Catherine Crenshaw, 4th Grade Teacher, Beaverton, Oregon.
Every year, I have that one student who for some reason stands out instantly from all the rest. After 22 years as an elementary general education teacher, I’ve not only come to expect this, I start looking for that child immediately. This year, when all the other third graders walked in wide-eyed and a bit cautiously on that first day of school Ervin bounced. He bounced into the room, into his seat, and into my heart.
The truth is, because of the assessments my school does in reading, Ervin was already on my radar. He was flat lining in second grade and showed no progress, landing well below grade level as he began this year. Add to this a history of behavioral concerns and being a monitored second language learner, I knew I had my work cut out for me as Ervin’s third grade teacher. I knew I needed to get to work getting to know Ervin and building a relationship with him. That relationship and trust was going to be essential, because I knew that I was going to have to task Ervin with taking on some big challenges this year in order for him to make good progress behaviorally and academically.
Along with classroom observations and a host of valuable resources, my school district uses the Independent Reading Level Assessment (IRLA) as a tool to get to know our students as readers. A quality assessment is a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled educator. The IRLA consists of cold reads, a variety of phonics screeners, and numerous resources for collecting information on students’ reading strengths and weaknesses. This data enables me to target instruction specifically to the needs of the individual student. When I finish administering this assessment, I know my readers intimately and can develop instructional plans that are tailor made to each individual student.
From my classroom observations and conversations with Ervin, I knew he was working hard at reading. He was choosing books that were just right for him, but he was losing interest quickly. He was also trying to read quickly, and sacrificing accuracy in the process. As I listened to him read, it became clear that much of the time, Ervin was not attending to word endings, especially –ed endings. He was not making sense of what he read, and was guessing at new words or skipping them altogether. When I administered the phonics screener provided in the IRLA, it became clear that Ervin needed some intensive work in vowel patterns and syllabification. He also needed some instruction around reading to the end of the word. Improving his knowledge of the meanings of certain prefixes and suffixes as well as being able to differentiate between the three possible sounds that the –ed suffix makes was also a necessary learning target. The assessment made it possible for me to be able to tailor a program specifically to Ervin’s needs. So far, Ervin is responding well to instruction. I’m confident that Ervin’s comprehension will improve dramatically as he gains mastery of the material he is reading. Instead of passing over new words, he will be able to read them and understand what he’s reading. This will be a much more engaging experience for him. I expect he will continue to work hard at his reading (the first thing he stated he wanted to accomplish this year was to read bigger books) and will maintain interest in what he’s reading for longer periods of time.
In just under two weeks, I will meet with Ervin’s parents, and I will be ready to have an important conversation with them about Ervin as a student in my classroom. I know they will ask about his academics and his behavior. I am prepared to address both candidly with valuable information that clearly defines the concerns and yet also provides a plan to support Ervin’s growth as a reader. This plan will involve three elements: nightly reading and recording in a reading log, reading aloud for a minimum of five minutes during his nightly reading time while attending to the entire word and making sense of what he is reading. Finally, I will task Ervin’s parents with helping Ervin keep a log of tricky words he encounters in his nightly reading which he will bring to school. We will use these words as a springboard for further vocabulary and word work during our times in class. This collaborative planning with Ervin’s parents is an important and necessary piece of the conversation. A piece that is difficult to have if the assessment tools in use do not provide the necessary relevant information about the student’s reading behavior. With the IRLA, I look forward to assessing my students because of the wealth of relevant information I glean about my young readers. Targeted informed instruction is powerful and effective in helping students achieve their goals. I can’t wait to see how Ervin and the rest of my class make the most of it this year.