Saturday, November 2, 2013

RTI for the Gifted Learner

Response to Intervention (RTI) can be a challenge for any classroom. During this time, we are required to provide research-based, tiered instruction based on solid data with ongoing assessment, among other components (MOPI, 2009). In a large, double classroom of kindergartners, this seems simply overwhelming at times. 
Generally, people consider the struggling learners when it comes to RTI, but we need to be providing for our gifted learners as well during tier 2, and as appropriate tier 1. Differentiated whole class instruction will be sufficient for most gifted students to meet their potential, but the ability to also use RTI time for small group gifted instruction can further meet these advanced learners’ needs (MOPI, 2009). 
During tier 2, rather than remediation, gifted students receive enrichment and learning opportunities based on their strengths (MOPI, 2009).  According to MOPI (2009), “they may be doing assignments that are more complex, and involve greater depth and/or breadth than the regular work.” Most students will likely embrace such individualization and freedom, but there will be challenges with students who struggle with self-control and direction. As such, careful consideration must occur to appropriately structure learning for all students.
As with all learners, gifted students must receive ongoing progress monitoring to ensure they are progressing sufficiently (CEC, 2009). If students are not progressing adequately, a problem solving approach must be adopted to identify adjustments that can be made to the students’ programs. Instructors must determine if the problem is chronic, or if students are choosing to neglect work (Coleman, 2010). While this takes a time investment, the information will hopefully guide instruction to be better formed to make progress.
Tier 3 RTI is also appropriate for gifted learners, but these will likely be the highly and exceptionally gifted students (MOPI, 2009). These children don’t just benefit from the individualized education, they need the IEPs, acceleration, and so forth. It may also be students who did not make adequate progress in tier 2, which will then see the significance of problem solving and program adjustment (CEC, 2009).
RTI is not any simpler for gifted students than it is for strugglers. In fact, it adds to the multi-level, differentiated education we are required to provide. Our job is to make sure that every student, no matter where they fall, achieves their full potential.

Coleman, M. R. (2010). RTI for gifted students. Retrieved from

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). (2009). Response to intervention for gifted children. Retrieved from

Montana Office of Public Instruction (MOPI). (2009). Response to intervention and gifted and talented education. Retrieved from

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Reflections on Behavior and Discipline - Notes on Teaching with Poverty in Mind (Jensen, 2009)

Well, I made it. I finished my internship. I graduated. I have a Master of Arts in Teaching degree. I'm so relieved.

It was a tough internship. My CT and I often talked about the fact that after experiencing the behavior problems there, I would be ready for anything! As I reflect though, I feel more confused.

As I prepare to begin interviewing, I wanted to look over my Classroom Management Plan I developed in the fall. I've been doing a lot of reading, and I wanted to see how the three things lined up: the ideals I set for myself, my experience, and the literature.

My ideals and the literature match up almost word for word. My experience, however, was on a completely different plane, and I'm not sure how to reconcile this.

I know there were things that were out of our control: a lack of consistency, various experiences in prior grades, unstable home lives. However, I think that we weren't approaching the problems in the best way. We got into the common habit of demanding our way, but that's not what research shows to be effective.

I just finished a great book Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen, and I'm currently reading Teaching with Love & Logic. These are fantastic books if you're interested in working in Title One schools.

Teaching with Poverty in Mind provided some insight I either hadn't considered or had forgotten. For example, when students act, for lack of a better word, "crazy," like they just don't know how to be students or friends or humans, we can't just tell them, "Do better!" We have to go back and teach those basic social skills. What does it mean to treat everyone with respect? When you talk to someone, make eye contact, smile, and so forth. It seems obvious right? Not if you haven't practiced it.

Also, we can't just forget the tough situations these kids are facing. As nice as it would be to say, "You're in school now. Forget your troubles, and do these math problems," a better approach is to practice problem solving using real-life scenarios. Share your problems or have them share their own if they're willing. Then give them time to work with each other to develop solutions. Share biographies of relatable, successful people to give them hope.

You might say, "There's no time for all of that! We have a calendar! We have testing!"

You know what we don't have time for? Telling students to sit down, be quiet, and do their work over and over and over again. When we fix the root of the problem rather than the symptoms, we can hopefully get back some of that time we were losing dealing with discipline.

