Thursday, June 19, 2014

Let Kids Talk

Under the Speaking and Listening of the ELA Common Core State Standards, first bullet introduces the Comprehension and Collaboration.  It states; Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and
texts,building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.  This is what I have experienced in the last novel study with my 5th grade struggling readers.  

A group of students who I have worked with as a small group or one-one-one was ELL (English Language Learners).  Although by the fifth grade, most of ELL students are confident and comfortable in the informal conversation, their English literacy skills are not necessarily at the grade level including students who are troubled in decoding.  For example, most of ELL students' reading fluency doesn't reflect on their comprehension level or knowledge of academic vocabulary words.  This population of students successfully mastered phonemic awareness and phonics skills to be able to able to learn, at a stage of "Learn to Read".  Transition from there to the next level, "Read to Learn" is a bit of challenge.    It is devastating to learn the fact they don't understand what they read after such a beautiful oral reading.  Why are these kids at their plateau for a long time?  My answer was their lack of speaking experiences.  
Scaffolding.  I decided to have one-on-one or small groups to have scaffolding sessions while other students were independently reading.    Rebecca Alber suggests some effective scaffolding strategies in her article, Six Scaffolding Strategies to Use with Your Students.  In the beginning of the school year, I was hoping six ELL learners, who were all quiet in the class, would benefit from the diverse level of large group discussion because of my previous experiences.  There are some students who just listen, observe others, and internalize.  This year's kids were not like that.  Finally I admitted that group reading/discussions were not effective, although it was grouped by their reading level. I started to pull one ELL student at a time to read with them and checked for their understanding in the short segment of the book while everyone in the class had a same book that requires 5th grade or above reading level.  Six ELL students reading level varied from 1st grade to 4th grade in the STAR reading test. 
When My Name Was Keoko was a rich discussion material if you comprehend fully.  Prior to the whole class introduction, I pulled Maria (1st grade reading level) and Sal (both and future student's names are not real names) for the head start, they looked confused in the Korean language/culture and the history of the World War II.  We looked at the glossary page to learn major Korean words that continue to be important, such as Opah (brother from a little sister) and Abji (father).  We exchanged same words in Spanish and Japanese and celebrated our diversity.  Maria became confident enough to share her knowledge in a whole class.  The para educator Pam and I continued reading ahead two chapters each day with ELL students.  The best part was that they share their life connections to the text.  The conversation became very lively.  The family traditions are different, however, the family value was similar between Koreans and ELL students.

Although we had a good start and it seemed like a good discussion in each meeting, their responses were as exciting as I expected.  I noticed several misunderstandings each day, therefore more scaffolding comments and questions on the sheet, hoping they read my comments when it's returned to them.  Do they enjoy the discussion?  Do they enjoy understanding the text?  The novel study was almost done....

About the point of three quarters of the story, Jose asked me, "Can I take this book home?"  

During this school year, Jose has not read books or done his homework consistently at home.  In the meantime, Sean overheard Jose and said, "Can I, too?"  "I really want to know what happens next!"  Towards the end of the book, Jose kept grabbing me when I passed his seat, "I want to tell you about this story," begged me to stop by.  Without any support, he was independently reading and comprehending correctly.  

After we wrapped up the whole story, I showed the trailer in youtube to the class and asked to evaluate if the director did a good job on reflecting story elements from the book.  To my disappointment, the majority students who are at the grade level or above responded very sarcastically.   Well, it's spring time, 5th graders.....  Most ELL students did OK, however, comparing and analyzing are still challenging skills, especially, in writing.  Then Maria's. paper.  "The director did a great job quoting, 'You can burn the paper, but you cannot burn the words.'"  My jaw dropped.  This was the only student described the quote.  

The independent reading level is important, however, we shouldn't underestimate their maturity.  Depending on how we guide, ELL students or any struggling readers can be successful. 

c. Pose and respond to specific questions by making comments that contribute to the discussion and elaborate on the remarks of others.

d. Review the key ideas expressed and draw conclusions in light of information and knowledge gained from the discussions.