The fifth-grade teacher was seeking a way to improve her students’ reading scores.
The North Grove Elementary School students’ test scores were below average again after a test in December, just as they had been every time since second grade. Joyce Rogers was trying to come up with ideas to turn the grades around. These kids had to become better readers.
During winter break, her husband read an article about Indiana University basketball player Jordan Hulls and the hours he put in practicing and improving his shooting so that he could play for his hometown Hoosiers. Her husband suggested reading it to her class to motivate them.
That fit in with an activity Rogers does every January. During the basketball season, she asks her students to write goals for the rest of the school year on a basketball. Plus, the Indiana University team was getting national attention as one of the nation’s top teams.
After hearing Hulls’ story, the students said they could practice hard, too. They agreed to read more in class and at home. They set personal goals to do better on tests.
Then, they did it.
They started paying attention more in class and encouraging and helping each other to do better.
Five months later, the fifth-graders are reading more, scoring above average on tests and applying Hulls’ examples of hard work and perseverance every school day as part of Rogers’ ongoing program.
They became a team of Junior Jordans.
And Friday, her class of Junior Jordans will meet Hulls and tell him how they worked hard and got better.
Riley Williams felt like she was behind her classmates in reading. She never read at home. She didn’t like reading, either, because she would get tripped up by tough words.
Then she heard about Hulls and how hard he practiced and prepared for games. As the class got updates about IU’s wins, the students began seeing the connection between preparation and success, Rogers said.
“He just inspired me because he never gave up. I always gave up on reading because I could never figure out the hard words. Now I just keep on trying. Sometimes I have to ask a teacher if I can’t get it, but I don’t give up,” Riley said.
Words like preparation, improvement and hard work were tattooed in marker on the class basketball. Each student set a goal of reading so many minutes or pages each week or improving a certain number of points on the next practice test. The class set a collective goal of improving two points on each test.
Rogers gave the class a practice assessment in February, one month after starting the Junior Jordans program. The students went in with their goal of improving two points.
Their scores came back 10 points higher.
“Junior Jordans was used as a motivational tool, and it worked. We have a lot of athletes. This spoke to them and helped them to transfer that motivation to academic achievement. Those tests don’t lie,” Rogers said.
Every time a student hit a personal goal, they received a Junior Jordan award, a paper printout of Hulls’ jersey, and posted it on the class bulletin board. As the class hit team goals, Rogers added a new letter to spell “success,” leading to perks such as more recess time.
The students have pushed not only themselves but each other. Even in physical education class, the kids chant “Jordan! Jordan!” to motivate each other, Rogers said. They’ve managed to improve above the average reading score for their grade level, a level the youngsters haven’t been at since they were in second grade.
Rogers’ class was five points below the benchmark score of 22 for fifth-graders before winter break. The Junior Jordan program has helped them surpass the spring benchmark of 27, with the class average now at 33 points.
Once the students saw the test scores begin to go up, they bought into the connection between preparation and results even more, Rogers said. The students became more focused on their reading, and Rogers saw students begin to retain more from lessons. The program put positive peer pressure on the students, which made them encourage each other to meet their reading goals and not goof off during class time.
“You’re a Junior Jordan. We don’t act like that,” Rogers would tell the students.
Rogers’ husband’s company donated an Indiana jersey with Hulls’ No. 1 to every student. The students will wear them on test day to psych themselves up for their pencil-and-paper game days.
Some of the students have shown major growth, improving more than four times the average for their grade, she said.
Average yearly improvement for one reading test score is 100 points. One student in the class improved more than 400 points, two improved more than 300 points, and others have grown by more than 200 points this year, Rogers said.
Fifth-grader Trent Fischer took pride in the day the class broke above the fifth-grade average on its reading assessment test.
“Our bar graphs have been in the red, and now they’re green. It makes me extremely happy because I know some of these kids are not the best readers and hate to read and don’t like picking up books,” Trent said.
Gracie Mitchell didn’t like spending her time reading books. But if Hulls could practice basketball for hours, she could practice reading for a little bit each day too, she said. Now she reads 40 to 50 pages per day, especially mysteries.
Rogers and the class wrote a thank-you note to Hulls and sent it to IU but weren’t sure that he would ever see it. She opened her email inbox last week to see not only a response but a request to visit the class. He’ll visit North Grove and meet the students Friday morning.
The class will share some of its lower scores with Hulls and then show off their improved tests as well as get the chance to ask him questions about playing for the Hoosiers.