Now What?

Increasing accountability has resulted in increased assessment of student progress. Shaunna strives to make learning fun for her students and to support their social and emotional growth. Meanwhile, her focus on literacy instruction has generated some unexpected challenges. Making meaningful connections between assessment results and instructional decisions creates a real test for this new teacher.

Shaunna and her new kindergarten students get acquainted and begin to address instructional needs.

Some kids just seemed to teach themselves to read. Or, so it appeared. Many of the students in my kindergarten class came to me well prepared, having been completely immersed in books, language, and reading-readiness activities by families who knew what to do with preschoolers and had the means to do it. They were among the lucky ones. And, they were certainly a blessing to me during my first year teaching. There was a lot to attend to, and these successes allowed me to focus on some of the other issues competing for my attention, like getting to know the curriculum, writing weekly newsletters to families, turning in detailed lesson plans to my principal, answering a constant stream of emails from parents, and understanding special education jargon during eligibility meetings.

Andrew and Shaunna were both confronted by challenges in their new classroom.

When I was offered my first teaching job at this school, everything was new to me. I had been expecting that. But I hadn’t been expecting my graduate-level reading course to leave me so ill-prepared to teach language arts to kindergarteners. I remembered well the professor who sat at her desk reading to us from her notebook about theory after theory while doing little to suggest how to apply them in a classroom. I was now left with the reality of trying to transform 22 kindergartners into enthusiastic readers.

One child, Andrew, was adjusting well in many ways, but he definitely lacked confidence in his beginning reading skills. For most of the first nine weeks of school he struggled with rhyme and beginning sound work, timidly approached even the most basic repetitive books from the classroom library, and looked at me with wide, startled eyes when I asked him to tackle something new.

I’d tried every trick I could remember from my own elementary school days, but mostly what I remembered was loving books and reading a lot. I thought that my fall assessment results would give me clues about what to do, but they just seemed to confuse me even more. They gave me a better understanding about each individual child, but I was still confused about the best way to put them in groups for instruction. Everyone seemed to need help with something different. I knew the groups wouldn’t be perfect, but I went ahead and set them up the best way I knew how.

See Shauna’s fall PALS-K results below:

See Shauna’s fall DIBELS results below:

See Shaunna’s reading groups below:

I knew I needed help, so by Halloween I was enrolled in a reading instruction course. I lapped up everything the instructor said about language development, teaching skills in context, and making learning fun. I even borrowed her PowerPoints and pored over my class notes so I could review the nitty-gritty of her presentations. Before long, our classroom was full of songs and poems, big books, small books, and basals. I immersed the children in language and new vocabulary, while teaching specific skills with sounds and letters. We read and reread nursery rhymes to practice fluency, and worked on comprehension through retelling and creative drama. And I was crossing my fingers that it would work.

Click here to see a PowerPoint on phonemic awareness from Shaunna’s course.

Click here to see Shaunna’s lecture notes from Understanding Assessments.

Eventually, Andrew’s confidence started to develop, seemingly before my very eyes. One day he was struggling to connect words to print, and the next day he walked into the classroom, headed straight for our library, picked-up Go Dog, Go, walked over to me, and said, “Look! I can read this!” And, read it he did. Although it was a simple book and one he’d undoubtedly read and reread at school and at home, his relief and delight were contagious. He began to lose the scared look and sometimes even volunteered to participate in his reading group. Go Dog, Go, became one of his favorites, and I had him read it to me whenever we had the chance. Now I just had to figure out how to help him be this confident with unfamiliar texts.

The diversity among her students enriches Shaunna’s class while it challenges her instructional approaches.

I loved show-and-tell. It provided a rare moment in our school day when my students could be in charge of what we thought about together, and it was a fascinating window into their worlds. Madison was eager to share that she had found another book by Eric Carle, our Author of the Month, while she was visiting the library the night before with her family. “It’s called The Very Noisy Cricket,” she said, “and it chirps when you turn the pages. My brother made my mom read it 3 times last night. She had to take the book away from him because he snuck it into his bed and kept making it chirp.” Everyone laughed.

Harold was eager to share, too. “I saw a really scary movie last night! There was lots of blood and there was this guy…” he started to tell us.

“Wow!” I interjected, “That does sounds really scary. Why don’t you tell me more about that at recess so that we don’t scare anyone else?” Harold’s mom was going back to school at night, and Harold spent a lot of time in the care of his teenage brother. I knew that the academic support he was receiving at home was inconsistent, and I was concerned that he was being exposed to music and television shows that were beyond his age.

I was constantly amazed and bewildered by the variety of experiences that my students were having outside of school. I was also overwhelmed by the challenge it presented. I had students whose families had summer houses on the shore and students with fathers in prison. The academic diversity was just as real as the disparity among home lives for these students, and I struggled to make sense of what to do with everyone.

Just that morning I was checking reading logs and was excited when I got to Andrew’s. His mother had taken the time to write a note about how much he had enjoyed “reading” the latest book he had taken home. I was finally feeling good about Andrew and the progress he was making. I had really focused on my struggling readers this past fall, and not only had their confidence improved, but they were showing measurable growth academically.

