In chapter 4 of the Samuels and Farstrup text, fluency is "described as the bridge from phonics to comprehension". The two components of fluency, automaticity and expressiveness are both surface level components which can be observed by a teacher as indicators of reading ability. Automaticity is especially important in regards to reading comprehension. When students are able to recognize words automatically, they can use more of their "cognitive resources" to think about what the text is telling them and create meaning. Being able to reading with expression is also important as it is an indicator that the reader understands the text. They are able to add emphasis to words or phrases that are meaningful, something that nonfluent readers struggle with.
I thought it was interesting that it was pointed out the fast reading isn't necessarily fluent reading. Like many schools, my school uses the DIBELS to assess reading fluency. While I think it generally provides a fair assessment of reading fluency, I have also noticed that there are students that are capable of reading quickly, and even with inflection, that don't fully understand what they are reading. One student in particular, a 4th grade girl, has a lovely reading voice and does a great job decoding text. She uses the sing-songy voice one uses when reading aloud and anyone listening would label her as a strong reader. She does, however, struggle with comprehension. Although not required by my school, I require the students to retell their readings after using the DIBELS and this girl is frequently unable to tell me what she has just finished reading. She is, in fact, one of the lowest scoring students in the class in terms of comprehension.
There are many methods for improving student fluency, many of which are listed in the Fluency Instruction PowerPoint, but I also liked the MAPPS strategy outlined by Samuels and Farstrup. This method begins by (M) modeling fluent reading for students. This can be done by reading to students, something that even the most reluctant readers enjoy! Next is (A) assisted reading. To me, this seems to be similar to guided reading groups and could be achieved during reading workshop in several ways. Students could read with a partner, listen to audio books, or work with the teacher or small group. (P) Practice is the next step, which includes wide reading, but also includes deep and repeated readings. While I do provide time for students to practice during reading workshop time, I have never really encouraged students to reread texts (other than picture books) because it isn't something I typically do as an adult reader. It is also hard to do this when students are pressured to meet Accelerated Reader (AR) goals (I am not a proponent of the program, but it is really promoted in my school). With AR, students cannot retake tests on the same books, so encouraging them to reread a book that they can't earn more points on would ultimately end in disappointment. The next step is (P) phrasing. This includes working with students on reading groups of words in meaningful ways. Finally, students need to (S) synthesize all of the elements to be truly fluent.
Word Properties & Readability
According to Steven A. Stahl in his article entitled, Vocabulary and Readability: How Knowing Word Meanings Affects Comprehension, "in general, it is not the mechanical counts of 'easy' or 'difficult' words in a text that make the text easy or difficult but what the reader knows about the words in a text." This seems to be a logical assessment when related to examples in our own lives as readers. For example, I am capable of reading an advanced text on microbiology based on my skills with decoding. I would, however, have a much more difficult time understanding because I do not have enough knowledge in the area of microbiology to understand what the text it trying to tell me. This would be due in large part to specialized domain specific vocabulary. The idea of determining the readability of text is not new, but still seems to be a difficult task to master. This difficulty is due in part to the fact that every reader is different and has unique understandings of words and their meanings. Until students become standardized, it seems impossible to come up with a foolproof system for creating determining readability.
Keeping that in mind, we can improve how readability is determined by looking at how word difficulty, This is measured by counting syllables and assessing the proportion of easy and difficult words in a text, Counting syllables is problematic in that difficult and unusual single syllable words are lumped together with basic single syllable words regardless of meaning. While it is a quick method for determining readability, it is not ideal. Word frequency, on the other hand, looks for high frequency words in a text. Although it is probably more effective in terms of determining difficulty in a text, it is not without drawbacks. Words are determined to be "easy" or "difficult" based simply upon their appearance on a high frequency list. This would be a valid approach if all words had only one meaning, but many words can be used in a variety of ways, many with meanings that range in difficulty. Both of these methods are also lacking in that they ignore the word derivations which can cause a skew in readability based on the readers knowledge of affixes, and also the use of idioms, which are especially difficult for English Language Learners.
