The Fluency Project: Final Entry
By Dr. Sam Bommarito
This week I want to wrap up the topic of what we are currently doing with the fluency project and make the transition to what I’ll be saying about the Reading Wars when I present at the Write to Learn conference in two weeks. Remember that what we are doing in the fluency project is supplementing the main program at the school. We’re using the ideas of Tim Rasinski to help improve our students’ reading.
There are several things I hope my readers take away from this series. First and foremost, there is more than one way to approach the teaching of phonics, and it pays to supplement one approach with others. On the one hand, I make sure my students are given direct instruction in synthetic phonics. That is provided by the basal they are using. I view that as the start point, not the end. In the fluency work we have them do; they also get analogic phonics activities as part of the 5-7 minutes daily practice reading a poem. They know, in advance, they that will be expected to perform that poem at the end of two weeks. When Rasinski visited our site, he made special note of the follow-up word-work the teachers were doing around the specific sounds in words from the poems.
Our view of fluency goes beyond simple measures of reading rate. Concentrating on rate alone can lead to other important factors of reading aloud being ignored. When that happens, young readers learn to read like robots rather than read with expression. That point is made in the entertaining U Tube videos Don’t Read Like a Robot – Blazer Fresh- GoNoodle.
We use the rubric found in Rasinski and Cheesman-Smith’s Megabook of Fluency. That rubric is organized around Rasinski’s prosody factors (EARS). E is for Expression, A is for Automatic Word Recognition, R is for Rhythm and Phrasing, and S is for smoothness. Robotic reading is replaced by reading like a storyteller. Readers are invited to look at my original blogpost about Rasinski’s research around the efficacy of repeated readings.
Last week I talked about one unexpected but welcome shift in the project. The classroom teachers decided that they were able to carry out the daily reads without my help. They decided my time with them would better be spent by using the Raz Kids program, as I described last week. It became another part of their independent reading time. Each student is assigned to an instructional level in Raz Kids. They are asked to complete at least two books a week and take the quiz for those books. While I do the Raz Kid’s work, the teachers work with a group of students solving one of Rasinski’s word ladders. Again, these activities are used as a once a week supplement to the main work of the basal series.
Lets’ take another look at what the students see when they come into the Raz Kids program:
When they first come in, each student checks to see if there are new messages. These come from me. This is how I accomplish cyber-conferencing with each student. Because the program is the kind that the teacher controls, rather one that controls the teacher, I was able to repurpose it for use as a test practice program. Inside that program, I give feedback on how to handle test questions. I described the extensive feedback the program gives on test results last week. After students complete two books in the Level Up area, an area that allows them to choose books at their instructional level, they are then encouraged to do additional reading in the Reading Room area. The program allows me to set the range of levels of the books they choose from. I usually set that range to be at least one level below and two or three levels above their current instructional level. Students read these books for fun; no quiz required. The groups are of mixed ability. The groups are formed so I can conference with each student from the group. They contain 4 to 6 students. I do two groups each week. There are four groups in total. Remember that these are not guided reading groups. Rather, these are groups formed so I can give each student specific feedback and strategies for handling the various types of test questions they do. As indicated already, once they do two on level books, they are allowed to read more challenging books if they wish.
Significantly, students are allowed choice in most of the books they read. In some cases, especially with those students I tutor individually outside class time, I can assign a specific book to that particular student. When I do that, the ASSIGNMENT icon you see on the student screen appears. This activity is not their only independent reading. However, it does allow me to build in a once a week independent reading time for all students while I work on the specific skills and strategies, they need to be successful in handling the various types of multiple-choice questions.
The final and most important point I want to make about this overall project is this. Teachers feel they are in charge and in control. After all, they are the ones that suggested my switching roles in the project. This doesn’t mean the school has no control over what they do. They are implementing the basal program. But, they are also allowed time and latitude to do the work they feel would help the students. This fact reminds me of how Reading and Writing Workshop works. There are lessons to be carried out within the unit; there are scripts et. al. But units of study are designed so teachers have time to do additional things if they wish. This final point is a natural Segway into next week’s topic.
Next week’s topic is that teachers need to be empowered. I think empowering teachers is the key to finally ending the reading wars. I hope that got your attention. You’ll be hearing much more about what I mean by that in next week’s blog. In the meantime, happy reading and writing!
Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- the team leader who empowers his teachers)
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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