Showing posts with label amount of instruction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label amount of instruction. Show all posts

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Why An Overemphasis on Foundational Reading Skills Makes Kids Sick

Principal’s question:

District leadership has advised primary teachers to focus on the Foundational Skills Strand, and de-emphasize the other strands. The belief is that if students go into Grade 3 having mastered foundational skills, they will be prepared to master the rigor of the other strands.

As the principal, the message I'm considering sending is to teach all strands, closely monitoring foundational skills with DIBELS, immediately addressing gaps. Students who are meeting foundational skills standards may spend more time in other strands while those struggling get focused support in assessed areas of foundational skills difficulty. Does that sound reasonable?

I'm concerned that de-emphasizing the other strands will make it hard for students to catch up in third grade, and many students may lose interest if not exposed to a variety of thought-provoking work. On the other hand, I understand the immense importance of systematic, explicit instruction in the foundational skills- and know they must be a focus in early years.

All that said, can you give a guideline as to the percent of the E/LA time that should be spent on foundational skills for the "typical" primary student? Our district adopted Benchmark Advance, which looks to me as though it does NOT emphasize the foundational skills. I would like to give teachers a time guideline for initial whole-group instruction in foundational skills so we know how much we may need to supplement with other curriculum.

Shanahan’s response:

     Imagine if district leadership advised the cafeteria crew to focus on calcium only, and to de-emphasize the other nutrients? Their belief might be that if students reached the age of 8 without strong teeth and bones, they would not be prepared for the later rigors of eating grains, meats, and vegetables.

     You’d be writing to me to find out if it’s okay to serve cereals with the morning milk and green beans at lunch. And, let's face it, these kid's autopsies would likely reveal strong teeth and bones.

     Sadly, this analogy is apt.

     Of course, one can put all the primary grade focus on some skills to try to advance progress in those skills, just as one could put all the emphasis on some nutrients to promote some health needs over others. Doing so won't accomplish the real goal, but it might fool some observers into thinking it has been reached.

     Here are some facts worth knowing:

1.  In the 1960s, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) began a rigorous analysis of beginning reading in an effort to identify how effectively to avoid or to address learning problems. This coordinated effort is generally credited with much of the progress that has been made in understanding the role that skills like phonological awareness play in reading and the value of explicit phonics instruction. One important finding of that effort: addressing only students’ phonological/orthographic needs during the primary grade years leaves those students vulnerable to continued reading disability (due to a lack attention to their language development). There either are usually undiagnosed language deficits early on, that become more evident later, or the inattention to non-foundational skills limits their growth during these years. I don’t think anyone can read that body of research without concluding both that kids need substantial attention to foundational skills early on, AND that solely focusing on such skills would be harmful.

2.  The National Reading Panel was pressed into service to review research on what works in reading at the request of the U.S. Congress, under the auspices of NICHD and the U.S. Department of Education. Unlike many of the critics at the time, panel members, who were unpaid volunteers, were not allowed to have any potential conflicting commercial interests. That panel reviewed 51 studies of the teaching of phonemic awareness, 38 studies of phonics, and 32 studies of oral reading fluency. The panel concluded that students would benefit from explicit, systematic instruction in each of those foundational skills during the primary grades. However, it should be noted that in no case within those studies did anyone consider those skills as separable from the rest of reading. For example, when studying phonics, the students in the control groups and the phonics groups were receiving instruction in vocabulary, comprehension, writing and the like. The only difference was that the experimental group would be getting phonics or some more ambitious version of phonics. Thus, the panel’s conclusion that these skills need to be taught was determined in the context of these skills being taught along with other reading skills. Such a heavy focus on any of these skills to the omission of the others likely would have led to very different conclusions.

