Fieldwork Reflections

Dates: Monday, March 18, Wednesday, March 20, and Friday, March 22, 2013
Site: St. Paul Lutheran School, All day kindergarten
Cooperating Teacher: Mrs. Novak
Total hours together: 3 hours
Total for EDU344: 5 hrs 30 mins out of 20 hours

I began my fieldwork at St Paul’s on a Monday in Mrs. Novak’s all-day kindergarten class. When I was first assigned to this class I was skeptical that I would be able to get any viable information for my Struggling Readers course, since most kindergarteners I know do not even read yet. But because the children are in school all day long, as opposed to the traditional half-day classes, they have more time to develop their reading skills. From my observations and talking to the teacher, it would appear most of the students are already at Pre-primer, if not Primer level. There is one girl in the classroom who is already reading chapter books and taking tests on the Accelerated Reader program that the school uses. In fact, after a periphery glance at the students, I thought there would be no struggling readers in the class not because nobody knew how to read, but because everyone knew how to read so well! Fortunately, after several hours of observation as well as discussion with my cooperating teacher, I have now honed in on several students who are behind the others.

On that first day I merely observed for an hour during their Language Arts period, and I saw some really excellent teaching. Mrs. Novak started the session with spelling. She asked the children to recall what a pattern was, and then asked them what pattern they had found in one-syllable words, which was “CVC” or “consonant, vowel, consonant.” After this review, she started sounding out letters to form a word and would call on one of the students to tell her the word (e.g. H-A-T, R-I-G, or B-A-D). She used both a whiteboard and hand motions as forms of differentiation. Whenever she spelled a word, her right hand would travel down her left arm with each consonant or vowel sound. Some of the children even mimicked her movements.

After this spelling lesson, Mrs. Novak read a Big Book that was part of the textbook series they were using. It was called My Teacher Can Teach Anything, and it was a rhyming book that described how a teacher could teach different subjects from A-Z. She started the shared reading by looking at print concepts with the children. She pointed out the cover, the back cover, the author and illustrator of the book, and the dedication page. She also asked the students to figure out from the cover whether the story was going to be informational or fiction. She reviewed those terms for those who were confused. She then called on different children and had them explain their answers.

I noticed that during her reading several children were not paying attention, particularly one little boy, who I will call Michael, who kept looking at a nearby poster. I would discover on my next visit that he is one of the struggling readers in the class and has several impairments, including a speech impairment.

After the reading, the teacher explained the definitions of some of the difficult vocab words. She also got the children to recognize that the text rhymed and that it was an alphabet book. She also connected the text to the children’s background knowledge by asking them which jobs mentioned in the story were “helping people” jobs. After the group discussion, the children went to their tables to draw a picture of who they wanted to be from the jobs mentioned in the storybook.

I didn’t get to talk to the teacher that first day at all, which was rather frustrating, as I wanted to know which one of the students might become my case study. On my second visit, however, the children were doing independent reading for a good portion of the hour, so Mrs. Novak was able to fill me in on the struggling students and what sort of scaffolding or tutoring was being done for them. Most of the children are already reading at the Pre-primer/primer level. I was very impressed, especially since I had only known how to read my name and several sight words by the end of kindergarten.

The children’s independent reading time is like a mini-reading and writing workshop. They take ten minutes to read (the teacher has been building up the number of minutes slowly throughout the year) and when they are done, they write in their journal for another couple of minutes about what the story was about or who their favorite character is. This is to help them develop their comprehension skills, since many of the students are doing well at decoding but can’t remember a thing about what they just read. As the children read and wrote, I watched to see who was struggling more. Once again, Michael caught my attention. His letters were big and sloppy, showing a lack of motor skills. This was especially interesting to me after the teacher told me he is seven-years-old. I understand younger children tend to lack motor skills, but Michael is a good year older than most of his classmates.

After their independent reading, the children got to play a match game with sight words. There were a lot of sight words in the pile, and the memories of five-year-olds are not very good, so not many students got matches, though everyone did read the words well.

On Friday, the Language Arts portion started with another shared reading. Mrs. Novak started by going over text-to-text connections and text-to-self connections. The book they were going to read was called, When Will it Be Spring? written and illustrated by Catherine Walters. The teacher was pointing out how the miserable, cold weather outside had prompted her to read this book because the protagonist in the story is likewise impatient for spring. After making connections, the teacher asked the children to infer from the illustration on the cover what time of year this book took place, what was the setting, and what was going to happen. When she was done taking answers, she read the book aloud, pausing occasionally to point out context clues in the pictures or to go over difficult words like “bleary.”

