Latest success stories from Renaissance Learning

Reading at the centre of the English department in Sheffield academy

Firth Park Academy, Sheffield

Firth Park had a fairly active library prior to implementing Accelerated Reader. However, staff were aware that they didn’t have any way of measuring the effectiveness of the literacy programme – and reading in particular. AR was implemented as a way to monitor students’ progress and increase engagement with reading, especially beyond Year 7.

Having been using AR for two years, Firth Park joined the Renaissance School Partnership – a year-long programme where schools receive expert support and guidance from a dedicated programme manager.

“Seeing an impact”

A guiding principle behind the RSP programme was to put AR firmly at the centre of the English department, addressing a need to give a greater clarity and emphasis to reading practice. Assistant Head Teacher Emily Martin explains how embedding AR in the curriculum has paid dividends. “Reading used to be an add-on; something done only by a limited number of staff and not always as effectively as we would have liked. Now it is fully part of the English department, and has been embraced by the staff.”

With the support of their RSP programme manager, Firth Park has created time in the school day for reading practice and has taken a pro-active approach to using AR data to foster success. Twenty minutes of reading time is set aside at the start of English lessons, with students recording their progress in reading logs. Staff are given Diagnostic Reports each week; these are taken into classes to inform the conversations they have with students. In this way, students at risk are identified quickly and steps are taken to address their needs. “We have received training on eliminating the diagnostic codes in the reports, which flag students who are not at risk for not making expected progress. We’re now seeing an impact by focusing on individual students.” Under the RSP programme, students have seen an average of 11 months’ growth in the last seven months.

One way this has been achieved is by conducting learning walks. Emily has had the programme manager visit classes where reading practice was taking place, raising the profile and significance of reading time for both students and staff. Being able to feed back to a member of the senior leadership team adds some weight to the learning walks and the feedback they elicit. “Learning walks have helped to establish AR as part of the literacy curriculum, not just as an add-on. They help to set expectations for teachers, holding them to account for classroom practice with reading as well as monitoring data. This helps to develop teachers and provide feedback for them.”

“A real culture change”

“Book borrowing has absolutely rocketed,” Emily observes. “Borrowing figures have always been high, but over the three years since implementing AR they have increased by about 50%.” The school’s librarian, Rachael Bird, has noticed this change, too, as she is spending a significant portion of time issuing books. “Rachael is still managing to arrange author visits and update displays, but the impact issuing books has had on her time has been huge.”

The students themselves have noticed a change, too. They have become accustomed to the vocabulary of the programme, using terms from AR in conversation with each other and with staff. More importantly, they are increasingly engaged with reading. “There has been a real culture change,”Emily comments. “Now a broad range of students are talking about books and recommending books. Year 9 in particular have made real progress; we have struggled to engage them with reading in the past. We’ve made positive steps towards becoming a reading school, and that’s been achieved in a relatively short period of time.”

This enthusiasm for reading has been fostered with a wide range of initiatives that have engaged and motivated both students and staff. Display boards feature publicly the students who have joined the Millionaires’ Club – those who have read over one million words. Featured authors are also displayed prominently so students can find out about popular books they might not have otherwise come across. In addition to recognition in regular assemblies, the academy holds awards ceremonies to mark students’ achievements with Accelerated Reader, which parents are invited to attend.

Chart showing the number of quizzes taken at Firth Park Academy

The number of AR quizzes taken has increased significantly since the introduction of RSP.

“Nobody takes their foot off the pedal”

The staff team has been increasingly motivated by the programme as they strive to achieve Model and Master Class status. These certification standards are linked to the research-based best practices for accelerated growth within the programme, with criteria for engaged time, comprehension and independent reading. Students in Model Classes receive badges to wear on their uniforms, while teachers receive a mug and certificate – along with bragging rights in the staff room.

“Certification has really motivated staff and students,” Emily comments. “It makes sure nobody takes their foot off the pedal. The students are absolutely dying to get there and get badges and certificates. They really enjoy working towards it and take pride in it.”

Six classes at the academy have gained Model Class status, two of which have gone on to achieve the even higher standard of Master Class, demonstrating the commitment of the team to achieving excellence standards for their students.

“A huge help”

The Renaissance School Partnership has proved a successful investment for Firth Park. “We now have an effective way of measuring comprehension, holding teachers to account, and embedding reading in the curriculum. For example, the half-termly reports prepared by our Programme Manager have been fantastic for showing the culture change and student progress. We have dramatically reduced the number of students at risk, which is a great achievement for a school of our profile. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without so much detail in the reports. They have been a huge help.”

“We have also benefitted from the remote sessions we have received and the ongoing availability of our programme manager. We don’t always have all the answers, but we are able to get an expert on the end of the phone to address our concerns with bespoke help that is tailored just to our needs. This has been great for supporting teachers and providing ongoing CPD.”

Emily has found her role expanding under the RSP programme as Accelerated Reader has been implemented more extensively in the academy. “It’s not been easy, and I have been more stretched, but the support of our programme manager has been a big help in providing support and resources where needed. We now have something clearer to bring to the SLT to discuss where progress has been made and where there is work left to do.”

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