Tag Archives: Antigua

New Ideas for the Big Ideas of Reading

In 1997 President George W. Bush supported an initiative to put an end to the reading question…what is the best way to teach beginning reading?   So Congress approved monies to the National Institute Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the federal Department of Education to gather together a panel of experts to evaluate research t and to determine based on evidence, the best way to teach young children to read.

National-Reading-Panel

A panel of experts were assembled and asked to review all the research studies that has been conducted over the years.  Prior to beginning this task, the panel needed to describe the criteria for inclusion of the research in the study. Then these studies were reviewed by subgroups of reviewers and recommendations were made.  At the time thee findings of the National Reading Panel were disseminated, conventional wisdom advocated that the answers to teaching beginning reading skills were solved.  Hurrah!  The  Big Ideas of Reading were developed as the basis for effective reading instruction.

The Big Ideas of Reading

The Big Ideas of Reading http://education.ucf.edu/mirc/imgs/beginningreading.gif

Many thought the reading wars were over.  Not so fast!  Within months of the dissemination of the National Reading Panel’s findings, many considered-experts in reading, including Pearson, Shanahan, Allington, Cunningham, Krashen, and Carbo called, “Foul.”  The objected that the criteria used to include studies, actually excluded many studies on beginning reading.   And yet practitioners in the field, not familiar with some researchers’ objections, embraced this “new” information   and prepared to teach “phonics first,” thinking that an end to “meaning first” programs  (whole language programs ) were imminent.  Soon, publishing houses were reprinting decodable texts used in the 70’s and 80’s.  I couldn’t believe when I saw new copyright dates on Scholastics’ SRA Decodable Readers and Merrill Linguistic Readers at the National CEC Convention, within year of the  NRP publication.  Barbara Wilson, ever the entrepreneur,  was quick to develop classroom materials that mirrored her very successful phonics tutorial program.   The format for the big ideas of reading morphed into various linear models:

Linier models of Big Ideas

Linear models of Big the Big Ideas of Reading Ideashttp://cdn.learningstaircase.co.nz/assets/Uploads/Five-Big-Ideas.png

Notice in this model that the size of each of the big ideas becomes smaller as you reach the top of the graphic; suggesting that the ideas on the bottom of the list should be given more attention in early reading program.   Other linear models are far simpler.   What models like these seemed to implicate was that reading development proceeded in  a linear progression.   So early on there was an emphasis on phonological awareness programs.  Lindamood Bell was already there to corner the market; Reading Rockets, SRA, and many other resources from reputable publishing houses cranked out a variety of options to help children learn phonological awareness skills, especially the two most related to reading achievement, phonological segmentation and phonological blending.  In concert with these materials  were the plethora of phonics programs, new and republished programs that concentrated  “cracking the code.”  This seeming over-emphasis of phonics didn’t follow another Reading Panel recommendation that reading programs should be balanced.

At about this time, I became very interested in understanding the early literacy development of children on the autistic spectrum.  They were so creative in their learning styles.  I noticed that some children would tantrum when they were asked to complete phonics activities or to work on activities to learn the names and sounds of the letters of the alphabet.  I wondered if their tantrums were related to their lack of understanding of what these activities were all about.  We started to use beginning, repetitious stories with the students.  We made reading more interactive, using velcro word and picture cards in simple sentences.  “I like……cake.  I like…pizza.”  It was as though we had opened a door to the students’ understanding.  Tantrums (well, many anyway) stopped and learning occurred. The children were excited.    The concept that they needed to learn was concept of word and of course, all the concept of print tasks that pre-readers learn through handling books.  Thus, the first adaptation of the Big Ideas of Reading:

The SIX Big Ideas of Reading (adapted Gately, 2000).

  1. Concept of Word: the concept that speech is mapped to print.
  2. Phonological Awareness: the concept that words are comprised of sounds
  3. Alphabetic Principle: the concept that the sounds we hear in words can be written down
  4. Fluency: (no concept here) ability to read effortlessly, that is automatically aids in the understanding of the text being read
  5. Vocabulary: the concepts that words convey meaning(s)
  6. Comprehension: that connected text (or reading) is meaningful

For many years I introduced this version to my undergraduate and graduate students, studying in special education.  What the addition of this concept does, is to in some ways debunk the idea of phonics first.  It’s not really a matter of what comes first, but a matter of where the child is when he enters school in his/her understanding of what literacy is all about.  Concepts of word studies were not included in the research as there was little research done in this area. After all, most students coming into kindergartens have already grasped this idea that the speech could be mapped to print.  However, with inclusion of children with disability in schools, this is an important early concept for them to discover.  Including concept of word as a Big Idea of Reading is necessary to those teaching students who haven’t developed this  concept.

