Saturday, January 31, 2015

Effects of Repeated Reading and Listening Passage Preview

Kristine D. Swain and Elizabeth M. Leader-Janssen conducted a case study comparing the impact of repeated reading, listening passage preview and audio listening passage preview on fluency described in the article, Effects of Repeated Reading and Listening Passage Preview on Oral Reading Fluency published in Reading Improvement in April of 2013.

A fifth grade boy in a clinic session was provided all three conditions on each of intervention. Interventions were one time per week for 12 weeks (subject missed 3 sessions). There was a five month follow-up session. All conditions in the one-on-one program resulted in increased reading rate. The gains for the non-audio passage were not fully maintained, but the gains from the other two conditions were. Interestingly, after the program ended no further growth was made, indicating that without continued intervention, the gap reduction that was achieved would eventually disappear as the subject's peers increased in skill level and he did not.

This implication is important. One program for intervention currently used in response to intervention. Ideally, in this program a student who is not making adequate progress is targeted for a tier two intervention. When he progresses to have achieved the target skill, the intervention stops. For many students, this may result in bouncing in and out of program as they make progress with additional support, have the support removed and then they are again eligible for additional support. We have this idea that all kids should progress at the same rate and if they struggle, merely addressing a particular target will enable them return to the "normal" path of progress. This is not an idea that research such as Swain and Leader-Janssen carry out, not one of common sense. There is no set "normal" rate of progress. Some students make jumps and plateaus. Others make steady progress. Some work at very inconsistent paces. The rate is individual. When we ask all kids to achieve at the same rate, we underserve many- at both ends of the spectrum. The brightest can cognitively skyrocket and the ones who struggle move along like snails. Neither group can be ignored or expected to move at the rate of the other. We need to move each unique child at their individual rate. This may mean finding extra time for some- afterschool educational programs, Saturday programs, extended year opportunities. If we demand that they all have cookie cutter progress, we will be sadly disappointed, and they will be unable to fulfill our expectations.

Effects of a Reading Fluency Intervention for Middle Schoolers

Looking for research that targets secondary fluency development is a difficult task. Most people assume that fluency is achieved in the elementary classroom and thus does not need to be addressed at upper levels. Further, many people assume that either the students struggle with reading because of significant decoding gaps (rarely true) or that comprehension instruction will fill in any gaps students may have. Since abundant research does support the idea that many secondary students are dysfluent readers, looking at interventions to support their skill set is important.

Cecil D. Mercer, Kenneth U. Campbell, M. David Miller, Kenneth D. Mercer, and Holly B. Lane collaborated on an intervention and published Effects of a Reading Fluency Intervention for Middle Schoolers With Specific Learning Disabilities in Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 2000, 15 (4). This research is used to support use of the Great Leaps Reading Program, the materials used in the study.

Students were identified for inclusion because they had a specific learning disability. With limited reading instruction at the middle school at which the students attended, an intervention was deemed appropriate. Students participated for between one and three years. Instruction was delivered daily in a one-to-one setting. The first year only the most impaired readers were targeted and later years included more mixed groups. Instruction was 5-6 minutes long and delivered by a special ed teacher the first year and by a paraprofessional the following years. Overall, "most of the students... made more total reading progress in 6 to 25 months of being in middle school than in 45 to 54 months of being in elementary school" (p. 187). One of the really nice things about this article is the inclusion of individual student data. It allows examination of the variance of the scores as well as understanding the average results.

Certainly the implication is that fluency and reading levels can be addressed meaningfully at the middle school level. Although there were a few students who made huge progress- 2-3 years of progress per year- there were some that did not- 3 in the single year study and 1 in the two year study made only .5 years growth overall. The authors correctly stress the need to evaluate data and try to determine the factors that contributed to their less stellar growth. Connecting the best individual intervention with the student is an art that we have not yet mastered.

This study does support the Great Leaps program as a one-to-one, daily instruction intervention. It also supports the concept that instruction can be provided by people other than teachers. If we are serious about reading growth, this kind of intense program is imperative for improving the reading skills of our least proficient readers. Classes full of students working on challenging close reading is unlikely to produce positive results for this group. They need something different.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Effects of Assisted-Repeated Reading on Students of Varying Reading Ability

Jo-Ann Hapstak and Diane H. Tracey conducted a study to examine how individual students responded to repeated reading instruction and reported their results in the article Effects of Assisted-Repeated Reading on Students of Varying Reading Ability: A Single-Subject Experimental Research Study, published in the Reading Horizons Journal 2007, 47(4). In this study four first grade students were selected- one LD in reading, one struggling reader, one ELL and one general education student. Over eight weeks they each received two individual 10-15 minute sessions per week.

After a baseline reading rate was established, the intervention was as follows:
  1. student reads passage at his/her instructional level and graphs the rate
  2. teacher models the passage
  3. echo reading of the passage
  4. two additional practice readings
  5. Student reads the passage a final time and the results are graphed.
As expected the first to last reading rate increased for each child. The rates increased the most for the students with a reading disability and the struggling reader. Data on the progress of each student was provided. They also noticed transfer of reading rate increases for all students, especially the student with LD and the struggling reader, but they did not provide data to qualify the assertion.

One concern I have over the results is that there is an anticipated rereading effect. Only very rarely will a student read a passage 5 times and listen to it once will there not be an increase in reading rate. There is a reason we ask kids to practice anything- it improves performance. The increase in initial reading rate from the beginning of the study to eight weeks later only had a general trend up for the struggling reader. The general ed student had a small average increase. The other students had the expected mountainous profile that began and ended in the same place.  It would be interesting to have the transfer data to see what impact was made outside of the study parameters.