After the book, the students went to their tables to read a short, repetitive coloring book aloud together and then to color the pages. The story took place on a farm, and each page featured a different animal or item found on the farm. Each page started with the sentence, “The rain falls on the__,” and then a different animal or object (like the barn) would fill in the blank. While they read, the teacher would ask the students to list the different ways they were decoding the words. Some figured out the word from the context of the picture. Some figured out the word from the beginning and ending letters. They were all using various techniques to decode and the teacher was engaging them in metacognition by showing them how they were learning. While the majority of the class was reading aloud, the special education teacher came into the room to help the struggling readers with their story. She spent time with about three different boys, Michael included. I wasn’t able to hear what she said to them, which was unfortunate. However, I found out that Michael gets pulled every day for extra tutelage, so I’m considering asking them if I may observe a few of those sessions. Of the struggling readers I have seen, Michael presents the biggest challenges. His age and his cognitive impairments lead me to believe he is truly struggling with reading, whereas the other two boys in the class could simply not be ready to learn how to read.

**********

Dates: Monday, April 08, Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Site: St. Paul Lutheran School, All day kindergarten

Cooperating Teacher: Mrs. Novak

Total hours together: 2 hours 5 mins      Total for EDU344: 6 hrs 35 mins out of 20 hours

Since I hadn’t been to the site for two weeks due to first my Spring Break and then St. Paul’s, I decided to do one more session of observation before I began my questioning of the pupils and chose the subject of my case study. That day the teacher started the English Language portion of the class by reviewing the alphabet with her flashcards. This time she added the letters y and z to the mix, which were the letters the children had learned right before their Easter break. They went over some words that started with y, like yo-yo, yesterday, yes, yellow, etc. on the giant notepad in the room. Then the teacher read a book called The Yak Who Yelled “Yuck!” by Carol Pugliano-Martin and illustrated by Paul Harvey. The book was really alliterative with many y words, running throughout it like yak, yam, yard, yuck, yelled, yogurt, etc. At the end of the story there was a two-paged picture with lots of images, some that started with y. Mrs. Novak asked each student to name one thing in the picture that started with y to assess for understanding. Then she added words that were featured in the book to their board.

After the lesson on y, the class began something new: working at stations. Since this was their first time working in stations, they were only going to do each exercise for five minutes. At one of the stations, the kids had to do a choral reading with the teacher. The teacher used context clues of the pictures to create meaning and helped them to sound out words they were stumbling over. At another station, the children were creating sight words with stamps. They had to draw a flashcard for a word and then stamp out the letters. At a third station, they were silently reading to themselves. And at the last group they were writing sight words on line paper, as well as writing words that had short /i/ in the middle on a worksheet in the shape of an igloo.

Because the exercise was new, the whole thing was rather chaotic, and not much got done. I also didn’t get to observe the struggling readers that often as I was busy helping Mrs. Novak manage the children.

On Wednesday, I interviewed the three students who are struggling the most with reading. I had 10 questions that I had written up for an assignment in class, which are as follows:

  1. What are your favorite subjects in school? Why?
  2. What do you like to do for fun outside of school?
  3. What do you consider the purpose of reading?
  4. What is your opinion of reading books? Is it fun? Boring? Hard?
  5. What are your favorite books?
  6. What type of books is your least favorite?
  7. What part of reading would you like extra help with?
  8. What part of reading are you most comfortable with?
  9. Does your family read a lot at home?
  10. Do you prefer being read to or reading books on your own? Why?
  11. Do you prefer books with or without pictures? Why?

I also added the questions, “Does your family read?” And “What do they read?” I had to use smaller words because some of the phrases were too confusing for them.

The first student I talked to was Michael, because I was still fairly convinced that he would be my case study. For question one, he answered that his favorite “Subject” was playing with his friends. For question two, he said he liked to go to friend’s houses to play. He said reading was for learning information and for fun. He had lots of different types of books that he considered his favorite, and he particularly like reading chapter books, because it made him look like a “good” reader.

For some reason I skipped over question 7, which would have been important info to know. For question 8, Michael said that he worked best at reading instructions for board games. He saw his parents reading books at home, so he was witnessing good reading practices from his parents.He thought reading on his own was better than being read to because it proved that he was ready to move to first grade. He said reading books without pictures were also a “big kid” thing to do. Because he has already been held back once, it seems he is quite determined to prove to everyone that he is an independent reader.

