Reading Challenges and Opportunties: Part 4 of 4

In Reading Challenges and Opportunities part 3, I described what my colleagues and I call the internal resources of our most successful students. Successful students are overcoming challenges to become proficient readers. Internal resources we observed in these successful students include: family loyalty, curiosity, and the capacity to persist in the face of challenges. In this post, Reading Challenges and Opportunities part 4, I will seek to explain how we used the program Scholastic Reading Counts to help all our students develop these internal resources.

Scholastic Reading Counts has helped our students build reading comprehension skills by rewarding them for regular practice reading real literature. Scholastic Reading Counts has quizzes to test how well a student has comprehended thousands of books. Students read books at their current reading level and take a quiz on the book.

Students are motivated to read more as they pass quizzes on the books they have read. Students like to keep track of how many quizzes they have passed and how many words they have read. Each of our classrooms has a large wall chart where we track how many quizzes students have passed and how many words each student has read. Students compare their own progress other students’ progress. We also track the number of words our whole class has read.

We have conferences with our students about their reading progress on a regular basis, ideally once every month. In that conference we review the quizzes they have passed, their growth in reading fluency and every two months their growth in reading comprehension as measured by the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI). In these conferences, students see the relationship between the number of quizzes they have passed and the trajectory of their SRI – reading comprehension score. Students who are making upward growth on the SRI are the same students who have been reading and passing SRC quizzes regularly. Students whose SRI scores have not grown review the number of quizzes taken and the difficulty of the books they have read and set goals to read more books that will help them increase their SRI score.

So, you may ask, how does the program help students develop the internal resources you identified? The internal resource of family loyalty and pride is developed because students like to show their parents how many quizzes they have passed and their growth in SRI scores. The program also helps parents be more motivated to encourage a regular reading habit as parents can clearly see the growth their child has made.

The internal resource of curiosity and love of learning is developed because students read more. As students read more they begin to be motivated by an enjoyment of learning, not just seeing the number of quizzes they have passed.

The internal resource of persisting in the face of challenges is developed, as the rewards for students’ efforts are so clearly evident.

Using the program regularly allows us to identify students who need more support to develop as readers. There are always a handful of students who struggle to pass quizzes, despite reasonable efforts. The program lets us know who needs more of our attention and gives us one more piece of evidence to pass on to reading specialists.

Thank you for reading this four-part post called, Reading Challenges and Opportunities. I began writing it with the intention of explaining how we use Scholastic Reading Counts with our students. As I wrote, I realized the program has been more than simply a reading quiz program. The program has helped students build internal resources that will help them be more successful in all areas of their lives. These internal resources will help them overcome the challenges they face as English Language Learners with low socio-economic status and low parent education levels.

Reading Challenges and Opportunities: Part 3 of 4

In Reading Challenges and Opportunities Part 2, I explored the challenges our students face that contribute to their difficulties with reading comprehension. These past student experiences are things that we cannot change. Our job is to determine what we can influence. What can we do that will support student learning today, in our classrooms? We know that some of our students overcome challenges and make gains in reading comprehension by the end of fourth grade. We chose to examine the “internal resources,” or character traits and habits of our successful students. We wondered if we could help other students develop the same habits and recognize their own internal resources.

The internal resources we observe in our most successful students include: family loyalty, curiosity, and the capacity to persist in the face of challenges. This post will explore how we define each of these internal resources and how we try to draw out these internal resources in our struggling learners, and all our students.

What do we mean by family loyalty? This loyalty is shown by our most successful students for their families. Students regularly share stories about their parents and siblings. Students proudly bring their parents to parent nights and their younger siblings to meet us during recess. Older siblings return to help interpret for parents at conference time. Older siblings are seen attending the soccer games or music concerts of their brothers or sisters. We view this loyalty as an internal resource that helps students recognize a purpose for their learning. A good education will make their family proud, and help them contribute to their family’s wellbeing in the future. We draw this internal resource out in our students by taking the time to get to know them as individuals. I make time for monthly lunch dates with small table groups for example, and have short conversations with students during recess. In class, we ask them questions and have them write about their families. We ask, “what do you want to be doing in twenty years?” we ask parents to consider, “What do you want your child to be doing in twenty years?” We also emphasize to both parents and students the importance of learning the home language.  Second language learning can be confusing for students in the short term, but in the long term it will benefit the students to know a second language.  We believe that connecting with students in this way has made a big difference for them academically and socially, it helps them identify their inner resources.

Another internal resource students possess is curiosity, or a love of learning. I see this most clearly when we go on field trips in nature and when I include hands on activities to explore math, social studies, engineering or science. These activities encourage conversations with classmates, and reduce the usual caution about making mistakes in oral language that can occur in more formal classroom discussions. When my students seem to be getting discouraged with learning a topic, I strive to include an activity that will allow them to build a physical representation, to explore the topic in a hands-on way. These activities seem to reignite students’ curiosity and increase their readiness to tackle academic language and concepts.

The third internal resource we have identified is the ability to persist in the face of challenges. Many of our students share a room with their immediate family in an apartment. The apartment is often shared with other people. Students live in cramped living situations, but most find a way get their homework done and do their nightly reading. Families find a way to contribute school supplies and money for field trip busses. Parents find a way to take off work to help with field trips and volunteer in our classrooms. We emphasize to our students that these are all signs of persistence and that this character trait will help them learn in the face of challenges.

Clearly, it is too late to make up for language deficits that our students experienced before they came to school. We cannot assume that our students mastered all the phonic elements and reading comprehension strategies that they were taught in the lower grades. However, we can help them recognize the internal resources they already possess and show them how those characteristics and habits will help them as they build reading comprehension.

