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Do you recall how you learned to read? Were you an early reader, someone who learned to read before starting school? I was an early reader and so were my brother and sister. Yet, we didn’t learn to read in the way that most early readers learn.
According to Dolores Durkin’s landmark study of early readers, most children who start school knowing how to read were read to on a regular basis by their parents. My family was lower middle-class and I cannot recall my parents reading to or with me in the traditional sense—sitting next to me with a children’s storybook. Indeed, after reading Durkin’s study, I had to ask my mother how I learned to read.
When I chatted with my mother about this, she reminded me that my father was a musician who played in his band on weekends at local clubs. Although his day job was as a factory worker, he would regularly come home from work, take his shower, and come into the living room with his saxophone or clarinet in hand. For a half hour to an hour several days a week he would rehearse for his upcoming gig (big band songs popular from the 1940s and 50s) while my mother, brother, sister, and I would often sit with him and sing along with the songs that we had heard him play and heard on the radio throughout our childhoods. We also had songbooks in front of us so we could follow along with the words after my mother’s lead. The rhythmic and melodic nature of these old songs made them easy to learn and remember. As we sang them week after week, we apparently began to match the words that we were singing with the printed words in the songbooks. I never thought of this as reading, but in retrospect it clearly was one of my initiations into reading the printed word.
I also remember my mother regularly reading poetry to me after I had said my nighttime prayers and before I went to sleep. Mom often had a favorite child’s poem or prayer that she would read once or twice while I would listen. After a minute or two to chat about the poem I was off to sleep. Over the course of the next several days she would bring in the same poem and invite me to join in the recitation, eventually reaching the point where I could often recite the entire text on my own. Later, she would show me the poem in the printed form and I found I could read it to her. Although my “reading” was mostly a matter of memorization of the poem, the fact that I was matching the words I recited to the words on the page was an early form of reading. Interestingly, when my mom took me in for first grade screening (we didn’t have kindergarten in my school), I read for the teacher and found myself spending time in the second grade classroom for reading instruction.
Now years later as I reflect on how I learned to read, I realize that many of the things my parents had done to introduce me into reading were much the same methods that have been advocated for building phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency—the Common Core foundations for reading. My parents exposed me to short, highly rhythmic and melodic texts that were enjoyable, easy to learn, and played with the sounds of language. Before I recited the songs and poems on my own, my parents modeled the texts by reading or singing them to me. Later we engaged in a form of assisted reading by reading them together as a family or with one of my parents. And then, once I had learned the songs and poems, I found myself reciting them over and over again—I had a hard time getting them out of my head. Although my parents may not have known the term “repeated reading,” that was exactly what they were providing for my siblings and me.
Sometimes the best models for good reading instruction can be found in our own personal histories. I think I found my models and inspiration for my work in reading fluency from my own parents. Thanks Mom and Dad!
Reutzel, D.R. & Cooter, R.B. (2004). The Essentials of Teaching Children to Read. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
1Durkin, D. (1978 - 1979). What classroom observations reveal about reading comprehension instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 14, pp. 481-533.
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Reading fluency has been at the apex of my own reading instructional agenda for quite a long time, and today I’d like to share the story with you of how it got top billing. I have found that reading fluency is a necessary competency for reading comprehension and that many students who struggle in reading comprehension are also very likely to manifest difficulties in reading fluency.
I like to say that fluency is the gateway or bridge to comprehension and that teaching fluency can lead to improvements in reading comprehension for many students. Research has shown that students who struggle in fluency are more likely to struggle in comprehending what they read; and students who are more fluent in their reading are more likely to have better comprehension.
My journey into fluency began as an intervention teacher in Nebraska. I was working with students who should not have been struggling readers. They were quite bright, did well in other subject areas, but seemed unresponsive to the instruction I was providing in what, at the time, were the big areas of reading—word recognition and reading fluency.
Fortunately for me, I was working on my master’s degree at the time and the professors at the University of Nebraska at Omaha had us reading some of the early articles that were beginning to come out on reading. One article was “After decoding, then what?” by Carol Chomsky. Dr. Chomsky worked as a reading specialist and had been instructing students in word recognition to the point where they were quite proficient in word decoding. Still, despite this accomplishment her students made little progress in overall reading proficiency, including reading comprehension. Willing to try just about anything, she came upon the idea of having students read a passage while simultaneously listening to a recorded version of the same text by a fluent reader. Students would practice with this aid until they could read on their own. Not only did the students make remarkable improvements in their reading, Chomsky reported that their confidence in themselves as readers and their motivation to read increased as well.
