Assuring a Standardized Comprehension Conversation with the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System

By Irene Fountas, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Director/Author/Professor

irene_fountas_2.JPGAs you use the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, do you and your colleagues have common understandings so you will have accurate information on your students? Think about how you are providing a standardized comprehension conversation and scoring it in a standardized way. The following suggestions may be helpful:

Before the Assessment:
* Be sure you have read and thought about the information in the book. When you know the text well, it will be easier to facilitate the conversation.

* Read the key understandings and prompts prior to the assessment so you are familiar with them.

* Explain to children beforehand that you are going to meet with each of them to listen to them read so you will be able to help them as readers. Explain that you will ask them to read a short book and then you will ask them to share their thinking about what they read.

During the Assessment
* Use an encouraging tone when inviting the student to talk more.

* Avoid repeating what the student says.

* Give wait time instead of jumping in to ask the question again.

* Be concise in the language of your prompts.

* Don’t ask leading questions.

* When the student has indicated some knowledge of an answer but uses only one or two words in a superficial way, you must respond with “Say more about that.” or “Talk more about that.”

* If a student is simply pasting sentences from the text together, or reading them, it shows the student knows where to find evidence; however, the student needs to be able to articulate, understanding independently. You might say, “Can you say that in your own words?”

* Try not to repeat a question or prompt unless it is necessary. Repeating a question several times can make a child confused or become “a lead” to an answer.

* Paraphrase a prompt only once. Doing so multiple times may lead the student to an answer.

* Avoid asking a question in a way that “gives” the answer. A leading question might be, “And how do these adaptations help this animal?”

* Be careful not to change the intentions of a prompt or question. For example, “What is the writer’s message?” is different from “What is the writer’s message about extinction?”

* Do not direct the student to a particular part of the book unless the prompt requires it.

* Allow the student to look back in the book if they initiate it. If the student starts to read from the book, you should say “Can you say that in your own words?”

As you become very well versed with the books and the prompts, your comprehension conversation at the lower levels will only take about 2-3 minutes and the upper levels about 4-5 minutes. Remember, an assessment conference is the time for you to gather good information, so resist the urge to teach! Discuss these points with your colleagues so your team can assure that each student is engaged in a standardized comprehension conversation that gives good data to inform teaching and document profiles through time.

Learning Places: Shifting from School Change to Fostering a Culture of Growth

By Irene Fountas, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Director/Author/Professor

As we contemplate the improvement of our craft to benefit the children we teach, it can be useful to reflect on the language we use to describe the journey. Recently, I began to notice how often I read the term or use the term “school change” and began to think about a needed shift in language.

irene_fountas_2In a culture where all professionals are committed to the learning of their students, every teacher uses the knowledge they have to provide the most effective teaching they can. Every teacher is doing what he understands. So I began to think, the goal is not to change, but to grow. Nothing we do as teachers is wrong. Our teaching actions represent our best understandings at a particular point in time. Instead of spending time feeling badly, we need to focus our efforts on growing and supporting the growth of all members of the school community.

In their book Learning Places, Fullan and St. Germain describe schools as “learning places” or places where learning thrives.

  • Educators recognize that school improvement is complex.
  • Teachers are supported to engage in ongoing critical inquiry.
  • Educators have a shared purpose, a common base of knowledge and develop a common language.
  • Working as a team to recognize problems and plan actions, educators engage in a variety of collaborative activities.
  • Educators take shared responsibility for student learning.
  • All members seek to expand their knowledge through professional reading, study groups, conferences, research, affiliation with universities, professional organizations, coaching sessions and professional development sessions.
  • All members of the school community are invited to pool their knowledge and experiences to make informed decisions that best serve the school.

These critical elements should resonate with you as you think about your schools’ journey of growth.  As you think about the culture of your particular school, contemplate the factors that will support a culture of teacher growth – one that honors everyone’s efforts, but also brings energy and passion to the goal of continued learning. In the words of Fullan and St. Germain, think about whether your school is a “learning place.”

