• How STARI Works

    Why is a program like this necessary?

    Middle school students who are several years behind in reading face enormous academic challenges. They can’t understand their subject area texts and have difficulty keeping up with class assignments. As the gap increases between their current reading skills and the literacy demands of content instruction, many fail key subjects. STARI is designed to close the comprehension gap between struggling readers and their on-level peers. STARI also aims to build reading confidence, stamina, and engagement, along with classroom discussion skills that are critical for success in secondary school and beyond.


    What’s different about teaching adolescents to read?

    Unlike younger students who can hone their reading skills with familiar content, adolescents are already immersed in more demanding contexts of literacy use. Middle school teachers appropriately expect that students will use literacy to acquire new information and reflect critically about what they read. By sixth grade, students are exposed to a wide range of genres beside simple narratives: historical exposition, scientific description, multiple forms of poetry and prose. A program for struggling adolescent readers needs to simultaneously address “basic” aspects of literacy: accurate decoding, fluent oral reading, literal comprehension, and the critical and disciplinary reading skills expected of older readers. Because struggling older readers have experienced years of underachievement, effective intervention also needs to address reading motivation, confidence, and engagement.


    How is STARI different from other reading interventions?

    Adolescent reading interventions have often shown only modest gains, especially for those students who are furthest behind in reading (Somers et al., 2010; Vaughn, Cirino, Wanzek et al., 2010). Interventions that primarily target basic skills may not improve adolescents’ performance with more challenging literacy tasks such as finding text-based evidence for a claim or integrating information across different texts.

    STARI addresses reading motivation and engagement through high-interest novels and nonfiction that challenge students to think more deeply about issues in their lives. In STARI, attention to basic skills is integrated with activities involving talking, reasoning, and writing about complex issues. STARI’s classroom formats, including many opportunities for peer exchanges, tap into adolescents’ social motivations to talk about ideas they care about.

    STARI is also different from many reading interventions in that discussion and debate are fundamental to the curriculum. Our belief is that when students discuss and debate the ideas in the text, they understand the text more deeply. Discussion and debate are built into most components of the curriculum, from partners discussing fluency passages to more formal debates about unit themes. Additionally, STARI is an ELA focused curriculum in which skills practice is integrated into comprehension activities. Also, the different components connect with one another in a purposeful way. For example, the fluency practice passages build background knowledge and provide information that can be used to better understand and give context to other texts in each unit.

  • Fluency

    How should I assign students to levels?

    Students may be placed in one of four fluency levels. Level A passages are written at a third grade reading level (lexile 500-590), Level B at a fourth grade level (lexile 600-690), Level C at a fifth grade level (lexile 700-790), and Level D at a 6th grade reading level (lexile 800-890). Within each level, passages start at the easier end of the lexile range and gradually become more challenging.

    Students should work at a comfortable level of difficulty—their independent reading level. This will vary for individuals within a STARI class. In introducing fluency in Unit 1 of each series, students will work on a level B passage. Students’ performance on that B passage can help in level placement. Teachers may use their knowledge of students’ reading skills and any diagnostic information they have to place students in the appropriate level.

    • Fluency A: Students who read the practice B passage slowly (below 100 WPM) and with frequent word reading errors can be assigned to the A level. You can count word reading errors on the fingers of one hand while the student is reading out loud for a minute. More than 5-7 suggests the B passage is too hard. If the student is comprehending poorly with level B, that is another sign it is best to assign a student to A.
    • Fluency B: Students who read the practice B passage in the 100-110 WPM+ range with only a couple of word reading errors can work with the B level passages. Check that comprehension is good, too.
    • Fluency C or D: Students who read the practice B passage at 120 WPM or greater and with almost no errors, can be assigned to the C or D fluency passages. Check if the students can also answer the comprehension questions correctly.

    If appropriate placement initially is not clear, assign a student to a lower fluency level and then listen and observe.

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    How do I know when students should switch fluency levels?

