Where we began

Although our students study both a Spanish and English curriculum, the school requires them to have good English language acquisition, and we’re always promoting the importance of reading in English. We know that increasing reading age has such a positive impact on achievement across the whole curriculum!

Before Accelerated Reader, students would come to me, or to their class teachers, discuss the book they were reading, and we’d make some notes in their diary as to how well we thought they understood the book. But this was hardly the most accurate way to measure and capture the information, and there was no standardisation across the board. So, as a school, we decided we needed a better way to capture this information. In 2014 we heard about Accelerated Reader and Star Reading and decided that these were programmes that we definitely wanted to invest in.

“We need data that’s simple to understand and quick to access and with Star Reading we get just that.”

We’re fortunate that we have devices like tablets and MacBooks as part of our school equipment: students in Year 4 upwards are required to bring these to school each day. Students are required to take Accelerated Reader quizzes in the library: they show me which book they’re currently reading, and then I set them up with the corresponding quiz and make sure they take it under test conditions. The library is open before school, during break and lunch time, and sometimes during English lessons too, so there’s plenty of time for quizzing!

Celebration time!

Students at Swans School on the steps outside their school proudly holding their AR certificates

There’s so much enthusiasm and celebration around reading since we brought in Accelerated Reader. Our termly pizza parties celebrate students who reach their targets: any form group of students who have all hit their targets get a celebration with pizza, cake and music on the playground, whilst the other forms all look on jealously! Every Friday, form tutors are updated about who’s met their targets, and everyone gets into the competitive spirit every week. We even have a leader board to highlight each form’s rank, and the headteacher announces the winning form group on the last day of term.

What we’ve found interesting is that it’s not always just the youngest, more enthusiastic students winning: last term’s winners were Year 10s! This just goes to show how important Accelerated Reader has become throughout all the year groups, and in our school community as a whole.

We also award certificates to all students who meet their target for the term, and all the winners have their photograph taken on the school steps. We thought students might be a bit embarrassed be in the photo but actually, we’ve seen that they’re always super proud of their individual certificates.

The importance of Star Reading

We get students to sit a Star Reading assessment at the beginning of each academic year to establish a baseline spectrum of ability, and then another at the end of every term so we can track each student’s progress trajectory. The vast amount of data from Star Reading is presented in a variety of reports which we find very useful: for example, the Diagnostic Report is printed by teachers after assessment and sent home to parents with a letter explaining the detail. I also use target history reports a lot; I set up the form groups so that I can easily update the pizza party leader board. We also use the word count to identity individual students who have read over a million words, and then we celebrate these students in assembly and stick their photo on a big million-euro note on a display board!

“There’s so much enthusiasm and celebration around reading since we brought in Accelerated Reader.”

Star Reading assessments are also important to establish each student’s unique ZPD range: the scale of difficulty they should be reading between. Our libraries are fully labelled with AR book levels, making it easy for students to come and choose a book that’s right for them. Our teachers prefer children to be reading within their ZPD range rather than outside of it, if they can. Because of this, more able readers are taken outside of their comfort zones to read different genres and text types than they’d normally choose.

Data that’s simple to understand and quick to access

Primary class teachers and secondary English teachers get the most benefit from the Accelerated Reader and Star Reading data: and it’s easy for them to print out the ones they need, highlight and annotate them, and then use them with individual pupils. We need data that’s simple to understand and quick to access and with Star Reading we get just that.

I’ve noticed that even form tutors are now referring to the data in the Star reports: for example, mentioning to a student how close they are to achieving their target, and congratulating them for doing well – which is a great way to keep them motivated and engaged with reading. It’s great to see that it’s not just English teachers engaging with the programme, but others too.

“Accelerated Reader has become part of who we are.”

Some students ace their targets. We’ve had some achieve over 1200% of their target: that’s those students who just absolutely love to read! Some teachers prefer to keep pushing the points target higher and higher for students like that, to keep them striving. But for less confident students, it’s more motivational to assign achievable targets according to their identified reading age. Accelerated Reader and Star Reading let us easily identify those top readers who need more challenge and the weaker readers who require more help.

‘The reading school’

The biggest change I’ve seen since the implementation of Accelerated Reader is the evolution of the reading culture throughout the school. We have so many events and celebrations now that are arranged and focused around the information that Accelerated Reader gives us! These have created so much engagement among students who were more reluctant readers before, but they also give keen readers a platform to celebrate their reading success. A lot of pupils think of Accelerated Reader and quizzing as a game to score points, but I don’t think this is a problem. As long as they’re reading, that’s all we want! We’ve seen an increase in our students’ reading levels and improvement of their skills: the vast majority are making more than expected progress in their reading year on year.

“The vast amount of data from Star Reading is presented in a variety of reports which we find very useful.”

The library usage since we brought in Accelerated Reader has probably doubled. We don’t allow the option of not having a book – everyone has to be reading something all the time, even if it’s their own book from home. Our teachers are now really seeing how vital strong reading levels are to success, and we’re now known among our community as ‘the reading school’. Accelerated Reader has become part of who we are.

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