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Read Naturally programs engage students with research-proven techniques

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Students in computer lab​What does active engagement really look like? A student might appear focused on a task—especially a task that involves a screen—but the kind of engagement that leads to deep learning might still be lacking. At Read Naturally, we have a special interest in student engagement. We know that active engagement is crucial to progress in reading. Therefore, we have designed all elements of our curricula to foster sustained student engagement.

Professor John Almarode of James Madison University has studied this topic extensively and discovered eight qualities that promote active engagement when incorporated into lessons or activities. According to Almarode, as summarized in the Mind/Shift article, "How to Ensure Students Are Actively Engaged and Not Just Compliant," a program that engages students will incorporate at least three of the eight qualities. Almarode states that when at least three of the eight qualities are present, students demonstrate sustained engagement 84 to 86 percent of the time. We are pleased to report that Read Naturally programs solidly incorporate six of the qualities Almarode’s research highlights—double the amount needed for sustained engagement.

Below, we have summarized the eight qualities of engaged learning and included notes about how Read Naturally programs incorporate the qualities. According to the research, engaged students should do at least three of the following:

  1. Personalize their responses to questions, explaining their own logic and reasoning.
  2. Work with clear, modeled expectations.
    • The audio support in Read Naturally programs directly models the correct expression, pronunciations, and rate that the student is expected to develop as a fluent reader.
    • Read Naturally programs provide clear, step-by-step instructions and require that specific expectations are met before the student may advance to the next activity.
  3. Understand that the activity has value beyond pleasing a teacher or earning a grade.
    • Read Naturally programs quickly show the student how he or she is growing as a reader. Scores and graphs provide numerical and visual confirmation of improvement.
    • Our programs emphasize to students (via detailed teacher trainings and lesson plans) that reading proficiency has immense benefits beyond the classroom.
  4. Have an opportunity to talk and interact with others about what they’re learning.
  5. Feel safe making mistakes and taking risks.
    • Read Naturally programs invite students to notice and click on or underline errors in order to learn from them.
    • Our programs emphasize that errors are productive and valuable.
  6. Have opportunities to make choices within the activity.
    • Read Naturally programs allow students to choose which story they work on and also make choices within that story, such as how many times to practice after meeting a goal, whether or not to review the story while writing a summary, and other personal choices.
  7. Connect the activity to the student’s world/bigger picture.
    • Our programs use high-interest, nonfiction stories to allow students to connect their work to the world around them.
  8. Not feel bored by the task. Ideally the activity will feel new and novel.
    • Read Naturally programs move students through new material at a pace that prevents boredom or complacency. Teachers change students’ levels and goals as appropriate, so that students remain challenged.

Almarode also emphasizes that feedback plays a crucial role in student engagement. He cites research showing that when students receive immediate and effective feedback on an activity, the rate of learning doubles. Frequent, high-quality feedback for students is an integral component of all Read Naturally programs. Students keep tabs on their progress toward an individual goal. Graphs and achievement badges show their success both within an individual story and throughout an entire level. Feedback is immediate, because students are highly motivated by trying to beat their previous scores as they progress through stories and levels. This sense of ownership over their achievement keeps them engaged as they do repeated readings in order to build fluency.

Thus, it’s easy to see why Read Naturally programs are highly successful in motivating reluctant readers. By incorporating the qualities needed for student engagement and by inviting meaningful feedback, our programs allow students to sustain the active engagement needed to accelerate progress.

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