Case Study on Ella
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.
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.
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.
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.
- How old are you?
- Do you like reading?
- Do you read at home? With whom?
- What kind of books do you like to read?
- How often do you read?
- Do your parents and/or siblings read a lot? How many siblings do you have?
- Do you think you are a good reader? Why or why not?
- When you are reading, do you notice what is happening around you?
- When you struggle with reading, who helps you?
- What are your favorite subjects in school? Do you read a lot for those subjects