Differentiating Reading Instruction Within the Core
This Talk is now concluded.
Please scroll down to the bottom of this page to view the questions and Dr. Connor's and Dr. Al Otaiba's answers.
All teachers recognize the importance of matching literacy instruction to the ability level and needs of each child--but how can this crucial goal actually be accomplished?
Join Carol M. Connor, Ph.D., and Stephanie Al Otaiba, Ph.D. of Florida State University and also the Florida Center of Reading Research (FCRR) as they answer your questions about delivering high quality core instruction and differentiating instruction for struggling learners. Drs. Connor and Al Otaiba will also offer tips and suggestions for using materials and lesson procedures from the core program to provide reteaching, or additional teaching, to students according to their needs.
The following paper summarizes current information on effective reading programs: Slavin, R.E., Cheung, A., Groff, C., and Lake, C. (2008). Effective reading programs for middle and high schools: A best evidence synthesis. Reading Research Quarterly, 43, 3, 290-322. It is found at the Best Evidence Web site.
The following resources are available in our additional resources section:
- IES practice guide related to Improving Adolescent Literacy
- Center on Instruction (includes syntheses on instruction, intervention, and also assessments)
- Two documents that parallel the National Reading Panel summary but are related to reading and writing for older students are: ReadingNext and Writing Next
They also described how literacy block times were rotated so that Classroom A had their literacy block from 9-10:30 and the special ed teacher, SLP, literacy coach, reading specialist, and other experts went to that class and worked with children. Then Classroom B would have their literacy block from 10:00 to 11:30 (a slight overlap) and the professionals would provide interventions with the children in that classroom. In some of the classrooms where we work, two teachers share a classroom with a larger class size. They then work together as a team to provide differentiated instruction.
Finally, we have seen teachers differentiate instruction on their own using stations or centers where children work independently or with peers on evidence-based literacy activities while the teacher works with a smaller group of students. For example, Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) is a great way to have children work on meaningful literacy activities. Another website that helps schools think about how to use resources within an RTI framework is Project IRIS.
The Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) has a great website that provides free downloadable center or station activities for kindergarten through 5th grade. There is also video on how to differentiate centers as well as great tips for classroom management and organization. Also, many Tier 2-type interventions work very well in the classroom. The Florida Center for Reading Research has reviews and descriptions of many such programs. With older students, additional resources and reviews of intervention programs can be found at the Center on Instruction website and the Best Evidence Encyclopedia website.
Another method that has been widely research is Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies or PALS. PALS is a type of class-wide peer tutoring that doubles or triples student practice time and engagement. The partner reading aspect of PALS has been used with young children, high school students, and with narrative and content area text. It also has been effective with English Language Learners. It is important to consider how to partner children. Some teachers divide their class in half and match the top student with the bottom student in that top half in order that children practice on an independent reading level.
Another resource that may be helpful is Mastropieri, M.A. Scruggs, T. Mohler, L., Beranek, M. Spencer, V. Boon, RT & Talbott, E (2001). Can middle school students with serious reading difficulties help each other learn anything? Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 16, 18-27.
It is possible that for older children (after grade three), separate services during the literacy block might be appropriate if they are so far behind that they are unlikely to gain anything from instruction.
That is, the decoding becomes automatic and the comprehension becomes strategic [Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (pp. 97-110). New York: Guilford Press.] and varies across genres. For example, expository text becomes more common and students usually require explicit instruction to "read to learn." For those of you working with older students, Reading Next and Writing Next are excellent resources. For preschoolers, the National Early Reading Panel Report is very helpful.
- Assessment that is used to guide instruction so that your son is presented with challenging and meaningful activities;
- Opportunities for your son to work independently and with peers. Our research shows, for example, that children with high vocabulary skills make greater reading gains when provided about 30-40 minutes per day to read and write [Connor, C. M., Morrison, F. J., Fishman, B. J., Schatschneider, C., & Underwood, P. (2007). THE EARLY YEARS: Algorithm-guided individualized reading instruction. Science, 315(5811), 464-465.].
- Repeated assessment to make sure your son is actually progressing as expected.
There is a Parent Guide on the RTI Action Network that may also provide information on this topic.
However, for children who have fallen about a grade level behind, as much as 40-60 minutes might be needed. If a child is a fluent decoder, but struggles to make sense of what he or she is reading, then more time in comprehension instruction and opportunities to read and write independently are usually more effective. Again, by differentiating instruction during the core literacy block, less time is needed in pull-out kinds of activities. I suggest you read the IES RTI Practice Guide.
On the other hand, cognitive testing may play a role in identifying very young children who have developmental delays in order for them to receive services. Further, it may be appropriate in some situations to use cognitive testing for students who do not respond when they have received very intensive and well implemented reading instruction.
Another way to examine fidelity to effective instruction is to visit classrooms and observe whether or not teachers are using small groups, that content is matched to students' assessed skills, and whether all of the children seem to be engaged in meaningful learning activities.
Fidelity to the core using a lock-step, all classrooms on the same page on the same day approach tends to under serve children at both ends of the skill continuum -- the struggling and the able.
In our research, we have worked with many classroom teachers and all of them are able to differentiate instruction using assessment-guided instruction in small groups using stations or centers (there is a guided video related to this at The Florida Center for Reading Research website). We have found that the more teachers who individualize or differentiate core instruction, the greater the students' literacy gains [Connor, C. M., Piasta, S. B., Fishman, B., Glasney, S., Schatschneider, C., Crowe, E., et al. (2009). Individualizing student instruction precisely: Effects of child by instruction interactions on first graders’ literacy development. Child Development, 80(1), 77-100.]
We have also incorporated parents as volunteer tutors in some of our studies and found two benefits- parents helped children in the classroom to improve reading outcomes and parents also "took home" the strategies they learned while implementing a fairly scripted beginning reading intervention.
- Progress monitoring of key skills that is used to guide both the content and duration of children's instruction;
- We think about literacy across multiple dimensions -- the extent to which teachers work directly with students (teacher/child managed) and the extent to which children are working independently or with peers (child-managed). We also think about whether instruction is generally code (phonics, phonological awareness) or meaning (vocabulary, comprehension, fluency) focused and target instruction based on children's assessed learning goals;
- We vary both the amount of time and the content of the activities to meet students' learning goals. The teachers in our study have used many different methods to achieve these goals. The FCRR website has activities and videos related to this topic. The Handbook of RTI is also a great resource by Jimerson, Burns, and VanDerHeyden (2007).
That concludes our RTI Talk for today. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions and thanks to our experts, Drs. Carol Connor and Stephanie Al Otaiba, for their time today.
Related Reading from RTINetwork.org:
- Classroom Reading Instruction That Supports Struggling Readers by Carolyn A. Denton, Ph.D.
- Classroom Reading Instruction That Supports Struggling Readers: Key Components for Effective Teaching by Carolyn A. Denton, Ph.D.
- Best Evidence Encyclopedia
- Center on Instruction
- Evaluation of Early Reading First
- The Florida Center for Reading Research
- IES Practice Guides
- IES Practice Guide for RTI
- IES Guide to Reviewing Research for Practioners
- The Institute of Educational Science
- IRA Commission on RTI: Working Draft of Guiding Principles
- The International Reading Association
- National Center on Response to Intervention
- National Early Literacy Panel
- Peer Assisted Learning Strategies
- Project Iris
- Student Progress Monitoring Tools
- Reading Next
- Writing Next