Students Teaching Students By Karen Bossick

Jody Braun looked at the three students in front of him and sighed. The students were eighth- and seventh­-graders but they read just 20 to 30 words a minute—first­-grade reading level. “Most of them had gravitated toward comic books—anything with lots of pictures,” the special-education reading teacher recalled. “Reading was a chore for them. They were sight word readers who made significant errors when trying to guess at words they hadn’t memorized. They even struggled saying the sounds.”

Desperate to try something new, Braun introduced the Nardagani reading program to them. He worked with them twice a week for 45 minutes each time. Outside of class, they practiced with reading buddies.

Once they figured out the symbols, things began turning around for them. One eighth­-grade boy jumped from reading 25 words per minute to 60 words per minute—the equivalent of a third­-grade reading level. That equates to 140 percent growth, Braun said.

A seventh­-grade girl improved from 35 words per minute to 65 words per minute, which equates to 86 percent growth.

All felt more confident about their reading abilities and all shared how much they were beginning to enjoy reading, when they had not enjoyed it before.

Nardagani offers a beacon of hope amidst previous approaches that have either not worked or only partially worked, Braun said.

“Our current options are few and, quite frankly, poor. The most commonly used program for decoding is ‘Read Naturally,’ which is anything but natural and hasn’t yielded positive results that I’ve seen besides the data from the original study done by the publisher,” he said.

“Nardagani is simple for me to teach and it’s simple for the students to learn. When I work with challenged readers, I hope to see 20 percent growth over a year. This did that in eight weeks. In fact, they made more than a school year’s worth of growth in eight weeks. They were happier while reading because they had the tools they needed to read on their own.”

Jon Buckridge had a similar experience. Jon is a secondary English teacher in a school where 90 percent of the students get free or reduced lunches. Many of the students are children of migrant workers and, while they can speak English, they either can’t read it or they are below fifth­-grade reading levels. Before he introduced it to his students, Jon tested it on his 5­year­old nephew Thor.  Thor had had no instruction in reading, but had success early on with Nardagani. Nardagani codes not only helped him read words; they helped him pronounce them. And, after 10 weeks, he was reading “Dr. Seuss” books on his own without the use of the codes.

“That was pretty impressive to me,” said Jon. “He was reading 47 words per minute, which is very advanced for a kindergartener. He was reading at second­-grade level while still in kindergarten.”

Jon further tested Nardagani on a 17-­year-­old Turkish exchange student. She could speak English but wasn’t confident reading it and wanted to take her SATs. Jon assigned the task of working with the student to Brittany Ruell, a high school senior who had expressed hopes to major in English and elementary education in college. He taught Brittany the program in one day. And she, in turn, introduced it to the foreign exchange student.

“At first, she thought the program was childish because we played games like Bingo as part of the learning process,” said Brittany. “I explained that it wasn’t that the program was childish—it was just a very simple program. And, as she buckled down, she expanded her English language.”

Brittany said she would like to one day take what she learned to Third World countries, perhaps building an English language school. She envisions Nardagani being a part of that.

“I liked that it was super fun,” she said. “And it ended up being a good—and easy—learning experience for me the first time I’d ever tried to teach someone.”

Caitie Sfingi