3.  Over my career, I have worked with some of the biggest proponents of foundational skills teaching: Patricia Cunninghma, Linnea Ehri, Jack Fletcher, Barbara Foorman, David Francis, Douglas Fuchs, Lynn Fuchs, Christopher Lonigan, Louisa Moats, Michael Pressley, Christopher Schatschneider, Sally Shaywitz, Steve Stahl, Keith Stanovich, Joseph Torgesen, Sharon Vaughn, etc. These brilliant men and women disagree—with me and with each other--on many issues, but they seem to all be in agreement that the foundational skills are NECESSARY for learning to read (so you'd better make sure kids are instructed in them), BUT THAT THEY ALONE ARE NOT SUFFICIENT for learning to read (so you'd better do more for kids' reading than teach them foundational skills).

      I have long been an advocate for providing children with 120-180 minutes per day of literacy instruction. I divide that time roughly in quarters: 25% devoted to words and word parts (e.g., letters, sounds, decoding, PA); 25% to oral reading fluency; 25% to reading comprehension; and 25% to writing. That means that primary grade kids would receive about 60 to 90 minutes per day of foundational skills instruction (combining the word work with the fluency work).

     There are variants on this scheme. For example, Joe Torgesen touched it up by advocating 2 hours of daily literacy instruction, with up to a third hour dedicated to remediation in those foundational skills. Thus, your idea of giving some kids more foundational work beyond the amount that everyone receives in class makes great sense and can easily be accommodated in this plan. However, ignoring essential skills that can't easily be tested to focus on ones that can be, won't help kids much.

      I sympathize with your administrators. They want a quick fix. Sadly, the positive third-grade reading data that they are imagining would at best be briefly hiding their failure. Sort of like painting over the rot in a wooden porch; the paint will make it look nice, but it won't keep the steps from soon collapsing. In addressing a problem, you must recognize what is necessary, as well as what is insufficient.


     Pass the green beans, please!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How Can Reading Coaches Raise Reading Achievement?

Teachers question:

I have just been hired as a reading coach in a school where I have been a third-grade teacher. My principal wants me to raise reading achievement and he says that he’ll follow my lead. I think I’m a good teacher, but what does it take to raise reading achievement in a whole school (K-5) with 24 teachers?


Shanahan's answer:

            It’s easy J. Just do the following 9 things:

1.    Improve leadership.
                  
            Literacy leadership matters. You and your principal will need to be a team. The more the two of you know and agree upon the better. Over the next few years, your principal will be hiring and evaluating teachers, making placement and purchasing decisions, and communicating with the community. You need to be in on some of those things and you need to influence all of them. Your principal should tell the faculty that you speak for him on literacy matters and you both need to devote some time to increasing his literacy knowledge so he can understand and support your recommendations. I’d get on his calendar at least a couple of times per week to discuss strategy and debrief on what you are both doing, but also for professional development time for him.

2.    Increase the amount of literacy instruction.

            How much reading and writing instruction and practice kids get is critical.  Take a close look at how much of this kids are getting. Observe, talk to teachers, survey… find out how much teaching is being provided and how much reading the kids do within this teaching. Be on the look out for lost time. Mrs. Smith may schedule two hours of ELA, but she doesn’t start class until 9:12 most mornings due to late bus drop offs, milk money collection, Pledge of Allegiance, morning announcements and so on. And, her class takes a 7-minute bathroom break at about 10 each morning. She isn’t trying to teach for 2 hours, but only 1 hour 41 minutes (and the actual amount of instruction may be even less). That’s a whopping 60 hours less instruction per year than what she schedules! Try to get everyone up to 2-3 hours per day of reading and writing instruction, with a large percentage of that devoted to kids reading and writing within instruction (and, yes, a student reading aloud to the group, only counts as one student reading).

3.    Focus instruction on essential curriculum elements.

            ELA often is used for wonderful things that don’t make much difference in kids learning. I watched a “phonics lesson” recently in which most of the time was spent on cutting out pictures and pasting them to a page. The amount of sounding and matching letters to sounds could have been accomplished within about 30 seconds of this 20-minute diversion. You definitely can send kids off to read on their own, but not much learning is usually derived from this. Instead, make ia commitment to obtaining substantial instruction in each of the following research-proven components for every child.

