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March 4, 2013

Columbia: Reading from Coast to Coast

Columbia Elementary joins nationwide readathon in honor of Dr. Seuss

When Kelsie Roe, 10, and classmate Alexus Montine, 11, went into Columbia Elementary’s kindergarten classrooms Friday, children repeatedly asked to touch their hair.

The pair of fifth-graders were unrecognizable, dressed in electric blue wigs and matching sweatshirts as Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr. Seuss’s book “The Cat in the Hat.” Along with two boys dressed as the Cat himself, they were helping celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday and a day of competing in a nationwide reading challenge.

Columbia Elementary librarian Carrie Hickle challenged the entire first- through fifth-grade student body to help other schools in “Read the Most from Coast to Coast,” a national challenge to complete reading comprehension quizzes on as many Accelerated Reader grade-appropriate books as possible in one day.

“They’re trying to see if they can break the record from last year of how many AR quizzes completed in one day,” said Hickle. According to the Read the Most website, students across the U.S. completed 3,581,992 reading quizzes last year and beat that total on Friday. The company was slated to announce the final total today.

On the eve of the high-stakes ISTEP testing set to start today, one teacher said the reading-focused celebration helped encourage children and relax them before the testing started.

“As an elementary teacher, there’s all these things you have to get accomplished,” said Patty Piercy, whose fifth-grade students dressed up and read Dr. Seuss books to the kindergarteners. “But you also want to create memories for the kids.”

The value in the Read the Most challenge, she said, was how it motivated children to read.

“That’s the bigger picture,” said Piercy. “Kids who read more excel more.”

Although just four were decked out in full costume, most of Piercy’s students donned at least a tall red-and-white striped hat to go read stories to the first- and second-grade classes at Columbia Elementary. Having them be put in “the driver’s seat” — reading to the children, answering their questions — helped engage children, too, said Piercy.

Several students told Piercy that reading to the classes was fun and the younger children paid close attention.

“It puts them in the role of teacher,” Piercy commented. “They can see how kids respond to them.”

And it gets the older students “pumped” when the kindergarteners proved they had listened to the story by passing reading comprehension quizzes with flying colors, she added.

The Read the Most challenge itself required more than simply completing quizzes. Students received points based on how accurately they answered the comprehension questions, according to Hickle. “They can’t just take quizzes and bomb them all the time,” she said.

“Today they’re kind of cramming,” Hickle explained. “They’re trying really hard to get points.”

“We’re just giving them a little more challenge,” she said.

That’s leading some older students toward shorter stories that are still written up to their level, Hickle added. Students who’ve been reading chapter books are sometimes unfamiliar with the good “story books,” or shorter books undivided by chapters, that are at a higher level.

“I think it’s motivating some of them who don’t read so much, or feel like they have to read a chapter book and get stuck,” Hickle said.

And if every first- through fifth-grade student at Columbia Elementary finished one reading quiz Friday, that was expected to contribute more than 400 quizzes to the national tally.

“I think that’s a really reasonable goal,” Hickle said.

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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