Sunday, October 26, 2014
Sunday, June 15, 2014
- · Introduce students into reading itself (not just listening to someone else read), but trying to put words to text oneself
- · Give students experience in sustaining this reading through a whole selection to comprehend it
- · Making it possible for kids to read text silently (with understanding)
- · Developing oral reading fluency
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Monday, February 11, 2013
If she is a fluent reader, but not understanding the text anyway, then try something I call intensive questioning. Have her read the first sentence of a text… and before allowing her to read any more, ask her a ton of questions;
Sentence 1: “We got back from the grocery store and found the house a mess.”
1. Where were they?
2. What do you think they were doing?
3. Then what happened?
4. What did they find?
5. Do you think they were surprised? Why?
6. Where were they first? And, then where were they?
Then she reads a second sentence.
Sentence 2: “I had neglected to close the bathroom door again, and our Saint Bernard, Bernie, had left chewed toilet paper all over the house.”
1. Who had caused the mess?
2. What allowed him to cause the mess?
3. What did he make the mess with?
4. How did he get the paper?
5. What kind of paper was it?
6. What was the Saint Bernard’s name?
7. What kind of a dog was Bernie?
8. What did Bernie do to the toilet paper?
9. What was the person who is telling this doing while Bernie was making the mess?
Etc. As she gets better with that, start stretching her out to read longer segments, but still with this thoroughness of attention to meaning. (You can also turn this around getting her to generate the questions about the sentences—then trying to answer her own questions). The idea is to keep her so focused on the meaning that you break the habit of simply calling the words.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Recently, I came across some interesting stuff in Jay Mathews’s “Class Struggle” column in the Washington Post.
Mr. Mathews explains that he noticed oral reading taking place during a high school classroom observation and he wondered whether this was a waste of time or a good idea. Various teachers chimed in, on both sides, with valuable insights. The column is worth a read—in fact, it would make a great kickoff to teacher discussions.
I’ve been in the field of reading education for a long time (I started tutoring inner city kids in reading 40 years ago). For that entire time, the professoriate has been anti-oral reading (or “round robin reading” as it is usually pejoratively referred to). Why not oral reading? A lot of the complaints about it seem to be personal, based on childhood memories; these complaints focus on how nervous it made them, or how they only focused on their part and ignored the text.
However, some of the criticism has been based on research. When I first started, the claim was that listening to a poor reader and trying to follow along in text was disruptive to the reading of the better readers. This important finding was based on a single study of about 6 kids doing a single reading. Not very convincing evidence. Later, another study was done that found kids answered questions better when the reading lesson focused on the text meaning rather than on oral reading practice. But, again, one study, one small group, one lesson.
Despite expert complaints about the practice of oral reading, teachers have persisted. Every large scale observational or survey study of teaching finds it to be a common teaching practice. Of course, the professors were upset when Jane Stallings and her colleagues found amount of oral reading practice in class to be related to learning gains in reading—even in high school.
The mindless each kid take a brief turn kind of oral reading is a bad idea, but not for the reasons given. Kids can learn a lot from oral reading practice, but some practices are just inefficient or poorly tuned. Tim Rasinski has shown the large numbers of disfluent high school students; paired reading, echo reading, and similar practices have been found to improve fluency—which in turn improves comprehension.
Many of the teachers whose opinions were recorded by Mathews focus on more direct comprehension benefits, such as when the oral reading targets particularly complex aspects of the text—so the teacher can guide student translation (which makes a lot of sense, but which I don’t see much of when I visit schools). And, I always remember Eudora Welty talking about how important oral reading is to writers (I concur with this, and truth be told, I engage in quite a bit of oral reading myself—some material is just meant to be read aloud).
No, don’t just have students taking turns reading paragraphs through your chapter; that’s a real time waster. But the practices noted above are well worth it, if your concern is student learning.
Friday, October 2, 2009
I just got back from the big Reading Summit in Indiana. The governor and state schools superintendent, Tony Bennett (no, not that Tony Bennett) have noticed that the nation has been improving in literacy, but Indiana has not (fourth graders in Indiana are reading no better than they were in the early 1990s, while American fourth graders have been on the improve; older US kids haven’t done any better, so the lack of progress among the Hoosiers is more understandable, though certainly not acceptable).
The Indiana Department of Education brought in a group of speakers to help kick off their efforts, and I was proud to be there. I spoke about adolescent reading and the talk was well received. As promised to the audience, I have attached a copy of the Power point slides here. Reid Lyon gave a rousing opening, and before I headed back home I got to hear Mel Riddle, an amazing principal who has successfully led efforts to improve reading in an urban high school. He sure knows how to get the job done. Mel also serves on the Carnegie Adolescent Literacy Commission and is one of the authors of their new report, Time to Act, which is a fine piece of work and one that I think you might find useful.
