Thursday, June 18, 2020

Instruction for the Vulnerable Reader: Assessment

In order to help a child become better at reading, a teacher needs to have a handle on what the child knows and is able to do. All learning builds on prior learning, so a good clear idea of a child's understanding at the point where instruction begins is clearly a priority. This information is not readily available from standardized tests, inventories, checklists, speed reading trials, nonsense word lists, or anything else that purports to tell us what students know about reading. This information is available to us from listening to a child read, watching the child write, and talking with the child about books and reading.

To the extent that we can set up our classroom so that there are frequent opportunities to interact with children around text, we are setting up a classroom to formatively assess children. As teachers then, we can design instruction that builds on students strengths, using those strengths to help them improve on their weaknesses. The teacher is constantly asking, "What can this child do? What does this child need to be able to do next? How can what the child can already do help us get there?

This is what assessment for reading improvement is about. Assessment is not some abstract score on a DIBELs scoresheet or Big Standardized Test, it is the formative assessment that takes place daily in the classroom. In the best classrooms instruction and assessment are happening at the same time. As my late mentor Susan Mandel Glazer would say, "Instruction is assessment!"

Here are some past posts that may help drive home that point.

What is the Best Way to Assess Early Literacy?


Following the Child: What Does that Look Like?

Assessing Reading Comprehension: Probing Instead of Questioning

Questions as Invitations, Not Inquisitions

Monday, June 15, 2020

Instruction for Vulnerable Readers: Independent Reading

The best predictor of how well children will read is the amount of time they spend reading. This time spent reading must be engaged reading, that is students must not just be looking at the book, but actively engaged in parsing the words on the page and making meaning from those combinations of words. Reading volume is defined as the amount of time children spend reading and the number of words they encounter during that time. As children encounter more words, they apply their problem solving skills to the novel words they encounter, reinforce the skills they already have, build vocabulary, build knowledge, and build stamina for further reading.

It makes sense then, that the best reinforcement a teacher can provide for all the good instruction they are doing in class, is to give students time for independent reading. We would also hope, of course, that children would be motivated by our instruction to do lots of reading outside of school, but in school independent reading, guided and reinforced by the watchful teacher, gives all children a chance to build reading volume.

Here are a few posts on independent reading from my blog. The first one proved to be the most popular entry I ever posted.

Independent Reading: A Research-Based Defense

Independent Reading: One Key to Balanced Literacy Instruction

When Readers Struggle: Increase Encounters with Text

Fostering a Love of Reading in Children

How to Make a Frequent Reader

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Instruction for the Vulnerable Reader: Comprehension

This is the fourth in a series on instruction for vulnerable readers that is a companion to my series on Why Johnny Can't Read. Other posts in this series addressed decoding, spelling and vocabulary. In this post we turn our attention to comprehension.

There are three key concepts to keep in mind when thinking about teaching reading comprehension.

1. Comprehension is an intentional act. Readers need to actively engage with text with the intention of understanding.
2. The more you know about a topic before you read the better your comprehension of the reading will be.
3. Students can be taught strategies that will help them strengthen their comprehension.

So intention matters, prior knowledge matters, and instruction matters. Here are some posts that deal with these issues.

When Readers Struggle: Background Knowledge

When Readers Struggle: Reading Comprehension, Part 1

When Readers Struggle: Reading Comprehension, Part 2

When Readers Struggle: Reading Comprehension, Part 3

Comprehending Non-Fiction: Setting Kids Up for Success

Purposeful Reading: Engaging Students in Content Text

I hope you will find this series of posts helpful as you think about instruction in comprehension for your most vulnerable readers.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Instruction for the Vulnerable Reader: Vocabulary

Previous posts in this series on quality instruction for vulnerable readers have addressed word work and spelling. this post will address vocabulary. I have addressed the topic of vocabulary in a number of posts over the years. There are three key things I think we need to keep in mind when helping vulnerable readers build on their vocabulary.

