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In Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us by Harvard Graduate School of Education, professor Daniel Koretz has a lot of say about our nation’s “high-stakes testing” and the impact of testing special needs students. Maria Fusrao summarizes Koretz’ findings, providing interview video clips and text on Measure for measures: What do standardized tests really tell us about students and schools? The challenge that we face is avoiding misleadingly low or inflated scores — and if we are in fact testing the same skills. Can we assess if standardized testing can properly demonstrate proficiency? It is a challenge that we need to address.
Testing Limitation 1: Misleadingly Low Scores
Koretz begins by explaining that the test scores have limitations: “scores on those tests have often become misleading, sometimes wildly misleading” and that “we tend to overestimate what tests can do. Tests are not designed to summarize all that students and schools can do.” Ask any teacher, I am sure that he or she will agree that testing competence on one area is only a small portion what what students have learned in a classroom. Add special needs test takers to the mix, and the results can be even more inaccurate. Testing students with special needs is troubling because you need the scores to reflect students’ proficiency, yet Koretz points out that “when students have certain disabilities, their test scores may in fact be misleadingly low.”
Testing Limitation 2: Testing the Same Skills through Testing Accommodations
We also don’t want to go the the other extreme by inflating test scores through accommodations. He explains that “the purpose of an accommodation [larger print, modified room lighting, or a specialized computer screen for vision impaired students] is not to make the students’ scores higher, but to help them score as well as their actual proficiency warrants.” Koretz then speaks of a scenario where a student with dyslexia is tested and suggests that “when the impediments caused by the student’s disability are directly relevant to the knowledge and skills the test is designed to measure,” we may not be measuring what the test intended. Koretz points out that the test taker uses different skills: decoding (barrier for that student) or interpreting the meaning of text, so having the text read to him actually changes that test from a reading comprehension to oral language comprehension.
The testing limitations and their implications should give parents and teachers pause. Does Koretz suggest that standardized testing can’t “accurately” measure special needs abilities? If so, it is tough pill to swallow, for teachers and parents of special needs students. Yet Koretz does provide hope: understanding these limitation helps clarify the testing problem, so we can work toward meeting this challenge.
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It may never occur to you that as your child reads, that he may also be picking up some bad reading habits. What could be bad about reading? I thought any attempt to read was good effort. It turns out that there are bad reading habits that can negatively impact reading. According to The University of Alabama’s Center for Academic Success, there are five bad reading habits that slow down reading speed, and they also offer some strategies to overcoming them.
1. Silent Voicing
Have you seen your child moving her lips as she silently reads? That can slow her down to reading “about 150 words per minute,” which is equivalent to fast-paced speech. An average elementary school child can read about 200 words per minute (wpm) while an adult can read about 200 – 250 wpm. The Center suggests “Put your fingers on your lips to stop the motion.” When you catch your child doing this, you can show her that she is using his lips to read, and doesn’t have to.
Vocalizing, or using your voice box in the throat – with no sounds also slows you down. They suggest checking for vocalizing by “rest your fingertips lightly against the vocal cord area of your throat. If you feel a vibration, or if you find that your tongue is moving, you are vocalizing.” As an adult, and a pretty quick reader I might add, I was shocked to realize that I do this too!
3. Reading everything at the same speed
The Center also suggests that you should tailor your reading speed to “your purpose for reading and the difficulty level of the material,” a difficult concept to pass down to young readers. The Center maintains, “The more difficult the material, the slower the rate,” and that to me means, it is okay to cut yourself some slack when reading a technical article versus lighter type materials.
4. Regressing (rereading a word, phrase, or sentence) out of habit
Readers can fall into a trap of rereading text, not out of need to comprehend, but because it has become a habit. How can you break out of this? The Center offers a simple visual technique: “Use a card or paper to cover the text after you read it to prevent regressing.” This is great for reading text-heavy books, and also helps youngsters who feel overwhelmed with how much more text on that page that they have to cover.
