Final Reflection

This class was by far my favorite of the semester. Learning how to identify struggling readers and writers, adapt to them, and structure lessons and classroom activities around students who are having difficulty is incredibly important. The textbook chosen I thought was very helpful as far as offering up strategies and techniques, and it is something I plan on keeping for future reference in my classroom, as I know I will be needing to refer to it. This class has taught me a lot, and it was one that I looked forward to going to every Tuesday and Thursday. I became easily frustrated, however, when personal issues prevented me from accomplishing things in a timely manner, and I was missing class because of it. Like I said, this class was the most enjoyable for me and I learned the most. I am disappointed with myself, in that aspect.

This class required many things of me that I have never had to do before. We were asked to blog, reflecting on the chapters we read, reflecting on our fieldwork experiences, we had an annotated bibliography, and a case study. The only things out of that list I had done prior to this class was an annotated bibliography. I suppose I could say I’ve blogged before, too, however I don’t keep up on that, and it usually is only when something is really on my heart and my mind. We did several activities in class that I thought were a lot of fun, and really cool learning experiences – my favorites being creating advertisements and a new fashion line. These activities will get students up out of their seats, they will get them talking and having a good time, and all the while they are dealing with literature, whether or not it is something that they recognize!

Having a literacy rich environment, whether at home or in the classroom is key, and that was definitely emphasized in the class. I know that I will make a point of having literature everywhere in my classroom – regardless of whether its here or in South Africa. I honestly think that as beneficial as being in class was, that fieldwork was where I learned the most. Interacting with students who are just learning to read or who may have been reading for some time really gave me a better understanding of how students learn to read, what they want to read, and helped me to learn how to identify what some of their struggles were. I had to be creative with my case study, I got to work with a variety of students and read with many, introducing three new books to the class, all of which they seemed to really enjoy.

I am very much looking forward to working with students who are learning how to read. After reading about and discussing techniques and strategies in this class, I know I still have a lot to learn, yet I also feel much more prepared for my future career. Thank you, Professor Allinder. It’s been a great semester.

Fieldwork Reflection #5

One of my last days at fieldwork, Val had the students working on an independent, formal writing prompt. She asked the students write one thing you have learned since the beginning of the year and one thing you would still like to learn. She told the students she would do her best to incorporate what it was they still wanted to learn into the rest of the year. The students were allowed to illustrate their thoughts as well, and then Val called them over one by one to discuss with them. The students had impressive answers for what they have already learned, but it was the “what do you want to learn” answers that got to me. One of the students wrote that she wanted to learn about the body, another about India and other countries, another about animals at the zoo. Two students, both boys, said they wanted to learn how to read, and they each said it as though they had been defeated. I was curious as to how Val was going to handle it; I must say she spoke with ease, with gentleness, grace, and encouragement. She told each of them that they will learn, that they still have a lot of time. Sometimes reading doesn’t come easy for some students, and it takes practice. She encouraged them to keep writing and practicing because that will help them learn as well. She built them up, encouraged them, and somehow just knew the words to say to make them feel better. It was amazing. They left with their spirits much higher.

I would stay with this class all day, if I had the choice. I have learned many things from the students and from Val as well. It was been a wonderful experience and it pained me to say goodbye to them (but I did tell Val I would make one more surprise trip in before the end of the year was up)!

Fieldwork Reflection #4

My favorite day at fieldwork. End of story. Well, I probably should tell you the story first before I end it, since you weren’t there! The first weekend in May, I went to Hershey, PA for a wedding with some family. I mentioned to Val and the students that I would be out of town for a couple of days, and one of the students piped up, “Where’s Pennsylvania?” This opened up so many doors, and I had no idea at the moment. Val told the students they would put it on their geography maps after I came back and shared my experience with them. Well, this sharing of experiences turned in to something much greater than I ever expected.

While I was in Hershey, we of course went to Hershey Amusement Park and Chocolate World. At Chocolate World, I found a great book that I wanted to take back for the students in Val’s class. The reading level is far too advanced for kindergarteners, however there are many incredible pictures highlighting the past and present Hershey family, chocolate, and the chocolate making process. I brought the book back to the class, and Val asked me if I would share with the students before French class. I found a great video of the chocolate making process that I saw while I was there, and the students were enthralled. Before I showed the video, we talked about their favorite types of chocolate and where they thought chocolate came from. My favorite answer was, “A cow!” After we watched the video, we began to discuss the cacao beans and looked at where they came from in West Africa. French class arrived all too soon, but Val said that I had plenty of time after French to finish sharing with the students.

