Some of my earliest school memories involve the SRA reading lab; the SRA reading lab was a series of levled reading and reading comprehension texts that sat in a box at the back of the classroom. The texts were generally short (a page with pictures at the most), followed by questions. In Grades One and Two, Mrs. Walls would let me pull a card from the SRA whenever I was done my other work. I came to see it as a reward, and I read through most of the cards over the first two years of school.
The texts I was reading were not particularly memorable, but the process of reading and completing them was. The SRA kept me engaged. Not every child would have welcomed the opportunity to read more, but I enjoyed the SRA cards. I felt as though I was collecting them like hockey cards, and as a result I worked hard to get through other work in order to get to the next card in the SRA. I was highly motivated to challenge myself, and work independently; that does not make me exceptional, but it does make me wonder what happened to the SRA.
As a teacher, I recognize that every student is different, and that they each have their own ideal learning circumstances, but I think that my experience in Grade One and Two has helped me to isolate three important factors:
(1) When the work is personally meaningful, the student is more motivated to complete the task and push forward. In the case of the SRA reading cards, I was motivated by the sense of accomplishment I felt each time I finished a card and moved on to the next. I knew that what I was doing was special – not everyone finished their work early enough to read SRA cards, and that worked for me. It might not have worked for another student.
(2) When the end is in sight, students have the sense that they are striving for something attainable. Knowing how many cards were in the SRA box, and tracking my progress as I went, made it seem as though I was achieving something, and that it was possible to complete the box.
(3) When students set the pace for themselves there is no such thing as too quick or too slow. I worked through the SRA cards as quickly as I could, whenever I had an opportunity, but I only moved on to the next card if I was able to answer the questions correctly. I was able to work through at my own pace, unhampered by any other schedule or plan, and Mrs. Walls simply kept track of what card I was reading.
As a teacher, I have never had an SRA reading lab in my classroom, and I am not sure that every teacher that does have a reading lab uses it the way that Mrs. Walls did. She allowed me the opportunity to do work that was personally motivating, attainable, and could be done at my own pace. I can’t actually remember very many similar opportunities from the rest of my life at school, but I as I think about it now, I realize that Mrs. Walls taught me more than reading and writing, and that I should strive to do likewise.