Teacher Education Practicum III
University of Alabama
“How Does My Teaching Action
Influence My Students’ Learning?”
Dr. Craig Shwery
Dr. Lee Freeman
Ms. Allison Sherrill
Mrs. Cynthia Codina
The following Action Research Studies were chosen for special merit by the Action Research Studies Review Committee consisting of four University of Alabama Alternative Certification Elementary Education Graduate Students. This packet was produced by the following CEE 596 students: Aimee M Williams, Kristi Kent, Katie Elliot, Gina Sevedge, and Katie Bowling.
Elizabeth Broadhead: Now You’re Talking! Turning Basal Readers
into a Whole-class Reading Discussion
Abbie Dean: Will My Belief That Transitional Time Should be a Structured Activity Time Make Me a More Effective Teacher?
Leslie Durrett: Improving Reading Comprehension through Writing
Now You’re Talking! Turning Basal Readers into a Whole-class Reading Discussion
University of Alabama
Now You’re Talking! Turning Basal Readers into a Whole-class Reading Discussion
For Fall 2008 I have been placed in a self-contained fourth grade classroom at a rural Title I school. Within the class, I have twenty students, nine of whom are female and eleven of whom are male. The racial composition is similar, with nine African-American students and eleven Caucasian students. There are no identified students with special needs and no English-language learners. Three students within the classroom have been identified as gifted.
The reading curriculum at the school requires teachers to use the Harcourt basal reading program for their grade level. The program consists of the basal reader; supplemental leveled trade books; and vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension teaching sections. Every portion is taught every day for a total of two hours. Most days my cooperating teacher incorporates a five minute read-aloud from another trade book, and two days out of the week the students engage in reading and writing centers.
The problem I have found with this program lies within the fluency section. The program requires the students to read portions of the book aloud while choral reading, echo reading, partner reading, or listening to a tape of the reading. I do not enjoy teaching this way, and I have found myself struggling to be effective with this program. Personally, I do not like basal readers, as I have found that they do not allow teachers to provide differentiated instruction to students. I also have found them to be extremely boring, especially when we must cover only one story per week. I know most schools mandate basal readers into their curriculum, and I will probably have to use a basal reader in the future. However, because of my negative affect toward basal readers, I feel that this has limited my effectiveness in teaching reading fluency.
The reading fluency section that I have followed requires me to either choose students to choral read or echo read, and then at certain points I ask questions about the text. I have found that students are not engaged while other students are reading, nor are they any more engaged when I stop and ask questions. I have tried using Popsicle sticks when I ask questions to ensure that all students concentrate, but this has not worked well. I have also used my cooperating teacher’s policy of requiring students to “track” with their fingers under the appropriate line of text in their book during the story, but even my best students forget and lose concentration. I would like to find a more effective means of maintaining my students’ engagement during reading than tracking. Although I am under strict parameters under the “fidelity” contract with the basal readers, I feel like I can do something that will increase my effectiveness during this portion of the reading block.
The question I have chosen for the purposes of my study is the following: “Will using a discussion approach to basal readers be more effective than traditional basal reader instruction?” With this idea, I want to help my students engage in dialogue about the text. I feel this will, in itself, enhance motivation and enhance their tracking behaviors. I also hope that the dialogue will encourage them to make connections with the text, which may in turn help them become much more motivated to read. In effect, what I want to do is bring conversation into my basal reader instruction in a way that I can more effectively teach the basal reader.
Conversational reading instruction in the elementary classroom is not a new concept, but rather one that, according to Ketch (2005), goes all the way back to Vgotsky. Vgotsky suggested that people learn best in a social environment. He discussed the innate need of human beings to use language, so that we can more effectively think, interact, and internalize new concepts. Vgotsky believed that students need to be able to be constantly using and interpreting language in order to help them make sense of their world. If this renowned educator-researcher believed so strongly in the power of classroom conversation, then why are most classrooms so full of reading instruction that is silent, mundane, and based on literal interpretations of reading passages?
This is not an easy question to answer, but Bryan, Fawson, and Reutzel (2003) suggest that the problem may have to do with the fact that independent reading is the goal for most educators with their students. Students ultimately need to be able to read by themselves for extended periods of time, and traditional reading instruction is the closest to this process. However, the researchers’ study demonstrates that traditional reading instruction is not the most engaging reading practice for elementary-aged readers. In fact, their results show that among three traditionally non-engaged fourth grade readers, the students’ off-task reading behaviors drastically drop while reading and discussing their stories with an adult researcher. The researchers conclude that when the teacher engages students in short, personal literature discussions, the students are much more engaged in their reading than when traditional reading methods such as silent sustained reading are used.
Other research studies support this finding. Clark et al. (2003) have found that educators are becoming increasingly aware that the traditional method of reading instruction may be restricting the way students talk and think in school. They recommend turning to more student-oriented discussion techniques such as collaborative reasoning, where the teacher poses an open-ended question and allows her students to defend and explain their answers to each other. Other researchers have suggested other types of discussion forums, such as literature circles; book clubs; think-pair-share; individual conferences; or whole-class, cross-age, or small group discussions (Ketch, 2005). One study’s book talks, in which fourth grade students were given a think-pair-share question format to help them enjoy nonfiction books, increased the circulation of nonfiction books by 50% (Vent & Ray, 2007). These were books in which students had previously shown little interest in and now surpassed fiction books in their circulation.
What are the benefits of using these discussion techniques in one’s reading instruction? Obviously, from Vent & Ray’s study, discussions like the book talks can increase students’ enjoyment of the books. Long & Gove (2003) report that the fourth grade students in their study invested much more time and enthusiasm in the books while doing literature circles. They recount some of the words students used to describe the new reading technique: “got the bug for reading and writing,” “getting into reading and writing,” and “craving it like they crave chocolate.” These researchers suggest that students need to be emotionally connected to the text, and we as teachers are responsible for helping them make this connection. Our jobs as teacher-facilitators are to “ask open-ended questions…, listen actively to students’ responses, honor each comment offered, respond positively to all comments, and encourage students’ ‘wondering’ by helping them connect more profoundly with the text” (p. 352). When we do these things, we are helping students become more active learners. We are not only engaging them in the text for that time, but we are helping them to become lifelong readers.