I want to emphasize, my CT and all of the teachers at my school are not bad teachers. There are AWESOME teachers at that school with really cool ideas and fun effective lessons, but I think we have trouble reconciling our own childhood with our students'. Then, we go into a survival mode. We try to rely on our instincts rather than the research, and our instincts can't help us if we had such a fundamentally different school experience ourselves. Our instincts are wrong.

Now, I say things like "hopefully," "should," and "might" because I haven't had my own classroom yet. I find it so interesting though, that this is the way I felt before my internship, and I'm right back there. These are the types of things I want to try with my students. Maybe it will go terribly wrong. It will certainly take years of practice, but I'm willing to try because it's not just what's best for my students, it's what's best for me as well.

On another note, I have a lot of reading to do, and I'll be posting more about the books I take on over the summer. On my list are:
The Daily Five
The First Days of School
Bringing Words to Life

Any I should add to the list?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Assessment Problems

As a pre-service teacher, I’ve had limited interaction with FCAT data. I’ve seen students’ scores, but I don’t know how much information teachers actually have available to them. I’ve heard terms like “The Toolbox” thrown around, but it seems like our school is pretty good about allowing teacher flexibility to meet students’ needs. I’ve heard RTI mentioned once or twice by now, but I still haven’t seen it in action. Since I’m only there four, half days a week in math and science, that doesn’t necessarily mean much. Either way it’s nice to have a good framework, as laid out by Dennis (2009), for the future. I really like that this process emphasizes including students in the goal-setting process and making sure all teachers play a part. I also like that it doesn’t rely solely on tests like FCAT, but pulls in data from a variety of assessments. 

Caldwell (2008) brought up an important yet sticky point that the public puts more faith in standardized test results than classroom assessment. It is a debate my husband and I have periodically. I understand the reasoning though. One of the unique opportunities in being a teacher is doing what works best for you and your students, and you can’t really communicate that to the general public.

Being in a departmentalized classroom provides a sort of picture of the way different teachers’ approach to things like management and grading shapes the environment. Grading at the elementary level is hard though, harder than Caldwell (2008) conveys in my opinion. Children develop at such a wide variety of rates, and so it makes sense to consider things like effort. The students who aren’t quite there but really try might just be sitting on the edge of a developmental hurdle. At the same time, I don’t think something like attitude should lower a grade. I do like the suggestion to hold report cards until all assignments are in, but I don’t know that many schools would allow such practices. I think grading is something that should receive more discussion in our program.


Caldwell, J. S. (2008). Reading assessment: A primer for teachers and coaches (2nd Ed). New York City, NY: Guilford.

Dennis, D. V. (2009). "I'm not stupid:" How assessment drives (in)appropriate reading instruction. Journal of adolescent and adult literacy, 53(4), 283-290.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Comprehension and Vocabulary

The RAND Reading Study Group (2002) definition of comprehension strikes me. Comprehension is "the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language" (p. 11). That makes my head spin a little, and I'm 27 years old. We're taking away. We're building. We're interacting. We're a part of something. Duke (2003) says we're navigating and critiquing too. We're doing it all at the same time! No wonder these kids struggle with it. God forbid we ever tell them what we really expect them to do. When any of the basic literacy skills is missing, this becomes ten times more challenging.

Background knowledge is one of the trickiest areas of comprehension in my opinion. We're trying to help students make connections to things they already know and have learned (Pardo, 2004). However, they may have been struggling long enough that there are significant holes in their academic knowledge, and we have to rely solely on what they know from their personal lives. Now, it's great to be able to make text-to-self connections, but by the intermediate grades, we have to assume they've learned and remember some things from previous grades. This is a key point in the literacy cycle. Sometimes we have to play catch up.

I like that Pardo (2004) suggests we sometimes give students difficult texts to provide opportunities for them to practice their comprehension strategies. Stahl (2012) would agree if the reading occurs in a shared setting. Having the teacher read the "stretch texts" while modeling his or her thinking allows children both the chance hear a fluent reader and the strategies they will need to use once they are on their own. Teaching students how to select appropriate texts has always looked inauthentic to me. I'm not sure how to describe it, but telling students there are books they shouldn't read just seems wrong. I understand the purpose, but I think I have yet to see it modeled in a way that I would follow.

Stahl and Bravo (2010) bring interesting insight to the idea of what it means to "know" a word. I think it's important to remember that students don't just know or not know. They could be in any number of positions around the understanding of the fact that a word exists or that it means somethings sometimes or even all the possible meanings!

