Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Teaching Children to Become Fluent and Automatic Readers

Melanie R. Kuhn, Paula J. Schwanenflugel, Robin D. Morris, Lesley Mandel Morrow, Deborah Gee Woo, Elizabeth B. Meisinger, Rose A. Sevcik, Barbara A. Bradley and Steven A. Stahl's manuscript, Teaching Children to Become Fluent and Automatic Readers, published in the Journal of Literary Research 2006, 38(1), describes a study in which the authors attempted to tease out if wide reading or repeated reading is a better reading instructional model than other traditional methods. They chose second grade classrooms in New Jersey and Georgia in which to perform their year long research.

Overall both wide reading and repeated reading models proved superior for developing word automaticity and comprehension over more traditional approaches. The authors point out that gains for wide reading occur earlier than those for a FORI (a specific text repetition method- Fluency Oriented Reading Instruction) but that over the course of the year the gains level out to be equitable for both. One of the things they pointed out was that since most texts appropriate for second grade readers have a significant proportion of sight words and word repetition, narrowing in on material appropriate for that grade level resulted in significant exposure to very similar word lists.

In their study they included all students in the classes. For the lowest performing six students in each classroom, reading interventions focused on foundational sight word and decoding skills were provided for 45 minutes per day in addition to full participation in the class reading lessons. This additional scaffolding enabled these struggling learners to interact in the whole class lessons and activities and provided remediation as needed. Further, both the wide reading and FORI methods presented the teacher reading the material the first time through to provide support for reading the grade level texts. The authors identified the appropriate level of difficulty to be on materials that the students could read 85% of the words correctly. When students struggled with material, additional practice time was provided by sending the reading home for practice.

The major difference between the control and the experimental groups was the amount of time spent reading contextual material. Students in the experimental groups spent over two hours a day reading. It is instinctively obvious that that more time spent reading the greater the reading progress.

I would caution the reader of the manuscript- it is not in final published form. There are a significant number of typos including comma/period exchanges and missing spaces. They also quote the amount of time reading per day in the experimental group as 2040 minutes which equals 34 hours, clearly there is a confusion here. This increases the challenge of reading; digging out the final published form may be worth the effort.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fluency: A Review of Developmental and Remedial Practices

Melanie R. Kuhn and Steven A. Stahl's article, Fluency: A Review of Developmental and Remedial Practices, from The Journal of Educational Psychology , 2003, 95(1), is an often quoted reference in the fluency literature. After describing Chall and Ehri's proposals on stages of reading development, they look at  research in the field. They broke the research into three main groups: repeated reading, assisted reading and classroom interventions. The lack of control groups prevented the use of meta-analysis of the research so the authors used a more simple counting strategy.

Ultimately, the authors concluded that a focus on fluency improved reading as assessed by comprehension. They found that the majority of the interventions for remedial students did not improve reading at a rate faster than their reading proficient peers. This was a concern since we would like to identify methods of intervention that improve reading rates faster than for average peers. The  challenge is that one definition of a learning disability is that it takes longer to learn the material than typical peers. Consequently, without additional time in reading, it may be impossible to bring disabled students to grade -level performances.

The chart of studies included in the survey is a valuable tool. Interestingly, it reveals the  dearth of research regarding older students. Only three of the studies included involved students at the secondary or college level and only one of them involved students with reading disabilities. This means that the conclusions of the review may not be applicable to older students.

Hollingsworth conducted two studies that had intriguing results. One showed no improvement in comprehension when fourth grade at level peers were given fluency instruction. The other study examined remedial fourth and sixth grade students. They showed above average growth in reading comprehension using assisted reading.

According to the results of the review, fluency instruction proved most valuable to students reading between a late preprimer level and a late second grade level. The authors said "It is not the repetition that leads to the effect [improved reading skills] but the amount of time spent reading connected text." (p. 17) This falls into line with the idea that time equals progress more than a specific strategy. They also concluded that the level of reading that was most successful with progress was the individual student's instructional reading level.

Research that has been conducted in the decade since this review seems to indicate that intensive remedial programs with fluency components can be effective at improving reading skills in secondary students as well as with elementary students. Meta-analysis of current research would be interesting to evaluate.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Six-Minute Solution

Gail N. Adams and Sheron M. Brown put together a reading fluency program for grades K-2 and remedial grade 3. They published their work as The Six-Minute Solution: A Reading Fluency Program (Primary Level). The intermediate level is found here and the secondary level is found here. Passages of which are found here. The main part of each book is, if not exactly the same, similar enough to not require duplication. The appendices at the end of each book, however, are useful for their leveled passages. Each level of the system has a different appendix.

The gist of the program is that in six minutes a day for a whole class, a teacher can implement a reading fluency program. After two days of teaching students how to time and record progress, student pairs are set to work together. Pairs are determined to be at the same reading level with fluency rates within ten words per minute of each other. When matches are not available, parent volunteers, paraprofessionals or the teacher can fill in as a partner. The authors suggest using cross age peers as possible partners as well. The authors provide instructional scripts but do not require that the scripts be used during instruction.

This program appears to be a suitable for implementing in a whole class setting. The authors offer suggestions for monitoring if additional support is required. Students who do not make fluency gains for two consecutive weeks are identified as needing additional support. This could mean changing the reading level of the passages attempted, providing sight word instruction and practice, or providing decoding/phonics instruction. It may also indicate that the individual has a learning problem that requires additional support through extra time. This guideline could be especially valuable in assigning students to response to intervention services. A tier two intervention could be for anyone who fails to make adequate progress in the whole class model for two consecutive weeks. Intervening after such a short period could truly enable problems to be solved before they mushroom into more complex ones.

Since fluency challenges are seen in students who are identified as successful readers (they decode and comprehend within grade level norms), finding a short and effective intervention is important. The idea that a mere six minutes of time could be spent to significantly increase reading speed, accuracy and expression is hopeful. Even teachers feeling pressed for time could dedicate 6 minutes to a daily program that they quickly (within two weeks) saw as making their class read better.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hotsheet: Effective practices for reading fluency

Melanie R. Kuhn's Hotsheet 3: Effective Practices for Reading Fluency does a wonderful job of quickly outlining the essence of fluency instruction. It points out ineffective (round robin and such type practices) and effective examples (challenging materials, echo reading, choral reading, partner reading, and reading-while-listening) of fluency instruction. It has a rubric for evaluating reading fluency of students. It also highlights components of effective instruction: modeling, practice, challenging material, wide reading, and repeated reading.

What I found especially important to recall is the definition Dr. Kuhn uses for challenging reading. The Common Core standards use the term challenging reading, but it is not defined. Most people interpret it as material at or above grade level. Kuhn's definition is material that is read at 85-90% accuracy on the first read. For approximately one-third of all students, this is material below grade level, sometimes far below grade level. In order to develop fluency, students need to practice on material that is at their instructional reading level. While exposure to readings at and above grade level can develop vocabulary, background knowledge and listening comprehension, developing fluency which will in turn develop reading comprehension requires readable material.

