Showing posts with tag elementary learning Show all posts >
Reading aloud with expression is a foundational reading skill students should be developing between grades 1 - 5, according to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (2012). It is pretty easy to recognize when someone skillfully reads aloud in an expressive manner. However, to effectively teach or assess this skill, a closer examination of its features, development, and relationship to other reading skills is needed.
Prosody, the defining feature of expressive reading, comprises all of the variables of timing, phrasing, emphasis, and intonation that speakers use to help convey aspects of meaning and to make their speech lively. One of the challenges of oral reading is adding back the prosodic cues that are largely absent from written language.
Researchers have found strong links between oral reading prosody and general reading achievement. For example, after comparing students’ reading prosody in first and second grades with their reading comprehension at the end of third grade, Miller and Schwanenflugel (2008) concluded that, “early acquisition of an adult-like intonation contour predicted better comprehension.” Another study, which included more than 1,750 fourth graders participating in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), found a strong correlation between prosody and overall reading achievement (Daane, Campbell, Grigg, Goodman, & Oranje, 2005).
In the context of oral reading, prosody can reflect linguistic features, such as sentence structure, as well as text features, such as punctuation. Skilled readers pick up on these features, and respond to them when reading aloud, as when they pause briefly at relevant commas, pause slightly longer at sentence boundaries, raise their pitch at the end of yes-no questions, and lower their pitch at the end of declarative sentences.
While punctuation provides some cues to prosody, young readers can be misled by it. For instance, they may pause at every comma, even when the grammar of the sentence does not call for pausing (e.g., “He made his usual egg, cheese, and tomato sandwich.”). As young readers move toward adult proficiency, their pauses increasingly respect the grammar of the text rather than doggedly following the punctuation (Miller & Schwanenflugel, 2006).
Prosody can also reflect aspects of meaning. For instance, slight fluctuations in pitch, timing, and emphasis can change a simple question (e.g., “What did you do?”) into an expression of censure. Learning to read dialog in a manner that reflects the intentions and emotional states of the characters is a great way for adolescent readers to delve deeply into literature. However, younger students may not understand this use of prosody well enough to apply it to oral reading (Cutler & Swinney, 1987). Notably, in the NAEP study, only 10% of fourth graders were judged as reading aloud with this level of expressiveness.
Finally, when thinking about prosody, it is critical to remember the other aspects of reading fluency: word reading accuracy and reading rate. Inefficient word reading is the primary barrier to good prosody for most young readers (Schwanenflugel, Hamilton, Wisenbaker, Kuhn, & Stahl, 2004). Children who are struggling to decode individual words tend to pause too frequently and for too long, so that their timing and phrasing are seriously disrupted. Furthermore, they must put so much effort into decoding that they do not have the mental resources left for constructing meaning and conveying it expressively.
Listening to the prosody of a child reading aloud provides parents and educators with a window into many aspects of reading skill. By reading aloud with appropriate timing, phrasing, and end of sentence intonation, younger readers can demonstrate their ability to:
read words accurately;
read at a reasonable rate;
read most words automatically, so that mental resources are available for comprehension;
use grammar and punctuation to help construct meaning;
By reading aloud with increasingly adult-like intonation and expressiveness, adolescent readers can demonstrate their ability to:
use discourse-level features, such as pronouns and signal words, to recognize relationships across and among the sentences in a text;
understand characters and their intentions when reading fiction
understand an author’s purpose or attitude.
Ultimately, all of these abilities must be brought to bear to achieve the ultimate goal of reading with comprehension.
Common Core State Standards Initiative (2012). English Language Arts Standards – Reading: Foundational Skills (Grade 1 – Grade 5). National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO): Washington, DC.
Cutler, A. & Swinney, D. A. (1987). Prosody and the development of comprehension. Journal of Child Language, 14, 145-167.
Daane, M.C., Campbell, J.R., Grigg, W.S., Goodman, M.J., and Oranje, A. (2005). Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading(NCES 2006-469). U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Miller, J. & Schwanenflugel, P. J. (2008). A Longitudinal Study of the Development of Reading Prosody as a Dimension of Oral Reading Fluency in Early Elementary School Children. Reading Research Quarterly, 43, 336-354.
Miller, J. & Schwanenflugel, P. J. (2006). Prosody of Syntactically Complex Sentences in the Oral Reading of Young Children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 839-843.
