Independent Reading

Guest Blog by Andrew from Match Next


As the tech guy here at Match Next, our blended learning pilot, my job’s in 2 big buckets:

1) find good tech, both hardware and software.

2) figure out how to make it work with our students.


#1’s the easy part. I don’t even have to get out of bed to do that one. Not that there’s a huge amount of great stuff out there, but it’s pretty easy to ID the duds with a little playing around.

The hard part is #2. With all tech, I’ve found that I get a small early spike in enthusiasm. But that wears off pretty quickly. Then come the problems. So many problems. Forgotten passwords, uncharged devices, cracked screens, Archive misuse, etc.


Last week I wrote about a #1 - Kindle e-readers themselves. The short story here - they’re great. It’s like having the biggest library ever in your school. There’s over a million Kindle titles. They also take out all the self-consciousness of other people seeing what you read. Great for our lower readers. (Maybe this explains the spike in sales some of the more, umm, ‘enticing’ titles at the top of the NYTimes best seller list?)

This week: what is all the other stuff we do, beyond just giving out Kindles, to get kids reading more?


We’ve tried all sorts of different tricks to try and get our kids to devour books like old Halloween candy, and we’re still learning. Three main pieces:

a) find books kids really want to read,
b) make sure kids actually read the books we get them, and
c) motivate/incentivize them to read more than they otherwise would.


For context, we first gave our 4th graders Kindles last spring when they were still 3rd graders. We found:

1) Last May and June, as 3rd graders, our crew averaged ~4000 words per week.
2) Over the first two months of this year, as 4th graders, they averaged ~2700 words per week. (For context, this year’s 3rd graders averaged ~1100 words per week during that time period.)

Ouch. A 32% drop. Now, they did have more independent reading time in a typical day last year. And the systems and routines were already well in place by then. But still, we were disappointed. Here’s how we changed it up.

We start every day with an hour of independent reading. Kids read books on their Kindles or sometimes paperbacks if the title’s not available on Kindle - true for lots of graphic novels.


So, two versions of how we organized our independent reading time: first couple months (‘version 1’), last few weeks (version 2).


Version 1: the Assembly Line

Station 1: Read.
See the picture above. We had a couple tutors in each room proctoring to make sure kids weren’t chatting or getting distracted.

Station 2: Take a quiz.
When they finished the book, they went out into the hall and took a short quiz on a program called Accelerated Reader, basically a database of a couple hundred thousand 10-question basic comprehension quizzes based on popular kid and young-adult books. We used this to make sure that a) students actually read the book and b) they understood what they read. We love this program, I’ll tell you about it more next week.

Station 3: Track your progress.
The students tracked their own progress on version 1 of our reading wall. Accelerated Reader assigns each book a point value based on its length and difficulty. Students can earn some or all of these by passing the quizzes, none if they fail it.

Here’s a picture of the independent reading wall. Students would move their figurines up the mountain as they read more books and passed more quizzes.


Station 4: Get a new book.
Once they passed the quiz, they’d walk over to two tutors who were the ‘librarians.’ They’d search for a new book on the Amazon website and buy it, then download it onto their device.

The Good:
The system was fluid. If a tutor was gone we could shift people around easily. And the systems were clear to kids.

The Not-so-good:
Some kids were falling through the cracks. Each tutor had a specific job, but there wasn’t a point-person for each individual student - What’s Anthony reading right now? How far did he get yesterday? How much did he read at home last night? Does he actually know what’s going on in his book? - We think engaging the kids like this will push them to read more and more.

There also wasn’t any sense of team or community. Too much Henry Ford, not enough of your grandpa’s book club.

Version 2 – Teams

Students were split into teams with 5-6 students each, led by a tutor. We set it up so each team had been reading, on average, the same amount each week. No stacking like the Yankees (Jacoby - how could you?).

Each tutor then owns the progress of one team. They do it all - book selection, book loading onto Kindles, daily brief conversations with students about what they’re reading, goal-setting and follow-up around how much a kid reads each day and each evening.

Teams compete against each other to see who can read the most books. The competition makes it pretty fun for them. The more each member reads (as measured by passing an Accelerated Reader quiz), the better the team does. Every Monday, a winning team is announced. They get tons of recognition and cheers, and a few small prizes like a special snack. Betty read A Wrinkle in Time? That’s insanely cool! Three claps for Betty.

The Good:
Far fewer missed students. One person owning a student’s reading consumption means there’s a much clearer line of responsibility. And kids seem excited by their team trying to read the most.

The Not-so-good:
It takes a lot of follow-up with tutors around specific kids to help folks stay on top of their people. One tricky part is book selection. The 4th grade reading teacher at Match Community Day, Anne Lyneis, has some kind of mental card-catalog she uses to work her magic. I’d put her book-picking toe to toe with Warren Buffett's stock-picking.

It’s early, but there are signs of improvement. Last week, students averaged ~3500 words for the week.


Next Time:
I’ll give more details on how we use Accelerated Reader, the book-quiz software.