This study does support the idea that different instruction may be useful for students with reading difficulties. Repeated reading may be more useful for them than for the general population.

In watching people implement fluency interventions, I think one thing that is often missing is the modeling of fluent reading. Elementary students are often read to in a fluent manner, but when it comes to repeated reading, they are often sent off to that alone. Without having the passage modeled correctly, how do we expect students to improve? Just reading your passage three times may not be enough if you do not know some words or have not heard it read so that the punctuation informs phrasing. This sort of modeling seems critical for improvements, but it is often skipped in favor of independent reading. Yes, I think students should reread, listen to passages they read being read and echo read, but skipping the listening and modeling seems likely to be doomed or at least less effective.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Effective Instruction for Adolescent Struggling Readers

The Center on Instruction has published a document outlining the components of effective literacy instruction at the secondary level in a document entitled Effective Instruction for Adolescent Struggling Readers authored by Alison Gould Boardman, Greg Roberts, Sharon Vaughn, Jade Wexler and Christy S. Murray. This is the companion to their publication, Interventions for Adolescent Struggling Readers which I discussed in a previous blog.

The first thing the authors point out is that especially at the adolescent level it is important to pinpoint the needs of the learner when designing instruction. Most upper level students do not need instruction in phonics or phonemic awareness so spending time on these aspects of reading may be wasted effort, unless there are specific weaknesses delineated in the individual profile.

The authors discuss five primary areas of adolescent intervention: word study, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and motivation. For each area, they highlight how they define the area and then advance to comparing how successful and struggling readers perform in the area. Then they list components of effective instruction. They do not promote any particular program, just elements that should be included in instruction.

Under word study, the authors conclude that syllabification, identification of irregular words, and root study are the primary components to be included in the program. For fluency, they comment on the lack of evidence supporting repeated reading or wide reading as the superior approach. Under both models however, the reading material needs to at least be within the student's instructional reading level and progress should be charted, preferably by the student himself.

Vocabulary was the largest section of the guide. The authors discuss additive, generative and academic instruction. While wide reading is a primary way successful readers improve their vocabulary, struggling readers a) read less, are exposed to fewer words and consequently learn less by reading and/or b) learn less vocabulary from what they do read. Some of the components are important across all instructional types- a variety of exposures is essential and students need to be actively engaged. As a point of interest, they cite that "it takes about 12 rich and varied exposures to a word to develop deep understanding" (p.16). Years ago I heard the fact that it took the average learner 36 exposures to an isolated fact to learn it. For many students, if we do not draw the connections, much of what we present is seen as isolated. This means no matter what the vocabulary, if we do not have enough reading, discussion, and opportunities to play with the word through activities like semantic feature analysis, non-linguistic representations, metaphor development and games, students will not learn the word. We do need to remember that our best students need far fewer exposures to learn a new word and our students with executive function and/or cognitive challenges are going to need more.

Under comprehension the authors point out that we need to activate prior knowledge, utilize graphic organizers, and teach comprehension monitoring and fix-up strategies, summarization, asking and answering questions and how to pull them all together. The reciprocal teaching reading strategy is one approach to many of these techniques that I have blogged about.

Lastly, they highlight motivational factors. By the time struggling readers get to the secondary level, they often do not read without being under direct instruction and supervision. Encouraging them to participate in reading is essential to improving their skills. The authors suggest providing content goals for reading, using interesting texts and increasing opportunities to collaborate over reading. Since these all represent some element of choice and personal connections, this is where we need to intensely personalize instruction. This the element where we can be most powerful because if we can get them to read, they will improve their skill levels.

Teaching Sight Vocabulary and Improving Reading Fluency

Part of fluency instruction is the ability to automatically identify words. The more words a person can automatically read, the more quickly he will be able to read a passage. Theorists suggest that there exists a limited amount of mental energy available for reading. It can be spent on figuring out words and/or figuring out meaning. Therefore it is important that students increase the number of words they can read effortlessly in order to free up mental energy for comprehension.

The NEPS Good Practice Guide: Teaching Sight Vocabulary and Improving Reading Fluency: A Precision Teaching Approach presents a method for teaching sight words that can be utilized by teachers, paraeducators, volunteers or parents. Key to this and any other precision teaching method is careful record keeping.

The steps of the process are:
  • Identify sight words that the student does not know. Dolch and Fry have created the two most popular lists of sight words. (Alternatively sight phrases could be used which may be found here, here or here.)
  • Select 4-6 words to teach. Write on cards and teach:
    • present a word, have student repeat the word, pointing to the 1st letter, and use the word in a sentence.
    • repeat for each word.
    • Once all words have been presented, lay out cards with words and ask student to point to a particular word. Repeat covering each word at least three times correctly.
    • Shuffle cards and ask student to read each card.
  • Chart progress (John Taylor's Freebies has a variety of resources related to precision teaching, including chart sheet):
    • Randomly collect 50 sight words that the student knows, including the words taught that day. Have student read the words. The goal is 50 words with 2 or fewer errors in one minute.
  • Periodically extend with games.
  • Ensure generalization by presenting a passage with the target words for the student to read.

This packet includes some nice charts and samples for reference. It could be shared with parents or volunteers in order for them to implement the program.