Schwanenflugel, P. J., Hamilton, A. M., Kuhn, M. R., Wisenbaker, J. M., & Stahl, S. A. (2004). Becoming a fluent reader: Reading skill and prosodic features in the oral reading of young readers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 119–129.
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Have you ever wondered why some children seem to learn to read so effortlessly and others struggle? Have you ever seen a child who memorizes poems, math facts, and the alphabet without even trying? Yet at the same time you might have also known another child who had trouble just remembering their own phone number or address. There are all sorts of reasons that learning—and reading—is easy for some children and hard for others, and believe it or not, it rarely has anything to do with intelligence.
Just as some children are good athletes from the time they are very young, others are great at music or art. We tend to think of art, music and athletics as skills or talents. But actually there are underlying cognitive abilities that enable those talents. For athletics, good hand-eye coordination and quickness can be keys to success. For music, certainly the ability to perceive tones is essential. For art, excellent visual memory is helpful.
It turns out that learning to read also requires some underlying cognitive skills. Children are not born good readers, of course; reading has to be taught. And for a child to be able to learn to read, four core cognitive capacities are needed: memory, attention, sequencing, and processing efficiency (speed and accuracy). It is helpful to tease out each one of these and explain the importance in learning to read.
Memory – Scientists refer to the kind of memory that is important for learning to read as “working memory.” It is the kind of short term memory that enables you to read this blog and remember what was written a few paragraphs earlier. When children have problems with working memory, reading can be very difficult. A child might have trouble remembering what sounds the letters of the alphabet stand for when they are first starting to read and so have a devil of a time learning to decode. Later in school the child with working memory problems might have trouble remembering what they read just a few sentences earlier and so re-read the same passages over and over again. How do you know if a child has working memory problems? Look for trouble following commands or remembering details of instructions or stories.
Attention – Learning of any kind requires good attentional skills. A student needs to be able to pay attention when the teacher is talking and ignore random noises in the room. A student also needs to learn to pay attention during reading. In learning to read, students need to pay attention to the letters and attend carefully to the sounds they represent. Later in school, students who have trouble attending are often those who can’t stick with a reading assignment. What to look for: the child reads a few sentences or paragraphs and then looks around the room, drops a pencil, or gets up out of a chair. It can take a child who has problems sustaining his attention a very long time to finish reading assignments.
Sequencing – Reading requires the ability to sequence letters into words (“saw” versus “was”) and grammatical endings (“the boy runs” versus “the boys run”), and words into sentences (“the dog chased the boy” versus “the boy chased the dog”). It is easy to see that when children have trouble sequencing, they will misunderstand what they read. Some children find sequencing things they hear very hard because the information is so fleeting.
Processing speed and accuracy – Scientists refer to the way the brain handles information as “processing.” Parents may have heard the terms “auditory processing” or “visual processing”. Those terms refer to the way the brain perceives and attaches meaning to information coming in from hearing or vision. Some students are inherently good at processing visual information. Those students seem to learn well visually and are very good at perceiving visual cues, like picking up on facial expressions or remembering how words look when they are spelled. However, some of those students may not process auditory information as well. They might frequently misunderstand words spoken to them or “tune out” when people talk to them. Students with auditory processing inefficiencies might also seem “slow” to respond when others are talking to them. Certainly, if a child has trouble hearing the difference between the vowels in “bit” and “bet,” it makes sense that learning the correspondence between letter and sound will be difficult. In fact, there is a great deal of research indicating that children with auditory processing inefficiencies find learning to read very difficult.
We tend to think that reading is a visual skill that depends primarily on linking letters to sounds. That has led us to expect that reading problems must be due to either difficulties with recognizing the letters or matching those letters to their appropriate sounds. However, we now know that a core set of underlying cognitive skills: memory, attention, processing speed or accuracy, and sequencing underlie the ability to learn to read and later to read to learn.
Berninger, Virginia. et al. Relationship of Word- and Sentence-Level Working Memory to Reading and Writing in Second, Fourth, and Sixth Grade. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, vol. 41, 179–193. 2010.
Bishop, Dorothy and Snowling, Margaret. Developmental dyslexia and specific language impairment: same or different? Psychological Bulletin, vol. 130, 858-886. 2004.
Burns, Martha. Auditory Processing Disorders and Literacy. In Geffner, D and Swain, D. Auditory Processing Disorders. Plural Publications.
