Fourth Grade Students’ Perceptions of Reading Counts®

Table of Contents: 

    Introduction

    The purpose of teaching reading in schools is to prepare students to be critical readers and to encourage a love of reading into adulthood. To be a critical reader means “learning to effectively, efficiently, and simultaneously control the linguistic and other sign systems” (Kucer, 2014, p. 5). By reading basic texts students learn to interpret text and other symbols used for communication. Through this interpretation they become effective and efficient communicators. Encouraging reading into adulthood has many benefits, such as: increased vocabulary, positive reading identity, increased reading and writing, and reading for pleasure (Clark & Rumbold 2006). This is important because it not only inherently helps students succeed academically but encourages them to continue their education past high school.

    Schools have been using reading programs for decades. Programs have evolved and grown during this time but the purpose has remained relatively the same; teaching students the mechanics of reading and how to be critical readers, as well as assisting students in developing a pleasure for reading. For some time, there has been surge in accountability in schools. To better articulate students’ reading competence, electronic reading programs, such as SRC, provide teachers, school administrators, district administrators, state and national officials with data to affirm primarily, students’ progress toward reading competence.

    Problem

    Students’ perceptions of reading and reading practices are unknown, as “read and test” programs guide and assess reading competence, and not the love of reading.

    Questions

    1. What are 4th grade students’ perspectives of reading?
    2. What is the relationship between student perspective and school directives?

    Assumption

    1. Students like reading and are influenced by school reading programs.
    2. The relationship between student perspectives and school directives is unknown.

    Related literature

    It is clear that reading is important to student success because learning in all subject areas is achieved through reading (Day, 2013). Reading is increasingly important to teachers because of this reason. Creating effective reading programs that allow the teacher to be accountable for student progress are very important for schools. As one of the principles of the No Child Left Behind Act (Brabham & Villaume, 2003), accountability is a very important aspect of a reading program. Teachers need documentation of student progress and proof of participation.

    Kasten (2005) implemented a program called Book Bistro. In this program students brought previously read books to the class and shared with them a small group of classmates. The classroom is arranged in a café/bistro setting with table cloths, lamps, and snacks for ambience. The students have the responsibility of reading the book independently so they are prepared to present the books to their group. From this program Kasten concluded that book bistro increased positive attitudes in students toward reading. The positive attitudes build lifelong readers (Kasten, 2005).

    In another study the author discusses turning independent reading into a social activity rather than a private act (Vorhies, 2012). The purpose of this in the study was to allow students to communicate what they were enjoying and what they dislike about the books they were reading. This was done through keeping conversation logs where the students wrote and the teacher responded back to them. The conversation log was the measure of accountability for the teacher. This interaction motivated the students to read because they had the feedback from their teacher to keep them active in reading and responding. 

    Reading counts is “an independent reading program for Grades K–12 which combines reading practice and software-based reading assessment. Instructionally flexible, mastery focused, and professionally written, SRC! is a program proven to develop reading skills, help raise test scores, and motivate students to achieve reading success”(as cited on scholastic website). This program allows students to read and test at their own pace and their individual reading level. SRC claims that by exposing students to a vast amount of literature lifelong independent readers will emerge. The students, as well as the teachers, are able to keep track of their scores electronically.

    Reading counts (RC) is a preferred program in many school districts because it has built in accountability. This helps the teacher track progress and know where they need to assist the student so that they remain on track.

    Kasten (2007) conducted a study later that probed into student attitudes towards reading. She used a survey of 1000 students that asked about themselves as readers and motivators in reading. In this study she found that students needed forums to talk about what they were reading, they needed to see adult readers in their environment, and even more specifically that boys need to see men like themselves who are readers as encouragement (Kasten, 2007, p. 6).

    The researchers mentioned above discovered that there were many different aspects that make an effective reading program. They include accountability, modeling, student choice, conversation, and student interest (Barber, 2014; Day, 2013; Kasten, 2005; Vorhies, 2012). By engaging all of these areas in a program the teacher can increase the chances of independent reading among their students. Independent reading is important because students gain vocabulary and are better equipped to read challenging texts (Kasten, 2005).

    Method

    Setting

    The fourth grade classroom in which this study was conducted is self-contained. The students stay with this teacher all day except for special areas or specialized teaching. The classroom is arranged to encourage reading throughout the school day. There are book shelves on all wall of the classroom, categorized by subject, author, theme, etc, and students are encouraged to read frequently. In the front left corner and back right corner of the room the is a book nook, with chairs, mats, books, beanbags, a reading setting that invites students to relax and read.

