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

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.





Saturday, March 8, 2014

Is Amount of Reading Instruction a Panacea?

Recently, Education Week published an interesting piece about a Florida program aimed at extending the school days of children in the 100 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state. These schools were mandated to add an extra hour of reading instruction to their days. The result: 75% of the schools improved their reading scores, 70 of them coming off the lowest-performing list.


Duh!

Those who know my work in the schools are aware that amount of instruction is always the first thing that I look at. When I was the director of reading in the Chicago Public Schools it was one of my major mandates. Research overwhelmingly shows that more instruction tends to lead to more learning, and many supposedly research-proven programs obtain their advantages from, you guessed it, offering more teaching than kids will get in the control group.  

But the Ed Week article went on to point out that most of these extra-hour schools were still underperforming demographically matched schools and that 30 of them were still low performing.

Why doesn’t added time always work if it is such a no-brainer?

There are at least a few reasons.

First, time is not a variable. It is a measure or a dosage. Scientists abhor the idea of treating time as a variable. Long ago, the best minds thought iron rusted because of time. Eventually, they figured out that rust is due to exposure to moisture, and that time was a measure of how much moisture the iron was touching. More time meant more moisture.

In education, time is a measure of the amount of curriculum—explanation and practice—that children exposed to. It is the curriculum and how it is taught that makes the difference; time is simply a measure of that.

What if a curriculum is not sound? That is, what if being exposed to it does not usually lead someone to read, or repeats valuable lessons students have already mastered or fails to offer sufficient practice. An hour extra of something that doesn’t work won’t improve things. Time is just a measure, right? An hour of low quality teaching is an hour wasted.

Another problem is whether a mandated hour is actually an hour. Reading First, a federal initiative under No Child Left Behind, required that teachers provide 90 minutes per day of reading instruction. But classroom observers found a lot less than that in Reading First classrooms. Kids in those classrooms spent a lot of time waiting for instruction rather than being instructed.

Teachers don’t always appreciate how powerful their time with kids can be, so they are wasteful of the minutes. Do some self-observation of this and you’ll see what I mean. Thus, the schools stay open. The buses pick kids up an hour later. The teachers and kids are in the classroom. But reading instruction, not so much.

Finally, an extra hour may not equalize performance simply because it may be insufficient. We don’t know how much instruction and practice in reading anyone is getting. How much time is devoted to teaching reading during the school day? How much reading do students do in math, social studies, and science classes? Research studies show big differences in amount of reading instruction in school-to-school and even classroom-to-classroom comparisons.

How much do students read at home? How much time do they spend on the kinds of homework that make a difference? How much language development opportunity do they get before they come to school? What kinds of activities do they engage in through their libraries, parks, churches, synagogues, scouts, etc.?


The fact is that some students receive thousands of hours of instruction and practice in language and literacy each year, while others receive considerably less. An extra hour per day is precious (thank you, Florida), but it simply may be insufficient to overcome the huge differences that exist.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How Much Time on Comprehension and Phonics

My vacation is over and it is good to be back. The following letter came in while I was gone and I'm happy to answer it.

I am a 2nd year Kindergarten teacher, and I have really known nothing else but Common Core.  I feel as though my understanding of the standards is good.  My teaching style is workshop-based, with an equal amount of time spent on foundational skills as comprehension. I teach all five areas of literacy (phonics, phonemic awareness, oral language, fluency, comprehension) in our half-day program.  My colleagues are veteran teachers, who teach mostly foundational skills with foundational skill-based centers.  My Kindergarten colleagues frown on the workshop approach, although it is used in other grade levels (2-8).  Our school and district has always been high-performing and considered exceptional.  Our common assessments are all foundational skills, and our benchmarking assessment is all foundational skills.  Because I teach in the workshop model, they continually tell me how 'I just don't understand Kindergarten' and I am shorting my kids on foundational skills.  I am beginning to think that my efforts to pay equal time to comprehension are fruitless on an immediate basis, as they are not being assessed or valued.  However, I personally feel that not teaching comprehension on a deep level has been a major mistake in the past.  I want to learn and be a great teacher, but I just don't understand what I see to be the inequity in teaching/assessing/valuing comprehension.  What are your thoughts on the comprehension standards for Kindergarten?  How much time should be spent on comprehension vs. foundational skills in K, and why does it seem like comprehension is an afterthought with many early elementary teachers?

