Showing posts with label time. Show all posts
Showing posts with label time. Show all posts

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.


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.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Amount of Preschool and Kindergarten Literacy Instruction?

I just received this request for information from a friend:
The question being posed is, "how many minutes of literacy instruction is
recommended for early childhood, ages such as preschool and kindergarten?"

The amount recommended in our district for grades 1-8 is 120 minutes, so we obviously need to rethink our message to the early childhood program. I'm not sure if you are familiar with or if this is relevant, but the early childhood program (preschool - kindergarten) uses Creative Curriculum, which incorporates center choices with whole group reading and writing instruction.

Thank you in advance for your advice!

My response:

There are no data that I am aware of on that issue, so anything I can tell you will be conjecture.

When I answer this question (and I do with some regularity), my first response to is ask a question back: “how long are the preschoolers and kindergartners there?” The answer to that usually varies from half day to full day. Because literacy and language aren’t the only issues that need to be addressed in instruction, it is important that literacy be a good curricular neighbor (not crowding everyone else unnecessarily).

If it is a whole day situation, then I would argue for the full 2 hours that you are spending in grades 1-8, and if it is half day, then about 1 hour will have to do it.

What should go into that 1-2 hours? Your curriculum does a good job of supporting teachers in some of these categories, and you might consider supplementing where it does not. We don’t provide children with much oral language stimulation in grades 1-8 (except incidentally across the day), but with young children some direct attention to oral language instruction and stimulation is appropriate as part of the literacy time.

In 2 hours, I would expect some code work (with letters and sounds), some fluency work (like pretend reading, choral reading, fingerpoint reading), some listening comprehension (or reading comprehension if the kids have started reading), some language work (including vocabulary), and some writing time. For a smaller amount of time, I would teach the same things (just not as much of them, but I wouldn’t leave any of them out).

Your curriculum presents letters and sounds whole group, and that is iffy. While juggling times with small groups can be tricky, the studies of code instruction have only been done with small groups at these age levels. This means it will take more than two hours to deliver two real hours of instruction and experience.

Finally, 2 hours does not necessarily mean a block of time. This does not have to be done from 9-11AM; with young kids, short time spans for activities is necessary and these various activities can be interspersed through the day. A little harder to keep track of whether you have hit the time goal, but a lot more sensible to deliver.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When Time isn't the Only Thing

For 20 years, my speeches and writing have been heavily oriented towards time--amount of instruction. I have made a big deal that schools with longer school days tend to do better as do countries with longer school years; that summer school programs increase achievement as do many after school programs; that snow days lower school achievement, as do student absences; that extended school years and all-day kindergartens work; that classrooms differ in how much instruction they provide and that these differences are related to student learning, and that guiding teachers to use time better improves achievement.

A policymaker recently pointed out to me that increases in time don't always work. Specifically, studies of the NCLB-required after school programs show few learning gains. Or, the Reading First evaluation: RF teachers increased literacy teaching by about 10 minutes per day, but their kids did no better in comprehension. Studies of reading interventions for middle school and high school, that provided a reading class, didn't really work either, or not very much anyway.

Have I been wrong about time? I don't think so. From the very beginning of such research, it has been apparent that the students have to be engaged in learning during the time that is allotted. I visited a school recently where the children were ignoring the teachers (running around, throwing things, etc.). Extending the day with those teachers wouldn't raise reading achievement, because there would likely be no additional teaching added. Time increases tend to work because most teachers aren't struggling as much as those two. Mark Dynarski's work on after school programs suggests that those NCLB programs didn't do well, because they have not necessarily added much teaching.

Trading time isn't so effective either. What I mean by that is that, all things being equal, you'll be better off having students attend an extra reading class, rather than a reading class that substitutes for another academic class. Some of those intervention programs that are conferring a small advantage when they are taking the place of other academic experience, but they likely would confer a somewhat larger benefit if they were adding time rather than just replacing it.

How many more minutes does it take to give a learning advantage? In the Reading First study 10 minutes a day didn't have an impact. Now maybe these teachers weren't really teaching, but what if they were? My own personal reading of research says that fewer than 30 additional hours of teaching sometimes helps and sometimes does not (more often the latter); more than 30 hours and the burden shifts (it's still a mixed bag, but more advantages are seen; and when the numbers climb into the 50-100 extra hours, it is pretty rare that gains aren't seen).

One last thought: the reason those interventions may not look like they are working could be that the tests used in the studies aren't sufficiently sensitive to pick up the gains. Imagine a 9th grader in a special reading program. He is reading at a third grade level at the beginning of the year and a fifth grade level by the end. That means he is still 5 years behind, and it is quite possible that he is still testing at the bottom of the scale on the high school test (he learned, but not enough to be noticed by the test). Perhaps interventions with older students need to use multiple evaluation instruments, including out-of-level tests, to be sure that we are really identifying gains.).

(I've come to believe that those middle school and high school interventions may have boosted achievement more than the studies could show, because if you move an older student from a 3rd to a 4th grade reading level that will not necessarily be captured by a high school reading assessment).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time and Teaching

I received two recent letters asking similar questions. Both correspondents noticed that I make a big deal about amount of instruction and they wanted to see the research that I rely on when I encourage schools to maximize time.

