As an upper elementary teacher, I have had very little experience in terms of word-level instruction. Very few students that I've taught have needed help in this area so I have not had much practice. We focus primarily on reading comprehension and content area. Because of this, I was a bit hesitant about this week's topic, but once I began the readings it did not seem as overwhelming. Come to find out, the focus of my case study actually falls under this realm of instruction! I especially appreciated the video by Peggy Semingson. She made understanding the differences between phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics easy to understand. Basically, phonological awareness deals with how we hear sounds, including rhyming, alliterations, and syllabication. A subset of phonological awareness is phonemic awareness which also deals with hearing, but focuses upon just the smallest units of sounds. Some of the strategies used, such as segmentation and isolation of sounds, are strategies that I have actually used with my ESL students when I taught in South Carolina. The final area discussed was phonics. Rather than being focused solely on sound like phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics instruction is meant to teach students about the textual representations of sounds.
After viewing the video, this week's readings were much more meaningful. In chapter 8 of the Morrow and Gambrell text, the controversy surrounding phonics instruction in reading is addressed. As an undergraduate student, I remember being told that phonics was the least important element in terms of learning to read. According to the text, and through professional development and experience teaching reading, I have learned this is not the case. Phonics is not the end all and be all of reading instruction, but it is an important element in a balanced reading approach. The section entitled of chapter 8, "Making Big Words", is particularly relevant to my students and is the exact topic upon which my case study will focus! I typically would not think to do a word sort with 4th graders, but the sample lesson presented would be enjoyable to my students and would also provide an appropriate level of word-level instruction. I appreciate the attention to root words and affixes, both of which I believe are vital in expanding student vocabularies.
The Samuels and Farstrup text put my own reading skills to the test in their description of how a reader's mind learns to decode and understand text. I honestly had put very little thought into what actually happens in the brain in order to successfully read, so all of this was new to me. One thing I took from the reading is to determine when and how to use research findings and materials. The example of the DIBELS nonsense words did a good job depicting how we as teachers can sometimes take a helpful tool and use it improperly. the second thing that I took away from the reading was the fact that teaching words in both isolation and in context are both vital to ensuring that students are able to decode words as well as understand the proper usage and meaning of the text.,
Problem of Practice
Over the past few years, our school has experienced a decline in student success in science and in expository reading as assessed through the MAP test as well as classroom assessments and observations. Informal observations show that students are reluctant to think deeply about more difficult concepts, yet struggle even with questions or problems that have answers found directly in a text, video, or other resource that has been provided to them.
Our school recently purchased the Discovery Education Science Techbook for grades K-8 to help remedy this problem. The Techbook provides quality text, accommodations for a variety of learners, videos, interactive elements, and is tied to the Michigan GLCEs, potentially making the process of planning more simple and focused. Instead of solving the problem, however, this has caused more problems for some teachers due to inadequate resources in some classrooms and especially due to the fact that we lack professional development time for the teachers to become familiar with the Techbook.
In deciding upon a problem of practice within the school in which I work, I initially had a hard time deciding, but finally settled on science and expository text since I teach both science and language arts. I chose these areas because I feel that they are connected, but are often ignored in favor of focusing on general reading skills.
When choosing the instrumental and missional questions, I actually drew a little inspiration from TE 846 (Accommodating Differences in Literacy Learners), which I am also taking this semester. This week's reading (from chapter 7 of Best Practices in Literacy Instruction by Lesley Mandel Morrow and Linda B. Gambrell) talked about student motivations to learn, which I think tie into the idea of instrumental and missional thinking pretty perfectly. With instrumental thinking, the motivators provided to our students are external. We are seeking to appeal to the children (or in the case of my school, their parents) externally with the best, newest, or trendiest tools. With missional thinking, on the other hand, the motivation to learn is more internal. As teachers and leaders who think missionally, we are seeking to appeal to students internally by eliciting curiosity and interest in the subject matter and use appropriate technologies as a tool rather than a focus.
By discussing the instrumental questions with my staff, the focus of our discussion would likely focus on the hardware and software needs of more effectively using the science Techbook. We would probably discuss ways to fund the additional technology as well as the viability of implementing a “Bring Your Own Device” program. The end result would likely be more tech tools that many of the teachers would still not use since there is unfortunately little emphasis placed on professional development in my school.
