Chatfield Elementary students have recently ventured into using Reading Research, a reading curriculum program that assists students who are reading below grade level to learn how to become avid, enthusiastic readers.

According to teacher Julie Boyum, "Vocabulary is a huge part of this program. They actually learn technical vocabulary in their books, like for the space unit, they learn the word 'nebula.' They're exposed to different technical vocabulary."

Students in grades one through six whose reading levels need a little push to get them on track for success are tested into the Reading Research lab, where they research and compile information to create a hardcover book that features a topic of interest, ranging this semester from environmental issues to outer space.

"This semester, it's science," Boyum explained. "They have a theme - the sixth graders are doing environmental studies, the fifth graders are studying endangered animals and the fourth graders are doing space."

She added that the first through third graders also do themes and they choose a specific topic within the themes and research them.

"It took the whole semester - they have questions each day that they have to look up the answers to, like if they're writing about endangered animals, they have to learn about the life cycle of their chosen animal, the different predators, the food chain...or if they're researching environmental issues, they could be learning about global warming or natural resources," Boyum stated.

She explained that students benefit from being immersed in the research process once they choose to learn about pandas or about renewable energy production, for example.

"They become really attached to their topics," Boyum said. "They can choose which one, and they become focused. They have research guides that give them questions - they research in books at their reading level. It's easier for them to read and find what they're looking for, and it attracts them to reading."

She continued, "It teaches them how to use text to help guide them toward the information they're researching - they learn to use the glossary, table of contents, use picture clues to graph their stories - and when they're done finding their information, they put it all together to have seven different great paragraphs. After that, they put it on a practice scroll, then do a story map."

The students are allowed a book in which to practice laying out their work and arrange how they feel it best shares their information, including a glossary, table of contents and even an author page.

Once the students determine what they'd like to have on each page, Boyum explained they type it out, because typing is part of the lessons learned in this process as well.

"They did a lot of referring back to text to decide what different features their pages could include," she said. "Once they're done, they do a reference page. We teach them to fight plagiarism by always referencing everything. We let them do an author page where they can tell about why they chose their topic, who they are, and maybe what they've achieved, like if they're interested in wrestling or other things."

The finished books are hand-illustrated and colored, a rainbow of imagination portraying scientific facts that, in the end, have engaged students' interest in reading and sharing information.

Boyum enjoyed flipping through the books and perusing the illustrations, taking in the students' amusing and endearing interpretations of animals and even personified planets.

"It's not just reading - it's reading, researching and writing - and they have to justify what they're saying because they found it in a book," she continued. "I think the main thing about the program is that we're making them aware of the things that help them learn - like how to use the table of contents and go to that section in the book, and it helps them learn to use those resources better."

As with all curriculum, Boyum and her colleagues feel that "there's never enough time" to do all that's possible, and that the program requires "lots and lots of books."

The books that the students use for their research are part of the American Reading Company's Action 100 collection, meaning they are chosen specifically for the readers' level of comprehension, encouraging students to explore books further and enjoy reading as a pastime.

"They want to read something they're very interested in," Boyum reiterated. "The thing about these books is that they're current - most of them were written in the 2000s - and some of our textbooks are older."

Reading Research's effects on students have been extremely positive. "I've seen the confidence level in these kids go up. When they talk about their topics in class, we have 'wow' facts. We talk about our topics in class, and the kids are so interested in this, they're communicating verbally as well as writing and reading, and if one finds something about another's topic, they share and help each other, too," Boyum concluded. "The students love it, and they're focused. The reward is their focus and how hard they work, how into their topics they are. They have ownership. They're learning because it belongs to them."