Michigan schools find creative ways to nudge receptive students to read more
- March is reading month and schools across Michigan are celebrating it in honor of Dr. Seuss
- Teachers in Michigan have come up with initiatives to encourage students to read for fun
- Students are challenged to explore reading in a new way
Reading levels for Michigan students are far below the national average, but schools across the state have implemented initiatives to encourage students to read more and at their grade level.
About 45 percent of third grade students scored proficient or higher in English language arts during the 2018-2019 school year, according to state data. But during the pandemic’s 2021-2022 school year, the proportion of third graders who read proficiently was nearly 41 percent. Teachers across Michigan have come up with creative ways to encourage students to read, especially during the month of March.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer designated March 2023 as reading month, but schools have been celebrating it for years. The tradition is in honor of well-known children's author Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. His birthday, March 2, marks the start of reading month.
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For the past eight years, teachers at Adler Elementary School in Southfield have started reading month by reading “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss and have dressed like him.
“We had students dress up as their favorite character and I was the little red riding hood,” said Alma Deane, the school’s principal. “Most of the teachers participated, the kids participated, and some of our parents participated.”
During reading month, students are given a reading calendar with different reading prompts on it, like “read a book about spring” or “read a book with a friend,” Deane told Bridge. Teachers also give students drop everything and read or DEAR time during the day.
“Because students have experienced so much learning loss during the pandemic, every month is reading month but we do appreciate the fact that there is a nationally recognized month set aside for reading,” she said.
Students have free time to read books that they pick out, but guest readers and teachers have emphasized reading more informational texts to strengthen students comprehension skills.
“We did refine some of the activities that we’re doing based on the data that our scores are showing us,” Deane said. “There are some things like informational reading that we know we need to work on a little bit more. For instance, on the first day of spring we read about spring weather.”
Stevenson Elementary School, also in Southfield, has invited community members, authors, and even elected officials like former U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Michigan, and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, to read to students. The school also provides students with a reading log and rewards them with ice cream if they complete the log by the end of the month.
Guest speakers visit the school to read to various classes everyday, said Tonya Hickman, the school’s principal. The school hosts a free book fair twice during the school year where they give each student five books to take home.
Nicki Stewart said she has noticed that her daughter, NoVah Stewart who’s a second grader at Stevenson, has shown improvement in her vocabulary and even tries to help others to read now.
“We sit down together and read … and we read together at the library,” said Stewart. “Sometimes I’ll mess up on purpose to see if she was paying attention and she would say, ‘mommy that’s not what that word says.’”
Students are so eager to read that they have started an after school book club and a lunchtime book club, Hickman said.
“At lunch time when kids are sitting at the lunch table, even though it might be noisy and packed in the lunchroom, the kids are sitting there and they are reading novels.”
While some schools make a point to invite “celebrity readers”, at other schools regular kids are the “celebrities.”
The student council at Mulick Park Elementary School in Grand Rapids does a teacher swap in which students in higher grades will read to those in lower grades at least once a week for 30 minutes.
“I think it’s important to have kids and have people read to them,” said Principal Thomas Standifer. “You want them to read more to become lifelong readers but the more they read the more they are going to be able to comprehend, to understand.”
Every year the school creates a March madness book bracket, similar to an NCAA bracket, and students vote on what they think the best book will be, which gets the students excited about reading in a fun way, Standifer said.
“I chose five books … and I started reading them as soon as I could,” said fifth grader Clarence Herrboldt. “I finished the first book I got in an hour and a half. It was 250 pages long.”
Herrboldt read the book “New Kid” by Jerry Craft which follows the story of a middle schooler who must learn to fit in at his new public school after transferring from a private school.
During reading month each class is challenged with reading 100 books, and the class that meets that goal is awarded, but Standifer is considering extending the challenge based on the positive response from students.
“They are just more excited about reading," he said. “What I’m seeing from it is maybe that’s something we do every month, some type of reading challenge.”
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