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.

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