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.