May 26, 2013 3 Comments
Graduate school is delicious. I love it. It is especially delightful to take a program that is grounded in practice. Such is my luck. This last semester I was asked to carry out a case study with a student in need of a literacy intervention. I was required to identify the student, administer word inventories and miscue analyses, and to learn as much as I could about the student’s prior schooling. With this information I was then required to design a literacy intervention, carry out that plan, and write up the results.
Well…the student I worked with achieved tremendous learning gains in two months (jumped several levels in the word inventory and moved from the primer level to level 3 in reading comprehension. It was an absolutely transformative experience for both my student and me. Here I am sharing my reflection about what elements I believe made such substantial learning gains possible–in such a short time (from mid-March to mid-May). NOTE: We didn’t do a lick of test prep ;-).
What the above results from pre- and post-assessments do not demonstrate is the tremendous socio-emotional transformation Little Seuss has undergone in the last two months. Indeed, he has transformed into a smiling, confident, participative boy in contrast to the reserved and quiet boy I found hiding in the corner of the classroom in mid-February of this year. In fact, just ten days ago Little Seuss approached me and said, “I want a nickname.” To which I responded, “Hmm. Let me think about it. We need a good one.” A week later I told him, “Hey kid, how about I call you Little Seuss?” He responded immediately, “No, call me Doctor Seuss because I know how to read.” I nearly cried. “Dr. Seuss it is.”
What facilitated such rapid growth?
I strongly believe that this intervention was successful for a variety of reasons, which are not listed in order of importance or degree of impact. First, I benefitted substantially from my colleagues’ collegiality and willingness to collaborate and brainstorm. In particular, one reading specialist at my school was always willing to look at writing samples, listen to my reflections on specific lessons, and to share ideas about what types of intervention were likely to benefit Seuss’s. On the same front, I received tremendous support from my supervisor and a colleague responsible for overseeing the identification of students in need of special education services. Perhaps most importantly, I was also lucky enough to receive intellectual, emotional, and political support from my university-appointed field supervisor, Myriam, who generously shared her ideas and created space for me to talk through what I was learning throughout the case study process and to situate it all in a social-justice lens. Without Myriam’s insight and support I doubt that I would have been as fired-up and inspired as I was and continue to be.
Second, the miscue analyses provided invaluable insight into Seuss’s instructional needs. Once I had a sense of his instructional and independent reading levels, I was better able to choose appropriate materials for our work together. The miscue analyses also tuned me in to the difficulties Seuss was having in making sound-letter correspondences. As a result, we were able to focus on those particular needs from the bottom up—that is, through direct phonics instruction. However, it is important to note that my intervention used a blended approach, which combined explicit phonics lessons with multiple whole language experiences. Whenever possible I used authentic texts to introduce, clarify, or reinforce specific skills.
Third, from the start I was deeply concerned about the literacy poor environment in Seuss’s home. Therefore, I deliberately assigned him activities that were designed to create a more literacy rich environment in the household. For instance, Seuss and I would read a book, such as The Fine Gardeners together during a one-on-one tutoring session. He was then required to take the book home and read it to his mom in English, and to translate it into his L1 as they moved along. This practice had multiple goals: building a more literacy rich environment at home, building Seuss’s ability to read and retell, and to create opportunities for him to expand his proficiency in his L1. Seuss became an enthusiastic independent reader after successfully reading The Cat in the Hat to me during one of our tutoring sessions. At one point I asked if he wanted me to finish reading the story because there were still fifteen pages to go and we were running past our allotted time. He insisted “No, I want to read this myself.” He did. As we walked together back to his homeroom he told me “I love this book. I’m going to read it a lot.” Two weeks later his mother reported in a meeting with school officials that Seuss was reading everyday after school—a lot more than he had ever done before. If any of the causes listed in this reflection were to be identified as the most important, Seuss’s consistent effort in reading independently is no doubt the strongest factor leading to his dramatic learning gains. I am so darn proud of this kid.
Finally, Seuss benefitted from the constant and compassionate support his classmate provided him. Soon after I arrived to the school in mid-February I recognized that Max, another ELL in Seuss’s homeroom, was a bright, mature, and successful student. I made him an ‘editor boss’ whose job it was to provide support for Seuss and another student in his group. Seuss and Max soon became best friends, which I believe improved Seuss’ self concept and helped facilitate his construction of a new identity as a reader, as a writer, and as an active participant in a learning community.
Now, the million dollar question is: How do I find the time to work this closely with all of my students who are in need of such an intensive intervention? This experience–working with Seuss–has been the absolute highlight of my first year. He has taught me so much! Thank you Seuss!