By Valerie Chernek, Education Writer for Learning Ally
At the Academy of Nola Dunn Elementary School, Burleson, Texas, the principal and teachers often ask children a familiar question, “What are you reading today?
Reading proficiency is at the heart of everything this school is about -- even for students who find it incredibly difficult to read. So it is no surprise that Nola Dunn won 3rd place in Learning Ally’s 2018 Great Reading Games.
For children who struggle to read, there is a special teacher, Dana Blackaby. Mrs. Blackaby is a dyslexia specialist who is deeply passionate about tying a child’s emotional belief system directly to their academic performance.
Each year, Mrs. Blackaby signs her classes up for the Great Reading Games because she understands that children learn differently. She values having a quality reading accommodation to ensure that more children reach their intellectual potential.
At this year’s games, her students made marked improvements in their reading skills and social behavior. Mrs. Blackaby says, “I love the structure of the Great Reading Games. The framework is easy to implement into our school’s daily routines and our children are motivated to read in class and at home. A win-win for improving reading skills.
New Vocabulary and Background Knowledge Strengthens State Reading Testing
Mrs. Blackaby tasks students to read for 20 minutes a day to strengthen reading frequency, vocabulary, stamina, and testing confidence – a practice well known in the Daily Five and by Learning Ally.
In Texas state assessments, 97% of her students who actively participated in the Great Reading Games met the Texas Reading Staar standard. She attributes this to exposure to new vocabulary and background knowledge. She likes that she can select books of interest for any age and ability. She says, “The games give my students an opportunity to be recognized -- a rare occurrence for them -- and provides me with valuable feedback about their personal reading preferences to motivate them to read more. Learning confidence is a big part of success. As children see the number of pages they read on the Great Reading Games digital leaderboard, they get excited!
A third grader who tested at 40 wpm prior to the Great Reading Games reads 61 wpm now. In the games, he read nearly 10,000 pages to take his school to victory.
A parent told Mrs. Blackaby she was thrilled when her son read the classic, Old Yeller. “He had a good cry,” she said. “He would have missed this early introduction to classic literature without Learning Ally.
Students in Mrs. Blackaby’s class tell her…“I love books.” “Competing makes reading fun," and "We read and win prizes!
Mrs. Blackaby also noticed emotional gains such as perseverance and independence in students. She encourages them to choose books above their reading level and to talk about the books with peers. “This exposes them to multiple genres and writing styles,” she says.
Other reading activities in her classes include:
Texas Bluebonnet Books
Nola Dunn students are encouraged to read all 20 books on the Texas Bluebonnet List. Mrs. Blackaby says her students would not be able to read these titles independently in print, but with Learning Ally they can.
World Party Annual Event
Students read and study other cultures as they prepare for their annual World Party. Mrs. Blackaby’s students use Learning Ally to research a country, then they turn their research into a writing project and class presentation.
Third graders participate in a living museum event. They choose a person in history, then they dress up like that person and stand in the school hallway while peers from all grades listen to a biographical summary of their person’s life. Not surprising, Mrs. Blackaby’s students select famous people with dyslexia, like Benjamin Franklin and Walt Disney.
Red Carpet Recognition
Gratifying is a word Mrs. Blackaby uses to describe her joy when her struggling readers break through barriers. “I see such pride in their eyes! They soak up words. They feel capable and part of a larger school community. Other students look up to them because they are adept at devices. These are all giant steps to lifelong success.
For this year’s winners, Mrs. Blackaby rolled out the red carpet with the Great Reading Games award money. Children watched a movie with soda, popcorn, snacks and snow cones. Nola Dunn is also planning a schoolwide recognition ceremony at a campus assembly and to their local school board.
Life-changing,” says Mrs. Blackaby of The Great Reading Games! “Kids come out of their shell. Reading success ensues. This means everything to these young minds and they feel the freedom to learn and to reach their fullest potential.