Tag Archive | self-efficacy

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 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 Two

I believe everyone struggles with at least one school subject at some point in their life. For me it was, and always will be, mathematics. As a homeschooled student, I was in “class” from about 8:00am until 2:00pm every day with a half hour to hour lunch, and two of those 6.5 hours of class were always spent on math. Long division, algebra, geometry and fractions all equally confounded me, and every math lesson was a drawn-out battle as I grappled with the formulae and fought to make sense out of what was essentially a foreign language to me. There were several social and emotional factors that came into play every time I opened a math textbook, including the “fight or flight” syndrome. First, I would argue with my mother about the lesson and why I had to know all of this “useless stuff” (the fight). After she would win the argument, I would be so worked up that I mentally shut down (the flight). I literally could not figure out the answers to the problems. Then my mother would have to help me out every step of the way until I was calm and confident enough to answer the remaining questions on my own. When it came to math, I had developed learned helplessness—the belief children have “based on repeated failures that their efforts to learn will be ineffective and they must rely on others to help them” (Gunning, 42).

As I read pages 42-46 of chapter two, I found myself sympathizing with the case study of Florence. Florence struggled to read and to remember what she had learned from the day before. As her reading difficulties continued, doubt and frustration slowly whittled away any self-confidence she possessed until she found herself trapped in the cycle of learned helplessness. As Gunning writes, “Believing she could not learn to read became a self-fulfilling prophecy for Florence. Because she had judged her efforts to be futile, Florence no longer worked on reading, learned less, and fell further behind, thus confirming her feelings of defeatism” (43).

Gunning describes the importance of developing self-efficacy in students to counteract defeatist attitudes (Gunning, 43). If the child believes she can do it, and the teacher provides her with materials that are easy enough for her to complete, the student’s confidence will soar. Besides having materials that are appropriate for the struggling student’s learning level, teachers should offer positive feedback whenever the student completes something particularly difficult, as well as explain why the concept they are learning is important and where and when the students should apply it. These teaching techniques are important to master, because in our own classrooms we will encounter many Florences or Cassies. As educators, we need to know how to deal effectively with their socio-emotional issues, or risk losing these students to an endless cycle of self-fulfilling failure.

Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 42-46.