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Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter Thirteen

For our last reading response of the course, we skipped ahead to chapter 13, which focused on teaching writing to struggling students.

Writing has five main processes, which are as follows:

  • Brainstorming—a time for generating ideas, stimulating thinking, making plans and creating the desire to write.
  • Composing—Drafting thoughts, getting ideas down on paper and getting a purpose and an audience in mind. The act of writing.
  • Revising their thoughts after input from teacher or peers—Students have many chances to read their work critically to peers or a teacher, in a process called a conference. During the conference, the student reads his work, while the audience listens carefully. The audience then focuses on praise, elicits clarifications and makes suggestions for improvement.
  • Editing their writing errors and such—This is where the students focus on spelling, punctuation, capitalization, word choice and syntax.
  • Publishing their writing—the teacher can either post this electronically on a blog, or the teacher can hang finished work on bulletin boards or submit it to a publication for children authors.

At any given time, writers are engaged in one or more of the above stages. When you have students who are struggling to write, direct instruction and modeling becomes a huge part of the teaching process. There are many different methods to teach writing to challenged students, and all of them are equally as valuable, such as guided writing, where the teacher works individually with students, guiding them through the steps of the writing process. There is also strategic writing instruction, where the teacher determines a strategy the students really need help with and focuses on that for the lesson, modeling said strategy and guiding the students through the initial process. There are also writing workshops, which are very effective because everyone moves at their own pace. Teachers set up “conference” times throughout the week to talk one-on-one with each student and figure out where they are progressing and where they still need assistance. There are also actual programs created with the struggling writer in mind like the Cognitive Strategy Instruction in Writing, where every process of writing is detailed in printed rubrics or guides called Think Sheets that the students use to remind themselves to complete each step of writing.

Regardless which method you use in your own classroom for teaching writing, it needs to be remembered that the only way to hone a writer’s skills is to write and write often. I am a staunch believer that anybody can become a writer, and that anybody can write well. What sets the okay writers apart from the tremendous writers is the commitment they have for their craft. One of the jobs of us educators is to convince our students that excellent writing is worth all the concerted time and effort put into it. This is especially true for those who take extra-long to complete writing assignments because of their challenges. Struggling writers need to be taught that good writers are not born, and that even they can achieve greatness with resilience and extra practice.

 

Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 456-492.

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Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter Eleven

Given the fact that Chapter Eleven is over forty pages long, it is safe to surmise that comprehension is one of the most important factors in reading. According to Gunning, comprehension requires at least five basic processing abilities: activating schema, “understanding key details at a literal level, integrating text across sentences and paragraphs, making inferences, and monitoring for meaning” (353). What good is it to decode the words in front of you, if you don’t understand a word you just read? Reading without comprehension is like looking at these words: blahnina tooook, rick-rick-rowilow and pfft-haha, and being able to decode them. Kudos to you if you can (and extra nerd points if you recognized the language as Simlish), but it doesn’t do you any good in the long run. You still don’t understand what concept is being explained, what story is being told, or what emotion is being expressed. Fortunately, Gunning has a plethora of techniques we educators can implement to teach comprehension to struggling and emergent readers. While I could summarize the entire chapter (which would show my ability to comprehend, as, according to page 362, summarization is “the most effective comprehension strategy of all”), I will merely focus on a reoccurring theme that I noticed running throughout the chapter.

Once again, Gunning spends portions of his chapter discussing the importance of students’ self-confidence. At the very beginning of the chapter, before listing a single technique, Gunning notes that children need to believe in the efficacy of themselves and in the efficacy of the strategies being taught in order for any strategy to actually work (356). During his explanation of metacognition, Gunning points out that a student who has a poor self-concept may not try very hard to master comprehension skills because he honestly believes he can’t learn them (372). One way to combat this negative self-talk is for the teachers to show a struggling reader that sometimes even they struggle with understanding what they read. If a child realizes that reading is not always effortless and automatic even for proficient readers, it might give him/her or the incentive to use the same reading strategies as the expert readers (374).

There are several more mentions of self-esteem in the chapter, which leads me to believe that not only are comprehension skills imperative for developing good reading, but self-efficacy is the only way to truly master these skills.

Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 352-398.

Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten focused on the importance of developing a child’s vocabulary knowledge. There are two ways to teach vocab to children: the incidental approach, where skills are taught as the need arises in the child’s life, or the systematic approach, where skills are taught on a regular, planned basis (Gunning 331). Not surprisingly, most teachers use the systematic approach or a combination of the two. There are many good reasons to teach vocabulary. One goal is to improve reading comprehension. If children don’t know the definition of the words on the page, how can they understand what’s going on in the story? Another goal of vocabulary-learning is building self-confidence and self-efficacy. The more words a child understands, the more confident he or she will be in their reading abilities.

As might be expected, learning vocabulary is very important for ELL students. As Gunning so succinctly points out, “For ELLs, word knowledge rather than pronunciation or grammar is the key concern. If you don’t know the words, you have no chance of understanding what is being communicated or of communicating yourself” (347). After reading this chapter, I am pleased to discover that I have been implementing the very techniques that Gunning recommends for teaching vocabulary to the two ESL students that I currently have in fieldwork. Gunning says that much of the vocabulary-learning of ELL students, “will involve learning the English equivalent of words already known in their first language” (347). For my two Spanish-speaking students, I bought them each mini-notepads in which they could create their own Word Banks or Banco de Palabras. Every time we do an exercise or read a book, we then enter a list of English words and their Spanish equivalents into this Word Bank. On the first day that I introduced the Word Banks, we went over shapes, action verbs, the seasons, days of the week, and the months, and entered those words into the notebooks. We also draw pictures to represent the words, which Gunning recommends.

We always read bilingual books in Spanish and English, because I don’t think my students would be able to comprehend the story without the Spanish translation there to help them. I have also taught my students cognates—that is, words that have a common origin (for English and Spanish, that origin is usually Latin). For instance, during readings, I have pointed out the similarities between music and musica, invitation and invitación, family and familia, and minute and minuto, etc.

Just as the book suggests, I have seen the comprehension and the self-confidence in my students grow. My one student, though he still struggles to decode, is always eager to read to me and to show me what he has learned. My other student has come to realize how important it is to have both the Spanish and the English translations together in a book. Recently I gave my students the option of reading either in both Spanish and English or just in English. When the one student read his first page just in English, he realized his comprehension was suffering because he didn’t understand all the words, and for subsequent pages he read in both languages.

Vocabulary is a very important step in the reading process. Just because a child has mastered decoding does not mean the child has mastered the understanding of those words. Sometimes a child can rattle off a bunch of words and not understand any of it. Vocabulary expands the child’s “word bank” in their mind, improves their spelling skills, and prepares them to read more complicated books.

Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 328-350.

Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine continues looking at the decoding of language, this time focusing on reading multisyllabic words. There are two approaches to teaching syllabic analysis: the rules approach and the pattern approach, and both techniques can be used in conjunction with the pronounceable word-part and analogy strategies that were discussed in the previous chapter.

 In the rules approach, the reader works in a very similar way as in reading single syllable words, by parsing the words into clusters or chunks. However, because the words are longer, the chunks are longer too. So instead of simple onset and rimes like d-og or b-ird, the words are now split on the syllables, such as an-i-mal or fla-min-go. If students are having difficulty spotting syllables, Gunning suggests first introducing the concept using compound words such as starfish, ladybug, blackbird, etc. First get the child to separate the two words from each other and then have the reader parse the words even further, (for example, jellyfish becomes jelly and fish and then becomes jellyfish).

 The pattern approach works off of the rules approach, but instead of merely presenting one long polysyllabic word to the student, the teacher “starts with a single-syllable word and shows how multisyllabic words are related to it” (301). The example Gunning gave was starting with the word tie, then moving to the two-syllable word ti-ger and then mixing it up with spi-der, di-ner and mi-ser.

