Touro TESOL Candidate Radhika Hira on Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Development

Discussion Boards are invaluable for students to develop their analytic skills, reflect on their readings and interact with their peers. Here an outstanding DB by Touro TESOL Candidate Radhika Hira on Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Development.

Radhika Hira, a preservice elementary school teacher and yoga teacher in New York will graduate with her MA in Dual Inclusive Elementary Education from Teachers College this fall, and is working on a TESOL extension from Touro as well.
Radhika states that “I’m kind of known for my positive attitude! I think it is my biggest strength in a classroom – it allows my students to have a growth mindset. Since they feel safe in making mistakes, it encourages risk taking as they learn to be learners. This is a tumultuous time in the world, and I am excited to be there for my students. They need us to be ‘present’ more than ever.”

This DB focuses on your reading of Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Development

  1. How would YOU in YOUR professional teaching practice, track and assess reading levels ? Please be specific.

Over 60 years ago, Betts (1946) described a framework for levels dependent on difficulty in his book, Foundations of Reading Instruction: With Emphasis on Differentiated Guidance. This framework was based on research done over 70 years ago now, and with 41 children. The framework resulted in four levels of reading which are still applicable today. (1) the independent level, (2) the instructional level, (3) the frustration level and (4) the probable capacity level. The fourth level is based on material which is read to a student but the first three are based on the decoding and comprehending ability of the student when reading a text.

Today there are at least 7 systems that level children’s book based on this, and mathematical algorithms using word length and sentence length. (F&P, Lexile, Accelerated Reader, Reading Recover/Benchmark, DRA, DRP, & Fleish-Kincaid). I have personally used F&P running records and miscue analysis as tools to assess students reading levels. My experience leads me to see miscue analysis as a far more authentic tool to measure reading needs of students so that we can focus on improving proficiency as opposed to levels.

Educators, parents and administrators take levels seriously and while I agree that levels are an important and even elegant tool to create a framework for students in some respects, as an educator I primarily always keep in mind that they are a teacher’s tool and not a reader’s label. The following are the principles from Glasswell and Ford’s 2011 article, Let’s start Leveling about Leveling, that I plan to live by in my own professional practice:

• Leveling takes a complex idea and makes it too simple: Reading is a complex process. It involves the reader, the text, background information, culture, linguistic ability, preference and interest all in one. Boiling this down to a mathematical algorithm that assess the word length or number of words on a page in isolation makes levels simplistic and requires that a teacher weigh everything else in and employ professional judgement as well.

• Leveling takes a simple idea and makes it too complex: An example best illustrates this point. In the popular F&P system, “for level J texts, consideration is given to 10 key text characteristics (genre/forms, text structure, content, themes and ideas, language and literary features, sentence complexity, vocabulary, words, illustrations, and book and print features). Across those 10 characteristics, 66 specific criteria are further identified. In contrast, a K-level text is analyzed using the same ten characteristics with 71 specific criteria. J- and K-level texts share 21 identical criteria and many more criteria that vary only in degree. For example, sentence length in J books is 10+ words; in K books, it is 15+ words. Length ranges in J-level texts from 24–36 pages; K-level texts are 24–48 pages. In the end, a book like Henry and Mudge: The First Book is assigned to the J basket, while Frog and Toad Are Friends finds its way into the K basket.” (Glasswell, 2011,211) In addition to being inaccessible to teachers to replicate for a text that is not leveled, it is not clear if these decision are made based on empirical evidence or simply collective characteristics which are subjective. Additionally, research supporting these methods are not necessarily valid or reliable.

• Reading levels are not the same as reading needs: This might be the most critical principle to keep in mind when I implement reading levels. Readers within a level might differ drastically in their needs. Even if readers have the same number of miscues, self corrections and errors, the reasons behind these could be vastly different indicating a distinct skill that needs to be addressed for the reader.

• Progress does not equal proficiency: Readers progressing from one level to the next are not necessarily acquiring proficiency since the emphasis is more on the text and the level than the reader. Additionally this often creates competition & judgement in relation to reading which can create more aversion to reading for many.

• Readers have rights (as well as levels): This quote from the F&P blog really sums up the importance of ensuring levels are always kept in check and come after a reader’s right to read and consume knowledge as they desire.

“Fountas and Pinnell on Leveling: A Teacher’s Tool – Levels can be a resource for you and your colleagues to guide student choices for independent reading, but they should not be a limitation or a requirement. Leveled books are instructional tools for teachers who understand them—nothing more. Above all else, a level is a teacher’s tool, not a child’s label.” (F&P, 2016)

  1. Watching the webcast and looking at the Reading Rockets resources was there anything that you will be able to incorporate into your professional practice?

There were many moments in the webcast that resonated with me and reinforced ideas that I have about practice. Dr. Pressley stressed throughout the webcast how teachers need to consistently keep abreast of new developments and spend time deep diving into the resources they have, even if those are limited. This is important as an educator to keep in mind and always ensure we attend PDs, and keep abreast of what is happening in the field so we can make informed decisions for our students to support them.