After my talk, during a Q & A session I was stumped; I couldn’t remember the name of a silent reading fluency test for older kids, so I promised to place that info here: the Test of Silent Contextual Reading Fluency (Pro-Ed). I’m not a big fan of group fluency tests, but sometimes it is the only way to go. I would say, however, that even in middle and high school, teachers can evaluate fluency while teaching fluency. If that is done regularly, the fluency level estimates can be every bit as good as what any standard test might provide.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I got a question yesterday: Does it really make sense to teach oral reading fluency to English learners or would it be better to have them working on oral language proficiency in English?
Oral reading fluency, which includes accuracy, speed, and expression is an important (skill or collection of skills) because instruction in oral reading fluency improves reading comprehension. As such, it is an important factor in reading. (Because it is an amalgamation of skills, activities such as repeated reading can improve several of them: including automaticity in word recognition and prosody--using the sound to show the meaningful relations among the words).
However, the relationship between fluency and comprehension changes a bit with second-language learners, and our educational practices have to change accordingly. Most important in this regard is that fluency instruction has been found to have a positive impact on the reading of English learners, however the effect size of this impact tends to be smaller (meaning that such teaching helps English learners, but not as much as it does native speakers). This doesn’t mean that I would not teach fluency to English learners, only that I would alter my criteria for success and I wouild teach it somewhat less and a little bit differently.
Certainly, fluency should not just be reduced to rate and accuracy (as is done in far too many classrooms), some consideration to the expression (especially as children get into the intermediate grades) is needed. ELLs should not spend inordinate amounts of time in discrete skills programs (but some instruction in discrete skills can be beneficial to these students). It is critical that the whole program be considered in such placements: most of their time these students should be in rich language settings with explicit English language instruction.
In assessing fluency, common ELL miscues that do not affect comprehension should not be counted (or these words should be counted as correct). Don't expect children from Mexico to pronounce words like children from Dubuque. No decisions on these children should just be made solely on the basis of a reading rate measure (consideration of comprehension is an important indicator and would help me decide what to do with the child). Oral language proficiency is especially important with English learners, so I definitely would not ignore that in terms of assessment or instruction.
A small amount of targeted skill instruction in decoding and/or fluency is not problematic with second language learners if they are struggling with those things (in fact, such teaching can be beneficial), but it is easy to mistake language differences for weaknesses in these basic skills, so care is needed. Also, if too much time is spent on such instruction, oral language proficiency will not be attained and the student will eventually struggle no matter how well he or she does on the basic skills.
NICHD supported a lot of research that identified young children with serious decoding deficiencies. They entered them into programs that successfully taught them to decode (though it took a long time and a lot of hard work). However, once these kids could decode they still underperformed their classmates in reading... their basic skills had improved, but they lacked the language and knowledge to take advantage of those now-proficient decoding skills.
The problem is that fluency or decoding are NECESSARY, but NOT SUFFICIENT skills. Without them, you won't be able to read with comprehension. With only these skills, you are also going to be unable to read with comprehension. The pendulum swings back and forth between too much skills work and too little skills work. We need to keep it in mind that kids need fluency and comprehension.
With second language kids, I would have them do something meaningful at the end of every fluency reading (like answering a question). I would spend extra time on the vocabulary of the passage as well (making sure they understood the word meanings); more than I would do if they came to the reading in English. I would ignore dialect pronunciations. I would give them every opportunity to ask questions about what they are reading. I would avoid have them read meaningless stuff, like "decodable text," as I would not want to get them used to the idea that reading doesn't make sense. I would do all of that, but I would also teach them to be fluent. It's a balancing act.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
What a great week... I just got back from a very pleasing visit to Dublin, Ireland. My Irish friends invited me over to see if I could provide any help to their wonderful "youngballymun" project. Ballymun is an area of Dublin that is economically challenged. Ireland has one of the world's best education systems and among the highest literacy levels, but everything isn't what it should be in Ballymun.
As in major cities all over the U.S., the kids who live in economically-challenged neighborhoods (with the worst housing, the most serious health problems including drug abuse, etc.) do worst in school. Some Irish areas manage remarkably to avoid this unfortunate pattern, but not Ballymun.
Consequently, Atlantic Philanthropies has teamed up with the Irish government to provide support to make things go better in such neighborhoods. The team in Ballymun is working closely with the schools to get improvements there, but they are also expanding preschool, afterschool, and health care opportunities, and doing everything they can to try to make it possible for more kids to do well in this changing neighborhood.
The current environment there reminds me of Chicago when they were tearing down the Robert Taylor homes--the high rise public housing projects that didn't work well for the residents in Chicago. Right now in Ballymun the ever-changing landscape is punctuated by abandoned high rises, piles of rubble from the demolition, and hopeful new housing. But while changing the physical environment is a good idea, that alone will not likely lead to improved achievement without real changes in these children's educational lives.
