Sunday, April 10, 2016
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Thursday, January 7, 2010
However, today, I was pleased to accept the entry of someone who I deeply admire, so I wanted to highlight it a bit. Marilyn Jager Adams weighed in on my high school phonics blog and argues for why technology might get us out of the unfortunate quandry that I described. As I say, normally, I do not tout the responses and that is especially true if I feel like the responder has something to sell. I usually don't push such products here (even the ones that I have developed--and I have received some complaints about that, believe it or not), but I think Marilyn raises an important point and one I want to highlight.
I really doubt that our system has the resolve to invest very heavily in the education of kids who are 7-8 years behind, so technology could be a real hope. But, my experience is that most people don't have the resolve to hang in there with a computer. They love the privacy, they love the individualization, but they get lonely. Products like the one Marilyn describes need to be studied, but even if they work, what does it take to make them work well enough?
My first introduction to Read 180 wasn't a good one. It involved a dispute between parents and school district. The district had taken a learning disabled child and stuck him into Read 180 for two years. At the end of that time, he had regressed. The school didn't feel obligated to invest as heavily as they probably needed to in that student's learning, so technology was a good out. The boy actually liked Read 180, but only for the first few months, and then he felt detached, alone, rejected. That isn't the fault of technology (I don't think, in that case, a better program would have made a difference, though if the Read 180 curriculum had been followed-- not just the tech part, it might have gone better for everyone.
So by all means, Marilyn, continue to try to improve such programs over time, that will likely help. But for teachers and parents, as good a piece of software may be, remember that learning is social. Sometimes we want to be protected from others and sometime we want to be connected with them (counter or drive thru window today?). Good software can both teach and protect the fragile ego of a neglected learner who is so far behind it is embarrassing. Good software usually does not make a student feel more connected and accepted by others (and being low in literacy can be an isolating event).
If you want to read Marilyn's fine input, please click on the title of my High School Phonics blog and it will be there. Happy reading, and thanks for the contribution Marilyn. I was proud to accept it.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
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).
Sunday, November 29, 2009
This weekend I received an interesting question from a third grade teacher in Frankfort, KY. She writes, “In my district we do not have a specific scope and sequence for teaching vocabulary, nor phonics. I have tried to find something that I feel is research-based and comprehensive. I want to help my strugglers and my above-level students. Can you help?”
Those are two pretty important questions: What should the sequence of instruction be in phonics and vocabulary? And do you need a prescribed sequence to be successful?
Let me answer the easier of the two questions, first. Yes, I think it is important to have a clearly established sequence of instruction in both phonics and vocabulary. In phonics, the question has been tested directly in several research studies, and always with the same result: teachers who were teaching a pre-established regimen of phonics were more successful than those who were winging it. I know of no direct tests of the question in the vocabulary literature, but all of the studies where success was accomplished in improving reading comprehension had a clear plan for the teacher.
So, what is the research-based comprehensive curriculum that teachers need to follow? Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know. When I look at phonics and vocabulary studies, it is clear that pretty much all sequences work. For example, the National Reading Panel looked at 38 studies on the teaching of phonics, and though those differed greatly in the inclusion and ordering of skills, all the approaches seemed to confer an advantage. The same is true for vocabulary.
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter. Perhaps direct tests of different sequences could sort out some learning differences. What I think it really means is that most of the schemes tested in research are pretty reasonable. Most try to teach the most important or largest skills first, or have some kind of logic to their plan. Most don’t emphasize minor or later developing skills. But all provide sufficient coverage and structure to make sure the kids have a chance of succeeding.
Yes, indeed, your school or district should have a systematic plan for what is to be taught in each grade level so that teachers will have a clear idea of what to do. Without such a plan, important words or spelling patterns may not be taught, and some things may be covered over and over. The most successful kids may be able to make progress anyway, but it is a disaster for the strugglers.
That there isn’t a single research-proven sequence gives your district some latitude. They could buy one of the many commercial programs out there aimed at supporting systematic instruction, or they could convene a group of teachers from the district to make some local decisions. Apparently, within reason, it doesn’t matter that much what the exact plan is, just that there be one and that teachers follow it. When such a plan exists, you usually see more teaching happen than when it is left up to each teacher to work out; and that is a big benefit for kids. Of course, if there is a plan, a teacher can tell how a child is doing—the instructional sequence becomes a point of comparison for determining who is not doing well.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Of course, it could be that she was just a bad teacher and was just doing a bad job of explaining and modeling the decoding skills. Bad teaching can certainly confuse more than it clarifies. However, she didn’t seem like a bad teacher—too smart, too serious, too caring for that to be likely.