Developing Comprehension Skills

Dr. Scott Paris's monograph, Developing Comprehension Skills, identifies five foundations to reading comprehension:
  • conceptual knowledge- In other words background knowledge. Common Core advocates can argue for not explicitly accessing and developing conceptual knowledge, but it is essential for comprehension. If we want kids to understand what we teach and what they read we need to build foundations and frameworks upon which to hang later learnings. This is why we spiral curriculum.
  • language skills- Our speech and language pathologists will tell you that without adequate expressive and receptive language skills, reading skills will be difficult to build. Students with language delays go on to struggle in reading. English language learners require special support to be able to read English. Vocabulary is the single most important determinate of comprehension after decoding is achieved.
  • text features- Common Core emphasis on nonfiction showcases this aspect of reading tangentially. Readers need to know about the meaning and importance of titles, subtitles, bold print, pictures, captions and such. Readers also need to understand critical aspects of different genres. Stories have a plot structure with mysteries usually having lots of twists and false leads and romances being more simple love stories. Haiku is not only 3 line poetry, it is about nature with its own set of symbolism. News articles typically answer either explicitly or inferentially the five wh- questions.
  • strategies- Special educators tend to love these. We see graphic organizers and question and answer skills. Typical texts have question sets. Elementary classroom teachers enjoy the prediction and answer techniques such as reciprocal reading. Beers and Probst's notice and note strategy is good at teaching students to independently look for signposts that highlight deeper meanings. (See my blogs here, here and here.) While some students will move to independently apply these strategies, others need instruction on generalizing them beyond specifically directed tasks.
  • fluent decoding- This really refers to reading fluency more than decoding. Automaticity of decoding enables more mental resources to be corralled for comprehension use. It makes reading less fatiguing and more enjoyable.
Clearly, comprehension is the critical result of reading. Without it, we cannot say that reading has taken place. When we read something and have no idea what we read. We go back and reread because we did not really read it meaningfully. Unfortunately many students spend so much time reading in this fugue that they do not even realize that text is supposed to make sense. Consequently they do not bother with reading. It is essential that we build underlying foundations so that students do understand what they read.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Helping Students Become Accurate, Expressive Readers

Melanie Kuhn's article, Helping Students Become Accurate, Expressive Readers: Fluency Instruction for Small Groups, from the December 2004/January 2005 edition of The Reading Teacher, describes a comparison study examining ways to improve fluency in struggling second graders. She set up four groups:
  1. a repeated reading strategy  (FOOR)
  2. wide reading
  3. listening 
  4. control
Over six weeks groups of 6 students met three times a week for 15-20 minutes. Students in the control group were not removed from class while the other students were pulled for instruction.

She found that both wide reading and  FOOR improved in their ability to identify words in isolation. They also showed greater gains in reading rate in context than the other two groups. The wide reading group showed gains in comprehension that the others did not. The author speculated that this might be attributed to the focus during the wide reading sessions was both expressive reading and comprehension whereas the focus of the FOOR sessions was on prosody. Perhaps, as the authors observes, if there had been more focus on comprehension, gains could have been achieved there as well. Since the listening group did not make either of these gains the author commented that, "while reading aloud is important in fostering a love of reading, learners must actively engage in the reading of connected text if they are to become skilled readers" (p. 342).

The author points out implications for the classroom. First that grouping flexibly by ability, needs and/or interests is essential in meeting the needs of the students. Second the needs of the students need to point to instructional strategies: FOOR for students who need to work on the mechanics of reading, automaticity and prosody but wide reading for those who need support in word recognition, prosody and comprehension.

Overall her approach could be considered a Tier 2 intervention in a response to intervention framework. If her research can be applied to older students who have not yet mastered reading with fluency is unknown and deserves further research. Other authors have certainly supported using a multipronged intervention for older students: direct instruction in phonics and vocabulary, wide reading, repeated reading and listening. Understanding what each student's unique profile would best benefit from is where art and science have not yet met. Clearly students who have not made significant progress under one approach should have the nature of their instruction altered in a timely manner so as to maximize learning time. The six week time frame seems adequate to determine if an intervention is going to be effective with a particular student at that time.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Why Reading Fluency Should be Hot!

Timothy V. Rasinski's article, Why Reading Fluency Should be Hot!, from The Reading Teacher, 65(8), takes an interesting approach to understanding the challenge of fluency instruction. He points out three reasons ways fluency instruction is often flawed:
  1. Fluency instruction focused solely on reading quickly, minimizes comprehension in favor of speed and consequently does not improve reading.
  2. Fluency instruction is limited to the early elementary grades based on the theories that it should be in place early in the process of learning to read and that silent reading replaces oral reading as students move up in grades so oral fluency-based instruction is unnecessary.
  3. Fluency instruction often does not focus on reading for meaning and enjoyment.
Unfortunately, these characterizations of fluency instruction reflect the worst not the best of the instruction.

Research has, however, repeatedly reflected the link between fluency and comprehension. Research has also demonstrated that students who read orally with good speed, automaticity and prosody read better silently as well. Further, research proves that struggling readers may read at half the speed as their average reader peers, reducing the probability of these students actually reading.

Good fluency instruction does include speed as a component, but also includes prosody and automaticity. It uses fluency as a bridge to comprehension. Building these skills is accomplished through two major approaches- wide reading and deep reading. Wide reading, reading many different things, builds background knowledge and allows for exposure to many words thus increasing word recognition and automaticity. Deep reading links fluency to comprehension. Interestingly, Rasinski does not use the term close reading. Close reading generally refers to strategies used to comprehend challenging reading material. Deep reading, however, refers to rereading in order to improve prosody. "...[T]hrough repeated reading, readers become more adept and efficient at employing prosodic features into new passages not previously read" (p. 519). Everyone has been lucky enough to hear a gifted storytelling reader. He uses his voice to effectively communicate the message of the text. This is the goal of repeated reading.  In order to read with prosody, one must understand the material. Rereading, as the proponents of close reading know, enhances comprehension. The trap that close reading often falls into, however, is the third flaw of fluency instruction- it often minimizes enjoyment of reading, whereas Rasinski's deep reading emphasizes this.

Rasinski proposes that fluency instruction should be hot, but that it needs to be done in an effective manner that utilizes wide reading and deep reading. Performance activities are a great way to meaningfully encourage rereading, not merely for speed or to answer text dependent questions, but for prosody as well. Building these tasks into remedial reading tasks can be a wonderful way to get students to read and reread. It does, however, require that they be taught how to read with prosody. Teachers need to become gifted oral readers to demonstrate skills and then they need to highlight what makes reading more interesting to the listener-- things like using volume and speed to reflect meaning, pausing for punctuation, matching expression to meaning and carefully enunciating words.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Building Fluency, Word Recognition Ability, and Confidence in Struggling Readers

Lori G. Wilfong's article, Building Fluency, Word Recognition Ability, and Confidence in Struggling Readers: The Poetry Academy, published in 2008 in The Reading Teacher 62(1), discusses a reading intervention for third grade readers with fluency levels more than 20% below the national norms. In her research, students were provided with a weekly one-on-one 5-10 minute intervention delivered by trained volunteers. Volunteer readers read a poem to the students, read the poem with the student and then the student read the poem (repeated reading and assisted reading interventions). Students then took the poem home and read it to as many adults as possible over the course of the week. When they returned the next week, they reread the poem to their volunteer partner and then began the cycle over again. The students receiving the intervention over the course of 11 weeks, made better progress in fluency than their average performing peers. They also improved their attitudes toward reading.

Two critical components of the Poetry Academy were in providing intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. The author selected poems that were fun; they had elements of humor, crudeness and rudeness that elementary students find enjoyable. The volunteers provided stickers and small pieces of candy to students who participated brought their Poetry Academy materials to the sessions. At the end of the intervention the students were promised a poetry café experience in which they each read a favorite poem to their parents and ate pizza and snacks.

It seems to me that one of the essential parts of this intervention was that students practiced at home. At the elementary level this component of the intervention is relatively easy. Parents of younger students often expect to have to help with homework. At the high school level, students are more likely to isolate their homework from their parents. Getting older students to practice with other adults or peers could be challenging.

