Category: Chapter Reflections


Chapter 13 talked a lot about the writing process as a whole.  This is not something that I’ve addressed very much, if at all, throughout the course of this semester.  Looking back, I wish I would have focused on this a bit more.  The writing process is beneficial for all students at all ages and reading/writing levels.  Students not only focus on their writing, but they focus on editing, proofreading, and revising.  This also incorporates reading into the process as they reread their own work, as well as read their peers’ work for peer reviews.  Students can also learn a lot by reviewing their work and realizing some of the mistakes they made.  They will often times be able to realize their mistakes and correct themselves without the teachers even saying anything.

I’ve noticed this on a small-scale while I was working with Adriana and other students.  If I’ve noticed that they’ve made a spelling error or skipped a word in their writing, I will just say, “How about you read back to me what you just wrote.” Sometimes before they even finish reading the sentence, they will realize the mistake and fix it, or at least attempt to fix it.   I wish I was able to do more activities like this.  When students re-read their own work, they stop and slow down a bit which gives them time to focus on the technical parts of writing such as spelling, grammar, and word order.

Tying this into struggling readers and writers, the writing process is still extremely beneficial and important.  Struggling readers and writers especially will make a lot of mistakes, often because they try to go too fast to keep up with the rest of the class.  Having students slow down, reread their work, have someone else read their work, and make revisions will help their writing to expand.  They will also get practice reading and be able to focus on the techniques that they learn in a bottom up approach.  By implementing these techniques, students will be strengthening their skills and work on becoming excellent readers and writers.

Overall, the writing process is great to use for all pieces of writing.  Once students learn how the process works, they should be able to use it whenever they have a writing assignment.  Rereading and revising should be their natural instinct whenever they write something, rather than just thinking they are done after quickly writing down a couple sentences so they can be done.  As long as students know writing is a process, they will be able to understand how to become a better writer, as well as a better reader.

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Chapter eleven is all about how to build comprehension strategies.  I had actually read this chapter a while ago when I was working on my mini-unit.  I took a few of my ideas from this chapter for my unit so I’ve had a chance to put some of them into practice.  First, though, the chapter gives many, many strategies for how to build comprehension and ways to focus a lesson on that.  Many strategies is about predicting, organizing events, picking out main ideas, and summarizing.  One strategy that is suggested in the chapter and which I used for my unit is the Somebody Wanted But So chart.  Students pick a main character (somebody), say what they wanted, but what happened so they couldn’t have it, so what did they do.  When I used this with a group of students it went over pretty well.  They were able to pick out main characters and fill in the chart.  One thing that came up, though, that might have confused students is that there were many possible answers for the same character.  When you have a more in depth book, it is important to help students figure out what is MOST important about the character.

Other strategies that the book talked about have a lot to do with different ways of summarizing. If students are able to summarize the book well, then it is a sign that they are comprehending what they read. It is the goal of the teacher to get students to the point where they can give a summary of the story by only including the main points necessary to the story.   Using different kinds of graphic organizers, appropriate level material, and prompts to get students thinking on the right track will help with comprehension.

Chapter ten talks a lot about how comprehension difficulties are often a result of not knowing the meanings of the words.  I found this to be true with Adriana, my case study child.  Since she is an ELL, she does not know what a lot of words mean which causes a lot of comprehension problems.  Because of this, it is important to teach students vocabulary, but it has to be in a more meaningful way than telling them the definition or having them look it up in the dictionary.  I am going to go through a number of strategies that the book discusses to solve this problem because I think that they are great sources, especially because I have seen some of them in action.

Incidental instruction is a very beneficial way to teach vocabulary.  When this happens, it is not planned, but just happens naturally.  When students come across an unknown word when they are reading, it is discussed right then and there.  Gunning says, “The main advantages of the incidental approach are that students apply their knowledge immediately and can see a need for learning the new words.”  I think this is one of the best ways because students can understand why they need to understand the work and it applies to them.

