The Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System is a popular literacy assessment, which I absolutely love! This universal screener is administered individually, requiring about 20 – 40 minutes per student. The screener includes an oral reading component and a comprehension component. When taken together, these two components provide an instructional level for each student (independent, instructional, frustrational).
The Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System is a great tool to drive instruction and place students in guided reading groups, but…
A Fountas & Pinnell reading level should NOT be the determining factor for a Special Education referral!
F&P is Subjective!
The Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System is a subjective measure. This is because there is no right or wrong answer, and a teacher’s beliefs, assumptions, emotions, and opinions can influence the outcome of the score.
Objective assessments have a single correct answer. Think true or false, multiple choice, and matching questions. Subjective tests include extended response questions and essays, or in other words, the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System.
In addition, many of the benchmark tests include some inherent bias toward culture, background knowledge of the student, etc.
In addition, at the start of the year, students can be hesitant to talk to a new teacher, while some students are shy all year! The open ended questioning format of the test can be biased against shy students, students lacking language, and others. The personality of a student can impact the outcome of the assessment.
F&P is Only One Data Point
As teachers, we know that one data point cannot be used to make an educational decision. Good teachers use numerous types of data from many sources to determine student strengths and areas to improve.
How often does a student score one way on the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, but is unable to read that same level of authentic text?
Self-Correction Scores Do Not Impact F&P Reading Levels
Self-correction is not taken into account when determining a student's reading level in the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System.
Some students are able to achieve high accuracy and high comprehension scores, despite also demonstrating a high self-correction rate.
Self-correction in reading is a good skill that teachers love to see. It shows us that students are visually attending to the text and self monitoring for meaning of the text.
Typically, a high self-correction rate impacts comprehension, but for some students, it does not. This can mean that a student is reading “too fast” and not attending to the text for phonics (decoding) principles. This should indicate to a teacher that the student requires explicit instruction in attending to the text and may indicate a need for explicit instruction of phonics skills noted in the self-corrections on the running record.
F&P is NOT Norm-Referenced
The Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment is a criterion-referenced tests. Such tests are designed to determine if a student has a set of skills. A norm-referenced assessment compares the student’s performance to other same-aged students.
Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System touts itself as just that - a benchmark assessment! This means that it can be used to measure student progress against a grade level or learning goal. Benchmark assessments, like the F&P, are interim assessments and should be given in between formative and summative assessments.
The F&P Benchmark Assessment is based on empirical research on language development, vocabulary expansion, reading acquisition, and reading difficulties. The assessment system has been field tested, but there is no empirical evidence on it.
There are NO F&P Police
The F&P Benchmark Assessment does have directions for administration; however, as teachers, we know that every student is different, and not every student follows the rules!
What happens when a student makes an error on the same word repeatedly? Does this count as multiple errors or just one?
What happens when the fluency rate is extremely low, but the accuracy and comprehension scores meet expectations?
So who do we go to with our questions about the students who do not follow the F&P rules?
Many schools have literacy coaches, but every coach seems to have their own interpretation and answers to our questions!
For instance, I was once told that we stop assessing a student when he/she has achieved one year above grade level, even if we think this student could read at a higher level. Is this right?
While scores may have F&P norms in place, who is enforcing them? Are they F&P’s rules? And doesn’t this just add to more subjectivity?
Fountas & Pinnell Should NOT be used to Refer Students to Special Education
Independent studies examining the usefulness of the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System as a universal screener are limited. Furthermore, in studies, using F&P to identify students as at-risk have resulted in moderate sensitivity, or unacceptable rates of identification (Burns, et al., 2015).
Fountas and Pinnell reading levels are one descriptor of a student’s reading ability, but it should not be our sole indicator.
But while The Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System should not be used to refer a student for Special Education testing, it is very useful for teachers!
Its purpose is to inform instruction for teachers, relay to teachers, students, and families which skills are important to master, and express a student’s progress towards those learning goals, not to determine Special Education eligibility.
By Miss Rae
Burns, M. K., Pulles, S. M., Maki, K. E., Kanive, R., Hodgson, J., Helman, L. A., Preast, J. L., (2015). Accuracy of student performance while reading leveled books rated at their instructional level by a reading inventory. Journal of School Psychology, 53, 437-445.
