The school year is a little over a month and a half into the swing of things here at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle and students, staff, and City Year corps members are still settling into their new routines. This year the start of school presents an opportunity for a fresh start, and not just because of the beautiful new building opening this year. For the students at Denny, it offers a chance to continue improving their reading scores.
When I first learned about how reading levels were monitored and explained to students in Washington State schools I was skeptical about student investment. In each language arts class at Denny, a bulletin board displays sticky notes representing individual student’s reading grade level. The levels are based on individual students’ scores from state assessment tests given three times a year. Students openly see their progress, and the progress of their peers, as one by one each sticky note is moved to a new level on the wall following each test throughout the year. Not all students move forward, but the many that do experience pride about improving and the students that do not often use it as motivation to improve. Different and creative ways to display reading levels makes it fun for students and teachers alike.
For example, Mr. Watts, a sixth grade English teacher, has created his reading wall in a Super Mario Bros. theme. The background illustrates a full Mario level display of the classic game and students selected secret nicknames to adorn their sticky notes in place of their ID number. The sticky notes are not labeled with a student’s name so as to protect their identity and reading level.
Last week, in Ms. Beauchaine’s class where I tutor students, I was tasked with moving the sticky notes myself. I proved to be quite the distraction as students kept glancing up during silent reading with delight to see when their reading level moved. A few excited students attempted to lobby me to move theirs first. Students who had just been conferencing with Ms. Baeuchaine about their improved scores excitedly hurried over and handed me a note with their new score. They watched me move their note, and a few stayed to admire their new place on the wall and proudly take in their new reading level.