Another article I read in my master’s program was Jay Samuels’ “The method of repeated reading.” In this paper, Dr. Samuels had low achieving readers (those who had been making slow progress) read one text several times through until they achieved a level of fluency in the text. Then they moved on to another passage and did the same thing. Samuels found that every time the students read a passage they improved in all aspects of their reading. That is to be expected. The unexpected finding, especially since these were students who previously were making minimal progress in reading, was that when the students moved on to a new passage they had not previously seen there were vestiges of improvement on the new passage as well. Students had transferred something of what they had learned through the practice of one passage to a new never-before-read passage. That was real progress for these students.
I decided to try these fluency methods with my own students who had been making hardly any progress despite my best efforts. Lo and behold, by having students practice texts while listening to a recorded version of the reading or while listening to me read with them, my students who had previously been making minimal progress began to take off; and in some cases their progress was breathtaking. I have been using fluency methods and studying fluency ever since. When the National Reading Panel decided to explore a scientific foundation for the teaching of reading, they cited some of my own research and writing to support the importance of reading fluency.
Fluency instruction can include a variety of components. It is important to model fluent reading for students so that they know what reading fluency actually is. In many classrooms around the country, students have developed the idea that fluency is reading fast without regard to comprehension. What better way to show them what true fluency is than by reading to your students and talking with them about how you improved their appreciation of the text by reading with fluency.
Fluency is also developed by having students read a passage while listening to a fluent reading of the same passage. This can be done by providing students with recorded versions of the passage or by having students read with you or together with other members of the class. Practice is another way to build fluency. Reading practice should consist of deep as well as wide reading. Deep reading means reading a text several times until it can be read with appropriate fluency that reflects and enhances the meaning of the passage. Wide reading means reading independently from a variety of texts to increase vocabulary, word recognition and knowledge.
I hope I have enticed you to think more about fluency in your own instruction. Please join me on September 11th when I will be initiating a series of webinars on effective teaching and reading fluency (and comprehension).
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Have you wondered what the effect of the Fast ForWord program is on older students, or how it develops other skills besides reading? Many studies conducted on Fast ForWord primarily concentrate on reading results among K-12 students, but the program helps with other skills and with other students as well.
In a peer-reviewed study entitled, “Neuroplasticity-Based Cognitive and Linguistic Skills Training Improves Reading and Writing Skills in College Students,” published in Frontiers in Psychology, Beth Rogowsky, et al, documented the effects that the use of Fast ForWord had on college students’ reading and writing skills.
Results from this study showed that the training group made a statistically greater improvement in both their reading and writing skills than the comparison group. In addition, the group who received training began with statistically lower writing skills before training but ended up exceeding the writing skills of the comparison group after training.
To give you an idea of the type of change that took place in students’ writing, here’s an example of a piece of writing by one student before and after Fast ForWord training. The student was asked to examine a table that listed the percentages of books read by 5th and 9th grade male and female students and write a paragraph that described the information.
Before: “As children advance in grades we see a clear increase in the number of books they have to study or carry. We also can notice that more boys in both 5th and 9th grades tend to carry more books.”
After: “The table shows that in the 5th and 9th grades, girls are more likely to read 2 or more books than boys are. In the 5th grade; 70% of boys read 1 book or less and only 30% of boys read 2 or more books. In the 9th grade more boys, 50%, start to read 2 or more books. Overall in both 5th and 9th grades girls beat boys when it comes to reading books.”
Meeting the Need for Writing Proficiency
Writing is both what you write and how you write it. Besides getting the facts correct in the post-Fast ForWord example, the student writes with more “texture,” adding much more detail and using more variety in sentence constructions and grammatical conventions, and even adding a nice colloquial touch at the end that adds a bit of spice to the paragraph.
With only 27% of 12th grade students achieving a writing score of “Proficient” in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2011), and only 45% of students meeting SAT writing benchmark proficiency, American students show a clear need for something that will help them improve their writing skills.
Most writing programs train or concentrate specifically on writing skills; the proposition borne out by Rogowsky’s study is that writing can be improved by training the complexities of the language and cognitive skills upon which writing depends. One could say that high school and college students not only need to “read to learn” but also “read to write.” When they read and process information accurately, they get the facts right, which is always a boon in conducting research. And reading increasingly complex materials – such as students encounter as they move through the higher levels of Fast ForWord – models correct and highly textured writing for students.
As brain plasticity research has taught us, people are never too old to learn. This study shows how strengthening foundational cognitive skills in the context of listening and higher level reading tasks can help older students who are in college and how this kind of training can significantly improve not just students’ reading but also their writing skills.