That was why they brought me over. I visited all the schools, attended a plethora of meetings, shared my framework with everybody who would listen, and kept up the mantra that it is the children's experience that matters: amount of teaching, curriculum focus, and quality of delivery are what improve literacy--everything else is just commentary. I look forward to continuing to work with this vibrant and commited group, and will keep you posted on their progress. For more on the youngballymun project go to http://www.youngballymun.org/
Also, while I was away Just Read, Florida has posted some professional development materials that you might be interested in. They conducted an interview with me about oral language development, decoding and fluency, explicit comprehension instruction, vocabulary development for older students, writing, and ELL. You can listen to the interview or download the transcript at: http://forpd.ucf.edu/resources/timothy-shanahan-interview.html
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
What’s the relationship between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension? Does fluency instruction automatically lead to comprehension? Are reading comprehension and fluency independent processes? Reasonable questions like those abound about this aspect of learning to read. However, if you are seeking answers to such questions in the recent article on fluency and reading comprehension that appears in The Reading Teacher (RT, March 2009, vol. 62 (6), pp. 512-521), don’t bother.
The problem is that the authors, M. D. Applegate, A. J. Applegate, and V. B. Modla, have made up a straw man (um, straw person) argument implying that someone out there supposes oral reading fluency alone is the necessary and sufficient condition for high-level reading comprehension. Their contention is that there is this (apparently stupid) group of teachers or scholars who believe that if kids can read text aloud quickly, accurately, and with proper expression, then they’ll comprehend anything no matter what their knowledge of vocabulary or the world or their other intellectual skills and predilections.
Surprise, surprise, the authors manage to show that oral reading fluency alone is insufficient to guarantee reading comprehension. This isn’t especially difficult to show, but this study is poorly reported so the findings aren’t particularly persuasive or informative.
One big problem with the data analysis: student selection is poorly executed, leading to some rather circular analysis (I got dizzy anyway). They only included students with a score of 16 or higher on their fluency rubric, but provided no information on the reliability or validity of this, and they didn’t indicate who administered the test and how inter-rater reliability was handled, nor did they provide any information about why 16 is a good level of fluency to select. Reliability and validity data for setting a specific cut score on a test are different than the reliability and validity of an overall test—this is particularly true in an instance like this where the authors tried to identify students with a narrow range of test performance. Why should we think that a 16 on this rubric is the level of fluency that students should attain?
On other tests, fluency criteria are usually set against some outcome measures—typically reading comprehension. Here’s where it gets circular: a level of fluency on a test is usually set to make it possible to determine if, for most kids, fluency will be sufficient to allow reading comprehension success. That fluency cut is never set at a point where 100% of the kids at that level comprehend well (test data are too messy for that). So the authors have set a cut score that does not match with all kids being able to comprehend, and then they set out to prove that not all kids who reach this cut score can comprehend.
The study divides students into three levels of comprehension but not in any clear way (and neither standard deviations nor standard errors of measurement for their tests are provided), so it is impossible to know how different these groups really are or whether other ways of dividing the data would help us to understand things any better. The study tries to analyze different question types, but without any discussion of the reliability or validity of these parts of the tests (you cannot simply divide up a test into parts and assume that the parts remain valid and reliable).
Not surprisingly, they found that students who were fluent could for the most part answer questions accurately about text if the answers to the questions had been explicitly stated in text (for 143 of the 171 kids tested). They even found that more than two-thirds of these fluent kids could do high level comprehension tasks such as interpretation and critical response, but that the rest struggled with these aspects of higher-order thinking despite their fluency.
In other words, for the most part, fluent readers were able to accomplish average levels of reading comprehension when the focus was on remembering or interpreting information in the text, but about 15% of these students had difficulty when asked to use the information in text to do other things. The accuracy of these figures is impossible to verify given the reporting flaws, but whether these numbers are accurate or not the authors are correct: fluency alone will not guarantee comprehension.
The highest correlation I’ve seen between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension is about .85 (which is very high), but the correlations vary a bit and probably average a bit lower than that. But even a correlation that high only indicates that oral reading fluency predicts about 72% of the variance in reading comprehension scores. In the simplest theory possible, the one that claims that oral reading fluency simply and directly causes reading comprehension, that still leaves more than a quarter of the variation in reading comprehension performance to other variables. The imperfect correlation of fluency and comprehension alone tells me that some fluent readers will not comprehend very well—and that some disfluent ones will manage to understand text anyway. The high correlation on the other hand (especially from experimental studies in which children’s fluency is improved through some kind of intervention that leads to improved reading comprehension) indicates the importance of teaching fluency.
The National Reading Panel reviewed the experimental studies on fluency instruction and found that, in 15 of 16 studies, fluency instruction led to improved reading comprehension. The one study that did not find comprehension gains from fluency instruction is the one that proves that fluency alone does not guarantee comprehension improvement. The other 15 studies are the ones that suggest it would be wise to make sure that kids are fluent.
While teachers should know fluency instruction alone will not guarantee comprehension gains (nor will instruction in any other aspect of reading), these authors might want to spend some time in middle schools and high schools in cities like Cleveland and Chicago where large numbers and percentages of students lack the fluency levels commensurate with being able to get an author’s message or to do text level interpretation of text successfully. Teach fluency, but by all means, don’t just teach fluency.