Reading Challenges and Opportunities: Part 2 of 4

In my last post I wrote about how my colleagues and I identified challenges our students must overcome when learning to read as well as the internal resources they possess that we seek to help them recognize and use as they surmount those challenges.  Our students’ home language is not English, they live in low socio economic conditions and most parents have not completed high school. In this post I will elaborate on how these issues show up in our school environment and effect student learning.

            At my school, most of our students have been with us since Kindergarten, so student mobility is not a big issue. Almost all our students begin Kindergarten at a beginning level on the California English Language Development test (CELDT). When they reach fourth grade most of them have reached an intermediate, and some an advanced level on the CELDT. Often they have deficits in phonics skills that native English speaking kids usually master in the primary grades. Our teachers are teaching the explicit phonics skills students need, but I believe some students are so busy learning to understand English that they miss key elements of instruction in the early school years. English Language Learners need to learn strategies that help them understand inferences in reading comprehension tests, and there are often English idioms that confuse students.

Our students come from homes with low socio-economic status and most parents have not finished high school. These factors suggest that our students have not had as much exposure to oral language, whether in English or Spanish as students from middle and high income homes, prior to coming to school. Parents may have to work long hours, may not know the importance of talking to young children and a nightly bedtime habit of reading books together is not yet a part of the cultural norm in many homes. Our amazing school outreach coordinators are helping our parents learn to implement these fun family reading and language rituals that will help their kids be more ready for learning at school.

So these are some of the challenges our students face when it is time to read in fourth grade. In my next post, I’ll discuss the internal resources our students and their families possess that we work to emphasize to help our students blossom as grade level proficient readers.

Reading: Challenges and Opportunities Part 1 of 4

Maria loved books, every day at free reading time she would quickly settle in with her book box and begin reading. Maria’s reading fluency scores were on target, but when it came time for Maria to take a reading comprehension test, her scores did not match her enthusiasm for reading. Rico read every Ranger Rick magazine and animal book in the library over the course of the year. Rico’s weekly homework reading log was always completed well. Rico worked hard in all areas of class, but his Reading Comprehension scores were also below grade level. Both of these students loved reading, but they did not comprehend what they were reading well enough to perform at grade level. Then there are students whose challenge with reading is more obvious, like Theresa. Theresa had difficulty settling on a book to read, within minutes of sitting down with her book box, she would be up, perusing the classroom library, looking for something different to read. Theresa’s scores for both fluency and reading comprehension were below grade level.   The area of concern that I wanted to address in my classroom was reading comprehension. I wanted my students reading at grade level and I wanted their comprehension scores to match their love of learning, reading and books. In order to address this area of concern, I brainstormed with my grade level colleagues to consider causes of the deficits in my students’ comprehension. Here are some of the challenges we identified: almost all of our students begin Kindergarten as beginning English Language Learners, they come from homes with low socio-economic status and most of their parents have not finished high school. In my next post I will write more about how these challenges create gaps in student learning. We also brainstormed internal resources our students and families possess that they can draw on to increase success in school and life. These internal resources include: Family pride and loyalty, love of learning, and the ability to persist in the face of challenges. Taking into account both student challenges and internal resources, we began to brainstorm what we could do to close gaps in student learning, and also how we could help students identify and use their internal resources to take charge of their own learning.   In my next post, I will examine the challenges and internal resources of my students, and explain how our grade level PLC team chose to address those challenges and support students to recognize and use their own internal resources.

GoNoodle – Brain and Body Breaks


GoNoodle Inspiration Blog

GoNoodle – Brain Breaks in the Classroom

 Every year, I notice a change in student behavior that starts a week or so before spring break and grows more challenging as the school year comes to a close. Sitting through a lesson becomes increasingly more difficult and even my model citizens have moments of foolishness. I blame it on spring fever, as the longer, warmer days of spring make us all want to spend more time outside. My students and I grow tired of the routines that worked so well for us since fall. Whatever causes this phenomenon, in spring of 2014, I decided to try adding brain breaks by to break up our daily routines. This new addition helped me and my students get through the end of the year drama with flying colors.