Center on Response to Intervention: Screening Tools Chart (https://rti4success.org/resources/tools-charts/screening-tools-chart)
Klingbeil, D. A., McComas, J. J., Burns, M. K., & Helman, L. (2015). Comparison of predictive validity and diagnostic accuracy of screening measures of reading skills. Psychology in the Schools, 52(5), 500-514. http://doi.org/10.1002/pits.21839
Parker, D. C., Zaslofsky, A. F., Burns, M. K., Kanive, R., Hodgson, J., Scholin, S. E., & Klingbeil, D. A, (2015). A brief report of the diagnostic accuracy of oral reading fluency and reading inventory levels for reading failure risk among second- and third-grade students. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 31, 56-67.
I hate teaching writing, and I know it’s not just me.
Many teachers hate teaching writing. There is no magic button that activates brainstorming. Snapping your fingers won’t make the ideas organize into cohesive thoughts. It takes more than a twitch of a nose to pull, drag, and yank the words out of some of our students. And only if you could hold their hands to write, maybe then you could read it.
Writing includes many processes from reading to spelling. It also involves varying skills from the basic tasks of writing such as letter formation (or in today’s world, this could include typing) to spelling and grammar to sentence and text structures. And these are only some of the processes and skills involved in writing.
Since writing is comprised of so many intricacies, it is important to teach writing through a mixed approach. Students should progressively learn different forms of writing or genres by moving from product to process to product.
Insert your thought bubble here: “That’s great, but what does that look like in the classroom?”
Well, here’s the format I use for teaching writing (and, I don’t hate it):
The model I use is a genre study, tweaked to meet my students’ needs.
Genre studies examine structural elements for patterns in collections of texts through an inquiry-based strategy. Common elements discovered across texts are what define genre. Essentially, each genre reflects participate language conventions or style and is written for a particular audience and purpose.
After I have chosen the genre (i.e. narrative, argument) we are focusing on, I choose the texts that are the best models of that genre. For example, Little Red Riding Hood is a great model text for the genre of fairy tales.
On immersion day, we are swamped with sample texts of our genre. For example, if we are writing narratives, I will provide students with varying examples of narrative texts. Examples include trade books, picture books, printed short stories, etc. I also incorporate technology through Google Classroom links to interactive stories online, text online, etc. Immersion may also include a read aloud of a mentor text for the genre. Students can take notes on what they notice about the text, or they can just observe.
My students act as research scientists. At first, they just submerse themselves, skimming some texts, reading others, noticing the front covers or the inside illustrations.
Then, they dissect the samples, taking notes as they go (i.e. I noticed many descriptive adjectives in the texts).
We oscillate from independent research to group collaboration of ideas.
After immersion, we discuss what we noticed about our genre as a whole group.
As the teacher, I guide the discussion, facilitating key ideas of the genre to emerge and assure inclusion of innovative student observations, all the while creating an anchor chart of what we believe defines the genre. This chart remains posted throughout the year, and we add to it as we learn and become better writers.
I then continue immersion by dissecting genre models. We begin with guided practice where I read aloud a genre mentor text and I model note taking my thoughts on the genre.
Then, students work in collaborative groups, dissecting text samples in order to gain more exposure to the genre.
After students have gained an understanding of a genre’s language, audience, purpose, and style, we learn to become authors of this genre.
My first step in transforming students into authors is to model writing the genre through interactive writing. Basically, we write a piece of text for the genre as a whole group. This models the writing process for the genre.
Similar to the think alouds we use to model reading at the lower levels, interactive writing enables educators to model how good writers write. Students can help to write the piece in order to hear their voices as well as practice being writers.
Interactive writing pieces can be considered exemplars for your students as well. Instead of using student samples as models or exemplars, consider using your interactive writing pieces.
We use our lists or anchor charts of the key ideas that define the genre to create a rubric as a class to assess whether we met expectations for writing the genre. This gives students’ ownership over their learning and provides them with guidance for each stage of the writing process, including independent writing.
Interactive Writing comes next, and this is considered guided practice.