    Students read a set of fluency passages with each unit. They should start on the next level of fluency passages with each new unit. If a teacher has concerns about a specific student, she should check the student’s Words per Minute chart, listen to the student read out loud, and check the student’s responses to comprehension questions before making the decision to have the student repeat a fluency level.


    How do I partner students for fluency?

    You, and not the students, should choose fluency partners, although you may welcome and consider their ideas. Ideally, partners should remain the same throughout a unit. Students need to develop a trusting, working relationship with their partners, and this will only happen over time. However, if a partnership is not working, feel free to switch partners up.

    It is not necessary to pair students according to the level of fluency passages they are reading. If you do this, be sure to have the Level A student share a copy of her passage with the Level B student when she is reading, and vice versa. While there are benefits to partnering students who are on different levels of fluency (students read and discuss different passages on the same topic) some teachers find it easier to manage the fluency routine if students who are on the same level partner together.


    How do I set up my room for the fluency routine?

    If you have movable desks, arrange them in pairs. The fluency routine can be noisy, and you want students to be able to hear each other, so placing pairs of desks at a distance from each other is helpful. If you have tables, try and place as much distance as you can between partners.


    The routine is complicated and there are many steps. Do students need to do it on their own?

    Initially, you should walk your students through the entire routine (Unit 1 of each series introduces the routine step-by-step). While some teachers walk their students through the routine over the course of the entire year, other teachers let their students work somewhat independently once they are confident that they have the routine down. Visual cues, such as the fluency anchor chart, can be helpful for reminding students of the routine steps throughout the year.


    How long should the fluency routine take?

    The entire routine should not take more than 15 – 20 minutes. Some teachers time each step in order to move their students through the routine at a reasonable pace.

    Keep in mind that it is beneficial to do the Day One routine and Day Two routine on consecutive days. This helps the students practice their fluency and see improvement in their reading. If there’s too much of a time lapse between Day One and Day Two, students will not remember the passage that they read on Day One.

    How do I know if my students are making progress in fluency?

    There are a few different ways that you can assess fluency progress:

    • Check students’ Words Per Minute (WPM) charts. These are self-reported, but WPMs are one source of data. A student’s WPM should be about 130-160 WPM on average.
    • Check written responses to fluency questions. Complete answers indicate students are comprehending what they read.
    • Circulate as students read their passages, listening for expression and accuracy.

    Additional resources, such as Word Per Minute graphs, can be found on the download center.


    What do I do if students finish before the others?

    You may want to give students who finish faster than the others additional tasks such as coming up with an alternative title for the passage, a question for the author, or an additional question for their partner. Additional activities can be found on the download center.

  • Partner Work

    Why is there an emphasis on nonfiction and partner work?

    The STARI curriculum places equal emphasis on fiction and nonfiction because both kinds of reading are important for success in middle school and beyond. Nonfiction reading strategies taught in STARI include using specific text features to locate information and using content-specific background knowledge to bridge information that is not explicitly stated in the text.

    Partner work is a cornerstone of STARI classroom activity. A wide body of research documents that students understand a text better when they can talk over the meaning they are constructing. But, in full-class discussions, not all voices are heard. Students who struggle most may sit back, waiting for more confident readers to offer their interpretations. Often instead of working on an understanding themselves, students may rely on the teacher to explain the meaning. Partner conversations about the novel chapters and the STARI fluency passages allow all voices to be heard. Partner work shifts the responsibility for sense-making onto the partners themselves, creating opportunities for more engagement and effort.


    How do you get started with partner work?

    For partner work to be successful you need students to both engage with the text and work well as partners. Initially, focus on helping students learn the routines of partner work so that they internalize them. As partner work becomes more familiar and routine to the students, help them to focus on discussing the text and creating meaning with a partner. Activities for helping students succeed at partner work are available on the download center.

  • Getting Started

    How is STARI structured (or designed)?

