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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

Series Reading Program: Creating a Culture of Reading

At Walter Bracken STEAM Academy, 100 percent of the fifth-grade students are meeting grade-level fluency standards in reading. 
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Transcript

Series Reading: Tracking, Rewarding, and Encouraging Literacy (Transcript)

Teacher: All right, put your books away.

Children: Aw.

Katie: We know that practice makes perfect. Our kids need to read every single night in order to get good and we start them out in first grade. But by fifth grade, they're hitting their targets and they're up to two and a half years above grade level on the STAR reading assessment.

We really found that a lot of our kids going home weren't finishing books. They were, you know, reading one chapter or fake reading and not doing reading logs. So we as a staff decided that we would want all of our students to at least read one series. That's how we started.

Kris: We realized that we needed to make it more incentivized for the students, where they would want to read, where it became like a self motivation thing. And our principal decided that it needed to start young. So we created these charm necklaces, and every time they finish a book series, they get a charm. Those things are like gold to them.

Emmanuel: I really like to read. I would read fifty books a day if I had the time.

Katie: We know that when children finish an entire series written by the same author, that they get to love and know a character. And so we found that they increase comprehension, increase practice in reading and don't waste time staring at a bookshelf.

Kris: When you see my class read, they're engaged in the book. You can see them like be in the story and that's really what we were going for. Then we were like, okay, now are they really understanding what they're reading? That's where Accelerated Reader comes in, AR. They take quizzes on books. They get points, depending on the size of the book and the difficulty of the book.

Nevadisa: We don't use the small box up here, but we use the big boxes. There's twenty of them, and you need twenty points to get a lucky ducky.

Katie: For reading, we offer a lot of incentives. We do lucky duckies if they get twenty points in the month. Then we also have trophies for the class with the most AR points of the month in each grade level.

Jamari? Braulio?

Braulio: As I said, I had a good view of the stage, and what I saw was quite unexpected.

Katie: Parents are children's first teacher. We need them on our team, we need them to support what we're doing in school. We need them to engage in discussions about what books they're reading, and share that same enthusiasm at home for learning and excitement.

Lorena: To me, the way that I see him is he wants to be the best. Reading, math, AR test, AR points.

Braulio: Reading is one of my favorite subjects in school, and also it helps when some books are so interesting, sometimes I actually feel like that I'm in the book.

Student: She's starting to get the sense that he's just wanting the money and the land.

Klaus: Okay, and then couple that with what? What's going on in her personal life?

Student: In her personal life, her husband just died, so why would she want another husband?

Klaus: So this is good. So when you guys write your own novels, that's the thing that I'm looking for. Can you capture those complexity of emotions?

By the time they get into my classroom in fifth grade, I would probably have guaranteed that they had more hours than anybody in the school district reading books. That allows me to spend less time on fluency and then I can spend more time on the plot in the curriculum, or in the character development, because I'm not losing a lot of time on the basics.

Elaine: Gamen, three point nine, Ruben, four point zero, so you just got a four, good job. Vishnu, ten point eight.

Katie: That's awesome.

Elaine: How are you doing that?

Vishnu: I read these chapter books that give five to six points.

Katie: Our reading is just exponentially more than what it ever was, you know, six years ago. And each year, they keep reading more and it really does improve that overall achievement and fluency before they leave our school.

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Credits
  • Video Producer: Christian Amundson
  • Editors: Christian Amundson, Brad White
  • Post-Production Supervisor: Anna Fields
  • Production Coordinator: Julia Lee
  • Graphics: Cait Camarata, Douglas Keely
  • Head of Production: Gillian Grisman
  • Director of Video: Amy Erin Borovoy

  • Production Crew:
  • Square Pictures

Overview

At Walter Bracken STEAM Academy Elementary, a Title 1 magnet school in urban Las Vegas, Nevada, educators have created a culture of reading by introducing Series Reading across all grade levels.

  • By fifth grade, students are two and a half years above grade level on the STAR Reading Assessment.
  • Instead of talking about the latest TV shows, students excitedly discuss the books they read.
  • Students are often caught reading books under their desks during other lessons.

"Kids are hungry to read," explains Anna Hurst, Walter Bracken's assistant principal. "They come in on a Friday and ask me, 'Can I check out two books?' because they want to take two books home on the weekend."

The Series Reading program supplements curriculum. "That reading program gives me more hours than any other teacher," says Klaus Friedrich, a Walter Bracken fifth-grade teacher. "I feel like I'm at a higher-level middle- or high-school ability with them as far as understanding plot, character development, complexity, and style because I'm not spending a lot of time on fluency."

