Monday, February 16, 2015
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
For 20 years, my speeches and writing have been heavily oriented towards time--amount of instruction. I have made a big deal that schools with longer school days tend to do better as do countries with longer school years; that summer school programs increase achievement as do many after school programs; that snow days lower school achievement, as do student absences; that extended school years and all-day kindergartens work; that classrooms differ in how much instruction they provide and that these differences are related to student learning, and that guiding teachers to use time better improves achievement.
A policymaker recently pointed out to me that increases in time don't always work. Specifically, studies of the NCLB-required after school programs show few learning gains. Or, the Reading First evaluation: RF teachers increased literacy teaching by about 10 minutes per day, but their kids did no better in comprehension. Studies of reading interventions for middle school and high school, that provided a reading class, didn't really work either, or not very much anyway.
Have I been wrong about time? I don't think so. From the very beginning of such research, it has been apparent that the students have to be engaged in learning during the time that is allotted. I visited a school recently where the children were ignoring the teachers (running around, throwing things, etc.). Extending the day with those teachers wouldn't raise reading achievement, because there would likely be no additional teaching added. Time increases tend to work because most teachers aren't struggling as much as those two. Mark Dynarski's work on after school programs suggests that those NCLB programs didn't do well, because they have not necessarily added much teaching.
Trading time isn't so effective either. What I mean by that is that, all things being equal, you'll be better off having students attend an extra reading class, rather than a reading class that substitutes for another academic class. Some of those intervention programs that are conferring a small advantage when they are taking the place of other academic experience, but they likely would confer a somewhat larger benefit if they were adding time rather than just replacing it.
How many more minutes does it take to give a learning advantage? In the Reading First study 10 minutes a day didn't have an impact. Now maybe these teachers weren't really teaching, but what if they were? My own personal reading of research says that fewer than 30 additional hours of teaching sometimes helps and sometimes does not (more often the latter); more than 30 hours and the burden shifts (it's still a mixed bag, but more advantages are seen; and when the numbers climb into the 50-100 extra hours, it is pretty rare that gains aren't seen).
One last thought: the reason those interventions may not look like they are working could be that the tests used in the studies aren't sufficiently sensitive to pick up the gains. Imagine a 9th grader in a special reading program. He is reading at a third grade level at the beginning of the year and a fifth grade level by the end. That means he is still 5 years behind, and it is quite possible that he is still testing at the bottom of the scale on the high school test (he learned, but not enough to be noticed by the test). Perhaps interventions with older students need to use multiple evaluation instruments, including out-of-level tests, to be sure that we are really identifying gains.).
(I've come to believe that those middle school and high school interventions may have boosted achievement more than the studies could show, because if you move an older student from a 3rd to a 4th grade reading level that will not necessarily be captured by a high school reading assessment).
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Recently, I received a query from some high school teachers at a charter school. They had been using Read 180 with their "remedial readers" and were generally happy with it, except for the really low kids--high school students reading below the third grade level and they wanted to know if there were better choices for those kids.
I don't have a lot of experience with high school phonics, but what do you do if a student is 7-9 years behind in their reading skills. Ignoring the decoding problems does not make much sense, but what works?
So, when confronted with a question that I know not the answer of, I went to some one with greater expertise on that issue, in this case, Don Deshler of the University of Kansas. To my surprise, he punted, too.
But soon he got back with an answer from the members of his team who deal the most with those kinds of readers. Their response was that overall, the best choice for that situation is Wilson Reading or something like it (they've had "outstanding results with the kinds of kids you are describing").
However, Don pointed out that to be successful it has to be taught 1 on 1 or in very small groups, for about two years.
They also indicated good results with Corrective Reading (SRA), which can be delivered to larger groups, and which is easier to learn and faster to implement than Wilson.
My question is, how many high schools are willing to provide multiple years of remedial instruction, even to moderate sized groups? And how much progress are these kids likely to make? I could imagine a wildly successful program moving kids two years for 1 year instruction, and if you maintained that over a two-year period you would have moved these students to a... fifth grade reading level... Ethically, that is exactly what we should be doing, but tactically, it is a losing proposition for the school (too few kids getting too many resources to make gains that aren't sufficient for needs).
The point of this blog entry is two fold: first, there are some high schoolers who are going to need very basic, phonics oriented interventions and there are programs like Wilson and Corrective Reading that make sense for such populations; second, the odds against that delivering the outcomes we need are virtually insurmountable--we simply cannot allow kids to reach high school that far behind. Much more needs to be done in upper elementary schools and middle schools.
Some other important points: Don stressed the importance of keeping this kind of instruction upbeat and fast-paced (which makes great sense). He also stressed the inadequacy of computer-based approaches with this kind of instruction (which also registers with me). And, I would add, that while the decoding problems are being addressed, a lot of listening comprehension and vocabulary work needs to be done (so these students don't stagnate intellectually).
Thursday, July 3, 2008
This week I had the wonderful opportunity of making presentations at state reading conferences in New York and Florida. The New York conference was held in Brooklyn and it was sponsored by the Reading First program. The Florida conference took place in Orlando, and it was part of their state effort, Just Read, Florida! I was impressed at the size of both meetings (more than 1000 teachers, coaches, and adminstrators attended each meeting. Lots of energy and commitment.
In New York, I made two presentations, one a breakout on reading comprehension instruction and the other a keynote on how to improve reading achievment for older readers (Grades 4-12). In Florida, I did a couple of breakouts on how to lead reading improvement efforts using my pyramid and I keynoted their Intervention conference and spoke about the basic principles of success in interventions.
If you are interested, the powerpoints from those four talks can be found here: