Tag Archive | differentiation

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.

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 Three

Shocking as it may seem, there was a period in my life when I didn’t like to read. Let me set up the back story: from kindergarten to 4th grade, I attended a Lutheran school. While I loved reading at the time, I dreaded the multiple choice tests I would have to take after completing every book. I thought the tests were pointless with asinine questions like, “What color dress was Alice wearing when she went down the rabbit hole?” I often found myself wondering what these assessments had to do with reading. Yet that was the program the Lutheran school was using: the students had to pick books from an approved list and then take the exams afterwards for comprehension assessment.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising when in fifth grade, the year my mom started homeschooling me, I gave up reading. I refused to pick up any book unless it was an installment in the popular yet completely fatuous Baby Sitter’s Club series. I was rebelling, showing those silly creators of reading programs across the nation that I would not be so easily manipulated into reading and regurgitating useless information on queue.

After months of barely touching books, my mother told me that she didn’t care what I read, as long as I was reading something. The only requirement was that she had to approve the content of the book first. Her words stuck with me, and I began reading in earnest again. In sixth grade, I read every single book written by Lucy Maud Montgomery, starting with Anne of Green Gables. The summer before seventh grade, I read Pride and Prejudice and then immediately moved on to Northanger Abbey. On my twelfth birthday, I remember reading Northanger Abbey nonstop. I didn’t want to do anything else, not even eat cake.

So what changed between fourth and sixth grade? I think the form of assessment played a huge factor in getting me back into books. My mom didn’t make my sister and me take multiple-choice tests. We wrote book reports or our own stories inspired by the literature we were reading. We watched the movie adaptations of books after we finished reading them, or talked about the books at length with each other. We role-played the characters from our favorite stories. In summation, we participated in authentic assessment.

In chapter three of Gunning’s book, he spends a great deal of time detailing standardized testing. Obviously this the norm in schools nowadays, thanks in part to government programs like NCLB that mandates all children (but 1% of the most cognitively impaired) must pass standardized tests. But Gunning also mentions the importance of authentic assessment: “Given an interactive transactional theory of reading…it follows that assessment should involve the kinds of reading and writing tasks that students are called on to perform in and out of school” (65). If children are struggling with reading and writing, how beneficial is a multiple-choice test going to be in assessing their strengths and weaknesses? If they can’t read the questions on the test, or they are struggling with comprehension, they are always going to do poorly on the exams. Gunning speaks of “dynamic” testing, which is the process of continually experimenting with teaching methods and forms of assessments. If one form of assessment gets you below-par results, try teaching the content another way. If the child still does poorly on the assessment, try a different type of test.

Children do not come in standardized packages, yet we try to push each child into standardized curriculum and assessment. Even if a child isn’t struggling with a concept, she might not do well with the type of assessment you are forcing upon her (see the rebellion of fifth-grade Cassie). If the job of a teacher is to instill the love of learning into our students, shouldn’t we be doing a better job catering to the individual student’s wants and needs? How do we expect every child to be enthusiastic about a subject if we don’t take the time to differentiate?

Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 65-66.

Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter One

The one message that really stood out for me from the opening chapter was the emphasis on the struggling reader as a unique individual not bound to the common stereotypes that currently pervade our education system. Nobody fits into a box, neatly labeled with terms like “dyslexic” or “ELL.” Instead, we educators should view every child as brilliant diamond with infinite facets that cannot be ordered or determined by our own limited terms. The book summarizes this succinctly on page 7: “Being unique, individual students have and always will vary in their reading and writing abilities, just as they vary in running, playing basketball, singing or solving math problems” (Gunning, 2010).

This is one of the reasons it is imperative to treat the individual child and not just the symptom(s) of their learning disability. Everybody learns differently. Even those 70% of our classroom that are considered “average” have their own unique methods of learning—the multiple intelligences, as Gardner called them. If we use differentiation for our average students, why wouldn’t we allow it for those who are cognitively impaired or reading disabled? Why would we assume one type of supplementary tutoring would work well for all our struggling readers? Why would we toss every single one of them into an after school program without first determining the cause of their issues? The answer is: we wouldn’t. And if there are teachers who are lumping every type of reading and writing struggle together, they shouldn’t be.

This is one of the issues that I have with the discrepancy method of assessment: it assumes that everyone fits perfectly into one niche. The discrepancy method assumes that students all learn the same, and if we look at their age and grade we can determine how above or below average they are. Using this method, a teacher could infer that a student who is on level in all aspects but reading, obviously has a reading disability, which is completely unfair and unjust to assume unless the teacher has also looked at all of the other factors. Gunning writes on page 12 that “understanding a student’s reading difficulty….means finding out how it affects and is affected by the significant aspects of his life: family, school and friends.”

Every child learns differently, including (or maybe, especially) those who have reading difficulties. As educators, we have an obligation to reach as many students as possible, and if that means we have to do extra work for those in our class that are struggling, then that’s what we will do. Every child is a diamond in the rough, just waiting to be refined and polished, but these children with special needs will never shine brightly if we don’t have the right tools to help them.

Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 3-12.