Monday, April 16, 2007

The More You Feed Them, The More They Read

Fourth grade is one of those make or break grades. It becomes sadly apparent who has college potential and whose career will peak with the phrase “and do you want fries with that?”

It’s sad to think that one’s life path is already determined when a child reaches the ripe old age of 9. It’s not set in stone and we all do what we can to make sure the kids have options that don’t involve hamburgers or mops.

One thing we notice is that the enthusiasm for school, learning and reading often plummets. Fourth grade is when the curriculum moves from learning to read to reading for content and many low SES students really struggle with the switch.

After a round of appalling benchmark test scores a couple of 4th grade teachers and myself came up with the “Library Club” and the “Cafeteria Club”. Students who have been doing their reading homework may bring their trays to the library and enjoy lunch in semi civilized surroundings. They may decide where they will sit and who they will sit with. They don’t have to sit with their class – they can sit with friends in other 4th grade classes.

Students who haven’t kept up with their reading homework eat in the cafeteria and read once they have finished eating. We’ve had to assign books to some of them. They are very creative when it comes to offering excuses as to why they haven’t done their homework.

We use “AR Points” as our barometer and raise the bar by 5 points every 2 weeks. Good life lesson – you can’t rest on your laurels just because you have reached a goal. You have to strive for another one. Goal setting is another life skill low SES students need to practice.

It’s been interesting to watch the kids. Some keep on reading regardless (those are the kids on college track), others still offer myriad excuses and some are determined to avoid the cafeteria at all costs. The latter group has started reading – they may slip back into the cafeteria but they quickly read their way back to the library. These are the “bubble kids” – the ones that can go either way and these are the kids we try extra hard to keep on the right track.

The students are amazingly civilized. They enjoy the privilege of picking up their trays and walking out of the cafeteria and they really do behave themselves. I’ve taken to sitting with various groups and it’s fun to talk to them. We talk about food, books and occasionally I interject a lesson in table manners or polite conversation.

The Principal is happy – it’s good for the children & doesn’t cost a penny. The teachers are happy – homework is getting done. The cafeteria monitors are thrilled –the cafeteria isn’t nearly the Animal House it used to be. The kids love it- they feel important and special. I’m happy – I’m collaborating with the 4th grade team and the library is being an integral part of this collaboration. Best of all, the Benchmark scores are up!.


Amanda said...

Great blog. That is true.


Mrs. T said...

What a fantastic idea! I am glad you're making the library a kid friendly place.

ms. whatsit said...

Many middle school students struggle to find the time and a reason to read also. At my school, we implemented a Scholastic Reading Counts online quiz requirement. Students have to pass the quizzes for three books or earn 25 points every trimester. There are thousands of books to choose from and the program is designed so that teachers can write quizzes for books if no quiz is available. Students are required to read for 25 minutes three days a week during home room.

Believe it or not, some teachers (mostly science and math teachers) complain about this program; but some kids will only read if you tell them that they have to, and it is for this reason that I wholeheartedly support this kind of program.

I like that your program includes food. In our local elementary schools, they call it "read & feed," which as a parent I always thought was a funny name. It does, however, ensure that students are not sleepy from hunger. With that in mind, I might start letting kids bring in their own snacks.

Anonymous said...

I recently attended a conference called "Connecting Boys to Reading" the speaker, Michael Sullivan was excellent. He discussed the reading drop off in 4th grade too. This is his website it has a lot of great book recommendations for reluctant readers

ivy826ivy said...

Wow, I wish I would have read about this during this last school year. Half of my 4th grade class didn't do their homework, and their benchmark scores were awful. I got hired as a librarian for this next year, and I know it will be a great way to collaborate with teachers.