Friday, July 30, 2010

One-minute Fluency Measures - Skewed Views

I just finished reading “One-Minute Fluency Measures: Mixed Messages in Assessment and Instruction” by Theresa A. Deeney in the March 2010 issue of “The Reading Teacher”. She has some excellent points, among them:

One-minute fluency measures (such as the DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency or ORF and AIMSweb) only measure rate and accuracy, but they don’t measure what are arguably two other very important aspects of fluency: prosody, or what we’ve traditionally called expression, and comprehension, which has a recursive relationship with fluency in that readers who comprehend what they read usually end up sounding fluent, and readers who sound fluent are more easily able to comprehend their own reading. Since traditional short fluency measures don’t measure prosody and comprehension, our working definition of what fluency actually is has gotten skewed. She argues that we’re confusing fluency assessment with fluency instruction, and because we’re focusing only on rate and accuracy, that’s what we end up teaching as well. In an effort to increase the scores on these quick assessments, we give students more short texts to practice reading quickly and accurately. Students end up with a skewed message about what reading is and how to know when you’re good at it.

Her other point about one-minute fluency measures is that they don’t take into account the need to develop reading endurance in students. She demonstrates this using the readings of eight students reading at least one year below grade level. Each of these students was able to read within the recommended guidelines for accuracy and speed on a one-minute reading. But when asked to read for longer periods (4-5 minutes) most of the students read much slower and much less accurately. Her point is that we’ve helped improve readers’ speed and accuracy on short texts at the expense of these same qualities on longer texts. Some students were able to keep their accuracy fairly high over time, though their speed decreased. These students most likely needed practice reading longer texts and developing stamina. However, some students decreased both in their speed and their accuracy, indicating the problem might lie deeper. The reader has evidently not become automatic in her word recognition and would need help with either sight words or decoding unfamiliar words. To determine this we have to go deeper than typical one-minute assessments allow, and do a miscue analysis on the selection.

One-minute fluency assessments have their place – they allow us to see which students need further work on rate and accuracy. But they don’t tell us how the reader does on longer texts or why the student might be having difficulty. As always in education, we have to find a balance. In this case, we need a balanced view of the definition of fluency and the causes of dysfluency.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I’ve been reading Jim Knight’s book “Instructional Coaching” and finding it refreshing. Despite having read more coaching books over the past 3 years than I can immediately count, Knight’s book offers new perspectives written with a clear, entertaining voice.

In his chapter on communication, he simplifies the idea by describing it as process whereby a speaker expresses an intended message to an audience.
“A funny thing happens to the message on the way from the speaker to the audience, however. Interference messes with the message…Consequently, the audience receives a modified version of the intended message – we call this the perceived message. Unfortunately, the perceived message can be quite different from the intended message, but the audience doesn’t know that and believes the perceived message is real.” (p. 59)
Knight goes on to describe various types of interference, from external interference, such as extraneous noise, to internal interference, such as distracting, off-topic thoughts or preconceptions or lack of prior knowledge.

That intended messages can be distorted by the audience is not new information for teachers. Children misinterpret our communication with them quite frequently. When I worked as a parapro at my college laboratory school I had to reinterpret for a Kindergartener who was fearful after the Kindergarten teacher said, “Line up to go outside, boys and girls. It’s time for us to go get our blood moving around.” After seeing the shocked, disgusted look on the child’s face, I quickly told her, “Sara, he means INSIDE our body! Get the blood moving inside our body.” Another time I inadvertently let down one of my second graders because I told him I’d bring in some pumice, a volcanic rock that floats. After demonstrating what I thought was a quite impressive display of a floating rock in the classroom sink the next day, a disappointed Daniel told me at lunch that he thought the rock floated in AIR and why couldn’t I have brought a rock that could do that?

