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Teaching Diverse Learners: Best Practices

Michelle Spain, M.Ed., a devoted special educator for over a decade, brings knowledge, experience, and current research to teach reading.

Research in Action

The purpose of this Action Research was to increase students' independent reading levels while maintaining their comprehension of grade-level material through the use of a specialized reading program within a substantially separate English Language Arts class. The reading program, Fountas & Pinnell’s, Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI), focuses specifically on students reading independently in conjunction with teacher-driven discussion.

All participating students' independent reading levels were far below grade expectations, but their comprehension skills were far higher when the text was read aloud. While increasing students' independent reading levels and maintaining their comprehension of grade-level material, my purpose was to compare their comprehension levels of read-aloud, grade-level text to those read independently at their individual skill level.

Both variations were lead by teacher discussion and both were assessed through the use of explicit and implicit reading comprehension questions. Also included was a weekly independent reading assessment that did not include teacher discussion.

teaching-diverse-learners-best-practices

Why Research This Specific Niche?

The practicality of this research problem is substantial. One reason is that students who have decoding skills far below grade-level expectations are still required to comprehend and maintain an understanding of grade-level material that is presented within their classes.

Reading comprehension is a basic fundamental skill that is necessary for students to be successful in school and in life. Access to age-appropriate materials, curriculum, and settings are essential for students with disabilities, but unfortunately, there is little research-based information regarding the instruction of grade-level material to students with cognitive disabilities.

The Research Process

The six-week process included both qualitative and quantitative data collection. A student survey was utilized during week one to gain insight into student preference for reading material and style and a past reading experience. To assess students’ reading at their own independent level, students completed a baseline, followed by weekly ReadTheory reading assessments. This tool assessed students’ Lexile levels and provided assessments that adjusted with student performance.

The baseline Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) assessment took two weeks to complete for all students, but once done, students were placed in reading groups of 4-5 students, as suggested by the program. Throughout their four weeks involved in the LLI reading groups, reading observations were made during reading times within the special education, small group classroom.

As suggested by the program, one student was assessed individually each week on their fluency and comprehension skills. Because students are also expected to understand and respond to a grade-level text, teacher-generated reading assessments that correlate with books and texts students are having read aloud to them at their grade level were also utilized.

Percentage of Accuracy at Independent Reading Level as Measured by ReadTheory

Week OneWeek TwoWeek ThreeWeek FourWeek FiveWeek SixTotal Average

Jeff

50

100

75

100

66

100

82

Dave

20

75

40

75

100

60

62

Marie

33

100

50

50

100

75

68

Addie

100

60

85

25

50

50

62

Leveled Literacy Intervention Baseline and Final Levels

BaseLineFinal

Jeff

Level Q: Approaching Proficiency

Level Q: Proficient

Dave

Level L: Limited Proficiency

Level L: Approaching Proficiency

Marie

Level Q: Approaching Proficiency

Level Q: Approaching Proficiency

Addie

Level P: Approaching Proficiency

Level P: Approaching Proficiency

Percentage of Accuracy of Grade Level, Read Aloud Weekly Reading Comprehension

Week TwoWeek ThreeWeek FourWeek FiveWeek SixTotal Average

Jeff

80

100

100

80

100

92

Dave

60

100

80

60

100

80

Marie

100

80

80

100

100

92

Addie

60

100

80

80

80

80

Analyzing the Data

In referring to the weekly percentage of accuracy at independent reading levels as measured by the ReadTheory reading assessment tool, it is important to note that there is little consistency in the scores. This inconsistency could be attributed to the fact that many students find the reading assessment tool unfavorable. The data collected through other assessment forms were far more consistent, providing accurate information that demonstrated clear growth and progress.

Reading Growth in the LLI Reading Program

As seen in the chart entitled, Leveled Literacy Intervention Baseline and Final Levels, reading growth can be seen in two of the four students participating in the LLI reading program data collection. Jeff increased his baseline reading assessment score of Approaching Proficiency at a Level Q to Proficient and David increased his from Limited Proficiency at Level L to Approaching Proficiency.