Well, I continued to think about this and perhaps my research on first graders in Antigua was most instrumental in helping me to see that one of the things that was happening in the instruction of reading was that the linear models of  the Big Ideas, seemed to allow a disregard of  vocabulary and comprehension development until the students were able to “read to learn.”  (Chall). I don’t mean that teachers neglected helping children learn new word meanings, but measurement of growth of literacy development became dependent on scores of  DIBELS and AIMSWEB curriculum based measures, which didn’t have vocabulary or comprehension measures of any worth.  So…what gets tested is

DIBELS One Minute Phonemic Segmentation Fluency

DIBELS – Phonemic Segmentation Fluency.  On this task the student is asked to segment each word into sounds; the number of sounds segments within a minute is a measure of phonemic segmentation. http://usercontent2.hubimg.com/2876279_f496.jpg

Another thing occurred with the onslaught of curriculum based measurements (one minute checks on various sub skills of literacy) was the focus on fluency or automaticity of each of the skills, The big ideas were not only to be mastered, but mastery meant automaticity.  Of course the need for automaticity is important, perhaps even essential in some cases, but with these one-minute measures came an over-focus on fluency.  I remember reading an article about how a teacher was really focusing on making connections when reading and thinking about one’s thinking when reading.   She was administering a one-minute reading passage to a student to determine her correct words read per minute (CWRM) when the student started to discuss some of the connections she was making with the passage.  The teacher didn’t know whether to encourage the student to use the comprehension strategy or to tell the student just to read…a conundrum for sure.  Current research indicates that students are reading faster, but the concerns of the testing community about comprehension has lead to movement of the new Core to include Close Reading.

close-reading-common-core-standards-1-638

The next morph of the Big Ideas of Reading came to me as Pat Howson, a colleague of mine and I prepared  some presentations we would be doing in Antigua this past June.  Many of the children in Antigua come from homes where a dialect is used. When children start school, they are expected to master British English, which for some children is like learning a new language.  While Antigua and Barbuda was an English colony one might think that many of the children would find learning English to be easy for them to master.  Not, so, the research during my sabbatical indicated that many of the children had trouble learning English. This was partly due to the pedagogy used, which was authoritarian, based on choral responses, and the “sage on the stage” model.  There was little room for discussions, peers sharing ideas or working together.  So, once again I adapted the order of the Big Ideas of Reading as follows:

The Big Ideas of Early Reading (adapted Gately & Howson, 2015).

1.  Vocabulary: the concepts that words convey meaning(s)

2. Comprehension: the concept that connected text (or reading) is meaningful

3.  Concept of Word: the concept that speech is mapped to print.

4.  Phonological Awareness: the concept that words are composed of sounds.

5. Alphabetic Principle: the concept that the sounds we hear in words can be written down

6.  Fluency: (no concept here) ability to read effortlessly, that is automaticity

This version of the Big Ideas of Reading indicates that reading to students, studying words, vocabulary, multi meaning words, relationships between words, understanding sentences and story are a prerequisite for gently learning the concepts and skills of concept of word, phonological awareness,  and the alphabetic principle.  An integrated approach that starts young children with listening and talking about stories, stories and more stories will help them to learn about print, about sounds and about the orthography they will learn.  They will learn these concepts and skills more easily and become more fluent with a such hefty background in understanding how words, sentences and stories work.  They will enjoy the best of what reading is all about and when they do this within a balanced approach that calls attention to phonological aspects of the words, sentences and stories, they will be more apt to become life long readers, because they have been engaged.  One of the recommendations of the National Reading Panel that got less attention was that reading should be taught with a balanced approach.  In many schools and classrooms this gets lost with an over-focus on instruction was on exploit teaching of phonics approaches to reading.

When we are given “new” findings in our field, it is important to carefully examine the background of the findings, to understanding the research decisions and to avoid formulaic answers.  Formulaic approaches are like putting things in boxes ….when we do this, we must always remember that the differences between the things inside one box may be even greater than the differences between the boxes.

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We’re back!!!

Dr. Joanne Nichols, professor at Fitchburg State University makes an important point listening and speaking in the classroom to over 60 kindergarten teachers in Antigua.

Dr. Joanne Nichols, professor at Fitchburg State University makes an important point about listening and speaking in the classroom to over 60 kindergarten teachers in Antigua.

Drs. Gately, Howson and Nichols just returned from an exiting 10 days in Antigua, West Indies.  Working with reading specialists and kindergarten teachers kept the consultants busy during their stay.  This was the fifth visit to the island of Antigua, West Indies for Dr. Susan Gately, who had previously pent her sabbatical there in the spring of 2012.

Here is Paula Spencer, Director of Language Arts for the Antigua Public Schools.  A wonderful champion of our work.