This teaching method is effective for any memorization task. I have used variations for content area vocabulary. One critical piece is sharing with the child the progress chart. Altogether, the process is relatively short. The generalization stage is often skipped. This is a major mistake.  Many students do not generalize well. Finding passages with the target words and recording progress with automatic recognition of those key words, requires extensive planning. The passages are best from content area materials that the student works with in his classes. I believe that prior exposure is not a reason to avoid a passage. If we practice with material the student is currently learning, it will be helpful twofold- one for generalization of sight words and two for reinforcing content area information.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Interventions for Struggling Readers

In 2007 the Center on Instruction published Interventions for Struggling Learners: A Meta-Analysis with Implications for Practice. The authors of the document are Nancy Scammacca, Greg Roberts, Sharon Vaughn, Meaghan Edmonds, and Jade Wexler. This analysis is for the statistics lovers, not the practitioner who wants to know what to do.

Although the meta-analysis was published in 2007, 2004 was the date of the most recent studies in the group. Only 31 studies were analyzed. This limitation allows room for skepticism on the part of the reader. Many other studies, not the least of which was the National Reading Study from 2001 that formed the basis of the Reading First recommendations, were not included in the analysis.

This analysis does, however, focus on secondary learners that struggle with learning. Although struggling readers were teased out, focusing on this groups is important. Far less reading research goes on at the secondary level than at the elementary level. Consequently, identifying best practice for secondary reading instruction is challenging.

They make 9 implications for practice with regard to struggling learners:
  1. Adolescents benefit from interventions.
  2. Older learners benefited from interventions at both the text and word level.
  3. Older students benefit from improved vocabulary.
  4. Word-study interventions benefit students with word level weaknesses.
  5. Teachers can provide effective interventions.
  6. Comprehension strategies can be beneficial.
  7. Older readers do not make the same progress in reading comprehension as in other areas.
  8. Learning disabilities does not mean cannot benefit from reading interventions.
  9. Long term research is required to identify interventions that will close the learning gap.

Interestingly, many of the findings are vague, with small effect sizes. Smaller effect sizes may indicate particularly difficult to remediate areas or the presence of confounding variables. Vocabulary instruction, for example was very helpful for increasing vocabulary of taught words but did not necessarily increase reading comprehension. Fluency instruction was found to have very little impact on reading comprehension.

One bit of information that I found was the research supported the idea that early intervention is better. This is not a surprise. Catching problems early has been a focus of many special education programs. Response to Intervention utilizes this concept as well. Knowing that earlier interventions are more effective should encourage us to intensify interventions in the elementary and middle school levels. Perhaps reading interventions should be provided in summer school even if there is not significant regression, a bar for special education extended year services.

Earlier this year while in the copy room, I was asked if it was true that if students did not learn to read by fourth grade, they never would. My response was, thankfully, confirmed by this research. We can increase reading skills of our struggling learners. It requires intensive instruction and motivation. If generally effective reading instruction has occurred through the high school level, closing the gap may not be possible, but we can improve the reading our students do. We do have to decide how serious we are. One-on-one daily instruction for roughly an hour a day, will, if delivered with fidelity to research practices, result in significant improvement. Water down the instruction and you water down how effective you are.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why do Some Readers Struggle with Fluency

What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research Based Programs, a text by Richard Allington contains a chapter entitled Why Do Some Readers Struggle with Fluency? This chapter offers three main reasons for fluency not developing in struggling readers:
  1. Students are given a steady diet of too-difficult texts- they cannot read them accurately.
  2. Students are given lessons that provide little high-success reading resulting in little actual reading occurring
  3. Teachers frequently, consistently and immediately interrupt when students make an error.                                                                                        p. 34
As a result of these practices, children do not read enough to develop into successful readers.

His analysis of what high success reading looks like is interesting. If we look at a student who can read at 95% accuracy, he or she is making 6 errors per page of Harry Potter. For 99% this number drops to 3. In the first chapter that means there are over 50 errors that are likely to be important to the story (p. 37). Understanding of the text with this level errors would be drastically impaired. Consequently, Allington believes that for high-success, fluency development, 99% may not even be an adequate level of correctness. An interesting concept, since we tend to assign struggling readers, readings in which they make many more errors than that.

We know that students who are proficient readers read more than those who are struggling and that this discrepancy results in exponentially different numbers of word exposures between the two groups. Further, this difference results in widening the reading proficiency gap. It appears that one critical piece of increasing both reading fluency and overall reading skill is increasing the amount that students read. In order to do this we need to have books that intrigue students on topics they find interesting. While there are high interest/ low reading level books by publishers such as Orca, High Noon, HIP, Hameray and Bearport, classroom, school, and public libraries often carry few, if any, titles. If we want our reluctant readers to read, we need to give them things they can read AND things they want to read. As enjoyable as Arnold Lobel's books may be, middle and high school students will usually turn up their noses at them because they are "babyish."

Allington creates an interesting comparison between reading lessons with successful and struggling readers which is summarized in the chart below.

Type of reader
What lessons ask students and teacher behaviors
  • Ask to read aloud
  • Read too-hard texts
  • Interrupt with correction when misreading occurs
  • Ask to sound out words
  • Appropriate level of reading difficulty
  • Read silently
  • Expectation for self-monitoring and self-correcting
  • Focus attention on comprehension
  • Interrupt only after a wait period or at the end of a sentence
  • Suggest to reread or self-monitor when interrupted
                                                                                               p. 42-43
In light of different teacher behaviors, we see different student outcomes. This is not all that surprising.  Struggling readers are not given the opportunity to self-monitor and correct so they become passive rather than active participants in the reading process.

