When the education reforms hit Louisiana hard in 2010 and 2011, I was a veteran teacher in my 10th year of teaching. Prior to becoming a teacher, I worked in management for a major retailer for nearly 15 years. During that time, I developed the understanding that changes will always come down from the top, and if you expect to remain employed and successful, you go with the flow. Usually, things eventually swing back the other way.
When I began to feel the effects of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s reforms in my classroom, I made the conscious decision to take the hits on the chin and keep trucking. At times, it was tough. It wasn’t until the 3rd year, when transitioning from Grade Level Expectations to Common Core State Standards was expected to be completed, that my attitude changed. My son, at the time, was moving from 3rd grade to 4th grade. He is a very bright boy. He entered Pre-K reading at age four. Towards the end of 3rd grade, we were starting to see an introduction to the type of curricula that was coming down the pike. I noticed that much of the ELA, though he was able to navigate it, was well above what one would expect from a 3rd grader. By 4th grade, he was in full turmoil. Obviously, he could still read very well, but the ELA expectations became increasingly beyond his reach, and the Math was out of the question. This continued into 5th grade. What we experience in those two years is what ultimately brought us to a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, and my decision to fight what was happening to my child. When he moved up to 6th grade, things got better because they essentially still adhered to traditional methods with supplementing from these new ideas, but during his 5th grade year, my daughter entered kindergarten.
After a very successful year in Pre-K, she started her kindergarten year excited and ready to learn. Within weeks, her attitude changed. She got to a point where she wasn’t excited about school. Each night, we struggled for hours with homework that the teacher expected to take 15 minutes. The homework was filled with whole words and sentences for which she had no context. Absent from the homework was basic reading essentials like phonemes, phonetics, decoding words, etc.
Fast forward to this school year. My daughter entered 2nd grade unable to read and aware of it. She could write her name and identify a handful of 2-3 letter words, but that was the extent of it. We had constantly communicated with her teachers and tried to work on basics with her, but honestly, just trying to keep up with what she was falling behind on kept us overextended. We knew that a time was approaching that this would change the rest of her life, and here it was. To be clear, I’ve never blamed the teachers, or the administration, at this school that we dearly love and has been a part of our family for 9 years. There were times that I was disappointed with decisions, but clearly they were doing what they had to do to remain employed. The decisions were being made far above their heads.
A few short weeks after my daughter entered 2nd grade, I was contacted by the principal. She thought my daughter was a good candidate to participate in an after school tutoring program run by Dr. Deborah King, a professor at McNeese State University, and Head of the Department of Education Professions. The tutors are actually students majoring in education and they are enrolled in EDUC 416, a reading diagnostics practicum. I was a little concerned that the program might be aligned with the very things that had brought us to this place; nonetheless, I agreed. If I noticed a problem, I’d take her out. If it helped, fantastic!
Within a matter of weeks, I began to notice a change. My daughter was gaining confidence. She was attempting to read things that she never would have considered, before. At the end of the semester, I was dumbfounded. The progress she made was like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. I got excited and wanted her to continue, but the semester was over. I asked the principal if it would continue in the Spring. She said it would depend on the course being offered. She asked if I wanted my daughter in it, if it continued? Of course, I did!
To sum up this part and move on to the good part, I am proud to say that my daughter is nearing the end of her 2nd grade year, and she is a reader. She isn’t on level, yet, but she is a reader. I wanted to know more about the program to see what is working so well. I asked the professor to answer a few questions for me, and well, I think her answers clearly indicate that research proven techniques are the best route when it comes to education. Read the questions and answers below.
1. Specifically, what program are your students enrolled in?
The course that my students are taking is EDUC 416-Practicum in Diagnostic and Remedial Reading.
2. What methods are they using for diagnostics?
Informal assessments for pre-tests: Interest inventory, reading survey, letter ID, letter sounds, word list (to establish approximate reading level), phonological awareness (on 3 levels: syllable, on-set rhyme & phoneme), writing vocabulary, concepts of print, fluency, oral reading, oral comprehension (listening comprehension if student is frustrational on oral comprehension), and silent comprehension.
Mid-semester: Fluency, oral reading, oral comprehension, silent comprehension.
Post-assessment: Word list, fluency, oral reading, oral comprehension, silent comprehension.
3. What methods are employed to address the inadequacies that are discovered?
My students do not use a program to remediate. They use research-based practices and strategies to accelerate the child they are tutoring. We start from what the child knows and build scaffolding support to take them from what they can do on their own to what they can do with support.
The focus is teaching the MSU students to understand what good readers do. They use all cue sources of information: semantics, graphophonics, and syntactic information, seamlessly as they read. The emphasis is on making meaning from the beginning and not just focusing on the visual part of the work (phonics). So when a child reads they have to make sure that it 1.) makes sense, 2.) looks right, and 3.) sounds right. At the point of difficulty, the student is prompted to 1.) think about what they know about the story up to this point and what word they know would make sense, 2.) make the sounds they know in the “unknown” word, 3.) reread the sentence, 4.) say something, listening for what would sound right, and 5.) keep reading (hand strategy).
At a strategic stopping point, the tutor will return to the error, if it is significant, and then prompt the student to discover/correct the error. It is all about a self-extending system and providing students with the strategies beyond “sounding it out.”
Each lesson consists of writing high frequency words, reading to the student, reading by the student while incorporating a portion of the reading for silent reading/comprehension, word strategies, vocabulary strategies, comprehension strategies, and writing strategies.
The premise of the instruction, and the framework for the lessons, are based on Marie Clay and A Constructionist View of Reading Instruction.
Dr. Deborah King is a trained Reading Recovery Teacher. She used her training and knowledge to build a class that focuses on what good readers do and teaching the child to read by incorporating all cue sources of information. Click on the image below for more information on the Reading Recovery Institute of North America.