This research strongly suggests that simple and quick interventions centered around fluency in the elementary classrooms is an effective method to remediate struggling reading interventions. Whether such an intervention could be effective with older students remains to be seen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Using Empirically Validated Reading Strategies

Amy C. Scarborough's (2012) dissertation, Using Empirically Validated Reading Strategies to Improve Middle School Students' Reading Fluency of Classroom Textbooks, is a two-part writing that examines current research on reading fluency and follows it up with the presentation of her research with four students.

Her research centered on case studies. She was able to document that repeated reading, listening passage preview, corrective feedback, self-graphing and contingent reinforcement were all effective for improving fluency. Using this information she designed an intervention for four middle school students reading 1 to 2 years below grade level. Interventions were one-on-one models that included these components. Her model was effective in improving reading fluency of her subjects.

First, if one considers that approximately one third of eighth graders are non-proficient readers (based on their standardized assessment scores), this represents a sampling of students commonly found in a middle school classroom. It does not represent the readers who are significantly below grade level, often served by special education classes or English language learners. As such caution with applying this research to these populations is important. It does, however, represent an intervention model that might work with the "average" below-level reader.

Second, as much as we might understand that one-on-one instruction is the most student responsive and effective, it is not logistically viable for many schools, even if the intervention can be implemented by teaching assistants, paraprofessionals or volunteers. Also, pull out programs are receiving increasing pressure both from people who want students in the classrooms with their peers all the time (full inclusion) and from people who schedule students without any down time in which to provide remedial instruction.

Ms. Scarborough should be praised for working to implement an intervention using classroom materials. She did, however, use materials that were not congruent with current instruction of her students, but rather with material they would cover later in the school year. It might have been more relevant to the students if the remediation utilized content that students were currently being asked to learn.  Reinforcing content area work while implementing reading interventions would be killing two birds with one stone. For students reading significantly below grade level, alternative low reading level texts might be found to supplement and support general classroom instruction. This would be in line with the research that supports providing interventions on material at the individual's instructional reading level.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Oral Reading Fluency as an Indicator of Reading Competence

Lynn S. Fuchs, Douglas Fuchs, Michelle K. Hosp and Joseph R. Jenkins' article, Oral Reading Fluency as an Indicator of Reading Competence: A Theoretical, Empirical, and Historical Analysis, from Scientific Studies of Reading, 5(3), 2001, has been referenced in several of the articles I have recently read about fluency so I worked to dig up a copy of it. This article examines if oral reading fluency as defined by correct words per minute (CWPM) read predicts reading competence. The short answer is yes.

The authors discuss the theoretical foundation of this concept. Although researchers have different theories on how they arrived at the idea, they concur that being able to read fluently frees up mental processing capacity for comprehension skills. They refer to couple of 1975 studies by Posner and Snyder which claims two independent processes are at work during reading- one automatic and one optional- 1) memory location is accessed and related semantic memories are triggered and 2) context is allowed to trigger prediction about the upcoming word. Good readers rely on the automatic process whereas poor readers rely on a balance of the two. This could explain why our struggling readers use clues to the word such as initial consonant to "read" the word and make a mistake and then go on to fabricate the rest of the sentence in a meaningful manner. The poor readers do not have effective mechanisms for automatically accessing semantic information and consequently create mental predictions that lead to misreading and/or misunderstanding.

The authors note that text fluency and list fluency account for 70% of the variance on Iowa test scores. Since oral fluency so accurately reflects reading comprehension, it is odd that we do not focus more on it. I think part of the challenge is how complex and interrelated it with other aspects of reading fluency is. You will not be fluent if you do not have phonemic awareness and phonetic decoding skills. Furthermore reading fluently is extremely difficult if your vocabulary skills do not match the vocabulary of the passage. When this is added to the emphasis that without comprehension there is no reading, it may appear that if you attend to these other skills, fluency will automatically follow. This is not true. I have worked with language delayed students who can read beautifully; they have excellent decoding and good awareness of punctuation during reading- but they do not understand what they read. More often however, I have worked with students for whom reading is a word by word process. If they are read the material they get it, but if they need to process the printed word they are at a loss. We need to address the entire Parthenon of reading components in order to produce successful readers.

One interesting thing the authors note is that oral reading had far better correlations with reading comprehension than silent reading. The authors postulate that perhaps the self-recording of progress in silent reading is overstated. I wonder if reading aloud offers more comprehension clues. Listening to yourself read could help you understand. It might lessen the likelihood that skipped words or lines occur and it might increase the recognition of vocabulary. In some ways it is easier to self-monitor oral reading than silent reading. We suggest sub-vocalization for struggling readers and for proofreading. We do this because it supports comprehension on some level.

While the authors recommend that fluency be a part of every reading lesson, they do not endorse reading for prosody. This is because there is tremendous variation in prosody assessments to the point of their being mostly unreliable and invalid. In light of the indications that prosody reflects some comprehension I am curious regarding this restriction. I have heard very competent readers read dreadfully (my Shakespeare professor with a stutter who read in a monotone) and mediocre readers read with wonderful emphasis (my struggling reader who read a favorite Silverstein poem). I believe that prosody has a role in fluency, but perhaps we overemphasize this component when it comes to documenting student reading success.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Understanding oral reading fluency among adults with low literacy

In Daryl F. Mallard, Jason L. Anthony and Kari L. Woods' research paper, "Understanding oral reading fluency among adults with low literacy: Dominance analysis of contributing component skills," factors impacting fluency are analyzed. They looked at two definitions of fluency- one quantified by correct words per minute (cwpm) and the other comprehension based.

What they found was that the number one factor that influences fluency is word reading efficiency. If looking at only cwpm and processing speed was the second most influential factor followed by vocabulary. If comprehension is included in the analysis, then vocabulary is the second most influential factor followed by auditory working memory.  Phonemic awareness and phonetic decoding were both relatively of little importance. What was virtually noninfluential to reading skills was nonverbal IQ scores.

What does this research mean to us, the practitioners? One thing it means is that as our students age, we need to shift from teaching decoding and phonemic awareness to sight word recognition and vocabulary development. Since we need reading to include comprehension, we need to focus on skills that influence comprehension such as fluency and vocabulary.

It means that high quality vocabulary instruction is essential. This is not news. We know that vocabulary is the number one determinate of comprehension. The Common Core stresses the importance of academic vocabulary. I am constantly surprised at the words my students do and do not know. They do not know words I regularly use in my oral vocabulary. This means that when they listen to teachers, they are confused by instruction but will rarely ask questions about it for fear of looking dumb. One of the contributing factors could be related to auditory processing and working memory. The average kindergartener can understand 90 words per minute. (This is why kindergarten teachers talk in that slow rhythmic manner- so their students can follow what they say.) The average high school student can comprehend 150 oral words per minute. When we speed our talk up beyond that level they loose words and meaning. Students with limited processing speeds or auditory working memory need us to speak more slowly than their peers. Students who are struggling readers may not benefit from the vocabulary we use, if we speak too quickly. If we speak more slowly, we may increase comprehension and meaningful exposure to vocabulary. This can help them read in general and in their school achievement in specifics.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Providing Reading Instruction to Adolescents with Learning Disabilities

Providing Reading Instruction to Adolescents with Learning Disabilities, a paper submitted by Jennifer Wickstrom in 2012, provides a review of the literature regarding high school reading interventions. Interestingly concerns that she notes over the literature include the fact that most of it contains very small sample sizes (some as small as 3) and interventions completed over short periods of time (10 weeks). Generalizing from this limited research base could be determined to be problematic.