During this step, students write texts in stages. For example, when teaching narrative text, I will model writing a hook for a piece of text. We will discuss other hooks I could write. I will include student examples. Then, I will release the students to write a hook of their own.
Students can write with a partner, in groups, or independently during this stage, depending on the groups’ needs.
After we have written our own hooks, we will share some, giving feedback. Then, I will model writing the introduction through the interactive writing process. I will then have the students try it, share out, and discuss. I continue this process until we have a completed writing sample of the genre.
The last step is to write! Students become authors and produce a final writing product, modeling the genre. I release my scaffolded supports to independent practice.
For mini-lessons while students are in the independent writing phase, you can edit and revise the Interactive Writing pieces you wrote as a whole group.
While independent, teachers can target writing skill needs. Lagging skills in writing should be targeted through small group and sometimes, specialized instruction. Deficits in writing should be supported with accommodations and/or modifications.
So with this model, my feelings on teaching writing have changed...now, you can say I actually love teaching writing!
~ By Miss Rae
Give your students the power to give and receive feedback!
Feedback is the key to engaging your students in their learning! Constructive feedback should be part of the learning process, guiding students on how to successfully achieve a learning goal!
But feedback is only effective if it causes students to think.
A lonely grade on a paper or a report card means nothing. It does not further a student’s thinking or direct a student on how to improve.
Students can be negatively impacted if they are only told if they got the answer right or wrong. This type of feedback assesses the student, not the learning goal. Such negative feedback can actually decrease a student’s academic achievement (Clymer, et al., 2007).
So step one to giving our students the power to give and receive feedback begins by not only marking an item wrong, but also with giving them the right answer. This feedback begins to guide student learning as to the right answer.
Step two in giving our students the power to give and receive feedback takes feedback even further for even greater student growth is to explain the grading criteria to students with exemplar models and rubrics.
Exemplars gives students a visual expectation of the learning goal while rubrics help to inform students as to why they did not meet criteria.
The ultimate goal of effective feedback in the classroom should be to guide students on how to improve. Effective feedback should encourage students to believe in their own academic learning and to improve through explicit guidance for student growth!
But let’s be real? Giving explicit feedback on every single piece of work would be very time consuming, and a teacher’s time is a precious commodity.
So now for the final step of giving our students the power to give and receive feedback... get your students to give each other feedback.
Give your students the power to give and receive feedback!
Constructive feedback promotes self-reflection. And self-reflection advances student learning.
And like any good teacher trick, you can get more bang for your buck by teaching your students how to give feedback to each other for not only their academic work, but also their classroom behavior!
Here is a classroom protocol for solving a problem! The protocol can be used to elicit feedback for academic learning (i.e. How can I conclude my narrative writing piece?) or a classroom management issue (i.e. How can we work together as a class to make sure no one feels left out at lunch and recess?)
You can also grab my Classroom Feedback Protocols: Tools for Academic Learning and Classroom Management for structured approaches to classroom feedback groups!
By Miss Rae
References: Clymer, J. B., and D. Wiliam. 2006. Improving the way we grade science. Educational Leadership 64 (4): 36–42.
A cooperative learning using the jigsaw reading strategy
How do I find the time to teach Science and Social Studies???
How do I find the time to cover all of the curriculum, nevermind actually teach it???
How do I get my students to work cooperatively together???
How do I get my students to work together to learn together???
Well, I have the answer.
Get your students to work together to learn together using the jigsaw reading teaching strategy!
Every student will work in an Expert Group to become an “Expert” on a topic or skill. These students will all read the same text together, determine the main idea, and then, use their expert knowledge to teach the students in their Home Groups about the topic or skill.
First, make your Expert Groups Expert Groups should consist of 3-5 students who similar reading abilities. Essentially, these should be homogeneous groups.
Next, find a set of reading selections on the content you are teaching. For example, if you are studying Plants, perhaps one Expert Group reads about the parts of the plants and their functions, another Expert Group will receive a text about the life cycle of a plant, and the last Expert Group will read a text about adaptations of plants.
These should be short texts. Think the length of an article in a magazine!
Note: It is important that the reading material assigned is at appropriate instructional levels (90–95% reading accuracy).