    There are various reading times designated throughout the day so that the students can read and enjoy reading. Anytime classwork is completed before a transition (recess, lunch, bathroom) students are encouraged to read to themselves. There are also shelves placed by each group of student desks where they students have various resources for the day including a book box. The book box holds the students’ reading journals where they record their reading, library books, and any other book they are reading.

    There are 3 computers in a bank on the left wall of the classroom for students to use for RC testing. Students are able to take a test during any break in instruction during the day; during morning work, after math work is finished, before and after recess, etc. There are also computer bank in groups of fours in the library that students can use to test. RC tests are not accessible outside of the school so students use time outside of school to read and reread their books.

    Subjects

    The subjects in this study were 17 students from a fourth grade classroom. The population included one ESL student, four students receiving special education services, and four students in the EXPO program, which is advanced instruction program outside of the classroom. Of the classroom there is 1 Middle Eastern student, 1 mixed race student, 2 Latino students, 3 African American students, and 10 white students.

    Design

    This was a case study that examined fourth grade students’ perceptions of reading as observed through multiple data sources.

    Data sources

    The case study of 4th grade students was conducted for seven weeks and used multiple data sources:

    1. Interviews
    2. Journal
    3. RC scores

    Interviews. A series of questions were posed to students regarding: reading habits and perceptions of reading. Each student completed the interview with the researcher at the end of the seven weeks.  The questions were asked in a varied order for each student. An initial review of the RC reports provided guidance for the development of the following interview questions.

    • What book are you reading?
    • What is your favorite genre?
    • Who is your favorite author?
    • What is your favorite book?
    • Do you have a favorite place to read at home? What about in Mrs. Nabor’s room?
    • When you read what makes it fun?
    • What does a good reader look like?
    • Who is the best reader you know?
    • Do you think you are a good reader?
    • How do you feel about reading?
    • When do you read?
    • Do your parents/ guardians read at home?

    These questions allowed me to see what the students were doing apart from classroom instruction and at home. Each question gauged a different aspect of what an independent reader possess. Such as a person who reads independently has a favorite book or genre. If the students were able to answer these questions specifically regardless of their answer it I was given insight into their individual reading habits.

    Journal response. Following the interviews students were asked to respond in writing to the prompt: “How have I grown as a reader since I entered fourth grade?” The writing was collected in the daily morning journal. The journal was used based on the ubiquitous nature of the daily routine of entering a response prompted by the teacher.  This served to eliminate researcher pleasing in responses.

    Reading counts. All reading counts data generated were collected from the RC data center. These scores are from September 9, 2014 to March 23, 2015. These data were created each time a student read a book, tested their competency against a 10 question quiz.  Reports of results from each test held in an electronic file by student that included the following data:  student personal lexile level, lexile of each book read, and grade level of each book read. In addition, all categories of data were averaged and a mean provided for each in the reports.   Reading counts is a program created by scholastic that levels books by grade and lexile levels. A lexile level is different from a grade level because it does not refer to a norm rather it is based on the students’ developing reading ability. This program allows students to read books and test at their own pace and their individual reading level.

    Data collection

    Reading counts. Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) is a reading assessment program which provides immediate, actionable data on students' reading levels and growth over time. SRI helps teachers level students, group them for reading activities and be accountable for their actions. SRI is taken at the beginning of the school year in the school computer lab. When teachers receive the scores it provides personal lexile levels of each student which allows them to determine the grade level at which each student reads at. When teachers have this they are able to guide students in book selection as well as provide the students parameters for independent selection. Students select books in the library and classroom library based on personal interest. The only restriction is the book has to be on their reading level/ grade level. Students rarely pay attention to lexile levels because they mostly align with the grade levels assigned to books. When students are done reading a book the routine is to take a RC test. If they pass the test they are allowed to check out a new book, if not they must reread the book and wait a day before retesting.

