Sunday, October 26, 2014

Do You Want Your Husband to Remember Your Birthday or Anniversary?

            Let’s be honest. Any woman (or man, for that matter) wants their significant other to be involved enough that they remember both of these dates. Remember my birthday, but forget the day that we linked ourselves together for eternity, and you’re in obvious trouble. Recall the date we connected, but not my special day (all by myself) and I wonder if you think of me only in connection to you. Problem!

            Your spouse wants to know that he/she is important to you and not having a premature Alzheimer’s attack when it comes to both of these dates is a real plus.

            Easy question. Easy answer. Okay, try this one…

            Is oral or silent reading more important in middle school?

            We live in a time when silent reading ability will probably buy you more than oral reading skills. There definitely are radio and television announcers who have to read scripts well, but most of us don’t have those duties.

            However, that doesn’t mean oral reading is without value—especially for kids who are 11-, 12-, or 13-years-old.

            Oral reading has some small value as an outcome on its own, but in school-age kids it has its greatest value as a teaching tool. While it is true that oral reading fluency matters much more when you are 7 than when you are 11, it still matters a lot. 

           Oral reading proficiency explains more than 80% of the variation in the reading comprehension of second-graders. What that means is that if you could make all 7-year-olds equal in oral reading fluency (recognizing equal numbers of words, reading with similar speed, pausing equally appropriately), then you would do away with 80% of the differences in comprehension.

            Phony choice: If I had to choose—and I do not—I would spend more time on fluency instruction in second grade than on vocabulary instruction—because the learning payoff is bigger.

            The amount of reading comprehension variance explainable by oral fluency falls to about 25% by the time the average student is in eighth grade. To me that justifies fluency instruction, though I recognize the payoff is smaller. (What self-respecting secondary teacher wouldn’t gladly do away with 25% of the reading variation in their students?)

            Phony choice (again): If I had to choose—and I still do not have to make such a choice in real classrooms—I would spend more time on vocabulary instruction in 7th grade than on fluency—because the learning payoff should be bigger.

            What happens is that as children progress up the grades, more and more of them read at ceiling levels of fluency. Few third-graders can read 175 words correct per minute with proper pausing and prosody. But those numbers increase each year, meaning that more and more students have sufficient levels of fluency to allow them to accomplish the highest levels of comprehension. But, once those ceiling levels of fluency are reached, then to accomplish the highest levels of comprehension will require other kinds of gains (such as in vocabulary).

            I would definitely include oral reading practice in my secondary classes—at least for any students not reading at about 150-175 words correct per minute (and, yes, it has to sound like English—none of this “read as fast as you can” baloney). 

            That doesn’t mean that my students would do a lot of round robin turn taking. No, I’d follow the research: we’d engage in paired reading and echo reading with repetition and feedback. Our purpose would be to practice the reading of demanding texts (texts which the students can’t already read well), until we could read them at high levels of proficiency.

            But just because I would provide students with that kind of practice, does not mean that I don’t understand the value of silent reading. I would also devote substantial class time to engaging students in the silent reading of texts that have rich content and language. I would engage students in discussions and debates about the content of those texts, and I would require that students write about the ideas in such texts (e.g., summarizing them, analyzing them, and synthesizing information from that and other texts).

            Our responsibility is to make students effective readers. There are many things that go into that outcome: students need to develop rich vocabularies, they need to know how to parse sentences so that they can be interpreted well, they need to know how to operate on texts that they don’t understand just from reading, and they need to know how to reason and think about the kinds of information that they will meet in text.

            Thus, when it comes to oral and silent reading, I’m unwilling to pick one over the other. It is a foolish choice that confuses outcomes and inputs. There is no question that our goal is to develop readers who can read a text with a depth of understanding. But practice, both oral and silent, contributes to the accomplishment of that goal so only a very foolish teacher would require one and not the other.

            By the way, how many dozens of roses must you send if you do forget your anniversary? No, reason… I’m just asking.

            

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Would you rather have $50,000 or $25,000? Explaining the impact of full-day kindergarten

             Lots of interest, all of a sudden, in full-day kindergarten… I’ve had several questions about that scheme during the past few days. I’m not sure why, but it is well worth discussing yet again.

            What I’ve been asked has varied, but it always seems to come back to, “Is full-day kindergarten better than half-day kindergarten?” I get why that is being asked, and I’m too polite to sneer openly, but what a silly question.

            Should we set your salary at $50,000 or $25,000? Could I pour you a half-glass of wine (or, if the waiter were optimistic, a half-full glass)? Would you prefer to win the first half of the game or the whole game? 

            There have been two sizeable meta-analyses of the whole-day/full-day controversy—one with an educational thrust and the other from the health care side of the house. Both have reached the same conclusions: Full-day kindergarten provides students with stronger academic preparation in reading, language, and mathematics. Full-day kindergarten provides students with stronger social-emotional support (yes, the full-dayers develop greater self-confidence).