5. Reading one word at a time
The Center says that “slow readers tend to see only one word at a time,” whereas stronger readers “see several words at a time and their eyes will stop only three or four times as they move across a page.” They recommend: “reading in idea-phrases speeds your reading and improves your understanding of what you have read.” And doing this can be as simple as “Mark the phrases in the sentences of a passage, then practice seeing more than one word at a time.” This seems to be a task best done with more experienced readers.
A great way to model reading speed — and help you to target some poor reading habits that will slow young readers down — to is to read with your children and follow along with Big Universe read-alouds. Let us know which reading habits that you have uncovered.
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What do the subjects Math and English have in common? Not much? How about Venn Diagrams? John Venn, an English mathematician and logician, invented the Venn diagram in 1880, and although used often in illustrating mathematical concepts, the Venn diagram can be used in literacy lessons to help kids brainstorm and organize ideas.
First, let’s clear up the misconception that the terms compare and contrast are analogous (one and the same) words. Compare, in its strictest sense, means to focus on similarities. (Think of competitive parents who use their children to top the other’s child in a given category.) Compare is often mistakenly related to contrast. Contrast, clearly, means to focus on what makes it different. (So your child competed, my child won.)
Venn Diagrams can be used in the classroom as a visual organizational tool to illustrate the similarities and differences between two objects, characters, or groups in literature – or even topics raised during classroom discussions. Basically two intersecting circles, the left circle can be used to list traits of A, and the right circle can list traits of B. The circle sections that overlap, or are shared, become what they share in common. A handy way of reinforcing this for young children is coloring one complete circle in yellow pencil or crayon and coloring the other in red. Then the orange (more or less) center stands out.
After a Venn diagram is completed, a student has a ready-to-use outline for a compare and contrast discussion, using the diagram as a study tool or, for older students, begin writing a comparison (how they are alike) and contrast (how they are different) essay.
There are some great Venn Diagrams that ready-to-use, just print, copy and hand out to your students from educationaloasis.com, enchantedlearning.com and eduplace.com. Or you can create your own labeled diagram here or in Microsoft Word. And check out some sample lessons using Venn diagrams.
My son has had pretty good teachers so far, but I’ve heard of great teachers who make parents of special needs children swoon. One is an elementary classroom teacher who began the first parent-teacher meeting with, “I just read your child’s entire file.” That’s not called getting off on the right foot. It’s getting off on the best foot possible.
As a former licensed teacher and mom of two school-aged children, I find that good teachers don’t deny or sugar coat issues; instead, they are proactive by anticipating problems and dealing with them. Like the ripple-effect theory, an effective teacher addresses and manages an issue before it grows. But instead of waiting for the first ripple to appear and then using classroom management skills to redirect the student and classmates, there are effective ways to begin classroom management from the beginning. Similarly, some teachers are willing to go beneath the water’s surface to see if a special needs child has kept his head above above water (aka on grade level); is doing the doggie paddle to stay afloat; or drowning – academically and socially.
That same teacher will have high expectation and teach him how to swim. It doesn’t mean that he has to learn the breast stroke correctly (some may never put their head in the water, thus the need for special education accommodations and modifications), but we as parents want to see measurable progress. And sometimes that progress begins with having a teacher who takes the time to better understand the diagnosis – digest huge files of test scores, evaluations and school to parent communications; attend a special needs-related conference; or ask for a recommended book from a parent. If I had such an parent-teacher experience, I might fall in love on the spot.
Here’s some exciting suggestions from Thomas Armstrong, a former special education teacher in both the US and Canada, who offers ways to “activate the strengths” of special needs students in Education Week’s “7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special-Needs Students”:
1. Discover your students’ strengths
Armstrong suggests ways to do this that would make any special needs parent excited: from talking with previous teachers, discussing strengths and abilities and focusing on the highest testing scores and positive teachers comments. This is why, in my opinion, when teachers tell me that my child is love of her life or write on a report card that he is a pleasure to have in class, it doesn’t make me happy. I need more. My child is above his years in oral retrieval and can repeat things that he has heard, even when looking 100 percent disengaged, and if a teacher knew how to tape into this strength, I would cartwheel. And if a teacher does this, I want to know. The author also recommends doing a strength-based inventory – and has one in his book, Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life.