While the students were studying French, I ended up doing some research. Val provided me with a map of Africa, so I looked up the specific cacao bean countries, and how much they supplied. The numbers were up into millions of tons! We looked at how many Hershey kisses would make up one of the Hershey Giant Chocolate Bars. We talked about how many Hershey kisses were made in one day, and then a student asked about how many were made in a year – about 24 billion! It also turns out that the students had just finished a unit on Andy Warhol, and he happened to do some work with Hershey, so we were able to tie that into our discussion as well! It was a very cool experience and the students loved it. Unfortunately because of allergies, I was not able to share any chocolate with the students from the trip, but they understood because they didn’t want any of their friends getting sick!

What a sweet class and an awesome experience.

Yummmm…Image

Fieldwork Reflection #3

When I would arrive at fieldwork on Mondays and Wednesdays, the students would be finishing up with French class. This always amazed me. Madame would either be reading a story to them or finishing up drawing, based upon the previous day’s work. However, when I would be there on Tuesdays, I would be there for the entirety of French writing. This was a great experience for me. As I would walk around and observe, I could view the different skill levels the students were at. Some students had great handwriting; they followed direction, their letters were clear, they used a finger space between words. Other students, on the other hand, had all of their letters squished together, some did not follow directions and would either write all of their words on the same line or color their letters thickly. Depending on the students’ ability, some letters were clearly readable and some were sometimes backwards. At the kindergarten level, though, they are still learning.

All of the students were very proud of their writing. They would ask me to come over and look at their writing for affirmation. I would always start with a positive, however, if they were not following directions, I would gently correct them, or ask if they noticed what they needed to do to catch up if some of their letters or a word was missing. The students really seemed to love French class and looked forward to Madame coming in. She included me in such a way that made me feel welcome saying things such as, “Let’s remind Rachel of…” or “Can anyone tell Rachel what… is in French?” It was really awesome!

Madame also teaches the students Latin on Thursday and Friday mornings, however I was never able to attend during those time.

Here are some of their writing samples.

ImageImage

Fieldwork Reflection #2

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have not been allowed to pull students out to assess them. I have been working on trying to figure out how to choose a case study student, since I need to be careful about working individually and “picking favorites.” Val mentioned that there was a lot of competition for attention of the volunteers between the students, and that often would cause arguments between the students, which is something that should be avoided. My tactic has been this: target the student who wants to read. If any of the students enjoy reading, it shouldn’t be a hassle to get them to sit down and read with me. My second day there, I was in the room for no more than ten seconds when sweet Ella ran up to me and begged me to come read with her. Of course I couldn’t turn her down! Because Ella was so willing to read and it wasn’t going to be a difficult task to get her engaged. Ella quickly became the focus for my case study.

I was very impressed with her fluency in reading at such a young age in kindergarten. We took turns reading, each one page. I casually was asking her questions along the lines of what types of books she liked to read, if she read a lot, inquiring about her family and what she enjoyed doing outside of school. She loves gymnastics and takes tennis lessons as well. We read Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton and Max and Mo Make a Snowman by Patricia Lakin. She had read both of these before, so I was not sure whether or not she was reading from memory, or if she was actually reading because she was so fluent and quick. When reading with her, however, I did take note that because she was reading so quickly, she was not always read the correct word, or pause for the end of a sentence for the inflection. This was something I knew I would try to work on her with so that she did not lose meaning or comprehension because of mistaken words, and would learn how to properly read a sentence with the correct inflection. While I wouldn’t say that these things would qualify Ella as a “struggling” reader, they are poor habits that need to be stopped.

