Middle and High School “Critical” Readers Succeed on MVRC

From Carrie O’Donnell

Students from our inner city school come to us missing a lot of reading skills. I see approximately 49 percent of our sixth through eleventh grade students. If students are at 190 or below in their Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) scores, they automatically come to me.

These are the lowest reading students that I have come across at these grade levels. Their lowest skill area is phonics. Most of them can decode, but their encoding is very weak. Their low scores on the NWEA test could be the result of blowing off a test. But they do not treat MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach (MVRC) as a test. I suggest to them that working on the program is like working their muscles. Then, I ask them to work the neuropathways in their brain.

With MVRC, I see how they relax and get into the program. Once they get started, they do not want to stop after the assessment part of it. They ask, “Can I keep going?” I ask them, “Why?” They respond, “Well, because I am reading.” I think it is the first time most of them are legitimately reading and understanding what they read. It feels good, and they love that feeling.

All of our students started at critical—first grade. I had to explain to them that they had a lot of reading skill gaps, and we needed to fill them in order to get them to mastery. I did not want them to see MVRC as a punishment or a child’s activity. I told them that MVRC is one of the tools in their tool box that leads to success. Initially, it took a month of saying, “I know you do not want to do it, but you have to do it. I can’t teach you three years’ worth of phonics with a book; this program will do it quickly.” I meet with my students in small groups of three or less, and MVRC is required Monday through Friday for 40 minutes.

I use working on the program as motivation for them to do the work in their other classes. I tell them, “You cannot come to MindPlay if you are not attending your other classes.” They say, “OK, OK, I will.” Our coursework is 70 percent technology based. They watch videos, do activities and have quizzes. My students were struggling with their coursework because they could not read.

Outstanding Results with MVRC: An ELL ninth grade student came to me after he had been on MVRC for five weeks. He passed a high school elective course about how to study with a 90 percent score the first time he tried. He had a big smile on his face and said, “You know that MindPlay stuff helped me figure out those words. I guess you do know what you are talking about.”

Our benchmark for passing academic courses is 80 percent. Even with a poverty background and low attendance, my MVRC students are getting As and Bs—the honors level in credited coursework. One student came to me as a junior with no reading English credits. (We have foundational and basic reading classes before a student can get into a credit bearing English course.) I put her on MVRC in September. She thought it was a waste of her time. I pushed her. She finished two foundational and two basic reading classes before the Thanksgiving break. She is now in credit bearing reading classes and does MVRC every day.

Student successes are amazing. Our students have come to us with the feeling of deep failure when it comes to reading. They have given up and often say they hate reading. I approach them with “What if I can just make reading easier; you don’t have to love reading?” They agree. In education, we talk about the lightbulb moments for students, and MVRC is the current that makes them happen.