Another strategy that the book suggests, and one that I have actually been able to use, is to develop vocabulary through reading aloud.  Students will be able to learn more words when they read aloud because they are reading and hearing the words.  What I have found in my fieldwork experience is that students are more apt to ask what words mean when they are reading aloud.   When they ask, this can lead to the next strategy which is to build on what students already know.  This is completely necessary when talking about vocabulary and is probably the best way that students will be able to learn it.  An example of this came up in fieldwork.  Adriana came across the word ‘easel’ and asked me what that was.  At first I tried to explain it to her by saying it a wooden frame that will hold your paper while you paint or draw, but she still had no clue so I knew I had to try something else.  I decided to draw it for her (even though I am a terrible artist!) and once I showed it to her, she knew exactly what it was and even said, “Oh it’s that? I have one of those at home that I use!”  As teachers, we just have to find that one little connection so that everything makes sense.

I was interested the part of the chapter that was dealing with strategies for helping students figure out multisyllabic words.  The book suggests to ask questions like “Are there any parts of the word that you can say? Can you say the first part? The next part? Can you put the word together?”  In addition to this, Gunning also recommends covering up the last part of the word so that only the first syllable or first part of the word is showing that children would know.   Then, cover up that part so they can figure out the last part of the word. Finally, have the students put the parts together to form the word.

I have actually found this strategy to be quite useful with struggling readers in particular. My case study child, Adriana, is a perfect example of this.  She in an English Language Learner and often times when she comes across big words that she doesn’t know she reads them as words she is familiar with or words that look the same.  For example, when working on flashcards of pronouncing words, she continuously mixed up the words opposite, opinion, and option.  Time after time she made the same understandable mistakes.  In order to help her see the difference, I covered up everything after the ‘op(p)’.  Then I covered those letters and showed her the difference in the words.  Once she was able to break the word down and see the difference in them, rather than just the similarity, she was able to differentiate the words from one another.  This strategy also worked when she was sounding out words she didn’t know.  By breaking the words into smaller, more manageable chunks, she seemed to be more successful in decoding the word.

Gunning also talked about how it is important to give the child as much guidance as they need, but they eventually have to get to the point where they don’t need a teacher to help them decode.  Adriana is still very dependent on an assistant helping her in decoding, but she also learns very quickly.  Once she decodes a word, she is able to remember it for the next time it comes up in a reading.  This seems like a sign that as time goes on she is going to become less and less dependent on someone helping her decode and will eventually be able to do it herself.

Chapter 8: Strategies

Chapter 8 dealt with some of the many different approaches to teaching reading, writing, decoding, spelling, etc.  I find it hard to focus on just one of these strategies to talk about since they are all so relevant depending on the situation and the child you are working with.  Reading this chapter just opened my eyes to how many different approaches a teacher can take to teach a single concept like phonics.  The text talks about explicit, implicit, pattern, and word building approaches for just teaching phonics.  This chapter seemed overwhelming in a sense because of all these approaches. How do I know what strategy to use? What will be effective? How can I use one strategy for one student, but a completely different strategy for another student?  These were all the questions running through my head while reading the chapter.  I don’t think that I have answers for these questions right now, but at some point I will.

All of these different strategies seem vague and kind of unclear right now.  The reason for this and unknown answers to all the questions that came to mind is probably that I have not actually been in a situation where I need to use these strategies.  It seems to me that once I have a classroom of my own and know the students that I am working with, it will be a lot easier to determine which strategy to use with which child.  Reading this is definitely great exposure to all of these strategies and will be a great reference point later on, but it is hard to get a lot out of it without actually being confronted with a situation in which to apply the strategies, at least for me.

I found Chapter 7 to be very interesting particularly because I could relate to a lot of it from my fieldwork experiences. First of all, the book talks about phonological awareness and English Language Learners.  It says that especially for ELLs you have to help them separate words into sounds so that cat has three separate sounds ([k]+[a]+[t]), and the sounds blend to make words.  While doing fieldwork, I experienced this happening.  Even though I was working with fourth graders, the ELLs were pulled out and working on segmenting sounds in this exact manner.  Building onto this, the book talks about blending words.  It uses the terms ‘onset’ and ‘rime’.  The onset is the beginning consonant(s) of the word, and the rime is the rest of the word.  While observing the ELLs, the teacher was actually using these terms with the children to explain the onsets of sh-, ch-, and th-.