This is where we would always get cozy and read!Image

Fieldwork Reflection #1

Walking in for our tour at Summers-Knoll was quite an interesting experience; it was unlike any other school that I’ve ever been in. The set up was not a building with hallways set up in wings and classrooms and a cafeteria. Summers-Knoll has a much more “homey” feel, and feels more like a place to hang out or a home than a place to go to school. The environment was much more welcoming on my first visit, as opposed to a public elementary school, and I felt right at home. As we were taking our tour through the school, we were able to peek our heads in some of the classrooms. Immediately, I knew I was going to enjoy it here. It was “choice time,” meaning the students got to choose from a variety of activities such as reading, writing, drawing, playing, etc. I know many times I have been in a school or a classroom that seems so schedule oriented (to me, as an adult) that it seems like the children are only allowed to focus on one specific task for a specific amount of time. While I realize there are times that call for this sort of structure at SK, it does not feel as though it is so regimented.

I felt the same way as I walked into my first day in the classroom. I am in a kindergarten classroom consisting of 12 students. I walked in as they were finishing up French class for the day. I was introduced as a volunteer and the students were told to make me feel at home. I absolutely loved this. It was choice time, and there was one student who asked if I would read to her. We climbed in the cozy area, shown above, grabbed a couple of books and a blanket and read. She had read both of the books before, and enjoyed reading, however she did not feel confident in her reading abilities. I assured her that the more she practiced, the better she would get at it, but I just kept on reading with her. We read four books, and then it was time to for snack and to play outside. It was a great first day, and after the students left, I had a chance to talk to the teacher, Val.

When speaking with Val, I asked her how the students were reading and how language and literature were used in the classroom. She pointed out to me and made sure I understood that I was not to force any of the children to read during choice time, or at any point, and that I was not allowed to pull students out to assess. I knew this would be a challenge, as far as my case study was concerned, but I also knew I would figure out how to conquer. Val has a gentle, friendly, and motherly demeanor. It was very comforting and welcoming, and I looked forward to my visits yet to come.

Case Study with Ella

Case Study on Ella

Introduction

This case study is quite a unique case study compared to many others. The observations and assessments had to be done in a classroom environment and were not necessarily on a one-on-one basis due to the environment of the school. The teacher was adamant about not pulling any of her students out of the classroom and being cautious of spending much time with one student, because there is a lot of competition among the students. With the students competing for my attention, focusing on one student was a challenge, however, it allowed me to push myself into creating creative ideas for assessing the students.

School and Classroom Environment

Summers-Knoll School is a K-8 school that has multi-age classrooms. The classrooms are project based learning environments that foster learning, growth, imagination and creativity. It is located across from Washtenaw County Park, with businesses next door and behind. Summers-Knoll is in the process of building a greenhouse, so there is also construction on-site. The school is not a typical school building one would imagine, but has more of a homey feel to it with an open setting and couches. There are no desks in the classrooms, but tables and chairs. Specifically, in the kindergarten room, there are blankets and pillows – “comfy items” – for the students to use when they are reading or having quiet time.

There are twelve students in the kindergarten class, with an age range from five-year-olds to seven-year-olds. All of the students have parents or grandparents that are coming to pick them up from school every day, and each student, aside from one, has at least one sibling. Mrs. Valerie Tibbs-Wynne teaches this class. She has 25 years of experience teaching preschoolers at various locations including Detroit schools and the YMCA, and two years of experience teaching kindergarten here at Summers-Knoll, for a total of 27 years. Instead of being caught up in what has to be taught, she gets to focus on teaching what she knows, and she knows children. She knows how they act and how they play, and at this school, she is able to allow the students to express themselves in a creative and imaginative way that is self-directive. This is not something that she has experience in her previous 25 years of teaching to the degree and freedom that she is currently able to do.

The students have a wide age range in comparison to a “typical” classroom. There are students all across the board, some students who have just turned five, while other students are already seven-years-old. At the beginning of the school year, they also came in with a wide range of reading and writing abilities, and the ages were not indicative of their abilities. Val said that for many of the students, as they were beginning to read, family and friends would celebrate it and make the students read for everyone – mom, dad, grandparents, siblings, friends – and it would become a chore and the students would no longer enjoy it. In this classroom, students are not forced to read if they do not want to or do not feel ready to, however it is encouraged. Students may also ask to be read to if they do not feel like reading. This allows them to have the freedom of choice and does not turn reading into a chore.

