Strategies and Instructional Practice for Writing Competencies
This week's reading starts by pointing out the fact that adolescent literacy levels have not changed despite improvements in elementary literacy achievement. While attention has shifted to this issue, it seems that writing is being left out because, as the Writing Next article stated, "It is often assumed that adolescents who are proficient readers must be proficient writers, too", This is obviously not the case. Many students are able to observe techniques and tools used by the authors of the texts that they read, however, without explicit and meaningful instruction most students are unable to become proficient writers. The article continues to list 11 effective elements to improve writing achievement, all of which make perfect, practical sense both in the classroom as well as within real world applications. I especially like the mention of model studies. I have always used writing models when instructing my students in writing. When the students are struggling with ideas, are not sure of a format, or can not make a decision about style, I frequently steer them to mentor texts to help guide their writing. Not only does it provide guidance, but it also builds student confidence in that they see what they are doing as similar to what "real authors" do in their writing. I have found using models especially helpful for my struggling writers in that it helps them to create more cohesive pieces.
I appreciated the editor's checklist provided by Morrow and Gambrell in chapter 12. I use a simple writers checklist, but I like the one provided in the text even better. The wording is straightforward and easy to understand and hits all the elements that I expect my students to check. I also liked the writing rubric provided as well. My students typically do not do well with rubrics, but this one is not as wordy as some so it would be easier for them to follow.
Conferencing is also vital when it comes to encouraging and supporting the writers in our classrooms. I find this to be a good way to check in with students on their journey through the writing process. We do a writing workshop each day, so I typically use that time to conference with students. Overall, I think it works well, but I wonder what others do to ensure their conferences run smoothly. Do you schedule conferences, or do you let students come to you as needed? I typically allow the students to come to me when needed. If I am busy with someone else, they sign up their name and continue working around their issue until their turn. It works pretty well, but I sometimes have students who sign up A LOT, monopolizing my time, while others never see me unless I call them specifically. I also try to do a "triage" method for my conferences. It is really easy to rip apart a piece and pick out every mistake, but I avoid falling into that by first asking the student what they think about their writing, and second by choosing to focus on the most obnoxious error.
Instructional Practices to Promote Reading Comprehension
I found this week's PowerPoint to be especially useful. I appreciated the idea that we spend more time assessing reading comprehension than actually teaching it. As a teacher that works at a school that uses Accelerated Reader, I can definitely identify this sentiment.We are pressured by the administration and the librarian to have students take a certain amount of tests and earn a certain amount of points, but there is essentially no emphasis placed on actually instructing the students upon how to actually comprehend what they are reading. The result is students that meet point goals because of the sheer number of tests taken while performing poorly on the tests. A student earns points on any quiz above 60%, meaning that it is possible to meet the point goal while only demonstrating 60% accuracy on the quizzes. The PowerPoint specified a variety of questioning strategies, such as avoiding one word answers, allowing for collaborations, and requiring students to justify answer, none of which are supporting in the AR quizzes.
Strategies for Reading Comprehension Development
This week's readings were fantastic! I am not a huge fan of theory (sorry), so I was excited to see all the practical strategies. There were so many, that I chose to focus on informational text strategies since that is such a big focus in 4th grade. The PowerPoint suggested ideas such as teaching signal words, teaching about literary aids, and identifying main ideas. I do some of this already, but I do feel like focusing on the signal words would be really helpful for getting my students to better comprehend informational text.
The Morrow and Gambrell text presented a number of useful ideas, one of my favorites being RAFT. I used RAFT throughout my undergraduate work and my student teaching, but fell out of the habit in recent years. I am glad that the reading brought it up because it is a great strategy for both fiction and nonfiction writing. The text specifically refers to using if for writing, but I have also used it with reading. I feel like using it in reading makes it easier for the students to manage in their writing. Foldables are also mentioned in this text. I frequently use these in science, math, and social studies. I had not thought about foldables supporting reading comprehension, but I suppose it functions similarly to a graphic organizer. There are a lot of great websites that have ideas for foldables, but my favorite is Homeschool Share, which has foldables that you can type on.
Samuels and Farstrup also shared several strategies, but what I found the most helpful was the chart discerning the different types of narrative and informational text structures. I think this would be really helpful to provide for all of the students to use with RAFT. I also liked the idea of questioning the author. This is a great strategy for improving comprehension, but I also think this would be helpful for writing. I frequently tell my students to think like an author when they are writing, so this is a great reading connection to that idea.
Nature of Reading Comprehension
According to Samuels and Farstrup, reading comprehension can be considered the "product of word reading and language comprehension". Basically, to be able to comprehend, a reader must know how to decode text as well as comprehend the language being used. The text points out that both of these elements is vital, but that one without the other will not ensure success. This week's PowerPoint takes this a step further and breaks these two elements down further. Word recognition covers decoding skills, phonological awareness, and sight recognition while language comprehension is builds on the ideas of background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge. For a teacher, that is quite a substantial list to undertake to ensure that students are taught to be skilled readers.
Development of Reading Comprehension
In order to ensure that we support our readers, it is important to understand the development of reading comprehension. The first introduction to language starts as early as birth. Early on, children learn to communicate and interpret meaning before they can speak on their own. I have seen this first hand with my own child. She learned quickly that crying gets our attention and tells us that she needs something, while smiling tells us that she is content and happy. Luckily for us, she is a pretty happy girl! While learning to communicate in these simple ways, babies are also learning to understand language as well. In a relatively short amount of time, children learn to understand "almost everything that adults say to them". They are also learning important processes, such as reasoning and inferring, both of which are helpful in reading.
The next step in development happens during the early elementary years when student learning focuses on decoding and general reading skills. This is the time when students are taught important reading skills such as inferencing and how to monitor their comprehension. According to The Development of Comprehension article by Duke and Carlisle, students also gain much of their language knowledge incidentally through exposure to the language usage of others.
Later in elementary school, the shift in learning focuses from the acquisition of reading and language skills to the implementation of these skills in content area learning. While the focus has shifted, readers are also gaining a deeper understanding of the foundational knowledge received in the lower elementary grades. This includes morphological awareness and syntactic awareness.
Assessment of Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension is a hard thing to assess, which is probably why there have been so many attempts to find the perfect system. The reading by Pearson and Hamm pointed out, however, that most of these assessments were, in essence, designed prior to World War II. One means of measuring comprehension was a test to measure intelligence. It was determined that reading comprehension and intelligence were very difficult to discern in this test. To me, I took that as meaning that the higher intelligence scores were based on the fact that the test taker could better understand the questions and therefore perform better than struggling readers who may actually have a better understanding of the material. Another method developed is the CLOZE procedure, a method with which many teachers are familiar. The problem with this method is that is is unclear whether these types of assessments measure reading comprehension rather than the linguistic predictability. CLOZE was also proven ineffective in a study by Shanahan, Kamil, and Tobin which found that the results were not dependent on the context of the passage.
Dimensions of Fluency
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.
Fluency & Reading Comprehension
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.
Instruction & Activities
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.
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!
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.
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.,
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!
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!