While reading Chapter four, I was reminded of the fieldwork I completed last year for the Teaching Reading class. I had the great fortune of getting to observe my cooperating teacher give Informal Reading Inventory (IRI) assessments to her first-grade class. The school was using Fontas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System. This was a form of running records that used bits of IRI and miscue analysis with the added benefits of comprehension questions to see where the students were in their reading ability. Each reading level was assigned by a letter A-N, getting progressively harder down the alphabet. The children had to read two books, one fiction and one nonfiction, both at what the teacher believed was the student’s instructional level. If the book was giving them too much trouble, the teacher would select a story from the previous level instead. The teacher was looking for word identification and fluency skills, like the ones listed on page 93 of the textbook: mispronunciation (substitution), omission, insertion, repetition, rising or falling inflection, etc., and she used the symbols of IRI to mark the errors. As is the case with miscue analysis, the teacher also made note of how many words were figured out using semantic similarity vs. graphic similarity. At the end of the reading, the children got questions about what happened to help determine their comprehension.
One of the children I watched was a Turkish ELL student and was at a “D” level, very beginner. He struggled with word identification, including finding the English words in his schema to answer the questions at the end of the reading, but his comprehension was there. He knew what was going on in the story; he just couldn’t find the words to explain it and kept reverting to his native tongue. My cooperating teacher understood this and was very patient with him. I think patience is a key to a plethora of reading problems. If a child cannot read what is in front of him, no amount of cajoling or complaining is going to change the outcome. When we exercise patience, we are letting the student know that we accept their struggles and we want to help them succeed no matter how long it takes.
Another boy I viewed could figure out most of the words on his own and make self-corrections. But for one word he refused to sound it out on his own and looked to the teacher for help. He had basic comprehension, where he could tell you the gist of the story, but he couldn’t think critically. For instance, the teacher asked him why the boy in the book might have gone to a farm to find a cat, and the boy couldn’t answer. Critical thinking is an imperative part of learning, but it is something that many educators don’t invest time in teaching. I was impressed to see that this particular IRI series was pushing for higher critical thinking.
Another child I had the privilege to observe was a classified struggling reader. At one point, he got stumped on a phrase and knew it was wrong, but he didn’t know how to correct it. He had great comprehension, though, and great expression. He understood graphic cues—that bold letters should be read with emphasis and that sentences ending with exclamation points and question marks need to be read differently. I loved watching him, because despite the fact that he was below level for his grade and had reading difficulties, I could tell he enjoyed reading.
I feel that getting children to love books is the most important goal we can accomplish in the classroom. So many worlds will open up to them once they begin reading–so many opportunities for learning will be uncovered. Whether students are struggling or above-average in reading, we teachers need to build up their enthusiasm so that they will learn to independently seek out literature to read. Reading, no matter how fast or slow you do it, always fosters growth.
Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 94-105.