As I was reading about Informational Reading Inventories (IRIs), I found a lot of what Gunning was saying to be very interesting. However, I felt like the most important part in all of this was how to interpret the IRI results. It seemed to me that none of the processes and tests included in the IRI would mean anything unless you know what the results mean, how to interpret them, and what steps to take after you have analyzed the results. This portion of the chapter was fairly short in comparison with the rest of the detailed chapter, and I felt like as much, if not more, attention should have been drawn to this.
The information that was in the chapter, though, talked a lot about how to read the results. Basically, the listening capacity level of a child tells you what grade level of knowledge the student has the potential to know at that point. This helps you to know the cognitive ability and language development of the child. If there is a large difference between the instructional level and listening capacity, then the reading problem is most likely more serious. On another hand, if there is a large difference between the instructional level and the frustration level, the student will most likely make a lot of progress very quickly. Looking at these levels is just the first place to start analyzing the results.
One thing that I really like about this IRI way of gathering information is that the teacher’s observations and knowledge of the student really come into play when testing the students. The results are not just based on right and wrong answers, but more on ways that students came to the conclusion that they did. The teacher giving the IRI to the student is watching the student for body language, lip movement, and finger pointing. The teacher is also making note of not only where students make a mistake, but how they made a mistake so that can be tracked later to see if there is anything in common between all the mistakes. The teacher is watching for word recognition, listening to pronunciation, and also testing to see if students understand. All of these factors come into play when analyzing the results. These are the things that will really get you somewhere with the child to help you understand how they think and learn, where common mistakes are, and what in particular the student is struggling with. Taking good notes during the IRI will really help you get insight to the child’s ability and their learning style.
Once you have analyzed all this information, it is important to use it in order to create a learning plan for the student. From the IRIs, know what the child is capable of learning and get them to that point. Know their strengths, and build off of them to help their struggling areas. Use the results of the IRI to know what in particular the child is struggling with. Use your knowledge of the child to incorporate a learning style that works best for them.
This chapter used a phrase that I had never heard of before: dynamic assessment. According to the text, an assessment “should not just measure what the students can do now; it should also predict the student’s potential for change” (Gunning, 61). The second part of that statement makes is what it means to perform a dynamic assessment. It is more than just what the students know; it is what they potentially could know and how they can change. My first thought when reading this was how can you assess someone’s potential to change? That doesn’t even seem like something that could be assessed. However, the book went on to talk about what exactly ‘potential to change’ means and how that can be measured.
The process recommended to carry out a dynamic assessment is a four step process. First, the teacher needs to gather data, and the easiest way to do this is to give a test to students to see where they are at. Then, the teacher would teach students until they reach the level they are supposed to be at. While doing this, the teacher would also record what methods they used to teach and the amount of instruction that they had to provide. An example of this that the book talked about was putting words on flashcards and having students read them. If they cannot read them, then the teacher would read the word aloud and have the student repeat it after them. They would then go back through the flashcards and have the students try to read it again. If they still cannot read a word, the teacher would repeat the whole process. The part that needs to be recorded is the method (flashcards) and the amount of times going through them before the student could read all the words. After doing this, the teacher would give the original test to the students again and take note of the improvement between the two tests. Finally, the teacher will have to go back to evaluate how well their teaching worked. Did the child improve? Did the child reach an appropriate level? Did your method of instruction work?
This method can be time consuming, but it really helps struggling readers. A lot of times, students just need a different form of instruction or assistance to learn, and after they get that instruction, they won’t be struggling anymore. A final quote that stuck out to me says, “The difference between what a child can do on his own and what the child can do with the assistance of an adult or more knowledgeable peer is known as the zone of proximal development. This is what is measured in dynamic assessment” (Gunning, 61). Dynamic assessment is a great way to measure students’ abilities because it measures how well students can succeed when they are given the right form of instruction. So often teachers get lost in ‘trying to fit everything in’, that they do not teach in the ways that the students need. They teach to the tests, and that’s it. If we focus on teaching to the students’ needs, and measuring based on that, we can have a much better understanding of how well students are learning and succeeding. The type of instruction makes all the difference in how well a child will learn the material, and by using dynamic assessment teachers will be held accountable for making sure each child’s needs are met.
