It’s Time to Use Reading Science!

This APM Reports documentary by Emily Hanford Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read? is a really thought provoking piece about how children read and how kids and families land in the middle of the tug of war over how kids read – phonics vs. whole language still at it. We can all agree that everyone needs to learn how to read. When we examine prison populations and reading literacy rates we starkly see why. Better readers do better. Is reading natural? If we just give kids lots of books, is that enough? Where does phonics fit in? For how long? The education community does not agree.  I am a scientist at heart. I must follow the science of reading to formulate my bottom line.

Reading instruction must be dynamic and include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Reading is natural for some but not others especially if you have a processing difference like dyslexia or are coping with trauma. Kids need support with phonics blending AND they need to learn whole words. Real tasks that use real texts across content areas to build background knowledge is essential for ongoing vocabulary development and reading comprehension.

Here are my Top 5 Reading Tips Based on Reading Science:

1. Phonics is ESSENTIAL through at least 1st grade and should continue as needed through strategic grouping.
2. Spelling instruction is important but should never hold students back from new learning or be overdone.
3. Word study or morphology with roots, prefixes and suffixes teaches kids to crack the code as they develop as readers starting in 3rd grade especially when gamified.
4. Leveled, “just right books” can limit access to and practice with complex language so beware.
5. Science, social studies, art and music build students general content knowledge and develop and even accelerate reading comprehension skills.

Need help developing your reading approach based on reading science? Let me know. I can help.

skirkman@ask-edcuation.org

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 10.52.08 AMBuilding Blocks of Reading

 

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California Model Five-by-Five Placement Reports & Data for Accountability Dashboard Indicators

Five-by-Five Colored Clickable Tables!

The new CA accountability system is here! It combines five Status and Change levels creating a five-by-five grid that produces twenty-five results. The colored tables provide a way to determine the location of a school or district on the grid and is a great way to see a district at-a-glance!

Performance for state indicators is calculated based on the combination of current performance (Status) and improvement over time (Change), resulting in five color-coded performance levels for each indicator. From highest to lowest the performance levels are: Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red.

The five color-coded performance levels are calculated using percentiles to create a five-by-five colored table (giving 25 results) that combine Status and Change.

Here is an example English Learner Indicator report

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The reports are available for:

The Chronic Absenteeism Indicator is not ready for prime time yet. Stay tuned. State data on this indicator will be available in the fall.

For easy access to the reports navigate to the California Model Five-by-Five Placement Reports & Data portal.

Enter the district into the field to access the 5 X 5 Report. You can click on the interactive report to expand the view.

One of many powerful uses for this handy data view is to conduct Community Asset Mapping by indicator. Since you can see the district at-a-glance, teams can identify potential school site assets in the district for potential replication of best practices.

What else might the reports good for?

 

Lab Classrooms: Going Beyond Drive-By Professional Development

Just like scientists, educators need to rely on hypotheses, experiments and data results to make informed instructional decisions. All too often this work is conducted far from the every day teacher’s classroom.

Sustainable professional development must go beyond the fantastic workshops that excite teachers yet when they return to their classrooms, the learning seems to invariably end up staying on the shelf. Sustainable professional development needs to focus on building leadership capacity at the site level and provide a structure that enables teachers to reflect on and share their new knowledge. To be most effective, professional development must be job-embedded—specific to teacher needs—and presented in supportive, nonthreatening ways. Teachers need learning structures that are empowering and allow them to collaborate with colleagues.

A lab classroom model where teachers can see how things work in an authentic setting will support teachers to put new learning into action.  So how does a lab classroom work? A host teacher works with a facilitator to implement an agreed upon instructional model or new framework, for instance, the new Common Core State Standards. Formative assessment and classroom practices are closely monitored and documented. Data is shared with school site teams and guest teachers are invited to observe the class to see practice in action over time.

In a lab classroom model, an experienced facilitator supports teachers and students through collaborative teaching, lesson modeling, assessment administration, and intervention services. Principals also get support to be instructional leaders, observing teachers, conducting walk-throughs, conferencing with students, and working with groups of teachers during collaborative planning sessions.

The practices developed and honed in the lab classroom are then adapted in other classrooms on site developing the sites capacity to implement new learning sustainably. Schools can team up with other lab classrooms in the district to compare data and problem-solve response to intervention practices.

It’s time for research to live in the classroom and not in books and workshops. When teachers see first hand how a strategy works in their class, with their kids, they are much more likely to internalize instructional changes. Teachers pine for authentic learning just like their students do. Lab classrooms can go a long way to ensuring more authentic learning for teachers and their students.

Is Retention a Good Idea?

In an attempt to address the proliferation of struggling students in our test driven school culture, many school districts have been re-looking at their retention policies. Some argue that retaining kids and having them repeat a grade gives students more time to learn the basics while others argue that retention does more harm than good. Studies show that if a student has not learned to read by the end of 3rd grade they will most likely be a struggling reader for years to come. As the curriculum shifts from early literacy – learning to read, to using reading to learn, many students fall behind. This is often referred to as the “Mathew Effect” or the “4th grade slump.” This phenomenon is even more prevalent for our English Learners who get stuck at the “intermediate plateau,” that is they stay at the Intermediate level of English proficiency for their entire academic career and are sometimes referred to as “lifers.” So is retaining students until they learn to read a good strategy? What about early math proficiency?

The jury is still out but there is compelling information to guide our thinking. Most agree that if you are going to retain a student, do it early. First graders are more flexible and kind to their peers than say fourth graders. The idea is that younger students will experience fewer stigmas than older ones. Students who repeat first grade do seem to become more fluent when given the extra year to catch up. But as students progress through the grades, these same students seem to lose ground. The stigma kids face when “left behind” or “repeating” is very real and can have lasting consequences like low self-esteem and dis-engagement from school. Teacher’s attitudes towards children who are retained, while well intentioned, are often skewed. Teachers often lower expectations for retained students, which contributes to further declines in achievement.

So if we don’t retain children who are behind what can we do? We can differentiate our instruction and target skill development for students who need an extra boost. We can create an apprenticeship classroom where students who are proficient can mentor and model for those who are not quite there. We can use Response to Intervention (RTI) inquiry teams to figure out why some students are successful and develop systems of support so students don’t fall through the cracks.

We need to find better ways to meet the needs of all the kids in the room. Retention may temporarily solve a problem and be convenient for grown ups but we need to make substantive changes to curriculum and instruction based on what works for all kids before they get too far behind. To use a metaphor from medicine, we need to stop performing autopsies and focus on preventative care. Big time!