I use sections from textbooks, chapters from novels, or websites with FREE non-fiction articles like...Newsela (https://newsela.com/) or ReadWorks (https://www.readworks.org/)
Next, make your Home Groups. There should be one “Expert” from each Expert Group in each Home Group.
Explain to students that they will be working in different cooperative groups to become “Experts” on a topic or skill
Introduce the strategy and/or the topic to be studied.
Then, group students into their Expert Groups and provide them with their assigned text to read.
Give students an appropriate amount of time to read the assigned text.
Provide students with highlighters, sticky notes, and/or a graphic organizer for notetaking.
It should be explained to students that while reading their texts in their Expert Groups, they should be reading for main ideas, supporting details, and key terms. It is going to be the
Experts’ jobs to teach other students about what they read.
After the Experts have finished reading the text, students should work together in their Expert Groups make sure that all members of the group fully understand the ideas presented and are able to accurately summarize their learning.
Note: You may provide key questions and/or a graphic organizers to focus the discussion.
Next, students move to their Home Groups.
While in their Home Groups, each student (or Expert) will report the information learned from their Expert text (or the text they read in their Expert Group).
It is important to remind students that Home Group members are responsible to learn ALL content from one another.
Using our Plant example, each Home Group should have one student from the Expert Group that read about the parts of the plants and their functions, one student from the Expert Group that read about the life cycle of a plant, and one student from the Expert Group that read about adaptations of plants.
Each member of the Home Group is expected to learn about each topic or skill learned by the Expert.
You may wish to prepare a summary chart or graphic organizer for each Home Group as a guide for organizing the Experts' information into a report of some sort.
Facilitate a whole class discussion to summarize the students’ learning. Ask Home Groups to report out about what they learned from each other!
OR try this variation to the Jigsaw Reading Cooperative Learning Strategy:
And there you have it!
You taught your students to work together to learn together! (Oh, and you taught content you didn’t even know you had time to teacher AND you did it all in one lesson!)
"I Can’t Remember or Understand What I Just Read!"
Here’s a teaching strategy to improve recall and overall comprehension of a text:
Begin by asking the students to visualize (imagine, picture) what they read in their heads as they read, stopping periodically to first, model what you are visualizing (“I’m picturing her face looking angry. It’s red and her fists are clenched…”). Ask the students what they are picturing. Stop after each part of the story (beginning, middle, end). At each stopping point, ask the students to verbalize the part (beg., mid., end) as they visualize it. Then, have them draw what they visualized. After reading the whole text, ask students to use their drawings to retell the story’s beginning, middle, and end. Lastly, write a sentence or two next to each picture in order to produce a complete retelling. (Tip: For added support, give students sentence frames… i.e. In the beginning, ___.)
The text can be read round robin style of reading with a small group or as a mini-lesson with the whole class.
Scaffold the approach by gradually releasing responsibility (i.e. allow the student to identify the beginning, middle and end, instead of explicitly stating it and determining it for students).
You can also use this approach with non-fiction. Vary the strategy by stopping after reading each section, and model what you visualized (i.e. “I pictured the frog in my head changing from an egg to a…”). Ask the students what they pictured. Then, have them draw what they visualized. After reading the whole text, ask students to use their drawings to retell the main idea and supporting details. Lastly, write a sentence or two next to each picture in order to produce a complete retelling. (Tip: For added support, give students sentence frames… i.e. Frogs change from ___.)
Check out my "See & Say" Reading Comprehension Strategy:
AND compatible graphic organizer for retellings...
Tip: I have my students complete retelling sheets after each book we read ...BUT... since paper is a hot commodity along with a teacher's time which can be saved from copying, I place my retelling sheets inside these pockets so I can have them for the ENTIRE school year... yes, you read that correctly!
Mentors serve as good examples of skills for our students. Teachers are mentors. Parents are mentors. Books are mentors. No, you did not read that incorrectly!
For centuries, we have been reading aloud to kids. These books serve as mentors for all types of skills.
