Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Another of my assignments for LANG 7802

I'm on a roll and cranking them out. I might as well go ahead and post this one too.

Analysis of a Young Reader

Description of Assessment

For this assignment, I assessed B. B is five-year-old girl who lives with her mother and older siblings in a transitional housing collaborative unit in South Minneapolis.
(I help coordinate a youth tutoring and enrichment program in her building.) She attends Kindergarten full-time in the Minneapolis school district. The testing context was a tutoring center of the housing complex in which her family lives. B is a part of the tutoring and community program there and receives other such services from her building during the after school hours. I have known B for four months (since the beginning of the school year) and have been on many community outings with her and her siblings. The time was evening, after much of her after school programming had taken place. I know that B is a non-reader, and that much of her tutoring time is devoted to reading and phonics activities.

To begin the assessment I gave her a peak at the wordless book we would be reading, Follow, Carl by Alexandra Day and told her we would be reading a special kind of book with no words. I explained that the book is about a dog and some kids that do some very special things with the dog. I explained that I would read the first page and after that she was going to "read the book to me" by looking at the pictures and pretending I was blind, that I couldn't see the pictures and she was going to tell the story to me. She seemed confused by this, so I modeled the first page for her. It seemed like this was too much of a task for her. With the first page, she stared at the book, almost overwhelmed. I intended throughout the assessment to record her retelling of the story and jot down interesting phrases, however, never having administered this assessment before and never having worked with this child academically before, I ended up doing a lot more cueing and teaching and modeling than I did assessing, simply because she didn't have any knowledge of reading to assess. I still did tape record our conversation, but it was just that, a conversation that allowed me to see how much work we needed to do with literacy.

Type of Reader

B's initial reaction to reading when I suggested we read a book was to run away. She said a few times before we started that "I don't know how to read!" She also insisted that her head hurt for the first couple of moments of our conversation after I introduced the book. It wasn't until after I persuaded her to stay several times reassuring her that she could read this book and look at the pictures because the book didn't have words that she was reasonably happy with the task. She was still frightened she would say the wrong thing a lot of the time also. As she looked at the picture of the children stretching with the dog on the first page, I could tell by her worried look that she didn't know what to say. Either that, or she had no vocabulary to express it, but I didn't think that was the case because I had heard her talk at events and other activities. She responded when I phrased my assessments as questions, asked things like, "What are the children doing?" Instead of stretching, she replied that they were "playing." I wanted to see if she had a concept of where they were going to go, if she could make something up, so I asked, "Where do you think they are going to play?" She answered, "the park" with a question mark intonation to her voice.

At the next page, she seemed pretty confused as to what to say as well. We sat in silence for a good three minutes before I asked her to tell me what was going on in that picture. "Where are the children and the dog going?" I asked. "I don't know," B replied. "Where do you think?" I said back to her. She thought a little harder. "Maybe to the park?" she questioned a few seconds later. I turned the page. I thought it would be better to model this page, hoping she would catch on for the rest of the book. "I'm going to give you an example," I suggested. "Look at these children here! They are the same children as before. I see them jumping off the wall now. I wonder why they are jumping off the wall. The dog is carrying the little child. And there is a baby with a toy horse watching all the children jump off the wall. I wonder if she wishes she could play," I modeled. It was a pretty stupid modeling session, I thought to myself even after I said it out loud. Even stupider listening to it play back. I watched B's eyes sweep the page, taking it in. "What do you think?" I asked. Silence.

The next page was hopeful. She studied the page and suggested that they were chasing a squirrel up a tree. Even though they were just looking at it, I didn't correct. I just let her tell the story. But that was all she had to say. She kept studying the pictures. I kept expecting some questioning to come through, for her to ask about what it was that she was confused about, but then I thought, wait, we learned in class that students have to be taught to question when meaning breaks down.

We kept turning the pages together. B kept starting, her eyes sweeping each page, with not a lot to say about each series of events. Even on the page with the woman giving out the cookies, or pancakes, she didn't say anything for a good thirty seconds until I asked her if she thought those were cookies or pancakes they were begging for. It hit me later that B might not be familiar with the term "begging."

It occurred to me through this entire process that B is somewhere between a TACIT and AWARE reader, leaning more to the AWARE side of her reading. If she were a completely a tacit reader, I think she would have just skimmed through the pages without much thought. Instead, she sat and studied the pages. Even though she does not read, she has an understanding of print and gets the idea that books are opened from left to right and the story continues from one page to the next. She tries to understand. I think that she is aware of the breakdown in meaning, but lacks the strategies for fixing the problem, so she sits in silence and waits for someone to come to her rescue. She might lack awareness at times, but for the most part, I believe she just doesn't have the knowledge of how to fix reading problems.

B's strengths lie in her hesitation for instruction. She knows that she doesn't understand what's happening on a particular page and she stops to study, she doesn't go ahead and skip it like many children her age would do. She does have an appreciation for the pictures telling a story, but didn't have much vocabulary to show it. Her eyes were sweeping, and her mind was working, but she didn't have much of a working vocabulary pool to express that knowledge, at the time of testing. B also holds strengths in her determination, and her hard work ethic. She realized that she was tired and went ahead with the activity as best she could. This will get her many rewards in school and in life.

I would say that B's greatest need is more modeling, more reading with this type of reading, and someone to gradually release the responsibility to her while reading with her. She appears to have an awareness of when she doesn't understand something, but doesn't know what to do about it. Perhaps some explicit strategy instruction about questions to ask when we don't understand what's happening, or some vocabulary instruction so that she has a bank of words to use when talking about a book such as this again. She also relies on adults for help in understanding, and non-verbal cues a lot, even though she can speak, so I suspect this is a confidence issue. She responded well when I praised her answers, so I think she needs a lot of verbal praise and encouragement from adults in her life. With time and experience, I feel that she will learn how to adapt to reading like a duck takes to water.

My suggestion for B would be to model, model, model and read, read, read. When adults read with her, they should start reading, but encourage her to chime in with ideas and don't shoot down any ideas she may have. Praise all ideas she may give with a "good idea" or "you're brilliant." Let her hear and experience new vocabulary for herself, and encourage her to experiment with it herself. I might also introduce the idea of accountable talk when discussing the books she reads, giving her access to phrases like "what do you think" and "why do you think that" and "find some evidence from the story to show me why you think that." I think that she is used to living in a large family and answering questions only when asked. This type of instruction would allow B to show that it is OK to speak up and let someone know what she knows. She's still early in her reading development process; I wouldn't suggest an intervention yet. She knows her letters and most letter sounds, and she works with a tutor doing phonics activities. All genres of text and picture books should be included in her reading library. I suspect that the uncertainty on B's part was due to inexperience. The more experience she has with it, the more she will feel comfortable telling a story in the future. Because I didn't finish the assessment, I didn't get to see if she could retell the story. It was already late, and B was showing signs of fatigue and disinterest. There's always next session.


Because this was my first experience with assessing a non-reader, I feel like I learned a great deal about early literacy in this process. I have much experience assessing upper elementary students using standard assessments like running records and vocabulary lists other pre-packaged assessments. I have never had the experience of starting with a student from scratch like that before. It absolutely threw me for a loop how silent she became when she didn't understand. I definitely became more aware of how children make meaning while reading and how they don't communicate it all the time. I will definitely be more aware in my practice of eye movements and wait time when teaching and assessing in the future. I will definitely incorporate more observation and critical thinking activities in my classroom teaching practice.
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