    Students receive reading counts (RC) points by reading a book that scholastic has entered into its system with a reading counts test. As a school promotion when a student gains 200 points they receive a prize. This 200 points can be accumulated in any way the students see fit whether it is in the first six weeks of school or the last six weeks. This achievement is tracked by the principal and assistant principal. In each classroom, teachers have the freedom to conduct reading points the way they deem appropriate. Each classroom has an assigned library day where they go to the school library and check out new books. Students are encouraged to check out books for reading counts so that they may get points required by the school and their classroom teacher. In the classroom this study was conducted in, the teacher assigned a set amount of fiction points, nonfiction points, and a designated genre points for each six weeks. Students are allowed to check out one non-RC book or free read from the library. They are able to read this book after they have their points for the six weeks. The teacher sends home 3-week reports to parents to help involve them in the monitoring of point accumulation. The teacher in this classroom restricts students from checking out new books from the library until they pass the RC test for their current book.

    Interviews. Interview questions were created to inquire about students as readers and their reading environment. The students were pulled aside during any free time they had to read-to-self; library time, after completion of classroom work. I began asking the interview question in a uniform fashion until I found that the answer to the previous question influenced and possible changed the answer to the following one. After 3 interviews I began asking the questions in a random order to receive a less biased answer. All of the interviews were recorded on my phone and later changed into sound files that I transcribed.

    Journals. Journal writing is part of the students daily morning work. They record the weather data for the morning and write a brief sentence about how they feel. The writing prompt for each day is different and allows the students a way to get focused before instruction begins. For the journal writing in this study the students were reluctant because they were not accustomed to writing reflectively. Once the prompt was explained in more depth the students were able to complete the writing with little help from myself.

    Data analysis

    Interviews. The taped interviews were transcribed and uploaded into the Nvivo (Nvivo, Version 10) qualitative analysis software. Initial nodes/categories were created using the questions posed as the categories.   Data from the interview questions were coded into prescribed nodes.  The data within each node was treated with a second analysis to determine trends in responses to each question. Subcategories were created based on trends. 

    Journals. Students’ written responses were analyzed using a emergent approach, whereby categories were created based on responses, followed with subcategory trends. The trends noted in journals were correlated with the trends noted in the interview trends.

    Reading counts. Means for each student’s personal lexile reading level, average lexile level of books read, and the average grade level of books read were compiled and a group mean generated for each category, using Excel spreadsheet technology.

    Results

    The two research questions posed were:

    1. What are 4th grade students’ perspectives of reading?
    2. What is the relationship between student perspective and school directives?

    Interview

    Of the 17 students in the study 71% of them have parents who read at home those who don’t read is due to being busy. 94% of the students reported having a favorite spot to read in at home and at school. These places were usually determined based on comfort. 82% of the students reported knowing someone they considered “the best reader” and of them 64% said this person was a family member. The entire class reported a belief that they are good readers of the affirmative answers 35% felt they were good readers conditionally. When the students were asked if the liked reading and how they felt about reading 64% responded with positive feelings toward reading while the other 26% were passive in their feelings about reading stating “[reading] is fun if it’s not for RC points”. Students perception of reading was overwhelmingly positive which followed the assumption that they liked reading but this data did not reveal whether it was due to reading programs or not. There is not initial relationship seen from this data between student perception and school directives. This data does however change the assumption of the relationship being unknown to having no correlation.

    Journal

    From the journal all of the students felt they were better readers since the beginning of fourth grade. All of the students wrote about the books they were reading 100% of those books were fiction books. When the students wrote about their level of success in reading they used “teacher talk” or technical terms to define improvement. These students made of 58% of the class. When students were uncertain of improvement in reading they reported that it was because of a deficit in a certain skill. This was one fourth of the students. One third of these student stated “I love to read” in their journal. This data supported the assumption that students have positive views of reading. When students talk about their skill in reading related to school directives and terms they use negative or passive definition of their reading ability.

    Reading counts

    The range of lexile levels for fourth grade is 445-810. The mean of personal lexile levels was 668, and the mean of lexile of books read was 757. The average grade level of books chosen in this class was 4.7 almost a fifth grade level. This data revealed that students were not choosing books that challenged them. All of the books chosen were on a comfort level for the student rather than their personal lexile levels. This data is inconclusive in answering either question of student perception of reading or the relationship between perceptions and directives.

    Discussion

    When I began this study I wanted to learn about how students perceive reading and the relationship between school administration of RC and student perspective. I assumed that the students would like reading due to the reading programs set in place by the school. The relationship between these administration and perspective was unknown. After conducting this study I have found that the students in this class have a positive view of reading. More than half of the class reported liking reading and seeing themselves as good readers. They talked about themselves as readers and expressed their interest or disinterest in reading. All of the students reported that they enjoyed reading especially when it was not for RC. They are more inclined to read fiction books rather than nonfiction books. They feel the pressure of the requirements of school and this made reading undesirable but when they get to read their free read and not have to think about a RC test their level of enjoyment increases.