  
This is an interesting question. The biggest decisions teachers make have to do with how much time to spend on literacy and language and how to divide this time up among the components of literacy. I have long emphasized 2-3 hours of literacy instruction per day in grades K-5 (if you are teaching in a half-day kindergarten, then 90 minutes per day).

To divide instruction appropriately, it is critical to determine what components to include. 

Decoding is very important and needs to be mastered during these early years (preK through grade 2 or 3). Decoding includes phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, sight vocabulary, and phonics (and spelling).

Oral reading fluency is very important, though in kindergarten what needs to be emphasized will depend on whether the children are engaged in conventional reading or not. Oral reading fluency requires students to read text so that it sounds like text. If they can read, then reading texts aloud with repetition is essential. If students can’t yet read, they need to engage in activities like finger-point reading (in which they listen to texts being read and try to follow along by pointing to the words as they are being read).

Oral language includes vocabulary building, extended conversation (with multiple turns), listening comprehension (reading to children), and similar kinds of activities.

Reading comprehension refers to participating in reading text and answering questions and learning strategies for thinking about text. As with oral reading fluency, this one can only be taught if the students can read text. If they can’t read, then you can’t teach reading comprehension. (Listening comprehension is not reading comprehension, talking about pictures is not reading comprehension. Those have a place—in building oral language.) When kids are not yet reading, I would not count comprehension as a component; when they are, it deserves a full share of time.

And one more component that you do not mention: writing. It is critical that students be engaged in trying to express their ideas through written language. Initially, this might be done through dictation, but very quickly should shift to kids trying to do their own technology.

I would argue for dividing the total amount of literacy and language time equally across those five components (or four, if the students aren’t yet reading). Before they are reading, I would devote about a quarter of the instructional time to oral language development (including listening comprehension), a quarter to decoding, a quarter to oral reading fluency, and a quarter to writing. Once children are reading, then the time shifts so that each component gets 20% of the time.

Thus, in a full-day kindergarten in which teachers are spending 2 hours per day on literacy and language, early in the year—before many children are capable of reading text—students would spend about 30 minutes per day working with letters and letter sounds; about 30 minutes engaging in finger-point reading, echo reading, and such; about 30 minutes being read to, talking about text, expanding vocabulary and about 30 minutes writing. Later in the year, when significant numbers of students can read text, then there is a bit of time shift: the foundational skills (phonics and fluency) would drop back to a combined 50 minutes per day, reading comprehension, writing, and oral language would each come in at about 25 minutes. My preference would be that teachers would teach literacy and language for 3 hours per day at kindergarten (not two hours), and if that were the case, even more time would be available for all of these skills and abilities.

When you say that you spend equal times on reading comprehension and the foundational skills (phonological awareness, phonics, oral reading fluency), I think you are making a big mistake. That is not enough time for kids to develop those foundational skills in my opinion, and I think you'll slow their growth in reading. If your colleagues are devoting all of the time to foundational skills (because those are benchmarked), they may be doing long term damage; foundational skills are necessary, but insufficient to make students capable readers. 


A final word… these overall times are not a good description of a school day. When I say, there should be 30 or 48 or 60 minutes devoted to a particular aspect of literacy, that does not mean that teachers should teach phonics from 9:00AM-9:30AM. The reason I say that is that young children need lots of changes of activities and they need opportunities to move. I might read to kids with discussion for 10 or 15 minutes (covering half of my language time), but then could follow that up with a 10-minute writing activity, or a 15-minute phonics activity—or even an activity focused on some other aspect of the curriculum such as science or math. The point is that it is important to keep the day varied and engaging and the amounts of time can be accomplished in a variety of ways.