 Another way to teach students syllable analysis is through morphemic elements like affixes (aka prefixes and suffixes). Morphemes are the smallest unit bearing meaning in a word. The morphemic approach is the method I still employ to decode unfamiliar words. For instance, if I was reading a historical paper about 19th century England for some ungodly reason, and I stumbled upon the word antidisestablishmentarianism, I would start decoding the word by finding the affixes I was familiar with, which are the following: anti, dis, ment, ian, and ism. I would also look for other words hidden in the longer word. In this case we have establish (or establishment, if we add that suffix and remove it from our affix list). Once I have parsed this word thusly, I am able to find how the morphemes are connected to each other. For instance, the suffixes ment and ian are linked by the morpheme ar, so when I read the whole word, those three morphemes will be pronounced together. Then I can sound out the whole word as anti-dis-establish-mentarian-ism, or anti-disestablishment-arian-ism, or any concoction I can invent. As Gunning points out, it doesn’t matter where you divide the word, “as long as [your] analysis of the word enables [you] to pronounce it,” (299). When I decode a word it takes little more than a second to do it, but when students are just beginning to read, or if they have difficulties, they can struggle for minutes on one word. Practice is very important to ensure that readers develop their decoding skills. If they practice enough, eventually it will become second nature to them, and that is what all teachers strive for when educating their students.

 

Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 299-306.

 

Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter Eight

In the span of 78 pages, Gunning explains the appropriate strategies for teaching phonics, high-frequency words (also known as sight words for our ability to recognize them on sight), and fluency to struggling readers. Chapter eight begins with methods for teaching children the letters of the alphabet, starting with consonants, then working with short vowels, then frequent consonant clusters, then adding long vowels, and finally working with advanced vowel and consonant correspondences (such as the oy in “boy” and “boil” or the ch in “chef” or “character”). Then Gunning explains how to teach children to identify the onsets and rimes in short words, such as how c (onset) and at (rime) spells cat or how the diagraphs (a group of letters that form individual sounds) of sl and st fit onto the rime op to form the words slop and stop. The author lists the 200 most used words in the English language and spends a few pages detailing how we can teach our students these sight words. Finally, Gunning explains methods of enhancing fluency in readers.

 I could describe each and every one of the various strategies and tools that Gunning suggests we implement in our own classroom, but considering it took him almost 80 pages to do so, I think my time would be better spent focusing on a couple of seemingly throwaway lines in the chapter. Several times throughout the reading, Gunning mentions how the purpose of reading is to create meaning. This statement usually precedes a paragraph or two explaining how certain struggling readers can decode words and phonemes with no problem, but because they lack context, they come up with the wrong pronunciation for the word and can’t make sense of the sentence. For instance, say a child sees the word scenery. They know from their phonic rules that the consonant c makes a /k/ sound and that the cluster en is part of words like pen, ten and men. So the child reads the word as s-k-en-er-ee, as opposed to its proper pronunciation which is s-een-er-ee. The child has effectively used the decoding rules of phonics, but the word doesn’t mean anything. The student needs to look at the other words around it, and also check his own background knowledge to see if s-k-en-er-ee is really a word or not.

 Phonics is not the end-all-be-all of reading instruction. In fact, Gunning believes it’s the opposite. On page 274 he states, “Phonics is a means to the end. The ultimate aim of decoding is to enable students to read independently. To accomplish this goal, decoding instruction must be functional and contextual.” We can’t teach our challenged readers all of the tricks we know for decoding words and expect them to become reading experts. For one thing, many high-frequency words are irregular and do not work using the common practices of decoding, such as the method of seeking out pronounceable word parts.

 Phonics instruction needs to be integrated into a total reading program. It is important to show children how to use phonics in the actual reading of authentic texts and not unrelated worksheets. Phonics instruction needs to focus on reading print rather than on learning the rules. Deciphering words in the context of the plotline is a valuable key to unlocking language in struggling readers.

Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 218-295.

Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter Seven

Chapter seven was a reiteration of what I learned last year in my Teaching Reading course. This is not to say I was annoyed at the repetition. On the contrary, I find it enlightening that so many of the same concepts were mentioned in both textbooks, because this proves just how important and invaluable these techniques are in teaching children to read. What struck me while reading both chapters was the concept of shared reading, which I will discuss in the following paragraphs, taking information from my own fieldwork experiences and from the two texts that I have read. Hopefully, those who stumble upon my blog may find the information illuminating as they journey on their own quest to teach emergent readers.