The Benefits of Reading a Book Series

Boy sitting at a desk in the classroom reading

Walter Bracken didn't always have a culture of reading. A lot of their kids weren’t finishing their books at home. They would read a chapter and stop, and they weren't doing their reading logs. To remedy this, teachers introduced Series Reading to their students.

When students read a series:

  • They deepen their connection with the books’ characters.
  • They increase comprehension.
  • They increase reading time.
  • They don't waste time trying to decide what book to read next.

For ELL students:

  • They are familiar with the characters.
  • They are familiar with the vocabulary that the author uses.
  • That familiarity helps increase success and understanding with each book in the series.

"They read tons of series each year, and they just don't stop," says Katie Decker, Walter Bracken's principal. “We found this magical thing where they were talking about characters and comparing and contrasting in the hallway.”

How It's Done

Step 1: All Staff Choose Their Favorite Book Series

Every staff member at Walter Bracken -- from teachers to administrators to nurses -- chooses a series that will be in their office or classroom. Students have to visit these spaces again and again to check out books from their series. This allows each staff member to:

  • Share their excitement for reading with students and discuss the books.
  • Know what books students are reading and when they're checking them out.
  • Take part in creating a culture of excitement around reading.

"I keep over 17 series in my office. My office is their office," says Decker, “and I want the children to know that I value literacy and those are my favorite book series, too.”

To get started, Decker recommends:

  • Have staff members select a book series that they know and enjoy.
  • Purchase books and store them in the classrooms and staff offices.
  • Ask for used book donations.
  • Create a Target gift book registry.
  • Purchase more than one of each title so that multiple students can read the same series at once. Bracken purchases six of each title.

Step 2: Assess Your Students

Walter Bracken teachers initiate a benchmark test using the Accelerated Reader (AR) program, and they use AR quizzes to test students on their comprehension after they finish each book. This assessment helps teachers to know whether or not their students understand what they're reading.

With this benchmark, students get to read at their level, differentiating their learning, and they can choose which series within their level they want to read. Teachers use colors to represent each reading level. They put colored dots (pink, blue, orange, etc.) on the spines of each book so that students know whether the books are within their reading level. They also have a website listing each series by grade level and color code to help students decide which series to read next.

For teachers who want a low-cost alternative to AR, Decker recommends:

The Answerpad

  • It's free for up to 200 students.
  • You can create paper or computer quizzes.
  • You can assign a point system for each book completed.

Socrative

  • You can have unlimited users.
  • Students can take quizzes online.
  • You can assign a point system for each book completed.

Paper

  • Create paper quizzes on each book.
  • Place a basket in your classroom for students to drop off their completed quizzes.

Step 3: Acknowledge Your Students When They Finish a Series

Boy holding up a rubber duck toy he picked as a reading winner

Students at Walter Bracken are acknowledged and rewarded when they achieve their reading goals. Their progress is tracked through the Accelerated Reader program. AR assigns points to students based on how much they have read and the level of difficulty at which they're reading, and teachers use this data to gamify students’ reading.

For lower elementary, students are motivated to read at first because they're excited to get the rewards, like trophies or wearable trinkets. As they get older, it becomes less about the incentives. The rewards help build the habit of reading, but it's the reading itself that engages the students.

"The books entice the kids to read," explains Decker. “Once they get into the characters, they get excited about it. The conversations with the adults on campus, the conversations with their peers about the series -- that entices them to read.”

"Sometimes the books are so interesting that I actually feel that I'm in the book," says Braulio, a Walter Bracken fourth-grade student.

These are some of the school-wide rewards that students earn:

  • A dog tag when they finish their first book series
  • A charm to add to their charm necklace when they finish reading a series
  • A Lucky Ducky (a cute and coveted plastic duck toy) when they earn 20 AR points within a month
  • I spy tickets for reaching a reading goal -- ten I spy tickets are worth a treat from the principal's office on Fridays
  • A trophy for one class in each grade with the most AR points by the end of the month, encouraging a sense of community among students

Walter Bracken purchases their rewards at fitnessfinder.net and orientaltrading.com. For a low-cost alternative, Decker suggests hanging a chart on your classroom wall to showcase which series your students have completed. The school also asks their graduating fifth-grade students to donate their charms back to the school. Most kids do, and those charms can be cleaned and reused.

Step 4: Help Your Students Navigate Which Book to Read Next

When Walter Bracken first created the Series Reading program, the younger students would spend ten minutes looking at all the covers trying to find the right book, because they didn't know which book in the series came next.

