If you happened to drop by Diane Level’s second grade class at Westside Elementary School this year, chances are you found her students reading. They just couldn’t get enough of it.
That was partly because of Level’s successful classroom reading program — one that she’s perfected over the past few years. But according to the veteran teacher, this year’s class was particularly gifted when it came to the first of the three R’s.
“This class is so advanced,” Level said the day after their year-long reading program officially ended the last week of May. “They have really taken this to heart. They’re reading independently and on their own and they love it.” Level began the year with the goal of having each of her 27 students read 100 books by the end of the year. Not only has everyone reached that goal, many students have surpassed it several times over. Most of the students are reading above grade level, and those who started out behind have made measurable progress, according to Level.
“Some of them grew 2½ to 3 years in reading,” she said. Level offered incentives to her students for reading. The reading program began last September with a tree on one wall of the classroom. When students finished 25 books, they got to attach a leaf to the tree with their name on it. When they’d read 100 books, students got a green apple with their name on it. Higher numbers of books were represented by different colored apples.
Level also gave each student a book as a gift for every 100 books they read.
But despite the incentives, as the year went on most students began to enjoy reading just for the fun of it. Lupita Ortiz, who read 193 books, said she likes reading because it’s fun.
“(Books) have a lot of adventures in them,” she said.
Megan Hobbs, who won honors for reading the most books all year with 612, plans to continue reading right through the summer.
“I learn stuff from books,” she said. According to Hobbs’ mother, Lisa, it was Level’s reading program that turned her daughter into an avid reader.
“It’s really helped her focus on her vocabulary and speed,” she said. “It’s wonderful to walk into the classroom and just see her reading.”
Along with class readings out loud, Level provided quiet time each day for the students to read on their own — “sometimes two or three times,” she said. Level also assigned “word lists” to help the students increase their vocabulary.
The word lists had a secondary benefit; many Hispanic students in class took the lists home to their parents, who studied them along with their kids in order to improve their own English.
“It’s been really valuable,” Level said. Consuelo Sedano, whose daughter, Jennifer, read 451 books this year, said the word lists helped her. She praised Level’s reading program for getting her daughter more interested in books.
“We go to the library about two times a month and (Jennifer) takes a stack this high every time we go,” Sedano said, holding one hand a foot above the other.
Level had her students keep track of the books they read in a journal. In addition, each student made a paper ice cream cone last fall to represent the reading program. Each time they read a book, they wrote the title on a “scoop” and added it to their cone. Last week, the students unrolled their ice cream cones and measured how long they were.
Nearly all were at least dozens of feet long. Hobbs, who read the most books, measured her cone at 72 feet.
“It’s nice for them to be able to visualize it this way,” said Level, who wanted the community to know about her readers before she sent them on their way to third grade.
“This is something to celebrate,” she said. “Once that fundamental is there, it’s there forever.”