Friday, June 20, 2008

reflections on reading subtitle: a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do

This year I worked with quite a few kiddos who were struggling significantly learning to read. There are lots of good reading programs out there and people make lots and lots of money selling these programs, especially to special education programs looking for the magic wand to wave over their struggling readers. Many of the special ed reading programs are scripted and very specific. In many ways they are great, but since they are a commercial program they are fairly general. My own school follows the Literacy Collaborative approach, which is fantastic and I as a classroom teacher I would swear my life on it. However, the program doesn't always take into account children who need a little something extra, or children who have severe learning disabilities. So, sometimes you have to take what works, take what you know about your kiddos, take a bit of creativity, and mix it all together. Because, despite what research says is best: a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do if you want the kiddos reading

I am ridiculously excited about the progress one of my students made this year and I wanted to reflect on it before I got chlorine brain and forgot everything I did. This is a long and tedious post and unless you are crazy-excited about teaching reading to special education students I'd recommend skimming past it. It's more for me than for readers.

This little one entered first grade with the knowledge of two letter names: p, and b. He had no known high frequency words (words you see every day in print like 'the', 'and', 'is'). He did not yet have the concept that letters make sounds which when put together make words that have meaning and correspond to what we say. Before you can learn to read you really have to tackle this concept. We call it one-to-one matching when children can "read" a text (even one that just says "No, No, No") and point to each word separately while saying it.

This kiddo has a limited working memory and sever processing issues so learning letter names was proving difficult because he could not remember the names of the letters, let alone the sound they make. Plus, not understanding that words carry meaning, he really just thought we were torturing him. Why did he care about memorizing these painfully difficult odd names?

So, -finally, after we had mastered one-to-one, I decided to skip the letter-name battle and go straight for learning the sounds that correspond with the given letters. The sounds are more useful to children learning how to put words together in order to read, and give them less to remember while still giving them useful skills. With inspiration from my school's speech language pathologist (whom I also like to refer to as 'A Gift From God' or just 'Miracle Worker') I learned of alphabet cards that teach a hand motion to match each sound. My kiddo is a highly kinesthetic learner and so we started working our way through the commonly used sounds based on a sequence I learned in grad school. This worked fairly well and he started being able to connect words with the motion that corresponded to the initial sound. He would do the motion for a few moments while he pulled up the sound. When given enough wait time he was able to pull up the correct initial sound. We also spent time looking into a hand-held mirror to see how our mouths looked when we formed the sound for the letters to pair his strengths of visual learning and kinesthetic learning.

Then I started writing my own books for him. My school has an incredible book room filled with hundreds of titles of books on every level for guided reading. These are great, but I needed a specific pattern that I could vary just a little every day. I actually was inspired by the Rigby books but since they only had 3 books that matched the pattern I needed I decided to write my own.

My books, while having limited text, were all about this evil monster who kept trying to sneak into the child's class and take things from the students. That tricky monster! In every book the monster was trying to take something different from all of the students in my friend's class (he happened to know all of their names, so luckily I could put the class names in the book for him to use as known text.) Toward the end I really had to stretch what that monster was coming in to steal. He even tried to sneak in and steal their swimming pools. Imagine that! Lots of giggles on that one.

In my reading class last winter I learned about special education reading programs like Wilson, Edmark, etc, etc. We were able to peruse their teacher manuals and see what made them work. So I took the memory-based theories and rote-learning strategies from these programs and paired them with my school's reading program, Literacy Collaborative, that operates behind a more meaning-driven approach to teaching text. The guided reading program and everything from Fontas and Pinnell is fabulous, but for some children who have little to no working memory (short term memory) it doesn't do enough to by-pass their short term memory and put information into their long-term memory. However, the rote (yet sometime meaningless) approach of more special ed reading programs are geared specifically for teaching children who struggle with their working memory.

So instead of using flash-cards or sheets with words on them like Edmark and Wilson I went ahead and embedded what I wanted my friend to know into the texts of the Monster Series. The books started simply: "No monster!" "No monster! That is for Brian"... "No, Monster, that is for Amy", etc, etc. We had many, many books that just stuck to this "This is for ...." pattern so that I knew my friend had the words 'this, is, and for' in is long-term memory. He also was demonstrating one-to-one matching and showing me he understood that words carry meaning. He would giggle with some of the crazy Monster antics. Occasionally the text would change to read, "Monster, no, no, no!" to be sure that he was not simply relying on the pattern of the book, but was able to associate the correct word with the correct set of letters. The last page of the books always changed a bit to read, "This is for the monster!" (and to give the monster something in return)

As he became familiar with the pattern I began to introduce the other high frequency words I wanted him to know. I started changing the patterns from 'this is for' to 'the cat is for' so that he had to be sure to look at the whole word and check himself (he knew the word cat because I would give it to him in my book introduction, but also because he was learning to check the picture as a reading strategy. He would also look at the first letter and make the motion for what we had practiced so that he could check himself). He became very good at re-reading to make sure he was correct unprompted. After he demonstrated a knowledge of recognizing the difference between 'this' and 'the' I added the word 'and' into the text, many times using the general Edmark script, only with the word inside a text instead of inside a general list of words. Slowly as the days went on (a new book every day) these words crept into his long-term memory and I would notice him finding the words in his classroom and pointing them out to friends (of course when he was actually suppose to be listening to his teacher..., but, I'll take what I can take, right?)

