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READ 180

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Success Begins on Day One

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"I am a firm believer that the first few minutes and days a child spends in your classroom set the tone for the entire year." - Scott Toonder

Welcome back to school everyone. My name is Scott Toonder and I’ve been a READ 180 teacher at Marvine Elementary for the last three years.

A new school year has begun. We all know that means there's a lot to do to get started. But is there a "best" way to get started? Is there a way to approach these early weeks of school so that they lead to a successful year? I know every teacher and every class is different, but I really think that certain best practices work with every class. So I'd like to share some of my favorite classroom ideas with you, the READ 180 community. First, I'd like to tell you a little bit about my experience with the program.

Over the last three years my students have had incredible success with READ 180. They have exceeded Scholastic's promised growth every year and many have gone on to perform well in grade-level work. It's really been amazing. This past year was probably our most successful. My READ 180 classes had many ESOL beginners and students with IEPs, and their Lexile growth was amazing. The third graders averaged 250 points, the fifth graders averaged 350 points, and the fourth graders averaged 380 points. To top it all off, one of my students was named a READ 180 All-Star! I have seen the program work wonders, especially if you follow the routines.

Scott Toonder
READ 180 Educator Scott Toonder

Now let's get to the main point of my story. I think the foundation for READ 180 success begins on day one. So here are some tips to help your students get off to a great start:

Tip #1: Get your room setup right.
This may be the most crucial step for READ 180 success. One of the keys to READ 180 is that it turns reluctant and struggling readers into independent students who are responsible for their own learning. To make that possible, you have to make it easy for them to get what they need, when they need it. Your goal should be to function as more of a facilitator and less as a giver of knowledge.

Here are some specific suggestions to optimize the classroom setup and learning environment:

  • Set up a drop box where students can hand in their work.
  • Give students small whiteboards or clipboards to write on during the reading groups.
  • Use a portable stereo to play classical music during rotations. I find this minimizes distractions and helps maintain a calm and relaxed working atmosphere.
  • Make sure your computer stations face outward. This way you can easily monitor the students' work, even from a different station.
  • Make your Independent Reading area casual and comfortable. A couch, beanbag chairs, or throw pillows can really help motivate your students to read.
  • Use the Scholastic numbering stickers to help label books based on where they are found on the book posters and within the library. Then, use filing cabinets to house the QuickWrite for each book. By corresponding the QuickWrite location with each book number, you can make it very easy for your students to work independently.

Tip #2: Get kids motivated—starting on day 1.
I am a firm believer that the first few minutes and days a child spends in your classroom set the tone for the entire year. You have to get kids to believe in the program. The implementation video is a great start. Then I tell the students that no matter what they do, READ 180 will help them. It's how much READ 180 will help that depends on them. They can go through the motions and grow a little, or they can choose to turn their lives around. I spend days repeating this message and share stories of other kids who have succeeded in my class. I even discuss my own troubles with school when I was their age, and that I understand what they’re thinking.

One of my favorite activities at the beginning of the year is to ask the students how many of them hate reading. No big surprise here, but most of the hands go up. Then I tell them that by the end of the year they will love reading. (They usually look at me like I'm crazy.) But sure enough, at the end of the year when I ask how many of them love reading, almost every hand goes up.

One way to keep that motivation going is to offer recognition throughout the year. When my students pass a topic, I go into SAM and access one of the blank certificates. I'll type in what they accomplished and the grade or score they achieved. Then I leave it on their desk before class. Some of the kids say they don't care about the certificates. But I see the look on their face when they come to class and find a certificate on their desk. There's a little smile, and more importantly, a sense of pride. I know that even if they throw out the certificate, it's had an impact. They start to believe in themselves, and that's where the success begins.

Tip #3: Make those routines...routine!
Timing is so important to READ 180. There’s simply no time to waste getting your students from one station to the next. Getting the routines down is key. Practice them until the students can perform the rotations quickly and easily. Get the kids comfortable with what they're expected to do and they'll gain that sense of independence. When kids can take charge of their own learning, the magic happens.

Tip #4: Build that rapport with students.
I think having a rapport with the kids is so important. I'll give them high fives in the hallway and I develop a special friendship and mentorship with each one. My kids know that when they're in my room we're friendly and we're relaxed, but we work. I might joke around in the hallway, but class is different. I tell them we're trying to make three years of progress in one year. We can't do that by goofing around. Building that balance between a "friendly environment" and a "working environment" takes some effort. But once you've established that, it lasts the whole year. I also try to talk to each student individually each day, even for just a few minutes. My goal is to let the kids know that I care and I believe in them.

I hope that my READ 180 tips and experiences can be of use in your classroom. READ 180 is a great program that can work wonders. The best thing is that it leaves room for each teacher to make the most of it in his or her unique way.

Good luck, and have a great year!

Editor's note: Scott's classroom successes have earned him many accolades, including a nomination for the READ 180 Outstanding Educator Award. He was also asked to teach a class at this past summer's READ 180 National Summer Institute.

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