In discussing the missional questions, I feel the outcome of our meeting would provide better results for both teachers and students in terms of both the areas of science and expository text. One possible outcome would be improved student motivation to problem solve and think deeply. By discussing the these ideas, we could work together as a staff to figure out effective strategies for improving student thinking skills. Another possible outcome might be increased attention in the area of expository reading. This would not only improve science performance, but would likely improve other content areas, such as social studies, where expository text is prevalent. Finally, by looking at the Techbook, we would be able to decide whether it provides resources and experiences engaging enough to shift student attitudes towards science. If it were found to be deficient, we could devise a plan of action for swaying student attitudes in a more positive direction.
For my case study, I will be instructing my students in the use of root words (lesson 1) and context clues (lesson 2) in order to improve reading comprehension. I have noticed an increasing problem with poor vocabulary skills in my students, causing difficulties in understanding unfamiliar words. I plan to teach the lessons to two of my fourth graders, one who is labeled a struggling reader and the other an advanced reader, and compare the results afterward. I will preassess the students using the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test in reading as well as through DIBELS with the retelling element. Progress throughout the period of the study will be measured with the DIBELS retelling, vocabulary activities, and discussion. The final determination of success will be measured with another MAP test and DIBELS assessment.
Upon reading this week's chapter about student motivation from Morrow and Gambrell, I was excited to see that I already employ many of the best practices listed within the confines of my reading and writing workshops! I feel like I do the best job in terms of making reading relevant to my students. I make it a priority to find out what topics interest my students and help them to find books that will appeal to them but leaving the choice in text up to them, making the motivation to read more intrinsic and, according to the text, more valuable in the long term. Like suggested in the text, I learn about the likes and dislikes of my students through conversation and questions, taking place primarily during the guided reading portion of our workshop times. I take these interests into account not only when making suggestions for independent reading, but also as I select texts for read alouds.
As a science and social studies teacher, I also provide my students with real world materials. These range from newspapers and brochures to website, magazines, and eBooks. These have been helpful in building schema and allowing students to make real world connections to the ideas and concepts that we learn about in class. When real-world materials are not available, I often provide demonstrations or models to help the students better understand the concepts at hand, similar to the example in the text of the teacher who was teaching about the holocaust. This is especially true in my science lessons. I typically begin each lesson with a demonstration of a scientific idea or principal to get the students interested and to build their prior knowledge of the topic. As mentioned in the reading, this is great for eliciting student questions, but it is also great for addressing prior misconceptions prior to starting the lesson. Along these same lines, I stress the importance of reading and writing in terms of the real world. I am always mentioned how scientists, historians, or mathematicians use certain strategies or skills.
I've also made confidence building a major part of my reading instruction which I feel ties well with Marrow and Gambrell's assertion that success is vital in building a student's language skills. I do this in my own class by working with students at their own reading levels, regardless of whether the material is "grade level appropriate" or not. I make sure to praise even the smallest gains to help build confidence and to show my students that their hard work is indeed paying off. I give my students frequent feedback during guided reading and writing, in their reading response journals, blogs, and writing notebooks, and through informal discussions. Students also receive feedback from one another during buddy reading as well as in responses to their blog posts.
One area in which I feel I could improve is in student goal setting. I have tried several methods of goal setting, but I always have a hard time getting the students to internalize the goals and also struggle to follow through on the goals set by the students. I typically do better when I am the one setting the goals, but I know that student-created goals are more meaningful and effective in terms of motivation. I think what makes this hard for me is determining when a goal has truly been met. I'm a logical/mathematical thinker, so the more abstract ideas involved in language development seem especially difficult to measure.
Despite the fact that I used to work in a district with a high number of special needs students, I never received any valuable or useful training in accommodating instruction other than the training I received as an undergraduate, which was much too general to be of much help. In my staff meetings and grade level meetings, I was told to differentiate, but was not given any strategies or tools to use in differentiation. I ended up searching for ideas online, but it is just not the same as formal instruction.
