What Inspired This Project?
I learned to read when I was 4 years old. My older brother Rob opened up his Walt Disney book and pointed to the words under the brightly colored pictures. The connection between the squiggly symbols on the page and the words he was reading made sense to me and I was instantly hooked. From that moment on, I always had a book in my hands. Learning to read was a joyful experience. It was this passion for reading that led me to find my teaching niche with helping older elementary students become stronger readers.
When I first began teaching Read 180, students were targeted for my replacement English Language Arts class based on multiple measures. The primary assessment used was the student’s Scholastic Reading Inventory score which measures their reading level on a lexile level. This score was used as entrance as well as exit criteria from the program. My students experienced high levels of success and a high percentage reached proficient reading levels by the time they were in 5th grade.
Raising the bar for my lowest readers
Then along came the increased rigorous standards of Common Core State Standards. In 2014-2015, the grade level equivalencies for Lexile ranges increased in order to better reflect the reading expectations for College and Career Readiness. This huge shift in the Common Core aligned lexile bands meant that the bar had now been dramatically raised for my 4th and 5th grade students. More students now qualified to enter intensive reading intervention and fewer qualified to exit. I was becoming just as frustrated as my students were and I could empathize with their feeling that they would never be able to catch up to their peers. The goal of grade level proficiency seemed unreachable and it became more and more challenging to motivate them to keep trying in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
I had no control over the new proficiency levels, but I could control my reaction to it. Giving up has never an option for me or my students ("Just Keep Swimming!") , so it was time to roll up my sleeves and figure out a better way.
Below are some of my findings from my action research project. My biggest "ah-ha" moment came from 2 of my students who were outliers when I analyzed the data. My lowest achieving student believed he was a rock star reader, while my highest achieving student still believed in her heart that she was the lowest child in her grade. These two students sparked my idea that all of my students needed frequent concrete feedback in order to become better readers. It wouldn't be enough to tell them, they would have to see it for themselves as often as possible.
Statement of the Problem:
Research has shown that self-perceptions or mindset can be changed with explicit instructional focus. Fostering a growth mindset (Dweck, 2010) has been shown to improve student success both in the short and long term. Students are not reaching grade level proficiency quickly enough to meet the challenges of an increasingly rigorous curriculum. Students who have been in intensive intervention for more than one year can develop a fixed mind set because becoming a proficient reader seems beyond their reach. As the Singapore educational reformist Lee Peng Yee said, “If you think you can catch the bus, you will run for it.” Simply stated, students in longer term interventions do not believe they can catch the bus.
Research Findings Call to Action:
Teachers should include self reflection as a regular part of their assessment cycles as students need regular opportunities to see how close they are to reaching their academic goals. Students in intensive intervention need even more frequent feedback and individual conferences with their teacher. Students should have a realistic vision of their reading abilities so their own perceptions can be in alignment.
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