Maybe she was just a poor observer… but I doubt that was the case, as research has often found that new instruction can hurt performance—at least in the short run, and my own recent experiences with trying to learn ballroom dancing has been consistent with this, too.
I've worked hard to learn to dance and have been a real challenge to my teacher (she is often even more frustrated than me). She teaches some new step or styling and I struggle to get it. I go home and my wife helps me practice and we spend long hours mastering the new step. I eventually get it, and am thrilled when I go back to show Jelena, my teacher, what I’ve accomplished.
Her response is always the same: “Great. Now let’s try something new.” In other words, my reward for learning was to be taught something else. If I know how to do a basic step, she would add a turn… and I would struggle again… not just with the turn, but with the basic step that I already could do. The problem is that the new turn would overload my circuits. I could do the basic step, but not while I was anticipating the turn. Of course, as we would practice together initially, it tended to get worse—my brain would get more and more confused.
The introduction of a new skill can pull down the performance on other skills—temporarily. New information changes the context, and it can be hard to apply any new skill in a new context. To reduce this impact, try teaching skills more thoroughly (with applications in a lot of different contexts—including some in which cognitive overload or distraction will occur). Also, don’t let the seeming temporary reduction success throw you or throw your students: stay with it, and provide a lot of encouragement. Teaching can lower skills, but it gets better over time.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
One thing that complicates reading instruction is there are lots of different kinds of lessons, and each of these lesson types has its own requirements. Basically, reading is both a skilled activity that requires a lot of precision performance without much conscious awareness (like recognizing high frequency words or common spelling patterns). But, it also requires actions that are synonymous with thinking and these require a lot of reflection and depth of thought. That means that a comprehension lesson ought to look pretty different from a phonics lesson; not just in content, but in the kinds of cognitive action the lesson leads kids to engage.
So, if you need to do observations -- including self observations -- you might find the following document to be useful. It tells the kinds of things I would watch for in various reading lessons.
Monday, November 10, 2008
However, I get your point. You aren’t looking for an “effective program,” as much as for a program that has the potential of being effective if used properly by a teacher who knows her stuff. The National Reading Panel (NRP) reviewed 52 studies that showed that explicit teaching of phonemic awareness to kindergartners and first-graders helped them in learning to read. The idea is that if young children can hear the separable sounds within words, they will make a faster start in learning to decode. Phonemic awareness instruction should teach kids to hear the sounds, and phonics instruction then builds on that knowledge. These days most core programs try to include phonemic awareness teaching.
The purpose of teaching phonemic awareness is to ensure children can hear all separable sounds within words, and that they be able to hold these sounds in memory and do things with them (like separate them or delete them). If a student can fully segment words with proficiency (that is, he or she can break words into all of their separate sounds with ease), then everything that need be accomplished with a phonemic awareness program has been accomplished and you can move on. The issue in evaluating and selecting a program is will it provide enough quality support that students should be able to master that set of skills.
Towards that end, one thing I would look for in a phonemic awareness program would be the inclusion of phonological awareness instruction. Phonemic awareness is part of a larger collection of auditory skills dealing with language sounds (phonological awareness). Phonemic awareness, the awareness of the individual phonemes or the smallest meaningful sounds in the language, is the most sophisticated of these skills. Before children develop these sophisticated phonemic skills, they go through a continuum of skills development that allows them to first to isolate or separate words, syllables, rhymes and simple beginning sounds (onsets). Some young children struggle to learn to hear individual sounds; a program that includes instruction in these precursor skills, can allow these kids to make faster progress (and teachers can skip this part of the program for kids who have already learned these earlier developing skills). The inclusion of lessons aimed at these grosser and earlier-developing skills is a good fall-back position.
Furthermore, I would look for a program that provides about 18 hours of explicit, systematic teaching of phonemic awareness (approximately 64 15-minute lessons, for example—but this can be organized lots of different ways). Programs may provide more than this amount of teaching, but not less. The reason I say this is because the NRP review found that about 14-18 hours of instruction led to optimum amounts of learning; some kids needed more than this, of course, and some needed less. It is essential to have a program that will provide at least enough support that the average student will be able to accomplish the instructional goals by going through all of the activities (and you might need additional support for students who make slowere progress).
The sequence of instruction of an effective program should be (1) separation of words and syllables, (2) rhyming, (3) separation of onsets and rimes (e.g., b-ig, c-an); (4) the segmentation and blending of the individual sounds. Letter names should be taught throughout this sequence, and it is reasonable to mix phonemic awareness with phonics by teaching students the sounds associated with the various letters.
