Posts Tagged ‘reading comprehension’

Struggling Reader Interventions

Newsela Screenshot

As semester 1 comes to a close, I am gearing up for a new intervention group. I will get a group of about 7 students who are below grade level in reading (based on the MAP Measures of Academic Progress score). I will work with them twice a week for a half hour. As a small group, we will focus on improving our reading strategies and skills, as well as confidence with reading (a key component, in my opinion).

We will begin by having a frank discussion of why we are meeting as an intervention group. I want to empower my students, not make them feel like they are being ‘punished’ for an extra hour per week. I let them know that they have many strengths and skills, but sometimes we may need to brush up on one skill in particular or practice a skill until it become easier or more automatic. I make them feel special like we are in a top secret testing research group trying to figure out all of the tricks of the standardized tests (we discuss test-taking language and strategies as well). It’s important to me that they feel like part of a team when we meet, and that everyone enjoys working together. Let’s just say there is a lot of candy and bribery involved in the beginning.

An analogy I like to use with my struggling readers is that becoming a strong reader is sometimes like baking cookies – you can have all the best ingredients, but if you are missing one tiny item (like salt), the cookies just won’t work. It’s my job to help them realize that they have all those wonderful ingredients ready to go, and I help them find the missing ‘salt’ so that everything comes together. We aren’t starting from scratch, we’re just identifying and filling a tiny gap here or there.

On our first day, I will introduce them to this awesome new website I came across called Newsela. Newsela is self-described as, “an innovative way for students to build reading comprehension with non-fiction that’s always relevant: daily news.” Essentially, it is a news website that allows you to change the reading level of an article at the click of a button. I can upload my class roster and assign readings to my students, complete with a comprehension quiz at the end! And since we have iPads, the students can even annotate or take notes as they read the articles. If you peruse the website, you will see that they are all very high-interest stories. We are beginning with “Making a robot that flies like a jellyfish swims.”

The Lexile levels of the articles range from 630 to 1130. Below is a Lexile to grade level conversion chart reported on the Lexile website.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 5.47.10 PMI can assign any student a different Lexile level based on his/her individual needs. I am going to start all of my students at the 630 level as we build rapport, confidence, and momentum. My goal is to have them reading independently at the 800 level before they are dismissed from interventions.

So what will we be DOING with the articles? I plan to follow a lot of the close-reading strategies and text-based reading strategies as outlined in the following downloadable product on Teachers Pay Teachers:

Close Reading and Text Based Reading Strategies (c) Kristen Dembroski

First, we will activate any prior knowledge students might have about jellyfish and/or robots, and we try to predict what they might have in common. Next, I will pre-teach only one important vocabulary word: imitate. We will scan the article and notice that it is divided into sections. We will read it out loud together as a group, and then decide what the main idea or key idea of the entire article was.

The next part of the lesson combines text-based reading strategies and the SQ3R method. It involves 2 different highlighter colors, let’s say pink (color #1) and blue (color #2). First, I will have the students highlight in pink (color #1) any sentences that they believe supports our main idea of the paragraph – supporting details. If our main idea is, ‘scientists are trying to invent flying robots that imitate jellyfish,’ then we will highlight in color #1 any ideas that help to explain how and/or why scientists are planning to accomplish this.

Next, we will turn each of the subsection titles into a question. For example, instead of “Very Simple Creatures,” we might ask, “Why are jellyfish considered very simple creatures?” Students will use their second color to highlight any sentences or key details in that subsection that helps them answer the question. The key here is that they are always looking for evidence in the text – it’s not just pulled out of nowhere. This plan also helps students to visually chunk the text into smaller manageable parts – a strategy they can easy enact with all of their reading.

So that is our plan to tackle non-fiction for a few weeks. I will slowly increase the Lexile level to test the waters and see how students fair with less and less guided support from me. I want to see these skills of activating prior knowledge, chunking text, and looking for main ideas with supporting evidence FROM the text, to become automatic. I have high hopes for these students, and I can’t wait to report back with their progress!



Online Reading Comprehension

‘Kids these days are so good with computers – certainly better than I will ever be! They’re whatchya call ‘Digital Natives’. They spend so much time with technology, they know exactly what to do. What could we possibly teach them in school?’

Have you heard something like this before? It’s a popular school of thought. Unfortunately, it’s fundamentally flawed, and research indicates that schools need to start addressing the issues of Digital Literacy: the ability to communicate (read, write, speak, listen) effectively via technology. It’s not enough to simply take students to the computer lab and give them time to do research or type up their papers. Putting technology in their hands does not automatically mean you are using technology effectively in the classroom. We need to actually show them – model – digital literacy skills of locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating effectively online.