Caretti, Barbara. et al. Role of working memory in explaining the performance of individuals with specific reading comprehension difficulties: A meta-analysis. Learning and Individual Differences, vol. 19, 246–251. 2009.
Gaab, Nadine. Neural correlates of rapid auditory processing are disrupted in children with developmental dyslexia and ameliorated with training: An fMRI study. Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, vol. 25, 295–310. 2007.
Stevens, Courtney et al. Neural mechanisms of selective auditory attention are enhanced by computerized training: Electrophysiological evidence from language-impaired and typically developing children. Brain Research, vol. 1205, 55-69. 2008.
Stevens, Courtney et. al. Neurophysiological evidence for selective auditory attention deficits in children with specific language impairment. Brain Research, vol. 1111-1. 2006.
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In my former work as a teacher, one of the best moments of the day in my classroom took place when I read aloud to my students. It was a magical time for all of us as the words on the page and the characters in the story seemed to come alive right before us as I used different voices and accents. Sometimes I read very fast and other times I created long pauses that kept my students hanging, wondering what would happen next. I wanted them to love reading as much as I did – to enjoy that excitement you feel when you solve a mystery, are saved from catastrophe, or discover a wild and wonderful new world. Sharing this gift with my students was possible only because I am a fluent reader.
In his book The Fluent Reader, Dr. Timothy Rasinski says that fluency is a critical but sometimes ignored link between the basic reading of words and achieving comprehension. With fluency, the foundational skills of phonics and word recognition have progressed to the point that only a minimal amount of cognitive energy is needed for decoding so that the reader can focus on understanding what is being read. When you are a fluent reader, you are able to read easily and efficiently with prosody, or meaningful expression, and that enhances your comprehension.
Students must have some degree of fluency in order to comprehend text, so if you have students who easily understand what is read to them but have difficulty when reading independently, fluency may be the source of that problem. A study of fourth graders sponsored by the US Department of Education demonstrated that the most fluent readers had the strongest comprehension scores. In addition, every decline in oral reading fluency in the study had a corresponding decline in reading comprehension.[i] The study was replicated ten years later with about 1,500 students and had similar results.[ii] In both studies, close to half of the students who were not adequately fluent in reading also demonstrated significant problems with comprehension.
Practice is essential to learning and mastering any skill – sports, music, cooking, etc. - so it makes sense that this also would apply to the skill of reading. By including consistent oral reading practice during the school day, the reading process becomes transparent so it can be observed, examined and supported until students become independent readers. Readers must transition from being tied to the individual words so they can achieve higher levels of comprehension as they read. A great way to encourage this is through repeated oral practice of the same reading selection, which helps students with word recognition, fluency and prosody as well as general reading and comprehension.
There is something special about reading aloud regardless of who does the reading. Oral reading is a powerful tool that can help students not only learn to read fluently but also to experience the joy of reading.
The transition from rote to rapture - that’s what fluency can do for you.
Want to learn more? Check out Dr. Rasinski’s free on-demand webinar on scilearn.com, Teaching Fluency: The Neglected Goal of the Reading Program.
[i] Gay S. Pinnell et al. Listening to Children Read Aloud: Data From NAEP’s Integrated Reading Performance Record (IRPR) at Grade 4, 1995. http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/permalinkPopup.jsp?accno=ED378550
[ii]Mary C. Daane, Jay R. Campbell, Wendy S. Grigg, Madeline J. Goodman, and Andreas Oranje. Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading, October 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2006469.asp
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We are always on the lookout for more effective ways of teaching creativity in the classroom. With much attention on the decreasing status of the United States in the world economy, the need for a stronger creative class, and the realization that the next generation of professionals and leaders will have to be more innovative than ever to solve the world’s problems, educators need more ways to teach children the ability to engage in creative thinking.
In the classroom, so much of what we do focuses on teaching our students to recognize and repeat patterns. Mathematical functions follow patterns. Letters and languages represent graphical and sound patterns that have meaning because of their repetition.
Creativity, on the other hand, is the breaking of patterns. In the creative act, the mind proceeds to a place where there is no existing path to follow, building something new where there was nothing before.
So therein lies our problem: if teaching strengthens the mind’s ability to recognize patterns of meaning, how do we teach creativity – an act that by its very nature breaks with patterns?