I really enjoyed the PowerPoint called, "Adaptations for Struggling Literacy Learners". Almost every slide provided useful, easy to implement strategies that I can start using in my classroom tomorrow. I found the section on peer mediated remediation to be especially helpful. As teachers, I am sure we've all stuck a struggling reader with one of the star students. According to the slides, a better strategy is to pair a struggling student with a just slightly stronger student so that they can both benefit. This idea really had not crossed my mind, but it makes a lot of sense. It makes me think about my own math instruction in particular. When I first had to teach math on my own, I never felt like a did a very good job of explaining new concepts. Math has always been pretty simple for me. I am a logical thinker and because of this, many math concepts have just always made sense to me. Because of this, it was hard, at first, to relate to students who could not visualize simple concepts. To me, two plus two equals four. Period. I could not explain WHY, it's just how it is. Again, I called upon the power of the internet to solve my problem and found different ways to explain concepts in different way, I started to use manipulatives more effectively, and I tried to think more like a struggling students. Even more effective, however, was the use of math centers. I started using the centers to allow for small group instruction, but there was also an added benefit...the students taught each other! I found early on that the students were much better as explaining concepts to one another than I was! When I reflected upon this, I reasoned that the students could explain it better because they themselves had just learned the concept and the learning process was fresher in their minds. It makes sense that this would also be applicable to language instruction, but for whatever reason the idea has eluded me!
I also appreciated the ICUE approach to accommodating learners. Something like that would have been extremely helpful in the last district in which I worked. I had never heard of ICUE or CARES until now, but both are easy to remember and seem like logical approaches to provided extra support for struggling learners. I really like the CARES acronym because it seems to gradually provide more assistance. When I make accommodations, I always feel like I am doing way too much and enabling student dependence on teacher assistance or not I am not doing enough and end up allowing students to fail unnecessarily. My go-to strategy is modifying criteria for success, but I feel like now I have a list of different adaptations that I can use.
Not that I haven't enjoyed the previous readings, but I really feel like the things I've learned this week are especially helpful and have provided me with strategies I can start using tomorrow!
In education, it is always important to consider the whole student, including their personal background, before making referrals for special education services. This holds true for English Language Learners as well. Just like general education students, the success or failure of these children is often dependent upon more than simple aptitude. Do the students have supportive parents? What language is spoken at home? Is English acquisition important to the child? How much experience does the child have reading and writing in his or her native language? How long did they live in their home country? The answers to these questions certainly affect how successful an English Language Learner will be.
In my six years as a teacher, I have had the opportunity to work with six English Language Learners. Four of which were from Mexico, one was from the Philippines, and one was from Russia. Each student had unique needs and circumstances, but none were evaluated for learning disabilities. All of the students received extra help with their language in one form or another, but not under the realm of special education (none of them had IEPs). Most recently I've worked with a little girl from Russia. She moved to Michigan about five years ago (I taught her two years ago in third grade and again this year for 5th grade). We do not offer special education services at our school, but she has gotten extra help through Title I. Even if we did have special education, I don't believe it would be beneficial to her because she excels in so many things. She struggles with her reading, writing, and spelling, but has made immense growth in the past 5 years.
I believe the problem of misdiagnosis occur both ways - those who are learning disabled go undiagnosed, while some who are not learning disabled are labeled as such. I personally have never recommended an ELL student for special education evaluation based on low achievement, the students I worked with showed great progress and responded well to the strategies that I used with them within my own classroom so I did not feel that it was necessary to make referrals. I can see how this would happen though. According to an article about assessing ELLs for learning disabilities, many students are actually referred to special education because of “socioeconomic, linguistic and cultural factors rather than psychoeducational factors” (Geva, 2000, p. 14). When you take into account all that factors that effect student learning, it is easy to see what a proper diagnosis can be difficult. With that in mind, it is also important to remember that some ELLs DO have learning disabilities. I think that many teachers, perhaps myself included, often attribute difficulties in language acquisition to the fact that the student is not a native English speaker. Because of this, ELLs may be given more leeway, or simply allowed to struggle with the idea that as they become more proficient in English, their overall achievement will improve. In evaluating ELLs for special education, we need to take more into account than the native language of a student. Just because a student is not a native English speaker, does not mean that they have a learning disability, nor should we use their native language as an excusable reason for failure.
Geva, E. (2000). Issues in the Assessment of Reading Disabilities in L2 Children—Beliefs and Research Evidence.Dyslexia, 6(1), 14.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!