Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Aha! Quick literacy assessment to improve practice

When I attend conferences I notice that many of us as educators are eager to share what we are proud of. "I teach this..." or "I always have my students learn...." Seldom do we shoot our hand into the air and draw attention to the lessons that were failures or the methods we have used for years that do not reach all students.  I have been in my new position as a volunteer in the reading room at a public school in New Mexico one day and I am already inspired by this program for emerging readers to think of improvements in my own high school courses.

In preparation for my position as a  testing coordinator I reviewed Jerry Johns' guided Basic Reading Inventory, assessing student levels of literacy pre-primer through grade twelve.  Jerry Johns research into responsive instruction is presented as a means for literacy specialists and classroom teachers to utilize consistent routines that identify where a student is in their knowledge and to help them progress incrementally. Students are evaluated for placement at three reading levels- independent, instructional and frustration. This is determined by assessment of individuals orally reading from word lists and expository passages.

 For the literacy specialist, there are many incremental pieces to put into place to help an individual student. A classroom teacher paying attention to the cues for reading levels will increases the chances of preventing frustration and can intentionally help most students progress with instruction, towards independent reading. I believe this is necessary for students in advanced classes.  I know that I tend to expect advanced students to already be at a level of independence, developing their own strategies for learning. Jerry Johns points to  research of Johnston & Allington (1991) "students are often placed in classrooms with instructional materials too difficult" and that of  Johns (1997) "a serious problem in many classrooms is that a large number of students are asked to read books at frustration levels".  This happens at my school and I am not certain that we intentionally do enough to help all students make that progression.

A simple start for classroom teachers in understanding the levels of reading within the classroom is to begin with the provision of the set word lists present with each lesson or unit.  A simple term list would help identify what knowledge a class has maintained from a previous course and to what adjustments could be made to their learning. The current research of Marzano and Wiggins do not emphasize term lists as a final assessment of student learning.  Lists are indicators and guides towards in depth questions and inquiry. (Go to this page for explanation of the flexibility and strategies for teaching with independent, instructional and frustration levels).

Every time people confront new material or studies they become emergent learners. Students who enjoy their learning and make progress are aware of their own development.  Here are simple steps I would like to intentionally implement in all of the courses I teach.
1. use word lists to identify student familiarity with context and eliminate frustration levels.
2. Build and rebuild rapport. Tell students why they are reviewing lists.  Show them the titles of upcoming readings to allow students to predict or share what the readings might be about. Ask meaningful questions about what strategies they will use to engage in this assignment.
3. Provide warm up reading passages that include terms from the word list for setting context.
4. Offer classroom silent reading time and reflective discussion. No one should ever have to prove they are experts with a first time reading nor should we encourage single reading of any given text.

Jerry Johns Reading Award
ALER awards in literacy
Kendal Hunt publishing- includes Lenski's studies on middle and high school literacy
Parents & community members can promote independent literacy 

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