Repeated reading is a strategy that is highly regarded when it comes to reading fluency. Allington notes, however, that the studies that support this intervention are all short term studies- 6-12 weeks. Consequently he does not support long-term application of repeated reading. The research does support the use of wide reading as a long-term intervention. Therefore, he does support increasing the quantity of reading students do by virtue of reading lots.

When I think about how this interacts with some of the behaviors I have seen used with Common Core curriculum, I am concerned. Yes, research does verify that repeated reading of challenging material is successful for increasing comprehension. What passes as challenging material is my first concern. If you are a seventh grader reading at a fourth grade level, reading material at the upper end of the 6-8 Lexile band is frustrating and not seen as a learning challenge but an unsurmountable mountain of difficulty. Challenging material for this individual would be at the end of fourth grade level, but we are unlikely to modify our curricular expectations to meet this individual's  challenge level. This is not high success reading, except for then most capable readers in the class. It also fosters high levels of teacher interventions because of the difficult vocabulary, language and concepts.  Further, with the emphasis on passing "the tests" and limits on our instructional time, we are unlikely to provide the intense at-level practice that will help this student develop fluency and the self-identification as a reader. Yes, many of the selections provided represent varied reading choices. The repeated reading required for students to access this material may teach persistence in attacking difficult material, but it also limits the number of different texts students are exposed to. Presenting a balanced reading program is even more challenging in today's educational climate than it has been in the past.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Effects of Fast Start Reading

Timothy Rasinski developed a parental involvement fluency practice program called Fast Start reading. It is designed to be implemented with students just beginning to read- kindergarteners and first graders. He evaluated its use in The Effects of Fast Start Reading: A Fluency-Based Home Involvement Reading Program, on the Reading Achievement of Beginning Readers in Reading Psychology 26: 109-125 coauthored with Bruce Stevenson, and discussed its use in  Fast-Start: A Parental Involvement Reading Program for Primary Grade Students in a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the College Reading Association in November of 1994. Books describing its use are available at Amazon here and here. A kindergarten teacher has "packets" of materials available for her students' families here.

This program involves providing a parent training session and then packets to send home for parents to read for each week. Daily reading is expected to take between 10 and 15 minutes, but many families use only 6. The program involves the following sequence of events:
  1. parent and child sit together with the parent drawing attention to the text
  2. parent repeatedly reads the text to the child. They discuss the text.
  3. parent and child simultaneously repeatedly read the text together
  4. child reads the text alone
  5. word study activities
The texts selected by the teacher are generally poetry and suggested activities are included in the weekly packet. This could be word games or word puzzles.

The program demonstrated significant improvement in beginning readers who functioned at the low end of performance at the start of the program. Although more proficient readers made gains, they were comparable to those of the control group. Fast Start does offer an inexpensive method for improving fluency, word identification and comprehension with beginning readers. While it is not necessary for all students to have this level of structure, for students who are performing in the lower half of the group, it does provide an intervention that is both inexpensive, both in time and resources, and positively engages parents.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Effects of the Great Leaps Reading Program on Students with Severe Reading Disabilities

Although there is a variety of suggestions for instructional programs in order to increase fluency, I have seen few commercial programs. When I was asked to work with another teacher who was thinking of using Great Leaps, I knew I had to track down a copy to look at and see what the research said about the program. Polly G. Haselden and S. Elizabeth Webster created an experiment to examine Great Leaps (GL). In their article, The Effects of the Great Leaps Reading Program on Students with Severe Reading Disabilities as a Secondary Reading Intervention in an Impoverished Setting, published in August of 2011, they discuss their work.

The GL program includes three parts- phonics, phrases and passages. The phonics portion allows for instruction in decoding strategies. The phrases segment includes sight words and often confused words (ex. off and of). The passage section includes passages that are followed up with comprehension questions. Students read one page from each part for a total of one minutes each. Results are graphed. The program is designed to be supplemental to other interventions.

The authors used the GL program with three secondary (14 and 15 year olds) students with long histories of reading difficulties at a school in a high poverty area. They implemented the program over six weeks for what appears to be thirteen sessions. Each student improved in their reading rate. The authors do not comment on impact on reading comprehension.

One of the great criticisms of most commercial programs is that they focus on rate over accuracy and comprehension. While the GL program has a comprehension component, in this study, it appears that it was not utilized, utilized well, or had any impact. If one of the basic premises of fluency instruction is that when fluency improves, comprehension also improves, I am curious about results for these particular students.

It is good to know that at least some research is being done with this program at the secondary level, but I am left with more questions than answers as a result of reading it. What level program did the instruction use? How did it impact comprehension and reading level? Why did they select six weeks for an intervention period? Although the GL authors recommend at least three intervention periods per week, why did the study authors choose to do fewer? What other instructional interventions, if any, had been tried with these students and what ones were currently being utilized? With students experiencing significant reading struggles, many aspects of reading are often impaired- alphabetics, fluency, comprehension and language. Were there any impacts on language? Was phonemic awareness an issue? What about phonics?

Although the authors write a nice introduction to the study, describing the value of fluency instruction and reviewing the existing research on GL, the description of the research itself seems somewhat lacking. The conclusion, that it helped these three students seems justified. Acknowledging the limitations of case study research and the paucity of research at the secondary level, the authors caution that generalizations to other students is not prudent and that further research is required.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

For Students who are not yet fluent

Reading Rockets is a program that is used in many elementary schools to assist struggling readers. Individualized extra reading practice is provided and students are encouraged to read more at home. One of the enormous positives of Reading Rockets is their website which offers a wealth of information about learning to read. Jan Hasbrouck, an affiliate of the University of Oregon, has many articles published on the site. One, For Students Who are Not Yet Fluent, Silent Reading is Not the Best Use of Classroom Time, talks more about what not to do than what to do.

