Re-Imagining the Experience of Reading Practice for a New Generation of Students

Published September 3, 2015

By Social Team

Since the middle of the 1950’s, when Don H. Parker, Ph.D., first introduced his approach to differentiated, leveled reading practice as grouped passages stored in tomato boxes as an answer to the call for a teaching system that would enable a single teacher to manage individualized reading instruction for an entire classroom, SRA Reading Laboratory has been a part of countless classrooms across the country and the world. When they see the title today, or even just the SRA name, memories come flooding back for many of us of walking to the back of the classroom, grabbing a reading card, and trying to progress from Rose to Lime or Red to Gold or any other number of color combinations.

As technology has evolved from printed cards in tomato boxes to the powerful, personalized learning tools available to students in today’s anytime, anywhere learning environment, SRA Reading Laboratory continues to be a part of the learning experience for readers around the world. The basic notion of short-form reading passages at each reader’s level delivered at a pace that is comfortable for each reader continues to be the foundation for the materials available as part of the all-digital SRA Reading Laboratory 2.0.

The Power of Individualized, Independent Practice

While it may seem almost obvious and generally accepted that reading practice is extremely important to student growth and success and growth in reading fluency, prosodic reading, research has shown that reading is declining as a self-selected activity outside of academic requirements for young readers (National Endowment for the Arts, 2007). As Karen P. Walker (2013) discovered in her research, independent reading is often missing from the instructional day in many classrooms. This is no different than what Dr. Parker noticed in the 1950’s when he first put together his multilevel reading practice product, and his approach has resounded with teachers for decades.

Derek O., a 6th grade teacher from Stillwater, MN, has seen the value of this individualized, differentiated approach that allows readers to grow by reading materials at their own level and build better reading habits that can lead to greater success as students progress through school.

“We were amazed at the results. It made it so easy to differentiate to meet the needs of each student at their own level. And the kids were really into it. At the end of the year, when we asked them to reflect upon the year in reading, virtually every student wrote that they learned the most from SRA versus our core reading curriculum or the novels they read.”

Empowering Learners to Take Ownership of their Learning

Allowing students to be responsible for moving through the boxes and learning from immediate feedback on the practice items may have evolved from a practical need to support a teacher differentiating learning for many students in one class at the same; however, it has become a cornerstone of the pedagogy that has stood the test of time. The highest level of ownership is accomplished through finding personal value and interest in what you are reading, being responsible or accountable for the process of learning, and feeling a level of choice and control in the process (Milner-Bolotin, 2001). This empowerment through choice, responsibility, and value in what is being read has only been enhanced by the technology tools available in SRA Reading Laboratory 2.0.

clara and the old ones carousel screenshot

Ann M. C., an elementary director and educational consultant, specifically noted how the differentiated materials allowed students to move through the materials at their own pass with fewer walls to prevent their growth. “The SRA Reading Labs fit the program perfectly, allowing each child to progress at their own rate. This year, many of our third graders were going through the Labs so rapidly, we added the 3 levels of SRA Science Labs, enabling the children to learn science as well as literature and language skills all at the same time. A child unimpeded by limits learns far more than the adult can imagine.”

Engaging, Short-Form Passages Encourage Reluctant Readers

There is exceptional value in challenging yourself to read through a textbook, novel, or series of books or articles on one topic, but that is often a daunting task for reluctant readers. Whether it is proficient readers who just find many other things to be more engaging or exciting or struggling readers that are unwilling to tackle the challenge (Dayton-Sakari & Jobe, 2003), offering a variety of short passages that meet students’ interest areas allows for quick, focused reading practice that promotes growth for these reluctant readers. As learners engage SRA Reading Laboratory 2.0, they are offered a variety of passages to choose from, organized by reading level and suggested based on student-suggested interest levels, with all passages being written to be completed in less than fifteen minutes.

The value of engaging, short-form passages was not lost on Michele F. or her students in their after school setting. “The SRA Reading Labs have been a perfect fit for our after school tutoring program. SRA labs help to meet each student’s individual needs as well as the labs’ short, interesting stories hold their attention after a long day at school. We are limited on the amount of time we are able to spend with our students. With the SRA Reading Labs, every minute counts!”

Motivation through Quick Progression across Levels

The program employs a color-coded system that does not explicitly convey age or grade level of a passage, removing some of the social stigma associated with reading at a lower level than one’s peers, while also providing a leveling system that motivates students to move from color range to color range. By adding badges, unlocking secrets, and other gamification elements to the leveling system as extrinsic motivation, SRA Reading Laboratory 2.0 leverages positive impact on learning of this type of engagement with materials (Deterding, 2011) and has the ability to make the learning experience more free and playful (McGonigal, 2011).

Gloria P, a special education teacher from Pembroke, NH, realized the value of these elements in her classroom. “I consulted with students individually if their progress necessitated a change of color or if they showed great progress. One boy started off in Red, but he was experiencing difficulty finishing, so I dropped him to Purple. With frequent encouragement, he progressed. Before the end of the year, he surpassed his baseline color and graduated to Brown. Another of my students read on third-grade level in September. Classmates cheered her on as she moved through the colors. By the time she took the national achievement test in the spring, she was at grade level!”

Proven Success

With over 60 years of classroom use, the SRA Reading Laboratory has proven successful by keeping true to what has worked for students across the decades.

  • Individualized Reading Practice that allows students of all levels to be challenged appropriately, with minimal failure and a positive experience with reading
  • Empowering Learners to Take Ownership of their Learning through independent practice at their own pace
  • Short-Form Passages that appeal to reluctant readers who are not ready for novels and textbooks and to on-level and above-level readers through engaging content covering a wide range of topics
  • Motivation through Quick Progression using a color-coded system that does not explicitly convey age or grade level of a passage, removing some of the social stigma associated with reading at a lower level than one’s peers

Try SRA Reading Laboratory 2.0 FREE for 30-Days!


Dayton-Sakari, M., & Jobe, R. (2003). Reluctant readers choose nonfiction: Just give me the facts!. Bookbird, 41(1), 21.

Milner-Bolotin, M. (2001) The Effects of Topic Choice in Project-Based Instruction on Undergraduate Physical Science Students’ Interest, Ownership, and Motivation, PhD. Thesis, University of Texas at Austin.

To Read Or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence: Executive Summary. National Endowment for the Arts, 2007.

Walker, K. P. (2013). Scaffolded Silent Reading (ScSR). Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 57(3), 185-188.

Special thanks to blog contributor Brad Drewyor, Sr. Product Sponsor at McGraw-Hill.