The neuroscience research behind brain plasticity has shown us how the brain responds to stimuli by forming neural pathways, and that the brain constantly changes, much like a landscape changes under the influence of the forces of water and wind. The brain adapts in order to more efficiently recognize and make use of the information and patterns that make up the world in which we live.
The answer: we need to teach the patterns that support creative thinking. Writing fiction and storytelling offer immense power and potential for us to help our students learn to break their patterns of thinking and develop these creative habits of mind.
Creative idea generation is not easy; in fact, it can be quite intimidating for a great many youngsters, not to mention adults. Our goal should be to help our students let go of their inhibitions and become comfortable with – or even better, excited about – undertaking creative challenges.
From a practical standpoint, we have access to endless activities to spur our students on to cultivate their creativity through writing fiction. These are just three of them:
While it offers a higher level of challenge, I’d like to offer one final exercise to consider adapting for your students: the six word short story. Perhaps the most famous example is Ernest Hemingway’s story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This kind of poetic and conceptual challenge forces students to combine creative thinking with a laser-focus on word choice.
For younger students, this can be adapted by asking students to write their own six-word versions of well-known stories and fables. More advanced students can be given the freedom to come up with their own stories.
While these fiction writing activities are primarily for elementary school students, they can all be adapted for adolescents and, especially in the case of the six-word exercise, adult learners.
But notice that each of these examples puts some limits around the creative process. This is the key to fostering creative thinking: through focusing each student’s effort into a tightly formulated creative problem, they are then freed to develop and follow their ideas to conclusion.
In such fictional writing, students learn that they have the power to break patterns of thinking and develop their own creative ways to think through problems, skills that will serve them well as they grow and mature into tomorrow’s creative thinkers and leaders.
In my own six words? Your instruction focused, their creativity unleashed.
For resources on teaching fiction writing, visit the National Writing Project and their resources for teaching fiction writing and Creative Writing: Teaching Theory and Practice.
When it comes to lost arts, we could argue that none is getting lost faster than handwriting. Since the personal computer and now the telephone have become the primary methods for recording our ideas, we simply do not write – I mean with an actual writing implement like a pen or pencil – as much as we used to.
So, we must ask ourselves, is this really a problem? Sure, one could argue that receiving a handwritten letter is more meaningful than getting one that is typed, but that’s an emotional opinion; it’s not a scientific argument. And aren’t professionals in all fields using more computers, tablets and handhelds to communicate, record and share ideas? So, what is the real value of learning handwriting skills versus being able to type 100 words per minute on a QWERTY keyboard?
At Indiana University, Dr. Karin Harman James, assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences, focuses her research on how motor stimuli can influence our visual recognition, and how the brain changes as we have different experiences. This research provides a basis for a scientific argument for the continued instruction of handwriting.
In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Cognitive Science, adults were shown new characters as well as a mirror image of these characters after reproducing them through writing and keyboarding. When quizzed afterward, subjects were shown to have a “stronger, longer lasting recognition” of the characters’ correct orientation when they had written them by hand versus produced them by matching them to a keyboard button. This suggests that engaging the motor nerves to create the shapes by hand helped solidify the ability to identify such shapes.
In another study, James’ team took this idea to the next level to see what was actually going on inside the brain during these activities. They used a functional MRI to map brain activity in children as they looked at letters before and after letter-learning instruction. Their results showed that those who practiced writing the letters showed more brain activity than those who only looked at the letters. In addition, according to a 2010 report on the research in the Wall Street Journal Online, James said that after four weeks of training, the children who practiced writing skills showed brain activation similar to an adult’s.
Between these two studies, we see excellent examples of brain plasticity at work. James’ work demonstrates a clear connection between how engaging more of the brain in the activity of writing improves how letters are committed to memory. Given that letter recognition is an essential step for early readers, it’s easy to see why practicing writing letters is an essential component of the groundwork for later success.
Certainly, with limited time, schools try to maximize student achievement, and give them a baseline of skills that will allow them to continue to develop to optimize their success throughout life in an increasingly technology-based society. That said, based on James’ research, it’s quite clear that penmanship has an important place in the classroom, and not just as an important traditional skill. In actually applying pen to paper, we allow our students to engage their brains in ways that typing on a keyboard cannot. And whether such an activity is done with pen and paper, a stylus and a tablet PC or chalk on a blackboard, it is in every student’s best interest to practice the “write” stuff.