The author identifies the problems with sustained silent reading and DEAR reading- poor and unmotivated readers may not use the time well (fake reading anyone?)- and with Round Robin Reading- humiliation of the poor readers, boredom of the proficient readers and little practice for everyone. Her one positive suggestion is that proficient readers read independently while the teacher works with small groups of struggling readers to develop foundational skills.

While it is good to identify what is not good practice, it is at least as important to identify what is. This article fails to do so. Repeated reading, modeled fluent reading and think alouds are all research proven strategies that do promote fluency development. Lets focus on that.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Enhancing Outcomes for Struggling Adolescent Readers

Donald D. Deshler, Michael F. Hock and Hugh Catts published an article, Enhancing Outcomes for Struggling Adolescent Readers, in IDA Perspectives, April 2006, that discusses struggling adolescent readers. They begin with a discussion of the importance of reading as a skill set that students must successfully master in order to become economically successful adults. In light of the limited time and resources that high schools have, they argue that it is imperative that we intensely address literacy skills in middle school.

They identify two main levels of literacy instruction- students that struggle with foundational word-level skills and students that struggle with comprehension skills.
The authors go on to identify obstacles to reading comprehension as:
  • lacking fluency in word reading
  • lacking vocabulary, grammar, or text-level knowledge
  • lacking background knowledge
  • lacking efficient strategies for relating the text to past knowledge and experience.
Students who do not have the foundational skills, do not benefit from the reading comprehension skills that more proficient readers require. Therefore, it is imperative to carefully screen students to identify needed intervention areas.

The authors define features of effective intervention programs. First is a continuum of literacy instruction; proficient readers need instruction in higher level comprehension strategies through intensive instruction for students reading several years below grade level. Next are systems for managing student behavior; chaos in behavior prevents learning. Third is systematic screening to assess the literacy skills of the entire student body- you cannot identify who needs intensive instruction without assessing skill sets. Fourth is high quality teaching practices. Fifth, actually a part of the last feature, progress monitoring. Sixth, is access to engaging leveled reading material. Seventh is a culture of growth and achievement characterized by high expectations, student goal setting, and teaching good habits of learning (executive function skills!!). Eighth is structures that support instruction- co-planning time, flexible scheduling, decision-making teams, and teacher supports in order to design individualized instruction. Ninth is high quality professional development- coordinated, valid, and tied to student outcomes. Lastly, instructional coaching used to help teachers, not administer programs, analyze data, or provide non-instructional duties.

The Response to Intervention (RTI) approach utilizes many of these features- notably screening, effective instruction, and progress monitoring. For states, like New York, that mandate use of RTI in order to obtain a diagnosis of a reading learning disability for grades K-4, this means we have processes already in place to support effective reading remediation before students make it to secondary placements. We can expand these processes into the middle school levels to meet the on-going needs of our students.

My fear is that there are not enough teachers who are skilled instructors in reading. We may utilize effective, research-based practices without fidelity. We group in sets larger than interventions are designed for in groups not specified by instruction for time periods that are far less than the interventions are designed for. We say logistics interfere with our ability to meet the needs of students, that we do not have the resources to implement interventions with fidelity, and that state requirements interfere with our ability to carve out adequate instructional time. These are real concerns. If, however, we are serious about a world class education, about reducing the prison population, the percent of people living in poverty, and raising the bar for our graduates, we need to find a way. Perhaps mandated summer school for elementary struggling learners, afterschool tutoring in reading for struggling middle and high school learners, and increasing the cultural acceptability for high school to extend beyond four years.

Research on fluency indicates that with consistent daily instruction, we can radically change reading skills for a significant percentage of our struggling learners. If we implement fluency instruction such as repeated reading of poetry with word-study on a consistent basis and monitor success of the intervention, we can meet the literacy instructional needs of the majority of our students. If students fail to respond within ten weeks, alternative interventions could be used so that time would not be wasted. We can help our students become more successful readers. It does require a commitment and middle school is an ideal time to hammer home interventions for students that struggle. We also need to acknowledge that some students require a higher level of basic instruction than others. With that extra instruction, they can keep up, without it they may fly when they receive support and plummet when they do not.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Does Repeated Reading Improve Fluency and Comprehension for Struggling Adolescent Readers?

Kristine Lynn Still and Christine A. Flynt looked into reading interventions for adolescents in their article, Does Repeated Reading Improve Fluency and Comprehension for Struggling Adolescent Readers? from JAASEP Winter 2012. The vast majority of fluency research focuses on the elementary reader where we believe that reading fluency should develop. For many struggling readers, however, fluency is not achieved in the early grades. The authors tried to clarify often conflicting research results by examining the impact of repeated reading on ninth and tenth grade struggling readers as it relates to fluency and comprehension.

Twelve weeks of intervention were used to see if student fluency and comprehension could be addressed with repeated readings. Overall, they found that fluency definitely improved regarding the repeatedly read passages which were significantly below grade level. There was not a large transfer to grade appropriate passages. Half the group had significant increases in comprehension as measured by Lexile  increases. Students in small group resource setting had a higher increase in comprehension than those who came from co-taught classes. Reading comprehension and fluency were not reliably linked in responding to the intervention. What did significantly improve, while not an original study objective, was student motivation as a result of graphing results.