Celani and McIntyre (2006), in Reading Horizons Journal, have given a few lasting tips for introducing literature discussions in the classroom. First, like Long & Gove, they affirm that teachers must take an active role in the discussion by asking open-ended questions, encouraging deeper thoughts, and inviting participation from all students. They also stress that the best discussions are those that use different types of questions and require multiple connections. They note that the type of literature is important, and, along with many other researchers, they believe that the discussions are best when the students select the books themselves. Finally, the researchers assert that just because students may not read well does not mean they do not think well. They strongly warn against teachers “dummying” down material for the students thought to be less capable learners.
Before I began my study, I first analyzed students’ engagement during reading. I noticed that students were more engaged in lessons at the beginning of the week when they had not yet read a story, but by the end of the week few students were keeping their eyes on the text and even fewer were following the text with their finger. Personally, I did not mind that students were not using their fingers to follow along with the story. However, I did care that students were not reading along, which told me that students were not engaged with the text. Therefore, I decided to keep a record of student engagement during the last lesson of Justin and the Best Biscuits in the Whole World. “Student engagement,” for the purpose of this study, is defined by the behaviors of students following along with their eyes or fingers. For this study, I will call this behavior “tracking.” Below are the results I found in the pre-intervention.
Observation Record of “Tracking” (Student Engagement) Before Intervention
Based on these results, I found that about half of the class had difficulty tracking throughout the instruction. Two of my students would not track at all, and three students were tracking only one of the four times I checked. This means that one-fourth of the class was tracking less than 25% of the time I made my observations.
Thankfully, 11 students were tracking more than 50% of the time. This is over half the class. Five students, or one-fourth of the class, were tracking every time I checked. This is not a bad ratio. However, I felt it could be greatly improved by modifications on my part. I set two major goals: first, I wanted to increase the percentage of students tracking over 50% of the time to fifteen out of twenty students (75% of the class). Second, I desired to decrease the number of students tracking 25% of the time or below to zero out of twenty students (0% of the class).
Timeline of Study
Because of the nature of my action research study, my assessments were a little different than usual. In the three days during each week in intervention, I implemented my action research study. I utilized a discussion-oriented format with questions focused on making connections with the text. At the end of each week, I used the tracking checklist to serve as my informal “post-test.” I could have only done this post-test one time after one week, but I wanted to ensure as valid of results as possible. I did not want my data to be skewed by the natural engagement created by a particular story or genre. Therefore, I assessed students three times in the three weeks of intervention, and I later averaged them to serve as one set of post-test results.
Analysis and Results
Table 3. Percent Change between Pre-Test and Post-Test Average
*Note: Items in blue represent those percents with a positive change. Items in red represent those percents with a negative change.
Looking at my post-test data, I found that thirteen of the twenty students in the class were actually more engaged in the lessons overall. Five of the students exhibited no change, and two students actually showed a decline in engaged behaviors from pre-test to post-test. Regarding the two students who showed a decline, I realized that both of these students are advanced students in the class. One student, especially, exhibits fluency and comprehension skills that are way above the levels of his peers. I feel that my questioning techniques may have slowed these students down in reading the story. Since I incorporated reading strategies that are already strategies of good readers, I feel that perhaps my questions were things these students had already thought about in reading the story. They may also not have liked the slower pace that occurred by the addition of the group discussion within the basal reading time.
The five stagnant scores are just as explainable. Of these five scores, three of the students were already tracking the text 100% of the time in the pre-test. Therefore, they could not have demonstrated any more improvement in the post-test. I am glad their scores did not decrease, because to me this shows that the new teaching strategies did not hinder their engagement. Finally, I had two students who could have improved, but did not. Both of these students are low to mid-level readers. I do not have any response to their lack of improvement, other than the fact that from these results I do not think the discussion strategies or questions helped engage these students. Again, their scores did not drop from pre-test to post-test, so I feel that the intervention did not hinder their engagement in the texts.
With thirteen of the twenty students demonstrating increased engagement in the stories, I feel that my action research was a success. Although I only met one of my goals from the pre-intervention, I was only one student short of achieving my second goal. Dropping the number of students with 0% and 25% engagement rates from 5 students to none was very hard, and I was happy to see the percentages of four of these students drastically improve. My first goal, which I was able to achieve, had been to have fifteen students (75% of the class) tracking over 50% of the time in my post-test. I achieved this goal with sixteen students (80% of the class), tracking over 50% of the time. This was a big improvement from the 11 students (55% of the class) who had accomplished this task in the pre-intervention assessment. Both of these goals were daunting tasks, and the fact that I was able to achieve one of them while improving the results of thirteen students left me very satisfied with the outcome.
The action research project answered my questions about basal readers in a way that no number of peer-reviewed journal articles ever could. The in-depth analysis of my own teaching made me think about my teaching in a way that was both humbling and strictly personal. I was able to “see,” through data, how my teaching actions influenced my students’ learning and the extent to which my style of teaching made a difference in how students learned. I had never liked basal readers before implementing this action research; now I can see some value in them if used in a different way. I now like the easy-to-use format of basal readers, and I like the comprehensiveness of the material included for each story. I still feel that basal readers offer pretty basic comprehension instruction, and I strongly believe that they should be well supplemented with other reading materials and teacher-created questions. I believe that the one-story-per-week format that is currently popular among school districts is boring by itself, but with a little teacher creativity and extra planning, these basal stories can engage students for the entire week. Like I did, teachers just have to find their own method of using the basal readers.
I had thought my own discussion method had worked well until I saw the results. Then I realized that it had done wonders for students’ engagement. I was strongly impressed with the results of the study, and I learned how valuable data can be when determining to change one’s methods of teaching. I also saw how differently students respond when they are able to share their own input in teaching. They truly become exciting about learning. This is what I, as a teacher, hope to accomplish. I am now a strong proponent of reading discussions, and I know I will continue using them in the future. When I become a teacher, I hope to further modify how I use this technique with basal readers, so I can further improve my teaching and better help all of my students succeed.
Bryan, G., Fawson, P.C., & Reutzel, D.R (2003). Sustained silent reading: Exploring the value of literature discussion with three non-engaged readers. Reading Research and Instruction.43(1), 47-73.
Celani, K. & McIntyre, E. (2006.) Knowing the text, knowing the learner: literature discussions with fifth grade struggling readers. Reading Horizons Journal, 47(2), 97-119.