(a) Teach students to read and understand the meanings of words and parts of words (decoding and word meaning): Dedicate time to teaching students phonological awareness (K-1, and strugglers low in those skills); phonics or decoding (K-2, or again the strugglers); sight vocabulary (high frequency words, K-2); spelling (usually linked to the decoding or word meanings); word meanings; and morphology (meaningful parts of words).   

(b) Teach students to read text aloud with fluency so that it sounds like language (accuracy—reading the author’s words as written; appropriate speed—about the speed one talks normally; and proper prosody or expression—pausing appropriately, etc.).

(c) Teach students to read with understanding and the ability to learn from text. With beginning readers this, like fluency practice, needs to be oral reading. However, by the end of Grade 1 and from then on, most reading for comprehension should be silent reading. Such instruction should teach students about text (like how it is organized, how author’s put themes in stories, or how history books differ from science books), about the kinds of information that is important (like main ideas or inferences), and ways to think about texts that will increase understanding (like summarizing along the way, or how to ask oneself questions about a text).

(d). Teach students to write effectively.  This would include training students in various means of getting their ideas onto paper—printing, handwriting, and keyboarding, but it also teaching them to write for various purposes (narration, exposition, argument), to negotiate the writing process effectively (planning, drafting, revising, editing), to write for a range of audiences, and to write powerful pieces (with interesting introductions, strong organizations, sufficient amounts of accurate information, etc.).

            All four of those are detailed in your state standards, no matter where you live, but make sure that kids get lots of teaching in each. (I’d strive for roughly 25% of the instructional time into each of those baskets—that comes out to approximately 90-135 hours per year of instruction in each of those 4 things).

4.    Provide focused professional development.

            I suspect this will be where much of your time is focused; making sure your teachers know how to teach those four essentials well. This might take the form of professional development workshops on particular topics, organizing teacher reading groups to pursue particular instructional issues, observing teachers and giving them feedback on their lessons, co-planning lessons with one or more teachers, providing demonstration lessons, and so on. You need to make sure that every one of your teachers knows what needs to be taught and how to teach it well.


5.    Make sure sound instructional programs are in place.

            It is possible to teach reading effectively without a commercial program, but there are serious drawbacks to that approach. First, there’s the fairness issue. Programs that are shared by school staff will not make all teachers equal in their ability to teach reading, but they sure can reduce the amount of difference that exists (especially when there is adequate supervision and professional development—see numbers 1 and 4 above). Second, programs can ensure that kids get instruction in key areas of reading, even when teachers aren’t comfortable providing such teaching. Basically, we want to ensure that every teacher has an adequate set of lessons for productive instruction in those four key components for sufficient amounts of time. If your teachers are skilled enough to improve upon the lessons in the shared core program, then by all means support these improvements and make sure they’re shared widely.

6.    Align assessments.

            It can be helpful to monitor kids learning, at least in basic skills areas that are amenable to easy assessment. It is reasonable, depending on the tests and the skills, to evaluate decoding skills or fluency ability formally 2-4 times per year. Of course, teachers can collect such information within instruction much more often than that. For instance, if a teacher is going to teach fluency for several minutes per day, why not take notes on how well individuals do with this practice and keep track of that over weeks. In any event, if we recognize that some students are not making adequate progress in these basic skills, then increasing the amount of teaching they get within class or beyond class can be sensible. The amount of testing needs to be kept to an absolute minimum, so this time can be used to improve reading.

