Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The New Action Plan for Literacy

As many of my loyal readers know, I have been especially interested in combatting low literacy among my students. It has been a problem for me since I began teaching at my school. Every year, I have to check the "promotion in doubt" box on a majority of my report cards because my students do not progress sufficiently in reading. My class is comprised of a majority ELL population, but the interesting part of the problem is that often times it is not my ELLs (from Spanish or Mixteco-speaking homes) who are at-risk in literacy, but my students come from English speaking or bilingual homes who have either passed the LAB-R or are only classified as ELLs because of low overall language (i.e. they are not strong in Spanish either), not just low levels of English. It is this population that I have found to be most at-risk in my class over the years. Last year was as especially taxing year on me in terms of the academic levels of my students and the effort I put into providing intervention for these students within the regular classroom setting. Despite my efforts, many of my students were promoted to second grade that were reading at level C (they are supposed to be at J). To me, this was completely devastating. A good 50% of my class went to second grade without having learned how to read.
During the past 2 years, one of the interventions I tried was using the Fountas and Pinnell "Phonics" curriculum during extended day to supplement Words Their Way (which was our primary word study program). The first year I used "Phonics," I saw phenomenal results among the 6 students who received the instruction. At one point in the year, my intervention group had surpassed students in my class who were not receiving intervention. Last year, I used it again during extended day, but I only saw my group 3 days a week instead of 4 and I had 10 students instead of 6. The ten students I had were extremely at-risk for "reading failure" and were difficult to manage. Needless to say, I did not see the same results during my second year. I also did not see results from Words Their Way.

This year, as many of you know, my school has decided to implement Fundations as our sole and primary word study program. I read through the teachers guide over the summer and just felt so strongly that I couldn't picture using this program. It seemed so scripted and procedure-oriented. The lessons didn't have clear objectives. I kept an open mind until I was sent to their training (which was confusing at best) and that was when I decided that I just couldn't see using it in my class. It is so scripted that there is almost no room for differentiation. It's like your providing the intervention that 30% of your class actually needs to the whole class. I just can't waste the other 70% of my students' time like that. Also, I found their lessons just plain boring and completely lacking in context (which for ELLs is sooooo important).

So, here is my plan for this year: I am using some of the Fundations materials (which I actually think are excellent) to implement Fountas and Pinnell "Phonics." My students have word study groups which allows me to differentiate on both an individual and group basis. It also provides so much context for the lessons through shared reading poems and literature that I really see my kids mastering the skills and strategies. I have to say that my favorite part of the day is first thing in the morning when I arrive and I prep their notebooks (which I designed!) for the day's word study lesson. My students are doing so well this year with the curriculum. They are so independent in their work and are truly grasping the concepts on a deep level (i.e. no gaps in their learning). I have seen so much progress and it's only November!!! I have kids who came without letter-sound recognition who are tapping out sounds to spell new words on their own. The children who came in with more skills are challenged to go even further. Everyone is so motivated during word study time!!! For my real strugglers, I reinforce the lessons during extended day using supplemental materials such as magnetic letters (I don't have enough for the whole class) to really be secure in their understanding. I am so motivated right now by this program and I wish it were more widely used in the NYC public schools. I tried to share it with my colleagues, but they all decided it was too much prep (which it's really NOT). If I can just get one person to try it, they will see how amazing it is!!!