The authors concluded that small group reading instruction was more effective than co-taught English classes for increasing reading comprehension and consequently should not be eliminated from the menu of interventions available at the high school level. They concluded that graphing of progress was motivational and that many students responded to repeated reading positively.

The authors did look at the student characteristics that led some students to be more successful than others. Not surprisingly they found that "hard workers who gave 100% effort on a daily basis" had more positive outcomes than those who "struggled with staying on task and completing the repeated reading method accurately and efficiently" (p. 165).

What this means to me as a practitioner is that we need to maintain careful records of progress to determine if proscribed interventions are effective and, as Marzano, points out, student maintained records of progress are effective at increasing motivation. Further, while repeated reading may increase reading skill, if students are not finding success, they need different interventions. We also need to recognize that effective interventions are implemented on a regular and intense basis. The authors worked with the students on a daily basis. We rarely see reading interventions at the high school level being used with that amount of frequency.

One of the useful items in the appendix is chart of National Oral Reading Fluency Benchmarks. I have copied the high school standards which I have not seen anywhere else.

Fluency (wpm Norms)
GE reading level

They demonstrate the increase in fluency across the high school level as a small percentage improvement, especially relative to those at other grade levels. For ninth grade it is only a 6.7% increase over the course of the year, whereas the increase for fourth grade is a 20 % increase. When we think of Lexiles this is an interesting thought. When they reworked the Lexile bands in response to the Common Core, they made a more even distribution of increase in level of complexity per band: 4-5, 210 points, stretch range- 270; 6-8, 150 points, stretch range- 260; 9-10, 160 points, stretch range- 285 and 11-12, 150 points, stretch range- 200. If we only expect a small increase in reading rate at this level, what research exists to support a steady increase in reading comprehension level?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Extending Readers Theatre

Sheri Vasinda and Julie McLeod explore how adding podcasting to Readers Theatre impacts reading in their article, Extending Readers Theatre: A Powerful and Purposeful Match with Podcasting, from The Reading Teacher 64(7). They worked with classes of second and third graders from three different suburban Texan schools. Within these classes 35 out of approximately 100 students were identified as struggling readers- reading levels at least one grade below the class.

Podcasting was selected as the technology to explore because of its match to Readers Theater. Readers Theater is an aural interpretation of a reading and podcasts only record voices. Keeping the goal as an oral presentation without props, costumes or sets enables the focus to remain on reading and reduces the time commitment per script. Students spent approximately 15 minutes per day practicing their scripts with their peers. Since the authors mentioned having two copies per student, one for home and one for school, we must presume that students were also expected to practice on their own at home. Student presentations were available online for parents and the students themselves to listen to at convenient times.

Over the ten week intervention, struggling students averaged over a year of reading growth. This is remarkable progress for students who were not on track to begin with. What the authors fail to discuss is the students who did not make such growth. (The graphic data display may have simplified results to reflect growth in terms of half year increments.) According to the graph, five students did not improve at all. Are these the students with significant disabilities, English Language Learners, or students with attendance problems? Are these students who did not practice at home? Delving deeply into these students' failure to respond could provide essential information for improving their reading skills. Additionally five students improved only half a year. Would these students plateau, accelerate their growth or remain steady at that level of growth if the intervention were extended beyond ten weeks? Are these students with mild learning problems? Did they have poor foundational reading instruction and experiences? Understanding what was different between those who made limited progress and the four students who made three years of growth could be valuable in adjusting reading instruction as well. We also do not have the results from how the rest of the students fared. Did they similarly make significant growth? Did the advanced readers enjoy but make limited advancement? Did the quality of fluency as measured by rate, phrasing and expression increase in non-readers theater activities?

With the inclusion of individual student pre- and post-intervention scores, we can see that the majority (86%) of struggling readers made remarkable growth likely to advance them to the point of not needing remediation. We can also see that 14% need something different. Without analyzing the reasons that contributed to growth or failure to grow within the study groups, we can only derive limited information: readers theater is a viable tool for providing repeated readings and motivation for improving reading skills of many students. Individual progress, however, needs to be carefully monitored so that if a student does not respond to the intervention, modifications to the reading program can be made.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

When Kids Can't Read, What a Focus on Fluency Can Do

Belinda Zimmerman, Timothy Rasinski and Maria Melewski wrote When Kids Can't Read, What a Focus on Fluency Can Do: The Reading Clinic Experience at Kent State University which was published in Advanced Literacy Practices from Clinic to the Classroom Literacy Research, Practice and Evaluation V2, 2013. They describe the work in their reading clinic with graduate students and struggling readers using the Fluency Development Lesson (FDL).

Their research has consistently supported the use of the FDL for improving comprehension, reading rate, and prosody for struggling readers. The FDL lesson includes the following components:
  1. Modeling- teacher reads a short text, may point out why certain prosodic elements were used (motivation, example of what it should look like and listening comprehension)
  2. Share text- everyone receives the text, the teacher reads it encouraging students to join in with the prosodic reading
  3. Choral Reading- everyone reads together with variations- robot voice, high voice, whisper, deep voice,...
  4. Discussion- discuss meaning (reading comprehension, vocabulary development)
  5. Paired Reading- pairs of trios of students read the passage one at a time with the listeners providing support and reinforcement
  6. Perform- present reading to class or other audience
  7. Word Work- interesting words from the passage are selected, defined if necessary and activities are engaged in- word sorts, alphabetization, write sentences with the words, word ladders, word searches, etc.

