* Christopher and me: defining success

Christopher failed the reading portion of the End of Grade (EOG) tests.

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I tutor my precious nephew, Christopher, a 4th grader on the AU spectrum.  He’s made terrific progress in the past year, with gains in vocabulary and reading comprehension.  But was it enough?  During a benchmark trial for the EOGs at school, Christopher melted down with tears and distress.  After 3 hours of testing, he had answered 7 out of 45 questions.

In our follow-up tutoring sessions, Christopher spoke angrily about the injustice of test questions that were meant to “trick” him.  He stated accurately that he could not read the test passages.  What to do?  If the EOGs were an accurate measure of his growth, I would have been very concerned.  In reality, Christopher’s gains are best measured against specific objectives on an IEP, not against grade level norms.  His reading performance remains well below that of his peers, but remarkably above where he was a year ago.  And we have long abandoned efforts for him to read orally; he cannot maintain focus, he benefits from seeing what he hears, and natural phrasing helps him use context for unfamiliar words.

Knowing that he would likely produce a test misadministration for himself and the other kids in his small testing group, I suggested- gulp- that he not attempt to read the passages but instead read the questions and scan for answers.  Using this strategy on grade level passages in our sessions, he scored about 50% accuracy.  That would have to do.  The alternatives were unacceptable.

Christopher called me every night in the week-long EOG countdown.  His determination to succeed in this rather hopeless endeavor was both encouraging and heartrending.  “What does ‘most likely’ mean, Aunt Katharine?”  “What are key words?”  I reaffirmed my conviction that he would do his best and that I was proud of him.  Christopher survived.  He did not lose the gains we had made, he does not know he “failed,” and he will continue to grow.  Going forward, audio books with a visual component will be the key for Christopher’s ongoing instruction in all academic areas.

I understand the need for standardized testing, but I value the effort Christopher has made, his desire to keep learning, and the confidence he has gained this year from measurable growth in his skills.  The 4th grade EOG does not define Christopher’s future.

* Everything I know, I learned from…

Speech Therapists!  That’s a slight exaggeration, but not far from the truth.  I have been blessed by the advice and mentoring of many excellent speech and language pathologists.  Why has their advice been so crucial?  They understand and work at the deepest levels of understanding, helping kids process information.  Speech therapists demonstrate how systematic and carefully sequenced instruction transforms language, which is at the core of most academic and social learning.

It was a speech therapist who first shared the TOPS 3 Elementary Tests of Problems Solving with me.  This test assesses critical thinking based on students’ language strategies, logic, and experiences.  For students with dyslexia and those on the autism spectrum, these language-based skills are sometimes assumed to exist and therefore receive cursory instruction.  For this reason, I’ve used the Tasks of Problem Solving workbook by Bowers et al. for social skills and reading comprehension instruction (see related post), as well as for specific skill remediation.

Tasks of Problem Solving

This workbook includes a description of the following skills with useful tasks of increasing difficulty.  Many of the lessons include visual cues (or these can be easily created).  It is quite simple to adapt any lesson to student interests and needs:

  • Identifying problems
  • Determining causes
  • Sequencing
  • Negative questions
  • Predicting
  • Making inferences
  • Problem solving
  • Justifying opinions
  • Generalizing skills

One caveat: Years ago, after observing me in the classroom, a speech therapist strongly advised me to speak more s-l-o-w-l-y.  I’m still working on that skill!

* ReadWorks

readworks 2Do you want FREE access to over 1,800 reading passages for grades K-6 with questions sets, skill and strategy units, hundreds of lesson plans, comprehension units based on trade books, and novel study units for 5th and 6th grades?  Of course you do!  Is it really free?  Yes!  Are the skills and materials aligned to state and common core standards, as well as commonly used reading programs?  Another yes!

ReadWorks.org is a nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating the reading achievement gap in our country.  Once teachers register, they have a personal online “binder” for saving anything provided on the site.  A wealth of resources for registered users are organized into four key areas.

1.  Skill and strategy units include the topics pictured below.   These specific skills are taught through the vast number of reading passages available on this site.

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2.  Comprehension units: These are detailed lesson plans using trade books and paired reading passages from the ReadWorks site.  All lessons follow a progression of teacher modeling (the “I” part), guided practice (the “We” part) and independent reading (the “You”” part).  A script is provided to support teacher modeling, including think-aloud strategies and questions to engage students.  All materials are provided except for the trade books, which should be available in your school or public library.  Graphic organizers and comprehension questions for students may be downloaded and/or printed.

3.  Novel Study units:  For 5th and 6th grade classes, these units are listed by genre and lexile and Fountas& Pinnell levels.  Here’s the fifth grade set of lessons.

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4.  Reading Passages:  So far, there are over 1,800 passages from which to choose; more materials are added continuously.  The image below indicates the breadth of the search features.  readworks 5

Registration is quick and FREE!  I encourage you to join over a million registered users and take advantage of this marvelous resource.  For a more comprehensive tour of the site, please click on the video below.

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