Putting my money where my mouth is: how I am using the quilting metaphor to guide my instruction this summer
Introduction: It’s been an eventful week. I have engaged in extensive conversations on both Twitter and Facebook. These conversations were with individuals who are convinced that the only answer to all reading problems is their brand of the science of reading. As my readers know, I take a centrist approach. For various reasons, I respectfully disagree with those who claim they have the one and only true path to success in teaching reading. I have blogged extensively around the point LINK 1, LINK 2, LINK3.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I totally discount some of the practices recommended by the science of reading approach. For instance, I do teach synthetic phonics. As a matter of fact, for many kids this summer, I am telling them to try to sound it out first. I also use a form of analytic phonics. That means from time to time, I might go back and help them figure out words. When appropriate, I make use of Tim Rasinski’s wonderful resources on affixes, suffixes and roots. Those resources not only help readers decode words they also help them figure out the words’ meanings. I also use Rasinski’s extensive materials and research on fluency, including his ideas on repeated reading and performance reading. I do use decodable books. The ones I use are found in thelearning A-to-Z program Headsprout. In this blog entry, I will talk about how I am trying to implement my summer program informed by all of the practices found on the “Reading Quilt” (see my blog on that topic LINK).
Some background about my students and me. My teaching career began in 1970. Except for the two years I spent in the U.S. Army (drafted in 1971, honorably discharged as a Sgt E-5), I have been teaching ever since. I’ve taught all grades K through graduate school. I was a reading specialist, staff developer, and university instructor teaching reading courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. I retired from full-time teaching in 2016 but continue to do consultant work and over the years, I’ve done a lot of pro bono work in reading. Presently, this work is being done at a private school. I conduct Zoom lessons, push into classrooms and also work with individuals K-3. This summer, I am doing one on one work with five students from Pre-K through third grade. The weekly sessions are held on Zoom. Here are some highlights about the instruction.
Using Decodables. I have used Learning A-Z products for several years now. I recognize that they are not the only programs out there. But, they happen to be the ones I use. Their Headsprout program (LINK) includes a series of 100 interrelated lessons. Each lesson teaches the student selected phonemes. This is done using a series of animated games. The phonemes are eventually used to build words and the words then used in decodable books that the students read. Here is a sample of one of the earliest books.
Some things to notice here. The characters are engaging and interesting. Frequently their names are based on one of the phonemes being taught. When working with the students, I call these phonemes “chunks.” By the later lessons, the books are much longer but still completely decodable.
As you can see, the later books include a considerable amount of text, and they resemble trade books in overall format and content. As students progress through the lessons, they can access all the books they have read so far in their Book Room which is their own personal online library.
As part of my course of instruction with the students, I often do making and breaking activities with them. These reinforce their knowledge of the phonemes being taught in Headsprout. These activities are done using Zoom. I do a cloud recording of this part of the lesson and send it to the students to review during the week. I have written about my use of Zoom in distant learning lessons before (LINK). Here is a picture of the actual board I am currently using with students (a post-it covers over names):
Predictable books/Language Experience Books I’ve also written before about using predictable books and language experience books (LINK1). For my predictable books, I make use of Keep Books. Fountas and Pinnell publish them. They are available in RR levels 1-16 (LINK). Notice that the back of each book contains a word count and reading levels from Guided Reading and Reading Recovery.
Predictable books lend themselves to having students write their own books using Language Experience. In a nutshell, the teacher takes down what the student dictates and then uses those stories as ongoing material for the students to reread. Here is a sample Language Experience story:
Trade Books and Talking about Books Normally, parents sit in on the Zoom lessons. I ask the parents to be sure to check out trade books for the kids. Some are for the parents to read to the kids. I encourage them to find a favorite author to start with, e.g. Eric Litwin, Mo Williams, or Mem Fox. Sometimes they ask about checking out books that the kids can read themselves. I teach them a simple trick for getting books at the correct level, the instructional level. It involves simply looking at the amount of text and the text to picture ratios of the books the kids can already read. Pick books for the kids that look similar to the books they can already read.
I anticipate getting pushback about using leveled materials with students. After all, research does seem to indicate that practice may not always be best.
Literacy experts like Shanahan indicate that some form of leveling can be useful for readers at the very beginning levels. He notes that reading history includes many attempts to simplify things at the very outset of instruction. Leveled materials, predictable books, decodable books, controlled vocabulary books and trade books all have a role in this. His thinking on this matter influenced my practices and I now routinely include all forms of books in my ongoing instruction. That is one of my attempts to use many parts of the reading quilt.
I also take the advice of P.D. Pearson to include a strong comprehension component from the very outset of instruction. My students know that whatever kind of book they read, I expect them to know who did what (narrative books) or what interesting facts they learned (expository books). I also encourage parents to have similar conversations about books with their children. As the summer progresses, my students will have an ever-expanding personal library of books they can read. This includes Keep Books, Language Experience books and trade books that they get from the library. Daily self-selected reading becomes part of their literacy routine. I talk to them about the importance of having favorite books and favorite authors. They are immersed in a diverse and varied amount of reading material, material that they can decode and understand.
In conclusion, I am trying to put my money where my mouth is in terms of using all parts of the reading quilt to inform and guide my instruction this summer. Now, let us briefly talk about upcoming summer events. Currently, I am trying to arrange some new interviews with literacy leaders. Glenda and I are working on the special edition of the Missouri Reader. Just yesterday I ordered P.D. Pearson’s new book about the history of reading. I anticipate there will be a lot to unpack from that book LINK. So, it looks to be a busy and productive summer. Until next time this is Dr. Sam (Dr. B) signing off!
Happy Reading and Writing
Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)
Copyright 2021 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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