Students' Weekly Independent Reading as Assessed By ReadTheory

In comparing the results from students’ weekly independent reading as assessed by the ReadTheory reading assessment tool, and the teacher-generated weekly reading assessments after being read aloud to, the data is telling. With the exception of one week, Marie’s weekly scores were significantly lower when she was expected to read independently at her instructional level. When grade-level material is read aloud to Marie and followed by class discussion, her scores are much higher, ranging from 80% to 100% accuracy as opposed to 33% to 100% accuracy on the ReadTheory assessments.

Addie demonstrated higher levels of accuracy when grade-level text was read aloud in four of the five weeks and Dave and Marie demonstrated higher levels of accuracy when grade-level text was read aloud in three of five weeks.

Total Averages of the Charts

In comparing the Total Averages of the charts, Percentage of Accuracy at Independent Reading Level as Measured by ReadTheory and Percentage of accuracy of Grade Level, Read Aloud Weekly Reading Comprehension, students scored 10 to 22 points more when grade-level material was read aloud than when they were expected to read independently.

Use high-interest text to motivate and engage students

Use high-interest text to motivate and engage students

The Importance of the Student Questionnaire

In analyzing the data, it is important to consider the information collected from the student questionnaire that was done before the LLI reading intervention was implemented. Students were asked which they prefer: being read aloud to, or reading independently; the results were an overwhelmingly 94% (16 of the 17 surveyed) of students prefer being read aloud to.

Students were also asked to preview the LLI program books and provide their perceptions about the program before taking part in the intervention. 10 of the 17 students surveyed thought the books looked interesting, two of the 17 students expressed that the books were too young for them, and five of the 17 students expressed no interest or disinterest in the books.

When asked about the ReadTheory reading assessment tool, 11 of the 17 students expressed their dislike of the tool, for reasons such as “the stories are boring,” and “the questions are too hard.”

Conclusions

Based on the results of the above Action Research, the collected informative data helped to improve my own instruction of reading comprehension, assessment methods, and expansion of curriculum materials.

While I always try to implement a variety of instructional methods when teaching reading comprehension, I now have specific and valid data as well as research to verify my expansion of integrating grade-level, age-appropriate text and materials.

In interpreting the data and taking into consideration the differences between the ReadTheory reading assessment tool, and the LLI reading assessment tool, which, both assess independent reading skills, the LLI program consists of images and charts that accompany the books, as well as engagement in the reading process, while ReadTheory doesn’t utilize either of these. The idea that students with moderate cognitive disabilities benefit in their reading comprehension skills through the use of visuals and discussion, is seen in many scholarly articles and is also demonstrated within the data collected above.

Best Ways to Utilize ReadTheory and the LLI Program

While it is important to have an understanding of students’ independent reading levels, it is also important to assess students at their highest level of comprehension. In the past, I have used ReadTheory as my primary source of assessment for reading comprehension, in conjunction with periodic teacher-generated reading assessments. After analyzing the data, using ReadTheory primarily as a baseline, midpoint check-in, and end-of-year assessment appears to be a far more effective use of the tool.

I believe the assessments provided through the LLI program give more extensive information regarding fluency, comprehension about the text and beyond the text, and offer accommodations such as images to support students with cognitive disabilities. The books are more engaging, and follow a systematic structure to teach reading skills.

Of similar importance, are regular assessment of reading comprehension of grade-level text through the use of teacher-generated assessments that are aligned with the curriculum, and provide visuals and discussions.

References

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2015). Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2009). The Fountas & Pinnell Prompting Guide 1: A Tool for Literacy Teachers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Literacy Teachers: Teach, Prompt, Reinforce. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Shurr, J., & Taber-Doughty, T. (2017). The Picture Plus Discussion Intervention: Text Access for High School Students with Moderate Intellectual Disability. Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 32(3), 198-208.

© 2021 Michelle Spain

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