Another popular yet incorrect assumption is that reading books and reading online require the same set of reading strategies and skills. I mean – they’re both just information, right? Wrong. There are several key differences between reading online and reading traditional print that educators must understand. First, online texts are multimodal – they consist of media presented in multiple forms, from text to graphics, photographs, audio, video and more. Meaning can be conveyed through size, layout, proportion, and color. Students need to be taught how to ‘read’ these new kinds of ‘texts’ and draw connections between information presented in multiple media. This is hard work for our brain! Multimedia has so much potential for reaching our students with different learning styles and needs, but we must first teach them how to utilize it. Not to mention, there are SO many distractions and distractors online – it can be a real sensory overload!

When we read a traditional book, believe it or not, a lot of the work is done for us. The author has already pre-determined your purpose for reading, the order in which you will read everything, and how the text is organized. When reading online, we get to make all of these decisions for ourselves. We start out with a question or a problem, make decisions, click away, and build a ‘choose your own adventure’ kind of reading experience. Because online texts are nonlinear, this means that no two people will have the exact same online reading experience. And since we – the readers – are the ones with the question/problem, only we can determine when we have fulfilled our online reading purpose and we can stop reading. That’s a lot of pressure!

Students require strong metacognitive abilities (awareness of our thinking) when reading online, as they must constantly reflect on everything they read, whether it is pertinent to their reading purpose, and what to do next. Every single navigational choice or click requires self-regulating reading strategies (planning, predicting, monitoring, evaluation), forward inferential thinking (predicting – what do I expect to find when I click this?), prior knowledge (of both the reading topic and prior experiences with technology), and global reading strategies such as questioning and synthesis (how does this fit in with what I already know? just read on the previous screen?). Phew – reading online is tough! We use more reading strategies more often when reading online, and we use them in unique and creative ways that are distinct from traditional print reading strategies.

So you see, we do need to address these issues in the classroom. We need to model for our students and give them lots of guided practice with reading for comprehension online. Being raised around technology does not automatically make our students proficient online readers.

One tool that is helping to bridge this gap in American Schools is the ORCA: Online Reading Comprehension Assessment. It is a 5-year research project funded by the United States Department of Education. The research team, located at the University of Connecticut, includes Dr. Donald Leu, Dr. John Kulokowich, Dr. Nell Sedransk, and Dr. Julie Coiro. The team has been generous enough to let me use this tool to conduct my own research for my dissertation before the assessment will be made available to schools across the nation.

The ORCA measures students’ abilities with 4 critical digital literacy skills: locate, evaluate, synthesize, and communicate. This is NOT your typical standardized assessment! It is designed to look familiar to students – a lot like Facebook. The students login, create an online profile, then interact with a peer named Brianna who asks questions and gives the students tasks to perform. These tasks range from reading email, searching the Internet, locating specific articles, summarizing (1 article) and synthesizing (multiple articles) the information, copying and pasting, evaluate the credentials and credibility of an author and article, and finally constructing a summative email. The ORCA measures everything a student does from the terms they type into ‘Gloogle’ (the ORCA intranet version of Google), to which links they choose from a list of search results. In the end, there are 16 tasks that are measured.

Online Reading Comprehension Assessment (c) Kristen Dembroski

For my research, I am conducting a 2-Phase Mixed Methods study that is investigating possible variables that may affect student success with the ORCA such as use of reading strategies, time spent on task, prior experiences with technology, and level of confidence. Here are my students taking the ORCA last week:

Online Reading Comprehension Assessment (c) Kristen Dembroski

In my first phase, I administered the ORCA to 123 students in 8th grade. As you can see from the average scores below, we need to adjust our 8th grade Language Arts curriculum to address the skills of evaluating online texts (is this a credible source?) and communicating that information appropriately (constructing email, citing sources, etc.)

Average scores out of 4 (n=123)
Locate: 2.54
Synthesize: 2.91
Evaluate: 1.81
Communicate: 1.33

I can’t wait for this tool to be available nationwide – I think this is going to make a huge impact on students and the way we teach reading comprehension. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on the progress of my dissertation as well – I am actually excited about this project, and I know the results will be interesting and of critical importance.




is txting 2 much bad 4 u??

We read a great article today from Junior Scholastic titled “IS TXTING 2 MUCH BAD 4 U?” Our learning targets were reading for detail and highlighting with a purpose. We first just read through the article, had a brief discussion, then went back and highlighted the pros and cons in two different colors. Next, we identified the audience and purpose of the article. Finally, I elected a student to be the recorder (nice handwriting, right?) and the class create a giant t-chart of the pros (benefits) and cons (dangers) of texting. I was pretty impressed with the list they generated! In the interest of full disclosure, I must add that they were pretty miffed that the article appeared ‘biased’ to them – too many cons and too few pros. A great discussion though!

Texting Pros Cons (c) Kristen Dembroski


In preparation for our Argumentative Writing Unit, tomorrow we will identify the stakeholders in this topic, then write a blog entry that includes a thesis (student’s opinion on the topic) and evidence from the article.


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