2. Provide positive role models with disabilities
Suggests creating a curriculum unit for both neurotypical (NT) and special needs students, entitled “People with Disabilities who Changed the World,” including Carol Grieder, Steven Speliberg and Temple Grandin. Heck, I’d even do the research for my son’s teacher, and she could teach this as she finds appropriate. This is way to show special needs students that despite their challenges, they can be successful in life.
3. Develop strength-based learning strategies
Teachers can do this by combining strengths with a deficit and uses examples such as:
Strength + Deficit = strength-based learning strategies
Drawing + Reading = illustrating vocabulary words
Knitting + Place value in math = knit rows of ten
4. Use assistive technologies
Apps such as speech-to-text programs can help students who speak well yet struggle with writing skills.
5. Maximize the power of your students’’ social networks
Goes as far as suggesting teachers “create a graphic representation of a student’s peer network, identifying both strong and weak relationships,” and use peer teaching, cross age tutoring or another social-learning approach. Over and beyond? I’d gladly settle for a budding relationship to be paired up for class partner activities.
6. Help students envision positive future careers
By recognizing a particular strength, let’s say art, help students see where they can use a talent or skill in a career, like graphic design. This is something that I do at home, but if a teacher can also do this, results can be far-reaching. Recommendations can be used as early as age 15, when IEP transitions (from school to “real life”) begin. Parents are always looking for this information and would love to have a teacher’s insight early on.
7. Create positive modifications in the learning environment
Suggests a child with Down’s Syndrome “who loves to humorously mimic others, build a simple puppet theater where he can act out math word problems in front of the class and get positive feedback.” The point is creating a positive contribution to the class while increasing learning opportunities.
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As a parent of a reluctant reader with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), I am always looking for ways to motivate my little guy to read. And if I can encourage him in a practical, fun, or silly way, I am going to try it. Last night we sang, instead of reading, a nonfiction book about mountains. I can’t take credit for this — my son started it. So I topped him with my worst Opera voice. After laughing so hard that our stomachs ached, we were finally able to get back to the book, although the giggles hit as we turned each page.
Ann Logsdon, a school psychologist who helps parents and teachers with special needs students, writes that children with learning disabilities often avoid reading and, as a result, don’t get additional opportunities to increase their reading skills and comprehension. She does suggest five practical ways to motivate your struggling reader at home in Top 5 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Read: Encourage Reluctant Readers with These Easy Strategies:
- Try a Variety of Reading Materials – Pair Books with Unabridged Audio Books
By simultaneously using a hard copy book and audio-book, you can follow along. Listening to audio before hands-on reading helps readers understand main ideas before beginning reading. And turning the audio on after reading serves as a “self-check” for comprehension. Another source for audio-books is Big Universe’s Read Aloud books.
- Watch More Television
What a great idea to increase sight word recognition by viewing closed captions on tv or DVDs! That’s one way to turn screen time into a relevant reading exposure. For example, my son is now excited that he can recognize some words on the big screen and is trying to read commercial and programming text on the TV.
- Create Their Own Books on Tape
Ann suggests children can read a book into a tape recorder – and when playing it back, even silently follow along with the book. She recommends, “Some research has indicated that as your child listens to himself and hears his own reading becoming better, his skills will likely improve. Reward your child for the errors he finds and corrects as well as for his successes.”
- Have a Family Reading Night
By dedicating thirty minutes per night, everyone can read from the same book or different ones. If you are a competitive family, you could even track number of minutes reading and reward the winner who reads the most with a special meal or choice of favorite family activity.
- Adapt Reading Materials to Your Child’s Reading Level
In the classroom, it is possible to attain textbooks on tape and CD ROM versions of textbooks, although you need to work with the IEP team in order to make this possible. Another way to reduce reading frustration is to identify unfamiliar vocabulary before reading and help him or her understand the meaning. Also modeling pronunciation is great for those who have articulation issues, and creating new sentences increases contextual understanding. When it comes to reading literature, there may be lower-level reading versions that will help your child to comprehend the fiction better, in order to keep up with classmates and reading assignments. And another great fall-back plan on is simply sharing the reading, especially when the reading becomes cumbersome and frustrating.