To further foster reading and writing development, which are both critical to communicating, she said, “Language is utilitarian in this classroom.” When situations come up that require a new word for the students’ vocabulary, they explore it in context. This happened, for example, with the state of Pennsylvania. As I was leaving fieldwork one day, I mentioned I would be absent for a couple of days due to a trip to Pennsylvania. One of the students asked where that was, and Val told them they would discuss it the next day and add it to their geography maps and learn some things about that state. They are interested when subjects are introduced in the context of something that sparks their interest. They will retain the information more readily in this manner. To expand the students’ knowledge of Pennsylvania, I taught a lesson based out of a book I bought at Chocolate World in Hershey, PA for the students. “Hershey” was a name they immediately recognized, and teaching them how chocolate was made incorporated math, geography, and science, in addition to the reading we did from the book.  Much of what was taught was related to concepts that had already been taught, even the most recent unit on Andy Warhol!

The students also have two journals they keep for writing and illustrating in. One is a formal journal. In this journal, Val gives them specific topics to journal about. However, their second journal is more informal and gives Val all of the information she needs for assessing the students. They are free to write and illustrate in it whenever they want and whatever they want. She doesn’t use this informal journal for assessment, but solely for documentation and to determine what stages they are at in their writing. Since the students love these journals so much, it has been a joy for her to see them grow and develop as they are writing in them.

Observations and Background for Student of Case Study

The student I have been observing will be known as Ella, for the purposes of keeping her identity confidential. Ella is six years old and has a younger brother who is three. She lives at home with both of her parents and her grandparents are also actively involved in her life, taking her to the zoo, parks, soccer games, and frequently reading with her. She takes gymnastics classes and loves reading and writing. When she reads books, she gets lost in the storylines and the activities of the characters.  She is very imaginative and enjoys finger-knitting and playing outside.

Ella is a fluent reader and writer and excels over many others in her class because this is something she enjoys to do. She reads a lot at home with her parents and her babysitter, and she loves to read to her younger brother. When we would read together, she was never confident enough to read the entire book alone, so we would alternate reading pages. As I was observing Ella read, I mentioned previously that I had noticed she was a fluent reader. However, sometimes she reads so fast that she misses a word or mixes up the letters, which sometimes gives the word a different meaning. Occasionally, if there is a word she is unfamiliar with, she will mumble and skip over it, rather than stopping to try and figure it out based upon sounding it out and looking at the word in context. She reads quickly so she can move on to the next book, however focusing on phonetic accuracy so she reads the correct words with the correct pronunciation and so the words do not change meaning.

Assessments

One of the first things that Val said to me as I told her I would be doing a case study with one of her students was that I was unable to pull any of them out or to do any sort of formalized testing. At this age, they should not be forced to read if they do not want to, which I agree with. The other part of this was that the students were not to be singled out from the others. In this class, there is a lot of competition, especially for attention of guests in the classroom. This was challenging as far as performing assessments. My assessments consisted of an informal interview, offering up questions whenever we had the chance to read together or when she was working on her writing during journal time or French class (see Appendix A).

Throughout my fieldwork experience, I have been asking Ella specific questions regarding her experiences with reading and writing. Much of what has been gathered up to this point was included in the previous section. Many times though, my questioning was before or after we have read a book, and she is looking for what to do next. She stated she thought she was a confident reader and does not usually have much trouble when reading books that are grade-level appropriate. To challenge if what she was reading to me in class, I brought in two children’s books, Papa, Why Does The Wind Blow? and Welcome Little Leo, written by Carrie Mattern to determine if she was actually reading or if she was reading by repetition and memory (see Methodologies Applied/Results). With Papa, she had no trouble at all, aside from the quick reading and occasionally incorrect words. Welcome Little Leo is geared more for children who are eight to ten years old. This time, I noticed her reading slowed down quite a bit. There were many more words on the page, there were some unfamiliar words, yet her reading of this unfamiliar book with such fluency impressed me. After discussing it with her to check for comprehension, she was able to relate with much of the content. The story is a fable about the birth of a younger brother into the family. Since she has a younger brother, she was familiar with this experience.