Mentor texts entered educational lingo as a way to refer to the books that we read aloud to students as models for good writing. Today, we are learning to write non-fiction pieces. First, we will begin by looking at the way good non-fiction writers write by reading one of Gail Gibbons’ science texts! Later, we will practice writing as non-fiction writers. We will share and discuss our trials as we draft!
A few years ago mentor texts reinvigorated as a way to teach students reading skills too. Today, we will be learning about summarizing. We will begin by reading the text Where The Wild Things Are aloud. We will then summarize the story using a graphic organizer. We will do this as a whole group, and then, you will practice the skill using your independent reading books. After that, we will gather together as a group and summarize (no pun intended) what we learned while practicing our skill.
This sounds like an ideal lesson, right?! If I were looking to get observed, this may be the lesson plan I use, right?! Hmmm...but what about Tommy? There is no way he will sit for that long and only have 2 possible movement breaks! And what about Janey? She hates when I read aloud because she can’t sit still and always asks to use the bathroom during read alouds. And now that I think about it, there are always 3 of them that ask for a bathroom break whenever I read. Plus, these days I can only seem to hold their attention for less than five minutes?
Sound like every teacher in the world?
There are always those classes that cause you to let out an audible sigh at the end of every day as you flop your tired body and mind into your chair, only to become quickly overwhelmed by the stacks of to-do’s on your desk!
Today’s learners require a circus act to hold their attention. They have grown up with technology at their fingertips; a world that moves faster than any superhero they have ever known!
Visual mentor texts are a great tool for these learners! They provide a concise context for targeting literacy skills in the form of a visual mentor text which means they hold our students ATTENTION!
Visual Mentor Texts in READING…
You can teach all reading skills from inferencing to theme using Pixar short films.
For example, the Pixar Short Films For the Birds (2000) is a great visual mentor text to teach theme.
A large dopey bird who wants to join in with a group of smaller birds. When he sits on their wire, the smaller birds become angry, pecking the larger bird’s feet. He drops, causing the wire to slingshot. The large bird falls to the ground intact while the smaller birds land minus some feathers! What is the message (Trick: THE MEssage) or theme?
Want to teach the skill of inferencing? One Man Band (2005) is a Pixar Short Films that can be used to teach inferencing AND has the most adorable little girl.
Visual Mentor Texts in WRITING…
Commercials can be another form of visual texts. Watch "Unsung Hero" (Official HD) TVC Thai Life Insurance 2014. The commercial profiles a seemingly poor man who fills his life with good deeds, changing the lives of others and making him rich with happiness! Tell the unsung hero’s story!
AND use visual WORDLESS mentor texts in writing as prompts!
Use visual mentor texts in writing that are lacking a conclusion and write one!
Visual Mentor Texts in SCIENCE…
Use these animations in science! Watch a short and ask: how many simple machines did you notice? What would be impossible in real life?
Watch a portion of the movie Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009) to prompt a discussion about scientists or hypothesis!
Visual Mentor Texts in HISTORY…
Use visual mentor texts in history class. Relate the stories to concepts and people of our past to help make connections.
The Pixar Short Films La Luna (2011) tells the story of a young boy who reaches for the moon. He is unsure of the lead to follow - his father’s or his grandfather’s. The film demonstrates the theme of finding one’s own path and can be related to many great historical leaders (MLK, Amelia Earhart…) and movements (the Underground Railroad, colonization).
Visual Mentor Texts in SEL…
Social Emotional Learning has become a core curriculum for today’s classrooms. As a result, SEL needs to be explicitly taught in isolation AND infused across the curriculum.
Many of the Pixar Short Films examples I have shared have an SEL component.
For the Birds prompts a discussion around bullying, differences, following the crowd, and the list goes on.
One Man Band can incite a discussion around competition.
The perseverance of the main character in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs demonstrates grit!
La Luna is a great example of learning from the past.
Warning! This does NOT mean I want you to throw out your picture books! One of my favorite moments is watching a middle schooler melt into a pile of sweet innocence as a teacher reads aloud one of their childhood favorites!
However, there are those times, when you need a stronger strategy! Because unlike technology, teachers DO have superpowers!
