Saturday, February 8, 2014

My Vocabulary Hypothesis is Proving Itself Correct!

This winter testing season has been almost out of control.  Between the polar vortex days off and entering data in my office while wearing mittens and my coat, benchmarking and progress monitoring along a quarter-mile long school, it is now February 7, and I can officially say that today I gave my last AIMSWEB benchmark CBM of the season (except for one seventh grader who has been absent all week).  Good riddance!

Before I begin looking at individual students (we are already half way through third quarter, and I'm just NOW getting to this), I wanted to take a good look at our school-wide data and make some observations.  I'm meeting with our administrative team next Tuesday to go over it in depth, but my idea is that we need to take a look at the data and let it tell us what we need to know so we can make some building-wide decisions about what should happen next year.

This year I focused on the students who fell below the twenty-fifth percentile, which included most of our kiddos with IEPs.  In the two years previous to this, I focused on all students, and I think, now, that my data might have been a little skewed.  The bottom twenty-fifth percentile is really my main focus, and it is that population of kiddos who I wanted to gear most of my attention.  In all three grade levels, I found that the beginning of year (BOY) Performance Series test scores put a little more than twenty-five percent of them below the twenty-fifth percentile.  In both sixth and seventh grade, about twenty percent of those kiddos were students with IEPs and in eighth grade, a little under twelve percent had IEPs.

It was from these students that I took a look at gains (I used NPRs, lexile research scores, and AIMSWEB CBM words per minute) and created several graphs, hoping to prove that grouping our kiddos together, we could focus our Tier 1 instruction specifically for them and try to close that gap as a group.  No such luck.  As can be seen by the graph to the left, in all three grade levels, our kiddos who fell below the twenty-fifth percentile actually made higher lexile increases when placed in the regular ELA classrooms.  I was completely surprised by this and very frustrated.  This lack of gain could be explained a dozen different ways, none of which include lack of effort on the part of the educators.  Our intervention teachers work so hard at not only building reading and writing skills with this group of underachievers, but they get their hearts broken most often because it is also from this group of kiddos where much of our detentions and suspension come, not to mention the myriad of other social, emotional, and language issues.  And our intervention ELA teachers love their kids.  The end.

So after swallowing that piece of nasty data, I went on to my Tier 2 interventions - the SLC (Small Learning Community) intervention classes. SLC is a sixteen minute period before or after lunch.  Originally it was designed as a "middle school model" homeroom where different types of activities (including PBIS activities) could be quickly performed.  It has since morphed into the only time in the days of our students where I feel like I am not out of line by throwing in some interventions.  Soon after I took advantage of the SLC time, our gifted language arts and math teachers started using the time to enrich and support their gifted students as well, so the time (in my humble opinion) is utilized the best that it can be used.

Currently we have three types of interventions for reading being run through SLC.  At the beginning of the year we started with a seventh and and eighth grade SLC focused primarily on reading fluency.  Students whose CBM scores from the spring fell below the twenty-fifth percentile were placed into this SLC.  During this time, these groups use the 6 Minute Solution program to run reading fluency practice on a daily basis.  We have seen success with this program over the last five years, so we continue to use it.  In sixth grade we started the fluency SLC in October after our new sixth graders got used to us, and we could get a handle on their fluency scores.  Besides reading fluency in sixth grade, we also have one very small group of SLC students who, after screening, showed that they needed some support with learning their six syllable types so that they could more easily attack unfamiliar words.  This group runs fluency AND multisyllabic training during one sixteen minute class period.  This teacher is VERY talented!  Last year we had a music teacher who could run reading fluency and Otter Creek Math in sixteen minutes every day.  This was equally impressive to me!

So this year, in an effort to actually DO something about my hypothesis that most of our kiddos were tripping up because of vocabulary rather than fluency or phonics, I made the decision to design SLC classes so that students in these classes were being exposed to new words and studying them using a variety of research-proven strategies while reading interesting, short, non-fiction passages of current events.  Thus, the vocabulary SLC was born - one in seventh grade and two in eighth.  I chose students for these SLCs based upon the fact that the year before they had made little to no gains in fluency and/or their already-low reading lexile scores were not growing.  Most of the kiddos ended up being placed into these SLCs due to lack of comprehension progress.