Carol Ann Tomlinson talks about “The student leading the teacher.” (23.57) and I believe this is critical since we need to follow our student’s lead. This can only result in better motivation, engagement and a sense of enhanced learning for the classroom community. However, Tomlinson’s work has it’s foundations in gifted education and is not empirical but is based on the intersection of readiness, interest and the student’s learning profile so that content, process or product is modified. It is a responsive approach based on consistent observation of the student. While crucial to consistently assessing students, this approach also makes the teacher central in terms of creating modifications. It takes pre-set content and then tries to adapt it for different learners. This understanding makes me more convinced of the benefits of a UDL (Universal Design for Learning) instructional strategy more than ever. UDL is based in neuroscience and on the principles of the 8 multiple intelligences. While it has foundations and is connected to special education, it is a ‘lens to look through so we can remove barriers and center learners.’ It provides for multiple means of representation, action and expression as the three pillars of lessons and teaching to bring all students access to content in ways they learn best. It is a constructivist approach where in addition to readiness and interests, aspects of the whole student like family, culture, and community are also included. As Carol Ann Tomlinson says “as capturing their best ways of learning” (Tomlinson, 32.49) and “taking advantage of every skill opportunity”(Tomlinson, 9:58).

I believe a UDL approach as opposed to differentiation makes it less challenging for us as teachers because you don’t go into a lesson with set content that then needs to differentiated based on students. You approach the lesson and offer students different ways to access, learn and represent their learning right from the start. If your starting point is that, the process becomes far less intimidating and challenging. It is a resource that “gives you more flexibility rather than hamper it.” (Tomlinson, 41.00)

  1. List Challs stages of reading development aligned with age, 1 key teaching principles, and 1 key teaching practices for each stage.

‘0-6 Years

STAGE 0: By age 6, children can understand thousands of words they hear but can read/write few if any of them.

Principle: They should be exposed to rich experiential learning and shared reading so that they can develop a rich vocabulary. Practice: Their vocabulary and language is developing and are encouraged to draw and scribble. Games, play, word walls and verbal exchanges are instrumental. Purposeful writing is important.

6-7 years

At the end of STAGE 1, most children can understand up to 4000 or more words when heard but can read/write about 600.

Principle: Direct and systematic phonics instruction and Shared, guided and interactive reading and writing are a focus.

Practice: Vocabulary is still developing and in addition they can listen to and discuss stories and write recounts/retells of stories. Invented spelling is encouraged.

7-9 Years

At the end of STAGE 2, about 3000 words can be read, written and understood and about 9000 are known when heard. NB: children’s written language may be up to 3 years behind oral language.

Principle: Continued Phonics in conjunction with learning to express ideas and writing purposefully.

Practice: Exploring interesting though familiar, topics, collection data, word walls, guided reading.

9-13 years

At beginning of STAGE 3, listening comprehension of the same material is still more effective than comprehension and composition. By the end of Stage 3, literacy and listening are about equal for those who read very well.

Principle: Consolidation of constrained skills; speaking, listening and viewing for a range of purposes in diverse knowledge areas to focus on main idea and key strategies of evaluating and analyzing.

Practice: Literacy practice is replaced by reading and writing meaningfully for authentic purposes through complex activities like debates, and discussions.

  1. What did you learn for your own professional practice that was surprising after reading: Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Development

While reading the article the one thing that stood out to me was the idea that inventive spelling should be encouraged in Stage 1. While I think I’ve instinctively seen this occur and I understood it, it was nice to see it as part of the stage of literacy development. It also makes perfect sense in combination with the idea that phonics are just about being introduced and the student’s understanding of phonemes and the sound letter connection is most important at this stage.

References:

Brace, E. (2017, April 10). Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Development. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.theliteracybug.com/journal/2017/8/4/literacy-

teaching-in-accordance-with-the-stages-of-literacy-development?rq=Teaching+According+to+the+stages+of+literacy+development

Fountas&Pinnell. (2016, September 29). A Level is a Teacher’s Tool, NOT a Child’s Label. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://fpblog.fountasandpinnell.com/a-level-is-a-teacher-s-tool-not-a-child-s-label

Glasswell, K., & Ford, M. (2011). Let’s start Leveling ab

Author: drcowinj

Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs only to the people who prepare for it today,” determined Malcolm X at the O.A.A.U.’s [Organization of Afro-American Unity] founding forum at the Audubon Ballroom. (June 28, 1964). (X, n.d.) Dr. Jasmin Bey Cowin a Fulbright Scholar completed the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP™) at Columbia University, Teachers College. Dr. Cowin served as the President of the Rotary Club of New York and Assistant Governor for New York State; long-term Chair of the Rotary United Nations International Breakfast meetings; and works as an Assistant Professor at Touro College, Graduate School of Education. Dr. Cowin has over twenty-five years of experience as an educator, tech innovator, entrepreneur, and institutional leader with a focus on equity and access to digital literacy and education in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Her extensive background in education, administration, not-for-profit leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, and technology innovation provide her with unique skills and vertical networks locally and globally. Dr. Cowin participates fully in the larger world of TESOL academic discipline as elected Vice President and Chair-Elect for the New York State, NYS TESOL organization, for the 2021 conference. Ongoing research, expressed in scholarly contributions to the advancement of knowledge is demonstrated through publications, presentations, and participation in academic conferences, blogging, and other scholarly activities, including public performances and exhibitions at conferences and workshops. Of particular interest to her are The Blockchain of Things and its implications for Higher Education; Current Global Trends in TESOL; Developing Materials and Resources in Teaching English; E-learning; Micro and Macro-Methodologies in TESOL; E-Resources Discovery and Analysis; and Language Acquisition and the Oculus Rift in VR.

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