Teachers solved the problem by creating series bookmarks (PDF). Each book series has its own bookmark displaying the titles and covers of each book. This helps students easily identify the order of the books within a series, helps them keep track of which ones they've read, and is also a place to record their AR score for each book.

Step 5: Track the Books That Your Students Are Checking Out

When each student begins reading, they get a face bookmark. Completely unrelated to the popular social media site, these are bookmarks showing the student's face, his or her room number, and the teacher's name on the front. The back of the bookmark is full of blank lines for students to fill in which series they've completed.

Boy holding his Series Book Mark that shows his picture, name, and room number

At a glance, this helps teachers to identify how far their students are in their reading, and it also helps staff track which students have their books when they need to collect them at the end of the year. These face bookmarks serve as sign-out slips. When students check out a book, they leave their face bookmark with the staff.

Decker recommends other ways of tracking books:

"Stick to the series idea," advises Decker. "It's tricky at first, but it will pay off. Be flexible. You are changing bad habits for older kids. The younger grades are the easiest to start!"

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minniesmith's picture

It is a wonderful idea of making kids habitual with reading. As i found till now , many kids runs from reading books having big title. It will surely going to increase interest of students in reading books.

kbasch's picture

The possibilities are truly endless for a program that encourages students to read all of a series that interests them. This initiative is similar to extensive author studies that have the same intrinsic benefits; children are enthusiastic about reading and want to read more. Walter Bracken STEAM Academy has found a recipe for a creative literacy program that works for their students. Because the school has a high ELL population, reading books in a familiar series helps the students develop self-efficacy because of their familiarity with the series. This also has the added benefit of excited students talking about their current series, which in turn, generates more interest from their peers. What a powerful literacy marketing tool!
There is so much more to the program than interest in reading more. The program used in Walter Bracken expects teachers to assess their students initially, help children appropriate selections for their reading level, and make a wide variety of texts available to students. The blogpost shares several practical ideas and resources for making this happen.
If I were to establish a "series" genre in my school library, I immediately think of some of my favorites, such as If you Give A ... series, Junie B. Jones , Arthur, Amelia Bedelia, Magic Treehouse, Magic School Bus, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Little House on the Prairie. There are many more titles that staff and students can get excited about reading, talk about with other enthusiasts, and read more selections form the series.

Jessica Ann's picture

Thank you so much for sharing! I love the overall idea of this program. My second graders definitely focused on specific series, so I continued to build my collection. If it was school supported it could be much more effective and consistent. I was wondering how this program has been adapted to meet the needs of your students with low incidence ( moderate-severe) disabilities. One thought I had about how it could be don,e is through a project I have been working on. I have been working on a study utilizing adapted chapter books for students in upper grades. We are currently working with Percy Jackson's the Lightning Thief. How does your school include all students effectively?

Shalaya_S's picture

This is a wonderful idea! Not only does it encourages students to read but it also makes it more fun for them. The children can now hear about series from their friends which can spike their interest to read that series. Also, friends can have discussions about books they have already read. Reading series can help children adapt to finishing projects that they start.

Kathleen Decker's picture
Kathleen Decker
Kathleen Decker Principal of Walter Bracken and Walter Long STEAM Academies

Because the students select series based on their reading level they can read the series they like. This solves the reading for enjoyment issue. We use a series for instruction that meets their needs with differentiated lessons.

Martin Diaz Alvarez's picture
Martin Diaz Alvarez
Business Consultant

Everything you read fills your head with new bits of information, and you never know when it might come in handy. The more knowledge you have, the better-equipped you are to tackle any challenge you'll ever face.

D Dasilva's picture

This is a fantastic idea! My school uses Reading Counts and students get so excited to read books and gain points. I like the idea of a book series, though. I can see how it really helps get children excited about reading. Also, the idea about the 5th graders donating their charms back is a great idea. That helps keep the cost low. This make me want to go out and buy a series of books for my students to read! Come to think of it, I already have many series that I can share with students.

Pamela's picture

This sounds like a fantastic idea! Could you explain how this works in a little more detail? If I purchase a on grade level series for my room (or classrooms) per grade, where does the below level student go to check out a book?

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Hi Pamela -- It sounds to me like the classrooms have more than one series each: "Teachers use colors to represent each reading level. They put colored dots (pink, blue, orange, etc.) on the spines of each book so that students know whether the books are within their reading level. They also have a website listing each series by grade level and color code to help students decide which series to read next." I can't speak for the school, but I would expect each room has its own little library with more than just one series. The article also mentions a website that students can use to see all the books that are available: http://schools.ccsd.net/bracken/rlorange.htm

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