One of the suggestions for reading remediation is pull-out one-on-one  services, a challenge in most high schools both for staff resources and student time. Reexamining schedules might provide part of the solution- students could be encouraged to explore five year graduation plans in order to develop delinquent skill sets, extended day or year programs could enable extra instructional time, schedules that include time for sustained silent reading or DEAR time within the ELA component could be utilized. Overall, however, our time in the high school is limited and trade-offs must happen. We need to provide a program that will yield college and career ready capabilities as much as possible, which in today's Common Core focus means perhaps limiting or dropping elective requirements, mandating summer programing and/or delaying graduation. Our students with reading disabilities need the gift of time in order to increase their reading skills.

In today's atmosphere of providing push in special education services we need to acknowledge that this often offers very limited opportunities to address foundational problems that students may have. We are sometimes building a house of cards that will collapse upon itself when the academic demands exceed the underlying capabilities of the students. Students may require more pull-out services that focus on building skills rather than homework support.

The intervention that Wickstrom recommended most strongly was repeated reading- short readings, read over until a fluency goal is reached as defined by correct words per minute. This technique builds fluency, vocabulary and comprehension skills. Further, it is relatively simple to implement, requiring only five minutes or so to complete. The challenge is to find materials that the student can be successful with (often grade level materials are too complex) and one-on-one time in which to work with the student.

Wickstrom also provides a listing of resources. This is broken into component reading skills and includes apps. The nature of technology, however, means that the offerings have expanded exponentially since the publication of this work.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Decoding and Fluency Problems of Poor College Readers

In today's age where there is an expectation that high schools are preparing students to attend college, teachers who support struggling readers at the high school level feel constant pressure. Students need to have the skills to succeed, whether that be increased reading skills or compensatory strategies or some combination of both. One especially large barrier for high school students with disabilities upon entering college is that the supports available undergo a giant transition. No longer are support services required and modifications and accommodations are more limited. We need to prepare students for this piece of their transition as well.

Lauren Capotosoto looked at the problem of college students with reading problems in her article, Decoding and Fluency Problems of Poor College Readers, located on the National College Transition Network. Interesting statistics of note include the idea that full time college freshmen are assigned an average of 250 pages of outside reading a week. Our current high school program comes no where near this. The average college student silently reads 263 wpm. If there are an average of 400 words per page (a low estimate) that equates with over 6.3 hours per week. A rule of thumb that college students should spend an hour outside of class for every hour in class. While high school students might spend 30 hours a week in classes, a college student might spend 15-21 hours in classes.  If the student spends approximately half of that time reading, studying and completing homework could easily occupy the remaining time.

For a slow silent reader who reads only 133 wpm that means over 12.5 hours per week reading. If he needs to spend an additional 6-10 hours studying and completing homework, that means slow readers need to be especially disciplined when it comes to work. Just thinking about the time commitment means we need to be honest with our students- they need to be willing to put in significantly more time than their peers. I have advised students to plan on spending 2 hours per week per credit on homework for college classes.

The author highlights several strategies that have demonstrated success in increasing reading skills among college students. These include text-to-speech software, whole class and individual phonics instruction, untimed tasks and assessments to ensure that remediation and classes match student needs.

The author also highlights some unsuccessful practices for increasing reading skills among college students. These include independent work, either text or computer based, texts with cue boundaries and speed reading instruction. If these strategies are not helpful at the freshman in college level, they are unlikely to be constructive for high school struggling readers either.

The implications for secondary teachers is clear. We need to focus on increasing reading skills. Generic reading programs will not be enough. Our students need programs that are focused on their individual needs. Slow readers need to work on fluency, those with limited vocabularies need language development, those with comprehension weaknesses need strategies to derive meaning from text, those with poor decoding skills need phonics development. We need to teach compensatory strategies like using audiobooks, text-speech software, when to use cliff notes or skimming and how to use assisted note taking strategies such as copies of notes, recordings of notes and livescribe pens. We need to teach them to advocate for themselves and to take advantages of support services that are available. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to teach them perseverance so that they will spend the extra time and energy to complete the work they need to do in order to achieve.

When advising students, we may consider indicating that a reduced load may be worth considering. Students who may be able to complete 12 credits successfully, may be overwhelmed by 15 or 18. A summer session or two might be well worth the investment, if it is what helps a student manage his workload and perform at an acceptable level.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Nine things every teacher should know about words and vocabulary instruction

Karen Bromley's article, Nine things every teacher should know about words and vocabulary instruction, from the April 2007 edition of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, reiterates a common theme around vocabulary instruction. We know how to do it well, but we do not do what we know. Her three major reasons to teach vocabulary include the fact that 70-80% of comprehension is dependent upon vocabulary, fluent readers recognize and understand many words, read more quickly and easily than those with more limited vocabulary, and students with large vocabularies score higher on achievement tests than those with smaller vocabularies.

One repeatedly suggested tool to teach vocabulary is instruction is word parts. A great deal of research supports teaching roots. If we provide instruction in roots, students can infer meanings of words. While this is an incomplete manner for deeply learning vocabulary, it provides connections that assist with learning and remembering new vocabulary. An interesting strategy working with roots is a word tree. While the authors show a tree with each major branch representing a root with leaves labeled with words containing the root, I prefer the idea of a tree trunk being labeled with a root and the branches being labeled with words demonstrating the word as seen below. If you were in a full class, you could divide the class into groups and assign each a root. The groups would be responsible for identifying words that contain the root and giving both a definition and a description of how the word incorporates the root. This could all be written on leaves that would be added to the "tree" during a class presentation.

Another tool for expanding vocabulary is reading aloud to students. This provides exposure to words we might not use in our oral vocabularies, context in which to develop definitions and background knowledge to support comprehension. Furthermore, reading aloud enables students to hear well read material which reinforces and develops fluency skills as well.

A third recommendation that I especially appreciate is her idea that teachers should "display an attitude of excitement and interest in words and language" (p. 535). Far too many well educated people fail to use the vocabularies they have. Everything good or bad rarely phenomenal or horrendous, things fall rather than plummet or descend, people walk rather than strut, swagger or stagger. We need to read and highlight the wonderful words and phrases we encounter. In those few extra minutes we sometimes have in class we can ask students to talk about favorite words or to compose vivid descriptions of things. We can celebrate these in class with verbal recognition and in print on bulletin boards and in school newspapers. Taking time to use and reward vocabulary helps all students in the class.

Since vocabulary is one of the triad of supports of comprehension (fluency and alphabetics- phonics and phonemic awareness- are the others), we need to figure out how to do a better job teaching it. We know how to do it. We need to not suffer from the curriculum conundrum: we have so much to do; we focus on covering it rather than teaching it. Someday we will stop providing lists of SAT words and definitions and quizzing students on the twenty to thirty words of the week. We will rely on wide reading, teaching a few select words well rather than many poorly and word study to develop vocabulary in a meaningful manner. This will reinforce both comprehension and fluency which will help our students be more successful.

Is reading fluency a key for successful high school reading?

In Is reading fluency a key for successful high school reading? published in the September 2005 edition of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, authors Timothy V. Rasinski, Nancy D. Padak, Christine A.  McKeon, Lori G. Wilfong, Julie A. Friedauer and Patricia Heim examined the question: Could one source of difficulties in reading for middle and high school students from urban areas be a lack of reading fluency? They studied students from an urban area in June where they conducted a one minute reading and retell and compared it with result from the state graduation tests the students had taken.

The first difficulty the authors encountered was that reading rate norms do not exist beyond grade eight. They propose that the 50th percentile spring norm for grade eight of 171 words correct per minute(wcpm) would be expected to continue to increase each year of high school. In light of the fact that oral reading has limits on speed if meaning and prosody are to be maintained, I suspect that rate is near the top of the rate chart. As reading material becomes increasingly complex, the reader encounters more multisyllabic words and more complex sentence structures that limit speed when intelligibility is required. That being said, in the absence of grade norms for ninth grade, the authors chose to use the eighth grade norms in their study.

