Charming Readers
Into the Blooms

It's the end of winter in southeast Texas and that means one thing to flower gardeners--there are blooms just around the corner. Before gardeners can enjoy those flowers, they have to do a bunch of winter clean up. Pulling weeds, fertilizing, and laying down new mulch are just a few of the tasks that need to be rather quickly so that there will be maximum foliage in the spring.

The reading classroom is just the same this time of year--it needs a little clean up and maintenance in order for our readers to really bloom. Spring in Texas also means the arrival of state testing season. What I want for every reader beyond just learning to enjoy a good story or nonfiction book is to enjoy success on their state assessments.

The honest truth is that some of our reading students have never gotten to know the joy of success on state assessments. Just imagine how you would feel if you were sitting down for what might be your fifth or sixth year of taking a reading test knowing that you had never passed. I know it would make me feel anxious and stressed. And we all know that feelings of anxiety and stress don't increase the odds of success but do directly impact the likelihood of not doing your best.

We are honor bound as reading teachers to work on students' mindset as they approach testing season. One way to build capacity to deal with test day stress and anxiety is to ensure that we give students every opportunity to be repetitively successful on challenges that resemble the high-stakes assessment situations.

In READ 180 there are a few places that you can coach students toward test-taking confidence--Reading Counts! quizzes and Interim and End-of-Workshop assessments. Utilizing the data generated by the first semester of work, review with the analytical lens of making instructional decisions to coach students into test passing behaviors.

In the Reports tab in SAM, there are a couple of reports that will give you great data to begin celebrating successes and coach striving students into more positive academic moves. Check out the Reading Growth Acknowledgement Report and make a plan to celebrate students who have taken quizzes above their Lexile and passed. Ask them to share with the class how they approached getting ready to accomplish this result. Make a list of their responses, encourage other students to share what they can adopt from these tips to improve their results, and post it where students can see it from any angle in the Reading Center.

Next drill down to the Quiz Alert report. This is where you'll find your first core group of students who need a conference and some new procedures for taking quizzes. The three columns I’d focus on are:

  • Needed 3 or More Attempts to Pass Quiz
  • Scored below 70% on Last 3 Quizzes
  • Selected Books Significantly Below Lexile

If you have students on the Needed 3 or More Attempts to Pass, they need a complete Independent Reading revamp. Review procedures with them, assign them a reading accountability partner to check in on their progress, and consider adding a couple of layers where they have to check in with you more often. Remind students that they can and should use their book when they take the quiz. After all, when they take the state reading test, we always ask them to support their answers with text evidence. We need to encourage, support, and reward that behavior in our READ 180 classrooms.

Next, confer with the students who Scored Below 70% on Last 3 Quizzes. This is your group of students who have a difficult time with tests. Ask students to describe the feeling experienced when they begin to realize that stress is setting in as well as if they understand what may be the cause­–-being timed, unsure of the answer, having difficulty deciding the best answer after narrowing it to two choices. Confer with them about how they feel when they begin to take the test, show them some anxiety relief techniques like deep breathing or envisioning success, and offer some time to work with them on their next quiz. Discuss with students if they are picking just right books both in Lexile range and content. If they want to select a challenging book, remind them to utilize eBooks and the read aloud feature. Consider having them show their thinking on Post-It Notes while reading. Make a plan to start a new trend--a passing trend. Remember to check in with them often. These students will need all of your support to develop a new habit.

The final group to consider is the students who are repetitively choosing books below Lexile. While we all enjoy a lollipop read (they're short and sweet and enjoyable) now and then, reading too many lollipops, just like eating too many lollipops, won’t make us healthier. Congratulate the students on reading books and passing quizzes but help them to set goals to read more often in the target Lexile zone. For many, their target Lexile zone is far below the Lexile needed to read the state assessment, but explain that a weight lifter never gets stronger by lifting light weights. As some point, they have to add weight—or in our example, Lexiles.

Once you've worked through the three groups of students, highlight any students who have passed some quizzes

but aren't passing all of their quizzes at 70% or above in the past few attempts. Our goal is to have as many students pass all the quizzes they take in late winter and early spring because this is the way to give the students a repertoire of successful habits and the confidence to attack a challenging assessment.

You might consider a brag board, special cheer or a selfie wall.  Every time a student gets a 70% or above on a quiz in their target Lexile zone, they get to add their name or picture to the wall. Let them get immediate recognition. While this amount of recognition won’t motivate everyone, it’s a good idea to celebrate effort that leads to success whenever you can.

In the fall, we focus on getting kids to read and to read every day. In the spring, we have to refine that focus to reading and taking quizzes and tests successfully. If we do our spring tune up correctly, whether it’s in the garden or in the classroom, we should enjoy some sweet blooms when the May flowers and state assessment results arrive.

Houston, TX

Charmion Mohning is the Secondary Reading Coordinator and lead reader in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences about growing a love of reading, word study, and implementing READ 180 with fidelity. She is passionate about ensuring that every student can read. Before becoming an administrator, Charmion taught English as a Second Language in Grades 4-6 and was a curriculum coach for the district’s structured English immersion program. She has degrees from Upper Iowa University and Sam Houston State University.