The FDL takes about 30-45 minutes to complete. It is not the entire ELA program but a component of it. Clearly more reading and writing work is needed to develop skills at the elementary classroom level. The text is chosen to be both engaging and at an appropriate reading level. At no point within the FDL is the reading timed, but the teacher is looking to create a conversational rate. Students are encouraged to uncover the meaning of the text. Timed readings are performed periodically to monitor progress since oral reading rate is a good estimate of comprehension and fluency.

One feature of this approach that makes it successful is that students are engaged in reading and writing tasks for nearly the entire time. This may actually be more reading than many struggling readers engage in for an entire school day. We know that to be a better reader or writer reading and writing need to occur. This program provides that practice.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Let's Bring back the Magic of Song for Teaching Reading

Becky Iwasaki, Timothy Rasinski, Kasim Yildirim and Belinda S. Zimmerman's article Let's Bring back the Magic of Song for Teaching Reading from The Reading Teacher, 67(2), discusses a case of using song to help teach reading. The first author, a first grade teacher, utilized simple songs within her classrooms in order to successfully teach reading. Although using song within elementary classrooms is not new, often early 20th century kindergarten teachers had to learn to play piano as part of their training and McGuffey Readers, which were first available in 1836, included song passages, songs have been leaving classrooms at an alarming rate.

Songs are excellent mediums for teaching reading for several reasons cited by the authors:
  • songs method of playing with language practice phonemic awareness
  • songs lend themselves to repeated reading and performance
  • songs help develop sight word vocabulary
  • songs' melodic nature "requires the singer/reader to attend to the prosodic nature of the lyrics" (p. 138)
  • songs are a great way to gather student attention
  • songs are motivating to students
  • songs' "brevity, melody, rhythm, and other features" make the lyrics easy to learn thus supporting development of sight word vocabulary (p.138).
All these add up to songs being excellent tools for practicing the fundamental skills of reading- phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, language and comprehension.

While it is easy to imagine kindergarten and first grade teachers singing with their charges, it is more difficult to visualize high school teachers doing the same. While occasionally songs will make an appearance during a poetry unit and history teachers may use songs to highlight cultural features of a time period, the appearance of songs in secondary classrooms is seen as a novelty rather than a teaching routine.

When it comes to addressing remedial readers, however, it seems that song would be an excellent fit. Adolescents tend to be drawn to music. Karaoke, while not the major hit it once was, still is a socially acceptable entertainment. Music videos and culture motivate and fascinate teens. All the reasons that songs work with our youngest readers can be shared with our older struggling readers. Furthermore, songs that students want to learn to read means the content of reading instruction is age appropriate as well. The lyrics lend themselves to word study. Students will be far more motivated to reread lyrics than simple passages within their reading levels. Along with poetry, songs should be a component to any remedial reading instruction.

Once the song has been read a couple of times, the lyrics can be torn apart for comprehension. Word study can take place either highlighting new vocabulary, figures of speech, or phonic elements. Songs that adolescents enjoy have lyrics that are rich in complex elements that are wonderful targets for instruction. Students are far more likely to be engaged in challenging reading that they are interested in than those usually selected by teaching staff.

If we look at Meghan Trainor's hit song, All About That Bass, we can see how we might use it for instruction. (If needed, some of the lyrics could be redacted to sanitize the song.) This song has an excellent collection of sight words. It has lots of silent e words. The -cle syllable is highlighted. The entire song is a metaphor full of alliteration and consonance. Students can examine rhythm, meter and limited rhyme. Furthermore they can analyze social mores that are troubling in today's culture. What a rich teaching opportunity in something that will inspire many students.

A Focus on Fluency

Lorraine Wiebe Griffith and Timothy V. Rasinski reported the results of a fluency focus on instruction in a fourth grade classroom in A Focus on Fluency: How One Teacher Incorporated Fluency with her Reading Curriculum from The Reading Teacher, 58 (2). Over three years Griffith incorporated Readers Theater, partner reading and timed readings into her intermediate classroom. The results were startling- over 90% increases in instructional reading levels for struggling readers.

Griffith's careful inclusion of fluency exercises into her reading program reaped tremendous benefits. The major injection was Readers Theater. This approach uses short scripts and small groups of readers practicing a reading to be dramatically read at a predetermined time. She used Friday afternoons as performance time. Each week new scripts were utilized. Scripts were found online, from commercial publishers and self-created. After practice with the technique, she also encouraged students to transform their thoughts, stories and poems into scripts as well.

One key to her approach was a careful and slow implementation. She did not try to include a radical change of her program at once. Her initial foray included a short segment of time outside of reading time and scripts sent home for practice. Gradually she shifted to include more fluency activities.

Although she implemented this program at an intermediate elementary level, Readers Theater could be implemented at secondary levels as well. With older students scripts could include speeches being discussed in history or ELA classes. Portions of published dramas could also be used. While there are some scripts available for science and math areas, it might be an interesting Common Core activity for student groups to write and perform a short script describing a concept or vocabulary term. Selecting short pieces is critical if the desire is to have struggling readers reread text and have the activities take place in short segments of a busy secondary classroom.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Teaching Reading Fluency to Struggling Readers

In a the manuscript accepted for publication in Reading and Writing Quarterly Spring 2008, Teaching Reading Fluency to Struggling Readers- Method, Materials and Evidence, Timothy Rasinski, Susan Homan and Marie Biggs review research that led to the focus on fluency during the 2000's and the meaning of fluency- accurate, appropriately paced, expressive reading. Then they highlight ways in which fluency instruction may be addressed with notation for the research supporting their use.

