Sunday, January 13, 2013

In Praise of {Balanced} Reading Intervention

I never, ever shop on Black Friday.  Never, that is, until this year. B&N had the most insane sale on the Nook, that I forced myself out into the insanity to buy one for each of my kids, because they both, to my great happiness, love to read. This is the one I got (note: I have received absolutely nada, zero, zilch to write about this--I just love it.):
If you had asked me 4 years ago whether or not I would have broken my no Black Friday rule to buy this for my now 5th grade son, I probably would have burst into tears. Back then, he was in 1st grade, and I had taken a break from the classroom to be a Literacy Coach in my district--an experience that (I think) made me a much better teacher than I ever was before. At that time, I thought for certain the my son would be the avid and voracious reader that the son of a reading teacher would certainly be, and I was so excited for him to catch that reading bug.  I had just come to find out that was wrong.

We did everything right--read to him nightly, read in front of him, made sure to make him aware of the print-rich environment around him, etc. He did not learn to read in Kindergarten, and, like both me and my husband, he was one of those messy left-handed writers who had to work a little harder when it came to learning his letters and numbers.  School seemed hard for him at the time, but I wasn't concerned--it would come.

He spoke early, was (and is) extremely verbal, loved being read to and independently chose to "read" the many books in his room for pleasure. Hearing his little sing-song voice from down the hall and catching him reading Caps for Sale or Harold & the Purple Crayon to himself like we had done so many times?  Always made me smile. It would be fine. We wouldn't be able to get him to put a book down.  He would be under the covers with a flashlight when he was supposed to be sleeping, and we wouldn't care, because he would love to read. We were sure that his is who he would be:
Then, when I received the call from his 1st grade teacher that he had been identified to receive reading intervention, my heart sank.  Clearly, we had not done everything right, and of course we said yes.  Yes, please.

My son's intervention was a balanced literacy approach modeled after Reading Recovery. It was a one-on-one, daily program, with an intense home component each night. Like Reading Recovery, he would receive a limited number of sessions. If he was not reading at that point, he would be dismissed and other, more intensive types of intervention would be considered.  I was so worried, because not only was he struggling, but the whole enterprise was not leading to a love of reading--he wanted to come home and play, and was not the least bit appreciative of having to tackle something he felt he wasn't good at after a long day of having to work hard. It was not fun.  This is who he was:
Then, about half way into 1st grade, he was dismissed and had made great progress, but to our dismay he now hated, hated, hated reading. He no longer felt like a smart, capable kid.  His confidence was shot, and he would tell us frequently that he hated school. This, of course, was not what his two teacher-parents wanted to hear.

In 2nd grade, something began to click.  He had a teacher who provided lots and lots of self-selected independent reading time.  She told him he was smart and a great reader. (Thank you, Mrs. P.--he believed you!) Since then, it's hard to get him to put down a book. He's that reader I always hoped that he would be, and I am forever grateful to his teachers. Before Mrs. P., Mrs. S. and Mrs. B. recognized right away in 1st grade that this was going to be hard for him, and I thank them for swooping in to make sure that he would come out the other side. He did.

Last Christmas when he was in 4th grade, I realized that somewhere inside, he recognized this. We were getting ready to Christmas shop, and when I asked him to make a list of all of the teachers and helpers (other than his classroom teacher) that we should get something for, they were the first that came to mind for him.  I found out through a colleague that he brought his gift to Mrs. B in the reading intervention classroom, and said, "Thank you for teaching me to read." This colleague shared how much that had meant to Mrs. B..  It makes me a little teary just thinking about it, because I know as a teacher how that would make me feel. To know that I had made a difference.

I put the word "balanced" in the title of this post, because I think that was the key to why his intervention was successful.  The move towards a quantifiable, synthetic phonics approach that NCLB injected into our schools hadn't hit his school yet.  He escaped by the skin of his teeth, because I will tell you right now--daily ORF and a race for WCPM would have killed reading for my kid.  Killed it.  I know what that is and it has it's place, but I also know what it isn't, and I'm happy that his teachers took a different approach. He's living proof that a balanced intervention approach can work, because it was focused on making meaning, and meaning and comprehension of great stories is what hooked him in the end.