In my final post on Reading Challenges and Opportunities (Part 4) I will describe our use of the Scholastic Reading Counts program to help our students build their reading comprehension skills through regular practice reading real literature, and the reward of seeing themselves pass quizzes on the books they have read.

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.

Engage and Connect: Using Edmodo in a Fourth Grade Science Program

Image            This school year, there are three classes of fourth graders at our school.  We have 60 students total, all are English Language Learners ranging from level 2 to advanced/Fully English Proficient based on the California English Language Development Test.  We have two students who are newcomers at level one, twelve are at level two, about 24 are intermediate, level 3, students and 22 students scored at the level 4 or 5 or have been re-designated as “Fully English Proficient” based on CELDT levels and their performance on California state STAR tests.
We have high expectations for our students and use a variety of strategies to convey academic vocabulary and language.  Our goal is for our students to be successful in middle and high school and understand the opportunities they will have if they pursue education beyond high school, whether or not that education comes in the form of a four-year university model.  Our days feel focused on math, language arts and intervention to catch students up to grade level standards in language arts.  In this schedule, we often find that science and social studies instruction fall by the wayside unless we are very intentional about making time for these subjects.

            Over the past two years the three of us have been teaching together, we have noticed the high level of interest our students show when we do make time to teach science.  But each of us has a different area of strength in teaching science.  One of us excels at teaching academic vocabulary. She has taken on a note-booking project in which students learn to take notes in a special science journal and they also make diagrams and illustrate science concepts. Another teacher does well with teaching science through demonstrations and hands on activities and even using her skills as a former art teacher to help students draw sketches of science concepts, so she has taken on that aspect of our science instruction. I have a background in teaching students how to use computers and with using online resources such as science simulation activities to reinforce science concepts.  We decided it would be beneficial to all the students if we organized a rotation for all our fourth grade classes to work with each of us.

We discussed the types of technology skills our kids would need to feel confident and do well on the new CCSS online assessments. We wanted to ensure students mastered logging on to our new computer lab computers using their own ID and Password, which is new for them this year.  We also wanted them to write using the computers and navigate the Internet as much as possible without wasting time searching for learning websites on their own.   I took these goals and reflected on current available technologies that would help us meet them.

I first considered how I could best organize resources so students would quickly focus on and find the online simulation activities.  I wanted a way to quickly direct them to the activities and I wanted a way to document students’ thinking and learning from those activities.  I also thought it would be great to include a component of Social Media and organize activities that encourage online collaboration.  Using Social Media in the context of our classroom would allow kids to explore social media with my supervision and give us a reason to discuss appropriate use of social media.

I decided on Edmodo as the central web resource I would use.  In Edmodo I set up a group for my students to join.  Next I set up folders in which I set up links to access the online science simulations and videos I wanted the students to view.  I experimented with setting up polls that get students engaged with each other.  I set up simple quizzes, both multiple choice and short answer, to give all of us a chance to see how well they remembered key concepts.   Although I cannot say that every moment of this project has made me feel like a Master teacher, I was impressed by how easily our students took to the program, requiring minimal guidance to set up their accounts and navigate into the site once we got rolling.  My goal, now that the project is underway, is to learn how to set up a discussion board and encourage students to write more than the current “hi” and “wazzup” that they are currently posting to each other.  They are just beginning to understand that I am reading and moderating everything they post in the forums.

As I work with the students it is clear that there are basic skills they must learn such as how to make capital letters and other word processing skills to be ready to produce other kinds of writing.  Some students have been much more willing to write in the Edmodo forum than they are in a pencil and paper assignment, but their poor spelling and grammar skills show up in glaring fashion.  My initial assumption is, that this lack of accuracy in writing is why they are not confident in pencil and paper assignments.

Despite these challenges student buy in for interacting in the Edmodo program is huge.  They like the social media feeling of being connected to their peers.  They like the color scheme of Edmodo that makes them think they are using Facebook, with its similar blue rectangular elements format.  Students like to receive badges, so I have invented a few more of them to award.  About ten students went home after we set up our accounts, logged in and figured out how to change their profile pictures. I can see that my challenge will be to make logging in to Edmodo interesting for students and finding ways to allow students to interact, while  keeping our primary focus on the science concepts we want them to understand.

A teacher challenge is to help my co teachers embrace the educational value of the social media aspects of the forum. One teacher is concerned and wondering whether Social Media interaction has any educational value.  I believe it does, because it increases student engagement and also gives us a chance to discuss with students the right ways to interact with classmates and friends in social media.   I appreciate the collegial challenge to my work as it makes it clear to me that I must continue to reflect on my praxis and refine my thinking in that area.

As I move forward, my desire is to explore, identify and try out authoring apps that work in Edmodo so my students can be creators of evidence of their learning. I did find an app for traditional Word Processing that I added to Edmodo for the students.  My next steps will be to embed traditional word processing and keyboarding instruction into our coming unit on weathering and erosion.  But I also want the students to create visual presentations and perhaps video/audio that demonstrate their growing understanding of subjects.  I am searching for apps that will allow us to use photos, video, audio and drawing for more creative representations of our learning.


Gadgets and Goals: Fluency, Accuracy and Confidence in Reading

Download Outline as of 10/20/2013, subject to change CUEFall2013Zykanov

Use digital voice recorders to build reading fluency and accuracy.  This fun and practical project raises student confidence and independence. Student work samples and reflections will be shared.

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