ELA Program and Expectations

In this classroom, Val has recently been using the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as a framework for the classroom activities, however she does not use a specific curriculum, yet has an eclectic collection of activities and lessons that she does with the students. As she has been moving toward using the CCSS more recently, she was examining past activities and discovered that a great deal of what she was doing in the past matched up with the CCSS as well. Val is more concerned with letting the stories drive the attempted goals. She wants to hear what the students have to say and is concerned with them getting their thoughts out, yet not in a structured manner necessarily of writing things down. It is important that the students get the chance to say what they need and want to say without getting slowed down and worried about the mechanics. She says, “Kids are stressed out when we want to have them have so many restrictions on their thoughts,” and mentions that “conventional spelling is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.” I tend to agree.

Methodologies Applied/Results

While working with Ella, my main goal was for her to slow down her reading so that she isn’t just glossing over words, but taking into consideration what she is actually reading and what the author is trying to convey. Ella is confident she is such a good reader; she did not feel that she needed to slow down. I let her read at her own pace until she came across a word she did not recognize. I asked her if there were any parts of the word she recognized, any letters she could sound out or chunk together. With some assistance, she was able to figure out many of the words. I would ask her to reread the sentence to see if she retained what she had just learned, and at the end of the story, I would ask questions to determine whether or not she was able to understand the unfamiliar word once it was put into context.

I also brought in two new books she had never seen before – Papa, Why Does the Wind Blow? and Welcome Little Leo, both authored by Carrie Mattern. With Papa, she had no trouble at all, aside from the quick reading and occasionally incorrect words. Welcome Little Leo is geared more for children who are eight to ten years old. This time, I noticed her reading slowed down quite a bit. There were many more words on the page, there were some unfamiliar words, yet her reading of this unfamiliar book with such fluency impressed me. After discussing it with her to check for comprehension, she was able to relate with much of the content. The story is a fable about the birth of a younger brother into the family. Since she has a younger brother, she was familiar with this experience.

Conclusion

Ella is a very skilled reader at the kindergarten level. It is evident that she reads a significant amount at home. The most important thing that Ella needs to do when she reads is to slow down. By reading so fast, she tends to skip over important words and ultimately this could affect comprehension. The books and stories that she is reading are at or above her reading level, which does give her the challenges she needs to increase her vocabulary and practice reading strategies to assist her in becoming a more successful reader.

            Because I was not able to use any reading inventories or more “formalized” assessments on any of the students, it was difficult for me to provide an entirely thorough evaluation to the degree that I would have preferred. However, through the interviews and observations, I was able to determine what Ella’s struggles were and offer up suggestions that may help her slow down and practice sounding out new vocabulary words.

Appendix A

  1. How old are you?
  2. Do you like reading?
  3. Do you read at home? With whom?
  4. What kind of books do you like to read?
  5. How often do you read?
  6. Do your parents and/or siblings read a lot? How many siblings do you have?
  7. Do you think you are a good reader? Why or why not?
  8. When you are reading, do you notice what is happening around you?
  9. When you struggle with reading, who helps you?
  10. What are your favorite subjects in school? Do you read a lot for those subjects

 

Chapter 11 Response

Comprehension is something that many readers struggle with, even sometimes those who love to read. I loved reading, however, I did struggle to some degree with comprehending what I was reading. I could remember what I read, but when we were taking the standardized tests, reading comprehension was one of my lowest scores. I struggled with making the connections. This chapter specifically spoke to teaching readers who were struggling with comprehension. Comprehension difficulty can be a result of many factors, including difficulty decoding, a limited vocabulary, overuse or underuse of background knowledge, lack of reading for meaning, among a host of other factors.

My favorite part of this chapter was the page that listed the questions that would be beneficial to help lead a discussion to check for understanding. The questions each have a specific goal in mind – comparing, contrasting, making connections, predicting, etc. Gunner states that lower level questions are often asked of students who are considered lower level readers. This is unfair to both the student and the rest of the class. With guidance and one on one work, even if it is just another student who excels in comprehension, they may often have insightful additions to discussions and that reservoir may never be touched because we assume they lack the ability.

It is important for students who struggle with comprehension to not be thought of as any less intelligent than the other students. Every student individually is going to have his or her own struggles, and comprehension just happens to be one of them. 

