Before beginning this course I was not very sure how to teach reading to struggling students. After all, reading had never been a challenge for me, so I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to sympathize with children who had reading or writing difficulties. I thought I would lack the proper tools to assist them and that I would grow impatient and weary, as I watched children struggle with reading even the most rudimentary text. Fortunately my fears were unfounded. The book by Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, offered various strategies and activities for teachers to employ with their struggling readers and writers. By applying the techniques found in the book, as well as found on various websites, I was able to reach my own struggling readers during multiple instances of my fieldwork—not just for EDU344, but also in my other literature classes.
One of the things I really appreciated about Gunning’s book is the way he not only described the different learning disabilities and challenges a reader might face, but why a child might have those issues. Being able to delve into the mechanics behind a learning impairment really gave me a deeper understanding of the literary issues I was up against in the classroom. I also discovered that I had no reason to fear being impatient. Once I was actually sitting across from a student—especially an adorable one—practicing patience was as easy as breathing.
As I got to know these children from my fieldwork on a more personal level, I found I wanted them to succeed just as badly as they did. Developing their self-confidence and efficacy became a primary goal of mine. I discovered through my one-on-one tutoring with these children that by implementing a variety of fun activities and offering encouragement whenever possible, I could not only see improvement in their attitudes, but in their abilities. Luc, the boy from my case study, while at first leery of my pulling him out of the classroom to teach him personally, soon became eager to “play games” with me and to show off his knowledge. “I know that word,” he confidently told me at one point before reading the word to me. This was a big achievement coming from a boy who never offered answers in class during reading time. His confidence improved and so did the number of words he read correctly. It is the cyclical nature of self-efficacy. As cheesy as the following mantra is, it is absolutely true: if you can believe, then you will achieve.
It takes the faith of both the teacher and the student in the child’s abilities to foster growth and achievement. This is why it is crucial that we never write off a child because of their learning difficulties. People learn at different paces in different ways with different amount of teacher assistance. It would be a disservice to the student to give up on them before every avenue of instruction has been tried. A good teacher never gives up on his or her students and never quits looking for that one strategy that will unlock the world of reading for those who are struggling.
My first informal assessment came in the form of an interview. I had 11 multi-part questions that I asked Luc, my case study subject. I used smaller words than the ones on the questionnaire because some of the phrases were too confusing for kindergarteners. You can find the questions and his answers to the questionnaire here.
I followed the interview with a miscue analysis/IRI. I used copied pages from the book Qualitative Reading Inventory, 5th edition by Pearson. First I asked him to read the word list from the Pre-Primer 1 list. Next we moved on to Pre-Primer 1 level stories, the first called “I Can,” the second called, “I See.” To view the complete description of the analysis, click here.
Based on the observations I made from my assessments and the information I garnered from the textbook, I decided Luc struggled most 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 to focus both of my lessons on these three areas.
The objectives for Mini-Unit Lesson Plan 1 were:
- Demonstrate the individual sounds that consonants, vowels, and diagraphs make to form a word by sounding them out using a Say It, Move It graphic organizer.
- Create different words by switching out consonants at the beginning and end of the words.
- Compare and contrast the number of sounds and the number of letters specific words have by sounding and spelling them out.
The objectives for Mini-Unit Lesson Plan 2 were:
- Demonstrate understanding of vowels with a final e, vowels preceded or proceeded by an r, and vowel diagraphs by sight reading words off of flashcards.
- Organize words by vowel patterns into “word trains.”
I also implemented a final authentic assessment for the boy. The final assessment consisted of both a reading and a writing exercise to determine whether the student had improved his ability to read and understand vowels. First I had Luc 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.
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.
The final activity 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. You can read about how he did on all three assessments here.
I practiced strategies of developing self-efficacy with both my case study for this course and also with my two students that I had to tutor in my other course for teaching English language learners. What I found in both instances is that by making their work a fun “game,” and by praising them when they made progress in their learning, the willingness to participate went up exponentially. Luc seemed a bit suspicious of me when I first started taking him out of the classroom to work with him. Once he saw what sort of fun activities we were doing, he warmed up to the idea and became eager and willing to follow me out of the classroom to work. On top of that, we were focusing on the areas of study he needed the most help with.
When I first interviewed Luc, he told me that reading made him feel like he was going around in circles or that the “room was tipping.” This dizziness sounded like a symptom of anxiety, and I thought it was very possible that because of his reading challenges, Luc was suffering from a vicious cycle of self-defeatism. If he was working himself into a panic whenever he was reading, he could have been missing easy words not because he didn’t know them, but because he was so nervous. And then the simple mistakes he made would just prove to him that he was “bad” at reading.
But by the end of our lessons for each other, he was bragging that he knew the words I gave him to read, and he read The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss very well and with a casual air about him as if reading was no big deal. Of all of the things he’s learned while in my tutelage, his self-confidence means the most to me.