During any fluency instruction the teacher takes on many roles. He must model fluent reading. Even high school students enjoy being read to. In order to maximize the effectiveness of modeled reading, students must read along silently. Teachers must be coaches, providing corrective feedback as needed to improve skills. Students who are struggling readers can rarely assess what they or their peers are doing right or wrong. Teachers can provide for assisted reading. Reading with the student in a slightly faster but more fluent manner, encourages speed, provides accurate models and supports student vocabulary. Parents, other students and certainly volunteers can be trained to provide this scaffolding. Research suggests that computers and audiobooks can also fulfill this role. Teachers need to provide the materials to practice on. This cannot only be boring nonfiction passages or challenging Common Core texts. Texts that lend themselves to being read with expression such as poetry, songs, rhetoric and plays facilitate oral interpretation in a way that a passage on what is a marsupial does not. Finally teachers need to provide for performance opportunities and celebration of success.

Specific instructional routines that have evidence to support their ability to accelerate struggling readers' performance are provided. The authors caution against packaged programs that rely on repeated readings of nonfiction passages with the sole goal of increasing reading speed. While these programs do increase reading rate, they are usually not accompanied by and increase in comprehension. The Fluency Development Lesson, which is designed to be used with poetry or short, voice-laden passages incorporates word study. Fluency Oriented Reading Instruction similarly involves rereading but is designed to be used with basal readers or anthologies. Fast Start is a home program where parents are taught to read to and with their children in order to support fluency on a daily basis. Readers Theater provides an authentic reason for rereading- performing the play. The text is not meant to be memorized; props are minimized; costumes are unnecessary. The purpose is to practice reading until you can orally read the text with expression. Tune in to Reading software allows students to listen to music while reading the lyrics. Then the students record their singing of the song. This program was tested with middle school students who found it an enjoyable way to practice oral reading.

Recent research by the IRA has suggested that fluency is no longer hot. Perhaps reading teachers should reconsider this concept, especially as it relates to struggling readers.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Repeated reading of Poetry Can Enhance Reading Fluency and Phonics

Sherri Faver's article, Repeated Reading of Poetry Can Enhance Reading Fluency, from The Reading Teacher 62(4) and Timothy Rasinski, William H. Rupley, and William Dee Nichols' article, Two Essential Ingredients: Phonics and Fluency Getting to Know Each Other, from The Reading Teacher 62(3), share a common thread of using poetry to support reading instruction. They both advocate poetry to be read and reread to develop fluency. Rasinski et al. also showcase how to use poetry to reinforce phonics- pulling poems that utilize a rime being taught. Rereading the poem offers opportunity to see the phonics skill in action.

For example they suggest using
     Rain, rain go away,
     Come again another day
     Little Johnny wants to play
when teaching the -ay rime/word family (away, day, play). Similarly you could use "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would not take the garbage out!" by Shel Silverstein when  discussing the -out rime (Stout, out, shout) or the -ate rime (late, state, hate, gate, fate, relate). You could also use it to springboard a discussion of different sounds ou can make.  Not only can you practice and recite the poems, which is fun, you can use them as jumping points for rime discussion. You can pull words for word sorts- v-c-e words, words with short a sounds, words with suffixes, words with two vowels next to each other, words with consonant blends, and so forth. Nestled in amongst the rereading you can insert phonics review and instruction as is appropriate for the students you are working with. Word study and word play elevate simple repetition and provide purpose for rereading when performance is not available.

Not only does poetry provide an excellent opportunity to quickly practice reading in an enjoyable manner, it also provides practice using word families which facilitates fluency as well. It is a win-win situation. While both articles focus on early readers, this approach could also be used with older struggling readers so long as the poems are found to be interesting to them. This might, in fact, be better tolerated by older readers since it avoids some of the "babyish" and "senseless" criticisms leveled at reading materials often used with remedial readers.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What's the Perfect Text for Struggling Readers?

Timothy Rasinski and Belinda Zimmerman's short article , What's the Perfect Text for Struggling Readers? Try Poetry! from Reading Today April/May of 2013, describes a critical piece of Kent State's summer reading clinic's approach to remedial reading- poetry lessons. This approach is fleshed out in Raskinski, William H. Rupley and William Dee Nichols's 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 book.

They propose teaching students one poem a day. The teacher reads it to the class and discusses its meaning. Then a variety of rereads occur with the group- choral reading, reading at different paces or with different voices to make it more interesting. Then pairs of students read the poem to each other three times. Then students are encouraged to read the poem to as many people as possible. This performance component provides a rationale for repeated readings which improves automaticity and prosody of reading. Having the initial discussion about the meaning of the poem places emphasis on comprehension rather than merely on speed of reading.

The article includes a list of favorite poets for children which includes some perennial favorites like Prelutsky and Silverstein and some less well known ones like Lee Bennett Hopkins and Arnold Adoff. When working with trying to teach decoding or simple comprehension strategies, it is important to consider student reading level. Working with short poems with extensive scaffolding means that student interest is more important than  reading level. Students tend to enjoy reading poetry and they tend to be less intimidated with short poems than longer works of prose, making it ideal for reading with struggling readers.

This approach has proven highly effective for improving word recognition and fluency among students who are struggling readers. Adopting this as part of a remedial program could be very helpful in improving reading skills and motivation with our struggling readers.