Let us know if you use any of these strategies and how your reluctant reader responded. And try singing a book to each other. At the least, you’ll share a silly moment. But you’ll know that you made reading fun.
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Tonya Wright from Literacy Connections writes about young preschoolers who aren’t yet able to write – but can journal. She suggests that journaling can be used as a starting point for literacy. By taking away the constraints of spelling rules, lined paper, writing with pencil while seated at a desk or table…and giving the children freedom to create, will make writing an enjoyable activity instead of a difficult task.
Journaling isn’t just for preschoolers though. It can be made appropriate for any child, at any age. First get the students excited about journaling by having them create their own journal book. The book can be make from simple construction paper to more elaborate types of handmade books. Although Wright suggests avoiding lined paper for the very young, an already bound composition-type book with space to draw pictures would also work. (Just because there are lines doesn’t mean that we have to use them.) An easy how-to from the Kansas Public Library is here.
Permission to use granted by the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library
Dollar store priced black and white composition books can also be used – and it is pretty easy to alter by making a cover or adding pictures, stickers and drawings, as my son’s teacher Jay Sarath encourages his third-grade students:
For parents, there are so many journals available in stores or online, journaling has lost it’s negative “girlie” diary connotations with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and other deconstructive type journals such as Wreck this Journal. Having a place to record ideas, thoughts, and feelings is another way to encourage spontaneous literacy.
Making Room to Write
Where students write is important too – in the reading corner or at the craft station, wherever they feel comfortable will inspire them. And that also means, use any available medium – from markers to crayons. Don’t forget to date journal entries – as it is a great way for teachers, parents and child to see progress!
Writing Without Rules
Allowing the children to spell inventively and phonetically is an important part of the writing process. As any “real-life” author will admit, during the idea-generating step, writers don’t pay attention to grammar, punctuation or even complete sentences. We should allow students this step also. So parents and teachers stay hands-off – no correcting allowed. If a child asks to dictate to you, oblige, following their instructions (even if you disagree). Allow the children to use pictures, if they choose to avoid using words, to communicate.
For older students, they can use their journal as a starting point to their own story-telling or creative writing. The can choose one entry and add details, dialogue, and action – and the often-cited hardest part of writing: thinking of an idea becomes the easiest part.
“Publishing” Journals Creates an Audience
The final step to the writing process is a form of “publishing,” and even young journal writers can benefit from an audience for their journals. This can be anything from a group sharing to inviting parents and guardians to a class reading.
Connecting children and nature, Dawn Publications’ mission is to offer a unique line of nature appreciation books for young people to better understand and appreciate all life on Earth. Essentially non-fiction, Dawn publications are told with such an engaging style and beautifully illustrated that many of their books are best described as “creative non-fiction.” The publisher also offers engaging activities for educators and their students.
What’s in the Garden?
by Marianne Berkes (author), Cris Arbo (illustrator)
Since healthy food becomes more interesting when children know where their food comes from, readers explore What’s in the Garden?, a garden bursting with life, including indigenous animals and insects. With playful descriptions of fruits and vegetables, each includes kid-friendly recipes. A “food for thought” section presents interesting facts about each fruit and vegetable, and a “how does your garden grow?” section explains facts about gardening and the parts of plants.
Jo MacDonald Had a Garden
by Mary Quattlebaum (author), Laura J. Bryant (illustrator)
Old MacDonald had a . . . garden? Yes! Sing along with new twist to an old song: E-I-E-I-O! Readers follow young Jo MacDonald as she grows healthy food for people and wild creatures. Find out how butterflies, bumblebees, and birds help a garden to thrive. Youngsters learn about garden ecosystems through suggested indoor activities and active garden stewardship.