For further reading:
The many health perks of good handwriting. Deardorff, Julie. Chicago Tribune, June 15, 2011. Referenced on August 14, 2011.
How handwriting trains the brain. Bounds, Gwendolyn. The Wall Street Journal Online, October 5, 2010. Referenced on August 14, 2011.
Writing strengthens orthography and alphabetic-coding strengthens phonology in learning to read Chinese. Guan, Connie Qun; Liu, Ying; Chan, Derek Ho Leung; Ye, Feifei; Perfetti, Charles A. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 103(3), Aug 2011, 509-522.
“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
As a pangram, a sentence that uses every letter in the alphabet, this one is wonderfully concise, quick and easy to process. You probably read it and understood it all in less than a single second. You didn’t have to think about what the individual letters or sound out the syllables. You knew how the ideas fit together because of how well you have internalized the parts of speech. You were able to digest the text with what is known as automaticity.
Automaticity is that ability to do things without having to think about them at a conscious level. When we do something automatically, the mind isn’t occupied with the small details of the task. Imagine some of the common every day activities you do with automaticity: driving a car, adding five plus three, riding a bicycle, catching a ball, dialing a telephone, and, yes, reading and writing. We acquire these skills through simple repetition and practice. Over time, such repetition establishes automatic response patterns that our brains call upon constantly throughout our daily lives. In achieving automaticity, we free our brains – our working memories – from the details of the task, allowing us to use that brain power to do more, building on those sets of automatic skills.
For our students, achieving automaticity in reading is essential not only to their becoming effective readers, but becoming effective all-around learners. The majority of students make the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” around second or third grade. At this stage, their reading skills have developed to a point of automaticity where they no longer need to use their working memory to facilitate the task of reading, and they can use that memory for things like interpretation, comprehension and creative thinking.
On the other hand, imagine what learning becomes for the struggling student who does not develop this automaticity alongside his or her fellow students. As others begin to learn more and more from their reading, the struggling reader must engage their working memory in the challenge of getting through the letters and words of each sentence as opposed to using that valuable memory to glean meanings and assimilate information. As their reading skills lag, their overall ability to learn suffers.
We cannot underestimate the importance of building rock-solid foundations in reading and math for exactly this reason. If we are to successfully teach students, we must help them develop the automaticity in these basic skills that will free their minds to soar and explore all that lies ahead.
For more information and ideas to help students develop reading automaticity, read The Importance of Automaticity and Fluency For Efficient Reading Comprehension by Pamela E. Hook and Sandra D. Jones, from Perspectives, Winter, 2002, vol. 28, no. 1.
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St. Mary Parish began using Fast ForWord products in the 2006-2007 school year with eight elementary schools. Over the next few years they continually expanded until they had a full district implementation by 2009-2010. Overall, Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant products were used by almost 6,000 St. Mary Parish students by 2010.
This study investigates the changes during that time to the district’s performance on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, or LEAP for short. This test is given to 4th and 8th grade students. The following analyses consider four main subtests: English/Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, and Science.
After implementing Fast ForWord products, the St. Mary 4th grade passing rate for ELA converged upon, and then exceeded the state average. After Fast ForWord was introduced, the percentage of the district’s students passing the LEAP Math test increased dramatically. The 4th grade Science test exhibits the same trend as does the 4th grade Social Studies test.
The gap in passing rates between black and white students has also been reduced for both the elementary English and elementary Math LEAP tests. There has also been a longitudinal increase in the percentage of 4th graders meeting the overall promotion standard since Fast ForWord products were introduced - from 65% in 2006 to 85% in 2010.
Following Fast ForWord implementation, district LEAP performance approached and then exceeded the state average in all four subjects. The performance gap between black and white students closed significantly. And finally, the 4th grade promotion rates steadily increased.
For more information, please see the Educator Briefing on this study as well as any of our 200+ additional reports on Fast ForWord software results. If you have questions about any of our research studies, please contact us.
I often hear from customers and other Scientific Learning employees that our company is distinguished by the passion and commitment of those who work here. One reason for that palpable passion is that many have been personally and deeply touched by the life-changing experiences that their own family members, students, or customers have experienced with Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ products. We have seen children’s lives be changed forever by these products. Students who may not have had opportunities in school now can succeed in ways that wouldn’t have been possible even 15 years ago.