I also interviewed two other boys. I discovered after interviewing one boy that he was going on a month’s furlough to visit his grandparents, so I wouldn’t be able to use him as my case study even if I wanted to. The other boy, who I will call Luc, quickly found a way into my heart.

Like most five year-old boys, Luc shows a propensity to play with both his friends at school and on his computer and X-box at home. He loves video games, especially those based off of movies and during our interview, he spoke enthusiastically about them. When I asked him why we read, he listed very methodical reasons: so we can learn new words and how to spell and so we can become smarter. He hasn’t grasped yet that reading is a useful medium to learn new knowledge and develop new ideas. Despite missing this connection, he still finds reading fun some of the time but also hard and challenging. He doesn’t find reading boring or a chore.

The types of books he enjoys best are those based on comic book characters and television cartoons, like Spiderman. Of course, at school he doesn’t get to read those books often, but Luc seems okay with this. He is not too fond of dry textbooks or “spooky” books.

Despite the fact that he is getting better at reading picture books on his own, Luc still prefers to at least have help from a teacher or parent when he stumbles upon words, or better yet, to be read to. This is understandable, given his struggles with reading. He admitted to me that he got words “mixed up” a lot. He also explained that reading made him feel like he was going around in circles or that the “room was tipping.” This dizziness sounds like a symptom of anxiety. Upon this declaration, my heart immediately went out to him. I had similar feelings about math when I was a kid. He could be suffering from a vicious cycle of self-defeatism. If he works himself into a panic whenever he is reading, he could be missing easy words not because he doesn’t know them, but because he is so nervous. And then the simple mistakes he makes just prove to him that he is “bad” at reading.

While I am not sure whether this boy suffers from self-defeatism, nor whether he has any learning disabilities, I do know he is an ELL student. One of his parents is Chinese, while the other is French, and they make the boy read and speak these two languages at home instead of English. While I admire the parents’ tenacity to keep their son well-versed in their native tongues, the boy is now struggling to understand English as a result. Luc does witness his parents reading at home, but I’m not sure if it is in English or not. If his parents don’t make an effort to read or speak English to the boy, they are basically sending a message that it’s not that important. However, given how the primary language of American schools is English (not to mention it is still the lingua franca of the world), it is imperative he knows how to read and write in English.

After this interviewing process, I felt determined to help Luc overcome his trepidation and get to the bottom of his struggles. I still felt for Michael and his issues, but I felt an unmistakable pull towards Luc. And since I could only pick one student for the case study, I ended up choosing him.

***********

Dates: Wednesday, April 17 and Friday, April 19, 2013

Site: St. Paul Lutheran School, All day kindergarten

Cooperating Teacher: Mrs. Novak

Total hours together: 3 hours 5 mins      Total for EDU344: 9 hrs 40 mins out of 20 hours

On Wednesday, I practiced a miscue analysis/IRI on Luc. I used copies from the book aghauigsn by Pearson. First I asked him to read the words from the Pre-Primer 1 list, which included a bunch of sight words that the kindergarteners had previously learned. Luc did really well on reading this list automatically, missing just two words (can and was) and being able to self-correct the word can on his own. This put him at Independent level for this list. Then we moved on to Pre-Primer 2/3, which also include a lot of sight words but more complicated ones. Luc did not do so well on this list. He missed nine out of twenty words and was only able to self-correct one of those: the word some. I noticed that he struggled with words that had a final silent e on them, as well as words that featured the letter r either before or after a vowel.

Next we moved on to Pre-Primer 1 level stories, the first called “I Can.” First I asked the concept questions to get a look at his background knowledge. The questions were basic, like “what does it mean to jump, hop, sleep, and dream? Luc couldn’t offer precise definition for any of the questions, and for the jump question he used the word in his definition. His comprehension was about 50%. He predicted that the story would be about hopping and skipping, even though skipping wasn’t one of the words.

For some reason, I had not copied the first page of the story, which said, “I can jump. See me jump.” So we started with the second page. Luc did well on the story. He misread can again, but he self-corrected. He also misread lunch and self-corrected and inverted two words, but also corrected them. This meant that the story was at his instructional level, which is good. For the retelling portion, he remembered 5 out of 10 points, so his comprehension/memory was at 50%. Despite not remembering key points, he did make some inferences based on the pictures. For the comprehension questions, he missed the last one. I asked him what the boy can do while he is sleeping, and Luc said the exact opposite of what a person does when he is asleep. He said the boy was awake and reading books, which was very puzzling to me. Did he not understand the English I was speaking?