Here is Paula Spencer, Director of Language Arts for the Antigua Public Schools. A wonderful champion of our work.

As a result of my research, the team of college professors made the journey to the island to discuss the importance of peers talking with each other as they learn standard British English.  One of the highlights of the visit was Dr. Nichols’ adaptation of “Reading is for Meaning,” sung to the tune of “She’s Coming Round the Mountain when she comes.”  Check out my Literacy for All page on this blog to get the words to Dr. Nichols version.

Teachers work to solve a problem during one of Reading Teachers' Workhop.

Teachers work to solve a problem during one of Reading Teachers’ Workshop.

Dr. Gately spent some time at the Victory House, a small private program for students on the autism spectrum.  The teachers, assistants, volunteers and administration were very engaged in learning about teaching their students how to read.  Many of the techniques shared with the group are included in an article I wrote on Concept of Word.  An abstract of that article is included in the Literacy for All page on this blog.

Drs. Gately and Howson visited the Adele School, a small public school that supports students with developmental delays.  The teachers and principal were gracious hosts, providing lunch and other treats.  We had so little time there;  I hope we get to return to this beautiful school.

Of course we discovered more of Antigua on our time off.  New finds for us were Darkwood Beach, and the beautiful Fryes Beaches…Little Fryes and Big Freyes.

Darkwood Beach, Antigua.  A beautiful setting for some relaxing.

Darkwood Beach, Antigua. A beautiful setting for some relaxing.

Perhaps our most poignant moment on the island was the retirement celebration of Mrs. Jacintha Pringle, Director of Education who officially retired in May, 2015.

Director of Education Mrs. Jacintha Pringle

Mrs. Pringle supported education for all.  In September, 2011 she was instrumental in starting a post-primary program for students who had not passed with entrance exam for admittance into secondary schools.  This was a lifeline for students who otherwise would be finished with their education, unless their parents could afford the tuition for a private secondary education. This photo was taken at the official opening of the school, for which I was present.  Mrs. Pringle urged the students of the school to use this opportunity seriously; that the school was an opportunity for them to start over and achieve whatever they wanted in life.  I remember when she started the speech that some of the students were squirming and talking in their seats.  In her no-nonsense tone, she told the students that they could join her at the podium if there was continued talking.  The students took her for her word and were immediately silent and attentive.   I think it was Kierkegaard who suggested, “We become our choices.”  I believe that was what Mrs. Pringle wanted the students to hear; that no matter what circumstances the students had endured in the past, that their possibilities were endless.

At her retirement many spoke of Mrs. Pringle’s get-it-done  no-nonsense manner and how inspiring she was to those with whom she taught and worked. I remember a meeting I attended at the NTCT (the new school) where she gathered all of her eduction directors (there were a lot of them) and the school staff to discuss how to improve conditions at the school.  She ran the meeting with an intent to listen to the teachers and to help them solve problems at the school.  I believe that the teachers left this meeting with some hope that conditions at the school would be improved.  Mrs. Pringle was always gracious to me in her interactions (even when I think she might have disagreed with me).  I appreciate her pride in her country, the improvements she made in education in Antigua, her influence within the East Caribbean nations, and her belief that all students should be given the opportunity to learn.

Mrs. Pringle’s celebration was a beautifully, planned Catholic mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral in St.John’ Antigua.

The occasion included a steel band and chorus from one of the local schools.  The music was spectacular.  It included Mrs. Pringle’s daughters’ abstract rendition of “Happy Birthday” on steel drums.  There were many thanks and speeches to honor Mrs. Pringle,    It was truly a wonderful, heart-warming experience.  The celebration ended with the song, I know who I am. (find it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHOZ-sCQF4k ).

Schools of the Future

The Kindergarten class at Pigotts School in Antigua gets a tile floor.

The Kindergarten class at Pigotts School in Antigua gets a tile floor.

Last week I attended the International Council for Exceptional Children Convention in San Antonio…just to make you be less envious…it was rainy and the temperature varied from about 50 to 60 degrees.  Anyway, while I was away one of my classes at the University met and worked on a small project, designing a school of the future.  I thought I’d share some of their ideas.

The mango tree in my yard  in Antigua.  All it needs is a wooden bench to become a sanctuary.

The mango tree in my yard in Antigua. All it needs is a wooden bench to become a sanctuary.

School as a sanctuary.  I remember when my son was in the eighth grade, he went on a school trip to a camp in Maine.  One of the things that they did at the camp was to have each of the students find a place on the campus to call their own, to become an individual sanctuary.  Everyday the students were directed to go their sanctuaries and be quiet, write or draw…just be.  I think the schools should have quiet places outside where students can get away from it all and just be.

All children should have hope for a healthy and successful future.