I have my own story to tell—about my nephew—and I will tell it here soon, but today I want to share a personal story from Cory Armes, one of our Education Consultants, who was so impacted by her experience with the Fast ForWord products that she left her teaching job to work for Scientific Learning:
“ I began my experience with the Fast ForWord products, or in my case, product, several years ago. On a cloudy afternoon in February 1999, our Special Education Director gathered the diagnosticians (of which I was one) and speech pathologists to hear a presentation about a new product called Fast ForWord. After the presentation, my mind was spinning to think that there might be even a modicum of truth to the research that he had shared…
As a certified skeptic, I had some serious questions about the claims he made that day. After all, I knew as a teacher that if I made a year’s gain with my students in a year’s time, we were doing a good job. My problem was that many of the students I worked with throughout my career came to me two-to-three years below grade level. If we made a year’s progress in a year’s time, it was great but they still were two-to-three years behind. So to have someone tell me that there was a product available that could help students make one-to-two years gain in a few weeks time was questionable at best. I couldn’t imagine that brain fitness exercises actually could change a student’s ability to focus and retain information much less improve the way the brain processes. But we had a recent article from ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) that supported his claims along with other research information so decided to implement Fast ForWord as our summer school program.
After the meeting, I called the Special Education Director to ask if there was something that I could do, beyond the pre-and post-testing, to learn more about the program and how it worked. She very graciously said, “Of course.” and promptly put me in charge of the implementation for the district. Now, there were a few things to consider: first, I wasn’t convinced that this program would even work and, second, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So, I decided that there was only one thing to do and that was to run the implementation exactly as the company suggested with a strict fidelity to the protocol and a good motivational system in place so if we didn’t get the results they advertised, it wouldn’t be my fault!
Our first implementation included 25 first to eighth graders who had been through multiple reading products with little improvement. I had a great team who loved kids and we had a blast for the six weeks that we ran the program. I learned a lot about running Fast ForWord (such as you don’t need to allow ten minutes between exercises for breaks because you can’t get them to stop working!) and at the end of the fourth week at 100 minutes a day; we had some students reach completion. In week five, we began post-testing those students and could not believe the results. By the end of the six-week session, our students averaged a 1.5 year gain in language (using the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals and Lindamood Auditory Conceptualization assessments) and 1.5 years in reading (Gray Oral Reading Test)!
The rest, as they say, is history. An eighth grader with an extremely high IQ but who, as a student with severe Dyslexia, had been reading on first grade level now tested at the fifth grade reading. One of the third graders who essentially was a non-reader, went to fourth grade with improved reading skills and, after completing the second Fast ForWord product the following summer, was reading on grade level in fifth grade and passed the state reading assessment. A fifth grader who was reading on first grade level became engaged in school the next year and after completing additional products over the next two school years, was on the A-Honor Roll, no longer required Resource assistance and, according to her mother, read everything she touched. Many stories, many changed lives and my sincere regret that I didn’t have Fast ForWord much sooner in my career.
After two years of supervising and implementing Fast ForWord for the district, I believed so strongly in the products that I joined Scientific Learning as a trainer. Over the last ten years, I’ve seen wonderful product additions, large numbers of students using the products and a worldwide impact in accelerating learning.
As my 4 -year-old granddaughter would say, “How cool is that”?
He gets results! Rescuing the good citizens of Metropolis and instilling hope and wonder in all citizens. Yes, it’s a comical notion but we love to believe in the Superheroes and their ability to get things done!
When it comes to education, we look to our school district leaders to get things done – improved student achievement, high quality schools and low cost education programs that get maximum results. Especially in light of recent reports that show the US lagging behind other countries in reading, math, science and social studies. But there is one district in Louisiana that is getting things done – their results are proof that good leadership, a supporting community and proven education programs can turn a district around, from failing to proficient in a short amount of time.
Once a low performing district, the St. Mary Parish Public School System has achieved significant gains to become a role model for schools looking to make dramatic changes in their performance. After using the Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ family of educational software products to strengthen students’ brain processing and literacy skills, students have increased their reading proficiency, and improved their achievement on state tests. In addition, fourth grade promotion rates have increased and test scores for student subgroups have improved, with the district making significant progress toward closing the achievement gap.