Chapter 10 Response

Gunner cites, “According to one review of the research, vocabulary deficiency is the primary cause of academic failure for disadvantaged students in grades 3 through 12 (Becker, 1977).” This statistic unfortunately does not surprise me. These days, students are spending much more of their time play video games, games on the iPod, iPad or iPhone or other devices, and less time playing outside and reading.  When thinking back to when I was learning to read and was just beginning to build my vocabulary, I remembered the first “big” word I read. Two weeks ago, in class we discussed where we find environmental print. Well, one of the places is on tags of clothing or towels. I finished washing my hands and was drying them on the towel. I saw the tag, and so I began to read it. It said “America’s favorite towel.” I had read the word America before, or it had been taught to me, but when I decoded “favorite,” I was ecstatic. I thought it was such a big word and was so proud of myself! …Except I had no idea what it meant to be America’s favorite towel. I ran to my mom and she explained the meaning of the word to me, so naturally, the next thing I did was run back to the towel and read the word over and over until I knew how to spell it by heart.

The main reason I was expanding my vocabulary as fast as I was as a child was because I loved words and I loved to read. However, it was not fun if I had no idea what I was reading! Sharing this love for words with students is one of the things I think will help them to expand their vocabularies. By nature, we are naturally competitive and love to have fun. Let’s use word games! Let’s tell jokes! If we try to tell a joke with no words, or if we leave out words, will it be as funny? Of course not! If a game didn’t have words in the instructions, how would we know what the rules are? What if the game requires the use of words? It might be interesting (in an older classroom) to try having a day of complete silence, even the teacher, to understand the importance of words. If students do not develop a love for words, or at the minimum a liking for words, life could be difficult and boring.

I am happy. I am sad. I am mad. All of these words do convey the meaning, but what if you are feeling ecstatic? Heartbroken? Furious? This gives much more depth to the emotion that is being felt. My prayer for my students is that they love words. A three year-old I know (now he is five!) once learned the word intelligent. He was so proud and went around telling everyone how intelligent he was, but that his mom was a genius. If we can help students to be engaged in their learning of words and excited when they master a new one, I think that will help significantly! That boy, he is so intelligent, and I am so proud of him for knowing that his mom is a genius. What entertainment teaching vocabulary can bring into our lives!

Chapter 9 Response

One of the things I have really appreciated about this book was the variety of ways it offers for teaching struggling readers and writers different tasks. Chapter 9 spoke of ways to teach several different techniques for syllabic, morphemic and contextual analysis. Teaching syllables might not seem that hard to those of us who don’t struggle, but it can be quite difficult to master if a student doesn’t quite have a grasp of reading and writing. One technique it offered up was the pattern approach for teaching syllables. In this approach, you would start with a one-syllable word, such as tie, then tiger, then spider, diner and miser (the example given in the book). What this technique does is allow for the student to have a solid base to start with and start figuring out the connection between all of those words, building one off of another.

Techniques for teaching morphemic analysis were also given in this chapter. Morphemic analysis, as Gunner states, is “identification of meaningful parts of a word to derive the meaning of an unknown word.” This has to do with learning prefixes, suffixes, and root words. One technique that was offered for teaching morphemic analysis was the use of a word wall. If students are able to figure out parts of what a polysyllabic word mean, there is a higher chance that they will be able to use contextual evidence to figure out the meaning of the whole word. To teach this, it is necessary to teach prefixes and suffixes separately, prefixes coming first because suffixes are harder to learn. When teaching these, it is helpful to use words that are known to the students, and to teach them that prefixes are a separate entity from the root word.

Teaching contextual analysis was also in this chapter. This means using verbal cues of a sentence to determine the meaning of a word. This is a more difficult task. There are several steps that need to be taken in order to do this. First off, a student must identify that a word is unknown, but then he or she must also choose to use the context of the rest of the sentence. The student must also pick out clues in the sentence that might help derive meaning, put all of the clues together, use previous knowledge they have with the clues, try it out with the meaning they think is correct and then fix and refine it if it does not work within the sentence.

As I mentioned before, the teaching strategies that have been offered in this book have been very helpful to my understanding in how to teach certain techniques to struggling readers. This chapter has been especially helpful for students who are struggling with any of these aspects. I am confident I will be using these strategies in my future classroom and I am very excited about it!