Clark, A. M., Anderson, R. C., Archodidou, A., Nguyen-Jahiel, K., Kuo, L.-J., and Kim, I. (2003). Collaborative Reasoning: Expanding ways for children to talk and think in the classroom. Educational Psychology Review, 15, 181-98.
Ketch, A. (2005). Conversation: the comprehension connection. The Reading Teacher, 59(1), 8-13.
Long, T.W., & Gove, M.K. (2003). How engagement strategies and literature circles promote critical response in a fourth-grade, urban classroom. The Reading Teacher 57(4), 350-61.
Vent, C.T., & Ray, J.A. (2007). There is more to reading than fiction! Enticing elementary students to read nonfiction books. Teacher Librarian, 34(4), 42-4.
Will My Belief That Transitional Time Should be a Structured Activity Time
Make Me a More Effective Teacher?
University of Alabama
CEE 496 -004
Will My Belief That Transitional Time Should be a Structured Activity Time Make Me a More Effective Teacher?
As students progress through their daily school routine, there are times when transitional periods could be used as instructional periods to ensure that students remain engaged throughout their day. Much of time allotted transiting from one subject to another; one activity to the next or from one class to free- time could be used to alter classroom management skills and organization within the classroom community. Using this transition time to instruct students maintains student attention, on task behavior and promotes further learning outside of instructional large group lessons. Thus I prose this question: “Will my belief that transitional time should be a structured activity time, make me a more effective teacher?” For instance, I am questioning my ability in how to instruct during classroom transitional times, while ensuring classroom order and on task behavior. It is my belief the students can transition to other areas of the classroom or curriculum while also learning. I see transitional time as an opportunity to learn, rather than a chance for social growth.
This study was conducted in a first grade classroom at Walker Elementary in Tuscaloosa County. The students in this class range from six to eight years old. Three of the students in the class are repeating the first grade. Most of the students in the classroom are boys, with the total number of students at seventeen. One student in the classroom has a mild form of Autism; therefore this class is considered an inclusion classroom. I conducted my study for three weeks, every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday when I was in the classroom. The observations took place as students moved around the room. As students completed morning work they would move to their individualized reading spots, students would then move to the large group rug, back to their seats and then to either a small group table or to another task in the room. The students in this classroom move often around the room. Students rarely sit in the seats. There is little to no student collaboration in this classroom environment. Using various methods, I worked with organized ways for students to learn while they moved around the room. I felt that much instructional time was lost, because the students were constantly on the move. The students in this classroom enjoyed this transitional time, because they had the opportunity to socialize with their peers. However, I felt that to much socialization was occurring therefore I implemented instructional time during this transitional time to ensure that I was teaching as much as I could without wasting time. Much of my observations for instructional time occurred as students moved from large group instruction to their seats, as the students went to and from lunch and also as students moved from physical education back to the classroom setting.
Purpose for Study:
The reasoning and purpose behind this study was to improve my ability to use transitional time as instructional time so my students would become more actively engaged in learning. I felt that much of my instructional time was lost because the students used transitional time as social time. Therefore, I used organized methods while having students’ transition from one place to another. This enabled me to provide clear directions and conduct effective classroom management skills as the students transitioned from one activity to another.
As an example used during this transition time, I would have students who were the leaders of the table come and pick up their tables’ materials. These students would go back to their tables and arrange all materials so students could begin work the minute they sat down. The leader of table would set up each table members work area, with a sharpened pencil, scissors, crayons, glue, etc. While the table leaders set the work areas, the other students in the class would be listening to my instruction on the large rug. The tables in the classroom were set with names. These names were in correlation with the days of the week. As I would call students back to their tables, I would spell out the name of their table. In this case, students on the rug would need to be actively engaged by listening to each letter I said. If talking was occurring or students were not paying attention, they would not know when to return to their tables. I felt this method of transition enabled me to assist the students in the development of their spelling as well as provide active learning during transition times. Not only does active engagement during transitional times keep students on task, it also helps them in self – management strategies. “An important area of skill building that might benefit from such a self – management intervention is in – class transitions” (Connell 346). Holding these students to the expectations to listen to instructions, follow directions carefully and engage in learning at all times, assists them to develop their own self – management skills as well as develop a more organized mentality.
In another instance used to utilize transitional time more effectively, I had students help with the organization of the room and its cleanliness. As students moved from their seats to the lunch line, they were to find pieces of trash or food on the floor and clean up around their seating area. This time to maintain order in the classroom, I called students with lunch boxes to line up first. Using this method ensured that students would line up in an orderly manner, that was suited to handle the routines within the cafeteria. According to Lynk, a 25- year teacher, “[a] room [should] embody [ones] belief about how to build [the] students’ sense of independence and collective responsibility” (Truby 27). By implementing a clean- up system within the classroom, the students gained responsibility in their classroom as well as took pride in how it looked. I believe that although, I act as the teacher in the classroom, it is just as much the students’ room as it was mine. Therefore, by using transitional time to clean – up the room the students were learning skills of respect and pride by taking care of their classroom.
In an effort to assure students remained on task during this structured transitional time each week I had three students act as class ambassadors. These students were to be a guide or helper to the other students in the class. If a student was unsure of what to do, or had a question about something they had missed, they were to ask these students. My thought process behind having student leaders was to create a sense of community during transitional times. This time allowed students to communicate, but they were to only ask the class ambassadors. This method assisted students with valid question asking, paying attention, as well as promoted a student -centered classroom. An advocate for a self- contained classroom states, that “organizational pattern[s] … promote instruction which is child – centered rather than subject- centered (McGrath, Rust 2). A student – centered classroom promotes further growth and learning for students. If students have responsibility and are held accountable for their actions, then they are more likely to engage in learning. During this instructional time, students held various responsibilities that contributed to their role in the classroom.
