Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Using Harry Potter to Inspire Students!

Using Harry Potter to Inspire Students!

Amazing Omar and Harry Potter

Omar was new to America, new to English, and new to sixth grade. As an
entering student, we completed a reading inventory and he tested at the
beginning first grade level, which is better than most for someone new to any
language. This went over like a lead balloon with Omar and his scores
embarrassed him. He asked what he could do to improve his reading level.
I explained his reading scores were good for someone learning a new language.
He was not satisfied with that answer and asked again what he needed to
do to improve. I explained that he should find a challenging book that he
was passionate to read. I gave him my standard story of inspiration,
perseverance and the overcoming of adversity, but he was not going for
that. He wanted concrete advice on what he needed to do and know.
He already knew exactly what he wanted to read: Harry Potter and the

Sorcerer's Stone. He was so proud to have an English copy of the book
that he gave the librarian a bit of a dejected look when she suggested he
read the Spanish version. He couldn't wait to get started. I said the first
few chapters would seem impossible to read, but once he started
understanding the vocabulary of the author, it would get easier. He
would have to spend hours using the Spanish and English dictionaries
to make sense of all the new vocabulary. I told him to write down all
the words he needed further help with and told him to bug me, the librarian,
and everyone to help with the vocabulary. I showed him how to write a story
map to help with his understanding, and said it's important to write down all the
words that he did not know, so he could get help later. Omar had such
an incredible desire to learn that he needed none of my inspirational blather,
just the hard practicality of best methods and lots of old-fashioned help.
One minute into the book, Omar asked me how to pronounce a word,
and if his understanding of the phrase was correct. We continued with our
reading of Harry Potter for the next several weeks. Our state has a law
requiring all English language learners had to attend an ESL program for English
acquisition. It starts a few weeks after school begins. Omar went to his first ESL
class with his Harry Potter book in tow, ready and excited to learn English,
but within a few minutes I received a call from his teacher who told me he
could not read Harry Potter because it was above his reading level. I explained
that I never tell students they can't read a book that they have a passion to read.
On the contrary, I encourage students to read challenging material and would do
everything in my power to help Omar be successful with his choice

Reading Program: “Reading Boot Camp”
95% Passing on State Exams
Omar’s Miraculous Method
Omar wanted fast results in reading and writing with no concern for work load.
We decided to read two chapters of Harry Potter per day one in school and one
at home. To speed the acquisition of English we worked on reading and writing
at the same time. Everything we read as a class or at home we would analyze
and journal about. We wrote vocabulary, notes and chapter summaries for
the chapters read in class and story maps for the chapter we read at home.
Omar set the pace for my first year teaching sixth grade. The entire class had
to read Harry Potter and they followed what we laid out at the beginning to help
Omar acquire reading and writing of English. Some parents and students balked
at the work load and being forced to read Harry Potter. I just told parents
if they didn’t like the work load and Harry Potter they should take their
scholars to the middle school. Being that I was the only sixth grade teacher
with 31 students, I had no patience for whiney parents and kids. It might sound
heartless but when I took over the sixth grade class it was the worst performing
class in the district. The passing rate on state exams was 20-30% for this class.
I felt I was going to have to use drastic measures to get this sixth grade caught
up in just one year. Most of my students jumped in feet first and found a love of
reading. We did anything and everything to get kids into the stories even turning
the room into Hogwarts II. In the next two years, using Omar’s methods,
the lowest-performing class was now the highest. Over the next four terms,
Omar gained 45 points on his NWEA MAP reading scores, equal to almost
six Lexile years reading growth in one year. After two terms he was speaking
and reading English better than some native speakers and exited with some glee
from the ESL program. Omar finished all seven Harry Potter books and he still
returns every year to tell me how he is doing. He does not seem to be worried
about his high school persona (his "cool factor") when he carries his copy of the
latest Harry Potter novel. He still holds the record for highest growth in reading
and language. Omar is on the principal's honor roll, gets perfect scores on all his
class work, and plans on attending the University of Arizona in 2012.

Omar taught me that if you have the desire you can overcome what most
would say is impossible. I spent the year picking his brain trying to find his
secrets to such dedication and desire to learn. I have used what he taught
me to help others find their fire and passion. Omar had such fire and passion for
learning and reading because he came from devastating poverty and it was his
 dream to go to college and help his family.

Reading and Language Percentile Results: READING 
(from 31.7% to 67.9%), LANGUAGE (from 38.8% to 72.3%),
and stanine growth READING (3.8 stanines), and stanine 
growth LANGUAGE (3.5 stanines). This is for a population
where 86% of the students were SLL, SEI, LD, and at-risk.

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