According to Gunning, shared reading is a “technique in which the teacher reads aloud from a Big Book or other enlarged text and students follow along” (192). Through interactions like shared readings, students develop expectations of the kinds of language found in specific books, as well as developing understanding of print, letters of the alphabet, and letter-sound relationships. As children read, they can also become familiar with rhyming and high-frequency words.

Reading books aloud to children may be the most important tool in early literacy development. Good books have repetitive patterns, are language-rich, immerse the students in meaning, and present the power of language. At any given time children may be learning multiple literacy techniques through their reading. Shared reading can:

  • Interest beginners or struggling readers in listening to, reading, and writing stories, with emphasis on predicting, sharing and extending personal meanings.
  • Invite them to construct meaning through the use of picture cues and illustrations
  • Help them gain familiarity with book language, and the meaning of terms that figure in literacy instruction
  • Teach alphabetic principles of written language.
  • Teach them to predict words that must come next in sequence.

 Shared reading is also an effective and easy way to teach students Print Concepts. Before she begins reading, the teacher shows children the cover of the book and asks them what they think the story will be about. The children then use clues from the title and cover together with background knowledge to formulate predictions about the story.

The teacher then reads aloud the title, author, and illustrator and briefly explains what each term means. The students in turn note what the words on the book cover represent. The teacher then gives a lively reading, displaying interest and delight in the language. The students observe that the teacher can evoke meaningful language from print. 

 If the teacher tracks print with her hand, the students can follow the movement, which helps them make the connection between speech and print as well as left to right directionality. If the teacher focuses the children’s attention on distinctive features and patterns in the text and uses letter names and correct terminology to discuss these features, the students will learn these features and patterns and attempt to find others on their own. This develops understanding of the elements of decoding meaningful text. 

 Teachers can help develop all of these reading skills by selecting high-interest books with rich language, well-developed plots and characters, and multiple layers of meaning. Stories like that will engage readers. Educators should always preview the book before reading it aloud. This helps them to figure out what words or themes they want to focus on; plus it gives them a chance to practice their oral delivery. As teachers read the book to themselves, they should think about the story’s structure, characters, descriptions, illustrations, themes and author’s use of language. Educators should also not be afraid to select nonfiction books for extended vocabulary and high-quality realistic pictures. With these hints, teachers should be able to successfully immerse their struggling readers in literature.

 

 Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 188-213.

Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter Six

In chapter six, Gunning spends more time discussing reading assessments, explaining how teachers need to not only look at how a student does on reading assessments like an IRI, but also to take into account the cognitive, school and home factors of the child. Gunning posits, “In order to get a fuller understanding of the student’s background, it is important to obtain a case history from the parents or other primary caregivers” (169). Gunning also believes that talking directly to the student and asking him what he’s having trouble with or what he dislikes most about reading will give you a better understanding of the child’s problem (172).

I agree wholeheartedly that both the child and the parents should be involved in the assessment processing, since they have a better understanding than the teacher or psychologist on what is going on with the student. However, Gunning seems to take for granted that all parents are going to be involved in their child’s education. He doesn’t take into account those parents who treat school as a glorified daycare center and who could care less about how their child is doing academically as long as he or she is out of their hair. Parents with this abysmal attitude are not going to willingly offer to take a questionnaire or come to school for a conference so they can answer questions on pregnancy, early years of physical health and development, language and literacy development, school history and home factors.

Furthermore, there are also cases where parents are in denial about their child’s disability. They’ll point fingers at the teacher, the curriculum or the entire school system before they will admit that their child might have some learning and/or cognitive difficulties. It is challenging in itself just to get these parents to arrive at the understanding that their child needs extra help and that it’s OK and nothing to be ashamed about. Before handing out any questionnaire to parents, the teacher needs to first understand the parents own attitude toward learning impairments. It can be a very difficult task telling parents or guardians that their child is having trouble reading and needs intervention. In any situation like this, tactfulness, respect and reassurance are required.

 

Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 169-174.