Student-Directed
Learning on Display
in Rowan-Salisbury Schools
By Dr. Julie Morrow
L

earning is personal! Every child deserves to be afforded the opportunity to not only take an active role in their learning, but to be in charge, and take ownership of their learning. Six years ago, Rowan-Salisbury Schools embarked on a journey to engage children in their own learning. Our district wanted children to understand why they were learning, how they were learning, and what they needed to do to grow as a learner. With literacy being our number one goal, we selected Achieve3000 as a partner to support us in our journey.

Student cheering with his arms up

Selecting Achieve3000 as a literacy partner was based on the product’s ability to personalize learning by addressing the unique learning needs of every child. The resources found in Achieve3000 connected the learner to literacy strategies that were meaningful, relevant, and individualized. All stakeholders involved in the child’s learning, including the child, were provided with extensive data that supported continuous monitoring and evaluation of the child’s progress.

Through Achieve3000, children were immediately granted access to thousands of articles that were on their personal reading level. This level of personalization enabled Rowan-Salisbury Schools to capture the children’s interest and engage them in the process of reading. Providing access to appropriate level reading materials immediately leveled the playing field for all children. Access to articles, 24/7, empowered children with the tools to explore and discover the joys and power of reading.

As a part of the implementation process, students were introduced to the Career Center where they were able to use potential career pathways of their choice to help them establish personal reading goals. Because the Career Center outlines the Lexile needed for particular areas of interest, students automatically, for the first time, had a meaningful and tangible goal to work toward.

Illustration of mouse connecting to a book
Taking charge of their own learning

A student at one of our high schools requested to come and meet with the curriculum team during the quarterly data meetings held at the school. The student proudly stood before a team of district leaders and shared his personal education journey. As he began to speak, he elaborated that he had never been a “successful student in the past.” He defined his lack of success as never passing a state assessment or making “good” grades in school. However, this child continued to share that when he reviewed the Career Center in Achieve3000, he was immediately inspired to follow his passion. He had always wanted to be a mechanic, but he did not think that he would have the grades to enroll in community college. After reviewing the Lexile needed to be a mechanic, he had a tangible and achievable goal. He went to his teacher and shared that this was his passion, his dream, and he wanted to know what he could do to achieve his goal. The teacher shared with him that if he would read two articles a week in Achieve3000 that the research indicated he would improve his Lexile. The child decided that was not enough and that he would read four articles a week. At this data meeting, the child reported that he had improved his Lexile over 400 points and that he had recently passed a state assessment for the first time in his life. Through this experience, this child was empowered to take control of his learning and was inspired to follow his dreams.

Woman working on computer
A critical part of the student’s journey involved the opportunity to personally connect with their teachers and parents regarding their progress. Teachers were able to use the data from the student’s dashboard to have purposeful, strategic, and meaningful conversations with their students.
Teacher putting a reading sign in student's yard
In another situation, an elementary student read over 500 articles in one year. He shared with his teacher that he wanted to “learn to read better” and that reading articles would improve his ability to read. The child not only wanted to improve his reading, but he wanted his friends to become better readers as well. He began encouraging his friends to read and he set up individual competitions for his group of friends. As a result, all his friends were able to be recognized at the end of the year for their sustained Lexile growth.

When children are granted the opportunity and provided with the tools needed to access their passion, they are unstoppable! Through the student dashboard, students were afforded the opportunity to set a personal goal, monitor the process, and achieve their goals. Students in Rowan-Salisbury Schools have been presented with the opportunity to showcase and celebrate their personal growth toward their passion and life goals.

A critical part of the student’s journey involved the opportunity to personally connect with their teachers and parents regarding their progress. Teachers were able to use the data from the student’s dashboard to have purposeful, strategic, and meaningful conversations with their students. During one-on-one conversations, teachers provided strategies that were specific to the child’s individual identified needs and would assist the child in obtaining their personal goal.

A middle school teacher who serves students who have been faced with significant adversities, shared that once her students began researching jobs within the Career Center, the child immediately gained a sense of confidence and hope. Through this experience, the child was able to see exactly what he needed to do in order to pursue his passions and dreams. This reality inspired many of the students to set a goal for themselves that they would never have set previously, not because they did not believe in who they were, they just did not know what possibilities were available and what they could do as a student to achieve their dreams.

Student reading book on the floor
Because the data from Achieve3000 was easy to understand and relevant to the individual child, parents were also eager to participate in conversations regarding their child’s reading goal.
This awakening inspired powerful conversations between the teacher and the student. The teacher was able to make powerful connections with the children and provide specific feedback to help them achieve their goals. The teacher shared that the goal-setting process through Achieve3000 enabled her to create personalized educational opportunities that supported every child. These conversations were ongoing and helped to develop meaningful relationships that were framed around supporting students in meeting their life goals.