I'm intrigued by the study put forth by Bauman, Ware, and Edwards (2007). I'm impressed by the knowledge students took away, but it was so comprehensive. I know we have to give our all in everything, but sometimes (in compartmentalized classrooms for example) we don't have the chance to have our hands in everything in that way. Can we pick and choose and see similar results?

Another question I have is how to get students to actually use the tools we provide. Imparting the knowledge of how to use the Vocabulary Rule and Word-Part Clues is great, but I get the feeling from some students that it will take a lot to get them to care enough to use them (Bauman, Ware, & Edwards, 2007). I wish we had the insight as children to take good notes on our own literacy journeys. When did decoding become natural for me?

Bauman, Ware, and Edwards (2007) respond with fostering word consciousness. The students with whom I'm working now need more than personal dictionaries and lessons on how much more interesting it is to read writing with varied vocabulary. I think games and challenges might be the best inspiration.

I know I've covered motivation before, but now that I've spent some time in the classroom, it's clear: Motivation is key. I was reading Pardo's (2004) article while working on an unrelated assignment, and I realized how important it is to me that my students do authentic work. I don't want them to do busy work until they get an idea. I want them to care enough to want to learn.

*On a side note, I found a cool site with lots of online wordy resources. Check it out.


Baumann, J. F., Ware, D., & Edwards, E. C. (2007). "Bumping into spicy, tasty words that catch your tongue": A formative experiment on vocabulary instruction. The reading teacher 61(2), 108-122.

Pardo, L. S. (2004). What every teacher needs to know about comprehension. The reading teacher, 58(3), 272-280.

Rivas, K. (2010, May 24). 50 coolest online tools for word notes [Blog]. Retrieved from

Stahl, K. A. D. (2012). Complex text or frustration-level text: Using shared reading to bridge the difference. The reading teacher, 66(1), 47-51.

Stahl, K. A. D., & Bravo, M. A. (2010). Contemporary classroom vocabulary assessment for content areas. The reading teacher, 63(7), 566-578.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reading Levels

I am really interested in the idea that we should be providing text books that are on students' independent reading level rather than their instructional level (Allington, 2002). Yes, we want high standards. We want to push our students, but we also want them to be able to read and comprehend their content material! I think a large factor is how much they are reading independently versus with the support of their teachers and classmates.

Wouldn't it be nice if students' word recognition always aligned with their comprehension? Unfortunately, educational decisions are rarely that simple as Halladay (2012) points out. As I've posted previously, I'm still pretty much in favor of not counting students' reading errors if they don't affect comprehension. As long as students get the message, there are so many other things to worry about! Maybe I'm naive.

The assumption that "certain levels of decoding and comprehension difficulty cause frustration" (Halladay, 2012, p. 59) is so complex, but ultimately, I think a lot of it comes down to projecting our own issues on children. I know there is a book sitting on my bookshelf, Making a Killing, The Political Economy of Animal Rights (2007). I would love to read it, but it's definitely at my frustration level (which is hard to admit). I keep it there, thinking someday I will just dig in, but I don't. I've tried, and I get frustrated and quit.

Someday, Mr. Torres...

Children aren't necessarily the same. They can read a book that's "too hard" and still have a good time. Do they comprehend all of it? No! According to Halladay (2012), they may not comprehend half of it, but it doesn't always bother them. I think this means that we as teachers need to be aware of our students' interests and provide a wide spectrum of titles they may want to try. We should be forgiving if they decide a book isn't a good fit after they start it because we do that too. They may just push themselves a little farther than they would have otherwise though, and in my book, that's a very good thing.


Allington, R. L. (2002). You can't learn much from books you can't read. Educational leadership, 60(3), 16-19.

Halladay, J. L. (2012). Revisiting key assumptions of the reading level framework. The reading teacher, 66(1), 53-62

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Informal Reading Inventories (IRIs)

How do we find time to assess and instruct our students? If we must take 20-30 minutes just to do one informal assessment, how can we do this for 17 or more other students AND plan AND instruct AND do formal testing as well?? It seems impossible. Caldwell (2008) shared some examples of group IRIs, but I think that would be a last resort.