Here's what we found out. The graph to the right shows that both the eighth graders AND the seventh graders in those vocabulary SLCs outscored their peers who were in fluency or regular SLCs.  For eighth grade, this is significant because the scores for the eighth graders who fell below the twenty-fifth percentile were really frustrating when we compared them by language arts class!  There is also a significant difference between students in the multisyllabic SLC (which does focus on vocabulary, just not in the same way as the seventh and eighth graders) and the fluency SLC.  I can't, however, explain the kiddos in the regular SLCs and why they scored higher, although I can tell you that this sweet group of sixth graders whose scores showed a need for multisyllabic training had lexile and fluency scores that were the lowest in the entire school.  I will be investigating the activities in the regular SLCs to see if I can come up with a reason.  My hope is that the teachers in the other SLCs require silent reading, as this would be a perfect plug for silent reading in SLC, but I don't know if this is the case.  Regardless, some positive information came from the SLC analysis.

But wait, there's more interesting information! The graph to the left shows the average words per minute (wpm) increase of students in the different SLCs.  Look at the seventh grade vocabulary SLC fluency scores compared to the fluency SLC!  Those vocabulary kiddos out-scored the fluency kids!  The eighth graders almost did as well!

The other interesting thing about the vocabulary SLCs is that we pre-and post assess the students for each unit, and their growth between these is not all that fantastic.  It's okay, at best, but we are using the Scholastic Reading Inventory to progress monitor their comprehension every six weeks, and after the first monitoring period, I was impressed with the results.  Some of these kiddos who have been sitting for a year and a half to two years with no gains are popping up all of a sudden!

So what are we doing that may be working?  At first glance, one would say that we are giving students direct instruction in vocabulary, which we are, in essence, but the units (here's an example) do more than just that.  The students get an opportunity to read and reread a short piece of text five, six, maybe seven times - each time the hope is that they absorb other vocabulary, aside from what is being specifically taught.  The activities allow them to pull definitions from context and make guesses on what the word might mean, use their kinesthetic intelligence and learning styles to manipulate things, categorize (which helps build the information into their schema), write (which helps to process), and make connections (again, another schema-building exercise).   Below is a long list of activities that have been built into these units.

  • Vocabulary Knowledge rater.  I use to create pre and post tests for each unit, and the pre-assessment always begins with a vocabulary knowledge rater to get students thinking about the words and to let me know their comfort level with the words.
  • Vocabulary matching manipulatives.  Using paper of three different colors, let students match words to their meanings and to an example or a sentence.  Let them work in partners to support social learning.
  • Repeated timed readings (where students track their progress each day)
  • Daily oral pronunciation of the words
  • Word combining (taking multiple words and putting them together to create one thought)
  • Using mentor sentences to write new sentences (Have students use the sentence in the article that contains the word being studied as a model for a sentence they will write with their own ideas.  Their sentence will have the same structure but use mostly different words.)
  • Round Robin Review (One student starts with reading a definition out loud.  Whoever has the word that goes with that definition then says the word and reads the new definition.  Another person in the room will have that word, and so on.  Time students to see how quickly they can go.  Then switch papers and race again.)
  • Interact with vocabulary (Students are asked to consider how the vocabulary applies to their own lives.)
  • Developing new words using prefixes and suffixes
  • Synonym cootie catcher
  • Writing sentences to go with pictures using the vocabulary words
  • Using 
  • Using the text to develop their own definitions of the words before being given the definition
  • Have students rewrite the sentences from the text but replace the vocabulary words with a synonym.
  • Mystery Word Bubbles 
  • Questions, Reasons, Examples (Ask students a question that connects with their lives and has a vocabulary word in it, ask them to give a reason for something with the word in it, or ask for an example of the vocabulary word.)
  • Jeopardy
  • Crossword puzzles
  • A game of Memory using vocabulary matching cards
  • Vocabulary Four Square
  • Ask students to take the group of words from the article (I use ten words) and rewrite the article using the words without looking at the article.  This is similar to using mentor text and word combining.  
And that is it.  That's all we have used so far for this vocabulary adventure.  Each unit contains eight days - two of those days being pre and post assessment and six days of instruction.  We have three teachers currently using this program, and one who is about to begin using it for her kiddos at sixth grade.  I'm hoping, now that we see where our increases are, we can use what is working and plug that into what is not.  In the meantime, my next big job is to look at individual kiddos and note the big successes so that I don't get down on myself too badly.  I know there are kids who are responding to these interventions, and sometimes the big picture is too big.  I'm looking forward to digging into my list and beginning the process of planning for each one of these students.  I'm also hoping to start looking at places in our school day where I can work with small groups or individually.  Right now, the only time left is passing periods and student lunches, and the idea of me walking down the hallway with a student running fluency drills makes me giggle.  I may consider running some things with small groups during lunches, but again - its the only time in their day where they can relax and be themselves with their friends . . . and the problem-solving begins again.  

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