I mentioned that we are reading Pathways to the Common Core as a faculty, and we met the other day to discuss the first few chapters.  One of the ideas presented that struck me most was the CCSS emphasis on meaning and comprehension above code-based instruction. Don't get me wrong, I know that the standards recognize its place and I do, too.  However, it is not the be-all end-all litmus test as to what makes a good reader. Aimsweb and DIBELS would not have helped my son. At least not without that balance.

While I cannot say that I have internalized the CCSS yet, I am thrilled with the pendulum swing back (these pendulums swing a lot, don't they?!) to the middle.  We're back to a place now where we can't ignore phonics, but where we can once again value things that remain harder to quantify.

Right now, this is what my son is reading on his new Nook:
Mrs. S., Mrs. B & Mrs. P--thanks for teaching my son to read :)

12 comments :

  1. I don't have children of my own, but I hear stories like this sometimes- of teachers' kids not being the "best" readers despite the teachers doing everything right at home- and I think it makes me a better teacher for it. Sometimes, we are so quick to blame the parents or the homelife or the economic status or the... whatever. But sometimes, kids just need something different, or maybe they just aren't developmentally ready at that time. And THAT'S OK!! Thank you for sharing this story- it's a good reminder to be supportive and encouraging to ALL of our students! :)
    Jessica
    ideas by jivey

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    1. Thanks Jessica--it's so true. There are so many things that contribute to who kids are as learners, and it's easy to make assumptions about what goes on (or doesn't) at home. Having children of my own has helped me to empathize with parents--it's so tricky at night to do everything you need to do, homework, baths, make dinner/lunch for the next day, and still have time to be with and support your kids. My head swims thinking about it, and I work with kids. Each situation is different, but a school with smart supports in place is what all kids need, no matter what their parents' story is.

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  2. I had that same little first grader in my house. Loved loved loved stories, being read to, and "reading". She had an amazing vocabulary and was very creative. And her poor first grade teacher had to make the trip down my hallway to tell me she was below level and needed tutoring. Thankfully she had an amazing teacher and tutor and was out of tutoring after and semester and maxed out the DRA by March. She was naive enough to think that tutoring was a special treat. We did not correct her even though her older sister was horrified! I know the way that path feels as a teacher mom. It's scary because wwe truly know how much success hinges on being able to read well. So happy for your little reader!


    Megan

    I Teach. What's Your Super Power?

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    1. I would have LOVED it if my son had thought it was a special treat. It is a really weird place to be as a teacher mom--totally agree!

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  3. Sweet Post.

    Right now my school is really focused on Phonics and fluency for our students due to State mandates. I teach 3rd and actually have some of the same students that I had in Kindergarten a few years back. One of them in particular has had such a struggle with reading. My entire Kindergarten curriculum was based on phonics and word families. I would do it very differently now that I've had those same students now. When we know better, we do better.

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    1. It's so true. I think it took seeing that you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater to come back to the middle. All of that foundational stuff does need to happen, but not to the exclusion of good comprehension instruction!

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  4. Dear Heather,
    I love this post.
    Sandy

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    1. Aww--I miss you! It's so true--doesn't the shift make you feel validated?

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  5. I LOVED this post. I HATE DIBELS! But am required to use it...I have readers who are "at risk" according to DIBELS yet are exceeding on their running records. I tell my kiddos DIBELS is a game...like a race...and you don't look back and you don't stop....just go go go:-) Then when students are reading with me, I tell them to do their best real reading.

    Laurie
    Chickadee Jubilee

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    1. Ugh. I only ever pull it out if a student sounds disfluent and is doing poorly with comprehension--oral, written, etc. Usually they've been identified before they hit 5th grade, but with new students, it's not the worst idea to check rate--it's just a piece of info though, not something that would cause me to focus only on fluency. I would hate to have to use it on everyone.

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  6. Oh this was such a sweet story to read, thank you so much for sharing. I agree with you whole heatedly on so many of the points you addressed. I love reading and try SO hard to instill a love of reading in every single one of my kids. I don't have children of my own, so instead I hope to teach my 30 students to love reading just as I would my own child. I hope that no matter where the pendulum swings, and no matter what we are required to assess, that there are teachers like your son's, that are out there teaching forever!

    YoungTeacherLove 5th Grade Blog

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    1. Thanks, Kristine. 30 kids?! They are lucky to have you :)

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