They found that the urban students read the ninth grade reading passages at an average of 97% accuracy. This places their reading correctness at the independent level. When their speed was examined, however, they found that 61% of students scored below the eighth grade 25th percentile score. For these students, reading assignments would take 150% or more time to complete than the average readers at eighth grade. Students who read significantly slower than their peers are less likely to read the material assigned which has a negative effect on school performance. Further they analyzed the relationship between reading fluency and comprehension as measured by the graduation tests and found that fluency accounted for 28% of the variation in scores.

If nearly one-third of the comprehension scores are determined by fluency, why then do we not see a solid push to increase fluency among our high school students? This seems like an easy entry point for intervention that will increase, among other things, graduation rates. We must be careful, however, to observe the caveat that the authors point out. Fluency is not rate alone. If all we do is increase reading rate, comprehension will not be impacted and the success of the intervention will not be realized. Fluency interventions need to focus on rate, prosody and comprehension.

One interesting possibility for intervention is to revisit old recitation concepts. In the early days of public education in America, recitation was a critical goal of education. Students were expected to be able to recite their lessons. We do not need to go so far, but teaching oral interpretation could have big dividends. Students could be expected to periodically deliver speeches; recite poems, soliloquies and passages; and participate in theater and debate exercises. Our Common Core standards include a strand for speaking. We could develop fluency while working on speaking skills, a component of the curriculum.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Oral Reading Fluency as a Predictor of Silent Reading Fluency at Secondary and Postsecondary Levels

In order to answer which oral reading fluency variables predicted silent reading fluency proficiency levels and what are the predictors of the silent reading fluency test results for students with reading disablitieits versus students without reading disabilities, researchers Soonhwa Seok and Boaventurura DaCosta created a study which they reported on in Oral Reading Fluency as a Predictor of Silent Reading Fluency at Secondary and Postsecondary Levels published in the October 2014 edition of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.

One of the important results of the study was that age, disability status and grade level significantly impacted silent contextual reading fluency but reading rate impacted silent word reading fluency. This distinction means that if we only focus on rate, we may be missing the ball on improving reading. Unfortunately age, disability and grade level are items that cannot be altered. One possible implication is that grade advancement for the sake of self-esteem may be harming possible reading success. Perhaps summer programs need to be available not just to students with disabilities at risk of significant regression, but to students with reading disabilities who need more time to grapple with reading. They can receive explicit reading instruction that focuses on enhancing fluency and comprehension.

While the authors do not propose any change to number of days/hours in school, they do propose a three pronged reading instructional program. First they suggest vocabulary strategies be taught. This includes rich exposure to words- talk to them, read to them, read with them, have them read. In order to increase the effectiveness of instruction they suggest matching students by learning goals, strategies and existing vocabularies. They suggest teaching roots to expand vocabulary and utilizing a direct instructional method wherein a limited number of words are taught well rather a large number of words are covered.

The second prong is fluency instruction. They suggest teaching fluency with feedback and scaffolding to enhance skills. They list a number of strategies suggested in many of Rasinski and Paige's works.

The third component of the recommended program is comprehension strategies. The seven suggested strategies include: graphic organizers, self-questioning, visualization and summarization, acronyms, word identification and paraphrasing. Interestingly, within the article, this list of suggestions is not supported with research. Other authors, however, concur on the usefulness of these strategies within reading comprehension.

As I have previously mentioned this is my year to study fluency. I find it intriguing that the strategies will all support fluency. Having a wide vocabulary will impact fluency- reading words and phrases you are unfamiliar with slows you down and reduces your ability to read fluently with prosody. Similarly, word identification is critical for fluency.  Students who can visualize as they read "see" what they are reading and consequently can read with greater prosody. Although most will say it is a false dichotomy to say the five components of reading are independent silos to instruct in isolation, few people really see how interrelated they are in creating reading proficiency. Without one component, you cannot be a successful reader.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Is Fluent, Expressive Reading Important for High School Readers?

I have been asked why I consider it important that my students read fluently. In particular, why did I put a words per minute goal on an IEP? Although the National Reading Panel described fluency as one of the five critical components of reading instruction, limited attention to reading fluency has occurred. Authors such as Timothy Rasinski suggest that poor success with fluency impacting reading skills is related to the limited definition of fluency as reading speed. Fluency incorporates speed but also prosody.
Reading fluency seems especially anachronistic at the secondary level. Students can read. Why should we focus on this area? David D. Paige, Timothy R. Tasinski and Theresa Magpuri-Lavell's article, Is Fluent, Expressive Reading Important for High School Readers? from the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy in September of 2012, looked at this issue. They open their article with the research-based assertion that "Fluent readers tend to read in a way that constructs meaning, whereas less-fluent readers tend to struggle with making meaning (p. 67)." They do note the brevity of research on the effectiveness of fluency instruction at the secondary level. This study reports a linear relationship between oral prosody and silent reading comprehension. Students who orally read more fluently have higher silent reading comprehension rates. Fluency was rated based on the Multidimensional Fluency Scale. This scale looks at the expression and volume, phrasing, smoothness, and pace of reading. It enables an informal assessment of skills that can be used to assess progress over time.

The authors go on to point out that reading instruction at the high school level tends to focus on comprehension skills. Since comprehension instruction is most effective once basic fluency is achieved, this suggests the requirement for an instructional shift. Based on their research, they suggest that for students with fluency issues, rather than focusing on comprehension, the instruction should focus on fluency in order to improve reading skills.

The authors suggest a few practices to improve fluency at the high school level.
  • Selection of materials that lend themselves to prosodic reading: plays, speeches, poetry, reader's theater, etc. Social studies and ELA abound with these opportunities, but a creative teacher can incorporate them into other content areas.
  • Deep and wide reading: read lots of different things at the readers level on a variety of topics in a variety of genres.
  • Repeated readings; read it over. Some of the CCSS move toward close reading emphasizes this idea that material should be read over, but teachers need to be careful that it not be at or beyond the frustration level of the students. Furthermore, passages for repeated reading should be short (Less than 500 words for high school students) which is counter to many readings used in CCSS materials.
  • Assisted reading in which a proficient reader reads along with the struggling reader. Techniques include paired reading and choral reading.
  • Direct instruction in what fluent reading is with modeling of appropriate prosodic reading.
  • Avoiding singling out struggling readers. Choral approaches allow anonymity in reading.
These practices can all be carried out in general content area classrooms. Teachers may need instruction in how to create and implement lessons that include fluency instruction within their content area. Consultant teachers and reading specialists can offer this support and guidance. Further, if a teacher is co-teaching in a room, groups can be split into those that need fluency support, those that can read independently and those that need comprehension strategies. Differentiating the instruction and utilizing the power of multiple teachers in a classroom provides for optimization of instruction. In order for such instructional approaches to be used, however, dedicated co-planning time needs to occur.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Targeting adolescents' literacy skills using one-to-one instrruction

My search for research related to fluency turned up an interesting article by Timothy T. Houge, Constance Geier and David Peyton titled Targeting adolescents' literacy skills using one-to-one instruction with research-based practices from the May 2008 edition of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. They begin wondering if schools can obtain the success of one-to-one tutoring clinics and what are the aspects of such settings that contribute to success. They assert that adolescent literacy deficiencies can be addressed at if "systematic fluency, vocabulary and comprehension" (p 640) instruction are utilized. Further, they highlight the importance of three components of tutoring programs that contribute to success: a well trained coordinator who supervises, trains and intervenes as necessary; planning and structure of lessons; and training of tutors.