One part of Chapter 2 that I was very interested in was the section that talks about Social and Emotional Factors in struggling readers. The book talks about a condition that some struggling readers acquire called learned helplessness which means that students “believe that they are unable to exert any influence over a situation” (Gunning, 42). Students will basically just give up trying to read or learn to read because they get so frustrated that their efforts seem to not produce the results that they want. There are two main responses that students will have once they are in the learned helplessness state: fight or flight.
Some students will react by fighting the situation or becoming stubborn. They may be disruptive or confrontational when it comes to reading or doing an assignment. They partake in this type of behavior to avoid being forced to read. Students who react like this would not mind getting in trouble or going to the principal’s office as long as they would be able to get out of reading. On the other end of the spectrum, students might react by what the book calls a ‘flight reaction.’ This reaction is when students turn inward and start criticizing and blaming themselves, rather than the outward rebellious reaction. Students undergoing the flight response will become withdrawn and may daydream a lot. When they have to read or do an assignment, they will ask for a lot of help from their classmates and teachers.
The book goes on to talk about what these students need to help them through. The main point Gunning tries to make is that students need a sense of self-efficacy. This means that they need to believe that they can complete a task on their own successfully. Teachers need to give tasks that are at the appropriate level for students in order for them to gain this self-efficacy. Giving them a challenge that is not too overwhelming for them to work through and solve helps them gain confidence in themselves.
I have never considered before that behavioral problems in students may be caused by difficulties in reading. It is important to be aware of these types of behavioral problems so that as teachers, we can get to the root cause of them. When we do find that students are having problems, it is important to give them work that will challenge, but not overwhelm them. Then, when they do complete that challenge or when they are working very hard on it, it is important to praise them for their work. This praise has to be something more meaningful that just ‘good job.’ Something like ‘I like the strategy you used to figure out what that word means’ or ‘I’ve noticed that your writing has been improving a lot’ will help to get the self-efficacy levels up which in turn will help their reading and writing skills. All in all, the main point that I would take away from this is that the attitude of students toward reading and writing plays a huge factor in how successful they will be. It is the teacher’s responsibility to help students attain and keep the right attitude; therefore, teachers also have to be on the lookout for signs of struggling readers and writers to help get them back on the right track.
When reading Chapter 1 of Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties by Thomas G. Gunning, a very small part of the text caught my attention. Maybe this all too familiar topic stood out because it is talked about so frequently in education training and is so controversial. That topic? Standards. The sentence that caught my attention says, “The idea behind standards is to improve the quality of instruction” (Gunning, 20). Isn’t that what all educators are striving to do? Don’t we all want the quality of instruction to be the greatest that it can be? If this is the whole point of standards, why is there so much controversy? Standards are supposed to help teachers set a goal and to have a guideline to go off of. In the struggling reading sense, “the expectation was that struggling readers would make reasonable progress. However, now the goal is for them to achieve the same level of performance as other students” (Gunning, 20). The whole point of improving the quality of instruction is lost. It’s lost in the competition for teachers to have their students all performing perfectly so they don’t get fired; it’s lost in the idea that all students have to learn at the same rate and be at the same level; it’s lost in the rush to cram as much information in before standardized tests take place. Standards weren’t invented for teaching to take place like this. Nowadays, it’s all about the tests, the money, and the perfect scores. Where is the quality of instruction in that?
Standards have become this terrifying monster that has taken over the quality of instruction. It is hard for teachers to balance meeting the standards for the sake of standardized tests and providing meaningful instruction for the students. This is even harder when it comes to struggling readers and writers. No matter what the reason for their struggle, teachers have to find a way to meet their needs to bring them in the direction of the level that they need to be at. By using the standards as a guide, teachers will be able to work at a pace that will challenge the student, but also try to make extra progress in their reading and writing.
As we begin this journey to learn how to help struggling readers and writers, I think that it is extremely important that we keep the original idea of what standards are supposed to do in mind. They are supposed to be used to improve the quality of instruction. As we help struggling students, we can look to the standards as a guide to improve instruction so they can learn and grow. Rather than looking at standards as a hindrance and a burden, I will use them as a resource to help students reach their potential.