During the 2006-07 school year, St. Mary Parish started school-wide use of the Fast ForWord software at eight elementary schools that were in Academic Assistance. During the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, the Fast ForWord program was extended to the rest of the district. Students in grades three through five work with the Fast ForWord products 30, 40 or 50 minutes a day, depending on the school. Since 2008, the district has implemented Reading Assistant software as well. Reading Assistant combines advanced speech-verification technology with the latest reading science to help students strengthen their fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.
From 2006 to 2010 the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above the Basic level on the initial LEAP ELA test increased from 55 percent to 78 percent. In 2008, for the first time in a decade, the district exceeded the state average for the percentage of fourth graders reading at or above Basic on the initial ELA test. In addition, for the first time in years, the district had no schools labeled Academically Unacceptable.
Similarly, from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above Basic on the initial LEAP test rose from 59 to 79 percent in Math, from 53 to 69 percent in Science, and from 59 to 72 percent in Social Studies.
|Fourth Grade Initial LEAP Test|
*Net Change is measured from the year before Fast ForWord participation to 2010, i.e. 2006-2010 for 4th graders.
Fourth Grade Promotion Rates
In addition to improving LEAP scores, St. Mary Parish collected longitudinal data about the percentage of fourth grade students each year who were promoted to fifth grade. From 2006 to 2010, the district’s fourth grade promotion rate improved from 65 to 85 percent.
Both general education and special education students showed a positive trend in fourth grade promotion rates. Between 2006 and 2010, the fourth grade promotion rate improved from 67 to 88 percent for general education students, and from 33 to 59 percent for special education students.
“Over the past four years, our fourth grade students have made astounding gains, outpacing their state counterparts in English language arts as well as math and science,” said Superintendent Dr. Donald Aguillard. “Our fourth graders now rank 14th in the state, signifying a continuance of annual proficiency increases since 2006. As a result, the number of fourth graders who require summer remediation has declined significantly, and students’ self-confidence and motivation have soared. In reading and across the curriculum, our students are clearly benefitting from our ongoing efforts to provide effective, targeted instruction and interventions through the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs.”
St. Mary Parish Public School System is an example of a district that is getting results – making significant gains in reading, math, social studies and science. Providing the standard for making our education system No. 1 in the world again!
Most everyone can stand to improve reading comprehension, from early readers to adult professionals. An internet search for reading comprehension strategies to improve this skill yields a multitude of exercises and recommendations, but overall, they all seem to arrive at a singular idea: to improve reading comprehension skills, we must prime the brain through creating a framework that allows the reader to experience a text with intent.
Teaching our students (or just re-training ourselves) to enter into the reading experience with intent allows the reader to extract and retain the key elements of information. This is quite different from simply picking up a book, flipping to page one and jumping right into “Once upon a time...” A number of things can happen before that moment to frame the reader’s mindset and prime the brain to better comprehend the information it is about to delve into.
So, what are some ways of improving reading comprehension by creating that intent and priming the brain? Here are some examples of pre-reading activities and questions that we can offer students young and old to frame their reading for improved comprehension.
Before reading, take a look around. A book is much more than the words on its pages. What is the title? What do we see on the cover? Who is the author and what kinds of stories and books does this person create? When was the book written? By taking a few minutes to focus on these elements, we can set up expectations in our minds—like a loose outline—that we will later fill in with the details.
Get a 30,000 foot view. Delving in a bit deeper, what can we learn about the story by reading the table of contents and flipping quickly through the pages? Tables of contents offer huge amounts of information to help readers further develop expectations and outlines.
Make it personal. Our brains are more likely to absorb information when it is directly applicable or related to our interests and our lives. Thinking about the information we have just accessed by answering the above questions, what aspects of this book grab our interest on a personal level? What features of the book relate directly to our lives?
Write it down. Now that we have a framework of expectations around what we are about to read, write down questions that have arisen about the story and its characters, and make some predictions about how the story might unfold.
All of these pre-reading activities help the reader to create a mental framework that will later hold the details of the text. Readers can then use these notes during and after reading to see where predictions were on target or where they might have gone off course.
Regardless of their simplicity—or maybe because of it—the reading comprehension strategies above help create the reading intention to improve reading comprehension skills. Your own internet search will yield countless additional helpful hints and resources, but don’t underestimate your own creativity. How many ways can you think of to engage students in thinking about a text prior to turning to page one?
Categories: Reading & Learning