starting a reading challenge, and brought me on board with the project to help out with design, implementation, and training people on using Raz-Plus.
What was your plan for the challenge?
We planned to have the challenge span about three months, split into two groups by grade level. So, we just broke it out into one group with kindergarten and first grade, and a second group for grades 2–4.
Kindergarten and first graders are typically moving through things at a similar pace, so that levels the playing field, because they’re focusing on acquisition and they’re not taking as many quizzes. But with grades 2–4, they’re doing comprehension quizzes and getting star points. So we organized the structure of the contests accordingly.
What steps did you take to implement the challenge?
We had meetings and in-depth discussions throughout the planning process with the principal and instructional coaches, often asking them to create goals with teachers and classrooms.
We created detailed lists of the materials we would need to create before launching the challenge, then organized the kick-off and closing presentations.
When we had created all the materials we’d decided we needed, we held the assembly, with a big kick-off presentation. The kids were arranged into their two age groups, and the principal led the presentation in the cafeteria like a usual assembly.
We described the reading challenge and talked about who would be involved. We showed the students screenshots of what they’d be looking at: teacher assignments, the Reading Room, leveling up, benchmarks, etc. Then we explained how points could be earned and the parameters for who could win.
When the kids realized there were several different ways to win, they got excited. So to close out the presentation, we encouraged them to use the platform and simply read as much as they could!
Then we had to make sure everyone had the app set up on all the students’ devices, and that everyone knew who to reach out to for help. We encouraged people to meet up, set goals, and collaborate on reaching those goals.
Did you do anything specific in the presentations that helped get the kids interested in participating?
We found that while the idea of winning points motivated students, they really loved playing games and winning prizes – so we focused not just on points, but also on the fun games and prizes.
We observed that kindergarten and first graders were less interested in learning about the challenge and more interested in just getting started on reading. Students in grades 2–4 asked a lot more questions and gave a lot more thought to certain aspects of the process involved in the challenge. We incorporated that understanding into the way we handled the initial presentations, which helped get everybody excited about taking part.
We tried to stay away from bogging them down with anything technical, and just said things that were inspiring and on their level. We’d say things like: “Look around the room! See all your friends here! We have this cool program to use for the reading challenge. If you’re sitting in this room right now, YOU are part of the challenge! So who wants to try it?? ME!!!” That was basically how we introduced it to them, and they really responded with a lot of positivity and energy.
What were the results that you observed?
As a result of the reading challenge, we saw a huge spike in reading. Students were reading more, across the board, every day. We saw dramatic increases in both classroom usage and in students using the product at home (which hadn’t necessarily been our focus, but we were happy to see it).
We didn’t want to do anything fancy or complicated. We just wanted to get kids excited about reading, which is happening right now in amazing ways. Our goal was to have the challenge be easy and exciting. It’s much easier for students to actually be interested in reading when they’re reading at a level ideal for their needs.
How did you track your results?
We focused on using simple spreadsheets to track the campus totals for books, quizzes, recordings, levels completed, and whatever else we decided was most important.
Then I could take those numbers and ask the teachers, what does this data tell us? Are these good results, or should we make changes? For example, do we want every student who reads a book to take a quiz? We asked those kinds of questions.
We want our kids to enjoy reading, get better at reading, and improve their reading levels, without the pressure of standardized testing and other things that tend to color the reading process.
So to be able to break down the numbers usefully is really a testament to the tracking that goes on in Raz-Plus for the teachers. Data is carefully considered in the way it’s presented to teachers. Being able to see individual students compared to the whole class, for example, is important for determining the effectiveness of a reading program and how well we’re supporting students in our classrooms in general.
We’re thrilled your reading challenge was such a success!
Yes! Thank you so much. We’re thrilled too. The ultimate goal for us was reading! We just wanted everyone to be reading more. And the results just spoke for themselves. We’re so grateful to Learning A-Z for making our reading challenge so successful.
D. I. Y.
Want to do your own reading challenge at your school? Each challenge will be unique to the school and the people who complete it. So if you’re ready to try it in your own way, here’s a list of guidelines for implementing the challenge successfully when you do it yourself.
- Hold a meeting with your principal and any necessary administrators to discuss implementing the challenge at your school.
- Review your campus instructional goals, along with recent or cumulative data around reading and literacy at your school.
- Brainstorm about the challenge, ironing out expectations, logistics, and scheduling.
- Create a detailed Challenge Plan, including roles and responsibilities for everyone involved.
- Build out a complete calendar, including a schedule of monthly or bi-monthly check points for updates, additional meetings, and other milestones.
- Create your own challenge materials for:
- Ads to post around the school and classrooms announcing the challenge
- Goals & data tracking
- Certificates for winners
- Presentations for kick-off and closing ceremonies
- Hold a challenge kick-off ceremony assembly for teachers and students.
- Implement the challenge, following the Challenge Plan you created in Step 1.
- When complete, hold a closing ceremony assembly to announce winners and distribute certificates (and goody bags, if you’re using those).
- Look at how much reading you’ve all accomplished and be proud of yourselves!
We’re confident that you’ll each find your own unique way to make this challenge successful. Success, in this case, simply means reading! So just have fun helping your students read more, and consider your challenge a success.