Latest success stories from Renaissance Learning

A new Trust-wide reading culture

Charnwood College, Loughborough

Implementing effective intervention strategies

For Charnwood College, one of the main benefits of using both Accelerated Reader and Star Reading is the ability to be able to accurately identify and support our disadvantaged pupils. The data from the reports that we’re able to extract from AR/Star helps confirm what our teachers suspect about pupils being either significantly ahead or behind in their reading ability. These pupils are illustrated as being ‘on watch’ or ‘require intervention’, the illustrations make it really simple to understand the spectrum of ability across a class or year group of pupils. Once we’re able to identify these pupils, it makes it a lot easier for our teachers to highlight them as ones to work with more. For example, if they are identified as ’Urgent Intervention’ those pupils will subsequently receive an extra 5 hours intervention a week with reading and writing. Since we’ve implemented the extra 5 hours intervention strategy, we have seen a 300-point improvement in quiz scores and general reading quality. In fact, just yesterday, two of our Year 7s, who receive Free School Meals, carried out their latest AR quiz – and they’re no longer ‘on watch’ 7s.

We have a different timetable compared to the rest of the schools in the Trust. For example, this year an AR lesson has been included in the timetable for all Year 7s & 8s. This is in form of a dedicated one-hour lesson for children to read and if need be, carry out an AR quiz on their completed book. This timetable scheduling has worked massively to our advantage, we also encourage a twenty-minute reading session for all pupils during their tutor time. We additionally make a reading-time period available during the lunchbreak too. All of these initiatives mean that our students have access to reading, from at least twenty-minutes a day/two hours a week.

Encouraging all our students to be engaged readers isn’t the simplest task; there’s still a small minority of students who will challenge you over reading, so we’ve found it’s all about trying to find a way around generating interest in reading. For example, book choice; Lucy is great at finding each students’ unique interests in book choices, based on a trend in authors they’re choosing, such as Phillip Pullman, specific genres or even just current popular books. We’ve found that some of our most vulnerable students with behavioural issues are actually some of our best readers. But we’ve found that once students complete their quiz, they’re generally motivated to continue to read, a lot of students properly quiz without even being told to! We do offer incentives, such as special prizes, for example, this Easter Lucy travelled round to local businesses and asked them for donations for the school’s reading scheme and she managed to ger hands on thirty-five Easter eggs! Similarly, we set up a Wishlist on Amazon for parents/locals to donate books to the school and we’ve received over 100 books, all sent in anonymously.

A new Trust-wide reading culture

Most importantly, students understand that Accelerated Reader is not going anywhere – it’s here to stay because of the new reading culture that it’s helped to instil within Charnwood College. English teachers teach a mastery curriculum English language course, with the idea being to increase vocabulary acquisition and improve reading comprehension. This mastery curriculum sits really well with the Accelerated Reader programme as it shows both students and teaching staff that actually reading across the curriculum is not just the responsibility of English teachers, but everyone’s. Staff are really welcoming of this strategy.

Additionally, with strong reading levels being a great cross-curricular benefit, they’re also great for exam preparation. Our students are reading way more than they used to and all the research says more reading equals higher attainment and intelligence, it gives students the ability to access and understand their exams. We know that some students won’t be able to read Year-11 reading-level exam questions but they will be in a better position to be able to decipher and decode key words and sentences.

With our new reading culture, we’re seeing students choosing a different variety of books now, than they used to. So, rather than just choosing the same authors time and time again, such as David Walliams, they’re now looking at new books that are based-on recommendations by their friends. With more peer-to-peer reading, we’ve noticed that students are generally trying to read a little bit more which is bringing out this competitive side in them. Just the other day, Lucy noticed a girl reading ‘Mansfield Park’ by Jane Austen to a group of students, the students were mesmerized by this student who was essentially teaching their peers. Even Lucy was fascinated by listening to her read.

A great initiative that is part of our trust are students’ ‘all-star ties’ – students who excel in something are recognised across the trust. Lyndsay Bawden, the Trust-Wide Subject Lead for English at David Ross Education Trust, introduced special Accelerated Reader ties with their own unique colour. These ties illustrate the respective student’s passion for reading and a specific accomplishment that they’ve achieved in reading, such as a high or dramatically increased reading age, or even a word-millionaire!

Going from strength to strength 

In the last six-months where we’ve really started to perfect the Accelerated Reader strategy throughout Charnwood College, we’re seeing more quiz rates and results improving. We’ve noticed trends in students getting above 85% are taking their time when reading and thinking about the answers. With AR quizzing, it’s easy to tell if they’ve rushed a question as the results suggest they’ve not read a question properly.

