Several years ago, a parent from my school introduced me to Newsela and I quickly fell in love. I used it diligently to help supplement my curriculum and as a current events resource for my fourth-graders. A few months after starting with Newsela, I went through the training to become a Newsela Certified Educator and knew that Newsela had so much more to offer than how I had been using it.
Two years ago, I decided to leverage Newsela to help students improve their reading skills. I started the project in January and, over the course of the next few months, my students focused on a few particular skills. Though I didn't have a formal process or system by which the students worked, at the end of the year I saw dramatic growth in their standardized test scores. This project, and the progress I saw as a result, was the impetus that led to my Newsela Fellows project.
Over the course of this school year, I wanted to tighten up the process in which I had students working on reading skills so that, over the course of the school year, they would work on each of the eight reading skills. At the beginning of the year, I worked with my class on establishing routines and procedures for how we use Newsela in the classroom. Once those routines were established, students analyzed and recorded baseline data from their student Binder. Then, during the month of October, we worked on What The Text Says as a class. Students were asked to read and interact with five self-selected articles and five teacher-assigned articles. At the end of the month, students again analyzed and recorded data found in their student Binder.
Getting into the Groove
In the months that have followed, students have identified the three skills with the lowest percentages and chosen one of those three to focus on during that month. This allows students to have autonomy over what they are working on while still focusing on the areas that need the most growth.
Throughout the course of the month, working within a reading skill is done in a variety of ways. Sometimes the whole class works on a teacher-assigned article together, occasionally the students work on and interact with articles on their own, and often the students work with a reading partner. When they're working with a partner, they read an article together and then have to agree on the quiz answers before either of them submits an answer. If students disagree on an answer, they use evidence from the text to support their thinking. This practice has led to authentic conversations between the students about where the answers are coming from, and why they think their answer is the correct one.
Adapting to Student Experience
As the project has progressed, I've made tweaks and changes to adapt to what I'm seeing in the classroom, how students are interacting with their work, and what data I want to collect. When I had originally started this project, students would get an individual score grid on which they would record their progress. These sheets were often misplaced, which meant the students were consistently starting over. This year, I wanted to make sure my fourth-graders were able to keep track of their data, so I color-coded the score grids for each of the reading skills and bound them together into data booklets for each child. In addition to the score grids, students have a monthly recording sheet where they record their progress in each of the reading skills, as well as a recording sheet where they can track their progress toward their reading badges.
Engagement with Badges
The badges have been a big hit in my classroom. Once a child has reached and maintained a percentage of 75% or above in a particular reading skill, they fill out a simple Google Form to let me know they've earned a badge. It's been fascinating to see what badges the students are earning most often, and which ones aren't earned as often. The badge system, however, has also led to some questions about how I can recognize and reward students who are working hard and have made incredible gains, but are not yet at that 75% mark. This has been, and remains, a work in progress.
As we navigate through this project, I keep thinking about how excited the students are about the gains they are making, and how this could be translated into the work they are doing across subject areas. I'm also on the lookout for how I can continue to tweak and improve what we're doing so that it is valuable for both the students and myself.
If you want to stay up to date on the progress of my project, as well as the projects of other Newsela Fellows, please take a look at our Fellows Flipgrid.