Decoding, Vocabulary, & Comprehension
Decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension are vital components to creating fluent readers. When students are deficient in one of these areas, overall reading ability is effected negatively. Decoding and vocabulary are directly connected because when reader decodes a word, they either call to mind a word from their vocabulary with which they are already familiar or they would add the unfamiliar word to their vocabulary. Even more directly related are vocabulary and comprehension. In order to comprehend what is being read, it is necessary to know the meaning of words.
Morphology in Vocabulary & Reading Development
The idea of morphemes is a new concept for me.I remember discussing it briefly in one of my undergraduate reading classes, but beyond that morphemes have not been a topic that I put much thought into. I appreciated the article about fostering morphological processing in that it presented the idea of morphology impacting reading comprehension that was manageable for someone with little familiarity in this subject. From my previous studies, I knew that morphemes were the smallest unit of meaning in language, but I was not aware how this impacted reading comprehension and vocabulary. Basically with morphology, readers are able to take morphemes that they know and combine them to create new words. This helps to expand a student's vocabulary by making unfamiliar words more familiar based simply on the morphemes included within the word. The text gave the example of a student inferring the meaning of "dogbrush" based on their understanding of the morpheme combination of "toothbrush". Not only does this improve a child's vocabulary, but it also bolster's reading comprehension in that the reader is able to infer the meaning of unknown words based on the morphemes in the word. If I had to explain this concept to someone else who is unfamiliar with it, I might compare it to Legos. Like Legos, morphemes can be rearranged and manipulated to create a variety of products.
Effect of Vocabulary Teaching & Reading Comprehension
Unsurprisingly, Stahl states that "vocabulary instruction that only involves memorization of definition information, or information about the relation of the to-be-learned word with other words such as a synonym, antonym, or definition, did not improve comprehension." While it is important for students to know definitions of words, it is only truly helpful when the words is used in context. Stahl suggests having students create sentences, have discussions, or compare the usage of a word in two different contexts. Understanding words in different contexts is vital to improving a reader's comprehension skills, specifically when the unknown word being used is essential to understanding the meaning of the sentence in which it is located. If the word is used incidentally, understanding the unknown word is not vital as long as the reader understands enough of the other words in the sentences, but in some cases the word knowledge is necessary. Stahl's example of the two sets of sentences using the word "debris" made this clear and understandable.
After only working at my school for three short years, it has become abundantly clear that a large portion of the students in my school struggle with basic math skills. Students entering my third grade classroom struggle with basic skills, including adding and subtracting single digits (without counting it out on their fingers) as well as skip counting, skills which are necessary to teach third grade skills that include multiplication. My in-class observations about math are backed up by the results of the MAP test (Measures of Academic Progress). While most students make growth between tests, many score below grade level. Because of this, it is often necessary to spend extra time working on basic skills before moving onto grade level material. Reteaching the basics also causes problems as there are always a few students who have mastered the basics and are ready to move on to the grade level material.
One part of the solution to the math problem is to find a tool that will allow students to work on skills that are appropriate to their level of need. One such program is called “First in Math” by Suntex, the makers of the 24 Game. The program is an online based set of games and activities that teach skills ranging from basic number skills to advanced algebraic equations. As students complete activities and master skill, they earn “stickers” for themselves, and in turn their team (class). The students can view their stickers and class’ stickers compared to students and classes from around the country. In addition, each class has a “Player of the Day”, “Player of the Week”, and “Player of the Month”. There is also a “Team of the Week” award for the class earning the most stickers per student. With all of the opportunities for recognition, many of the students are motivated to play. In addition to the awards, the games are genuinely fun, making learning math more enjoyable.
One issue to consider with implementing an online based program is the availability of internet access at students’ homes. Before starting this program however, a survey was sent home to determine the level of access that the students had. Surprisingly, only one of the students in my class of 29 did not have access to the internet at any point after school. It was also important to consider the level to which other teachers would support use of the program. With all of the things a teacher is expected to do in a day, would this be too overwhelming? It turns out, no! The program requires very little action from the teacher. Other than checking to see who the Player of the Day is, there is very little extra work required from the teacher. Teachers can put more time into it if it is something they would like to focus on, but the program can be successful with only minimal teacher motivation and/or time. To make the program the most effective, teachers can view reports showing the skills that students have struggled on, those they have mastered, and those on which they are working.
How do YOU feel about Vocabulary Acquisition?
