Showing posts with label Interventions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Interventions. Show all posts

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Middle School Interventions

We are a K-12 district and are revamping our grade 6 through grade 8 instructional supports, which include a 40 minute additional session of reading and/or math instruction  anywhere from 3 to 5 days a week. This extra instruction is provided to any student below the 50th percentile on the MAP assessments ---roughly 2/3 of our student population in our 5 middle schools.  

Where we are struggling is in determining whether this additional instructional time  (taught during later periods in the day  by different teachers from the core instruction) should be based on addressing gaps in foundational skills or supporting grade level curriculum.  

In the 4 years we have been using this system of support we have changed our position, from filling in holes to supporting core instruction and our results have been inconclusive on which method leads to the greatest growth. We are torn between raising the rigor of instruction to offer students more “time” grappling with the harder material and using a Leveled Literacy program that has delivered good results to us in the primary grades. Help.


What you are trying to do is terrific for the kids. You see some students who aren’t keeping up and you want to beef up the amount of reading support that they get. That makes great sense to me and seems to be very much in line with the research. Additional teaching is a great idea.

However, the 1-49%ile span for this group is simply too broad and too differentiated a swath of kids with whom to take a single approach. If I were calling the shots I’d treat those below the 30th or 35th %iles differently than those who are a little bit behind.

I suspect that as you move down the continuum of kids you’ll start to find those with substantial gaps in their foundational skills (decoding and fluency basically). That is much less likely to be true for those who are almost at the 50th%ile. In discussions of learning disability, various experts (e.g., Joe Torgesen, Jack Fletcher, Reid Lyon) treat the 35%ile as being a dividing point between kids who are garden variety stragglers and those who might have a real learning disability. This will likely vary a bit by grade level and test, so rather than giving you a hard-and-fast rule, I’m suggesting that the cut-point be somewhere around the 30-35th%ile.

Above that cutoff, and I would definitely just give these kids extra time with the demanding grade-level materials. Below that line, and I would want to provide at least some explicit instruction in foundational skills. (I don’t know what assessment information you have on these kids, but if such data reveals particular foundation gaps for students reading below the 35th%ile, I’d be even more certain that offering such teaching is a good idea.)

What should the instruction look like for these groups?

For those who are in that 35-49%ile span, that is kids who are at grade level to about 2-3 grade levels below level, I would have them doing more work with the grade level texts they are reading in class. This work should give kids opportunities to read the material again—but with greater or different scaffolding and support. Students might read this material before it is read in class (to give them a boost) or after, to ensure that they make as much progress with it as possible. I would consider activities like repeated reading (that is, oral fluency practice with repetition), rereading and writing about the ideas in the texts, going through the texts more thoroughly trying to interpret the most complex sentences or to follow the cohesive links among the ideas.

For the students below the 30-35th%ile—who are low in decoding (probably the majority of them), I’d provide a systematic program of instruction that offers at least some explicit phonics instruction. I very much like the idea of using a program that has been found to be effective by the What Works Clearinghouse (that won’t guarantee it will work for you, but that it has worked elsewhere tells you it is possible to make it work effectively).

As important as phonics instruction can be to someone who lacks basic decoding skills, I’d recommend against overdoing it. The National Reading Panel found that phonics instruction for poor readers beyond grade 2 tended to improve their decoding skills (which is good), but without commensurate impacts on spelling and reading comprehension (which is not so good). I think it is important to make such decoding instruction part of a larger effort that addresses reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing, and oral reading fluency.

How best to balance this effort will depend a lot on what else the kids are getting. For example, if the really low decoders are already being instructed in these skills in Special Education, then I wouldn’t double up here. That would just free time space for other kinds of reading help.

Another possibility may be to offer these students some of the same grade level instruction noted above, but in smaller groupings to enable the teachers to offer greater support to these kids who are further behind. Beyond beginning reading levels, there is no evidence students need to work with low-level texts—at least when there is sufficient scaffolding to guide them through such reading. Perhaps these students would work on decoding and fluency using a set program part of the time, and working with regular classroom materials with greater amounts of scaffolding than would be available to the other, better-performing students. 

(One last thought. It is terrific that the intervention program you have identified is working well with your primary kids. That's great, but it does not mean that I would necessarily adopt it for use in my middle school. I'd go with a program either aimed specifically at these older students or I'd try out the materials with them to see their reaction. Often, terrific decoding programs are too babyish to gain much buy in from the older kids. It would even be better if WWC indicated that the program had worked effectively with middle-schoolers.)





Monday, February 16, 2015

Content-Focused Reading Interventions or How to Fit Into a Size 4 Dress

I would like your thoughts on some instructional practices that I am seeing an increase in amongst the schools that I work with What do you have to say about decreasing or eliminating science/social studies instruction for those students who have not met proficiency in reading (as determined by a screener or other assessment tool) to allow for RTI time?

