Fluency Part Three: The fluency project, the teachers are taking over, and that’s a good thing by Dr. Sam Bommarito
This is a kind of special time for me. The Write to Learn conference in Missouri is coming up this month. I’ll be making a presentation there about the reading wars. I am the president of the Missouri Literacy Association and we are one of the co-sponsors of the conference. We have an amazing line of speakers including Pernille Ripp, Penny Kittle, Michael Bonner, Sylvia Vardell and my blogging partner William Kern. There will be four keynotes in over 70 breakout sessions. Here is the link https://web.cvent.com/event/bf32ad3e-cd74-4eaf-87b3-ca33a66b00fd/summary
Two years ago, I wrote my very first blog. I wrote the blog while I was at that conference. I wrote it from the hotel room at the conference- cool stuff! That first year my blog had over 11,000 views. Last year that jumped to over 43,000 views, and we’re on the pace to easily break that record this year. I really want to thank all the readers for their interest in the blog. I think that, for many of you, the interest comes because you are the kind of folks that believe the real key to improving education lies with the teachers. So, when I report that our team of first and second-grade teachers who are carrying out this fluency project have essentially taken the project over, I make the report with a very happy heart. Here’s what happened.
I’ll start by giving a brief reminder of what the project involves. We are basing our project on the fluency work of Tim Rasinski. Students read poems and songs for 5 to 7 minutes a day. The teachers provided the poems/songs to pick from. By and large, the poems and songs they get to pick from support the scope and sequence of the basal phonics program used by the school. As Tim described it in a presentation he made in St. Louis two years ago, the teacher he talked about had the students do daily reads and weekly performances of their poems. Our team made a number of adaptations to the basic model. We set up our daily reads so that relatively weak readers and relatively strong readers were partners. This has resulted in both students helping each other. The basic goal was to read like storytellers. The teachers report that that is happening in a very noticeable way. We are doing a formal measure of that using Rasinski’s rubric from his Megabook of Fluency. We also added a second layer of daily reading practice. To be more precise, daily singing practice. Before starting with their partners, the whole class sings a song excerpt, again picked because it contains some of the elements stressed by the basal’s phonics program. Overall this brings the daily time spent to around 10 minutes.
After we’d been in the project for a couple of months, my role, which was to come in during this time and help to monitor the paired reading began feeling a bit like being the 5th wheel. One of the teachers suggested that the project had essentially gone into autopilot. The routine was established. The kids were singing and doing the paired reading and they were doing their performance on an every other week basis using SeeSaw. She suggested that when I came in instead of coming in for the fluency part, I could come in and do something with the Raz Kids program that I had used in previous years as part of an afterschool program. That is exactly what happened. The team is continuing to carry out the fluency work as described, but my role has changed at the request of the team. Now it’s time for some full disclosures and explanations.
I’ve long been a fan of the Raz Kids program. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the program, here’s a link to their site- https://www.raz-kids.com/. You can look over the program and even get a free trial. I’ll say from the outset that there are other computer-based literacy programs out there. Actually, there is a whole constellation of them. I’m sure everyone has their favorites, and I’m equally sure that some people would never consider using them. I’m talking about Raz-Kids now because that’s what we’re using. I found out about Raz-Kids while I was still teaching full-time. One of the teachers I was supporting told me about it. Her son was using it at his school. I did the trial and fell in love with the program because it is the kind of program that lets the teacher take charge rather than telling the teacher what to do. It includes a huge level library of both fiction and nonfiction books, a way to talk to students individually via the program, and a way to let students record themselves reading. The teacher can access the recording along with the book they read from. It also has a great tracking system that tells teachers about how students do on questions they answer from the story. I’ll have a lot more to say about this next week.
Over time, I got in contact with folks from Raz Kids (a Learning A-Z product), including the regional director and even the president of the company. I did a presentation for them when the ILA was in St. Louis, and this year they came out and did a presentation for my ILA group in St. Louis. That information is given to you as full disclosure of my relationship with the company. Let me get back to the point that this is the kind of software that the teacher controls rather than the other way around. This is important to me. My very first presentation at an ILA conference was in 1985 on the topic of using microcomputers in reading. The computers of that age had nothing like the power of today’s computers, but there were some powerful ideas about how to use this technology. In his book Mindstorms, Seymour Papert proposed an idea that computers should become tools of the mind and that is how they should be used. It was a principle I talked about back then and one that I think should continue to guide all uses of technology. Some folks use their technology almost as electronic flashcards. The scope and sequence is defined by the computer rather than the teacher. I guess that is one way to do it. I think Papert’s way is better. He was a pioneer in using the computer as a thinking tool. The teacher is in charge, not the computer. Mindstorms is still in print and can be found at any number of book sites.
Next week I will try to describe how I use the Raz Kids program as a tool of the mind. To allay the fears of some of my friends who are somewhat reluctant to do any kind of cyber books, I’ll stress that this is not the only reading the kids do and that I really do try to integrate all in a way that results in kids wanting to read everything- paper books as well as cyber books. This also integrates quite well with what the team is doing in fluency instruction. So, this is Dr. Sam signing off until next week. Happy reading and writing.
Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- maker of MindStorms and other such things)
Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization
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