In looking at the "Vocabulary Instruction" PowerPoint this week, it is easy to see that we are shifting our focus from the phonetics of words to the meanings of words. I found the PowerPoint especially useful in its categorization of the different purposes for vocabulary acquisition. In my teaching, I actually focus quite a bit on each of the different methods of vocabulary acquisition, but I had not put much thought into why I did this; it just always seemed logical. The students typically learn new meanings for known words and familiar concepts during their independent and guided reading. This seems to be the logical opportunity to learn new vocabulary since the terms are used in context and are likely words they are already familiar with phonetically. In science (and other content areas in years past), the students have the opportunity to learn new words for new concepts quite frequently. In addition to the more challenging words being used within the context of the material being studied, the students also have access to a fantastic "interactive glossary" as part of our online science textbook. The students have the outright definition presented in easy to understand terms, but also have access to videos featuring the use of that term, animations when appropriate, images, and sample sentences. It has been a huge help in improving content area vocabulary and allows the students more than one method of attaining the meaning. Typically, when you tell students to, "Look it up" how many times will the words actually be internalized? With the use of the interactive glossary, I have seen the words "stick" to the point where students are incorporating these new words into their writing and using them correctly.
Like the authors of the "What is Academic Vocabulary", I also assumed that I knew the definition of "academic vocabulary" and that there would be a somewhat simple explanation. I should have known better! It turns out that there are many different domains of academic vocabulary, or literacy. Based on the typologies provided, it seems that there are more or less 3 basic types of academic vocabularies. The first of which would include general vocabulary. These are words that are used in a variety of texts and are easily understandable. The second would include words that can appear in a variety of texts, but are used in the context of a specific discipline. For example, the word "problem" can mean many things and is not linked to a specific learning domain, but when used in mathematics it has a very specific meaning. The third vocabulary are domain specific words/clusters/symbols. Words such as photosynthesis, cytoplasm, and phloem are all domain specific.
Morrow and Gambrell also assert that students, "need supportive instruction in learning how to use the dictionary, an important word-learning tool." While I personally think it is an important skill, I do not think it is vital for the world in which today's students are growing up. As an adult, I cannot remember the last time that I used an actual, honest-to-goodness dictionary. If there is a word I am unsure of, I either search for it on Google or use a dictionary app on my phone. While I might not always have access to my phone or computer, I most certainly have these tools more readily available than a dictionary. Rather than learning the ins and outs of dictionaries, such as guide words, I think we as educators should focus more on teaching students to take apart the definitions, whether online or in print, and decipher what the definitions are telling us, how to use the pronunciations, and how to decide on the correct definition.
Instruction and Common Core
I could not get the PowerPoint focusing on Common Core to open, but I did find this one online published by the Illinois State Board of Education. In the PowerPoint, it is suggested that educators focus on the instruction of "Tier 2" words, which are similar to Fisher and Fry's "specialized words". These are words that are used in a variety of texts, but with different uses. By focusing on these Tier 2 words, students will be learning words that are more challenging that general words and will be valuable over a wide variety of texts than domain specific words. Both the Common Core reading and writing standards address the issue of analyzing words and word choice. By focusing on Tier 2, students will be able to make sense of a text and allowing for a better chance at making meaning for domain specific vocabulary using context clues provided in the text. In addition, the PowerPoint also provides a new strategy that I was not familiar with. It is called "SLAP" which stands for Say, Look, Ask, and Put. You say the word first, look for clues in the sentence, ask yourself what you think it means and pick a similar word, and then put that word in the place of the unfamiliar word. If it makes sense, it is likely that you have come up with the correct meaning. It seems simple enough, and how fun to tell your students to "SLAP" a word!
