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.

RTI, A Little More Informed

There are some pieces of Response to Intervention (RTI) that stand out as really valuable. The ideas of shifting resources to educating rather than classifying students, providing more opportunities to learn to students in need, visual record keeping, and adjusting the educational approach as necessary are the things we should be doing for everyone if you ask me (Dickman, 2006). However, there are also aspects that seem burdensome. Testing students every two weeks sounds like a test in patience for teacher and student. Just the other day a student in my class asked if we were going to have a test every  week. Of course this is how progress is charted and intervention is adjusted, so it's a necessary evil.

The most easily recognizable benefit to RTI is that it eliminates the old situation of waiting for students to fail before seeking help (Klotz & Canter, 2007). This is so important. Just one bad school year can make it nearly impossible for a student to catch back up. I can't imagine how a slow decline to the point of failure could damage a student's chances for success.

One thing I found interesting was that rather than saying the intervention should end when students meet some goal or are "on level," the Problem Solving & Response to Intervention Project (2011) states that intervention should continue as long as student shows a positive response. Is this true even if students catch up to their peers?

Ultimately, my opinion of RTI is just that it is what we have right now. I don't think I can really say whether it's great or awful until I'm in the classroom every day living it. Then I will not only be able to get the feel for using it, I will have a better reference for some day in the future when something else seems like it would work better. For now, RTI seems like a good idea to help students from falling away.


Dickman, G.E. (2006). RTI and reading: Response to intervention in a nutshell. Retrieved from

Education Evolving. (2005). Response to intervention: An alternative for traditional eligibility criteria for students with disabilities. Saint Paul, MN: Wedl, R. J. 

Klotz, M. B., & Canter, A. (2007). Response to Intervention (RTI): A primer for parents. Retrieved from

Problem Solving & Response to Intervention Project. (2011). FAQs. Retrieved from

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Response to Intervention (RTI)

The Response to Intervention (RTI) process is intimidating. We come to teaching because we want to teach. I think this is the first time I've really, really thought about what happens when a learning disability is identified. I can see how it would make a teacher feel intruded upon or questioned as demonstrated in the Mesmer & Mesmer (2008) article. The students are your responsibility, and I see how it could feel like a personal failure, even when it's absolutely not.

Also a little scary is the reality that students struggling with literacy need teachers with the most expertise (Johnston, 2011). As someone just entering the field, this fact leaves me with some tough questions. What if the school at which I end up has limited resources? What if the experts aren't good enough? What if I'm some day a student's best hope??

Another question arose from the Mesmer & Mesmer (2008) piece. The student used as an example responded positively and worked with his teachers. What do you do, though, when your student isn't quite as agreeable? Right now, that seems like a battle on top of a challenge.

Caldwell (2008) eases the panic that begins to rise as I consider these things. She describes assessing students' reading abilities like any other complex skill. I compared this to my own experience in roller derby. I didn't even know how to skate when I started, so I had to learn that first. Then, how to stop. From there came hitting and agility and rules. Now, something that seemed impossible a few years ago is a passion. Hopefully I can gain the same confidence as a teacher.

As evidence, Caldwell (2008) breaks the assessment process into four steps:
1) Identify what to assess.
2) Collect evidence.
3) Analyze the evidence.
4) Make a decision.

Of course, there's more to each of these, but just looking at it from here is a good starting place.

In the end, RTI needs to be like a balanced diet (Mesmer & Mesmer, 2008). Despite the needs of the student, they still need a whole instructional plan.

I think that while some teachers rely heavily on constrained skills and their measurability, I'm drawn to the unconstrained (Stahl, 2011). I want to push students to the limits that aren't really there. Of course, instruction in any classroom should span the spectrum (and literacy and RTI do), but I think the open-endedness you find after students master constrained skills like writing their names and high-frequency words is what draws me toward the intermediate grades. It's just more fun!

Caldwell, J. S. (2008). Reading assessment: A primer for teachers and coaches (2nd Ed). New York City, NY: Guilford.
Johnston, P. (2011). An instructional frame for RTI. The reading teacher, 63(7), 602-604.
Mesmer, E. M., & Mesmer, H. A. E. (2008). Response to intervention (RTI): What teachers of reading need to know. The reading teacher, 62(4), 280-290.
Stahl, K. A. D. (2011). Applying new visions of reading development in today's classrooms. The reading teacher, 65(1), 52-56.

Me in Primary Sources

Animoto is a great tool, and educators can sign up for a free upgraded account. Here's an example of what you can do with Animoto:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Motivating Children to Read - Blog #1

As someone who loves to read, it is difficult to grasp the idea that some people don't. I hate that point in the semester (around week one) when it becomes clear that the "just for fun" books will have to take a backseat to textbooks and journal articles until the next break. Looking back, I'm not sure from where this love came. My father doesn't read at all. My mother and I shared books at times as I got older, but is that it? I found most of the required reading in school boring. Now, though, I love sinking into a good book.

If, as Edmunds and Bauserman (2006) say, extrinsic motivation doesn't work for reading, where does that leave us as teachers? We have a room full of varied interests and personalities, so how can we choose literature that will appeal to everyone? I think a large part of our success is dependent on our ability to think like our students. In their study, Edmunds and Bauserman note that children often cited the characteristics of books as their motivation to read. A hardcover from the eighties is unlikely to scream, "Pick me!" to a nine-year old, but something that looks funny or flashy might just do the trick. Beyond that, the books need to appeal to our students' interests. What do they like, and about what would they like to know more?

The Elementary Reading Attitude Survey (ERAS) provides a good, uniform way to assess your students' feelings about reading (McKenna & Kear, 1990). Students will probably enjoy incorporating a cartoon character into their work, and the visual element allows it to work for a range of ages as well as languages. There's some value in something more tailored to the students in front of you though.

Caldwell (2008) provides an embarrassingly simple way to survey your own class about their reading habits and interests. First, ask, and take notes. Beyond that, for the students who don't just know what they like, have them flip through their reading textbooks, noting stories and genres that catch their attention. List everything on the board, and then have each student choose the three in which they are most interested. Use that information to guide the choices you make for your whole-class reading.

As a mother, one of my favorite parts of Edmunds' and Bauserman's (2006) research was the role parents, particularly mothers have in influencing their children to read. As a teacher, however, it can be frustrating because this often means motivating not only our students, but their parents as well. Read to your kids. Tell them what you've read recently. Tell them what you liked to read when you were their age. They listen. Maybe your child will read something great and share it with a friend.

Image Courtesy of The Book Chook

Since peers also play an important role in motivating students to read according to Edmunds and Bauserman (2006), I would like to utilize this in my own classroom. Perhaps a book review display, something less formal than book reports, or maybe a time when students can orally share the books they're enjoying with the class if they would like would be effective. At the same time, could it backfire? What happens to the recommendations of an unpopular student?

Motivating students to read will certainly pose a challenge as we enter classrooms. I suppose a good way of thinking about it isn't that some people don't love to read. They just don't love to read yet.

Caldwell, J. S. (2008). Reading assessment: A primer for teachers and coaches (2nd Ed). New York City, NY: Guilford.
Edmunds, K. M., & Bauserman, K. L. (2006). What teachers can learn about reading motivation through conversations with children. The reading teacher, 59(5), 414-424. 
McKenna, M. C., & Kear, D. J. (1990). Measuring attitude toward reading: A new tool for teachers. The reading teacher, 43(8), 626-639.