Bonuses develop taste for reading

Bates Middle School gives time, incentives

October 14, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to the Sun

Sixth-grader Teddy Drakopulos isn't one to pick up a book in his spare time, yet he just finished reading Phone Call From a Ghost by Daniel Cohen.

Now he is finishing a biography of Tiger Woods, even though he already completed his biography project for his language arts class.

"I've just grown to it," Teddy said.

Officials at Wiley H. Bates Middle School in Annapolis are hoping Teddy's classmates will also expand their taste for reading.

Low reading scores and a lack of interest in reading prompted them in August to launch the Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) program, which gives students two 30-minute periods a week to read whatever they want.

Students receive five "book bucks" for every book report they write, which they can spend in a store stocked by the Parent Teacher Student Federation. The Just Read Book Store has prizes ranging from pencils with fancy erasers for five book bucks to the Apple iPod nano for 250 book bucks.

The goal for the DEAR program is to have each student read and write reports on 25 books.

"Our students don't read enough," said Rebecca Blasingame-White, assistant principal of Bates. "They don't have enough opportunities."

According to 2007 Maryland School Assessment test scores, 65 percent of sixth-graders at Bates can read proficiently at their level. The percentage drops in seventh grade to 55 percent and to 46.5 percent in eighth grade.

Blasingame-White, a former elementary school teacher, thought that students linked trips to the library with learning the Dewey Decimal System rather than the joy of finding a good story. She hoped sustained reading periods would help students discover a genre or author that they like.

"Then you appreciate reading for reading's sake," Blasingame-White said.

Bates ordered books featuring biographies of musicians and entertainers who would appeal to students and whet their appetites. Titles featuring stories on rapper and actor Queen Latifah and singer Alicia Keys are on the library shelves.

The program has gotten such positive feedback from teachers and students that the school plans to add a third power-block reading period, Blasingame-White said.

Sarah Green, a seventh-grade math teacher, said she can see an improvement in how her students handle word problems. Green has put out math-related books in the classroom, such as How Much is a Million? by David Schwartz, that students can select for their reading.

Last year, Tara Striffler, a seventh-grade language arts teacher, had a hard time getting students to focus and read independently for 15 minutes. "Now they are begging me to read," she said.

Some teachers have gone to flea markets looking for books to augment their classroom bookshelves. The Parent Teacher Student Federation also is collecting books to create a mini-library for students to peruse while they shop in the Just Read Book Store, said Cynthia O'Neill, president of the federation.

The bookstore is set up in a room off the cafeteria on Fridays.

Students have been invited to a book fair Nov. 13 at Barnes & Noble at Annapolis Harbour Center. A portion of the proceeds will go to Bates. Students also can take part in the Bates Star Readers program, which requires students to read three forms of written material and report on what they have learned. Every student who participates this month gets a prize. Then monthly drawings are held.

So far this school year, most students have read at least two or three books. They track their progress in a portfolio and, starting this week, on two barren, cut-out trees posted on the walls in front of the cafeteria. Students will tape a leaf to a tree to represent each book they have read.

Nickell Sealey, 11, a sixth-grader and an avid reader, will earn extra book bucks when she writes a recommendation for the book she is reading about a girl who loses her true friends when she tries to become popular. Students can earn points for both good and bad reviews.

Tia Dennis, 10, a fellow sixth-grader, would recommend The Sub, a book about what students do when a substitute teacher takes over a classroom. She thought the kids' antics were funny and said she liked reading.

"It helps you get smarter," Tia said.

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