See Andrew’s home reading log below: 

But then my stomach dropped when I read the comments on Madison’s reading log. Her mother was concerned that the books I was sending home were too easy and that she wasn’t being challenged. Maybe she was right.

See Madison’s home reading log below:

Shaunna meets with her most advanced readers.

I didn’t want to be too hard on myself. While I probably needed to re-evaluate my take-home reading program, I had worked hard to individualize instruction in my reading groups. With my most skillful group of readers, I was switching the focus of my lessons from fluency to comprehension.

See Shaunna’s blue group reading lesson plan below:

Madison and Harold share little more than their classroom and an occasional book.

When I called the blue group to the back carpet, they came quickly, sat down in a rough circle, and pulled today’s books out of the basket. Madison, Bill, Amelia, Tony, Marquise, and Latisha were all enthusiastic and eager to please. When everyone was settled, I asked, “So, who in the blue group has ever had a toothache?” Eyes grew wide, heads began bobbing, hands held the sides of faces.

“Ouch! My dad had to pull my tooth last week,” Tony began.

“Mine fell out in my pizza!” Latisha added, making a face.

“Last time I lost a tooth, the Tooth Fairy gave me ten dollars!” Madison chimed in.

Tony looked at her doubtfully, asking, “Ten dollars?”

“Yea, my mommy said to put the tooth under my pillow and I’d get a surprise from the Tooth Fairy, so I did and the next morning I almost forgot to look but then my sister made fun of my missing tooth, see, right here,” Madison stuck her finger in her mouth and shared her gummy smile showing where her tooth had been, “and then I remembered to look, so I ran back to my room and on the way I almost tripped on my shoes and my sister said, see, Mom told you to put those away—she thinks she’s so smart—and when I looked under my pillow there was ten dollars! And I’m going to spend it all on candy.”

“My mom says candy makes your teeth fall out,” Latisha offered.

I pulled my word cards out of their baggy so we could move on with the lesson. “OK, let’s take a look at this word to see if you can sound it out. It’s a tricky one.”

After reading Hippo’s Toothache together I could see the fidgets setting in. It was time to move on. I asked members of the blue group to retell the story, and naturally Madison jumped in first.

“Well, Hippo had a toothache and the animals wanted to help pull it out so everyone tried and tried and even the elephant couldn’t get it but finally the mouse came along and saved the day.”

Madison was quickly able to summarize the story in a way that left the group members behind. It was clear that even within my small groups there was a need to individualize.

Click here to see text from Hippo’s Toothache.

Shaunna shifts her focus to writing.

Shaunna was glad she started dialogue journals with her students. They all seemed to enjoy the time to write and draw pictures in their notebooks. It was fun to go through them each week to see what was new with her students.

See Madison’s December 4 journal entry below:

By December, Andrew’s confidence in reading had improved significantly and he was eagerly reading and re-reading his favorite books. It was time to shift my focus to his writing.

See Andrew’s December writing sample below:

After working quietly for some time one morning, Andrew approached me and hesitantly handed me his latest morning journal entry. “Nice work!” I paused. “Andrew, let’s work on putting some spaces between words. Can we pick a little bit of what you’ve written to rewrite with spaces?”

He looked at me without expression as tears spilled onto his cheeks. I immediately regretted what I’d said and added, “Oh, don’t cry…”

“OK,” he managed, as another tear disobediently rolled down his cheek. I was at a loss for what to do next. And I’d now added “don’t cry” to the growing list of things I wished I hadn’t said to students.

Quickly rethinking my strategy, I approached Andrew at his seat. “Let’s try this again. Why don’t you tell me what you’ve written?”

What had looked like chicken scratch moments before, suddenly came to life with Andrew’s explanation. “This is my Christmas list,” he said proudly. “I want a robot… and a bay blade…” Andrew began. While he had difficulty reading back specific words on the page, he clearly knew what he wanted to communicate.

“Wow! That’s quite a list!” I said. “It sounds like you know exactly what you want. Now we need to make sure that Santa understands…”

Shaunna feels like an early reader must when she tries to make sense of her students’ mid-year assessment results.

Winter came and clogged our city streets just as we returned to school after the holiday crush. The snowy days and dark evenings allowed me quiet time for reading and planning at home, and I was thankful for the opportunity to slow down and focus. Now halfway through my first year of teaching, I was anxious review my mid-year assessment results and see how far we’d come. And how far we had to go.

DIBELS Assessment Video

Review mid-year DIBELS results for Andrew and his classmates 

See Andrew’s score sheets for the MidYear individual DIBELS tasks below:

See Andrew’s summary of DIBELS scores from fall and midyear below:

See DIBELS expectations for midyear kindergarten, by task below:

See DIBELS midyear class progress summary for Shaunna’s class below:

PALS Assessment Video

Review mid-year PALS results for Andrew and his classmates

See Andrew’s PALS Student Summary Sheet and Progress Monitoring Report below:

See Madison’s PALS results below:

See Harold’s PALS results below:

See mid-year PALS results for Shaunna’s class below:

Andrew’s emotional state and writing progress had remained tenuous throughout the fall of his kindergarten year. Had we spent too much time reading Go Dog, Go? Now that I had all of this assessment information, what would I do differently in my classroom?