Bringing parents into the mix

Because the data from Achieve3000 was easy to understand and relevant to the individual child, parents were also eager to participate in conversations regarding their child’s reading goals. Through various information sessions, brochures, and social media tools, parents understood what questions to ask and how to best support their child in monitoring their growth as a learner of literacy. The literacy team began to host Coffee and Literacy, andand, Lunch and Learns to accommodate our parents, guardians, and grandparents’ busy schedules. Sessions were held in a centralized location, close to local transportation, to accommodate the various needs. At one of the sessions, a community person attended and shared that he did not have a child in our schools, but he had heard about the sessions and wanted to see how he could support the children in his neighborhood with reading.

90 second solutions

The literacy team also promoted learning opportunities through Twitter chats and webinars. As a reminder for parents, the team created a series of videos entitled “90 Second Solutions.” These easy and quick sessions walked parents through the process of engaging their child in literacy strategies. One of our parents who had attended a session, shared that he never knew what to do to support his son in becoming a better reader. After attending a Lunch and Learn session, he would sit with his middle school son every night and they would look up articles of interest. They would read the articles together and the two of them would talk about what they had read together. The father teared up when sharing the story, stating that this opportunity had not only helped him support his son in becoming a better reader, but had opened a new connection between father and son.

Schools were also able to provide parents with meaningful strategies to support their children in progressing toward their identified goals. The individual schools posted strategies on their websites and used a variety of other social media tools. Weekly messages from principals often included specific updates and reminders regarding Achieve3000. The schools continued to hold in-person sessions that empowered parents with resources to support their child’s growth in literacy. Achieve3000 has provided parents with context, specific strategies, and a framework for understanding literacy development. As a result, Achieve3000 quickly became a follow-up conversation to a child’s day, affording many parents with the opportunity to connect and support their child in meeting personalized literacy goals.

Laptop on literacy website
A community responds

As Achieve3000 began to expand throughout the schools and homes, the community also began to take ownership in supporting the students in meeting their goals. Businesses, faith-based organizations, and local governmental agencies began asking students questions such as, “How many articles have you read? What is the best article that you have read lately in Achieve3000? How close are you to reaching your 40-article goal?” Some local churches began placing reminders for students in their news bulletins. In local stores, as children would go through the checkout lines, cashiers would inquire, “What articles have you read in Achieve3000 this week?” Many local businesses provided free merchandise or discounts when children would show them their “iRead 40 Club” bracelets. One of the local bookstores donated gift cards to purchase a book for every student who had read more than 120 articles in Achieve3000. The community involvement granted another level of support and encouragement for our children.

As Achieve3000 began to expand throughout the schools and homes, the community also began to take ownership in supporting the students in meeting their goals.
Recognition programs that motivated and inspired students

As students progressed toward their goals, it was imperative to celebrate their individual success. Rowan-Salisbury Schools began various recognition programs that motivated and inspired students to continue to move toward their personal goals. One example of a successful recognition program, was students who had read 80 or more articles had a sign placed in their yard by school personnel that stated, “An extraordinary reader lives here.” Families displayed the signs for months after the sign was placed in their yards. The signs created a sense of pride in the community and every year, parents began to inquire as to when their child would be receiving the new sign. Schools began to personalize the yard signs with bows, ribbons, and special messages. The staff would take pictures with the child as they got off the bus and saw their sign in their yard. On delivery day, teams would post this special celebration and recognition on social media. Everyone in the school wanted to be a part of the team who was delivering the signs. This became a HUGE celebration and honor within our community. As you drive through the community, you will still see signs posted in yards. Even though the district and individual schools had multiple extrinsic rewards established for students, the greatest reward came from students’ belief in their own ability to read and achieve their life goals.

All aspects of implementation promoted and supported our children in reaching their personalized goals. This level of commitment and individualization promoted a culture of literacy and supported our children in achieving their highest levels of success. Our children were empowered with the tools, resources, skills, knowledge, and support to take charge and become actively engaged in their own learning. As a result, Rowan-Salisbury Schools exceeded the expected student Lexile growth for student Lexile over the past six years and created a culture of literacy for our community.

About the author

Dr. Julie Morrow has served as an educator for more than 31 years as a teacher, principal, state transformation coach, and an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. She has been recognized at both the state and national level for her extensive work with school transformation, innovation in instructional design, Professional Learning Communities, and successful implementation of multiple digital conversions.

Silhouette of two students reading