One disadvantage to being in a departmentalized math/science classroom, both as an intern now and I'm sure also as a teacher, is that it takes more time to learn if a student is struggling with the material because of a reading issue, one of the reasons Caldwell (2008) suggests for performing IRIs. Sure, teachers can talk with each other and share test scores, but there certainly isn't time for a math/science teacher to be performing his or her own IRIs. That means they have to wait for the other teacher to conduct IRIs, wait for the time to talk with that teacher, and remember to take good notes on the students about which they are concerned.

Thinking of the way I read to myself, I think I fall opposite Caldwell (2008) on the debate over counting errors that do not affect meaning. Sometimes I get into the flow and substitute words or read things that aren't actually there. Does that mean I'm reading it incorrectly or that I'm challenged by it? Maybe sometimes, but I think it just happens naturally. I'm not sure I should count that against my students. On the other hand, there is a difference between word accuracy scores and comprehension scores.

I think Walpole & McKenna (2006) touch on some of the ways to deal with this issue. With a slightly different approach you can target both what you're assessing and how you move forward. Also, as Flippo et al (2009) point out, with time and practice, I can hopefully choose the most appropriate IRIs for my class. I think (hope) it's just another thing I will figure out once I've started doing it.

I'm also on the fence about tracking miscues. I've done a miscue analysis with an ELL, and it was a lot of work to track everything. Using the traditional coding system gives you good information later, but it would be difficult to do much more than make checks if you track as the student is reading. If you can record the IRI as Caldwell (2008) suggests, the audio may be useful then to remind yourself what the student actually said.

I am definitely tucking the Flippo et al (2009) article away for later use. There are so many things to learn as a new teacher, and clearly from the tone of this article, even seasoned educators struggle with choosing the right IRIs for their needs. Having a guide to which questions I need to be asking will surely be an important tool.


Caldwell, J. S. (2008). Reading assessment: A primer for teachers and coaches (2nd Ed). New York City, NY: Guilford.

Flippo, R. F., Holland, D. D., McCarthy, M. T., & Swinning, E. A. (2009). Asking the right questions: How to select an informal reading inventory. The Reading Teacher, 63(1), 79-83.

Walpole, S., & McKenna, M. C. (2006). The role of informal reading inventories in assessing word recognition. The reading teacher, 59(6), 592-594.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Words Their Way

I think word study is great, but I'm curious as to what activities are developmentally appropriate for intermediate grades. I've seen tons of activities in K-2, but to my knowledge, I haven't really seen it in 4-5. Maybe I have, and I'm just not recognizing it as such. You see a lot of vocabulary, but where is the place for word study in the upper elementary classroom? How can you keep students from feeling like they're doing "baby work?" I think there must be a place for it because students still ask, "How do you spell it?" if it's a word with which they are unfamiliar. If they had stronger general knowledge, they would be able to at least attempt to apply the rules to new words (Caldwell, 2008). Maybe they just don't understand that there are rules.

Personally, I find the history of how the alphabet and spelling patterns in the English language have evolved interesting. I wonder if elementary students would as well. Probably not; I'm just a nerd. I love the idea, though, that students are reliving the historical development of our language in every step towards their own mastery (Caldwell, 2008).

Thinking back to spelling tests I've taken and ones I've witnessed in observation, I only remember being taught how to spell the words, not why. Not until high school do I remember much instruction on the relationships between words. Now, this doesn't mean it didn't happen. I just don't have any memory of it, and I haven't seen it in my most recent time spent in classrooms. Clearly, Caldwell (2008) points out how important and interwoven these things are, and I hope my future classroom can reflect this.

While it's a little dry, I love what Words Their Way really boils down to. It's the same as the idea of teaching through problem solving as we are encouraged to do in math (Vane de Walle, Karp, & Bay-Williams, 2010). We need to provide appropriate learning experiences to our students rather than telling them each and every piece. As Caldwell (2008) states, "We must fit our instruction to what our students are using but confusing" (p. 21).

I often wonder if we will even need the things we learn in the future. So much information is right at our fingertips, and all we have to do is "Google it." However, without the ability to spell, read, and comprehend we will be in the dark despite the light all around us.


Caldwell, J. S. (2008). Reading assessment: A primer for teachers and coaches (2nd Ed). New York City, NY: Guilford.

Van de Walle, J. A., Karp, K. S., & Bay-Williams, J. M. (2010). Elementary and middle school mathematics. Boston, MA: Pearson.