The book also talked a lot about rhyming and playing with sounds to help kids understand and remember sounds and words. By rhyming kids can pick out which part of the word sounds the same so they can recognize which letters form to make which sounds.  Similarly, by playing with sounds, kids can see the small differences in words to help them better understand that different letters will make different sounds.  I saw this happening in my fieldwork the other day, as well.  Students were making rhymes to go with the words that they were focusing on for that week.  They would then have to articulate the difference in the words.  They were also playing with sounds when focusing on their words.  The students would have to say words that sounded similar, but were spelled differently, such as ‘shoe’ and ‘chew’.  They would then have to tell the teacher what was different about the words.  To do this, they would make the ‘ch’ sound or the ‘sh’ sound to articulate the difference.

Reading this chapter, I found it really interesting that I could relate the techniques that the textbook was talking to what was actually happening in the classroom. It helped me to confirm the theories and strategies discussed in the book as actually valid and useful.

I found all of chapter 6 to be very interesting and intriguing. One part that I think is very important is being able to understand the child fully.  Your assessment cannot be fully valid if you do not know the child and his/her background.  Reading what a child wrote or listening to them read cannot be the full assessment.  You have to be able to put that into the context of what background the child is coming from, what the child likes/dislikes, and what the child’s strengths and weaknesses are.  It cannot be a full assessment without taking all of these things into consideration.

In order to get a full assessment of the child, the book suggests that you get a case history of the child. To do this, you would interview the child’s parents about what the child likes to do at home, what their favorite things are to play with, and what ages the child reached developmental stages such as walking, talking, writing, etc.  This way, you as the teacher can have a more thorough understanding of the child which will help you with the assessment process. For instance, if the child is reading at a lower level than they should be, it could be due to the fact that they were not introduced to books at a young age and simply have not had enough experience with books.   On the other hand, if a child is reading way above grade level, it could be because they were always read to at home and they have a ton of books in their house now which they resort to in their free time.

I think that getting a good understanding of the child helps to complete the overall assessment. If they are at a lower level than you wanted, it could very well be an appropriate level for them given their home and family life conditions.  Without knowing about the child, you are just assessing on a very judgmental basis.  When you know the child’s strengths and weaknesses, you can assess what they are improving on and use their strengths to work on their weaknesses. Overall, your assessment will be more well-rounded and more valid when you have a better understanding of who the child is, outside of just reading and writing.

Chapter 5: Spelling

I chose to focus on the spelling section in Chapter 5.  This section talks about how the different stages of spelling that children go through. There are five main spelling stages: prephonemic, alphabetic, word pattern, syllabic, and morphemic. Prephonemic is when students use random letters to spell words, but the letters do not have any correlation to the words.  Alphabetic is when the student uses mainly consonants to spell a word, and occasionally will use a long vowel sound.  Word pattern is when students realize that there is a visual aspect of the whole word connected to spelling. At this stage, stents will start spelling most single-syllable words correctly.  Next is the syllabic stage where students will know to drop the final e when adding –ing.  They know the rules of how to change certain words when adding endings.  Finally, morphemic is when students realize that certain words are spelled similarly, even though they are pronounced differently.

I thought that these stages were interesting, especially because of a past experience.  Last semester I was working with a group of five students in a writing workshop, and a consistent problem with a few students was spelling.  More than half of the words they wrote were spelled wrong.  Looking at these phases now, it would be easy to pinpoint what level they are at.  This is important to do because, as Gunning continued to talk about in the book, teachers need to meet the students where they are at.  Looking back now, it seems like the students I was working with were in way over their heads with what they were trying to spell.  If I would have known these stages when I was working with the students, it would have been easier for me to pin point their problem and give them the appropriate help that they needed.

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.

Chapter 3: Dynamic Assessment

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.

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