Focused Instructional Time is a fifty-minute block that occurs for students at the South Shore Charter Public School Tuesday through Friday each week. In order to address fluency and reading comprehension deficits, this researcher completed targeted interventions to address individual student needs in the form of a Book Club, throughout a twelve-week period.
This topic is important to research because the focused instructional model is a research based approach to learning. This is an opportunity every day for students to have additional service delivery if their IEP needs require individual and/or small group service delivery, in addition to the push in, co-taught model that SSCPS embodies. This Focused Instructional Time can benefit not only students who have specific plans, but teachers can utilize the time to meet each student's individual needs, including higher achieving students who wish to be challenged and extend upon topics taught in their regular education classrooms.
After meetings with different administrators to understand their perspective on defining "focused instructional time," this researcher also met with teachers to gather their thoughts on the topic, and how they feel it should be utilized day to day. It is imperative that all adults in the school have the same drive and understanding of the expectations for that time with students to be successful. This researcher gathered, at random, ten students in fifth grade to be part of the target group for interventions, thinking that all students have the ability to increase their fluency and comprehension, regardless of instructional and independent reading levels.
The objective of this field work investigation is to support the theory that by utilizing focused intervention time with a target and control group of students, students in fifth grade can achieve higher scores overall (on vocabulary and comprehension assessments) by targeting specific student needs with regards to fluency and comprehension.
Students at SSCPS are tested with regular quizzes regarding vocabulary instruction in their ELA classes. As a researcher working closely with the ELA team, there are not many avenues the teachers have to be able to determine whether students are remembering what they read. Weekly vocabulary quizzes do not assess comprehension of the student novels that are read in classes. For many years, DIBELS was used in order to measure fluency and comprehension. As of this 2019-2020 school year, grades 5 and 6 have brought in the Pearson Reading Level Indicator to assess student reading levels. Again, not an assessment of comprehension of materials read. All ELA teachers who teach fifth and sixth grade at SSCPS would argue that DIBELS, as well as the Pearson Reading Level Indicator, are not true assessments of student achievement, and should never be used to measure growth.
This left the ELA team with a debacle: how can they measure student growth and comprehension without proper materials? This researcher was drawn to the topic of using Focused Instructional Time to support student success based on the frustrations of these fellow teachers. Teachers who feel continually defeated are unsure how to best support their students, as well as accurately assess their comprehension of texts. Student ability to comprehend texts they read are building blocks for practical applications in life. When people apply for jobs, read literature for pleasure, or fill out medical forms, they all need to be able to comprehend the text and, for some, occasionally use context clues to answer the questions they come across. Simply decoding and being able to read the words on the forms is not enough.
This research project will focus on the following hypothesis: utilizing focused intervention time with a target and control group of students, students in fifth grade can achieve higher scores overall (regarding comprehension assessments) by targeting specific student needs with regards to individual fluency and comprehension.
Differentiating and scaffolding instruction to meet each student's needs is common practice for any teacher who is honing their craft to become a better educator. Students need to be intrinsically and extrmsically motivated to be successful in the classroom environment, just as teachers have their own motives to become better educators, and, as mentioned before, hone their craft. Specifically, this study looks at incorporating SEI strategies, comprehension skills, and individualizing student instruction to motivate and encourage student learning and growth in the areas of comprehension and fluency.
Reading entails using multiple components of your brain to work together. There is the obvious visual component, the tactile feel of a book or e-device in the reader's hands, the ability to block out what is going on to focus, and then comprehend the written words. Although simply stated, just merely thinking about the compartments of the brain that are used for these tasks can seem overwhelming for adults. "Learning to read proficiently calls on cognitive, linguistic, social-emotional, and regulatory processes with synergistic and reciprocal effects on each other and with instruction" (Connor, et al. (2014)). Now, consider all the many components of reading jargon that teachers are expected to know - as well as teach in some way - in Kindergarten and Grade 1, then improve upon throughout the primary years. To name a few; morphology, benchmarks, direct instruction, reading comprehension, fluency, independent reading level, instructional reading level, frustration reading level, mastery, placement tests, basal readers, Tiers 1, 2, and 3, Response-to-intervention... the list goes on! However, all of this overwhelming information does not even take into consideration the fact that not all students have English as a first language at home, or students who have learning disabilities. This is what's expected for the "norm," and teachers still have to differentiate and scaffold their instruction to meet the needs of all learners in the room at the same time.
One fifth of the school-age population speaks a language other than English, and estimates predict that by 2030 approximately 40% of students will be from home in which English is not their first language (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Students who speak English at home tend to be more easily identifiable to teachers when they present with reading difficulties. However, students who are from other backgrounds who do not have English as a first language can present in the general education population classroom differently depending on their culture and background, and teachers may find it a bit more difficult to identify those who need interventions, who have a disability, and who are in need of ELL (English Language Learner) supports and SEI (Structured English Immersion) strategies to scaffold instruction to fit the needs of the students. "When students are younger, teachers may hesitate to refer ELL students for special education services because it is difficult to determine if the learning problems students are having are the result of second language acquisition or cognitive impairment" (Solan et al. 2014 p. 329). In addition, Limbos and Geva (2001) found that teachers were able to better identify monolingual English-speaking children as at-risk for reading problems than they were able to identify ELL at risk for reading difficulties in first grade.
Teachers are now equipped with SEI strategies in their proverbial tool boxes so that they can best support all their learners in the classroom. Students who are ELL and who have English as a first language can benefit from the 7-steps, sentence frames, and pre-teaching vocabulary.
