Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reading Programs That Work!

Reading Programs That Work!

Amazing Omar and Harry Potter

 Omar was new to America, new to English instruction, and new to my sixth grade. Omar as
with all new students took the Scholastic Reading Inventory to get a base line instructional
and reading level.  Omar tested at a beginning first grade level in English, this was a bit of a
shock to Omar that was always at the top of his class. His scores embarrassed him and he
seemed very deteremined. He asked what he could do to improve his reading level.
I explained his reading scores were expected for someone relatively new to English.
He was not satisfied with that answer and asked again what he needed to do to improve.
I explained that he should find a challenging book that he was passionate to read.
I gave him my standard story of inspiration( Think Stand and Deliver), perseverance
and the overcoming of adversity, but he was not going for that. He wanted concrete
advice on what he needed to do and know.
      Omar knew exactly what he wanted to read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone. He had read the first three books in Spanish and was a huge fan of the series.
The first day our class visited the library class, he was so proud to pick up an English
copy of Harry Potter  and the Sorcerer's Stone. The librarian suggested he
read the Spanish version but he was not detered. He ignored her advice and gleefully
checked out his Harry Potter book. He couldn't wait to get started. I told him the first
few chapters would seem impossible to read, but once he started understanding the
vocabulary it would get easier. He had the benefit of knowing the plot, themes, and
setting form his previous reading of the Spanish version. He spent hours reading and
translating to make sense of all the new English vocabulary. I told him to write down
all the words or concepts he needed further help with. I told him to bug me, the librarian,
and everyone to help with the vocabulary when ever possible. I showed him how to
write a storymap to help with his understanding, and said it's important to write down all the
words that he did not know, so he could make his own glossary. Omar had such
an incredible desire to learn that he needed none of my inspirational blather,
just the hard practicality of diligence and time on task and lots of old-fashioned help.
   Omar continued reading Harry Potter for the next few weeks before he needed to
start attending the four hour SEI pull out program. Our state has a law
requiring all English language learners had to attend an ESL program for English
acquisition. It starts a few weeks after school begins. Omar went to his first ESL
class with his Harry Potter book in tow, ready and excited to learn English,
but within a few minutes I received a call from his ESL teacher who told me he
could not read Harry Potter because it was way above his reading level. I explained
that I can't tell a student they can't read a book that they have a passion to read.
On the contrary, I encourage students to read challenging material above frustrational
level if they want to read it because I will do everything in my power to help them and
Omar be successful with his reading choice.

 Omar’s Miraculous Harry Potter inspired Method!

Omar wanted fast results in reading and writing with no concern for work load.
We decided to read two chapters of Harry Potter per day one in school and one
at home. To speed the acquisition of English we worked on reading and writing
at the same time. Everything we read as a class or at home we would analyze
and journal about. We wrote vocabulary, notes and chapter summaries for
the chapters read in class and story maps for the chapter we read at home.
      Omar set the pace for my first year teaching sixth grade. The entire class
read Harry Potter and followed "The Omar Plan" that devised to help Omar
acquire reading and writing of English. Some parents and students balked
at the work load and being required to read Harry Potter. I told parents 60-70%
of the 6th grade classes failed to pass the state Reading Exams that past three
years so if they didn't like the work load and Harry Potter they should take their
scholars to the middle school. 80% of my students could not read or right at grade
level and this gave me a bit of a chip on my shoulder. Being that I was the only
sixth grade teacher with 31 students, I had no patience for whiny parents and kids.
It might sound heartless but when I took over the sixth grade class it was the worst
performing class in the district. The passing rate on state reading exams was 20-30%
for this class. I felt I was going to have to use drastic measures to get this sixth
grade caught up in just one year. Most of my students jumped in, feet first and found
 a love of reading. We did anything and everything to get kids into the stories
even turning the room into Hogwarts II. In the next two years, using Omar’s methods,
the lowest-performing class was now the highest. Over the next four terms,
Omar gained 45 points on his NWEA MAP reading scores, equal to almost
six Lexile years reading growth in one year. After two terms he was speaking
and reading English better than some native speakers and exited with some glee
from the ESL program. Omar finished all seven Harry Potter books and he still
returns every year to tell me how he is doing. He does not seem to be worried
about his high school persona (his "cool factor") when he carries his copy of the
latest Harry Potter novel. He still holds the record for highest growth in reading
and language. Omar is on the principal's honor roll, gets perfect scores on all his
class work, and plans on attending the University of Arizona in 2012.

Omar taught me that if you have the desire you can overcome what most
would say is impossible. I spent the year picking his brain trying to find his
secrets to such dedication and desire to learn. I have used what he taught
me to help others find their fire and passion "Ganas". Omar had such fire and
passion for learning and reading because he came from devastating poverty
and it was his dream to go to college and help his family.

Reading and Language Percentile Results: READING 
(from 31.7% to 67.9%), LANGUAGE (from 38.8% to 72.3%),
and stanine growth READING (3.8 stanines), and stanine 
growth LANGUAGE (3.5 stanines). This is for a population
where 86% of the students were SLL, SEI, LD, and at-risk.

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