Mt. Pisgah Elementary School (MPES) Principal David Branham has a philosophy of how academic success in students can be predicted. For Branham, academic success is based on how much time a student spends reading both in and out of school. MPES currently has a very successful reading program in place, Branham said.
“It is made up of two components,” he stated. “There’s the Accelerated Reader (AR) program for students in second through fifth grade and the 100 book challenge for kindergarteners and first graders.”
The two separate components help Branham, MPES teachers and MPES media specialist Sarah McCaskill continually evaluate and determine students’ reading levels. McCaskill manages both the AR program and the 100 book challenge at MPES.
Branham said MPES’ professionals help students select the right type of books that they should be reading.
“We don’t want it too hard that they don’t know what they’re reading, but also not too simple either,” Branham said.
The AR program has a monthly evaluation component known as Star Assessment, Branham said. These assessments give teachers personalized feedback on what books each student should be reading. He noted that with the 100 book challenge, teachers conference one-on-one with students to determine their developing comprehension levels. Branham said both assessment pieces serve as a way to regularly check in with students and determine how they are doing with the program.
“A big part of both approaches is that we encourage the students to complete 30 minutes of independent reading time every day,” Branham said.
With the lower grades, he said, this is built up to with 15 minute “steps.” The students are asked to complete two steps at school and two steps at home, which would make up the 30 minutes of independent reading.
Branham said the program has been very successful at MPES. He said each student has an individual point goal that he or she acquires with each book read. MPES has several different ways of rewarding students for reaching their goals, including AR/100 book parades held twice during each nine-week semester, goody bags and other treats. He said students thoroughly enjoy these celebrations and their excitement and enjoyment for reading is only enhanced by participating in the festivities.
The AR program and 100 book challenge are supplemental to the reading curriculum already in place at MPES. It helps foster a love for reading within the students, Branham said.
“They get to ‘shop’ for their books,” he said. “It gives them flexibility and motivation. The goal is for them to develop a love for reading and I think we’ve seen success in that area.”
Though AR has been around for a while at MPES, this year is the first year that the 100 book challenge has been implemented at the school. Branham said it was added to the curriculum to get younger students to read more at home.
“It gives them that much needed structure,” he said. “They do well sitting down with a teacher and it’s critical for us to assess where kindergarten and first grade students are as readers.”
He said the challenge has positively impacted the school’s professional staff along with students, and that information ascertained from the teacher/student conferences guides the teachers’ instruction.
“The kids don’t see that part of us, but their response gives us guidance. It shows us where the kids may be struggling and what we need to be teaching and reinforcing,” Branham said.