Congratulations to Casterton College!
Casterton College, Rutland
Putting reading at the heart of the school
When our Vice Principal, Carl Smith, took over as Principal in 2015, he wanted to implement Accelerated Reader (AR) from the off. He is a firm believer in the importance of improving literacy levels to improve overall attainment. I have to admit that the implementation seemed daunting at first, but actually the whole process was completely manageable, and the training we received from Renaissance was very helpful.
We began by using AR with just Year 7 and 8, and then added Year 9 to the programme later. In order to really highlight the emphasis we were placing on literacy, the decision was made to reorganise the school day to make more time for reading. Previously, students only read at the beginning of their English lessons, but now we have 20 minutes of DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time every day, which is rotated to a different lesson each week so it isn’t interrupting the same subject all the time. During DEAR time, the teachers read as well to lead by example – I’m sure it’s their favourite part of the day now! Students also have one AR lesson a week, during which they can read, quiz, and come to the library to swap their books. I use this time to look at targets and how well each student is doing, speaking to them individually to make sure we all have a plan for success in place.
We use Star Reading to test students three times a year to keep an eye on progress and make sure that reading results are improving. After the Star test, I make sure every student knows their ZPD so it’s easy for them to choose their next book. The great thing about using Star Reading and AR together is that you can use one to verify the other – for example, if a student gets an unexpected or low Star Reading result, you can compare this to how they’ve been doing on AR. If their reading results throughout the term have been good, you know they were just having a bad day when they did the Star test. Without the AR data, it would be easy to assume that they hadn’t been reading.
All English teachers and Student Support staff in the school are able to access their students’ Star Reading data so that they can refer to it as and when they need to, and combine this information with other test results to indicate whether any student needs interventions put in place.
Dramatic change in the library
The biggest change that has been brought about from AR is definitely reading for pleasure. I used to loan approximately 1,000 books per year, but students would often discover that they were struggling with the book they’d borrowed, and return it unfinished. Now that students have their ZPD, it’s so much easier to advise them on what they should be reading. They still choose the topic and the genre they want, but they’re guided a lot more to ensure they can actually access the text and ultimately enjoy, and learn from, the book. I’d say that most of the books that the children want to read are on AR – and if a student wants to read one that isn’t, I tell them they can read it once they’ve met their points target or save it for the holidays!
The library is always so busy now. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I loaned out over 9,000 books in the 2017/18 academic year! Not only has the number increased so massively, students are now a lot happier in their choices: they can’t wait to get the next book in the series or the latest release from their favourite author. We rarely have books returned unfinished now.
I know many students whose previous disinterest in books has completed turned on its head since introducing AR. One of our more challenging students, who frequently found himself sitting outside the principal’s office, hated reading. One day, we spent some time finding a genre he’d enjoy and, ensuring the book level was within his ZPD. He went away and read the whole book in one night! He scored 90% in the AR quiz, which boosted his confidence, and then there was no stopping him. Completely motivated to achieve his targets – and beat all his classmates – he continued to read a whole book almost every night and was desperate for his next read. By the end of Year 9 he was the top reader in his year group – and visiting the principal’s office for praise instead of being in trouble! He’s just one of many similar success stories.
The same opportunity for everybody
The absolute best thing about Accelerated Reader, in my mind, is that it gives every student the same opportunity and the same motivation to read. The targets are built on data, and completely tailored to each student – so I can see improvement and effort rather than just quantity of books read. I can recognise and reward weak readers who are working hard and improving, as well as picking up the stronger readers who might have otherwise got away just coasting along with easy reads rather than challenging themselves.
Accelerated Reader hasn’t made my job easy. Trust me, it’s hard work! But it’s absolutely worth it when I see the difference it has made to our students.
Click here to read our success stories from other schools that have been shortlisted in the Tes Schools Awards 2019!
|Celebration, Independent Reading, Library Use, Motivation, Reading Culture, Reading for Pleasure, Tes Schools Awards 2019, Whole-School Literacy