Of course we did not just rely on the books but also used magnetic letters to make the words we were working on learning, using some steps from Fernald's VAKT (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Tactile) approach. He thought it was the funniest thing in the world to make the word 'is' and then sneakily put the 'th' on the front to change it. He laughed at me every time, thinking he was tricking me. Did I mention that I love this kid?

I loved watching him succeed in learning words and letter sounds. The pride that filled his body when he walked around with a book he could read, or when he could point out words to his friends. I adore this kid and will miss him. I suppose right now I'm trying to organize the process I used this year so that his case manager and teachers for next year will have an understanding of what I did. I'm not sure they'll be thrilled about the prospect of writing a new book every day, but I have the template ready and waiting. Or perhaps they'll have even better ideas of ways we can reach this little one. After all the progress we'd made in the last month it was difficult to say goodbye and know that he wouldn't be reading so much this summer. I'm tempted to write new stories and do some 'reading drive-bys' just to keep him on his toes.

The most important thing I learned from this process was not to get caught up in research based practices. Using what I knew about my student's strengths and weaknesses I was able to create a personal program that met his needs. Sometimes a little bit of creativity can go a long way.

28 comments:

Snippety Gibbet said...

It was fascinating to read your reflections. I honestly think that you are a Miracle Worker, as much as your coworker. Your comments about working with our students caused me to see them through a new lens. Your reflections are thoroughly insightful.

jos said...

I ditto snippety gibbet! This was the most interesting piece I've ever read about teaching someone to read and I learned a LOT.

YOU are a gift from God.

Anonymous said...

Wilson could be one key to unlocking this kiddo. Here's my full comment.
http://tat.clairvoy.com/tiki-view_blog_post.php?blogId=91&postId=541

Anonymous said...

This Blog reflects on a reading teachers devotion and a lot of time and effort to find and develop a personalized "program" that worked for this student. Here are some other thoughts...Follow this link: http://tat.clairvoy.com/tiki-view_blog_post.php?blogId=91&postId=542

Anonymous said...

This is a different approach to teaching reading. Will he be able to attack new words? http://welcometoorganizedchaos.blogspot.com/2008/06/reflections-on-reading-subtitle-girls.html

Anonymous said...

It was great to see how you used such creativity to help this student. For more of my thoughts, follow the link
http://tat.clairvoy.com/tiki-view_blog_post.php?blogId=91&postId=544

BonMar said...

It is encouraging to know there are teachers willing to try something that is not research based. This student has had a door open up that will now open others. A job well done oh creative one!

Goldzula said...

You may not have been "caught up" in in one specific research-based practice but you did an outstanding job synthesizing a variety of research-based strategies to meet this child's needs and get the job done. I continue my comments on using multiple research-based practices in special education in my blog post...Homeward Bound Blog

snickle said...

A very dedicated account on reading programs. For my full comment please refer to: http://tat.clairvoy.com/tiki-view_blog_post.php?blogId=91&postId=548

Anonymous said...

This reading teacher is obviously very dedicated and good at her job. The fact that she was able to create an individualized program to help her student learn to read is inspiring. However, where does it leave the teacher that has seven, ten, or fifteen students that need all that individualized help in order to learn to their fullest potential. For my full comments go here: Leader of the PAC

BonMar said...

Bon Mar's Post
It is encouraging to know there are teachers willing to try something that is not research based. This student has had a door open up that will now open others. A job well done oh creative one!

Anonymous said...

While Organized Chaos concludes it problematic to "get caught up in research based practice" for instruction with special ed. students, the specific strategies she sites as helpful with her students arguably are exactly in line with the recommendations of research based reading instruction.� A more appropriate conclusion for Organized Chao's findings are that it is problematic to be too rigid in interpreting the procedures, and strategies of research based reading instruction and that it is important to be creative when planning lessons for specific students.
tat.clairvoy.com/tiki-blog_post.php

johns1tm said...