To: St. Francis de Sales School Board
CC: Kitty Lovell (Principal)
From: Edith Erickson
Re: Accelerated Reader Program
The Accelerated Reader (AR) program deserves some reconsideration as an element of our school’s overall reading program. The Accelerated Reader parent company, Renaissance Learning, claims that the program is “fully supported by scientifically based research” and that “AR is effective in improving students’ reading achievement.” (Renaissance Learning, 2012) However, opponents of the program claim that the program does little to improve student reading achievement because it does not use “theoretically sound instructional practices.” (Biggers, 2001)
Based on observations of my students who have used the program, I do not think that AR is effective in improving reading achievement and does not promote a long term desire to read. AR was sold as a program that helps to differentiate instruction. The problem is that it does not provide instruction; it is an assessment program, so differentiation of instruction is not possible. (Biggers, 2001) In addition, research shows that independent reading, as promoted by the AR program, is most successful and beneficial when paired with “direct instruction in reading strategies and with reading extension activities”, both of which are not elements of AR. (Elley & Mangubhai, 1983) In addition, the questions presented on the quizzes are shallow and do not require critical thinking. Since the program relies heavily on rewards, students will lose interest in reading if the motivation to read does not become intrinsic. In fact, in a study conducted about the topic of reading for enjoyment, it was found that middle school students who took part in AR in elementary school read less than their middle school peers who had not been exposed to the program. (Pavonetti, Brimmer, & Cipielewski, 2002) Instead of looking at a book and evaluating it for interest, the students are simply concerned with how many points it is worth, leaving them without the skills needed for making independent book choices.
To solve the problem of reading achievement in our school, we should consider adopting a new reading program that focuses upon teaching reading strategies and offers greater choice for students in their independent reading choices. In addition, we need to either scale back the focus on AR or completely discontinue its use altogether. Before jumping to rash decisions, as policy makers for our school, I suggest that we explore a variety of options and learn how to best develop not only fluent readers, but readers who will be life long, self-motivated readers. I suggest all board members read, Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher. In the book, Gallagher addresses many of the practices used in schools that discourage lifelong reading, one of which is the idea of overvaluing the creation of test takers over that of lifelong readers.
In order to make a positive change in the direction of our reading program, we need to establish a vision for reading in our school. What should our students be capable of in terms of reading when they leave our school? What attitude should they have towards reading? We also need to develop the skills of the reading teachers in our school. There are online professional development opportunities available that could be taken advantage of in order to help our teachers grow. Improving student achievement needs to start with improving how we support our teachers’ professional growth. Another important element is the inclusion of incentives. Rather than providing incentives for earning points as in AR, is there another way we can provide incentives for students that would lead to an intrinsic motivation to read for enjoyment? We need to examine the resources in our building to be sure we have the materials to successfully implement any changes we decide to make to our program. Finally, we need to establish a plan for action, taking into account our building’s resources, up to date reading research, and proven best practices. If we can do these things, I have no doubt that we can provide our students with a quality reading education and instill a lifelong love of reading in our students.
Biggers, D. (2001). The Argument Against Accelerated Reader. In Journal of Adolescent
& Adult Literacy(Vol. 45, pp.
72-75). Retrieved from http://dianedalenberg.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/argument-against-ar.pdf.
Elley, W., & Mangubhai, F. (1983). The Impact of Reading on Second Language Learning. Reading Research Quarterly, 19, 53-67. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/747337.
Gallagher, K. (2009). Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Pavonetti, L., Brimmer, K., & Cipielewski, J. (2002). Accelerated reader: What
are the lasting effects on the reading habits of middle school students exposed
to accelerated reader in elementary grades? Annual Meeting of the National Reading Conference, Scottsdale, AZ.
Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED456423.pdf.
Renaissance Learning (2012). 171 research studies support the effectiveness of accelerated reader. Retrieved from http://www.renlearn.com/ar/research.aspx.
I found the PowerPoint in this week's resources to be especially helpful in organizing my understanding of spelling development in children, specifically early on. Based on the two different continua presented in the PowerPoint, children between the ages of three and four are in the prephonemic/pre-instrumental stage of spelling development which involves scribbling with no real concern for writing as a means of communication, also called the early emergent stage in the article titled "Developmental Word Knowledge". Although not directly mentioned, it seems that this stage would be important for learning about writing tools and the use of motor skills. The next step would be middle emergent or differentiation stage where students start to represent words separately from pictures with the use of scribbles of different sizes or colors. Following this, students advance to the pictographic/early phonemic stage in which the student would start to include letters in their drawings, specially initial letters. This happens towards the end of the emergent stage and also may include letters to represent the phonemes in words. Following the emergent stage, students typically begin formal language instruction and enter the Letter Name-Alphabetic Spelling stage of development. This point in development focuses on using phonemic patterns to spell. As shown in figure 1.7 of the "Developmental Word Knowledge" article, this stage typically begins with students spelling words by using the sound of the letter's name rather than its sounds. The idea that students also learn to identify first and last sounds in words is also step included at this stage The example of "YN" for "when" demonstrated how both of these elements work together, which was especially helpful for someone who has never taught a beginning reader. Eventually, the students gain mastery in these areas and begin using vowel sounds in their writing, culminating in the consistent use of "most regular short vowel sounds, digraphs, and consonant blends".
