Saturday, March 23, 2013

Preventing Reading Difficulties: First Steps Taken at Urban School

1st grader teaches a younger peer to use the iPad.

I. Preventing Reading Difficulties

As many of you know, through my company--Blueprints for Learning, I have been involved in designing and now implementing along with consultants, teachers, and administrators a set of key strategies for preventing reading difficulties with K-2 children who are learning in classrooms in a northeast city in the United States. This past week I took at look at interim assessments for one of the schools in order to gauge how the work is going, and to be able to shift and intensify resources for children who may not meet the district's literacy benchmarks given their current performance.

To contextualize the work, a review of recent demographics of the school population provides this information:

  • School Size: about 900
  • School Type: PK - 8
  • Poverty % Based on Free & Reduced Lunch: 88%
  • Racial & Ethnicity Make-up:  Asian: 1%, Black: 42%, Hispanic: 56%, White: 1%
  • Gender: 55% boys, 45% girls
  • In 2011, 84% of the 3rd graders tested via the state ELA assessment were not proficient and 16% of the 3rd graders tested via the state ELA assessment were proficient. None were advanced proficient.

Of the K-2 children at this school site, 12% of them need additional support given their current performance as measured by text level reading, alphabetic knowledge identification, and other literacy tasks. All but three of these students are making progress, but the progress has been slow. The remainder of the K-2 children have either met or surpassed the district benchmarks (55%), or appear very likely to meet the benchmarks by June. In some significant ways, the data shows almost a reversal of performance that has typified the school in recent years. I want to caution that preventing reading difficulties is not the same thing as performing well on state literacy tests.  There are many differences between these outcomes.

What I can say though, is that failure to prevent reading difficulties in the primary grades best ensures low performance on any state ELA assessment.

At this site there are several Blueprints' consultants working with staff at the Pre K-2 level. Additionally we are also working with the 3-8 staff too. In total, there are 7 of us working at this site.

II.  Practices

A teacher conducting small group reading lesson.

Six consistent practices have most influenced the literacy outcomes for the K-2 children at this site:

1. Teachers, Blueprints' consultants, and administrators willingly participate in constant dialogue about teaching, learning, and the prevention of reading difficulties. The energy this produces fuels reform. Everyone is a risk taker.

2. Key literacy practices have been taught, modeled, retaught and coached. These include:
  • interactive read aloud with embedded vocabulary, comprehension, art-based practices [drawing, choral reading, narrative pantomime, reader's theater], and text dependent questions and tasks and an accompanying e-book guide 
  • interactive writing lessons and sustained independent reading and the use of individualized book boxes
  • high intensity guided literacy instruction that combines guided reading, guided phonics, and guided writing.

3. There is an ongoing shift among teachers, who have amazed all of us at Blueprints, from situating reading as a memorizing activity to resituating it as a problem-solving practice. They are tenacious in their desire to learn and refine their work.

4. Several literacy practices have been amended or eliminated such as: a form of shared and modeled writing, round robin reading, whole group basal reading as shared reading, and independent reading conducted without managed text selection (i.e., book boxes).

5. At this school, leadership is distributed:
  • teachers model newly learned instruction for colleagues and then engage in spirited dialogue about their observations
  • teachers actively observe excellent classroom instruction elsewhere in the school district accompanied by Blueprints' consultants and then plan for implementation of refined practices based on observation, making critical decisions about their teaching and learning
  • Some of the Read Aloud books
  • administrators attend all professional development sessions/PLCs, actively participating by sharing their knowledge, (mis)understandings and revisions as they actively learn alongside staff.

6. The principal and assistant principal ensure that teachers understand the shared goals and importance of this literacy project, and that they have all of the materials necessary to do the work, including a significant addition of culturally relevant texts, blocks and dramatic play materials in kindergarten, art and classroom supplies in K-2 (i.e., paints, different types of paper, magnetic letters, magnetic lap boards, markers, crayons, pencils, notebooks, etc.), and iPads with specified apps (about 5 per classroom).

7. Teachers’ understanding and use of assessments is shifting from a compliance model to a users model as they make better use of text level records, sight word notations, and other just-in-time assessments to guide their thinking when working with children and planning.

III. Next Steps

Having identified each child at risk for reading difficulties, individualized plans have been generated and will be refined as we work with the children. Their progress will be closely attended to during the next three months.

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous. I was in a 1st grade today. Told my students, who had 3-4 students in their groups, to send their students to me when they needed one on one time. I laid out a lot of Lee and Low Bebop books. Some I read outloud to the 1st graders; other 1st graders asked if they could read on their own. All of us criss-cross, double-sauce, reading, reading Bebop books. I could hear the independent readers talking about African Americans and Latinos. Several teamed up without teacher direction: "I'll read one page, you read the other." Such joy!


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