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.