The second year of my Read Live lab at the new school continues to go smoothly, and I am grateful to have drawn from last year’s stories to improve my process this year. Of course, just as things were starting to feel easy breezy, we hit an unexpected bump.

Over winter break, I spent a few hours analyzing the reports of my students. The third graders’ comprehension reports were a bit alarming. Seven of the 10 students were consistently struggling with questions #3 and #6—the two questions that should always be answered correctly. These questions test vocabulary words. By clicking on the words in the story, students receive student-friendly, audio-supported definitions. The answers to the questions are just a simple click away.

I wanted to solve the problem quickly, so I developed a two-part plan. I would teach the students how to answer the vocabulary questions correctly using a demonstration story, and I would motivate them to put their new skills into action.

I set up a demonstration story to present to the class using one of my extra Read Live licenses. I’ve written a follow-up post explaining the details of how I set up and presented this lesson. Click here to read it.

Before presenting the lesson, however, I gave my students some context and set the stage for motivation. On their first day back after winter break, I had a discussion with them about why we read and the importance of comprehension. Then, I told them they could evaluate their individual progress in comprehension using the comprehension graphs created by the Read Live program.

I had printed out a comprehension graph for each student’s current level, making sure each student’s graph had the results of many quizzes. (One student had just started a new level, so I printed the comprehension graph from his last level.) When I handed out these graphs, tri-folded for privacy, I was not surprised to see the students barely open the papers to peek inside to see their work. They wanted to keep their scores private.

While they looked at their scores, I projected this graph on the whiteboard and explained it to the students. I told them that the blue squares showed the questions they answered correctly; then I praised them grandly for their successes. I noticed a few smiles. Next, I told them that the red squares showed the questions they answered incorrectly. I asked them to notice which rows had a lot of red squares and directed them to look at the labels of those rows on the left side of the graph. I informed them that those are the kinds of questions they needed to learn how to answer correctly. 

I pointed out that most of them were having trouble with questions #3 and #6, which are vocabulary questions. I told them that this was a problem because knowing what the words mean is essential to comprehending the story. But, I cheerfully added that I had a way they could improve their scores and their vocabularies at the same time. 

I began the demonstration lesson and showed the students how to prepare for and complete questions #3 and #6 successfully.

Now that the students had the tools to answer questions #3 and #6 correctly, I offered some motivation. First, I told the students that I would run their comprehension graphs again in a couple of weeks, so they could see their improvement for themselves. Then, I explained that for the next few weeks, whenever they answered both question #3 and #6 correctly in the same story, they’d get a small sticker to put on the story label on their folder. (My students stick the title label for each story on their folders when they complete a story.) I knew they’d enjoy the bragging rights.

The children took this lesson very seriously. I think they were surprised to learn that Read Live was not a game and that the computer kept track of all their work! They went quickly and quietly to their computers and worked hard for the remaining minutes of class. 

When class began the next day, I reminded the students of our new arrangement, and they diligently set to work. To my delight, each of the 10 students answered questions #3 and #6 correctly on their next story. Two weeks later, questions #3 and #6 had been answered incorrectly only twice. 

The lesson and small stickers were successful at getting my students to focus on vocabulary and answer the questions carefully. In a couple of weeks, once everyone has gotten at least five small stickers, I might try to improve their skills at answering another type of question.

Have you ever heard of “one day at a time?” Well, I’m using that model and trying “one question type at a time!”