Amy Basinski-Long was a student teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system when she witnessed a literacy miracle: Harry Potter helped her learning-disabled students improve their reading more than three grade levels in under two years.

The eighth-graders had read the first of the Harry Potter series the previous year with the help of the book's audio version. When Amy started working with the students, she quickly noticed their vested interest in the series and began reading the second Harry Potter book with them, though it was both outside the school's standard curriculum and well beyond the students' comprehensive capabilities.

"Even though the books were really hard for them, Harry Potter was what everyone was reading. We were taking material and relating it back to them personally. ... That's how information becomes relevant to a child, so it's not abstract information on a page," Amy says.

The students' devotion to the series paid off. When they were tested in sixth grade, before they began reading Harry Potter, nearly all tested at least a grade below their expected reading level. After two years of popular material and listening to the books read aloud on tape, more than half the class was up to grade level in reading ability.

Success stories such as this beg the question: Is there a more effective way to teach reading?

Experts say there is. Here are a few suggestions to make sure you're not missing the boat on raising a successful and wide-eyed reader.

Begin the process early.


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