1. Always work to build vocabulary from a conceptual base; that is, vocabulary is best learned through connections with already established concepts that children possess. If we want children to understand the concept of domestic animal, it is best to work to expand the knowledge they already have about pets.

2. Children need many meaningful encounters with a word before they own it.

3. The best way for children to build vocabulary is through reading widely in self-selected books.

Here are some of those past posts on vocabulary with a focus on our vulnerable readers.

Building Vocabulary: An Overview

Building Vocabulary: Teaching from a Conceptual Base

Building Vocabulary: The List-Group-Label Strategy

Building Vocabulary: Words in Context

Developing Word Consciousness in Children

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Instruction for the Vulnerable Reader: Spelling

Today I continue with my series on the vulnerable reader gathering posts from the past to look at instruction for our neediest readers. My previous post looked at one aspect of word work: decoding. In this post, I look at most frustrating of topics: spelling.

Many vulnerable readers have difficulty with accurate spelling. For some children the difficulty is inability to hear sounds in words in the order they occur. For other children, it may be a lack of visual memory for words. After all, 50% of words are not regularly spelled, so we need to develop visual images of words such as "know" to know how to spell them. Still other children may not develop good spelling because they do not read or write enough or because they have not developed a "spelling conscience", a desire to spell correctly.

Most poor readers are also poor spellers, but not all good readers are good spellers. Many factors go into the equation. The good news is that spelling is not connected to intelligence, and with tools like spell check available, there is no reason for poor spelling to be debilitating to young learners, unless outside forces make it that way.

Invented spelling is a tool for young learners to learn how words work. For children in kindergarten, first, and second grade,  these invented or temporary spellings helps them learn how to decode words and how words are structured. Invented spelling is a key tool in the arsenal for a primary grade teacher and should be encouraged, not discouraged. As children mature as readers and writiers, we will want to see spelling approximations moving closer and closer to standard.

Here is a blog post on invented spelling and another on spelling advice aimed at parents, but with plenty of information for teachers, too. I have also included a link to a Summary of the Stages of Spelling Development that I think teachers might find helpful. Like reading and writing, or anything else we learn, spelling is developmental and an understanding of this development is very helpful for the teacher.

Invented Spelling: Discovering How Words Work

What Parents Need to Know About Spelling

Summary Chart of the Stages of Spelling Development

And here is a little poem I wrote to remind us of the frustration that can come to a child learning how English spelling works.

The Spelling Curse

Of all the subjects I’ve taken at school,
Spelling’s the absolute worst.
I try to spell words correctly,
But my efforts all seem to be cursed.

The problem is plain (plane?), as I see it.
The words “worst” and “cursed” sound the same,
But their spelling’s entirely different.
I wonder who could be to blame.

If I could speak to the spelling lawmakers,
I’d ask that “curst” be spelled just like “wurst.”
It would certainly make me a happier child,
And in spelling I’d be better “vurst.”

from There's a Giant in My Classroom and other poems, by Russ Walsh, Infinity Press: 2013.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Instruction for the Vulnerable Reader: Word Work

Last week's post addressed one aspect of the question Why Johnny Can't Read, the issue of quality of instruction. Quality instruction, I argue, is balanced instruction. Balanced instruction includes word work, read aloud, shared reading and writing, guided reading, and independent reading and writing.

Today, I would like to focus on word work. Here are some posts from over the years that address the decoding and sight words. Other posts will deal with other aspects of word work, namely, spelling and vocabulary. Underpinning any word work is student oral language, so I began this listing with my post on that issue. Once students begin to develop some proficiency in word work, fluency instruction can help them "read the words so they sound like talking", so a post on fluency is also included here.

When Readers Struggle : Oral Language

When Readers Struggle: Sight Words

When Readers Struggle: Word Solving, Part 1

When Readers Struggle: Word Solving, Part 2

When Readers Struggle: Word Solving, Part3

An Onset-Rime Approach to Decoding for Struggling Readers

Decode This: Meaning Helps Kids Break the Code

When Readers Struggle: Fluency

I hope you find these posts, taken together, offer a good starting point for helping children learn to break the code of written language.