7.    Target needs of special populations.

            Often there are particular groups of kids who struggle more than others within your ELA program. Two obvious groups are second-language learners (who may struggle with academics because they are still learning English) or kids with disabilities (who struggle to learn written language). Making sure that they get extra assistance within class when possible, and beyond class (through special classes, afterschool and summer programs, etc.) would make great sense. If you are making sure that everyone in the school benefits from 2 hours per day of real reading and writing instruction, then why not try to build programs that would ensure that these strugglers and stragglers get even more? I know one coach who runs an afterschool fluency program, for instance.

8.    Get parent support and help.

            Research says parents can help and that they often do. I suggest trying to enlist their help from the beginning. Many coaches do hold parent workshops about how to read to their kids, how to listen effectively to their children’s reading, how to help with homework, etc. Lots of times teachers tell me that those workshops are great, but that the parents they most wish would attend don’t show up. Don’t be discouraged. Sometimes those parents don’t get the notices (perhaps you could call them), or they work odd schedules (sometimes meetings during the school day are best for them—perhaps close to the time they have to pick their kids up from school), or they need babysitting support or translation (those one can be worked out, too).

9.    Motivate everybody.

            Just like leadership (#1 above) is necessary to get any of these points accomplished, so is motivation. You have to be the number one cheerleader for every teacher’s reading instruction, for every parent’s involvement, and for every student’s learning gains. Information about what your school is up to has to be communicated to the community so that everyone can take part. Some coaches hold reading parades in their neighborhoods, others have regular reading nights where kids in pajamas come to school with mom and dad to participate in reading activities, there are young author events, lunchtime book clubs, and million minute reading challenges, etc. You know, whatever takes to keep everyone’s head in the game. 


            Like I said, raising reading achievement is easy. You just have to know everything, get along with everybody, work like a horse, and keep smiling.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

How to Organize Daily Literacy Instruction -- Part I

Twice this week—from a NY teacher and an Illinois school administrator—I’ve been asked how to organize instructional time for literacy with Common Core. One was an email inquiry, the other face-to-face, but both noted my earlier concerns about Daily 5 and CAFE.

In both cases, they were right that I am not a big fan of those approaches.

My reason in both cases (and also with any similar, but less popular schemes): they distract teachers from an intense focus on what they are trying to teach students. Teachers have to be focused on learning—not activities.

Of course, many teachers would point out, the idea is for kids to learn, but teachers do that through their activities. I don’t disagree about the need for instructional activities as the means for increasing student knowledge and skills, but that doesn’t mean we should idolize the activities.

There are many activities that can be used to accomplish particular learning or teaching goals and teachers need to select among these and to move among these as they help students to gain the outcome. Locking into a particular activity on a daily basis is foolish.

Research has shown that teachers struggle to keep focused on kids’ learning; that they get so wrapped up in the activities that they often lose sight of their purpose. What do they say about alligators and swamp draining?

That’s why so many teachers and principals come to measure success in terms of how smoothly the activity went rather than on what it enabled kids to do.

Any scheme that focuses teachers on activities rather than outcomes is a non-starter for me.

However, I do appreciate that teachers embrace such schemes because of their manageability. The biggest decisions teachers have to make have to do with how to parcel out their valuable instructional time, and any plan that helps teachers to do this has some value.

The framework that I have long used is both similar to—and wildly different from—these schemes that I’m criticizing. My framework also gives teachers guidance with time use, but its emphasis is on the outcomes rather than the methods.

I start from the premise that students are going to need to spend a lot of time with literacy to become literate. Given that, I think kids should spend at least 2-3 hours per day dealing with literacy.

A second premise is that we have multiple goals in literacy and that they all compete for instructional time. I believe that it makes sense to divide the available instructional time among these different goals.

What are these goals? My reading of the research says that students need to learn words and word parts (to read them, to interpret them), they need to be able to read text fluently (with sufficient accuracy, speed, and prosody), they need to be able to understand and interpret the ideas in text, and they need to convey their own ideas through text (writing). These are all critically important goals, and each of them has many sub goals.