By Miss Rae
The overarching goal of 21st century education is to equip today’s students with the ability to analyze, evaluate, and create; all of which are the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Our states’ standardized testing assesses our students’ capabilities on Bloom’s high-ranking skills of analysis, evaluation, and creation through text-based constructed responses to open ended questions. For example, a student may be asked to explain the relationship between two characters in a text. Directions to this response will include citing evidence from the text to support the student’s answer.
First, a student needs to read and comprehend the text. These are the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Next, the student must analyze the text in relationship to the question and make an evaluation to answer the question. Finally, the student must create a written response that supports his/her claim.
In order to begin building our learners toward mastery of high level educational learning objectives, we must support our students with appropriate and supportive instruction and environments. Think scaffolded supports!
Learners do not just enter our schoolroom doors, equipped with these learning superpowers. Instead, we must teach our students to mastery.
One strategy I keep in my toolkit is teaching students how to explain their reasoning, and here is one way I do that!
First, I prep! I put quotes from our texts on chart paper.
To incorporate some movement for my kinesthetic learners, I hang the quotes around the classroom.
Students are partnered or grouped. They are then given 7 minutes at each quote. They must use this time to...
-read the quote
-discuss its meaning
-narrow the meaning down to one sentence
-write the meaning down, and finally…
-support your answer with textual evidence.
This activity allows my students to master the learning process with the support of their fellow learners, wrestle and engage with the curriculum, learn to work in a cooperative learning group, and own and guide their own learning, AND I get to use my doorbell for transition times!
~By Miss Rae
How we communicate with others determines are successes and failures in life. Our words manifest our lives.
Communication helps facilitate the process of sharing information and knowledge and develop relationships with others. The problem is that these things do not seem as important in today’s society with the prevalence of social media, but we are still human. And at our core human nature craves relationships which involves the sharing of words!
So the future of our universe stands on your shoulders!
Okay, that was a bit dramatic. But seriously...
Vocabulary is so important for our students. So many of our students lack communication skills. I’m sure the fact that they only view the world from a bedroom window, behind which they sit in an alternate world of video games and text talk!
Our students need a voice, and consequently that involves beginning with increasing a vocabulary.
Students’ vocabularies typically increase with age as they increase their interactions, communication, and knowledge: “Children’s vocabulary size approximately doubles between grades 3 and 7” (University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning, 2015).
Studies show that “between grades 1 and 3, it is estimated that economically disadvantaged students’ vocabularies increases by about 3,000 words per year and middle-class students’ vocabularies increase by about 5,000 words per year”... hence, the achievement gap!
Didn’t your mom say there were no ‘buts’ about it, and you just weren’t allowed to have them?
Well, I guess that doesn’t apply in this case! Aaaannnnndddd... to make matters worse, in this digital age, my hypothesis is that these gaps are growing while vocabularies are declining among ALL of our students!
Increasing a student’s vocabulary is more important now than ever.
So what do we know about vocabulary?
It is believed that 300-500 words per year can reasonably be taught through direct instruction which equates to 8-10 words 10 words per week, 50 weeks per year (Chall, 1996).
Words are learned directly. That means vocabulary instruction requires:
-explicit instruction (constructing definitions, analyzing word structure, and exploring word relationships)
-multiple exposures to a word
-more time spent reading
So how do we do it?
Well, we infuse it into all of our lessons!
Every lesson that you plan should include vocabulary since it improves comprehension! If you don’t know what the words mean, how can you understand what you are reading?
Words are also learned indirectly, such as listening to stories, independent reading, and listening to adult talk. While I don’t suggest allowing your students to listen in on your adult conversations!
Here’s how I do it in my reading groups…
I pull vocabulary words out of the text ahead of time. (If you have purchased any of my novel studies or short story comprehension tri-folds, I have done this part for you!)
I look for 3 things when choosing words. I look for words that my students will…
-most likely struggle to decode
-most likely not know the meaning
-they should be words that are integral to understanding
I write these words on an anchor chart.
We begin by using our word attack skills. We scoop our new words into syllables, decode each syllable, and then, read the entire word.
Next, we look at the word in context. We read a few sentences and see if we can figure out the meaning. If we can, we write a definition in our own words on the chart, next to the word.
Using context clues to determine unknown meaning, is a reading skill applicable to all genres and content areas.