I found the GoNoodle online program while reading an article on the Edutopia Website. GoNoodle has a large selection of video clips to guide students in dance routines, and also breathing and mindfulness routines. The dance routines perked us up and the mindfulness exercises slowed us down and helped us refocus. I have a mounted projector hooked up to my computer, so it was easy to begin playing GoNoodle videos. My students were very excited and stayed attentive through lessons to earn the next Brain Break. As they did Brain Breaks, we earned minutes (these will be called points in the 2014-2015 school year) that my students found quite motivating. As our minutes added up, we had goofy characters called Champs who went through a metamorphosis from goofy looking small guys to wild looking big guys. My students observed that the more ugly the Champs were when they were little, the cooler they looked at the end. As we finished building up each Champ I printed out its picture and that became a highly coveted award that inspired good behavior.

Examining this classroom dilemma using the Action Research model, I began by reflecting on an Area of Concern, or classroom dilemma. The problem I wanted to address in a positive way was how to deal with student inattentiveness and misbehavior. This problem was beginning to increase just prior to our spring break in April of 2014. I knew from past experience that the challenge would grow as we approached the end of the school year. I wondered if this problem might be managed through the use of brain breaks provided by GoNoodle. I formed my problem into a question. What will be the effects of GoNoodle Brain Breaks on end of the school year wiggles?

The data I collected to study this classroom problem included student completion of tasks, focus on lessons and overall classroom mood before and after we began doing Brain Breaks. My students enjoyed the Brain Breaks, whether active or mindful, very much. Students worked hard to complete our lessons so that they could earn another Brain Break. Brain breaks increased a positive mood in our classroom, for students and for me. Whether we were trying our best to do a Zumba dance routine, or learning to breathe deeply while traveling around the country and learning interesting facts about places in the United States, students participated and I sensed more happy, positive energy and decreases in the inattentive, and unsettled behavior in my classroom.

Teachers as Action Researchers

In this next series of blog posts, I share some of the ways I use digital technologies to enhance student learning in my own classroom. As I implement new technologies I use an Action Research model to help me systematically explore each new program or tool.

How do I define Action Research and apply it to my classroom practice?

At the school where I teach, grade level teams meet in Professional Learning Communities (PLC) on a regular basis. In the last two years our practice has been to select 3-4 students in our classrooms to focus on as a team during the year. We selected reading fluency as an area of concern. We tried different strategies to build fluency, and then assessed fluency, shared successful strategies and described struggles. This sharing helped each of us grow and improve our practice. This work is a form of Action Research.

Action Research is something good teachers regularly do. We may not call it or think of it as research, but teachers regularly reflect on classroom practice and the effects of our practice on student learning. Through a lens of Action Research I become more aware and systematic.  Critically reflecting on classroom practice increases my sense of confidence and my understanding of teaching best practices.  Action Research is sometimes called Teacher Research.

Action Research begins as a teacher reflects on an area of concern, a problem or a classroom practice. I form a question related to the area of concern to guide the study. Examples from my classroom include:

How might digital audio recorders increase student engagement in reading fluency practice?

What effects does an online reading intervention program have on learners?

In what ways will the introduction of brief active breaks between class activities effect student behavior?

The Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher collects data, reflects on it and plans a course of action to study the question. The Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher  reflects regularly on the question and refines the study as the school year progresses.

Action Research generally takes place in a kind of upward spiral. After coming up with a question, designing and implementing an action plan, the Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher examines and reflects on the data collected in an ongoing cycle. Data might include the following:

  • Qualitative (written) data, such as interviews with students, and teacher notes of observations from the classroom.
  • Quantitative (numerical) data might include reading comprehension scores, attendance rates or reading fluency scores.

This data provides feedback that allows the teacher to adapt and refine the action plan.

Unlike traditional research there are no control groups and test groups. Students in a control group do not receive a treatment, and students in test groups do receive a treatment.  In Action Research there is only an intact group of students who receive the same treatment, usually with their classroom teacher as the Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher. The goal of Action Research in the classroom is to provide teachers with a systematic model to guide the study and improvement of teaching practice, while in the process of teaching.

Unlike other forms of research, Action Research is seldom written up into articles. Classroom teachers are busy planning and preparing to lead engaging lessons and activities and have little time or energy left for writing. But this is a shame, because such articles may give other teachers helpful information and inspiration to try new ways of approaching old problems.

The goal of this blog post has been to give you an overview of Action Research. I follow this model to help me systematically explore the use of new technologies for student learning in my own classroom. In this series of posts to my Blog,  I share some of the ways I use digital technologies to enhance student learning in my own classroom.

I welcome comments and constructive criticism as well as questions about what I have shared.

Some resources for further study of Action Research:

Santa Rosa City Schools Professional Development Center

Teacher’s Network Leadership Institute

Mohr, Marian – George Mason University Teacher and Action Research Resource website. July 20, 2014