    STARI is designed as a year-long intervention. There are two series to the STARI curriculum: series one and series two. Sixth graders work with series one materials, while series two is designed for eighth graders. Teachers may choose to teach either series one or series two to seventh graders. There are four units to each series; each unit is organized around themes and essential questions that are compelling to young adolescent readers.

    Most STARI teachers teach STARI as an intervention in addition to students’ ELA class. But since STARI is a complete, cohesive curriculum, teachers who have taught it during an ELA period or block have found that it’s possible to extend and add to STARI, rather than integrate STARI into another curriculum. For example, while writing may not be a focus of STARI, teachers may extend and develop writing assignments that build on the activities and themes in STARI.


    What class size, frequency, and length are recommended for STARI?

    Ideally classes will be no larger than 16 students. In most schools, classes with 10-12 students work best. Some of our successful classes have been larger, but the teacher should have very good classroom management skills that will also allow for some independent, pair, and small group work.

    STARI was designed to be taught each day, for approximately one hour or class block. If that is not possible, we recommend that STARI meet for a minimum of 3 times per week for an hour. STARI is a thematic program, and students need to meet consistently in order to maximize their understanding of the components of the curriculum.


    How can I measure students’ progress throughout the year?

    STARI incorporates several features for measuring student progress. At the front of each fluency workbook is a chart for recording words read per minute. Students can track how well their reading rate is improving in each unit.

    Student talk about text is another important part of our theory of change. Tools to help teachers document change over time in individuals’ participation and engagement, such as a discussion rubric, are available on the download center.


    Who can teach STARI?

    Most STARI teachers have certification or background in reading, but many also have special education, ELL, or ELA training and experience. Generally, middle school teachers with ELA credentials or reading specialists can teach STARI. The curriculum is narrative and outlines activities step by step, but it is also layered and complex. The website and download center provide resources with helpful tips, strategies, and tools for teaching STARI. We recommend training and support for teachers as they take on this program.


    Is professional development available?

    Teachers in the STARI study were trained on the program, theory, and materials before the study began, and were additionally offered on-site coaching weekly or bi-weekly. While this is not necessary, we recommend that teachers undertake SERP training if at all possible. We also recommend that literacy coaches, assistant principals, or other supervisors learn about the program in order to provide support and feedback to classroom teachers. PD is offered at the request of a district. Please email info@serpinstitute.org if you are interested in STARI PD for your district.

  • Curriculum Overview

    There are two series. Does that mean it spans two years?

    Students may work with the curriculum for one or two years. While many students benefit from one year of STARI, others may benefit from two years of the curriculum. Teachers may determine if a student needs a second year of STARI based on the student’s progress by the end of the year.

    Each series addresses similar skills. The content and novels for series one are appropriate for 6th or 7th graders, while the content and novels for series two are more appropriate for 7th or 8th graders.


    Does STARI align with Common Core?

    Yes, all units align with the Common Core. Standards are listed on each day of the lesson plans.


    How do I get the materials?

    All project-created curriculum materials can be accessed and downloaded free of charge via our download center. Schools should consider copying costs, as well as the books for each unit, DVDs, post-its, and timers, which must be purchased separately. Guidelines and checklists are provided to help make the process as easy as possible. Pre-printed student and teacher curriculum materials are available through a print-on-demand service (see download center for details). You may purchase published materials (novels, nonfiction books, etc) and supplies through SERP's STARI store.

  • Registration and Downloads

    Why are materials password-protected?

    While project authors have created the curriculum, they choose to incorporate some text, poems, and photographs from outside sources that have copyright restrictions. Permission has been granted to SERP in these instances, but some copyright holders require that the electronic materials be password-protected.


Frequently Asked Questions

THE STARI TEAMDevelopment of STARI was led by Lowry Hemphill (Wheelock College) through a SERP collaboration with Harvard University and four Massachusetts school districts. The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305F100026 to the Strategic Education Research Partnership as part of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

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