Although there are lots of studies of time and its role in student learning — not just in reading, but in education generally — these studies aren’t always easy to find. If you look up time or amount of instruction in ERIC, there are studies, but you’ll miss out on some of the best examples. You probably won’t find the research on full-day kindergarten there, but are such studies about anything but amount of instruction (the kids either get 2½ or 5 hours per day of schooling)? You’ll probably miss out on the homework studies, too, but I would put them in the increased time basket as well. And where do the analyses of A Nation at Risk (1983) fit? That was the report that kicked off our seemingly permanent school reform efforts. They compared the lengths of school years across nations, and found that kids in the U.S. were getting less teaching than was available in many of the countries who outperform us academically (a more recent analysis was in my newspaper this week… only one country that is doing better than us has a comparable length school year (Finland); everyone else has more days of schooling. And there are studies of the time commitment required to develop genius (Walberg, 1981, Gifted Child Quarterly), or models of what works in school reform (e.g., Fuller & Clarke, Review of Educational Research, 1994). Most of those studies won’t show up in a literature search focused on time, but they are about time, just as are the studies of extended school years, extended school days, tardiness and absenteeism, afterschool programs, summer school programs, and efforts to use the school day better (and there are both correlational or experimental studies on all of those topics).

If you go back a ways, you can find really neat literature reviews showing that when students engage in generative activities (like writing summaries or answering questions after reading), they do better than when they just read. It became a standard rhetorical turn in such reviews to wonder if it was the activities that conferred the learning advantages or whether the readers in the experimental conditions were just spending more time on texts because of the activities. That was seen at the time as a research design problem, and reviews by Rothkopf, Wittrock, and A. Gagne (all appearing in Review of Educational Research in the 1970s) treated time as a confound that may have boosted the experimental groups performance, making it difficult to determine whether the reading comprehension interventions were really working. None of those studies would be considered to be time studies, but I would include them since their benefits came from adding time. Yes, getting students to spend more time on text helps them to comprehend more — as long as they are engaged in thinking about the meaning of the text.

There are also “natural experiments” that are evident when a community begins sending kids to school (such as has happened recently in Egypt or as happened here in the U.S. since Brown v. Board of Education--African American school attendance climbed dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s and achievement climbed with it). During the 20th century, most U.S. states increased the length of the school year from about 100 days to the current 180: and there were gains in learning associated with that (by 1970 we were no longer increasing the school year or including new populations in schooling; 1970 is when our achievement gains leveled off to where it is now). One can look at education in South Korea over the past decade or so, to see what increasing a school year and enrollment percentages can do to achievement levels. (Is anyone surprised that the U.S. high schools with the highest dropout rates also have the highest absenteeism? Kids at those schools usually miss more than 30 days a year).

Herb Walberg once told me that there was something like 10,000 studies on the role of time or amount of teaching in education. That was years ago, and I suspect the number has grown quite a bit since then. I never checked Herb on this point (let me see the bibliography, Herb), but experience tells me that he is usually correct about such claims, so I trust it (especially when I can so easily find so many studies of time myself). Given that, I think it is pretty clear that amount of instruction matters.

But there is an important caveat, oft raised during these past few decades: there is a difference between allotted time and engaged time. That is, learning is going to come from how time is used and not just the how much time is available (Jane Stallings wrote a nifty article about this in the Educational Researcher in 1980, and Barack Rosenshine and David Berliner wrote similar pieces around the same time). I have seen schools hire teachers to deliver extra instruction to kids through afterschool programs: instruction that, ultimately, was not delivered (in some cases, because kids didn’t show up and in others because the teachers simply didn’t teach). Of course, if the teacher is presenting something or leading a discussion and the kids aren’t paying any attention (lots of allotted time, but no engaged time), no learning is going to happen.

We need to make sure that our schools have enough time to teach reading effectively, and I suspect we will need longer school years and longer school days to accomplish that with all kids. But currently we are not using teaching time well, so simply expanding time availability is not a sufficient answer. Below I have listed some of the time studies that I use in my courses here at the university. The Smith paper is available online and it shows how teachers often fail to use the allotted time in the Chicago Public Schools (there are similar reports about teaching elsewhere, with sadly similar results). So, longer school years and school days yes! But let’s make darn sure that we provide the “bell to bell” teaching that Mel Riddle talks about (Mel was the principal who turned around a severely challenged high school in Fairfax Co., Virginia; one of the big tools he used to raise achievement there was getting teachers to use the instructional time for —you guessed it— teaching!).

American College Testing. (2006). Reading between the lines. Iowa City: American College Testing.

Carroll, J.B. (1963). A model of school learning. Teachers College Record, 723–733.

Cooper, H. (2001). Summer school: Research-based recommendations for policy makers. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66, 227–268.

Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Pastall, C. A. (2006). Review of Educational Research, 76, 1-62.

Cooper, H. Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1-62.

Filby, N.N., & Cahen, L.S. (1985). Teacher accessibility and student attention. In C.W. isher & D.C. Berliner (Eds.), Perspectives on instructional time (pp. 203–215). New York: Longman.

Frazier, J.A., & Morrison, F.J. (1998). The influence of extended-year schooling on growth of achievement and perceived competence in early elementary schooling. Child Development, 69, 495–517.

Frederick, W. C. The use of classroom time in high schools above or below the median reading score. Urban Education, 11(4), 459-464.

Fusaro, J. A. (1997). The effects of full-day kindergarten on student achievement: A meta-analysis. Child Study Journal, 27(4), 269-279.

Heyns, B. (1978). Summer learning and the effects of schooling. New York: Academic Press.

Smith, B.A. (1998). It’s about time: Opportunities to learn in Chicago’s elementary schools. Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Stallings, J.A., & Mohlmna, G.G. (1982). Effective use of time in secondary reading classrooms. ERIC Document 216 343.

If you want even more citations, go into Google Scholar and type: engaged time teaching reading. That’ll give you a half million choices! Or type in some of the names or articles above and see what else comes up. Happy hunting.