Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Struggling readers

Lori Jamison Rog's book, Struggling Readers: Why Band-aids Don't Stick and Worksheets Don't Work, is an easy to read text full of ideas and worksheet masters designed to help teachers in grades 3-9 help provide reading instruction to our struggling readers. Yes, it is a little ironic that her title slams worksheets and yet she has several throughout. The difference is that they are not the typical reading worksheet highlighting a phonics skill, asking students to find the main idea or identify three details from the reading. Her worksheets are more along the lines of graphic organizers- systems that help students identify and organize their thinking. Graphic organizers are highly recommended for all manner of instruction, especially for students with learning disabilities or who are learning to speak English. They include items such as an Analyzing a graphic novel page in which students are asked to identify the settings, sounds, emotions, movement and speech of the sections and then think about what each means; a vocabulary square, a modification of a Frayer model, in which student look at a word and identify both a personal connection to the word and a visual; and a text features checklist. Yes, they are all worksheets, but one must remember that all worksheets are not the same.

Rog comments that dysfluent readers rarely result from a lack of phonics information (p. 92). That being said, approximately 10% of secondary struggling readers need phonics instruction. Do not discard phonics instruction entirely. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the student and provide instruction where instruction is needed. If a student has good phonetic skills except does not know how to pronounce words with a final v sound- teach it, but that skill alone. Just do not throw a barrage of phonics worksheets at the student. Unfortunately many of the reading interventions we use do not actually address the specific problem of the particular student, but rather the imagined weaknesses of a student. When a student is making huge progress under Wilson reading BECAUSE they have a phonics weakness, they should not be moved to a comprehension intervention like READ 180 or LLI as they move to a new building or grade level. Inversely, a child who is struggling with comprehension should not be put into a phonics program like Wilson merely because they are a struggling reader. RTI approaches are supposed to be targeted interventions that meet the individual student's needs and are complementary to classroom instruction. As students get older, reading instruction switches to more comprehension focus, but if underlying foundations of phonics are not present, the student will not be successful. Further, if a weak vocabulary is found to be present, as it often is in students that struggle with reading, high-quality, evidence-based vocabulary instruction needs to be a component of the intervention.

One of her major thrusts resonates with me. She repeatedly comes back to research that says, "A steady dose of grade-level text for below-grade-level readers not only fails to help them grow, it can even set them back" (p. 13). She even quotes the Common Core State Standards Appendix 9 with "Students need opportunities to stretch their reading abilities but also to experience the satisfaction and pleasure of easy, fluent reading within [their reading abilities]" (p. 13). We need to provide independent reading practice at student reading level- this might mean a high school needs to invest in hi-lo books to ensure that students have access to text within their interests and ability level. Students need instructional level reading material, material they can read with 90-98% word accuracy and at least 75% comprehension accuracy. We need to be careful of our word callers- students who can read all the words but have no idea of what they are reading. These students need to be placed in easier material until their comprehension catches up with their word identification. When reading approaches the lower end of this band, students are stretching. Can you imagine only being able to understand 3/4 of a passage. If you think back to your last interaction with a 3 year old, that is the level of comprehension we get from their speech. Do you really understand all the message? Can you tweak out the nuances of their meaning? This is the task you are asking students to complete. When we reach the frustration level- able to read less than 90% of the words accurately or comprehend less than 75% of the text, we are discouraging reading. Yes, we can power through for a while, but our ability to work at this level is severely limited. Challenge or stretch reading then is not based on the grade level of the student, but on the student's reading level. 

One comprehension strategy she highlights is WITIK folders (p. 102-3). This is based on the K-W-L chart work of Tony Stead (2005). There are four categories of information: What I think I know, what was confirmed in the reading, what I learned and what I wonder or expect to learn. A folder is used and each side of the folder gets one label. Sticky notes are used to record information. On the front side, students are asked to record what they think they know. This is less intimidating than "what I know" and allows for misconceptions. Struggling readers with limited vocabularies and/or background knowledge about the topic will be more willing to participate if that element of caution is injected into their work. Then, as they read they look for confirmation of their selected facts. Confirmed information is moved from the front cover to the inside page. Struggling readers are usually struggling writers. Allowing them to just move the note instead of rewrite it is easier. They could be asked to put a page or line number on the sticky with where the evidence was found. Additional information is added to the what I learned section during and after a second reading. A number of pieces of information could be required in this area. A shorter text could require three new pieces of information while a longer piece could require 10. On the back of the folder wonders occur. These could be from before you  read the text what do you hope to learn or afterwards what questions do you still have. I think this strategy would be interesting to use on nonfiction pieces.  I like the sticky notes. It allows for lots of student choice- color of sticky, where exactly to put it, even what color to write in. Since choice primes the brain for learning, this is a great way to begin.

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