Fullan, Michael and St. Germain, Clif. (2006). Learning Places: A Field Guide for Improving the Context of Schooling. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Setting the Stage for ­­­­Joy and Independence in Reading

by Irene Fountas, Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Author, and Featured Speaker at the 2016 Literacy for All Conference

A classroom is a place where children can thrive in a language-rich, print-rich, social environment every day of the school year. When you support continuous inquiry, children’s fascination with people and the world, and multi-text based learning, you engage the hearts and minds of your students. They learn how to learn and develop a sense of agency that will propel their literacy learning across the year.

2-kids-choosing-books

 

The foundation of growing up literate in our schools lies in authentic literacy learning that brings together children’s language and background experiences with the world of print and media. It begins with getting wonderful books in every child’s hands and selecting high quality complex texts that capture children’s attention with the language, craft and ideas of fiction and nonfiction texts. And it continues when the fabric of the classroom is reading, thinking, talking and writing about books.

The early milestones for developing students’ views of themselves as readers and writers include setting up an organized classroom library in a range of relevant and appealing categories, providing a variety of enticing book talks and teaching your students to do the same, teaching students how to select books that interest them and they can enjoy, teaching students how to talk to each other about books, and introducing the reader’s notebook as a place to reflect on reading through writing.

When students spend their time reading books, thinking about books, talking about books, and writing about them, they build the stamina and independence that places books at the center and promotes a lifetime of joy in reading.


Irene Fountas will be speaking at the upcoming Literacy for All conference, October 23-25, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her sessions include:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Celebrating the Twentieth Anniversary of Guided Reading: Elevating Teacher Expertise in Differentiated Instruction (Grades K-5) 

Irene Fountas, Author/Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University, MA
Gay Su Pinnell, Author/Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University, OH

 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Digging Deep: Teaching for Reading Power in Guided Reading Lessons (Grades K-5)

Irene Fountas, Author/Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University, MA
Gay Su Pinnell, Author/Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University, OH

The Art and Science of Responsive Literacy Teaching

searchby Irene Fountas, Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative and Author

What really matters for each child in his journey of reading development is your response to his attempts to process a text. When you respond precisely to the reader’s observable behaviors, you can meet the child where he is and lead him forward.

Clay helped us understand that when we notice and build on a reader’s strength instead of targeting deficits, our teaching can be highly effective in building the student’s agency and independence. Each child’s response is often not simply right or wrong but “partially correct” (Clay, 300-301).  For example when a child reads “stairs” for “steps,” he made a meaningful attempt that fits the syntax and has letters that look similar. It is too simplistic to say it is wrong.

Think about the reader’s logic each time you notice a reading error. Think about what information the child used to make the attempt and how you can expand what the child can do to make sure the attempt makes sense, sounds right and looks right. For example, use language like the following:

  • “That makes sense, but does it look right?”
  • “That looks right but does it make sense?”
  • “You are almost right. Check the middle.”

My colleague, Gay Su Pinnell, and I have explored the effects of teacher language in facilitating the reader’s construction of problem-solving behaviors in working through a text. The teacher’s “facilitative language” promotes the reader’s thinking. As a reading teacher, we encourage you to eliminate judgmental comments like, “nice work” or “good job” and replace the comments with language that confirms the reader’s precise reading behaviors and enable him to develop new ways of thinking.

When you teach in this way, every time a child reads a book, you have the opportunity to support their construction of an effective literacy processing system. Instead of teaching your student “how to read this book,” your student will learn “how to read.” We refer to this as “generative” reading power.

How do these ideas make you think about your moment-to-moment responses to readers within the act of teaching?  Let’s continue the conversation about the language you can use to support “generative learning.”  We’ll have more examples to come in our next blog post…

References:

Clay, Marie, M. (1991). Becoming Literate: The Construction of Inner Control. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2012). Prompting Guide Part 1 for Oral Reading and Early Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Resisting the Frenzy: Staying the Course of Common Sense in Literacy Teaching

3.20.15 Irene Fountas Photo

by Irene Fountas, Author, Professor, and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

In the past several decades, there have been a variety of movements that have shifted literacy teaching in our schools. Often the newest trend has meant a total mind-shift of instructional practice for teachers. Certainly something important can be learned from the emphases of each movement, but each swing of the pendulum has also left out some important areas of literacy teaching and learning. One cannot simply make the assumption when there is a new movement in the midst that the worthy new areas of emphasis are not already implemented in schools that are implementing a high quality literacy approach.