Another method instituted while monitoring the instructional time during our classroom transitions, was by question asking. Prior to the students returning to their seats, they had to answer a question about the previous lesson. I used this method both as a wrap- up to my lesson, as well as an informal assessment and a continuation of instructional time during our class transition from large group back to their tables. As stated by Sahlstrom, [the] aspect of teacher questioning also seems to act as important participation monitoring work, which, […] is oriented by both teachers and students”(Sahlstrom 7). I found this aspect of transitioning to be extremely effective both during instructional time as well as transitional time. I found the more I used this method, the more the students began to pay attention during the lesson. The students feared they would not be able to answer a question when it came time to return to their seat. Students became active participants in the learning process. More often than not, students were engaged fully during the lesson, as well as, during the transitional time. Students were very attentive while waiting for their turn to answer a comprehensive question. I found this method to also assist students in the levels of comprehension. It also improved the “unknown factor” in the room. Students usually knew what task to complete as they returned to their seat, because they had been so attentive during large group instruction. When taking various methods into consideration, most were effective at improving transitional time into instructional time. Students became adapted to the change and now struggle when order is not promoted during transitional times.
During the three weeks of implementation I used four main sources to improve my instructional time during transitional time periods throughout the day. The first week, I used table leaders and spelled out table names for students to return to their seats. Students were required to listen to the spelling of each table name in order to return to their tables. The tables were named after the days of the week. Thus, by spelling the table names out loud, students were also enhancing their ability to spell.
The second method implemented, was the use of students picking up trash and left over food up from around their seats. As a class, the students used this structured transitional method to take responsibility of their classroom. I felt it was necessary for the students to have a sense of pride in their classroom, thus with organization and cleanliness, the students could take part in respecting and taking care of their learning environment.
My third method in creating an instructional time during times of transition was by creating classroom ambassadors. I had three students that are exceptionally well –behaved and remained on task. These students were chosen to be the classroom ambassadors. The three classroom representatives were to answer student questions concerning unfamiliarity with what to do, uncertainty in how to complete an assignment, or assist students who were not paying attention during large group instructional time. I felt by using classroom ambassadors, I would create a sense of community within the classroom. My hope was that students would be able to communicate with each other about their activities and students would be able to develop questioning skills.
Finally, the fourth and most effective method,was an integration of lesson content, active learning, comprehension building and an informal assessment of student content knowledge. Students were to actively engage in learning by answering a comprehensive question about the previous lesson prior to returning to their seats. Students paid close attention during instructional time as a large group lesson took place. Students became actively involved during the lesson asking questions they were unsure about, so they would be better prepared to answer a question before returning to their seat. I found this method to be the most effective, considering it engaged student participation, allowed me to informally assess their knowledge, as well as use the transitional time period as an instructional time period.
Table Leaders line up to get materials to set up the work areas for each student at their table.
Students start to pick up trash at the front rug, before heading back to their seats to pick up trash and food crumbs around their work area.
Table leaders work hard to set up student work areas at their assigned tables, while the table members wait to hear their table name spelled aloud.
Student Ambassadors help to answer questions and ensure that their other classmates know what to do, how to do it, and answer any other questions their fellow classmates may have about material they may have missed during large group instruction.
Students raise their hands to answer the conclusive comprehension questions at the completion of their lesson so they can return to their seats to get started on their work.
Analysis and Results:
With implementation of all four methods, the fourth method was the most effective. Students were more attentive during large group instruction to ensure adequate knowledge to answer an end of the lesson question. With only one student answering a question at a time; there was more order in returning to their seats. The classroom had a better organization in movement and the students began their seatwork as they returned to their table.
The methods that were implemented the first week had a positive outcome. The students had the ability so spell their table names by the end of the week. Having table leaders helped with students staying on task and remaining organized as they worked. Students also began to take pride and ownership of their classroom as they were expected to help pick up the classroom. Using this task kept the students structured during transitional time as well as improves their respect for their classroom.
The method used during week two’s transitional period, was useful for creating a sense of classroom community, but was not very effective as an instructional method. Students enjoyed being able to confer with other classmates about the correct way to complete an assignment, however the Ambassadors took advantage of their ability to instruct. Therefore, I feel that this method was not beneficial to all students, nor did it seem fair. All together, the theory of transitional time being structured activity time is more beneficial than using transitioning time as a social time.
In conclusion, I have found that using transitional time, as instructional time will make me a more effective teacher. Using transitional time to provide a structured activity for students allows more instructional time throughout the day. Not only will students learn more academic information during this transitional time, but they will also gain respect and pride for their classroom and classmates. Taking the time, to instruct students as the move from one activity to another, provides me with more feedback on their academic advancement and also provides me with lessons that I need to further invest in or elaborate on. By conducting this study, I will now implement structured activities throughout transitional periods during the day to ensure that I am teaching to my fullest potential.
Connell, Mitchell C., Judith J. Carta, and Donald M. Baer. "Programming Generalization of In- Class Transition Skills: Teaching Preschoolers with Developmental Delays to Self- Assess and Recruit Contingent Teacher Praise." Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 345-352 26 (1993): 345-52. UA. Wilson Web. Gorgas, Tuscaloosa. 07 Nov. 2008. Keyword: In- Class Transitions.
McGrath, C., * Rust, J. (2002, March). Academic Achievement and Between – Class Transition Time for Self – Contained and Departmental Upper – Elementary Classes. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 29(1), 40. Retrieved November 7, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.
Sahlstrom, J. F. "The Interactional Organization of Hand Raising in Classroom Interaction." Journal of Classroom Interaction 37 (2002): 47-57. UA. Wilson Web. Gorgas, Tuscaloosa. 07 Nov. 2008. Keyword: In- Class Transitions.
Truby, Dana. "The Self - Directed Classroom." Instructor Aug. 2008: 26-27. UA. Wilson Web. Gorgas, Tuscaloosa. 07 Nov. 2008. Keyword: In- Class Transitions.
Improving Reading Comprehension through Writing
University of Alabama
Improving Reading Comprehension through Writing
This semester I conducted research on whether I could change my beliefs about reading comprehension by incorporating a strong writing component into that instruction. Through my research, I found that writing can improve students’ comprehension of reading tremendously. The students who participated in my study not only saw a spectacular improvement in their grades, but also came to understand techniques they could use to help them comprehend a text more fully. Through the use of a comprehension method developed by acclaimed reading specialist Nancy N. Boles, the students participating in the study learned how to dissect their literature, resulting in their ability to study it more intensively. I incorporated writing into all of my research sessions with the exception of the first and final two days. On these days, I assessed my students’ reading comprehension abilities by a pre-assessment and then a post-assessment using the Qualitative Reading Inventory, a standardized reading assessment. This paper entails the research over a period of four weeks (twelve sessions) of reading comprehension instruction that incorporated a strong writing element.
