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.

 

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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.

Fieldwork Reflection #1 With Picture!

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: 4 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.”

Mrs. Novak's Class

Mrs. Novak’s Class

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.

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.

Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter Five

For reasons unknown to me, I found it difficult to come up with a topic to write about, which seems particularly odd since anyone who knows me realizes I am never at a loss for words. That being said, the one item that stuck out to me was the tiny blurb on handwriting, which is probably due to my own personal experiences with the subject. The only F I ever received in school was on a cursive assignment, in Fourth Grade no less. Seriously, what sadistic teacher grades nine-year-olds’ handwriting skills? Needless to say the poor grade did nothing for my self-confidence or self-efficacy. I continued to struggle with cursive throughout grade school. One of the first strategies my mother implemented when she began homeschooling my sister and me was to “re-teach” me cursive by using those lined papers where you trace each individual letter forty times in a row. My cursive did not improve an iota from these exercises. To this day my handwriting—both print and cursive—resembles that of a neurosurgeon’s. I am trying to improve, but there must be something missing from my brain that allows me to write neatly. Tis a puzzlement.

Gunning lists several factors for sloppy handwriting, one being a correlation between poor reading skills. Obviously this wasn’t my problem. Gunning also suggests “poorly developed motor skills, deficient visual or kinesthetic memory, or dysgraphia” (154) as culprits. He maintains that deficient writing skills can lead to lowered self-concepts and grades, which I can attest to, thanks to my own cursive-grading debacle.

While I understand that it is imperative that teachers be able to read their students’ work, I don’t see why we should place such a HUGE emphasis on neat penmanship. Since we live in the digital age, it makes sense to me that if a student struggles with his handwriting, we should let him type it out. That’s the solution I found for my own struggles. As someone who is always writing, computers are indispensable to me. No one would be looking at this blog if it was in my own sad scribble.

In the end, I think evaluating a student’s penmanship should be more about looking for other cognitive struggles, such as the deficient visual or kinesthetic memory that I previously mentioned, and less about grooming kids into adults who can write pretty. After all, it’s not how your writing looks, but what your writing says that’s important.

Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 154-155 .

Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter Four

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.