Johnston et al. (2018) states that Rousseau et al. was the first who "examined the effects of vocabulary instruction in combination with passage modeling on 5, grade 6 Hispanic students' English reading comprehension, and found that students answered more passage-specific literal comprehension questions correctly following vocabulary instruction (i.e., 10-12 key vocabulary words from the passage were taught and briefly discussed) than in a modeling only condition (i.e., the passage was read aloud to students). The number of comprehension questions answered correctly with strongest, however, when modeling was combined with vocabulary instruction" (Johnston et al, 2018 p. 65).
This research found that students can be successful in the classroom when they have the proper strategies in place to increase their comprehension of the material presented to them. In order to determine the students' reading levels (instructional, independent, and frustration) students were given the survey-level assessment. "If the student did not read at the instructional level (i.e., median WCPM falls between the 25th and 75th percentile...) three ORF passages one grade level below their current grade was presented. This process was repeated until the student's highest instructional level was identified" (Johnston, et al. 2018 p. 69). This research also takes into consideration that learning to read and teaching reading are direct, systematic approaches. There are "...five key philosophical principles [which] underlie Direct Instruction:
- All children can be taught.
- All children can improve academically and in terms of self- image.
- All teachers can succeed if provided with adequate training and materials.
- Low performers and disadvantaged learners must be taught at a faster rate than typically occurs if they are to catch up to their higher- performing peers.
- All details of instruction must be controlled to minimize the chance of students' misinterpreting the information being taught and to maximize the reinforcing effects of instruction" (Steffen. 2016. p. 5).
Students need to come to school with a staff and a structure that are willing and able to support the variety of learners that walk through the door daily. In choosing how to differentiate instruction for students, teachers and staff must remember that not all students who struggle with reading struggle in all areas or reading, but rather, need targeted interventions to succeed based on their individual cases. Once students have been identified as needing support and interventions, Jones et al. (2016) states that" we argue for a differentiated approach. Based on data suggesting that not all readers need help in all areas of reading, we promote brief, systematic interventions targeting the students' most pressing need. We are motivated by a belief that too many interventions are inefficient and fail to accelerate readers' progress." Once the fundamental need(s) have been identified, teachers can then address the specifics of what the student needs. For example, a student who needs support in the area of comprehension would not benefit from strategies that should be used for fluency. Likewise, just because a student can read and pronounce words at a rapid rate does not mean that they are able to comprehend the meaning of the text they are reading.
Students who struggle to understand what they are asked to read are at a risk for failure due to this lack of comprehension. Stevens et al. (2017) states that "reading can become a frustrating experience, which leads to an aversion to reading tasks." Therefore, students who have learning disabilities on top of this aversion tend to spend less time reading than that of students who are in the general education population. "When students with LD spend less time with text, this negatively affects vocabulary acquisition and comprehension development and may ultimately further contribute to the achievement gap for this population" (L .S. Fuchs, Fuchs, & Compton, 2010). Suggestions include "Guided oral repeated reading (RR) with teacher or peer feedback was identified as an effective method for improving reading fluency and comprehension for all readers" (Stevens, 2017 p. 576).
Furthermore, in addition to repeated reading, studies suggest that class-wide partner reads can promote development of comprehension through peers working together to achieve a goal. Even in content classrooms in middle school, "partner reading has demonstrated improvement in student fluency and comprehension skills" (Preast et al. 2019 p. 30). Paragraph shrinking and fluency building also played major roles in helping students develop comprehension of independent level texts. When classrooms focus on reading comprehension through the lens of language interventions, following a standard procedure is key to success. For example, while using the Let's Know! curriculum, "targeted skills include[d] grammar, vocabulary, text structure knowledge, inferencing, and comprehension monitoring" (Conso et al. 2016. P. 2816). Through the systematic approach and structure, students were able to learn and comprehend more than that of their peers.
Programs and Practices
DIBELS has been commonly utilized for the past ten (or more) years at SSCPS - longer than most staff have been at the school. However, this year, after listening to the teachers year after year, the administration determined that DIBELS would no longer be used, since the teachers believe it cannot accurately reflect comprehension. Teachers believe DIBELS works for fluency, but also encourages students to read as fast as they can without really retaining any information from the text they read. Thus, the Literacy Team brought in the Pearson Reading Level Indicator. This is a forty-question assessment regarding vocabulary and basic comprehension skills. It is given in an untimed setting, and supposed to be re-administered throughout the school year to determine growth of the students individually. However, teachers now believe this is a worse reference of assessment than DIBELS, because the students are not required to demonstrate reading skills to their own teachers. Although there is the benefit that students can take the assessment individually without interrupting the normal flow of classes, teachers are not hearing their students read to them, unless they read aloud in small groups or with the whole class. Therefore teachers cannot gauge a student's ability in pronunciation or fluency while reading.
The curriculum program that teachers in the fifth and sixth grades use depends on what grade level is being taught, and teacher experience. From the 2006 school year to present, one teacher has used the same curriculum that was developed by the teachers at that time. They were given Professional Development time as well as time during the school days to build a curriculum to fit the needs of their students from scratch. It was a detailed and lengthy process for not only the teachers at the time, but the administration. Bear in mind, however, this teacher also completes necessary tweaks to the curriculum here and there based on standards, student needs, and classroom populations. The other teacher - who is new to the role of teaching fifth and sixth grade this year - is using the Wit and Wisdom curriculum in a pilot to determine which curriculum is going to be the best option going forward for the learners at the school.
- Quote paper
- Kelly Rafferty-Brulport (Author), 2020, Benefits Of Focused Instruction Time (FIT) In Schools. A Field Based Research, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/583902