Interestingly they neglect to examine the impact of the extra time component of tutoring programs and the intensive nature of such successful programs. When we provide reading interventions it is rarely one-to-one in a school. Usually it involves small groups. We often find the time either very limited or contaminated by a need for support in other areas; reading is not the sole focus. We find the tutoring programs often not only include on-site work, they also include homework, a factor that many struggling readers are reluctant to participate in. They also fail to recognize the difference between someone attending a tutoring session afterschool, at the parent's general inconvenience and the increased motivation this entails when compared with the general population at school. While the analyzed components are necessary to literacy improvement in a school setting, we also need to consider these factors.

I found it interesting that the authors note the importance of using contemporary young adult literature as essential for "engagement, influencing comprehension and reading achievement" (p. 648). When I use Wilson with my students, they tend to find it boring and babyish. As a result I am forced to look outside the program to literature to obtain engagement. Although the decoding skills are critical for improving some of their skills, they need it balanced with reading material that they find of interest. Articles from, books from Orca publishing, low reading level textbooks and picture books have all made it into my instruction. I find such inclusion critical to developing the required engagement for learning.

The article does provide a nice sample lesson plan that incorporates the following components:
plan component
how I will implement
reading for fluency/comprehension questions from the book ___________________
 (5-8 min.)
- Read a selected limited word count 3 times with instruction in elements of fluency as needed
-retell homework reading
-comprehension questions on homework reading
20 min.
phonetic instruction: (list topic)
practice word work on a particular phonetic concept
sentence dictation
Write 3 sentences, make corrections, read back
guided oral reading with the book _______________ [same as above] (20 min.)
read and ask comprehension and vocabulary questions
writing exercise (10 min.)
write a response to a question, read back, make corrections
Adult read aloud form a different text (5 min.)
student listens and answers comprehension questions- model fluency and interaction with the text

I highlighted the areas of literacy instruction that each component addresses.

An important piece of this instruction is that the plan is completed with all the questions the teacher will ask spelled out. This level of thought enables the creation of not just literal questions, but of deeper, higher level questions and for data collecting. This particular chart would make a good lesson plan guideline when working in a one-to-one setting. When working with a mixed ability group, this plan would be less helpful, but could be adapted. This plan is clearly designed for the student with broad-based reading deficiencies. If a student needed more support in a particular area, the plan would need to be modified to provide for such focus.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Building reading fluency in a learning disabled Middle Schooler

Darrel Morris and Meghan Gaffney's article, Building Reading Fluency in a Learning Disabled Middle School Reader, from the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy in February 2011, describes a fluency based intervention with an eighth grader with significant reading delays. The young man was reading at a third grade level, had been through the Wilson Reading System to learn phonics and had received reading support at an university clinic over the summer and after school. The case study reports on progress made using a single tutor over a summer and school year during which the intensive focus was on fluency development. The student received 47 hours of reading tutoring. The format of the lessons was:
  • Check of tape-recorded reading (homework)- discussion and timed reading (10 min.)
  • Guided reading- instructional level text (30 min)
  • 2 repeated readings trials on familiar material (10 min)
  • Tutor read aloud (10 min)

This format involved several components of fluency instruction: repeated reading, listening while reading, comprehension emphasis and self-selection of reading material. During the course of the year the student increased his words per minute on third grade material by 27 wpm. This represents a year of fluency growth (Hasbrouck and Tindal). Some might think this is not significant growth, but for an eighth grade who had made only 3 wpm growth the previous year, this represents an especially significant improvement. Yes, the student continues to read significantly below grade level, but remarkable improvement has been made.

The authors caution that the high school environment might present an added challenge to reading development since often supports become more content than process driven. It becomes more about using audiobooks than improving reading with focused reading instruction. While in middle school the student received reading intervention in school and out of it. This combined to create a critical mass of instructional time devoted to reading. Without this sort of commitment to reading instruction, growth might stagnate again.

What this brings home is the importance of time. Over the course of the year he received 47 hours of instruction outside of school. This represents a significant investment. It also illustrates how important extending the instructional opportunities is. After school and summer work all played a large role in the progress this student made.

It also reinforces the idea that for students with significant reading disabilities, progress should not be measured based on how far you are from age peers. If a student averages 6 months of growth a school year, within three years they are a year behind their average peers. If progress can be made at a rate greater than that which has occurred in the past, then the teacher is being highly effective. The idea that all students will read at grade level is ridiculous. The idea that all students can make significant progress is not only realistic it is imperative. Our definition of significant, however, is critical. I believe that significant is based on previous rate of progress. If you move that 6 month progress student six months over a school year, you made average growth. That is good. If you moved that same student seven months of progress, it is significant growth. The child is still falling further behind, but at a slower rate than before.

That does not mean we can be happy with status quo progress. Students who are disabled, however, are unlikely to be able to a year's progress in a year without intensive interventions. The traditional school day does not have sufficient time to provide this level of intensiveness without substantially sacrificing other content material. We need to think about providing high quality interventions beyond the school day and school year. We need to think about reading growth as something that does not stop at the end of public school. Reading instruction and growth can continue far beyond school.

One of the points made by the authors is that a critical component of reading growth and success is the "minimum reading rate... that encourages independent, self-selected reading" (p. 341). There is little research on this rate. I suspect it is highly variable based on an individual's grit, desire to read selected material, perceived access to personally interesting material, age, time constraints and environmental emphasis on reading. It would be an interesting area of research, but the general low levels of outside reading in the general public might make this particularly challenging to research. It does highlight the importance of fluency. If you read too slowly, you are less likely to read. Improving speed is important. What level is necessary to support independent reading, however, remains unknown.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The effects of listening while reading and repeated reading on the reading fluency of adult learners

Working with high school struggling learners, it quickly becomes apparent that although some are very much like children, others are far more like adults. This is seen in their individual maturity, compliance, individuality and outlook. Therefore, in looking at research related to fluency and my students, I have also pooled adult literacy materials. Beth D. Winn, Christopher H. Skinner, Renee Oliver, Andrea D. Hale and Mary Ziegler's research article, The effects of listening while reading and repeated reading on the reading fluency of adult learners for the November 2006 edition of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, was an interesting read. It describes a research study in which a dozen adults seeking support for weak reading skills were provided with listening while reading (LWR) and repeated reading(RR) opportunities and the effects of this intervention were analyzed. As one might expect both LWR and RR were effective in increasing reading fluency on the passage in which they were used. No research was completed to see if this instructional technique had impact beyond the article in question.

I want to comment on the author's rationale for looking at reading fluency. Fluency has been demonstrated to be related comprehension. People who read more quickly utilize less working memory than those who read more quickly. This enables them to maintain the information in their heads for longer. It also facilitates ability to synthesize material with past learned material because there is available working memory for this activity. Reading fluency also impacts motivation. People who find reading easier, find it more enjoyable and are more likely to read. When you read faster the rate of reinforcement related to reading is higher and the likelihood of choosing reading over other activities increases. Further, when individuals read, their fluency, vocabulary and comprehension increase. Thus there is a spiral that works up and down. Fluency increases motivation to read which increases reading which increases fluency. Conversely there is a negative relationship as well. Low levels of fluency decrease motivation which decreases reading which increases the gap between the high and low proficiency levels which decreases relative fluency. This is the first time I have seen researchers really appreciate this cycle of motivation and reading success. Although others comment on the link between reading and increased reading skills, rarely do they pull in the motivational impact. I think that this is important in understanding why people do not choose to read.