For my Semester III practicum, I am placed at Moundville Elementary School in Mrs. Matthews’ third grade class. Moundville Elementary serves students from grades pre-kindergarten thru sixth grade. There are eighteen students in my placement classroom. Of those eighteen students, there are eight male students and ten female students. The racial make-up consists of ten white/Caucasian students (seven boys and three girls), seven African-American students (one boy and six girls), and one Hispanic girl. Of these students, only two could be considered “above-level” readers. The rest of the class, however, falls at or below the 3rd grade reading level. None of the students in the classroom have an Individualized Education Plan (also known as an IEP), despite the fact that two students in particular are reading on a first grade level. One of these students (who is, incidentally, the Hispanic girl) is repeating the 3rd grade this year because her English had not developed enough last year for her to understand a large portion of her schoolwork. The other of the two students is currently being evaluated for an IEP, although she will not likely receive one until the spring semester. There are no students with critical special needs in my classroom. Aside from the two students mentioned above, an additional two students in the classroom are affected by ADHD. These students do, however, take medication for their hyperactivity. While the medicine appears to do some good, both students still remain far from calm within the typical school day. Neither of these two students receives any type of special education plan.
Within the classroom, students are divided into three sections. Each section consists of six desks, forming three “small groups” of six students per group. Aside from this layout detail, the classroom arrangement is small and packed tightly. There is very little room to “move around” within the classroom, and space for a floor read-aloud is virtually nonexistent. The students are additionally grouped into reading groups consisting of six students per group. Mrs. Matthews has labeled each group with the name of a local college (Stillman College, University of West Alabama, and the University of Alabama) in an effort to avoid reading level labels. Unfortunately, however, the students have discovered how these groups were formed and know exactly which group is the “high” group and so on. There are six students in one group at a below-level reading stage, six students at a grade-level reading stage, and six students at an above-level reading stage.
Purpose for Study
Before I began this action research study, my beliefs towards reading comprehension had little involvement with a writing component. However, after teaching several lessons within my placement classroom involving reading comprehension, I began to realize that my style of teaching reading comprehension might not be the best method for me or for my students. I then began to question my own beliefs. While some of my own past reading instruction was based around writing, the majority of it was geared more towards the simple act of reading. As I researched this topic, I began to realize how higher-order thinking skills are not called into play by students when they simply read and do not question themselves. While class discussions are helpful in getting students motivated, students who typically need the most help are the very students who do not involve themselves in such discussions.
Aside from this observation about the way reading “has” been taught, I began to look to the methods of my placement teacher and how reading “is” being taught. While my teacher does adhere to the school regulated reading program, the program itself has numerous flaws. Moundville Elementary uses the Story Town reading program produced by McGraw-Hill©. While the program might appear to make a grand attempt at the total coverage of all language arts basics (reading, writing, grammar, etc.), its reality is quite different. In lieu of educating students in ways that they are not only able to understand, but also able to recall at a later time, the Story Town program forces so much material into one class day that the students must be rushed through each topic. In fact, to save time each day, my placement teacher neglects the writing response questions of the program altogether. As a result, my students had done little to no writing in response to a reading until my arrival at Moundville.
Upon realizing the lack of writing (in response to reading) within my placement classroom, I immediately began incorporating a writing component into my own lessons. It was directly after the first of these lessons that I began to sense a common problem. Even after reading and discussing a story in great detail during my lessons, only a select handful of the students were able to write a comprehensive product to their reading instruction. It was at this point that I began to realize that my students did not possess the skills needed to answer higher-order thinking questions. I considered my own instruction and asked myself, “What can I do that will help me better teach reading comprehension to my students?” I examined how the classroom was structured academically and formulated an idea. I realized that I if were to incorporate writing into my reading instruction, I would be using a strategy rarely used by my placement teacher. I then researched my proposal and discovered that many reading instructors have discovered the same strategy when it comes to teaching reading: incorporating higher-order thinking into reading comprehension through writing. After finding support for my theory in several professional development journals, I set out to improve my teaching of reading comprehension.
My question involves incorporating a writing component into each of my reading comprehension lessons. With this inclusion of writing into my reading comprehension instruction, I hope to increase the amount of time spent writing in my placement classroom, giving my students the opportunity to improve their reading comprehension skills as well as assist me in my action research. My hypothesis is that by integrating a writing component into my reading comprehension instruction, I will be able to encourage higher-order thinking skills in my students while also improving my ability to teach them to read and comprehend a given text. After my research, I feel that incorporating a writing element into my lesson planning will allow my students to expand what they know as well as ascertain multiple ways to become knowledgeable about any text presented. Therefore, my question asks, “Is it possible to change my beliefs about comprehension instruction by incorporating a writing component into that instruction?”
As teachers, we would like our students to see the big picture of how an education can help them throughout their lives. From their perspective, however, students are looking to see how education can help them here and now. Students need to feel that they can relate and connect themselves to any given text in some way in order to not only comprehend, but also be engaged within the text. Despite this need, students are not always placed in a setting where higher-order thinking is a top priority. With the high demands raised by such assessments as STI and ARMT, and the legislation of No Child Left Behind, students’ comprehension of reading material falls second to the memorization of key points that are essential to passing some of the aforementioned tests.
Simply “passing tests” should not be the focus of a teacher’s instruction, but instead, the teacher should design and implement a program that teaches in a way that is engaging to his or her students. As Rachel Brown states in a article penned on the essential components of comprehension instruction within the classroom, “A classroom that links reading and thinking includes four essential components, (1) the teaching of comprehension strategies, (2) the shifting of strategy use from teacher to student, (3) the valuing of group learning, and (4) the lively sharing of ideas” (2008). It is important for students to understand why they should care about the material they are reading. By incorporating Brown’s ideas into the classroom, students are able to become more engaged and genuinely interested in what they are reading.
Unfortunately, many teachers “try” to incorporate new and inventive ideas into their reading comprehension instruction, but never fully follow through with those ideas. One of the problems with these teachers is that they try to “do it all,” and end up with an informational overload. Rachel Brown states, “Do not attempt to accomplish everything right from the start” (2008). By following her advice, teachers can work their way into reading comprehension slowly. “Teachers must also understand that comprehension is not something that either does or does not happen after one reads. The process of comprehension begins before we start to read and continues even after the reading is finished. Comprehension is complex; it is affected by a variety of factors. Thinking about our own reading experiences can illustrate these factors” (Gill, 2008).