Reference: Rogowsky BA, Papamichalis P, Villa L, Heim S and Tallal P (2013) Neuroplasticity-based cognitive and linguistic skills training improves reading and writing skills in college students. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(137)1 – 11.
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Dr. Chris Weber is a former teacher and school administrator distinguished by his track record of helping at-risk students achieve. He’s an expert on Response to Intervention (RtI) and has authored several bestselling books on the subject. In his recent webinar for Scientific Learning, he gives a progress report on RtI, including trends in special education statistics to date.
Dr. Weber begins by returning to the question of why we have Response to Intervention at all. In answer, he explains that special ed hasn’t been all that successful in keeping students on track to graduate ready for college or a skilled career. Students with disabilities drop out at twice the rate of their peers, and 80% never learn to read. CLD students (learners who are culturally and linguistically diverse) are over-represented in special ed, for no supportable reason. And, most significant, perhaps, is the fact that very few learners who enter special ed ever exit—only about 3%.
Weber’s criticism is not about how well special ed has performed for students who have profound disabilities, but instead for the very high percentage of students who have a mild to moderate specific learning disability, defined as a disorder in one of the basic processes (reasoning, memory, processing, attention, etc.) underlying a student’s ability to use language, spoken or written, to read, spell, write, or to do mathematical calculations. Often, schools still offer separate courses for special ed learners, an approach that sends a clear message of lower expectations, intentionally or not. He also cites students who are “curriculum casualties”—learners who have not responded to intervention and who are prematurely or wrongly given a disability diagnosis despite the fact that the intervention, or instruction, provided was actually ineffective.
It’s a moral imperative, says Weber, that we correct this state of affairs. Socioeconomic status and home language should not make a difference, nor should ethnicity or gender. The decisions we make for all students, he says, should be made with the same care and commitment as those we make for our own sons and daughters.
Another, sometimes unacknowledged driver of RtI, says Weber, is the urgency of helping all students develop 21st century skills. RtI is not just for students who we’ve traditionally thought of as underperforming. In some districts, students who are currently meeting state proficiency standards—which in many states, he says, have been set too low—are still not making the year-to-year growth they need in order to graduate ready for college or a skilled career. RtI can be the framework that accelerates learners to competency on the path that follows graduation.
Weber goes on to discuss several additional points:
He also discusses the tradeoffs that must be made in prioritizing both academic and behavioral skills, as both are essential for success in school and career. Watch the full webinar to get all the details, including special ed stats and data that you may not see elsewhere.
This May 17th, we will be hosting our annual Visionary Conference for Fast ForWord Providers entirely online for the very first time.
Save on travel expenses, spend less time away, and learn just as much as in years past—maybe even more.
This year’s theme is Growing Together, and we’re thrilled to announce that our esteemed Visionary Conference presenters Dr. Paula Tallal and Dr. Martha Burns will be sharing exciting new research on the brain and learning.
Dr. Tallal will be reporting on the latest research with college students who used the Fast ForWord program and saw improvements in a number of skill areas.
Dr. Burns will present research from the Human Connectome Project (a project studying the connectivity of the human brain) and research on memory and attention disorders and interventions.
Additional sessions will review the latest Fast ForWord product updates, best practices for getting the most from the products, marketing resources, and professional development opportunities to help you thrive as a Fast ForWord Provider and help more children succeed.
Because this year’s conference is online, we’re welcoming any and all attendees, whether you’re a provider or not! There is no charge for any of the sessions, so you can attend one or attend them all. If you’ve been to past conferences then you already know…It’s the highlight of the year!
I remember the early years with my children and the dreams I had for their success. Of course, my dreams and theirs didn’t exactly end up being the same. But what happens when a mother realizes that her dreams for her child may be shattered because that child struggles with auditory processing issues, dyslexia, or other challenges never imagined? That’s exactly what Irene experienced with her daughter, Maria.
Attending school proved difficult for Maria. As she advanced from grade to grade and the work became progressively more difficult, anything presented in auditory form was especially challenging. By sixth grade, Maria had been diagnosed with dyslexia and Auditory Processing Disorder and was labeled with a language impairment.
For obvious reasons, Maria struggled in school. Because of this, she was shy around other students, avoided reading, and required extensive help at home. Her family considered sending her to a private school, but Maria was unable to pass the entrance exams.
