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February 13, 2013 · 12:48 pm

The Power of One

How do you support struggling readers while at the same time training future reading specialists in their craft?  Our summer reading clinic practicum is a model for accomplishing this task. Communities join together to share resources including time, talent, and materials. Students continue to learn during the summer with individual intervention and remediation. Teachers are supported in a supervised clinical setting, building expertise, confidence, and competence as reading specialists in a collaborative setting. This unique partnership between a university, a school, and an urban community center fosters collegiality, builds relationships, and nurtures understanding among the stakeholders.  It speaks to the power of one-to-one intervention.

working on the writing process using Kidspiration

The Summer 2011 Reading Adventure Club continued the tradition of excellence.  The difference the tutoring made to the students was amazing.  Equally amazing is the difference it made for the aspiring reading specialists.  The clinic practicum is a six-credit, two course experience taken in the second or third summer of a student’s degree program.  It is a considered by past graduates as a “rite of passage”.  According to one recent graduate, “For me, this has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences of my life.  I can’t believe that the past four weeks have come and gone so quickly.  I can honestly say that I “grew” more than my student….”

We Survived Clinic!

A wonderful and rewarding time was had by all!

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The ABCs of Literacy Education

The debate rages on — what does it all mean?  What are best practices in literacy education?  In an attempt to compile what is known to be best practices in literacy education, an “abc brainstorm” has been undertaken to capture twenty-six ideas/components of what educators should be doing to improve literacy for all children.  It is by no means an exhaustive list.  It would be extremely interesting to hear back from readers regarding any suggestions, additions/deletions to this list based on experiences and expertise of others.  Look for follow-up posts in the future to elaborate on the components described.

Here it goes…

A = Assessment-driven instruction:  Differentiate using assessment to determine flexible, small groups for guided reading;  Matching text to readers based on reading level is key

B = Bookroom:  Central repository for leveled texts, non-fiction titles, as well as trade books and professional books for use in classrooms to support guided reading

C = Comprehensive:  Includes all components of literacy, such as Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Independent Reading, Journaling, Interactive Writing, Word Study…

D = Differentiate:  Needed to meet the needs of all students — time spent in whole group should be minimized;  at least 3 small groups of differing levels during guided reading, etc.

E = Engagement:  This is the cornerstone of literacy;  if students are engaged in reading, they will naturally be strategic – they will try anything to make text makes sense;  this is especially true for struggling adolescent readers – they have been taught many strategies, what they need is opportunities to read texts that are interesting and engaging

F = Flexible Grouping:  Reading groups are based on assessment and can change based on new information about reading levels, interest, process, or product

G = Good-bye:  Say farewell to “Round-Robin Reading”, popcorn reading, etc.;  Research shows that these strategies are not the most effective use of time.  Children need sustained time for engaged reading in connected text

H = Habit:  Make reading & writing a daily habit with your students through sustained, uninterrupted blocks of time for reading and writing;  set the stage and set an example of living a literate life — share the joy!

I = Intervention:  Intervene as early as possible — do not succumb to the myth of “waiting to fail”;  Provide a three-tiered RtI approach to meet the needs of all students.  Classroom teachers need to provide the first level of intervention through differentiated, small -group instruction.  The intensity of the intervention increases as the needs of the students dictate

J = Journals:  Have students write everyday, in all content areas;  Have you read “Push” or seen the movie “Precious”?  enough said  🙂

K = Kinesthetic:  Actively engage students through manipulatives and other hands-on, meaningful activities

L = Literacy Centers:  During the Language arts block, while teacher is working with small groups, the rest of the students are in heterogeneous groups for literacy centers — all focused on literacy activities

M = Motivation:  Students will be strategic and engaged with reading and writing when they are motivated by the text or the task.  It is up to the teacher to design activities & provide texts to motivate students

N = Ninety minute language arts block:  at a minimum;  non-negotiable

O = Oral reading strategies:  These include partner reading, buddy reading, Readers’ Theatre, choral/echo reading and other strategies as listed in “Good-bye Round Robin Reading” are wonderful alternatives to RRR and popcorn reading

P = Professional Development:  Critical to include job-embedded, ongoing PD to promote lifelong learning for educators, including administrators

Q = Quarterly Assessments:  While it is necessary to benchmark test to monitor progress, it is not sufficient to simply assess for the sake of a testing  mandate.  Assessments must be used to inform instruction & should be related to authentic tasks

R = Research-based:  What does this really mean?  While it has lost some of its meaning in a post-Reading First era, it is still relevant to consider the rationale behind best practices and to make sure that one is keeping current with the research for best practices in literacy education

S = Spend time reading: Majority of reading block should be spent on reading connected text, “authentic reading”;  not completing worksheets or activities unrelated to reading

T = Twenty-First Century Skills/Technology: Application of 21st Century skills is critically important;  getting students to think creatively and           critically, while constructing meaning collectively will better prepare students for whatever comes next, including integrating technology into every aspect of learning

U = “Unity without Uniformity”:  Everyone should not be expected to be on the same page at the same time, doing the exact same activities; Rather, a shared philosophy and shared vocabulary with everyone working toward the same goal of literacy for all is what will bring about powerful results