- 2012 Purple Dragon Book Award: 1st Place (Children’s Picture Book – Ages 5-)
- 2012 IBPPG Next Generation Indie Book Award: Finalist (Children’s Picture Book Category)
Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond
by Mary Quattlebaum (author), Laura J. Bryant (illustrator)
While signing to the Old MacDonald song, Jo MacDonald introduces youngsters to the concept of ecosystems by taking readers on a trip to a farm pond. Complete with rhythm, repetition, wordplay, and onomatopoeia, you’ll find fish, frogs, ducks illustrated with lively watercolors. A resource section features both outdoor and indoor activities and games, sure to encourage young naturalists at home and school.
- 2012 Purple Dragon Book Award: 1st Place (Children’s Picture Book: Ages 5-)
- 2011 NAPPA Gold Award (Books Category) from National Assoc. of Parenting Publications of America
- 2011 Mom’s Choice Gold Award (Children’s Picture Book Category)
Check out the Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond book trailer with music: Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond
12402 Bitney Springs Rd.
Nevada City, CA 95959
Multisensory approaches to early literacy creates active learning opportunities. It involves using our senses of sight, sound, touch, and kinesthetic action – and learning by doing is the most effective way to reinforce and retain learning. It also taps into a special needs child’s particular strengths and is a way of adjusting material for a child’s learning style. This approach also helps typical students who are beginning readers or those struggle with reading comprehension difficulties.
Why take a multisensory approach to sight words? By paring the visual word to the image, sight words becomes more than just seemingly arbitrary letters that represents sounds, it provides a context. A free resource from ABCteach.com provides a ABC: Dolch Nouns PDF that is easy to print and use immediately.
Store-bought sight-word flash cards and Popcorn words (words that are written on popcorn shapes) and Bingo games are fun ways to practice.
Reading Rockets suggests using “manipulatives” such as sound boxes or magnetic letters help teach letter-sound relationships. Susan Jones of Resource Room/Team Prairie, LLC, has compiled a list of multisensory ways to learn sight words, using combinations of auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic modes that include Rhythmic Recitation; Air Writing; Closed-Eye Visualization; Blind Writing; Velvet Board; and Double Board.
Sound boxes are a visual way of isolating the phonemes in a word. It can be made with just pennies, paper and a pencil. Scholastic provides easy-to-follow instructions here. If creating your own sound box seems daunting, there are great kits, ready-to-use:
And there are many hands-on ways to learn and reinforce sight word recognition. Julie Van Alst of Make, Take & Teach, LLC packages a hands-on kit that teachers or parents can use appropriate tools to reinforce Dolch sight words.
Included is a free sight word assessment for the Dolch 220 sight words to sight words flashcards (with categories such as “Words I Know,” “Words I Am Learning” to “Words I Will Learn”). Then providing multisensory activities, such as using Bendaroos and Play-Doh, children can “write” the sight words.
Whether you buy your materials or make your own, teachers and parents have many tools to teach sight words…and make reading fun.
ABC Image courtesy of Maggie Smith at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As many of Star Bright titles are geared toward responding to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), all contain high quality stories, the illustrations, and messages. Their philosophy is that “all children should see themselves in print,” and they take great effort to include children of all colors, nationalities, and abilities in their books.
“We Love First Grade!”™ series, written by Miriam Cohen and illustrated by Ronald Himler, are books that have become a “must have” series for educators and parents to share with young students. Strongly recommended for SEL, young readers will see how the children, with gentle encouragement from teachers, figure out how to deal with issues that they come across.
You can find most titles in the “We Love First Grade!”™ series on Big Universe:
First Grade Takes a Test
The first time that these first graders are faced with a standardized test upsets most of the class. They become competitive and begin arguing. Their teacher explains to them that a test doesn’t reflect important things like building, reading, and drawing – but most of all reflect their kindness and friendship with each other. This is can be a greet reading prompt to facilitate a classroom discussion on testing, how to ease nerves and a child’s self-worth should not be limited to test scores.