The stages following the acquisition of phonemic awareness are more relevant to my spelling instruction as an upper elementary teacher as I frequently focus on within word patterns, syllables, and affixes. These stages shift the focus from letter sounds to the spelling/meaning connection. By connecting words with similar parts, students are able to create meaning for unfamiliar words and can also work backwards to use these similar words to spell words they are unsure of. For example, a student may know how to spell the word astronomy. That student can use their knowledge of root words to spell other related words such as astronomer or astronomic.
Throughout my life as a reader and writer, I have often been baffled by the number of people that cannot spell. There are most certainly words that are tricky, but for the most part, I have been able to identify and use patterns to spell most words easily. Because of this, I was not surprised at the research noted by Simonsen and Gunter which stated that "the written English language does conform to predictable patterns". Anyone who is good at spelling has undoubtedly discovered these patterns whether they realize it or not. The research focused on three main approaches used in spelling instruction including the phonemic approach, the whole word approach, and the morphemic approach. The phonemic approach to spelling instruction focuses on letter/sound correlations. To me, this seems to make sense as a first step in teaching spelling. The patterns are structured and predictable, making this easier for young readers to grasp. This idea is backed up by research by the NRP that concluded that this type of instruction in letter/sound relationships "demonstrated effectiveness teaching students to spell accurately". The next step in spelling instruction is the whole word approach, which focuses on teaching students to recognize and spell words that do not follow the predictable letter/sound patterns. This brings to mind the idea of "sight words" which are commonly taught using flashcards in early grades. While helpful for irregular words, the Simonsen and Gunter article argues that this approach can also rely heavily on rote memorization rather than implementing spelling patterns. When used for irregular words, this approach is effective, but should not be used in place of phonemic instruction when spelling patterns would apply. The final approach addressed by Simonsen and Gunter is the morphemic approach, which focuses on using morphographs to spell words. This approach seems to be the logical third step in spelling instruction as it focuses on larger chunks, more complex spellings, and patterns involving mean rather than just sound. The guiding principle in this approach is the idea of combining morphographs. By teaching students how to combine morphographs, the students will be able to use words they already know how to spell in helping them to spell new words. According to the article, "Research has shown that good spellers have a stronger grasp of the principles for combining mophographs than poor spellers."
When assessing student spelling, it is important to look at the types of errors students are committing. According to the PowerPoint, there are five types of errors to look for, including phonographic, visual, morphological, spelling rule, and form. In teaching 4th grade, I have noticed most of these errors in my students' spelling assessments, but did not think to specifically categorize their errors in this way. When thinking about my own students, the students that struggle with reading typically have the hardest time and have the most instances of phonographic errors. Those that commit visual errors are normally students that do not take their time, but I suppose this could also be a problem for students with dyslexia or similar disorders. The morphological and form errors are not as common with my students, but do happen on occasion. The biggest error that my students struggle with are the spelling rules. There are many to remember and the students frequently forget to double letters or drop the -e when adding a suffix.
In assessing my students, I follow relatively closely to the proposed weekly routines from the PowerPoint. My students are pre-assessed on Mondays. Based upon their performance, they are given either the normal list or the "challenge list", both of which focus on the same skill or pattern, but at varying levels. Throughout the week, the students do a variety of spelling activities to practice the words, ranging from computer/iPad games, to word sorts, to hands on games. While the students practice, it gives me a chance to do guided activities with small groups of students. At the end of the week, the students are tested upon the 10 words they needed to study, as well as 10 mystery words that use the same patterns. I also do assessments using the "Words Their Way" word lists. I do this at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year to keep track of how the students are progressing. This system has worked pretty well for me and I feel like it has done a decent job of assessing the week to week progress that my students are making in terms of spelling.