The reading wars are over (thank goodness for sound research!), but we still are at risk as we teach, model, practice and apply the skills necessary to develop phonemic awareness and phonics in our kids.
And here’s why: We are focusing on “Do they have the skill?” rather than “How automatically do they have that skill?”. And the success of our students, particularly in phonemic awareness and phonics, depends on our response to the second question. Automatically pulling up the skills to support “bigger”, more complex skills like comprehension and using context to determine meaning of unknown words is what is going to make or break the success of your kids.
Now, some of you might be thinking: OF COURSE we teach phonemic awareness and phonics! In fact, we do it EVERY DAY for at least 30 minutes a day!
While that is likely true in nearly all (hopefully ALL!) of the K-2 classrooms and intervention classrooms, our work isn’t done when the kids just “get” the skill. They need to master the skill and then become automatic…and maintain it across time.
One of the things that has risen to the top of my “be concerned about” list is that when schools are using DIBELS and AIMSweb to benchmark and progress monitor kids, the phoneme segmentation fluency, letter naming fluency, nonsense word fluency and other phonemic awareness/phonics-based tasks just fall off. Whether kids have benchmarked or not!
For example, just last week I ran into a group of second grade strategic oral reading fluency students as we did our data review. When I asked if the students had “passed” the nonsense word reading fluency assessment in 1st grade, what we found is that they hadn’t – but because the text was no longer expected to be given in 2nd grade, we never flagged those kids as needing additional phonics support well into 2nd grade.
So, what were they getting? Hours of fluency practice each week.
Hmmm…strike you as a little off base? It sure did to me!
So we fixed the problem right away by getting kids into daily, timed review of letter sounds and sound spellings and then practice in blending words the “whole word blending” way – without having to sound out each sound and then recode the word. In other words – we trained them (in a plan that is lasting 6 weeks!) to look for the spelling patterns in words and quickly read those words.
The interesting conversation came after we did some progress monitoring on the nonsense word reading fluency: the teachers said, “But they’re reading those decodable books at 70-80%+ accuracy, so no wonder I didn’t think they needed additional phonics instruction!”
The point is – without fluency of skill, then the skill mastery may not be sufficient. AND that lack of fluency may not show up until later grades…so we have to be proactive. Actually, I would change our definition of “mastery” to include the element of fluency. Without it, we’re fooling ourselves.
So, here’s where I encourage you to start in analyzing how your students are doing on ANY skill. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they slow but accurate on the skill?
- Are they fast but inaccurate on the skill?
- Are they slow and inaccurate on the skill?
- Are they meeting the fluency rate on the skill?
Kids will fall into one of those four categories! And once we have sorted kids by skill into those categories, we now have information on how to provide additional support during small group instruction. If you have a slow but accurate student, then timed practice is key. If you have a fast but inaccurate student on a skill then you know your practice will be slowing them down in order to later speed them up. If they’re both slow and inaccurate, then some direct teaching on the skill (even though it’s been previously taught) is the right fit.
I guess my desire for all of us is that we remain vigilant in our pursuit of skill mastery for all of our kids. Fluency of skill IS going to make or break their reading independence now and in the future…especially when they encounter tougher text with lots of unknown words.
I encourage you to start by going back to your strategic and intensive kids and see if they “passed” those critical-to-pass assessments before the particular tests were no longer required in that grade level. Once you sort your kids according to the four types above, then you can more accurately point your interventions to what is really going to make a difference in their skill independence!
Okay, so I’m obsessed. (Not an unusual thing, but we’ll get to that later…much much later…)
I heard Michael Kamil speak at a conference last year and what he said was “We get kids to do difficult things by getting them to do difficult things”.
I can’t stop thinking about this and the impact that it has on what we do in the classrooms everyday – especially with those kids who struggle to read.
It’s been about 9 months since I wrote “We get kids to do difficult things by getting them to do difficult things” in my notes. I keep referring back to what this means for us – and for our kids.
Here’s what I’ve got rolling around in my brain about this:
- As teachers, we cannot shy away from giving kids tasks that they struggle with – – – I mean after all, if they knew everything from the get-go, wouldn’t that eliminate the need for school?
- As teachers, we need to teach persistence and stick-to-it-ive-ness (which is a HUGE life skill!). How do we do it? By giving kids the tools and support and encouragement that they need when they encounter tough skills. When they fail or struggle with a task, we stand alongside them and SHOW them how to take another step.
- As teachers of reading, we need to not immediately solve a decoding or comprehension struggle by giving kids lower-leveled text. When we quickly default to the below-level text, that’s what we get kids used to: below-level text. It’s actually a set-up for future struggle, I believe!
- As teachers of reading, we need not always pair kids with an “able” counter-part – – – this is enabling for a lot of kids and we KNOW that many on-level kids have little to no patience for supporting a struggling partner and they end up doing most of the work anyway.
- As teachers of reading, we need to focus on pre-teaching and rehearsing tough spots with kids who struggle or who give up easily. I have found that rehearsing answers or responses is a great intervention actually! It’s worth checking into.
But the bottom line of it all? As teachers, we need to switch our perspective from “Oh no! They’re not getting it! I must be a bad teacher! I better simplify this task…STAT!”
“Yes! They’re struggling a bit with this – what a great opportunity for me to provide on-the-ground guided support for my kids AND build their stick-to-it-ive-ness at the same time!”
The confidence-building of learners is in the doing of difficult things…and living to tell the tale!
