It was the first week of February, and I was just completing the winter benchmark assessment of my Read Live students. I celebrated the student’s fluency gains, and I reminded them that their improvement was due to their own efforts. But, even while celebrating, I noticed something alarming that my students couldn’t. The amount of improvement among my students was far from equal. Two students had improved by over 40 words per minute, while two other students had improved by fewer than 15 words per minute. Why such a huge spread? What did I need to change so that all of them would improve more and there would not be such a discrepancy? It was time for me to do a bit of analyzing.

I printed my benchmark assessment oral reading results report to calculate each student’s exact gain and to check each student’s average words per week improvement. The lowest words-per-minute gain was 11 words (Mark), and the highest was 47 words (Brenda). Reported in Average Weekly Improvement (AWI), Mark’s score was .6 words per week (not nearly enough!), and Brenda’s score was 2.7 (far exceeding expectations!). The discrepancy was worse than I thought! I needed more information.

So, I printed the Students-at-a-Glance report and searched for answers. The first thing I noticed was that Mark had completed only 12 stories, while Brenda had completed 22 stories. Clearly, Brenda had read much more than Mark. In fact, Brenda had read more stories than any other student except for Emma, who had completed 21 stories. Emma’s average word-per-week gain was 2.4, also above expectations! 

I continued to look for students who had not completed many stories and spotted Daniel’s data. He had read only 13 stories, and sure enough, his improvement was only .8 words per week. All of the other students had improved 1.1 to 1.7 words per week (average to high gains), and they had read between 15 and 18 stories. Could the huge spread in gain be related to the number of stories completed by each student?

Actually, it could. An analysis of data completed recently by the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement found that second-grade students who had read at least 24 Read Live stories made more growth than typical students in second grade according to the Hasbrouck & Tindal Oral Reading Fluency Table. The students in my class were performing just as expected!

I had a feeling that if I could motivate Mark and Daniel to complete more stories during the remainder of the school year, their scores would improve more rapidly. So then the question became: How could I get them to work harder and read more?

After much deliberation, I decided to use a motivational method that has worked wonders for me in the past. I prepared a “private scorecard” for each student. On each scorecard, I wrote the student’s name and the number of stories the student had completed since the beginning of the year. Then I carefully folded each card into quarters.

The following Monday morning, I started the Read Live class with a meeting. (I waited until Monday because I wanted to start my intervention early in the week, so the effects of my plan would have a full week to establish new habits.) With the children sitting on the floor near me, I asked them, “How do you get good at doing things?” I waited until they all raised their hands to answer, and then I called on Mark (remember, he had read only 12 stories.) Mark responded just as I expected.

“We get good at things by practicing,” he said.

Smiling, I told him he was correct, and I asked a follow-up question. “How do you get good at reading?” I asked. Again, I waited until everyone had time to think of the answer, but this time I called on Daniel (13 stories). He too responded correctly.

“By reading a lot,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “And that’s what you are doing when you work in Read Live. You are practicing your reading so that you become a better reader.”  

Next, I announced that the computer keeps track of how many stories each student reads. I told the students that I had run a report to see how many stories each of them had read so far this year. (This got their attention!) I then reported that one student had read 25 stories since the beginning of the year and that another student had read only 10. (These numbers were just a little fib…I didn’t want any child to believe he or she was the best or the worst in the class.)

Holding up the students’ scorecards, I explained that I had a card for each student, and that the card contained the student’s private information, not to be shared with others. (Their anticipation increased!) I told them that the private information was the number of stories they each had read since the beginning of the year. I directed them to see how far their number was from 10 and how close it was to 25. 

The room fell silent as I passed out the cards. The students clearly were taking this analysis very seriously. Their responses were just as I had hoped. No one shared his or her private information. No one said anything to anyone—in fact, no one even made eye contact with anyone! The students just got up from the floor, walked to their computers, and logged on. I could feel the intensity in the room. Each and every one of them wanted to get to work and wanted to work hard. I dare say it was the most productive day I’ve seen so far!

Now, I’ll just have to see how long this motivation lasts! Thankfully, I have some additional tricks up my sleeve, which I am eager to share with you in my next post.