V = Vocabulary instruction:  Focus on making meaning with content area words;  vocabulary can be explicitly taught without rote memorization of dictionary definitions on flashcards

W = Word Study:  Based on “Words Their Way”;  a developmental approach to phonics, spelling, and vocabulary instruction

X = Xerox:  Can be used in appropriate ways — NOT for copying mountains of worksheets

Y = “Y”:  Teach and encourage students to ask “Why” questions;  higher order level questions foster deeper understanding/comprehension of texts

Z = Zaner-Bloser vs D’Nealian:  What about handwriting?  Is it still being taught?  When should cursive be introduced?  No answers on this one, just questions…

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e-Book Readers: “To Kindle or not to Kindle?”, that is the Question

I received a Kindle for Christmas, and I have a love/hate relationship with mine. I definitely think I read more with it because it is so transportable. Even when I don’t have my Kindle with me, I have the app for my iPhone and it automatically syncs to the furthest point read on either device. It is amazing how much reading you can do in 8-10 minute segments of time. It is like eating an elephant, bit-by-bit. I do miss the feel and smell of a book sometimes, so I keep a foot in each camp and read bound editions of books as well as electronic books. So far that is working. I am wondering about the implications for school-age children and the use of Kindles in school settings?

I have two children, a seven-year-old and a ten-year-old. I have downloaded books for both of my children to the Kindle. For my first grader, we read the Junie B. Jones books together on the reader. I was disappointed that the ‘text-to-speech’ feature was not activate for this series. My daughter needs more scaffolded support and I was hoping to explore the use of the ‘text-to-speech’ feature with her while she read the book independently. We are ending up echo and chorally reading the book together, much like we do with the print version. My fifth grader is happily reading ‘The Lightning Thief’ independently. I have to go into her room each night to get the Kindle back so that I can read my book before bed. She is really enjoying reading an e-book for the first time. Both girls really like the ‘coolness’ factor associated with reading on a Kindle. I believe this would definitely translate well into a school environment.

Little research has been done on the impact of e-books on student motivation, comprehension, or even decoding abilities. I would think that it would have an effect on all three aspects of reading and learning to read. If we are to bridge the technology gap for students as well as for teachers, the use of e-book readers and their impact on school-age children needs to be explored and researched.

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The Myth of “Waiting to Fail”

How many times have we heard, “just give it some time, he/she will catch up”; or “there is not enough of a discrepancy between potential and achievement, so they won’t qualify for anything”; or how about this one, “we don’t really do anything until third grade, then we will begin to intervene”.  Huh?

There is a paradigm shift happening in education, and we all need to get on board.  It is not enough to wait until our students “catch-up” with their peers.  We do not want to wait until failure is the only option.  In fact, just the opposite is the ideal.  As was mentioned in an earlier post, the best policy is to screen early and intervene when necessary, as soon as possible.  The movement that addresses this issue is entitled “Response to Intervention” or RtI.

The basic premise behind RtI is simple.  Students are given a basic screening early in the school year, to identify strengths and weaknesses. This allows school-based teams to craft an approach to address the issues.

According to Dr. Marcia Invernizzi at The University of Virginia, in an address given at a statewide meeting in Newport News, she stated:

“Reading interventions should be ongoing and flexible.  The intensity of focus should be adjusted according to student’s response. Layers or tiers of intervention might move from:
*Enhanced classroom instruction, to
*Supplemental small-group instruction, to
*One-on-one individualized reading tutorials”

The great news is that PALS is now listed on the National Center for Response to Intervention’s website as an evidence-based screening tool.  It is in competitive standing with other screening tools such as DIBELS & AIMSWEB.

PALS logo


The small numbers of students who do not respond well to any interventions are considered to be at the top of the tiers, and are more carefully evaluated for possible referral to special education services.  The promise is that general education teachers will be able to accurately identify the problems and intervene early, before the problems lead to entrenched difficulties or referral to special education.


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Improving Literacy for Middle Schoolers

Richmond is one of three areas in the state of Virginia to benefit from a Federal Grant to improve reading skills of middle school students.  The “Striving Readers” grant also includes schools in Norfolk and Roanoke.  There are a total of eight schools in three divisions that were selected by the Virginia Department of Education to participate in the Virginia Striving Readers Intervention Initiative.  The participating schools selected Voyager Expanded Learning’s “Passport Reading Journeys” intervention program for the supplemental instruction.

Virginia is one of eight states to share in $6.6 million in first-year Striving Readers grants announced this fall. The program supports initiatives to raise literacy levels in schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students while building a scientific research base for efforts to increase adolescent literacy.

A focus on Adolescent Literacy is long overdue.  It will be fascinating to track the progress of these middle school students involved in this study, to determine if this type of expensive, scripted, and computer-based intervention is a successful program to improve the literacy skills of older, struggling readers.  Measuring effects on motivation and interest will also be important to assess for these striving readers.  Stay tuned!

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Children’s Choices 2009

A venture supported by the International Reading Association and the Children’s Book Council encourages 12,500 children from across the United States to read over 500 children and young adult books in order to vote for their favorites.  This list is a compilation of these results — guaranteed to capture the interest and motivate even the most reluctant reader.

Click here for the list:  Children’s Choices 2009.



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