I would argue teachers should provide students with explicit instruction and lots of practice time in each of these four learning areas on a daily basis. Rather than focusing on four or five activities that kids should be engaged in everyday, I’d rather have teachers thinking about what activities they should encourage based on the learning goals in each of these areas. Thus, it would be very reasonable to spend 30 minutes on words, 30 minutes on fluency, 30 minutes on reading comprehension, and 30 minutes on writing everyday (on average)—even though the actual activities would vary.

A daily organizing plan that is focused on these outcomes makes greater sense than one based on activities such as read to self or read to someone.


And such a plan makes sense even when using “core reading programs” or “basal readers” because they help teachers to choose among the many options such programs provide.  




Saturday, April 12, 2014

How Much In-Class Reading?

I am wondering what you think are the acceptable ways to read text in a text in grades 3-8.  Obviously, round robin or popcorn reading is not one of them -- and these are still options we see too often. Independent reading is desired, and some degree of teacher read aloud to the whole class to model fluency and dramatic reading is appropriate as well. What other ways do you think are effective? How much time would you say we should push teachers to do each? (i.e. 60% independent, 20% teacher read aloud...) etc.

I’m with those who believe that students need to read a lot during their school days. Yes, they should read at home, but within their schoolwork at school in class, students need lots of opportunities and requirements to read.

The most powerful of such reading (in terms of stimulating student learning) seems to be oral reading with feedback from a teacher. I would discourage popcorn or round robin but not because the reading practice that they provide is so bad—just that they provide so little practice. When one student is reading, many more are just sitting waiting for their turn. The students who are reading are learning, and the others, not so much.

Research suggests that techniques like paired reading (in which kids read and reread texts to each other), reading while listening, echo reading, radio reading, etc. can all be good choices. In all of these techniques, many students are able to practice simultaneously, they read relatively challenging materials, and then they reread these in an effort to improve the quality. If students can read texts (8th grade or higher) orally at about 150 words correct per minute, I wouldn’t bother with this kind of practice, and if they could not, I would provide about 30 minutes of it each school day.

As powerful as oral reading is at stimulating student reading ability, we can’t ignore the fact that most reading that we engage in will be silent, and students need to practice this as well. I would strongly encourage teachers to have students read those texts silently that they are to write about or that are going to be the focus of group or class discussion. When I assign such reading in classrooms, kids often tell me that I’m doing it wrong (because their teachers have them read the texts round robin). Teachers do this to make sure kids read it and to monitor their reading. By doing the fluency work noted above, I do away with the need to monitor their fluency progress (I’m already doing that), and teachers can make sure students read from the discussions and writing that ensues. I would usually have students reading their literature selection and their social studies or science chapters silently. If students struggle with this, divide the assignments into shorter chunks (even 1 page at a time), and then stretch this out over time. I would suggest that students should be engaging in as much silent reading as oral reading in these grades (and if students are fully fluent as described above, then the silent reading should be almost 100% of what students read).

I would argue not only for minutes to be dedicated to fluency practice, but for another 30-45 minutes to focus on reading comprehension daily—and a lot of this time would entail silent reading. However, silent reading is also going to come up during science, social studies, and other subjects and this counts, too. Thus, having students spend as much as 15 minutes reading aloud (paired reading for 30 minutes would allow each student 15 minutes of such practice), and having students read for 20-30 minutes of a 45 minute comprehension lesson and reading another 10-20 minutes a day in other subjects would give kids a substantial amount of oral and silent reading practice.

Even in the silent reading context, there should be at least some oral reading. Most prominently: students should read aloud during discussions to provide evidence supporting their claims or refuting someone else’s.

It is a good idea to encourage kids to read on their own, but this has such a small impact on student learning that I would make such opportunities available in ways that would not appreciably reduce the instructional doses suggested above. Getting kids to read on their own beyond the school day, while providing them with the heavy involvement in reading across their school day will be the most powerful combination for getting students to high performance levels.