Showing posts with label Middle school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Middle school. Show all posts

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Round Robin by Any Other Name... Oral Reading for Older Readers

I am seeking your advice based on the email correspondence below that I have had with my principal.  She noted that I was practicing “round robin reading” on a classroom observation.  Upon asking her to remove it (since it was not what I was doing), I realized that she doesn’t entirely understand what that practice looks like.  I gather from her response that she is only interested in the teacher modeling expert reading and students not reading aloud in the classroom at all.  I personally believe that there is a place in the classroom for students to read aloud. 

During the lesson we are speaking of I read aloud an excerpt of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography.  I chunked the reading with questions and discussion in between parts.  I did ask for volunteers to read some parts and several students did volunteer.  I teach gifted language arts.  The majority of my students are proficient in reading and enjoy reading aloud.  I never force them to read aloud though.

If you would please, could you read the correspondence below and let me know your thoughts about students reading aloud in the classroom.

I agree that oral reading has a place, and perhaps an important place in classrooms even at Middle School. 

Oral reading fluency is important because of the role it plays in reading comprehension. With primary grade readers (grade 2), about 70% of the variation in reading comprehension is due to variance in fluency. That is, if we could take away the variation in fluency by bringing those with lower fluency up to the same levels as the most fluent readers, 70% of the differences in reading comprehension would go away. That’s why studies show that teaching oral fluency effectively improves reading comprehension (NICHD, 2002).

However, the importance of fluency diminishes over time. This isn’t because fluency stops mattering, but that more and more students reach the needed levels of fluency. There is a ceiling on fluency—generally someone who can read 125 wcpm is a better reader than someone who reads at 100 wcpm. However, by the time you get to 150-175wcpm it is difficult to do any better than that (we can only speak so fast), and improving on that doesn’t seem to help. What that means is that by 8th grade, oral reading fluency only explains about 25% of the variance in reading comprehension. That is obviously a much lower payoff than for younger kids, and yet, it is 25%—which is a big deal. 

I would definitely have kids practicing oral reading in the middle school grades, at least if they were below the grade levels norms in fluency because I want them to get that comprehension pay off. The problem in your case is that you indicate these to be advanced readers. There is a very real chance that they can already read fluently, and more practice probably would not benefit them (though I would test them rather than asserting that). One reason for engaging good readers in oral reading is to meet the special demands of historical texts like the one you were working with or Shakespeare. The reason for that is that the language patterns can be so complex and archaic that reading the material aloud can aid in figuring it out (I do that myself). But it doesn’t sound like your lesson was very strategic in that regard.

We do know how to teach oral reading fluency successfully. What works? The various meta-analyses show oral reading practice with challenging text (e.g., frustration level), with feedback (e.g., from a teacher, parent, volunteer, other students, computers), and with rereading improves fluency and comprehension. There are now a couple of studies indicating that it is possible to do this with silent reading too, but those focused on computer-delivered instruction that allowed monitored in a way teachers could do on their own. There are lots of effective methods (e.g., paired reading, repeated reading, echo reading, neurological impress, Radio Reading) as well as various programs that work (e.g., Read Naturally). Modeling helps, such as having someone show the student what oral reading should sound like—which wouldn’t make much sense in your case, or, reading a short portion of the text to the student, and then having then trying to read it themselves—which might make sense, though your description makes me doubt it. In some studies, modeling was a planned part of the intervention, but the way I've usually used it is when a student has attempted a read unsuccessfully... I would then read a portion and have have him/her try again. That almost always helps.

Round robin reading refers to one student reading while everyone else listens. Which is what your letter describes. It is not that the oral reading practice round robin provides is so bad, but that there is so little practice in it. Round robin is terribly inefficient. The person who is learning during round robin is the reader—which means 25 other kids are sitting there waiting for their turn. In a middle school in which classes might last only for 45 minutes or 50 minutes, this would be a terrible waste of time, especially if they were already good readers. While I encourage, and even require, oral reading instruction in the middle school, I would never countenance round robin. If you have your students engaged in an activity like paired reading, students would get much more reading time for the same amount of class time. However, if the point was trying to make sense of the text, I would encourage you to work with silent reading—including silent reading of short parts as you describe.

If your students can’t read 8th grade material at 150-175wcpm making it sound like English, then it is legitimate to engage them in oral reading instruction. If one student is reading, and everyone else is listening, then we’re not on the same page. If multiple kids are engaged in the process (in echo reading, everyone reads at the same time; in paired reading, kids take turns). Activities like Reader’s Theatre can be okay, but they should be used no more than occasionally because in some ways it is like round robin—kids wait around too much. 

Instead of you doing the reading as in this lesson, I’d encourage you to have the students try to read it silently. If they have difficulty making sense of it, I would definitely show them how to use oral reading (or whisper reading) as a tool to make sense of those complicated 19th century sentences. Sorry, in this one, I agree with the principal.

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.)

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.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Organizing Middle School ELA for Common Core

(1) What do you feel is "best practice" for middle school ELA instruction?
Our district has a 6/7 middle school, and the subjects of reading and language arts are taught separately. The middle school principal will speak to how this is "best practice".

With the reciprocity of reading and writing, and the expectations of the CCSS, the current schedule seems counterintuitive to me. Shouldn't students be grouped for, say, a 90 minute ELA block that encompasses reading and language arts? Or am I off base on this?

How schools are organized in terms of this kind of scheduling does not matter very much in student achievement. There are lots of different ways of organizing a school and they all can be successful (or unsuccessful). The idea that teaching with reading and language arts separated (or combined) is a "best practice" is wishful at best.

However, I definitely agree that the common core does emphasizes strongly the idea of writing about reading. It makes little sense to organize a school day so that such programming is inefficient, though you can make it work either way. In the model you are using, in which two teachers work with the students at different points in the day -- one teacher emphasizing reading and the other writing -- there is a great need for coordination to get the full benefit of these education goals. That way the kids can spend a substantial amounts of reading time digging in on the meaning of texts with one teacher, and then they would engage in meaningful writing about that same text through the work of the second teacher. Thus, they need to plan together, agree on who does what, coordinate times. (Otherwise they will both need to do a lot of reading in their class -- which means relatively less writing and the need for a lot more text than you are currently using). 

Or, you could organize it so that one teacher does both of these things (which can be tricky, too, because some teachers prefer teaching one or the other and they may blow off the writing or not spend as much time on the reading). That, of course, is why this kind of organization does not matter very much. The focus needs to be on the students' experience. Which approach (separate teachers planning together, or a single teacher with sufficient supervision) will work best in your situation? That is the one that I would go for.