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Reading and rugby league tackled

September 18th, 2018 By Gail Cochrane

How’s this for a great idea to boost students’ reading at your school — a school-wide reading challenge with a rugby league theme and teams of students competing against one another!

New Zealand rugby league players jumping into the air, performing the haka.
New Zealand Kiwis perform haka before the match, n.d. by Sam Hood. CC0 1.0

It started with my visit to Strathmore School

During a recent visit to Strathmore School in Tokoroa, Principal Murray Kendrick shared their home reading programme called the Strathmore Reading League. This initiative aims to raise students’ reading achievement, especially boys', with greater parent involvement under the principles of the Mutukaroa learning partnership. The idea was introduced three years ago by two Pacific rugby league supporters with children at the year 1–6 school.

Competition was 'fierce'

Students are placed in one of eight teams, which are named after players in the Vodafone Warriors. A draw is set up with each team playing the others over a seven-week period. As described by Murray, 'competition was fierce (particularly by the teachers leading the teams). Clearly stated rules soon became a requirement!!'

Each Friday, teachers give students a reading log to complete as they share their reading with parents/whānau during the week. The log records:

  • day of the week
  • start and finish time
  • title of one of the stories read
  • person reading with
  • comments section (e.g. how many books/pages read, skills development such as starting to finish rhymes)
  • a parent's signature.

Rugby league points scored for reading

Teachers mark the log sheets first thing on Friday mornings whilst the students are engaged in buddy reading for 20 minutes. Points are given according to the rugby league theme:

  • a drop goal = reading or being read to for a minimum of 15 mins each night (1 point per session)
  • a try = reading three nights or more per week (4 points)
  • a conversion = reading with a male at least once per week (2 bonus points).

Incentives are also given for a team’s most valuable player (MVP) for such things as improvement in reading, dedication to reading, and new skills learnt.

Bonus points for solving a maths problem

This year, the Strathmore Reading League was extended to include three additional bonus points for children whose families support them to attempt a maths problem. A Junior Challenge and a Senior Challenge in maths are posted on the school’s Facebook page each Monday and are also available on a sheet of paper from the office.

Celebrating success

At the end of the weekly marking session, the total team points sheet and MVP points are given to the principal to display in the office foyer area. The information is also shared on the school’s Facebook page. A special assembly is held to announce the team that won the shield each round and the overall winners receive a medal. The most valuable player for each team also receives a certificate.

The Warriors were informed of the initiative and have given their ongoing support by providing league lanyards, book bags, and other resources. Strathmore is part of the Duffy Books in Homes programme and also has a book swap library with donated resources from which the winning team players can choose a book to keep.

Positive outcomes: Touchdown!

The Reading League has made a very positive contribution to lifting student achievement, evident in the school’s National Standards data shared by Murray:

  • The gap between boys and girls overall performance narrowed from 18% in 2014 to 6% last year.
  • The percentage of boys at or above the National Standards grew from 57% in 2014 to 73% last year.
  • Pasifika student achievement has increased from 70% to 73% and Māori student achievement from 62% to 77%.
  • Girls' student achievement has increased from 75% to 79%.

As Murray commented: 'Reading has continued to go from strength to strength'.

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