We’ve found that we have more students who before, when they used to receive their quiz score would simply walk away but now, they’re reviewing questions and asking why they’re getting answers wrong, they’re even double-checking and questioning their own answers. One student in particular who previously a reluctant reader is now interpreting question in a different way. Now she is engaging with texts and understanding that books mean something different to others, therefore, you have to interpret quiz questions, differently. One great example of students properly internalising and understanding book content was ‘Oliver Twist’, after they read the book and completed their key assessment, they took the respective quiz almost two months later, without having reread the book, and they all passed.

Our Teaching Assistants run the Read, Write Inc Fresh Start programme; we use this to support students who are on urgent intervention, and we use the reports from Star Reading that outline what pupils need to specifically work on to increase their reading age.  TAs then use that information to work out what students need to work on. We’ve noticed since we first starting using Star Reading assessments there has been a massive improvement in test scores, so much so that in recent testing, some students score 90% in their tests. This is a vast improvement in short space of time since their first Star Reading assessments. What’s even better is that these test results allow our teachers and staff to focus on developing the unique skills of each individual pupil.

Reliable data that informs teaching and planning

The data that we’ve got from Star Reading assessments, clearly shows us which students need intervention and there are no surprises when that data comes through, it identifies students that we expect to be behind/ahead and how we can support them.

The test results have been a wakeup call for students and parents alike. Some of our parents were shocked at their children’s reading ages being as low as they were, based on the Star Reading report that we were able to show parents. One parent in particular didn’t realise how low their child’s reading age was and that, in fact, they were reading primary school books. This encouraged the parent to act and she motivated her child to develop their reading ability and slowly start to read books, closer to their chronological age. After a short time, the student was able to read higher-level books and they are reading books at their own reading age with their peers and we’ve finally got their reading age to the appropriate national average.

This is all because we’ve now got the data that we can show parents – no one wants their child to be at lower end of ability scale with any skill. We’ve since held an AR session for all y7 and y8 parents where we showed them the AR programme, how it runs, showed them data we get from it and it works as a cloud-based programme. Since this event, we’ve received a large donation of books form the parents who attended.

Accelerating development

For Charnwood College, the biggest change that we’ve seen since implementing AR is the culture around reading and our headteacher is so supportive of it because it’s not just y7/8 benefiting from it but the school as a whole and when you have support from SLT – it makes a big difference.

As a Trust-wide supportive programme, AR/Star offers a broad cross-curriculum resource that expands opportunities and experiences for all students within their academy. It’s easy to assume that everyone has access to books, but the truth is, they don’t, if we didn’t have AR, we wouldn’t have an option to keep our library stocked and to ask for book donations. Being a reader and being emerged in reading is part of the reward when they go out, they explore libraries and discover more books and it widens their cultural experience of literature and for some students this would never have been possible. Lyndsay was eager for this to happen as a focus with the ties as this would mean that these students can acquire additional enrichment for reading with the ties helping other staff to identify a student with an exceptional passion for reading. With Accelerated Reader, it does broaden horizons

As an example, the student who was reading ‘Mansfield Park’ to other students, this book is no longer on the National Curriculum to be studied, but thanks to AR, that student will go on to read more Jane Austen and this subsequently encourages more book sharing. Students have found that they’ve discovered their own book interests and preferences on their own, they’re not being told what to read, they’re discovering literature for themselves. Several students are reading books they wouldn’t normally access until later in the curriculum – giving them plenty of opportunity to access resources they wouldn’t normally think of. For example, a Year 8 student read and quizzed on ‘A Christmas Carol’ which wouldn’t normally be accessed until GCSE. If we didn’t have Accelerated Reader, this book simply would not have been selected by the student. But, because it was AR quizzed on – they did read it; and the Year-8 student who read the book, loved it!

Renaissance has supported Charnwood College and schools across DRET since school closures

In the final week of school, before the government announced that schools would be shut, both myself and Lucy were considering how we could ensure that our students would continue to develop their passion for reading and allow them to have an outlet in such an uncertain and anxious time for most. We tried to ensure that all students had at least 1 extra book to take home – some took home 6!

It was then brilliant news when Renaissance released and ensured that students could quiz from home as it now means that our students have an almost endless supply of books. It has allowed me to set tasks that focus students and set the whole school, staff included, an Easter challenge from the site.

Since lockdown, our students have taken 38 quizzes – something I’m really proud of as it shows that the passion for reading that we’ve built up so far this year, is really paying off and continuing at home.

For more information on how Renaissance is supporting Multi-Academy Trusts, click here.

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