By the middle of sixth grade, Maria had attended several different schools and the last was a disaster. It was then that one of her mother’s friends suggested Bridges Academy, a private school that specializes in serving students with learning challenges. Upon enrollment, Maria’s life began to turn in a new direction. When she got into her mother’s car after school she often said, “Mom, they understand me here!”
At Bridges Academy, Maria’s dyslexia and auditory processing issues were analyzed further and the Fast ForWord program was recommended in addition to Maria’s coursework and intervention regimen. Jacky Egli, the Director at Bridges Academy, explained to Maria’s mother that she personally researched every program thoroughly and only used programs that were scientifically based. Irene trusted Jacky and felt it was important to follow her recommendation, so Maria gave Fast ForWord a try.
Maria’s reading level was at least three to four years below grade level when she entered Bridges. She also had struggled in other subjects, because every subject—even math—requires reading. But that soon began to change and, in time, Maria made significant improvements. Maria’s comprehension level increased more than two full grade levels last year. This improvement aligned with her participation in the Fast ForWord Reading and Reading Assistant programs. Over the last 6 years, despite the odds, Maria improved on the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test 7.3 grade levels. Because of this significant improvement, she no longer receives remedial instruction.
Irene sought the best for her daughter and found it in the caring attitude of the staff at Bridges Academy and the innovative programs they use to make a difference for struggling students. “Jacky walks the walk and talks the talk of the school’s mission,” says Irene.
Maria has transformed from a shy, struggling child to a vibrant, engaged student who participates in class, reads aloud to her peers and conducts presentations for content area classes in front of her classmates. She is an ambassador for the school who greets and escorts new students and parents through the campus as she participates in open house and school events.
And, most exciting of all, Maria has been accepted into a local college and is thrilled about rising to meet a challenge and a future that once seemed entirely out of reach.
Many students enter our classrooms with limited vocabulary and loads of catching up to do. I’ve seen teachers discouraged by the challenge they are faced with, and yet doing valuable things in their classrooms everyday to not only meet challenges but to exceed expectations. The good news is that the little things we do everyday can have a great impact.
Why Modeled Reading Matters
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” - Emilie Buchwald
Our students have a wide range of lap hours logged. For some, the idea of climbing up to listen as someone reads to them is more natural than putting on a pair of socks, while for others it’s a rare event. In classrooms, all children benefit from listening as we read.
Modeling fluent reading in our classrooms and displaying our love for the written word benefits every student, but it is essential for those students who do not get this benefit at home.
Older students can benefit as well. On this topic, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says, “Every read-aloud is an advertisement for pleasure, every worksheet is an ad for pain. If the pain outweighs the pleasure, the customers go elsewhere.” When we read and showcase our love of reading we are advertising the very thing we want our students to buy.
Get Students Reading More, More, More (and More)
“There is ample evidence that one of the major differences between poor and good readers is the difference in the quantity of total time they spend reading.” - National Reading Panel, 2000
The best way to improve reading skill is through reading practice. If we’ve modeled fluent reading for students and chosen material that is a great fit for their ability and their interest, then we have set the stage for practice.
It’s no wonder that good readers read a lot and poor readers read little. If an activity is not pleasurable, devoting time to it is not desirable. However, as good readers read and poor readers do not, the gap in their ability grows. We must encourage all of our students to read. We must find ways to make reading pleasurable for all students.
*Note that I’ve indicated Children A, B & C are all reading at the same rate (100WPM). Though this scenario may be unlikely, it highlights the gains that are possible for all students. As their reading improves, their rate will increase along with more words devoured.
For those with poor skills, the need to practice is critical—not only to improve their reading ability, but also to open their world. These “words” represent new vocabulary, new ideas, new topics, and new learning. By getting students to read more we are expanding their imaginations and building their background. When students read little they miss out on so much more than slow-growing reading skills.
A Deep and Continuing Need
One final note on quality. To incent students to read and to help them read well, we must also focus on motivation and help students choose reading material that will be inspiring and well suited to them.
“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. ” - Maya Angelou
I’ve always been struck by some of the reading material we put in front of our struggling readers. As I’ve worked with students on their assigned texts, I can’t help but find myself bored and listless. How can we expect students to develop a fondness for reading if what we’re asking them to read is not particularly good? Think about why you read and what you like to read. I’ve yet to find the well-read adult who chooses reading material based on their ability level alone. Instead, they read to gather information, to soak up a genre they are especially fond of, to escape and to dream. To foster this ‘deep and continuing need’, we need to provide our students with delicious, fantastic literature. They need rich vocabulary, exotic stories and variety. At times this beautiful content is beyond the reach of our students’ ability, but we are wise to help them reach, to scaffold, to encourage and to make every attempt to give them the good stuff.