Walking to read is the process of grouping kids in skill-alike groups for a small portion of the day.
Typically teachers in a grade level will "specialize" in a particular skill level grouping during Walk to Read and the students will "walk" to that group for targeted instruction.
In its best form, walking to read allows for more targeted, more efficient, more streamlined planning, instruction and assessment monitoring. It’s a GREAT option for a highly functional staff.
Notice that I said "Highly functional"…more to come on this…
For those who know me and hear me speak, you know that I am neither a supporter of the Walk to Read (WTR) model nor am I a naysayer.
And here’s why:
Walking to read IN THEORY is a great way to streamline the planning AND the delivery of targeted small group instruction students at all levels. If there are problems with WTR, it’s usually in the execution of the model, not in the theory of the model.
So it’s important to be HONEST, be FORTHRIGHT, and DEMAND COLLABORATION when you’re launching into or re-establishing a walk to read model in any grade level and school.
Here are a few examples of why walking to read can fail:
- There are trust issues within the grade level and teachers don’t want to "give up" their kids to "that teacher" – these are essentially trust issues amongst professionals
- There is an illusion of high differentiated instruction during small groups just because we have kids of like skill level grouped together
- There is an in-the-dark feeling about kids because there are not functions for collaboration and close monitoring between homeroom and WTR teachers
- There is lost time for instruction because traveling from one spot to another is poorly executed
- There are increased behavior problems because teachers have varied behavioral expectations
BUT DO NOT FEAR!!!
YOU CAN USE THE WALK TO READ MODEL SUCCESSFULLY!!!! I’VE SEEN IT WORK FOR THOSE WILLING TO PUT THE WORK IN!
Here’s how it CAN work:
SOLUTION 1: Discuss trust issues head-on – get real about concerns! If there is a worry that your teaching partner might not put in enough time for prepping killer lessons, then set up a time to plan together. If your teaching partners are too "lax" on their management of the kids, then suggest that you come up with common expectations across groups that you jointly teach the kids!
SOLUTION 2: Share weekly plans for kids – in other words: POST YOUR PLANS, PERUSE YOUR PLANS AND DISCUSS YOUR PLANS! If they look too much alike (and are not, therefore, differentiating instruction), then work together to suggest ways that you can change-up lessons and challenge kids more than they are currently challenged. Create a check-list together for each lesson so that you ensure that true differentiated instruction is really happening.
SOLUTION 3: Set bi-monthly data meetings where you get together FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF TALKING THROUGH THE WALK TO READ DATA and nothing else! Go student-by-student and discuss what’s going well, what’s a struggle, what growth the data is showing and then set targets for each group. This builds in camaraderie AND trust!
The cool thing is, the more you talk, the more you collaborate.
And the more you collaborate, the more you trust.
And the more you trust your teaching comrades, the more you focus on the kids.
And the more you focus on the kids, the more they learn.
And the more they learn…
Need I go on?
Hi guys! Here’s a quick tip for you for this week….take LESS THAN A MINUTE to transform your comprehension instruction from
STICK-IN-THE-MUD TO SENSATIONAL!
Have you ever googled “How to engage students?” out of desperation or curiosity?
I have….and what I found was a lot of quick tips and how-tos. The problem is, I think that looking at engaging students comes from a deeper well than just trying some new techniques. Let’s be real – – if it were about a simple technique, wouldn’t we ALL be doing it and reaping the benefits right now?
While I don’t have the silver, magic bullet for you (Sorry!), I do know what you need to do to engage your students – or engage them in a bigger way this school year.
The secret? It’s all about you. I know it, you wanted me to make it about the students, but it’s really not.
Here are 7-Quick-Steps for you to implement RIGHT NOW to engage students in a way that you haven’t before:
- Realize that engagement starts with expectation. Treat students like they already ARE engaged…and they usually follow!
- Know that increasing student engagement is a habit. Don’t give up – if you expect it and then reinforce, reinforce and reinforce, you WILL see improvement in engagement. Don’t give up!
- When you see low levels of engagement or general apathy to the lesson, check yourself first. It might be that your energy isn’t very high or that you’re “phoning it in” without even knowing it! There is POWER in “acting as if”…as if you are pumped! As if you are ecstatic about the content! Put your acting game face on!
- Engagement isn’t natural – If you are using a new engagement technique, realize that you must teach it, model it and tell students when they’re going to use it – and then practice, practice, practice before you expect it to be done. Set kids up for success!
- Student engagement is built simultaneously on habitual use of engagement techniques AND keeping things interesting! Find a balance between using techniques that students are confident in, but switching it up periodically so they don’t become stale and “phoned in”. If you tune into your kids, you’ll know the exact point that you need to switch it up.
- Plan ahead for engagement. While you might catch a break periodically with some bird-walking or “teachable moments”, 95% of your engagement should be planned for. Ask yourself “Where do I need my kids to be super charged and into the content?” And then work to teach them what it looks like to be engaged.
- Don’t assume that students know what engagement looks like and feels like. I see that a lot of kids are struggling to engage because they don’t know what it is to be engaged! If you’d unlock the secret for them, I bet they’d be raring to go.
Here’s what I know for sure: If you invite students to be engaged or more engaged, there’s a possibility that they won’t choose to join you! BUT, if you structure your lessons so that they’re required to engage, you’re MUCH MORE LIKELY to see a big leap in engagement level. It’s up to you!