Archive for Thursday, April 13, 2006

Austrian 5th-grader finds English a quick read

April 13, 2006

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Lansing Intermediate School fifth-grader Aron Ortner probably wanted to ask everyone, "Do you speak German?" last June when he came to Lansing from Austria. He spoke no English except "hello," "yes" and "no."

Now, in the nine months since he arrived, Aron can speak and read plenty of English - so much, in fact, that he was the top student last quarter in the Accelerated Reader (AR) program at LIS.

LIS librarian Maggie Mitchell said all students at the school are required to read AR books to earn a certain number of points, which counts as 10 percent of their reading grade. The most any student at LIS is required to earn in a quarter is 30 points, she said, and Aron was required even fewer because he spoke little English when his reading level was tested at the beginning of the year.

But last quarter, which ended March 17, Aron earned more points than anyone in the school, amassing 288 points with a comprehension rate of 98.8 percent. Students take a test after reading each book to determine how well they understood the content, Mitchell said, and they have to earn a comprehension score of at least 85 percent to receive points for the book. The points are based on reading level and length.

Mitchell said Aron earned the highest comprehension score in fifth grade as well as the most points, which she found impressive.

"He's gone from just learning to comprehend our language to, you might say, comprehending the best in the school," Mitchell said.

Aron and his family are living in Lansing while his father attends the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth for a year. Aron said he was nervous when he arrived because of the language barrier.

At first, Aron said, his parents would translate for him. He started to pick up reading by looking at street signs, he said - he was able to figure out some words because English letters are the same as German ones. Then he just had to find out how to pronounce them and learn what they meant. Since he started at LIS, he has been taking English as a Second Language classes every Friday, he said.

Now, Aron is proficient in reading and speaking English.

"When you know how to read in English, it's actually easier," he said. Aron said he could read faster in English because sentences in German are longer.

Aron said he didn't set out to earn the most AR points at the school, though he had been 10th on the list in the second quarter.

"I wasn't feeling good most of the time," he said. So instead of playing outside with his neighbor like he usually did, Aron said he would "sit down after school for a long time" and read.

Though he liked all the books he read last quarter, Aron said, his favorite was "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which is written at a seventh-grade reading level and is worth 44 AR points. Librarian Mitchell said most books at fourth- and fifth-grade level are worth 3 to 5 points.

"I like fantasy books very much, and it was just very long," Aron said of the fifth "Harry Potter" book. In addition to fantasy, he said he also liked history books.

Now that he has achieved the status of top reader, Aron said he planned for the final quarter just to earn the reading points he needs so he can read whatever books he wants.

As far as Mitchell is concerned, that's just fine.

"We don't have a problem with that as long as they're reading," she said.

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