If we are unable to determine the meaning, we look the word up. We re-write the formal definition into our own kid-friendly one!
I have a confession, though! These days, we use the internet to look up the word. However, I do also introduce my students to dictionaries, but let’s face facts - those may become obsolete one day and we are teaching 21st century learners who we should be preparing for the future!
But knowledge is power! So I do teach dictionary skills using old school texts and new school internet!
Sometimes I put a visual next to the vocabulary word on our chart for a memory tool!
We get to revisit the word in the context of our reading for the day’s lesson.
During discussion, students answer open-ended questions using the vocabulary words.
The vocabulary words are compiled into lists for the texts. These lists provide us with different activities that allow students to interact with the words. I might ask students to read the lists and use the words in sentences, write meaningful sentences for the words, OR…
Choose one of the words to be your WORD OF THE WEEK!
Dissect this word! Define the word, discuss synonyms and antonyms, find it in text, hear it in media, etc. Make it the word that students know inside and out! Get your students saying the word (the more often, we say it, it embeds in our vocabulary)! And use it for transitions! Keep your students on their toes. When they hear your say the word of the week, this is their signal to transition!
Have students CREATE Google Slides or posters where images and visuals represent meaning! Ask students to write a meaningful sentence for a vocabulary word AND find an image or visual that represents the word’s definition! For example, if the word is generous, a student might write… “Oprah is generous because she gave away gifts on her show” and this student might pair this sentence with a picture of Oprah giving away gifts. Some students may find it easier to find an image of the word first, and then, generate a meaningful sentence based on the image.
~By Miss Rae
How do we measure our students’ success? Grades? Standardized test scores? Dropout rates? Educational attainment level?
Over the years, mandates have been put in place, guiding student’s educational paths, as well as providing the objectives for teachers’ lesson plans. One such mandate created educational standards. Think of these as learning goals for all students based upon their grade level. The goals are not a curriculum; rather, they provide an end goal of what students should know and be able to do by the end of a grade level. The Common Core is an example of educational standards.
So with standards, comes standardized testing. With standardized testing, comes… well, a whole number of things. But let’s save that discussion for another time.
While these are all mechanisms for determining success, they also measure weaknesses. What all of these assessments demonstrate is an increasing achievement gap among students.
When the teachers of yesteryear uttered the phrase “achievement gap”, they were typically referring to the disparity in academic performance between black and white students.
Today’s educators know that this term encompasses so many additional groups of students.
-Racial and ethnic minorities
-English Language Learners
-Students with Disabilities (Special Education students)
-Boys and girls
-Students from low-income families
Achievement disparities are often attributed to issues educators have little to no control over such as...
Additionally, there are many more subtle influences that affect achievement gaps as well…
-Not to mention, students who have experienced traumatic events, extended absences, and homelessness, all of which students can experience over the course of just one school year.
So where do we stand today?
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, provides a bi-annual review on how the United States’ students are performing in schools. In 2017, NAEP reported few score changes across student groups nationally, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities.
Additionally, while the report noted few changes in 2017 when compared to 2015 results for score gaps between racial/ethnic groups, there has been some racial/ethnic score gaps change compared to the early 1990s. For example, the achievement gap between whites and blacks narrowed in grade 4 mathematics and reading compared to the first assessment years. the achievement gap between whites and hispanics also narrowed from 1992 to 2017 in grade 8 reading.
Some of the successes in the data can be contributed to some common reforms that schools have implemented such as inclusion, reducing class size, increasing early-childhood programs, raising academic standards, recruiting quality teachers provided to poor and minority students, and career- and college-readiness skills have been offered for all students.
When reviewing the research, experts seem to agree on THREE main criteria to close the achievement gap:
We already have the standards in place, and there is no denying that they are high! However, I think our focus here needs to be on setting High Standards for our subgroups.
Our subgroup students who can access the general education curriculum with supports and/or modifications have these same High Standards set for them. And they can do it! What they need is support.
They need support in the form of strategies and modifications to the general education curriculum, and this is where our schools are lacking. Our special educators are our strategists! Let’s employ these instructors to teach our subgroups strategies for independently accessing the general education curriculum. These strategies should enable them to be independent, even in spite of a learning disability.