A sound program will offer both whole class lessons and small group instruction (groups of three work very well for this). This small group instruction is for the kids who don’t make sufficient progress in the large group and it should increase these children’s interaction with the teacher (making it easier to see the teacher’s mouth and to hear the sounds and to respond more frequently). Of course, if teachers are going to adjust instruction successfully, by giving some kids extra help in small group, then it is important that the program provide a sound assessment, so teachers can gauge the children’s progress.
Remember, this teaching is for 5- and 6-year-olds and it is important that it be appropriate to young children. This means simple language in the explanations, attractive illustrations, varied activities, and brief, but frequent, lessons tailored to the short attention spans of youngsters in this age group. Programs should only try to teach one or two skills at a time (don’t overwhelm the children). These lessons should be fun, and can incorporate singing, clapping, stomping, and other movements. It is important to have children use concrete representations of the letter sounds (i.e., clapping, markers, letter cards). Take a hard look at a program to determine if teachers could use it easily and if children would understand both what they are supposed to do in the various activities and what they are supposed to learn from them.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Of course, I wanted to know what led the state board to think that phonics and phonemic awareness had to be taught separately. The answer was that these skills were laid out separately in the state standards.
This reminds me of the Congressional aide who very patiently explained to me that, “Of course, the National Reading Panel was saying that you had to teach phonemic awareness before you could teach phonics, and you had to teach phonics before you could teach fluency, and you had to teach fluency before you could get to reading comprehension.” I wondered where this insight into our work came from and he showed me… the topics were handled in separate chapters in that order so he “naturally” inferred that’s what we meant. Wow!
With regard to the phonics-phonemic awareness question:
The National Reading Panel reviewed research on the teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics for the U.S. government. To ensure that both of these skills areas required instructional attention, we reviewed studies where only phonemic awareness or phonics was being taught. In other words, if a study was testing the combined effects of phonemic awareness and phonics, we didn’t include it in our review.
In both instances, we found that instruction in that specific skill area provided kids with some learning benefit. In other words, phonemic awareness instruction was beneficial and phonics instruction was beneficial. Given the nature of the studies that we examined, we didn’t draw what I would consider to the erroneous inference that these skills need to be taught separately. In fact, to the contrary, we noted that phonemic awareness programs that included letters (the connection of sounds and letters being the beginnings of phonics) did better than those programs that did not include letters, and concluded that phonemic awareness and phonics both needed to be taught and that they could and should clearly be connected.
Later, when the National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth did its review, there were so few studies of the teaching of these skills to English learners that we examined all of such studies (even if phonemic awareness and phonics were combined). Whether the study focused on combinations of these skills or these skills separately, the results were the same: young English learners benefited from this kind of teaching.
A new report to be released soon from the National Early Literacy Panel that has examined the research on teaching literacy to preschoolers and kindergartners, also found phonological awareness and phonics to be good things to teach, but they made no claims for the need to separate these.
State or district standards tend to specify skills without regard to how they are to be taught in the classroom. There certainly is nothing in the California state learning standards or the research that would argue for separating phonemic awareness from phonics, as long as both skills are clearly, explicitly, and thoroughly addressed. A program that claims to combine such skills, but really just elides over one of them, doesn’t fit that bill. But a program that tries to teach both of these together could do a very good job of supporting effective teaching.
Awhile back I heard about a similar concern from another email. This one was concerned that a combined phonemic awareness/phonics program was not doing it right. What they meant was that their conception of how to combine this instruction was that a teacher would spend several weeks teaching young kids to hear the separable sounds and then once that was accomplished, they would turn their attention to teaching sound symbol relationships. There is nothing wrong with that conception, and I would not be averse to such a plan as either a teacher or a researcher.
What was throwing this person was that the program she was reviewing didn’t teach it in this way. That is, they worked on phonemic awareness for particular letters and letter combinations, and when kids could hear these particular sounds, the program immediately linked these to letters. This is a very different conception of the relationship of PA to phonics, and it recognizes that kids become sensitive to some sounds earlier and easier than others, and therefore instead of trying to teach PA in its entirety it is connected to the letters as the kids develop.
Although this is a very different approach, it, too, is sensible and, again, as a researcher or a teacher, I would have no trouble with this plan either.
I believe that the federal research reviews and state learning standards have been valuable, but I’m concerned about the inferences some readers draw from these, that may be more linked to their own beliefs than to anything in the documents. Good readers not only draw inferences, they are aware of their inferences and the sources for them.