When we have articulated our values and beliefs about meaningful, authentic literacy learning in our schools, we can examine the contributions of each new movement in the light of well-grounded principles and stay the course of common sense in our responsibilities to our students, instead of shifting to a new bias that may compromise our commitment.

I will address a few of the key areas we have articulated in our work in supporting high quality literacy approaches that we believe have stayed the course of common sense for almost three decades.

First, every student deserves to have a meaningful and interesting reading life and writing life in school.

This means students read and write for real purposes every day in school and have choice in what they read and write. Choice breeds students’ sense of agency and promotes engagement, and furthers the development of one’s tastes in reading and one’s voice in writing. With the appropriate learning environment and scaffolding, students learn that reading and writing are thinking and that they can think about a variety of topics, authors and genres when they read and mentor with the thinking of the best of writers when they write. They experience some teacher-selected high quality literature and nonfiction, but also a good selection of self-selected material that builds their understanding of their selves and their physical and social world. They learn from their teachers how to make the good choices that offer enjoyment and expand their breadth and depth as readers, writers, and global citizens.

Second, students need a variety of structured opportunities to talk throughout the day.

Talk represents thinking. Students need to think and talk in school. This means pair and triad talk, small group talk, and some whole class discussions that have intent, not just talk for talk’s sake. This includes such instructional contexts as reading or writing conferences, literature discussion groups, guided reading groups, and interactive read aloud lessons that include pair or small group talk. Teachers sometimes don’t realize they are dominating the talk and robbing the students of the process of learning through verbalizing their understandings and building on or challenging each other’s ideas. The one who talks is the one who learns. Teachers play a key role in helping students learn how to use language that promotes conversation and the analysis of texts with others to achieve deeper understandings than any one reader could achieve on his own. When students discuss a variety of fiction texts, nonfiction texts, and poetry in a community of readers and writers, they learn how to use the language and vocabulary of literate people. These rich experiences build their background knowledge and academic vocabulary and put each learner in the role of a literate being.

Third, the text base for learning needs to include a variety of high quality fiction and nonfiction texts, primary and secondary sources, as well as poetry. 

The classroom text base needs to provide access to age appropriate, grade appropriate material that is of high interest and value. Sometimes the texts students are asked to read simply aren’t worth reading or don’t engage their intellectual curiosity. The texts need to be meaningful, relevant, developmentally appropriate and made accessible. Alongside this rich base, students need the opportunity to lift their reading powers with the precision teaching made possible with the teacher’s use of carefully leveled, challenging texts at the student’s instructional level. These texts allow for the differentiated, intentional teaching that each student deserves to develop an effective processing system and move forward as a self-regulating, independent reader.  Photo of Girl Reading

Fourth, students deserve to be acknowledged as unique learners.

Every student and every group of students is different. When teachers learn how to systematically observe the strengths and needs of individuals, the assessments can inform instruction and the teaching can be responsive. No assessment is valuable if it doesn’t result in better teaching. Good assessment gives information on how students process texts and what they understand about words, language, and text qualities. High quality literacy opportunities are built on the strength of the teacher’s expertise in assessing the readers and writers he/she is teaching. Some teachers fall into the trap of teaching students as if they are all the same or focus on teaching the book or program, not the diverse group of students in front of them. Effective teachers assess at intervals to document progress and assess by the minute to fine tune their decisions in the act of teaching.

Staying the Course 

These are some of the mainstays of high quality literacy opportunities for every student. Learning to read and write is complex and will require the complexity of teacher decision-making with sound rationales that are rooted in students’ observable reading, writing and language behaviors. Let’s look to the new movements for what they add to our expertise but keep our good sense about what really matters.

For more information about the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative events and trainings, visit our website at www.lesley.edu/crr .