Ah, the "how do I fit into a size 4 dress for my sister's wedding?" question. I say that because we all deal with problems of trying to fit too much into a small space, whether we're still in the condo with the second baby or sneaking our SUV into the compact car spaces at Whole Foods.

In this case, we want to give kids 8 hours of teaching in a 6 hour day. Of course, that rarely works (I can almost hear the stitches stretching). How can we provide students with the reading instruction that they need while ensuring that they learn lots of content, too? Kind of makes you want to drown your sorrows in a pint of Haagen Dazs--which could help with the reading problem, but I wouldn't advise it if you're still working on size 4. 

Generally, I’m not a big fan of the practice. Many years ago, Harry Singer and his colleagues found a close relationship between what students knew about social studies and science and how well they were learning to read. These were secondary school students, but you get the idea. If we reduce kids’ opportunity to develop content knowledge, then we undermine their futures as readers.

Of course, this question is not asking about older students. Research also shows that if students don’t master basic reading skills early on, then their later content learning will be seriously undermined. It is a disaster if kids leave the primary grades without strong reading skills, and undermining content knowledge to get there carries its own problems.

Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. What is a school supposed to do? If a child is struggling to develop phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency skills, then providing additional tuition in those subjects is a proven way to advance early literacy.

That’s where the conundrum is. If you don’t intervene well and early with sound reading instruction, then kids are likely to be dogged by low literacy in all their later subject matter courses. But if you do use science, social studies, art & music (etc.) time to fix the reading skills, then you reduce the knowledge that should play a big role in later reading.

I’ve always sided with the reading intervention idea, but mainly because the content coverage in so many primary grade classrooms is so thin. The negative impact of missing those subjects is likely to be less detrimental than continuing to be a laggard in reading, so reading it is.

Now I think we should be less accepting of that position, or at least we should try to make it a harder choice. Here are some practices and policies that can ensure  students gain both the reading skills and the subject matter content:

Preschool literacy
            One way to ensure that most kids can read well in the elementary school grades is to advance their language and literacy skills early on. Preschools should include literacy play (e.g., post office, library, restaurant, newspaper office, writing center), story time, lots of books, and explicit instruction in phonological awareness and letter names and sounds. Whatever they learn before kindergarten and first grade, they don’t need to learn in kindergarten and first grade.

Universal full day kindergarten
           This content/reading rivalry is a competition for time. You can split the difference or prioritize, but the best thing for kids would be to expand the resource. More instructional hours means more opportunities for reading AND content instruction.

Rigorous instruction in social studies, science, and the arts
           Many schools follow the tests. If there is a reading and math test, teachers and principals focus heavily on instruction in those subjects and everything else can go jump. Sadly, this means that kids get short changed. Let’s preserve dedicated time for teaching these things—increasing reading instruction without doing that is cheating.

Reading social studies and science texts
           Teach reading using social studies and science texts. This can mean both including informational texts in the “reading books” and teaching reading using the regular textbooks from the subjects. If kids are going to practice prediction or summarizing or any other reading skill, why can’t they do that within Chapter 4 of the classroom science text?

Longer academic days
            Again, we keep trying to squeeze an awful lot into too small a space. I’m a big fan of afterschool and summer programs for kids. Often these are offered by zoos, parks, museums, libraries, scouts, and other non-school institutions. If we want our kids to be really good readers and to know a lot about their world, we need to make sure that the opportunities to learn go well beyond the school day (that way, when a student needs to miss a class because of reading or math, he/she isn’t missing everything).

Commitment to success
            When a student enters any kind of remediation, there should be a clear and meaningful goal for such teaching. And, then we ought to be aggressive about making sure they reach these goals. I’d say the same thing about content instruction; we need to make sure this teaching has powerful and clear objectives that we make a serious effort to accomplish. Too often we are rigorous in determining schedules and which teachers are to work with a remedial student, but we aren’t as dedicated to accomplishing real outcomes.

Parent help
           Another way to expand learning time is to engage parent involvement. Not all parents can or are willing to help, but many are and we should take advantage of the resource. Parents can help with various aspects of reading instruction and activity, and the same is true for involving them in exposing their kids to rich content.

      Make sure there is a content plan
            Often IEPs and the like emphasize the reading skills that have to be learned, but they are silent about what content needs to be mastered. In that sense, they can operate like tests... steering teachers to overemphasize some things and to ignore others. Don’t just figure out how to deliver high quality reading instruction to such students, but also figure out how this will be done while preserving the content learning everyone else will get.


            All of these approaches can help to get more into a small space. They can increase learning opportunity, which could prevent or reduce the need to pull kids out of their content classes. I doubt we’ll ever be able to do away with pullout instruction (any more than we can get by without size 6 dresses). But I suspect we could reduce the ill effects of this approach while ensuring some real benefits. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When Time isn't the Only Thing

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

Phonics for High Schoolers

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

State Conferences in New York and Florida

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:

http://timothyshanahan8.googlepages.com/newyorkandflorida

Enjoy!