Before a writing element can be incorporated into instruction, teachers should learn to ease their way into reading comprehension with students. In order to do this, many teachers begin with strategies that teach students how to read a text. “In small group practice sessions, the teacher shares with the rest of the group her connections to the text, what she notices when she reads the text; her point of view carries no more authority than the insights offered by any of the other students in the small group” (Boyles, 2006). A teacher can relate connections to the text in six distinct ways according to Nancy N. Boyles: Guessing/Predicting, Connecting, Wondering, Noticing, Picturing/Visualizing, and Figuring Out. By incorporating these strategies in the initial phases of reading comprehension instruction, an educator is able to develop students’ abilities to understand a text, therefore being more prepared for post-reading activities – such as writing.
After a teacher has established a method for working his or her way into reading comprehension, it is then that he or she can begin incorporating new strategies to assess a student’s reading abilities. “A recently developed comprehension instructional strategy called story mapping incorporates into its design and application many of the instructional implications associated with the schema theoretic perspective for improving readers’ comprehension. Results have shown that story mapping significantly affected the readers’ comprehension of both narrative and expository texts” (Reutzel, 2003). Story mapping, just another term for a more complex story web, is only one of many options teachers can use to incorporate a strong writing component into classroom instruction. “After reading, students can extend their comprehension by using the information they have read to create something new: a timeline, a map, a television newscast, a newspaper report, a letter, a diary, or even a poem. They can extend their conceptual and vocabulary knowledge by creating labeled drawings, Venn diagrams, or other kinds of graphic organizers. Students can also be asked to identify any problems they had during reading and discuss strategies they used as they read” (Gill, 2008).
With such a plethora of strategies teachers can use to incorporate writing into their reading comprehension instruction, it is unimaginable that teachers have not already mastered ways to do so. Unfortunately, however, many teachers follow guided programs for reading, science, and social studies that do not allow for higher-order thinking skills to come into play. These teachers simply move in sequence through a structured plan found within an academic program and then “give the test.” When these teachers teach, they focus on asking the pre-written questions, giving students the pre-composed worksheets, and then wrapping the unit or section up with a standard test. By following these programs to the letter, these teachers are not allowing their students to branch out and become involved in what they are studying. Their learning, therefore, is standard and boring. “Kragler, Walker, and Martin (2005) found that the primary grade teachers they observed relied primarily on teachers’ manuals for content area instruction and found that the science and social studies textbooks the teachers used focused on assessing student understanding rather than helping them comprehend. For years it seems we have tested comprehension but rarely taught it” (Gill, 2008). As Boyles states, the teacher needs to be there to “teach the reader, not the reading.” It is this strategy that can help students move past rote memorization into the higher-order thinking skills they require.
“As a student moves toward independence, the teacher will provide many opportunities for students to learn more about when and where to apply a strategy. She will support students as they use a strategy with others to support interpretive responses to text. In addition, students will be expected to use this strategy and others when reading diverse texts across the day, both in school and at home” (Brown, 2008). Thankfully, these methods are increasingly becoming more prominent in today’s schools. Through the increased use of graphic organizers, teachers are able to give students ample opportunities to incorporate writing into their reading comprehension. As many graphic organizers can be printed off the Internet for free, teachers have more access than ever to methods of teaching reading with a writing component. It is best for teachers to work their way into these types of writing by using the strategies mentioned earlier. “The format you choose for these strategy-practice sessions is intended to simulate the way experienced readers think about and discuss their reading. These sessions might even get a little noisy. People who are excited about what they read engage in lively discussion about the connections to characters they’ve discovered, the questions that remains unanswered, and the scenes they can picture in their mind. Their talk about text is passionate and animated. And your students will begin to discuss what they read in this way, too as the instructional format becomes more collaborative and less teacher-directed” (Boyles, 2006).
The most important thing for teachers who are concerned about their instruction of reading comprehension is to stay informed. As mentioned above, information on the internet is not only abundant in the world today, but much of it can be acquired at little or no cost. By taking advantage of opportunities that are available, teachers can obtain new and effective ways to help teach their students. Using different suggestions for incorporating writing into reading comprehension instruction, teachers can allow their students to look beyond the print of the text, and discover how much they already know and can learn from any given reading.
After assessing my research findings, I began constructing a plan to implement a writing component into my reading comprehension instruction. I decided that before I began, I should assess the reading comprehension level of my students. I discussed my plan with my cooperating teacher, and we together decided that I would conduct my action research on two individuals in the classroom. One of the students chosen was held back last year as a result of her lack of familiarity with the English language. This student, hereby referred to as Student A, was a likely candidate for me to work with and, hopefully, improve my understanding of teaching reading comprehension as well as her ability to comprehend material read. For my second student, my teacher decided on a boy who reads at grade-level. This student, now referred to as Student B, presented me with a different viewpoint of my own teaching. While Student A was in need of development in reading comprehension, Student B was much more accomplished in it and allowed me to look at my own teaching and diagnose problems along the way.
To begin constructing how well Student A and Student B did in the areas of comprehension, I decided to administer the QRI assessment. For Wednesday, October 1, 2008, I simply “worked my way” into the assessment by only giving the students the word recognition portion of the inventory. After assessing how well Student A and Student B did on the word recognition phase of the QRI (Student B reached the QRI’s designated frustration level on the 4th grade level; Student A also reached frustration on the 4th grade level also, but with much lower scores all-around than Student B), I began implementing the leveled passages on Thursday, October 2, 2008.
Taking both frustration level and grade level into consideration, I began Student B’s QRI with a Level One Expository passage. While Student B passed the passage with flying colors, he was only able to retell 20% of the story (a percentage that does not factor into “frustration”). He frustrated out on a Level Two Narrative, correctly answering only 25% of the questions (both explicit and implicit) correctly. I began Student A’s QRI with a Level Primer Expository passage. Although she read the story and made strong attempts to answer the questions asked of her, she only scored 14% on the retelling, and 17% on the comprehension questions. Since it was her first passage, however, I felt that we would go on to the next passage. For the Level One Expository, Student A was able to retell 18% of the story and answer only 25% of the comprehension questions correctly. I began to wonder if I should return to earlier passages within the QRI and give Student A a Pre-Primer story, even though her word recognition level put her way beyond it. However, I decided that Student A simply did not understand how to comprehend, so I ended the QRI assessment.