I also would have been surprised by the lack of comprehension, except that Mrs. Novak had told me in a previous week that the majority of the students are still working on developing their comprehension skills.

Because he was at instructional level, I decided to have Luc read another story at the Pre-Primer 1 level. This story was called, “I See.” The concept questions were “what is a frog, what is a bug, and what is a pig? Luc was able to give 2-point answers, listing characteristics of each of the animals. He was also able to predict that the story would be about a frog and a pig. His prior knowledge was higher for this story, at 67%.

During the reading, he misread ant as nut, but he corrected himself. He also switched the order of two words, though he self-corrected. And he misread doing as logging. Doing was one of the words he had gotten wrong on the word list as well. Because there were fewer words in this story and he had one more miscue than the previous story, his level was at frustrational this time.

Interestingly enough, his memory for this story was way more accurate. He got 10 out of 10 ideas right in the retelling. He got all of the questions correct, too, including understanding some implicit ideas. He also figured out that the story rhymed even though this was not part of the assessment and I didn’t prompt him at all. He pointed out each of the rhyming words for me, and I praised him for figuring that out.

The only explanation I can think of for why his decoding and comprehension skills did not match up is his lack of understanding of the English language. Maybe both his reading and his listening skills can be affected by his language barrier.

After I analyzed his reading, we returned to the classroom where Luc was able to participate in a letter game with the other children before lunch time. The children had to pull items out of a box and figure out whether the figure started with a y or z or neither. If the items didn’t start with the feature letters, they started and/or ended with v or x, which were the next letters the students were going to learn about; so it was a pre-assessment to see if the children already knew these letters. I thought it was a really clever idea, and I would totally implement that exercise if I ended up in a kindergarten classroom.

After reviewing the miscue analysis at home, I noticed Luc especially struggles with his vowels. While he can read words with the CVC pattern—that is, consonant, vowel, consonant—he gets confused when we add a finale e marker to a word, when the vowel is preceded or proceeded by an r, or when the word has a vowel diagraph—two letters sitting next to each that create a distinct vowel sound. Because of this boy’s struggles, I decided we should focus on vowel sounds,

We started the lesson, by playing the Say, Move it game, where a student moves tokens below the designated line for every sound in a word. I started with easy CVC words, such as “cat, dog, hat,” etc. before moving on to more complicated words like “boat, tail, book, rain,” etc. I was doing this to assess whether Luc understood phonemes and graphemes or not.

After the exercise, I explained how some words have more letters than sounds. I showed the word rain as an example. There are three sounds, but four letters, because there is an extra vowel in the word. I demonstrated this for him, using little print-out blocks that had the letters of the alphabet on them and spelled a few words that had more letters than corresponding sounds. I then showed Luc how to change the word by exchanging or adding letters. For instance, rain becomes train, train becomes trail , trail becomes tail, and tail becomes pail. The teacher will explain as she is changing the words, how the vowel sounds also change depending on the word. Rain is a long /a/ sound, while pail is closer to a short /a/ with a hint of a short /i/ sound.

We then worked together to do the following other word building lists, explaining about the different sounds the vowels make, depending on the words:

  • Dome
  • Home
  • Come
  • Some
  • Same
  • Came
  • Cane
  • Pane

And the list:

  • Book
  • Look
  • Took
  • Tool
  • Pool
  • Cool
  • Fool
  • Food
  • Good

During this exercise, I would periodically pause and ask the student to find a letter to add to the beginning or the end of the word to change it. For example, during the first list, after changing the word to same, I asked Luc to grab a letter and change the word. And he selected g, to create game. By the end of the exercise, Luc made five words of his own.

After we went through these word lists, I had him play the Say it, Move it game again, this time sounding out words like book and then counting out the letters. He saw that these specific words had a difference in letters and sounds, thanks to the vowel diagraphs in each of the selected words.

****************

Dates: Monday, April 22, Wednesday, April 24, and Friday, April 26, 2013
Site:
St. Paul Lutheran School, All day kindergarten
Cooperating Teacher: Mrs. Novak
Total hours together:
4 hours 5 mins     Total for EDU344: 13 hrs 45 mins out of 20 hrs

For Monday, I performed the second mini-lesson that I had devised for my mini-unit. First I used flashcards that looked like train cars to see if Luc had any knowledge of vowels with a final e, vowels preceded or proceeded by an r, and vowel diagraphs. I made a mark on a sheet for each word he struggled with and also gave him tips how he might sound them out.