    The interviews also revealed that the readers in the students live influenced their desire to read, as opposed to RC. One student said, “Well my mom is a reading teacher so like I read a lot at home so sometimes when I'm like reading in class I kind of like get bored cause I'm like reading all the time”. However, this student also said that the best reader she knows is a friend who reads above grade level. This student says she has a rich reading environment but reading can be seen as a chore in her household. Other students in this class that said the best reader was a family member based this claim on the size of books read and the speed the book was read at. These are both qualities that the students assign to their profile of good readers.

    There is a very low correlation between school directives and student perspectives of reading. Schools emphasize critical reading of nonfiction texts in all subject areas while the programs implemented are meant to encourage both technical reading and enjoyment of books. However, interview and journal data did not confirm that enjoyment of books was found in RC reading exercises.  This causes disconnect between what is necessary for learning and what is favorable among students. In the journals all of the students report reading fiction books which is more enjoyment of reading. In the interviews majority of the students stated that they most enjoy reading when it is not for RC. This constant pull to testing places pressure on students and takes the fun out of reading. Students want to enjoy reading but they know what is necessary for school. The division between the school and students causes a sort of conflict.

    There is a double meaning of reading counts. The first being reading counts equals points. This is shown in the school and teacher focus on the amount of points accumulated. The students are aware of the point requirements and the ones they have accumulated. This is meant to be a form of accountability for both teachers and students but ends up being a pressure point. The second meaning of reading counts means reading matters. This is the second purpose of teaching reading in schools. This is where students grow their enjoyment for reading. One way reading counts and teacher try to achieve this is by having the student read a high volume of books which places them at the center of a literature rich environment.

    Conclusion

    Based on the findings 3 recommendations emerge for reading teachers who are mandated to use accountability reading programs. The recommends are: 1) that family influences on reading be determined, fostered and honored, 2) reading programs such as reading counts fulfill the entire meaning of its name, and 3) that schools promote both purposes of reading through instruction and other reading opportunities that align with students’ reasons to read.

    1) that family influences on reading be determined, fostered and honored

    Through this study I have found that family and friends have a visible effect on students’ academic life. As educators, it is important to encourage the families of our students to be active and invested in their student’s education. In terms of reading, parents allowing their student to see them reading and hear that they enjoy reading for personal purposes is very important. If that student looks up to and admires this person these actions can go a long way. When students have a better attitude towards reading their success at reading increases because they persevere and work through the text. As teachers, encouragement to parents can be assigning reading projects that parents participate in through buddy reading a book with their child. I would also encourage parents to read with their student, in the same room or have the student read to them, while the student does their 30 minutes of reading every night. Starting with these two steps can go a long way with students.

    2) reading programs such as reading counts fulfill the entire meaning of its name,

    For reading programs such as reading counts to fulfill the entire meaning of its name it would require teachers and administration placing equal value on the purposes of reading; critical reading and love of reading.  In my classroom, I would have designated days such as Friday that reading counts doesn’t take place. Students can read books that are RC or books that are free read but they are not obligated take any RC tests because Friday reading is for enjoyment only. This would allow them to read books in a leisurely setting while still getting the exposure to literature. This day would also show them that reading is for more than RC points, what we read should matter to us because we enjoy doing it.

    3) that schools promote both purposes of reading through instruction and other reading opportunities that align with students’ reasons to read.

    There are many ways that my school promoted both purposes of reading prior to this study. These include family literacy night and read-a-thon. Family literacy night took place during the book fair where parents could come to the school after hours and look at the books their student was interested in. on this night students were also able to participate in a poetry slam where they read poetry or any writing they had written at school or at home. Read-a-thon was a day that both 4th and 5th grade participated in where they raised money based on the amount of books they read. They spent the whole school day in the library reading book of their choice regardless of level and genre. These activities are both great examples of students finding pleasure in reading. Schools are very good at teaching critical reading but having more activities like this in schools would show parents and students that reading is important for more than just points or a grade.

    In the future, I can take all that I learned from conducting this study and implementing all of the recommendations listed above into action in my own classroom. I have observed many effective techniques in the classroom added with the information from this study I am well equipped to teach reading that encourages critical reading and a love of reading in all students.

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