Reading challenge: Motivating struggling middle school students to envision a brighter future through literacy.
In the summer of 2016, Reading Interventionist Tammi Humphreys was hired by Tanglewood Middle School in Greenville, SC, to create a computer lab where at-risk students could improve their literacy skills.
Among the primary challenges Humphreys faced with her grade six-through-eight students was helping them understand they were capable of academic success despite the struggles they may have consistently faced over the years.
Solution: In the fall of 2016, students were placed in the reading lab based upon their South Carolina state standardized assessment and MAP scores, with those scoring “not met” or “approaching” receiving priority placement. Students work on MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach (MVRC) for a semester, with Humphreys supporting them with one-to-one mini-lessons and/or small group guided reading. She ensures fidelity by making sure students work a minimum of 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week on MVRC.
As a professional interventionist, Humphreys attests to the many elements of MVRC that benefit struggling readers. “The phonics component teaches letter sounds, vowel teams, blends, digraphs, and how and where to break words into syllables,” she says. “Decoding new words can be daunting, but MVRC gives students specific skills and strategies that can help when they are required to read increasingly challenging texts.”
To create the friendly environment that motivates students, Humphreys includes a leveled and high interest library of books, a lamp light, and comfortable seating, Students are required to earn the privilege of reading and working in the special areas in the classroom.
“As the mom of two middle school boys, I also realize that students in this age group are always hungry. So, allowing students to snack while working helps to ensure that they can remain focused for an extended period of time,” she says.
Humphreys sets a timer for at least 30 minutes as soon as the last student is logged in, which encourages the class to settle in and get to work quickly. When they know a tiny break is coming after working hard for 30 minutes, they’re much more willing to give their best effort.
Students have shared with Humphreys that three things that most motivate them to work on MVRC: the five minutes of free time after working for 30 minutes; being able to eat snacks while they work on the program; and, seeing their progress immediately.
Impact: Students in the program during the 2016-2017 school year showed reading growth of at least one grade level in one semester. In the second semester, Humphreys had just one student exceeding in January based on the Universal Screener Performance Categories, but by May, she had 10 at exceeding.
Additional gains between January and May 2017 included:
-A seventh grade girl who went from reading grade level 2 to level 6 (16 usage hours)
-An eighth grade boy who went from reading grade level 2 to level 6 (17 usage hours)
-A sixth grade boy who went from grade level 6 to level 7 (19 usage hours). Although he came in scoring at grade level, his comprehension, stamina and engagement improved
“I have worked hard to build trusting, positive relationships with my students,” says Humphreys. “I help them understand that the work they are doing on MVRC can help them as they work to improve their grades, move onto higher leaning, and succeed in careers later in life. Hopefully, students leave my program with a greater appreciation of the importance of good reading skills and the difference being a fluent reader can make in their lives.”