Bee My Valentine
The first graders are excited about Valentine’s Day cards they will receive. Although their teacher tells them to send a card to everyone in the class, ensuring that no one will feel left out, George ends up getting fewer cards than everyone else, and runs into the coatroom to cry. His teacher asks the class how they can make George feel better – and they cheer him up! Another great book to use a classroom discussion – from figuring out how George was shorted on cards, if it was intentional, and how the day ended.
Layla’s Head Scarf
Layla is a shy new girl in first grade, and her classmates wonder why she wears a head scarf. As the school day progresses, they learn about Layla’s culture as the librarian reads to the class a book from where Layla’s family is from. She encounters more personal questions during lunch and recess, but during art, the class learns just how much they all have in common.
Jim’s Dog, Muffins
When Jim returns to school after his dog, Muffins, dies, his friends try to comfort him. But instead of playing with his friends, he sits alone, sadly missing his beloved dog. Paul knows how to cheer up his friend, and through tears of joy and sadness, Jim finally opens up and shares memories of Muffins. Readers can see how classmates empathize with Jim losing his pet but learn that they need to allow him to grieve as he chooses.
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!
When the new boy in school, Alex, tries to make friends by bragging, the class refuses to play with him! However, he learns that there are better ways to befriend others. Helping each other out and being a “team player” is how Alex becomes a part of the class.
When the first grade plans a costume party, everyone is excited. Jim comes as “the Strongest Man in the World,” and finds himself face-to-face with a third grade bully. He saves the day when he accidentally takes on the bully, proving that he really is a strong man. Exposure to diverse personalities help readers to empathize with characters’ experiences.
Star Bright Books
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Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone: +1 617 354 1300 (tel)
+1 617 354 1399 (fax)
If you are a parent of a struggling reader, you will see determination lead to tears. Helping you child read one word, when the next one stumps him just as much as the first, is an exercise in patience and endurance. You find that helping read the words won’t help him learn the skill to read. As a mom who could once make things better with encouragement, there is no bandage for children who are frustrated with reading. They know that they are not on grade level reading. They see their friends take home chapter books, and they are still reading short books. They hear their peers read aloud and know that they themselves hesitate, correct, and struggle much more than playmates at recess.
Frustrated with my son’s own frustration, I called a clinic meeting with his teachers to explain that what once was a good time to cuddle and read is now a battlefield, ending in tears. We came up with plan to use easier-to-read books that resemble chapter books, so he feels like he is progressing faster than he is. We also figured out how to reinforce his strengths and give his lots of praise and opportunities for the things that he does well: anything with numbers. Yet, with these steps, his is reluctant to attend school and has cried that he doesn’t want to go because of reading. He is too young to be asking to stay home, pretending that he is sick and counting down the days until weekend or vacation. According to an article by Imagine This!, struggling readers often can be characterized by “might start acting out in class or responding with negative feedback. They often use self-defeating phrases.” I see that we are there – and this list of pointers to “turning their negative thoughts into positive ones” is going to come in handy.
Imagine This! provides ten ways to increase your struggling reader’s self-esteem:
- Explain that how well she reads has nothing to do with her intelligence. Every person is unique and has to learn in the way that is best for them.
- Encourage him by setting realistic goals that allow for many small successes.
- Chart her progress so that she can see improvement.
- Help him find reading materials at his reading level that are interesting to him.
- Help her break up assignments into smaller, more manageable parts.
- Provide goal-based praise rather than person-oriented praise, such as, “You did a great job sounding out those words” rather than, “I’m proud of you.” This will help him focus on the task he accomplished well.
- Show patience. How you react to her reading difficulties will set the tone of the experience. Your patience will help her learn patience with herself and will help her feel safe as she practices reading.
- Give frequent praise. Learning to read is difficult and can easily turn into a stressful experience. Your praise will help create a positive reading experience.
- Help her focus on the positive. Have her list 10 things she likes about herself, including things she can do well.
- Tailor instruction to his learning style. Some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and some are hands-on learners. By teaching with a variety of learning styles, you provide opportunities for him to succeed in his area of learning.
The more confident I am in his abilities, makes him more confident in himself. We’re getting there.