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Struggling Third-Graders Make Quick and Dramatic Gains

Michael Vergara Published: December 15, 2017

Reading Challenge: More than 50 percent critical ESL, ELL struggling and dyslexic readers

“What’s powerful is that students can see and hear word pronunciations through an actual reading coach,” says Misty Simpson, a 12-year education veteran and Reading and Social Studies teacher at Blake Manor Elementary in the Manor (Texas) Independent School District. “This makes MindPlay so much more motivating than other reading programs I’ve used.”

Instructing 51 third-graders daily, including large numbers of ESL, ELL, and learning-disabled students, Simpson knows well the hurdles struggling readers face everyday. Disengagement, a reluctance to participate, a lack of communication with classmates, and overall low self-confidence are among the challenges that set the stage for a trajectory of future academic failure.

Impact: But Simpson has also seen firsthand what can happen when district leadership and classroom teachers work together under the shared conviction that every child can learn to read. In the fall of 2016, Simpson’s third graders identified as 54 percent Critical, 37 percent Approaching and 5 percent Meeting in grade-level reading competency. After using MindPlay for just five months, only 23 percent of Simpson’s students were Critical, 21 percent were Approaching and 37 were percent Meeting. And four students had even made the dramatic leap from Critical to Meeting in those same few months. “When I look at the growth these kids have made, it’s amazing,” she says.

In addition to the motivating Virtual Reading Coach, Simpson says being able to see and take pride in their progress, earn success medals, and work with the program on an iPad have also made kids enthusiastic about MindPlay. And for teachers, the comprehensive data reports on each child have helped them monitor individual student growth and activity, not simply time spent on the program, as so many other reading offerings do.

Over the school year, Simpson’s classroom has evolved into a more participatory culture. Students are interacting more with peers, are contributing to class discussions and are more willing to read with her than previously. One quiet and shy ESL student who began the year at the Critical level was elated when he’d learned he’d “graduated” to grade-level competency. “His eyes lit up when I told him, and the family reports he is now excited about school,” says Simpson.

Simpson and other Blake Manor Elementary teachers are looking forward to sure gains on the state STARR test this spring where reading growth will not only be reflected in English Language Arts areas but also in Math, where reading is crucial for solving word problems.

Beyond the dramatic academic progress in reading, seeing formerly struggling readers realize they are smart and capable learners is a huge professional win for Simpson. “As a teacher, it gives me an incredible feeling of satisfaction to see my students gaining the feelings of self-worth that will serve them well throughout life.”

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