Of course, these are misinterpretations that I know about, but how many times did I send my intended message only to have it be received very differently, unbeknownst to me? As teachers, we often feel that we’ve done our part by presenting our intended message to our students – here’s how to find the product of two 2-digit numbers, this is the reason Eleanor Roosevelt is famous, here’s the difference between a subject and a predicate. As educators, though, shouldn’t we do more? It seems to me to be the difference between someone who “teaches curriculum” and one who “teaches students”. The latter requires that we be constantly tuned in to our message as we give it, and be ready to adjust it or clarify at a moment’s notice. It’s something I aspire to, and hope to learn to do better.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Addressing Classroom Management

Jim Knight, in his book “Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction”, says there are 4 Big Areas that coaches should focus on when working with teachers: behavior, content knowledge, direct instruction, and formative assessment. What’s different in how he describes these areas, however, is that he states they should be addressed in sequential order. In other words, if a teacher expresses a desire for help with her writing instruction, as a coach you must first help her to analyze her behavior management system to see if it’s effective and be sure she has a strong understanding of the content knowledge that’s needed for successful writing workshop.

As I was discussing these ideas with another coach the other day, she almost jumped out of her chair in agreement as she realized why a particular coaching partnership had not worked well in the past. As she and the teacher had worked to improve guided reading instruction in her classroom, the coach had tried to ignore what was for her a huge elephant in the classroom – the complete off-task behaviors of the students at literacy centers: some students were huddled in the classroom library with the hanging chart stand blocking the teacher’s view from what the students were actually doing, another group of students was sitting on the rug tossing marbles into a plastic cup for no discernible reason, and other students freely roamed the room looking for other things to do, all as the noise level made hearing the guided reading group difficult. At no time did the teacher redirect the students, however, since she felt perfectly comfortable with their activities and the noise level.

In this particular instance, the teacher lacked both the content knowledge regarding the purpose of literacy centers (more than just busy work for students while the teacher conducts small groups) but also the necessity for consistent rituals and routines to focus students and maximize learning time. For the coach to be truly effective in helping this teacher improve her instruction, she was going to have to address the classroom behavior first, and then provide her with the content knowledge she needed. Simply going in and modeling a guided reading lesson would not be enough.

As coaches, sometimes we feel that behavior management is a personal decision by the teacher – some teachers are more lenient than others, and comfort levels with noise differ. I agree that there are certainly many ways to organize classroom behavior, and no one way is the “best” method. But if we are to be truly effective as coaches, and if students are going to benefit from the teacher’s instruction, we’re going to have to become more comfortable discussing classroom behavior with the teachers for whom it is a problem.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Review: "Preventing Misguided Reading"

Earlier this month I finished “Preventing Misguided Reading” by Jan Miller Burkins and Melody M. Croft, and I found it to be a thought-provoking re-visitation of guided reading packed with concrete suggestions. It’s obvious that Jan and Melody are working from experience in the classroom as they describe so many of the problems that have accompanied guided reading as it’s become a pervasive practice across the country. Among their arguments:

• reading is a balance between print and story cues, and instruction should reflect this balance;
• the traditional instructional level of 90-94% is too low, and is based on Clay’s work with individual students – they suggest 95-98% as instructional;
• the student should be doing the majority of the work during guided reading, not the teacher;
• actual instruction should not happen during guided reading;
• guided reading is a part of the gradual release of responsibility model.

It’s these last 2 points that have become an epiphany for me. The authors argue, and I agree, that too often the elements of gradual release have become disconnected across the day – we might model self-questioning during modeled reading, have students help us find the rhyming words during shared reading of a big book, practice predictions during guided reading groups, and then have students read independently and record the beginning, middle and end of the story. Each of these parts of the day has become an instructional time, and they’re all focusing on different elements of reading!

Instead, Jan and Melody say, have the day make sense to kids by choosing one strategic focus and carry it throughout your modeled, shared, guided and independent reading. For instance, if during guided reading you notice students are only “sounding out” unfamiliar words and not using the prominent picture clues simultaneously, then during read aloud time model how you solve some unfamiliar words when you read aloud a picture book. Think out loud about how you used both the letter clues AND the pictures to figure out the hard word. Then, during shared reading, have students help you read aloud a big book, discussing how they solved several difficult words and their strategies for doing so. This makes the modeled reading and shared reading more instruction-heavy, and allows guided reading (which is actually just the step right before independent reading in the gradual release model) to be a much more student-driven session. The same instructional focus is threaded throughout modeled, shared, guided and independent reading.

The teacher’s chief job during guided reading should be to observe student behaviors and to step in with very broad prompts when needed. The student needs during this time inform the instruction you’ll provide later in modeled and shared reading.