In my practice it is easily and quickly apparent that both LWR and RR impact fluency on the particular passage. When I want student to read something more smoothly, I will use one of these techniques to do so. It inevitably increases reading rate, phrasing and comprehension. I operate on the basis that using these strategies increases fluency on other tasks as well. It makes sense that more frequent exposure to words increases the brains familiarity with them which in turn increases links that lead to proficient reading. After all, we know that neurons that fire together wire together. If we get students to create neurological links between words, their physical representation, their verbal representation and their meaning, it can only improve reading.

It appears, however, that the critical link may be motivation. How do we motivate students to read more? Simply requiring reading does not work. Students have lots of practice fake reading, reading simple books they read before, and avoiding required work. We need to show them the joy in reading. LWR is a great way to demonstrate that... if we have material to read that is interesting to the individual reader rather than interested to the adult in charge. For my son, this meant reading antique bottle buying guides. Unfortunately these are not on the AR list, do not have a plot to describe in a review and is absent of characters. He was lucky to have teachers willing to create individualized tasks for demonstrating his comprehension and reading. I know this is not always the case. We know that students who read graphic novels read more non graphic novels than struggling readers who do not read graphic novels. Why then do so many teachers disallow them in for independent reading choices? We need to give them a reason to read. Otherwise they will not. If they don't read, they won't get better at it and they won't choose to read in the future.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Evaluating the interventions for struggling adolescent readers

I am currently providing remedial reading instruction for a group of adolescents. As such I am trying to research programs that make significant impact on reading skills for adolescent struggling readers. Douglas Fisher and Gay Ivey's article, Evaluating the interventions for struggling adolescent readers, was published in the November 2006 edition of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. In this article they describe key components for interventions related to secondary students.

They describe two key features to any literacy program: opportunities for wide reading and instruction in strategies across the school day. For those people thinking about Response to Intervention, this could be considered the tier one program. Reading in the content area strategies, school-wide sustained silent reading (SSR or Drop everything and read (DEAR) programs would be components of this sort of program as would classroom libraries that have materials at a multitude of reading levels and topics. It would be especially important to have trade books that reflect the content area. For example during a unit on the Civil War books such as James McPherson's Fields of Fury, Patricia Polacco's Pink and Say, Paul Fleischman's Bull Run, John Jakes' North and South, Allan Gurganus' The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage, and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass could all be available to students to read and/or for snippets to be read to the class. For a geometry class or a geometry unit books like Area by Jane Jonas Srivastava, Speghetti and Meatballs for All by Marilyn Burns, The Great Pyramids of Gisa by Janey Levy, the Sir Cumference series by Cindy Neuschwander, and Perimeter and Area at the Amusement Park by  Dianne Irving are all possible choices. Amazon provides an excellent tool for locating books related to content areas. NSTA provides a fantastic science based resource list as well. Then the school librarian or local librarian can be utilized to provide access to materials that teachers are unable to own for their individual classroom libraries. While the Common Core emphasizes reading passages that are challenging, it is also important that reading motivate and intrigue students. Providing well-read examples of readings can also improve reading by helping expand vocabulary, increase positive relationships with reading and modeling appropriate fluency.

After the foundation has been developed, the authors present five key features of adolescent literacy interventions. First is an expert teacher. While computers may be motivating, they generally do not pinpoint needs and adjust instruction the way a human can. Further, computer responses can often be found merely by process of elimination. In a computer program students are often to start at the beginning of the program and move through every lesson set. All students go through each module regardless of whether they need instruction in that area or not. While some programs are improving in this area, many have this limitation. Teachers are critical in assessment and instructional delivery. That is not to say that computers cannot play a role in instruction, but computer programs alone are inadequate to meet the needs of students.

Second, the authors propose that a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction is essential. This means addressing reading AND writing not just skill development. Expert teachers need to identify where the reading process breaks down and intervene there. Very rarely are high school students that have had quality alphabetics (phonemic awareness and phonics) instruction in elementary school going to benefit from training in alphabetics. This means that much of the rote phonics instruction that I am asked to provide is not likely to increase reading skills in secondary students. Comprehension breakdowns due to limited fluency, poor background knowledge and limited vocabularies certainly plays a role in reading difficulties as do weaknesses in other comprehension skills. Further, memory related issues can reduce reading performance. The authors, however, note that presenting isolated skill and strategy instruction is rarely useful for this age group. They propose using a comprehensive approach integrating the skills with the reading of real texts, potentially those the students are being asked to read in other subject areas.

Third, the authors note that reading instruction should be engaging. "Babyish" passages need to be avoided. Many reading intervention programs use short inane passages that high schoolers are uncomfortable reading. Student interests need to play a role in text selection. This could be self selected novels or assigned texts the individual needs to cover. In one on one settings where the material is very easy, students may be compliant but not engaged. This is a careful line a teacher must consider regularly.

The fourth component they describe is instruction driven by useful and relevant assessments. This is unlikely to be the state tests in reading or ELA or standardized tests that students take. The authors advise obtaining good baseline data about student performance from a variety of sources such as writing samples, informal reading inventories, interviews and observations. This must be in a variety of contexts, in a variety of formats for a variety of purposes. A nonfiction sports story from the newspaper may reveal very different information from a passage from a history textbook or an on-line celebrity blog. All bring important information to the table. Interestingly, the authors do not point out that on-going formative assessment is essential as well. Having read many of Fisher's writing, I believe that he would contend that such data collection is also essential to understanding progress and creating responsive instruction.

The last component is significant opportunities for authentic reading and writing. If we want students to get better at reading, they need to read. Lots of reading means lots of time. According to Mary Dorinda Allard's study on how teenagers use their time, young people spend an average of less than fifteen minutes a day reading. If we just rely on outside reading to get the job done, we will fail to support struggling readers. This means we need to create time in our school days for reading, especially for our struggling readers. This creates an interesting logistic problem. Struggling readers tend to be struggling students. Typical freshman in New York have full schedules with ELA, math, science, social studies, fine art elective, PE, and foreign language. If they are language exempt or are satisfied with a single language credit they earned in middle school, they have some room for an alternate elective. Rarely is reading remediation provided as an "elective." If it is, it is rarely more than twice a week/rotation. Further, it tends to be more of a general cross content remediation or class specific intervention (i.e. social studies AIS). As such, students are not provided with significant dedicated time to develop reading skill in school. I read one study that indicated three hours a day for six weeks was successful at improving reading instruction, but most schools do not have such flexibility. If a student attends summer school at the high school level, it is for a particular content area rather than reading. Because we are culturally bound by a four year high school, we are willing to allow our struggling learners to squeak by or fail rather than receive the interventions they need to become more capable students. The irony of this is that as a result of poor performance and frustration, many will drop out anyway. Without a true commitment to reading intervention our half-hearted attempts are unlikely to lead to any significant growth. The authors recommend that over half of the intervention time be spent on reading and writing activities rather than skill instruction. They imply that this must happen on a daily basis.

The authors discuss two case studies. One student has a computer based intervention which does not generate significant growth. The other has a multidimensional program that bridges both in and after school care, incorporates SSR of self selected work, guided reading of more challenging content, small group and center based reading activities and daily individualized instruction. The authors suggest that the later program will be far superior to the former.

Clearly the implication is that a school wide intervention in reading instruction is essential to meet the needs of struggling learners. Potentially this means either an extended school day or extended school year where reading as a program can occur on a daily basis for a block of time (ex. an hour). If we are not willing to systematically adjust programs to meet the needs of these struggling learners, we may be providing interventions, but the research shows they will have limited impact.

One interesting piece of this article is the inclusion of a rubric for evaluating intervention programs. If someone were to be influencing decision makers about selecting or designing a reading intervention program, it would be a useful tool for analyzing the approach.