On Friday, October 3, 2008, I decided that the best way to help improve the comprehension levels of both Student A and Student B was to try something different. Obviously, the method that I (and their classroom teacher) use for comprehension is not effective. As discussed in earlier portions of this paper, I had looked at various articles I found online, and after reading an article by Nancy N. Boyles, I decided that I would try to incorporate writing into my comprehension instruction.
Boyles is one of the supporters of “comprehension through writing.” After purchasing her book Constructing Meaning: Kid Friendly Comprehension Strategy Instruction, I began formulating my plan of action. I decided that, as Boyle suggests, I would begin my instruction by reviewing basic strategies of comprehension with my students. By using Boyles’ mini-posters, Student A and Student B were able to discuss ways in which “we could remember the things we read.” After making our way through the mini-posters and discussing each one, we pulled out our flash cards to review. The flash cards contain the main “point” of each poster (connecting, picturing, etc.) and allowed the students to think about what had been discussed.
After a conversation with the flash cards, we looked at a different set of flash cards: who, where, what, why, when, how. We discussed how, like the mini-poster flash cards, these cards would be good questions to ask ourselves while reading. After reviewing the cards, we began the story A Sweet Adventure. My first thought, was that Student A and Student B would read the story themselves. However, I quickly realized that the story was a bit advanced for both students, and decided to change up my instruction a bit. Instead of the students reading the story, I decided that the best way to implement the cards we had been discussing was for me to read the story to the students. This way, the students were able to hear a fluent story, were able to have me stop where I desired to pose questions, and were able to get the benefits of discussing a story through comprehension. I had intended to begin a writing element after the story, but our time ran out and I decided to begin that segment the following session.
As the comprehension cards were a lot to handle in one day, I decided that my instruction for comprehension would definitely benefit from additional work with the cards. On October 15, 2008, however, it became apparent that I was asking too much from my students with the six different methods to improve comprehension. Therefore, we decided to focus our reading on only three of the six methods. For the methods, we chose connecting, picturing, and wondering.
With connecting, we were able to read our text and connect it to another text, our lives, or some other event or memory we have. In picturing, we were able to either close our eyes or leave them open and imagine the scene in the story as it happens. For wondering, we were able to think outside of the text and wonder about specific details that might not be present in the story.
After discussing the methods we would be focusing on, we selected the text “Helping Hands” from Reading Comprehension: Grade 2 by Michelle Thompson. After reading the story through several times and relating it to our concepts of connecting, picturing, and wondering, the students re-read the story twice and then flipped the page for an inquiry-based question and answer assessment. While several of the students’ answers were not quite what the text was looking for, they were answers that I, as a teacher, would accept normally. Therefore, I accepted them and we moved on to the next text.
Next, we selected the text “Fishing Trip” from Reading Comprehension: Grade 2. After reading the text together, we went through each method we were focusing on and connected, pictured, and wondered about all of the above. After our discussion, Student A and Student B again re-read the story twice before they were asked to flip the paper over to a “number the events” assessment. After several minutes, it became clear that neither Student A nor Student B was going to be able to correctly order the events.
After October 15ths unhelpful “Fishing Trip” text, I decided to revamp my strategy and try something new the following day of Thursday, October 16, 2008. First however, I decided to go over “Fishing Trip” and attempt to work out why Student A and Student B were thinking they had the order correct. The session felt successful, and we began the day’s work. To begin, Student A and Student B selected a Strategy Slip from their packets that I had constructed for them. Using this slip, the students were to choose a strategy they used while reading the text. Then, the students were to write about a place in the text where the selected strategy was used.
Together, the students and I read “Safety Rules” from Reading Comprehension: Grade 2 by Michelle Thompson. We discussed the text, and then I read it again while they closed their eyes to picture it (as they had both chosen “picturing” for their helpful strategy on the slip). After the text had been read twice, we discussed what the Strategy Slip was asking of us and whether we understood. Then, both students were given ample time to complete the assignment. Next, the students and I chose “Spiders and Insects” from the Reading Comprehension: Grade 2 text. After reading through the story once together, and several times individually, the students were given the task of completing a chart on the back of the story (without using the story for help). While the students initially called the assignment “easy,” they did not get past the first blanks (number of legs for both spiders and insects) without asking if they could look back at the text. Therefore, I decided to revamp once again and, like the QRI does, allow “look-backs.” However, even with the look-backs, the students did not do as well as hoped.
As Friday, October 17, 2008 was the final day for our reading comprehension until the following Wednesday, I wanted to make the most of it. The students had been reading “Stone Soup” in their Story Town reading books all week, and were preparing for their test on it on Monday. Therefore, I thought I would put the portion of the test that the classroom teacher does not use into play for me. Therefore, I used question nine from the test (the written response question) to add to my research study. While the students had been reading the story all week, neither could completely answer the question. Discouraged, I decided to once again attempt “Fishing Trip,” as we had gone over it as a group on Thursday.
After reading the story through several times (once again), I assigned the students the task of numbering the events. This time, the students did a good job of correctly putting the events in chronological order. After finishing “Fishing Trip,” we moved on to “The White House.” For this text, I had the students read the story on their own (as many times as they felt necessary) and then answer the critical thinking questions on the back. While the students were instructed to NOT look-back, the answers given indicate that looking-back did occur (not necessarily meaning that they could not answer them correctly – but that the answers were all oddly spelled correctly). Moving forward, we read “S’mores” as a group. After Student B read to us, then Student A read to us, I took over reading and read the story sentence-by-sentence. After each sentence, we would pause, and connect the story to our lives or something else we had in our memory. After doing all of the above, the students were instructed to flip over their texts and write a summary of how to construct a “s’more.”
On Wednesday, October 22, 2008, I began a new phase of our action research. Unfortunately, one of the students I was working with had suffered a horrible family tragedy early in the week. Student B’s mom had passed away on Monday, and he did not return to school that week. Therefore, with our thoughts and prayers with Student B and his family, Student A and I continued our reading comprehension.