“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” - Katherine Patterson
It’s exciting when a child learns to read—combining letters and sounds to form words for the first time until they’re stringing those words together to create sentences. But what happens when a child goes from “getting by” in the early grades to struggling in adolescence when cognitive demand increases along with the difficulty of required texts?
How Adolescent Learning is Different
There are important differences between childhood and adolescent brain function, and developmentally appropriate regression in abilities such as impulse control can affect adolescent learning.
Dr. Martha Burns’ webinar “Reading and the Adolescent Brain: What Works?” provides research-based insights for busy educators interested in the science of adolescent learning. Tune in and discover…
Understanding what’s happening in the adolescent brain can give you the tools to educate your students, support them in their struggles, and provide the help they need to get back on track academically.
Why Reading Interventions Fail
One reason that many reading interventions may not work for the adolescent learner is that they fail to provide the cognitive skills and oral reading practice required for reading fluency. Research shows that using the Fast ForWord program has been correlated with positive neurological changes in the brain corresponding to the cognitive skills that underlie reading.
By incorporating the use of the Fast ForWord program to build cognitive skills and the Reading Assistant program to ensure sufficient reading practice, you can help your adolescent students jumpstart their reading progress instead of remaining stagnant. Dr. Burns takes you on a detailed tour of how these programs strengthen cognitive skills, fluency and comprehension; reinforce learning; and shorten the time it takes to achieve significant milestones in achievement.
Changing the Future
Advanced literacy skills are needed not only in order to succeed in college but also to obtain and hold future jobs. When a teen is struggling in the present, it becomes more difficult for them to see a bright future, often causing them to erect a protective wall against learning and life. Informed educators can help transform these struggles into victory.
For many educators, summer school planning is in full gear! Districts are determining the who, the what and the how, and all with limited resources.
When I was working in the school system, summer school left something to be desired. The students were doing the same activities from the school year (and were still bored by them), and the teachers were working with students they didn’t know, struggling to individualize instruction. Making an effective summer learning program isn't easy; I appreciate the work that goes into making any instructional plan effective. Educating our students, during the year or summer, is not for the faint of heart. It takes an enormous amount of collaboration, planning, expertise, creativity and energy (lots of energy!) to be done well.
The Rand Corporation’s 2011 report on summer school effectiveness makes many recommendations; here are just a few:
After all is said and done, it’s important to know whether your summer school program was effective. Did all the work you put in lead to improved reading scores, for example? For schools that used Reading Assistant in their summer school programs, the answer was a resounding yes:
Is your district on track to make this the best summer school yet? If there were two recommendations I’d make, I’d say:
For further reading:
Results on Reading Assistant:
Earlier this month, Dr. Martha Burns presented a webinar titled “What’s in the Common Core, but Missing in Your Curriculum.” One of the exciting new changes that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) bring is a great deal more emphasis on how students learn rather than focusing solely on what they learn. The emphasis of previous standards have focused more on memorization of facts rather than on higher order thinking skills. In this webinar, Dr. Burns reviews the learning capacities spelled out in the CCSS and describes the skills that students need to be successful as lifelong learners, e.g., the ability to evaluate, to adapt, adjust and critique, etc. At the foundation of these higher order abilities lie the foundational skills below. Together, these skills can be termed the “process of learning.”
· Executive control or self-control
Students with deficiencies in these foundational skills may be labeled as “trouble makers” or “at risk” and have difficulty keeping up in today’s growing classroom. Experienced educators have always recognized the importance of these skills, but the idea that they can be specifically addressed and improved is relatively new. Without the ability to remember the details of a non-fiction text, how would a student be able to evaluate and critique it?
Dr. Burns describes new insights in neuroscience that are contributing to our understanding of the process of learning and what can be done to strengthen these skills in all learners, even those with learning disabilities and other challenges. The idea that these skills are inherent in students and cannot be changed is simply untrue. With the right training, all students can become stronger, more capable learners.
One efficient way for students to practice the skills needed to meet the rigor of the Common Core Standards is through the research-based learning tools employed by Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs. Dr. Burns concluded her presentation with a walkthrough of the programs, highlighting the aspects of the programs that speak directly to the foundational skills needed to create college and career ready students. She also describes what happens in the student’s brain when they are engaged with the software and the results that can be expected.
This new approach by the Common Core State Standards to draw attention to the “process” of learning, rather than just content, is important for all stakeholders to understand. With this new understanding comes a greater importance to use all of the tools at our disposal to help all learners succeed.