The Fluent Reader

Timothy Rasinski's The Fluent Reader: Oral and Silent Reading Strategies for Building Fluency, Word Recognition & Comprehension is a book and DVD package that reiterates how interrelated the elements of reading are. If you do not have word recognition, fluency and comprehension suffer. If your fluency is impaired because you take too long to read, ignore punctuation or do not use any emphasis in your reading, comprehension suffers. If you do not comprehend the material, you cannot read with prosody. Strategies that address any component affect the others.

The forward of the book by D. Ray Reutzel is exceptionally well written. Even someone who has extensive background in fluency approaches will appreciate it. He highlights some of the challenges of common fluency instruction:

  1. reading purely for the sake of increasing speed AKA DIBELS side effect
  2. providing attention to the idea that different reading tasks require different types of reading- "reader's executive or metacognitive control of accuracy, rate, and expression for a variety of purposes and across a variety of text difficulty levels and types."
  3. reading uninteresting, isolated passages as practice
  4. measurement of fluency by oral reading rate using grade level texts read for a single minute
                                                                                                                             p. 8-9
This book discusses ways to deal with these challenges.

First, Rasinski emphasizes the role of comprehension and prosody. This voids the speed for the sake of speed. Techniques such as choral reading of poetry, radio reading and readers theater provide fluency practice while incorporating good oral reading skills.

Second he suggests intensive use of read alouds to demonstrate the importance of different types of reading for different tasks. Other authors have suggested that if a student is assigned to read passage and answer questions at the end, skimming might be the appropriate approach to "reading" but when a summary is required, a more careful read is required. Rasinski supports teachers demonstrating both good and bad models of reading and having students discuss the pros and cons of each. This is not a task that is done once, but many times with different types of readings. Poetry, for example, can be read with lots of rhythm and a sing song manner, but if you try doing that with prose, meaning suffers.

Third, rather than reading isolated passage selections, Rasinski supports integrating instruction into content area materials. He proposes a one minute check in during which a teacher listens to a student read whatever content area material they are working on. Students have the background material available, are not feeling like this is a step out of instructional reality and hopefully have some motivation to read the passage because it complements what they are responsible for learning. This is a quick method that could be done once a month for every student in a class to monitor progress. Notes on correct words per minute, prosody and errors would lead to instructional choice for both the individual and the entire class.

Lastly, he proposes using a large variety of reading material to assess fluency. Poetry; student, teacher and commercially available scripts; textbooks; picture books and more are used to practice and assess progress. If students are involved in the creation of such passages, they could reflect the content being taught at the time so this is not a wholly separate activity that teachers must carve time out for in their busy days.

Two strategies that he proposes for developing fluency are often neglected: silent reading and being read to. As students get older, an increasing amount of material must be read silently. Practice at this skill is a must. Devoting class time to silent reading is a valuable use of class time, but teachers must be sure that actual reading is taking place. Students, especially struggling readers, are experts at fake reading. Checking in at the beginning, setting goals, circulating and asking students what they have read about, paired reading and student generated book-talks are all possible activities to reduce the fake reading. Students also love to be read to, regardless of their age or reading level. (I know that my very literate 17 and 14 year olds still love it when I break out a book to read to them.) I have found that picture books can be great ways to introduce new content to older students. Modeling good prosody, highlighting great phrases, exposing students to rich vocabulary are all benefits of reading aloud to students. Just last week I was reading a book, Zee's Way by Kristin Butcher, with a group of kids and the author described dawn as night leaking away. I had to stop and share my joy at this description with the students who, when prompted, visualized it and agreed with my delight at the wording.

Rasinski offers suggestions for developing sight word vocabulary. One of these suggestions is to use Fry's list of sight phrases. I have begun doing this and have noticed that it encourages reading in phrases rather than word by word, a symptom of disfluent reading. This is a resource that will certainly be utilized in my instruction with students who need support to read in phrases.

Rasinski's style of writing is very friendly. He incorporated lots of references for where to locate material to use with the various strategies and lots of sample forms for taking data. This book targets reading instruction at the elementary and intermediate levels, but offers suggestions that can be utilized at the secondary level. Further, this book would be a great resource for a teacher just beginning to focus on fluency. It offers lots of classroom specific ways to integrate fluency instruction into the school day. The DVD has both the forms that he prepared and classroom video of activities in action. It is a great support to the book itself.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Phonics and Fluency Practice with Poetry

Timothy Rasinski, William H. Rupley and William Dee Nichols's short book Phonics & Fluency Practice with Poetry: Tapping the Power of Rhyming Verse to Improve Student's Word Recognition, Automaticity, and Prosody-- and Help Them Become Successful Readers is intended for an elementary market. I picked it up because a) most fluency materials are intended for that market, b) Rasinski is an expert in fluency, and c) I am looking for ways to improve my secondary student's fluency.

The authors see poetry as a unique and motivating way to focus on fluency and poetry. Poems contain word families and rimes which are integral to phonics instruction. Capitalizing on the high incidence of rimes in poetry provides a natural way to demonstrate to young readers the power of word families. Poems also contain rhythm and often predictable language which assists with fluency reading as well. I worked with one student for whom, poetry enabled him to demonstrate prosody in a way that he was rarely ever able to do with prose text.

Within the reading lab at Kent State where Raskinski works, poetry based fluency lessons are a daily occurrence which has helped dramatically increase reading skills. Fluency lessons need not be long- 15 minutes is sufficient, but they do need to be consistently employed. The authors present four separate examples of fluency lessons:
  • daily poem
  • three day phonics and poetry routine
  • five day fluency poetry party routine
  • fluency development lesson
The daily poem is as it sounds, introducing a poem on a daily basis that gets read repeatedly over  the day. This would be a struggle to implement in a secondary environment where students switch teachers many times a day. The three day routine involves presenting a poem and identifying word families both within it and within the students' vocabulary. The second day involves using those word families to read other rhymes and possibly create some themselves. The third day involves multiple re-readings in a variety of contexts. The five day routine involves groups or individuals preparing to present poems. Both the three and five day routines could be adapted to an ELA class at the secondary level.

The fluency development lesson (FDL) is more complex. It is designed for struggling readers. It starts with the teacher explaining fluency and modeling it with a poem. After students chorally read the poem, they practice in small groups so that each child reads it three times while their partner listens and provides encouragement. Students are encouraged to perform the poem for the class. Then the vocabulary is examined and word study is engaged in. Copies of the poem go home for practice with a new audience and the following day the poem is read again. Clearly this is not something that could be done on a daily basis in a regular classroom. It might be possible during a unit on poetry where a whole class would be expected to perform a poem. In a supplemental setting, however, there is opportunity. In my current setting where some of the students I work with I see once every four days, I would need to very carefully select poems that incorporated the phonics concepts we are also working on. Since nursery rhymes, a favorite source, might be considered too childish, alternate materials would need to be searched out. The authors provide some sources for seeking out materials, but overall, this is an area that could consume extensive time.

I am working with the Wilson Reading System. This stepped program has a section that works on closed syllable words that are an exception to the short vowel sound. One such example is -old. The poem "Black and Gold" by Nancy Byrd Turner uses -old repeatedly and then also reinforces the previously learned family, -ink. I can see using this with my students who are working at this level. The poem is short, entertaining and reinforces the target word sounds. While elementary students might enjoy illustrating the poem or creating pumpkin crafts with it, at the high school level, simply focusing on the meaning might be enough. We could also talk about imagery, rhyme schemes and parallelism.

While the authors include a chapter on writing poem parodies as an extension, this might be an area where older kids thrive. Getting students to focus on the rhyme scheme and rhythm of the poem would be helpful in their understanding and analysis of other works. Since analysis is a common thread of the Common Core, this could easily be incorporated into the mainstream curriculum. Adding the creative element could be very reinforcing as well.