Teachers generally find it most desirable to schedule SRA Reading Laboratory work as early as possible in the school year. The increased reading efficiency built by the program can then be put to use in all school subjects for the greater part pf the school year.
Teachers sometimes ask why SRA recommends against spacing the program sessions more widely. As pointed out earlier in Getting the Most out of the Program, such spacing is not recommended because the principle of reinforcement does not operate well when the program sessions are spaced widely. When practice periods are close together, there is a carryover of learning from one day to the next. When practice periods are too far apart, there is greater risk that students will forget both the information learned and the procedures to follow. Especially during the early stages of a learning process, practice is most efficient when closely spaced.
Many things determine the difficulty of the color levels. A time-tested readability formula is used in conjunction with sensitive editorial judgment to control the average sentence length and vocabulary load of Power Builders. Vocabulary is, in addition, checked against widely accepted word lists such as EDL and The Living Word to ensure that the burden of unfamiliar words does not become excessive at any level. In addition, the length of the reading selections increases at every level, and the comprehension checks and word-skill exercises become more mechanically complex and demand increasingly sophisticated kinds of thinking.
In a multilevel program, it makes little sense to ask whether level 1.6 is where a student "ought to be reading" in the sixth month of first grade, and SRA discourages such literalism about reading levels. The multilevel philosophy holds that every student "ought" to be reading at the level at which he or she experiences success-the level that provides the best stepping-stone to the levels yet to come. The advantage of SRA Reading Laboratory is that it provides appropriate material for every student in the classroom, no matter what the student's ability level. It is the student's own success with the material that determines his or her placement at all times.
Because readability formulas and their usefulness are topics of renewed concern in the reading community, a more detailed discussion of this question is presented in the Teacher's Handbook.
It is recommended that a student's work in the program be ungraded; the Progress Charts should tell the story. If students are reading successfully at a low level but working up to their ability, is it fair to give them a poor grade? On the other hand, such students should not be led to consider themselves above average only to find later that they are deficient in academic ability. If a grade is necessary, a dual grading system might be used-one grade for effort and another for realistic ranking of functional ability. Such a system might prove useful not only for above-grade-level students who do only average work because of lack of effort.
Competition and cheating are closely interrelated problems. If a student takes advantage of the Key Cards' availability to copy answers of if the student otherwise falsifies his or her scores, it is probably done in an effort to keep up with other class members or to get ahead of them. The cultural patterns in some school communities are such that a student may feel ashamed at being in the Orange level, for example, while friends are already working in higher levels.
For this reason, it is important in the initial stages of the program to convey the idea that multilevel work does not involve a race among classmates-that different students will be in different color levels because students differ, and this program provides materials that are appropriate for each one.
It is also important to minimize the idea that moving from one color to another is the badge of success. This is one kind of success, which might be called vertical progress. But there is also horizontal progress-succeeding in each Power Builder a student works within a level, because each Power Builder presents new skills to master or different approaches to similar skills. Student should, therefore, be encouraged to see their goal as one of simply working as well as possible with the materials that are appropriate for them. They should not view climbing up the ladder of color levels as the only goal of their work. Obviously, you must play a key role in forming appropriate attitudes about what constitutes success.
Students hurt only themselves when they seek status among classmates by defeating the program's continuous placement mechanism and by moving ahead in the color sequence by means of copied answers or falsified scores. Those students miss needed practice and encounter material that is too difficult. You can try to communicate this idea, although obviously there will be resistance if a student has been taunted by a classmate for being "only in Orange," for example. You then face the traditional problem of how to motivate a student to do what's best in the long run when the student prefers to do what seems to provide immediate status and peer acceptance. It is a problem that occurs in all areas of student behavior when a competitive atmosphere exists, and it is by no means a unique problem to this program. Teachers who have found ways to remedy this problem in other areas of school life will probably handle it successfully in connection with this program.
If cheating is apparent, a confidential talk with the student is a good idea. You can stress the idea that "one only cheats oneself" and help the student understand that hurrying from level to level is not the aim of the program. Remember, too, that by spot-checking for errors and by praising accuracy and neatness in scoring, calculating, and charting, you can set up an atmosphere that discourages cheating.
Finally, remember that it is not cheating for students to look back at the story in order to answer the comprehension and vocabulary checks. Indeed, looking back should be encouraged as preferable to guessing or relying on uncertain recollections. Looking back is what we all do (and should do) in real-life reading situations when we want to be sure about that we have read. Once this is understood, some students may no longer have the need to misuse the Key Cards or alter their scores.
Because SRA Reading Laboratory is student directed, you enter no scores and correct no papers. The student keeps all the necessary records in his or her Student Record Book. The records each student maintains are invaluable guides to the diagnosis of his or her reading difficulties, progress, and long-range educational potential. Many schools, therefore, retain or copy the covers of Student Record Book and pass them along to the students' new teachers at the start if the next school year. Thus, the new teachers have a complete record of what level each student started in, how many levels each student attained, and how well he or she did in each part of the program. Eventually, these records could be placed in each student's personal folder or portfolio.
The value of these student-kept records is threefold: (1) In parent conferences, the Progress Charts form an objective basis for interpreting school progress in the vital area of reading. They provide a direct and unbiased reflection of the student's day-to-day work. (2) In student guidance, the Progress Charts represent a cumulative record of the student's actual functional ability to learn through reading. Such information is useful in helping both the parent and the teacher or guidance worker-as well as the student-in realistically planning the student's educational future. (3) In curriculum improvement, analysis of the functional reading levels of pupils may indicate to the teacher or curriculum worker a need for revising upward or downward the difficulty level of offerings in the various subject areas. Such a study might point out a need for further steps toward individualizing learning opportunities.
The Program Management CD-ROM allows students to input their answers to the Power Builders on a computer. Scores are automatically calculated and stored. At any time, the teacher can access and analyze any student's work up to that point in order to prepare for a student or parent conference.