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.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What's Hot & What's not

Every year IRA (International Reading Association) conducts a What's Hot in Literacy survey. This month's (September/October 2014) Reading Today contains the report authored by Jack Cassidy and Stephanie Grote-Garcia. Unsurprisingly, according the survey Common Core related topics such as close reading/deep reading, college and career readiness, informational/nonfiction texts and text complexity are hot. The trend of the survey is that the participants rated the vast majority to the topics as should be hot.

What surprised me was that fluency was rated by at least 75% of the respondents as not hot and 50% said it should not be hot. The authors postulate that this could be the case because they were hot during the Reading First/NCLB years and yielded negligible results in student achievement (p. 10). Indeed overall reading achievement scores have changed only slightly despite the attention to the big five that Reading First provided.

Timothy Rasinski has been a leading proponent of fluency. He has published multiple articles on the subject in a variety of journals, written several books, and given countless presentations on the matter. He certainly believes that fluency should be an integral part of the reading program, especially for struggling learners. Fast ForWord, a computer based intervention program, has a strong fluency component. Both Rasinski's and Fast ForWord studies have demonstrated significant improvement in reading achievement. Perhaps the reason the impact is perceived as minimal is that little attention was truly paid to fluency, in spite of the "attention" it was supposed to be receiving.

Perhaps another reason for decreased or stagnant reading performance is the reduction in the amount of reading children do. According to a Common Sense Media 2014 report, in 1999 approximately 45 minutes were spent a day reading or being read to for 2-7 year olds. In 2013 that number dropped to be 29 minutes per day for 2-4 year olds and 32 minutes per day for 5-8 year olds. Children who do not read and are not read to will have great difficulty improving their reading skills. Just having students read more increases reading performance. Merely reading and rereading material improves fluency. Targeted interventions are more effective, but simply promoting reading time is effective. This is something easy to accomplish, requires no training, and can be done in virtually any environment.

To me, not only does fluency impact comprehension, it also greatly impacts a student's willingness to read and ability to complete work in a timely manner. Without appropriate fluency, students are left in the dust as their peers read and learn on. Although our attention to complex texts and deep reading entail slowing down reading, think of the child who spends all of their mental energy on just getting through the text. If they cannot read it with some amount of speed, they often will not bother to read it. They will skim, look for key words, and learn to cheat and copy convincingly. This is not the goal. We need to empower our struggling readers to access the reading. This includes fluency.