Friday, May 30, 2014

Effort pays off...

Brother and sister, Mohamed and Eman began the year at Pershing School with unique challenges. Placed in 3rd and 4th grades, the students returned to the United States after living in Moracco and speaking primarily Arabic for 3 years. Mohamed’s mom describes him as more challenged in English than his sister. “Eman was in 1st grade when we left the United States so she had a much stronger foundation in English than Mohamed, who was in preschool.”

This week, our school hosted its annual Awards Day. We celebrated the accomplishments of our kindergarten – 5th grade students in all areas of growth. As principal, I planned to award students who lead their grade level or the school on software licenses that our district subscribes to. While I look at the school’s usage data weekly on myOn Reader, I was astounded by one area in the data. Mohamad led the school in “time spent reading” with 122 hours. His sister, Eman, logged 100 hours. Since Awards Day, I have been digging further on the reading growth and habits of these top two students.

Our teachers and reading specialists test our students’ reading ability three times a year using the individually administered Fountas & Pinnell leveled reading benchmarking system.  While both Mohamed and Eman were able to read in Arabic prior to their return to the United States, they began the year with significant challenges in reading in English. Mohamed started at a level D (expected level for end of kindergarten). He is concluding the school year at level L (mid-2nd  grade). Eman began 4th grade at level K (beginning 2nd grade) and tested at level R (mid-year 4th grade). One wouldn’t need to be a language expert to imagine the challenge, especially for Mohamed, of both learning a new language and advancing close to two grade levels in one year. Eman’s growth of almost three years is astounding if you aren’t aware of the amount of effort that she expends in literacy.

It is clear when speaking with these two children or their mother, that the “family  mindset” is that persistence and hard work will result in success. Mohamed and Eman have a regular schedule of reading stories on myOn every morning at 7 am for an hour and then again in the evening. They and their mother report that they discuss a lot of what they read as well as talking through everyday challenges. All the conversation that they’ve had together has helped enrich the children’s vocabulary as well as to help their mother understand how to support them.

Richard Allington states in his research regarding how to help struggling readers that students need access to lots of books at their independent level as well as hours of time daily to read. He also states that kids need lots of conversational talk about what they are reading. myOn Reader provides thousands of books for Eman and Mohamad. Their family, teachers, and classmates provide the talk.

“The people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder,” writes Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers. The value of hard work and persistence cannot be overstated. Eman and Mohamed’s results are exemplars of this.  Kudos to these parents who hold high expectations for their children as well as our school district’s commitment to providing personalized, extended opportunities for learning with resources such as myOn Reader. I could not be prouder of them all!