After he read each word, Luc organized these “train cars” behind a cut-out train engine according to their vowel patterns. Each word group made a “word train.” The groups were as follows:

“Er” words: Fern River Paper Herd Under

“Or” words: Work Horn  Storm Corn

“oo” words:Took Look Book Roof Good

“ee” and “ea” words: Feet Need Dear Meet Read

“A” words with a final “e“: Came Fame Same Game Name

Of the preceding words, Luc missed or struggled with need, dear, under, river, storm, herd, corn, fame and paper. Some of them I expected, since they were multi-syllabic words, and the kindergarteners for the most part have only been learning one-syllable words. We talked about ways to recall proper decoding, such as remembering the “silent e” on fame. Luc told me his mother had been working on the “silent e” as well, which pleased me to know they were doing some English education at home. He seemed to really enjoy the lesson, despite the fact that I was drilling him quite extensively.

Later that week the school was celebrating “Grandparents’ Day.” Luc didn’t have any special person visiting him, so I did activities with him instead. We worked on a Search and Find puzzle that was made up of his classmate’s names. He struggled to find the words, so I had to give him plenty of hints. He also had to write about a happy memory in his journal. He couldn’t think of anything, so I gave him a few suggestions. He decided to draw a picture of his X-Box 360. I helped him write out this word at the top of his page. As we worked, he told me about his family, and how he had recently visited his grandparents in France. I asked him in my best French accent, “Parle vous Francais?” To which he replied, “Yeah.” He told me he also was learning Chinese and proceeded to recite the Chinese alphabet to me.

Luc is a very bright boy, who seems to have a knack for picking up languages. I have no doubt that his English will improve provided he continues to get adequate practice.

*************

Dates: Monday, May 06, Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Site:
St. Paul Lutheran School, All day kindergarten
Cooperating Teacher: Mrs. Novak
Total hours together:
3 hours 10 mins
Total for EDU344:
20 hours of 20 hours

On Monday I finally had time to work on the final assessment from my unit plan with Luc. First I had him reread the words he had missed last time we played the “word train game: need, dear, under, river, storm, herd, corn, fame and paper. I also included other words he had gotten right last time. Like the previous time, he had to put these words into train groups by vowel. He missed storm, herd, corn and fame again. The “or” sound seems to be a major issue for him. He also really struggled with fame, which was odd because he read all of the other A words with a final e perfectly fine. I even told him to rhyme fame with came or same, but he couldn’t process it. We talked about the silent or “magic” e and that it turned the a into a long /a/ sound, but Luc still could not pronounce the word. Eventually I sounded out the whole word for him.

The freezing on the word fame is very puzzling, and I am not sure what to make of it. I know his mother has been working on the “silent e” with him, and I also know that words like same and came are sight words for the class. So perhaps, he memorized some a words with final e by sight, and he has not mastered how to decode any unfamiliar words with this vowel structure.

After we finished our word trains, I had Luc read The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss. This particular text features quite a few of the vowels correspondences that Luc is struggling with, including vowels with a final e, vowels preceded or proceeded by an r, and vowel diagraphs. There were 131 words altogether, and he read 118 words correctly, including self-correcting most of the words he initially read wrong. His reading for this book was at independent level.

Some of his reading errors were due to thoughtlessness and rushing. For instance, he would see the word “foot,” but instead of closely looking at the middle vowels, he would just read it as “feet,” or vice versa. Also, later in the book he read “left” instead of “feet.” He had seen the e, f and t of the word “feet” and because the book had just used the word “left” he read the current words as “left” as well. I had him stop and reread this portion because he had made the same mistake several times in a row. I told him to really closely examine each word as he read and to slow down.

The final assessment I had concocted was to have Luc play a word ladder game. In this activity, the student starts with one word at the top of the “ladder,” and he has to trade one letter in to create a new word on the rung below. For example, the “r” in read is traded in for a “b” to create bead. The “d” in bead is traded in to make beat, etc. This assessment is used to determine whether the student understands that spellings of vowels and consonants must change in order to create new sounds. Unfortunately, while Luc understood the concept of the game, he could not change any of the letters to form new words on his own. So I ended up just walking him through the whole process. I think part of his confusion was that he still hasn’t grasped that vowel combinations can make different sounds. For instance, Read can be read with a long /e/ as in feed, or with a short /e/ sound, as in bed. This inconstancy in the English language is still baffling for Luc. In many cases, he doesn’t know whether he is reading an English word correctly or not, because he has never heard the word before.  At least for the majority of other kindergarten students they have heard the word before and have schemata connected to each word. Luc is still building his schema.

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