            But both research reviews also conclude that these pluses usually fade by age 8. Providing 5-year-olds with more teaching early on is advantageous in producing good first-graders, but it is unlikely to improve high school graduation rates. At least the way we do it now.

            How can I be so blithe in my allegiance to such a short-term positive?

            Frankly, I think we expect too much of early interventions. It shows a real misunderstanding of the power and value of teaching.

            Many years ago I used the metaphor comparing teaching with insulin therapy and vaccines. We usually argue the merits of early interventions as being the latter. We tell policymakers that if they invest more in the early years, there won’t be educational or social needs later.

            But education is not a vaccine. If we teach something and it provides an advantage, that advantage will go away if we then teach that something to someone else.

           Back in the 1970s, Dolores Durkin taught preschoolers to read. She then tracked their progress. When these early readers entered kindergarten, they spent the year working on letter names. Not surprisingly, by the end of the year, their classmates who had spent the year studying this aspect of literacy partially caught up. A couple more years of that and the benefits of early learning were dissipated.

            I started asking would you rather have $25,000 or $50,000. That’s silly, too, but imagine if my answer were: $25,000 because in 3 or 4 years the advantage would be gone. You would have spent all that money and there’d likely be no material difference between the groups.

            Full-day kindergarten can be a good investment. But only if we save and invest the benefits to be derived from it. (Imagine if with your extra $25,000 you had invested some of that; then there would clearly be an ongoing benefit of the extra dough.

            In education that would mean continuing to build on those early gains. Full-day kindergartners need first-grade curricula and instruction aimed at taking them from where they are (as a result of the full-day teaching) and then accelerating these children forward again.  

            What we do instead as a result of early interventions (full-day kindergarten, parent programs, Reading Recovery, etc.)? Typically, we throw these children back into the mix, providing them the same instruction they would have received had there been no intervention. And, we invest in various programs aimed at trying to “catch up” the children who did not receive that early intervention (which is why programs like Head Start can appear to be ineffective).


            Build quality on quality, use instruction to accelerate children forward continually, and you will see the long-term benefits of full-day kindergarten and other effective early interventions.


Cooper, H., Allen, A.B., Patall, E.A., & Dent, A.L. (2010). Effects on full-day kindergarten on        
     academic achievement and social development. Review of Educational Research, 80(1), 34-70.

Durkin, D. (1974-1975). A six year study of children who learned to read in school at the age of four.      Reading Research Quarterly,10(1), 9-61.

Hahn, R.A., Rammohan, V., Truman, B.I., Milstein, B., Johnson, R.L. et al. (2014). Effects of full- 
     day kindergarten on the long-term health prospects of children in low-income and racial/ethnic-
     minority populations: A community guide systematic review. American Journal of Preventive

     Medicine, 46(3), 312-323.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

A George By Any Other Name: Guided Reading and the Common Core

Once when visiting the Big Easy, a young woman who had clearly been over-served, stopped me and said, “You’re that guy.”

I smiled, bemused, unsure what to say. Now her friends had fanned out around me.

“You’re that guy. You’re that guy on TV.”

My grin grew downright idiotic. At first I tried to explain that I wasn’t “that guy,” but that just seemed to convince them even more that I must be. They insisted.

I never figured out who she thought I was, but I copped to it, and thanked her for her support and asked her to keep watching. I’m pretty sure she had me confused with George Clooney (Cyndie tells me it was more likely Bozo the Clown). 

I’m still pretty sure it was Clooney, though my hair hasn’t really turned as much as his.

That got me thinking… think how disappointed that young lady might have been, when she sobered up, had I pressed my advantage. 

No, that wasn’t what I was thinking. I was thinking that it really matters that we know of what we are speaking. I know many of you are thinking: Tim Shanahan, George Clooney, what's the difference? But--believe it or not--there is a difference and it could matter to somebody.

That’s true of lots of things. Like guided reading, for instance.

The term “guided reading” is causing a lot of confusion. Most of us now use it as shorthand to refer to those instructional procedures recommended by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell in their book, Guided Reading (1996) – much as many of you might use George as shorthand for Tim Shanahan.

The problem with that conception of the term “guided reading” is that it actually conglomerates three separate aspects of instruction into one idea.

And, that’s where the problem is. When I say that the Common Core contradicts the fundamentals of guided reading—I mean George Clooney, and you’re thinking Tim Shanahan.

From the emails I receive and the audience comments at my presentations, it is evident to me that many of you—probably most of you—think of guided reading as instruction with leveled books; that is, with books matched to the students' instructional levels. Because of that, I often use “guided reading” as a shortcut key when I am criticizing the idea of leveling kids’ reading in those ways.

And that works great with some of my audience. They get what I’m saying. They definitely are not confusing me with either Mr. Clooney or Mr. Bozo.

But the Fountas and Pinnell version of guided reading--because of its complexity--means different things to different people. A significant part of my audience believes that guided reading is about small group teaching, and studies are pretty clear that small group teaching is advantageous. Those individuals hear me challenge guided reading and they start seeing images of a clown with really big feet.