To kick-off our session, I read the story Frankie Stein to Student A in preparation of the upcoming Halloween holiday. We discussed the story as we went and had an enjoyable time reading it. As I read the story, Student A and I stopped twice for her to record a question she had about the text. Once we had finished the reading, Student A answered her questions on the “Chapter Chart” graphic organizer. Once she had her questions answered, she quickly wrote a short summary of the story. On this day, Student A and I also began the text I Won’t Go to Bed! by Andrea Baruffi. I chose this particular text because it is a Level 3 “I’m Going to READ!” book that contains up to 200 words for the average 7-8 year old reader. I thought that this selection would fit both Student A and Student B sufficiently (although Student B did not get to participate with the reading). Therefore, Student A and I set off, reading the story. She read it the first time, I read it the second, and then we began to “connect” it to our lives. We discussed the story in great detail before we began our second “Strategy Slip” of my action research.
On this strategy slip, Student A chose to “wonder” about the story. After reading it from the beginning, we stopped and “wondered” a question aloud. In order to save time, I recorded Student A’s question and we continued on to finish the book. After finishing, we discussed Student A’s question on the strategy slip and then moved ahead. Next, I pulled out a copy of the “Pointing Out the Details” graphic organizer for Student A to complete. First, we discussed the “main idea” of the story together so that she would be on the right track, and then she completed the sheet by filling in three accurate details before our session was complete.
To begin our session on Thursday, October 23, 2008, Student A and I read I Won’t Go to Bed! by Andrea Baruffi to recap what we had discussed yesterday. After the reading, we then discussed our “main idea” that we had listed on the “Pointing out the Details” handout. After we determined that our answer definitely was the main idea, we looked over Student A’s details from Wednesday. Once we had read them over, Student A continued with the sheet, filling in a grand total of eight correct details about the story.
Once the “Details” graphic organizer was completed, Student A and I moved on to a nonfiction text. From the school library, Student A and I selected the short story Our Five Senses by Ellen Catala. To pursue this text, Student A and I selected a worksheet from Nancy Boles’ text Constructing Meaning entitled “Getting My Mind Ready to Read: Worksheet for Applying Comprehension Strategies to Nonfiction.” This worksheet breaks down the six comprehension strategies (Guessing/Predicting, Connecting, Wondering, Noticing, Picturing, and Figuring Out) and gives guiding questions to “get your mind ready to read.”
After reading over the first question, Student A and I discussed what she would likely learn from the text. We then continued in that format through each individual strategy. As she answered the questions, Student A would record her answer in the boxes provided on the page. Finishing the graphic organizer was the end of our session and we closed for the day.
Friday, October 24, 2008 was the last day of the “research” portion of Student A’s action research. After reading the text I Won’t Go to Bed! by Andrea Baruffi for the final time for this study, Student A and I discussed what I would like from her on the “Time-Order Words” graphic organizer. Once she understood, Student A completed the organizer to wrap up today’s activity.
To begin constructing how well Student A and Student B had improved in the areas of comprehension, I decided to administer the QRI assessment again. On Wednesday, October 29, 2008, I once again “worked my way” into the assessment by only giving the students the word recognition portion of the inventory. After assessing how well Student A and Student B did on the word recognition phase of the QRI (Student A frustrated out on the 4th grade level; Student B also frustrated out on the 4th grade level), I began implementing the leveled passages again on Thursday, October 30, 2008. Taking both frustration level and grade level into consideration, I began Student B’s QRI with a Level Two Narrative passage.
For the Level Two Narrative, Student B was able to pass the passage successfully; he was able to retell 40% of the story (a percentage that does not factor into “frustration”), which was a 50% improvement from his first testing. He frustrated out on a Level Three Narrative, correctly answering 50% of the questions (both explicit and implicit) correctly.
I began Student A’s second QRI with a Level Primer Expository passage. Once again, she read the story and made strong attempts to answer the questions asked of her. As a result, she scored 29% on the retelling, and 35% on the comprehension questions. Since it was her first passage, however, I felt that we would go on to the next passage. For the Level One Narrative, Student A was able to retell 25% of the story and answered 30% of the comprehension questions correctly. I decided that Student A had definitely learned strategies to comprehend text that she was beginning to put into practice.
On my final day of action research, Friday, October 31, 2008, I sat down with Student A and Student B to discuss what we had been doing during my “action research.” We discussed the elements of what we had been talking about (reading, putting a story in order, picturing, wondering, and connecting were just a few of the things mentioned). Then, we discussed how these strategies could help us as readers. I asked Student A and Student B if they had enjoyed working with me over the past several weeks. Both said they did. Then, our action research ended as the bell rang for the students to attend the Moundville Elementary School in-school Fall Festival.
The timeline of my implementation can be broken down as follows:
Analysis and Concluding Remarks
After completing my action research, I began to analyze the results. My findings cemented my new beliefs about incorporating writing into my reading comprehension instruction. Not only had my use of strategies and various writing methods improved my students’ reading comprehension scores, it had also instilled a newfound excitement about reading for both students. Students commented on how they could now relate a text to their own personal experiences or to other stories they had read. They also told me that they enjoyed being able to write about and share their ideas about any given text. As their current reading program includes no writing and little sharing of individual thought, it was refreshing to see the students take such a positive stance about my action research. Although their scores did not improve tremendously, I know that my teaching definitely impacted them a great deal. In the short period of time that I was able to construct my plan and implement it with Students A and B, I saw a dramatic difference in the way I thought about and taught reading comprehension. To back my new beliefs, the students celebrated their newfound knowledge and were thrilled to be able to learn new strategies of reading. Overall, I discovered that I can use research and implementation of that research in my classroom to ascertain ideas that differ from my current beliefs. It is through this type of research and study that we can become better teachers.
The following chart illustrates the students’ progress:
Boyles, N.N. (2004). Constructing Meaning Through Kid-Friendly Comprehension Strategy
Instruction. Maupin House Press: Gainesville.
Brown, R. (2008). The Road Not Yet Taken: A Transactional Strategies Approach to
Comprehension Instruction. The Reading Teacher (pp. 538-547). International
Reading Association: New York.
Gill, S.R. (2008). The Comprehension Matrix: A Tool for Designing Comprehension Instruction.
The Reading Teacher (pp. 106-113). International Reading Association: New York.
Reutzel, D.R. (2003). Investigating a Synthesized Comprehension Instructional Strategy:
The Cloze Story Map. The Journal of Educational Research (pp. 243-349). Brigham
Young University: Provo.
Other Contributing Authors
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