ALL students must be guided to achieve the highest of his/her potential. This means that school systems must have a Challenging Curriculum.
A Challenging Curriculum is an inclusive set of intentionally aligned clear learning goals with correlating assessments, organized in a sequential manner for studying and learning.
Progress monitoring is an important component of a Challenging Curriculum. Progress monitoring can help identify lagging skills to be targeted in small group or direct instruction. By strengthening lagging skills, students can continue to make effective progress toward achieving grade level standards.
Our strategists (AKA special education teachers) can also create modified curriculums to support our subgroups! With some common planning time and professional development training, our special educators could create modifications to our current curriculums in order to maintain High Standards for ALL students!
Some students will need educators’ support with a Challenging Curriculum. They may need supports to help them strengthen their lagging skills, gain unlearned standards, and achieve grade level standards all at the same time in order to close the achievement gap. It is possible! We just need to support them.
Educators are important.
Educators educate our future. Educators perform a wide variety of tasks on a daily basis. But sometimes just by building relationships with students, educators are able to single-handedly close the achievement gap. And even if an educator can do that for one student, he/she has achieved success
While the data showed improvements, we only made slight gains.
We still have a mountain to climb, but once we get to the top, the hard part will be behind us - we will just, then, need to close the gap by building the bridge to the other mountain.
~ By Miss Rae
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), various years, 1990–2017 Mathematics and Reading Assessments.
The benefits of co-teaching cannot be denied, from extra student support to targeted small groups to someone to handle the band-aid and phone call interruptions, and finally, someone to get your sarcasm and cover an adult bathroom break!
Research studies on co-teaching between a general education teacher and a Special Education teacher results in additional individualized attention for students, more on-task student behavior, and more interaction with teachers (Murawski, 2006; Zigmond et al., 2003).
But how do we co-teach when there is no time to co-plan?
1: Divide and Conquer
Establish a skill role and a strategy role. The general education teacher, the expert of the content, teaches the skill/concept. The goal of Special Education is to assist students with disabilities in access the general education curriculum. The Special Education teacher, then, takes on the role of the strategist. After the skill/concept is taught, the strategist teaches a strategy to apply the skill in order to access the concept.
For example, the co-teachers plan to teach Author's Purpose. The general education may do a mini-lesson on demonstrating different text and media for different purposes. Then, the Special Education teacher teaches the strategy of PIE, a strategy for identifying the purpose of a text (PIE = persuade, inform, entertain).
2: Common Lesson Plan Template
Create a lesson plan template at the start of the school year together. Each teacher can fill in his/her role or part of the lesson plan. Keep a section for notes or post-its next to the plan. Comments can be added to the document in a notes section (i.e. When are we planning to have this test? Don’t forget about the assembly on Friday! Adam refused to complete his DO NOW again). Keep a package of post-it notes next to the lesson plan for these comments and questions! Add a blank page each week that is dated daily to write notes about students. Write down those things that if you don’t share them immediately, you will forget (i.e. anecdotals that were observed or shared, a heads up that mom gave in a phone call, etc.). This eliminates inquiring minds (the listening ears of our students), no time for consulting, and time off task!
3: Google Drive
Google Drive is a teacher’s best friend in the classroom! How great is it to not have to carry piles of paper home to correct?! Teachers can list hundreds of ways that Google Drive has added a benefit to their instruction and student learning! So why are we not using it for other roles in the classroom?
Re-read tip #2 and apply it to Google Drive! :)
And lastly, some words of wisdom…
Have an open mind, be willing to compromise, and be a team! And remember, above all - we are here for the students!
~By Miss Rae
Murawski, W. (2006). Student outcomes in co-taught secondary English classes: How can we improve? Reading & Writing Quarterly, 22, 227–247.
Zigmond, N. (2003). Where should students with disabilities receive special education services? Is one place better than another? The Journal of Special Education, 37(3), 193- 1999.
Hi! I'm Miss Rae! I'm a Special Education Coordinator with a passion for creating research-based resources for DiVeRSe learners and helping teachers make their lives easier! #teacherrealtalk #missraesroom