Reading this blog and reflecting on it should be an assignment for every professor who is in love with educational research. It should be required reading for every professor who makes her students spend what seems like the majority of their instructional time worshipping at the altar of the Almighty Educational Research Peer-Reviewed Journal. And finally, the above quote from your blog should be given to every student entering such a class as a warning or at least a “grain of salt” they should take before hearing any lecture regarding research-based methods. I totally agree, and will now offer some reflections of my own.
assistive technology

Anonymous said...

While Organized Chaos concludes it problematic to "get caught up in research based practice" for instruction with special ed. students, the specific strategies she sites as helpful with her students arguably are exactly in line with the recommendations of research based reading instruction.� A more appropriate conclusion for Organized Chao's findings are that it is problematic to be too rigid in interpreting the procedures, and strategies of research based reading instruction and that it is important to be creative when planning lessons for specific students.
More Comments

Anonymous said...

While Organized Chaos concludes it problematic to "get caught up in research based practice" for instruction with special ed. students, the specific strategies she sites as helpful with her students arguably are exactly in line with the recommendations of research based reading instruction.� A more appropriate conclusion for Organized Chao's findings are that it is problematic to be too rigid in interpreting the procedures, and strategies of research based reading instruction and that it is important to be creative when planning lessons for specific students.
More Comments

alc said...

While Organized Chaos concludes it problematic to "get caught up in research based practice" for instruction with special ed. students, the specific strategies she sites as helpful with her students arguably are exactly in line with the recommendations of research based reading instruction.� A more appropriate conclusion for Organized Chao's findings are that it is problematic to be too rigid in interpreting the procedures, and strategies of research based reading instruction and that it is important to be creative when planning lessons for specific students.
Resistive Technology

alc said...

While Organized Chaos concludes it problematic to "get caught up in research based practice" for instruction with special ed. students, the specific strategies she sites as helpful with her students arguably are exactly in line with the recommendations of research based reading instruction.� A more appropriate conclusion for Organized Chao's findings are that it is problematic to be too rigid in interpreting the procedures, and strategies of research based reading instruction and that it is important to be creative when planning lessons for specific students.
Assistive Technology

TEACHALL said...

This is a response to a post in Organized Chaos, "A Girl's Gotta Do What A Girl's Gotta Do." It is amazing to see how professionals in the field can truly differentiate instruction that is meaningful to the student. Nothing replaces a teacher's intuition with what works best for the student, researched-based or not. I think that, all things considered for the summer, the chances are higher that your kiddo will maintain several skills because of not only the approach, but how meaningful the whole experience was to your kiddo. I also liked the way you are creating templates so that books can be written more efficiently while creativity can still be an important aspect of the writing and reading experience.
assistive e technology

alask03 said...

Don't be too quick to throw out all research based programs. The key here is to be flexible--use what you can from what's available and customize when you need to. Just make sure you're assessing whether it works regardless of what you use!

For my full comment: Assistive Technology

jdod123 said...

This teacher's efforts to tailor a reading program not only specifically to the deficits of the specific child but also to adapt it to what has been proven affective through trial and error with the individual child are inspiring.
View full comment at: Assistive Technology

Tjswan said...

I am currently taking two courses at a graduate level for teaching students with leardning disabilities.� One is an assistive technology class and the other is a class that deals with teaching kids how to read.� So, this blog posting,

reflections on reading subtitle: a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do

was very relevant and interesting to me.

SEE MY FULL COMMENTS AT:
Assistive Technology

bellalucia said...

Yes, I'm impressed. Yes, that you the kind of teacher we should all aspire to be like. I can imagine the pride you feel in being able to reach someone, to see progress, and know you were a part of that. And yet, I'm frustrated. Maybe jealous.
I teach middle school, so...
Follow the link to full comment
Assistive Technology-It all sounds good

jdod123 said...

This teacher's efforts to tailor a reading program not only specifically to the deficits of the specific child but also to adapt it to what has been proven affective through trial and error with the individual child are inspiring.
View full comment at: Assistive Technology

tamkang said...

The relevancy to the student's daily life sure created powerful motivation for him to read further and find out what the monster is going to do next to his friends... What a fun way to teach struggling readers and get them excited about reading! Please read more of my comments in my blog post.

kay said...

It was great to hear you





Assistive Technology

esolar9 said...

First off, working with any student with a learning disability takes a lot of time, effort, creativity, and patience. This teacher has given everyone a great example of how being a special education teacher is hard work, but rewarding for her students and herself. Please read more of my comments at these two Blog sites Clairvoy Assistive Technology or at My Blog

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another thoughtful, inspiring blog entry, OC. As you stated in your penultimate sentence, there is no substitute for working from a student's strengths. That is research based!! So is learning to read from meaningful texts, whether published or teacher written. If you choose a canned "program" that touts anything but, you are wasting your time, and most importantly, your student's.
AHG
Thanks again, OC. You rock!

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