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A Reading Star Is Born

Colorado Reading Corps member David Lewis

David Lewis is a first-year Reading Corps tutor from Thornton, Colorado. He is serving at Tarver Elementary in Adams 12 Five Star Schools and enjoys reading, writing, and cliff diving at Casa Bonita. 

I wish you were there to see their faces…

I’m talking about my first through third grade students whom I work with on a daily basis at Tarver Elementary – and the look they have upon finishing the Colorado Reading Corps program. It’s the moment when all of their hard work has culminated into tangible success. It’s the moment when fellow students no longer ask them where they go every day. And for my students specifically, it’s the moment they receive their reading gold medal, which each person is promised as incentive when they begin to work with me. That feeling that you get as you place it around their neck is absolute magic. Each time I’ve done this, ten total so far, that very feeling reminds me why I began this journey with AmeriCorps in the first place.

It motivates you; it re-energizes you; it’s electric and nothing but.

Although I would love to share the journey of each and every student that’s come through my reading room door every day, I’ll just tell the tale of one of my third graders. For privacy reasons I’ll call him John Smith (could I be any more cliché?). Of the first 17 students that were selected first by myself and my instructional coach, he was the lowest of the six third graders. His original testing had a median of 74 words per minute (WPM), making him a wonderful candidate for Reading Corps.

I began conducting interventions with the first 17 students during the last week of September. I created folders for each of them and placed a star with each name up on a bulletin board, and then let each student know it was theirs to keep at the end. Right from the get-go, John was a great listener, followed directions well and did his best reading every single day. Each day my students are awarded a daily sticker for following the golden rules of the reading room, and one thing was for sure: John looked forward to those quite possibly more than anyone else. Every five stickers, my students are taught the next move in a secret handshake. John was eager to learn each of these moves and worked hard every day to ensure that he did.

As I mentioned before, John began at an average of 74 WPM with the necessary winter benchmark goal of 122. He lacked confidence in his reading ability, struggled not to skip lines and random words and seemed to stutter through most of the sentences. Each day I reminded him with as much positive reinforcement as possible that you climb a mountain one step at a time, and with reading it’s no different. During each weekly progress monitoring session, his hard work began showing steady improvement. His mom made sure that he was doing his Read At Home (RAH!) passages almost every single day. As he became better, he rose through Duet Reading, Stop/Go reading, and finally made it to Repeated Reading with Comprehension practice. Some of his scores in Repeated Reading exceeded 150 WPM.

John’s progress was unstoppable!

Heading into Thanksgiving break, John could smell that gold medal. Based on his progress monitoring scores, he had the medal at the tips of his fingers. The Tuesday before break began I assigned plenty of RAH! passages to everyone. Upon showing John his student graphs containing progress monitoring scores, I told him confidently that if he practiced hard over break, his next progress monitoring Wednesday could get him the gold.

Sure enough…HE DID IT!

Not only did he do it, but he smashed his previous WPM record. Once the one-minute time limit ended, I gave John a sad look and said, “Well, John, I’m afraid I’ve got some sad news…I’m really going to miss seeing your reading star up on the board!”  John’s face lit up like the grand finale of a 4th of July fireworks show, and he jumped up out of his seat like a champion. His WPM had improved by over 72% from 74 WPM to the upper 120s in 12 weeks. After speaking with his teacher and my instructional coach, we agreed that the next day John would receive his medal.

For my medal ceremony, I have the student stand up and close their eyes for a moment. I grab the medal from its hiding spot then play the Olympic theme song before I have them open their eyes. When John gazed up to find his reading gold medal dangling out in from of him, the sparkling glimmer from his wide eyes and smile nearly blinded me. I placed it around his neck and played the sound of an audience applauding over the Olympic theme. Both John and I were filled with momentous joy upon his completion.

Although I experience that same feeling with every student, his progress blew me away the most. John still has three more progress monitoring days left to show that his reading is stable without the program support, but I’m positive he’s still working hard every day. If there was one thing I wish I’d done (but don’t believe it’s allowed), it would be to have an audio recording of each student on day one to play back for them to hear and compare. The graphs and new-found confidence for reading are good enough, however.

It is my ultimate goal to work with every one of the 62 students I originally tested for placement by the end of the year. I want every single one of them to experience that same phenomenal feeling of accomplishment that John had. And, I don’t want to sound selfish, but I’m excited to experience that same feeling several more times by the end of May too.

Learn more about Colorado Reading Corps and how you can join