The term, “guided reading,” was not created by F&P. It was a term used by one of the basal reader companies during the 1950s to describe their lesson plan in which teachers guided students to read a text by preteaching vocabulary, setting a purpose for reading, having kids read part of the text, and then discussing that portion in pursuit of a series of teacher questions. (A competing program at the time marketed a very similar routine called “directed reading”).

Again, when I talk about the contradiction between “guided reading” and Common Core, some individuals are taking it that I’m criticizing the idea of reading a text en masse under the supervision of a teacher. And, again, to these folks, they are definitely seeing grease paint and big shoes rather than a hunk.

Please understand: Research findings and Common Core standards do stand in stark contradiction to the idea of teaching everybody (beyond beginners) at their so-called instructional level. The standards say nothing about small group instruction or communal readings in which teachers scaffold kids’ interactions with text. The criticisms are of the first, not of the second two.


I hope that helps. 

By the way, I have made headway in convincing Cyndie that people really do confuse me with George Clooney. She is even warming to the idea. Of course, she has been dropping hints about a 7-carat diamond, but I’m sure we’ll work that problem out over time.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Final Notes on Washington Post Article on Complex Text Requirements

Last week I replied to some of the remarks about text complexity that were made on the Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post column. Here are a couple more.


Fountas and Pinnell are stating what is their take on what the Common Core standards say. What the standards say and what their supporters are advocating are not necessarily the same thing. I think this statement is fully in agreement with what I have said above. 
 
"But standards do not usually prescribe that students must spend all their time reading texts that are extremely hard for them, with no access to books that will help them learn." 
 
As I said in the article, it was Core supporters Petrilli and Shanahan who have made the argument for frustration level text, not necessarily the Common Core standards. The way the standards are being implemented, and the fact that they do ramp up text level expectations with no research to back up that requirement, is problematic. 

This writer makes claims that simply are not true.

He/she claims Mike Petrilli and I have promoted something that is not in the Common Core. That is not case. Let me explain where the idea that students will need to be taught with more challenging text comes from. First, CCSS, unlike the standards they replace, specify the levels of text that children need to be able to read to meet the standards. In the past, standards emphasized reading skills, but neglected the complexity of the language that students needed to negotiate. Teachers could teach the grade level skills, but place kids in out-of-grade-level texts without any concern.

Additionally, CCSS has set the levels for each grade in a way that ensures that the average child will NOT be able to read the texts with 95% accuracy and 75% comprehension. The writer is correct that the standards don’t explicitly say that, but it is easy to check out. For example, MetaMetrics has long set Lexile levels for the grade levels in a way aimed at identifying the texts that students could read with 75-90% comprehension. CCSS has set standards that raise the Lexile levels for each grade level (raising them means that the average student would not be able tor read the texts with that level of comprehension, because the books would be relatively harder.

The other big error in this letter is the claim that there is “no research” supporting the ramping up of text level expectations. Actually, that is not the case. There is a growing body of research showing that our students are not graduating from high school and that students can be taught effectively with more challenging text. In fact, in some of the studies working in harder texts has led to markedly higher achievement.



Russ Walsh calls for teachers to "balance our instruction between independent level, on-level, and frustration level texts." That is, reading experts are (and always have been) recommending that students encounter 'frustration level" texts whether one approves or disapproves of Common Core. 

I think Shanahan is incorrectly characterizing guided reading instruction in the piece you cited above.
 
Fair point. I thinks he sets up a straw man (either students read easier texts without instruction or more difficult texts with instruction) and proceeds to knock it down - so I would have to agree with your criticism.  


These 3 sets of comments are incorrect as well. I would suggest that they go and read Fountas and Pinnell or Allington or Johns or any number of reading experts who have written about instructional level teaching and guided reading. None of these sources recommend teaching students with both instructional and frustration level materials. I have repeatedly over the past few years suggested that more reading strength would be developed by having students read texts at multiple levels and have even designed instructional programs that do this. That approach comes from my analysis of the research on this issue, not from past practices recommended by Russ Walsh or any of these other authorities (in fact, another respondent showed quotes from Fountas and Pinnell showing that they reject the idea of teaching kids with grade level materials—despite the research studies showing students making bigger gains doing that instead of guided reading).

________________________________________________________________________

The original posting and the responses revealed some unfortunate confusion over a couple of terms of reading jargon: balanced literacy and guided reading. Lots of the exchanges looked like folks talking past each other, because they didn't know what these terms referred to. Carol Burris seemed to think that "balanced literacy" referred to balancing frustration and instructional level text (it doesn't), and it is important to recognize that there are at least two definitions of "guided reading." When I (and others) refer to "guided reading" colloquially we confuse teachers as to what the problem is that Common Core is addressing. In an upcoming posting (or two), I will define these terms and try to explain their significance to try to reduce some of this confusion as that can only undermine efforts to better meet kids' educational needs.

Finally, National Public Radio will soon address the complex text issue. Here's hoping that they sow less confusion and misinformation than the Washington Post article.