All children should have hope for a healthy and successful future.

Hope. We expect so much from students.  Accountability for academic performance is very important, but so is hope.    Finding hope, giving others hope, having a dream and pursuing it is a key outcome for all students.  However, for some, school is the only place where they can and do thrive.  For others, school can become a toxic environment where students may be labeled, be expected to fail, and targeted as the “usual” suspect.  There are nineteen states in the US that still allow corporal punishment in their schools.  It is used less and less, but disproportionately on students of color. Imagine if you were a child whose consequence for misbehavior was “the strap?”  Schools should give all students hope.

A comfortable, colorful place to read and relax.

A comfortable, colorful place to read and relax in the reading center at Holy Trinity Primary School in Barbuda.

Schools should be inviting.  Why does school furniture have to be made of plastic or wood?  How about ergonomic furniture? Can schools have comfortable furniture that is not provided by teachers who have an old couch or stuffed chair of which they are willing to part?  Thank goodness for teachers!  They know that school should be inviting, comfortable and portable.  There should be spaces for all kinds of independent work…individual, small and large group work.

Performing "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" at the Reading Festival in Barbuda, West Indies.

Performing “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” at the Reading Festival in Barbuda, West Indies.

Schools should engage in global experiences and focus on becoming culturally competent.  Frankly, I get overwhelmed by technology. I don’t really know how people can keep up with the changes, the new equipment, the apps, assistive technology, websites, the cloud, web 2.0, 3.0.   Technology allows us to explore the world, so many possibilities, we must begin to help children to see that they are not the center of the globe. Just as Copernicus’ notion that the earth revolved around the sun led to a reformation, we need to think about the US as not being the center of the world. Wow…think of that?  Children must learn that they are an important, essential part of an increasingly integrated world.  They must learn to  appreciate difference.  If they were able to do that, we wouldn’t have to worry about respect; it would be a given.

Schools must have libraries. I love libraries.  One of the groups decided that the term library was out-dated and suggested that they be renamed as Learning Centers.  A learning center would be just that…a center for learning, research, creativity, exploration, connection and collaboration.  At the university where I work, there are just a few places that are designated as “No Talking Zones.”  Interaction is encouraged.  A vibrant “learning center” is an essential part of schools of the future.

Some schools in Antigua, such as Holy Trinity on Barbuda have steel bands programs that are amazing.  Other schools have no music programs.

Some schools in Antigua, such as Holy Trinity Primary School on Barbuda, have steel band programs that are amazing. Other schools have no music programs.  This professional band played routinely at Shirley Heights in Antigua.

Schools must change their priorities on the arts.  Performing, composing, creating,  exhibiting and appreciating the arts is an essential part of everyone’s culture.  As one of the quotes from the student projects stated, “The earth without art is just “eh.”  The possibilities are endless; the benefits unbounded.

Warri, a game that originated in Africa, is a favorite in Antigua.

Warri, a game that originated in Africa, is a favorite in Antigua.

Schools need to promote physical health.  Cafeterias, the food they serve, health classes that help students to understand what they need to do to keep their bodies healthy and strong, a variety of extra-curricula  opportunities, sports, community service, games to keep their bodies and minds working at full capacity are essential.

Schools need to be safe.  Separate guarded entrances to athletic fields and auditoriums will help keep schools safe from unwanted intruders.  Many schools are left in disrepair due to budget constraints poor planning or mismanaged priorities. Teachers sometimes need to advocate air quality, comfortable heating and air conditioning as needed, classrooms free from mold, asbestos, and other allergy-promoting substances.  Even tenured teachers can be silenced by speaking up too much about these important safety issues.

This Bird Sanctuary on Barbuda keeps the friggate birds alive and prosperous.

This Bird Sanctuary on Barbuda keeps the friggate birds alive and prosperous.

Schools should be green.  Schools should promote the health of our world.  School builders and architects should take advantage of solar energy.  Recycle, reuse, reduce, repurpose should become automatic responses and considered in the to day to day decisions and life of the school.  Students must become stewards of the environment, not just their immediate environment but of the world.   Think of the possibilities!

Schools must educate all students.  They must be fully accessible to every student.  Soundproofing between classrooms and halls that lessens noise, auditory speaker systems that increase the teacher’s volume in classrooms, and lighting that avoids flickering all promote a comfortable, accessible environment for students.  Students must be able to get into and navigate every part of the building.  Universal design for learning should be used to build in accessibility to lessons as they are planned, not as an afterthought. High expectations coupled with effective, highly engaging teaching strategies and relevant lessons are essential. Teachers must promote inclusion, where secondary options for separate classrooms are kept to a minimum, but used as necessary.  I could go on.

Ah, to sleep…perchance to dream.