Reading instruction and assessments have been at the forefront of my mind lately. I am currently taking a course for a second credential specific to the various methods of reading instruction, including read-alouds, shared reading, literacy circles, and so on. This is a repeat class for me because my units from one university didn’t carry over. I got an A in it the first time, so I thought it would be a piece of cake. I was so wrong.
When we take the quizzes on what each lesson structure is, I get a good grade . . . no sweat. But when I go into detail about how I actually use the different methods in my classrooms, the “alterations” that are necessary to meet the needs of my kids either cause huge confusion or deviate from the structure so much that, really, I’m just teaching reading my own way. But what else can I do? My students have needs that require changes to be made.
For example, for Shared Reading Instruction and Guided Reading, I need to do everything digitally. I have to make PowerPoint/KeyNote presentations in order to help my students focus on the front of the room and be able read the text. For some of my students, text that is too close requires more movement to scan, which requires more muscle control, which takes away from focus and comprehension of the text altogether. Also, our “Word Wall” is done the same way so I can also put it on my students’ computers and make frequent changes.
Oh, and their books? Those are on their computers as well. I take pictures of the illustrations and type the text into a program called Clicker 5 so the students can read the text, have the text read to them while they follow along, and turn the pages by clicking the “next” button.
Despite all this, assessment forms such as a Reading Record don’t even come close to truly illustrating my students’ comprehension and reading capabilities. This is because there is also a communication component involved in my class, and my students aren’t always able to express what they have read or what they don’t understand because they are simultaneously progressing in their ability to use their communication devices and switches.
And one more thing: I always need to consider that motivation factor that is so integral to helping students realize and reach their potential. Some of my students are in 6th and 7th grade. They honestly don’t want to read about Sam and Ann looking for apples. Yes, they need the “short /a/” lesson, and it may be written at an appropriate level. But reading takes time and if it is boring then they are reluctant to participate, making assessment very difficult.
. . . So I write new books. Is that so wrong? I write about things they might actually like, including themselves—little biographies (that include the short /a/ sound) that encourage them to read because they are the main characters and quite frankly they want to see what’s going to happen to them next. I consider these “teacher-made tests” for most purposes, but I could never use them for a Reading Record in my class because it is not part of a regular curriculum. The problem is that my students just don’t perform the same way on assessments that bring them back to Sam and Ann and their great apple-picking escapade.
I test my students based on their comprehension answers to texts. I test my students based on their correct identification of sight words, even if it is out of a field of three. I test my kids based on what I know they will be able to participate in. I completely support my district in its need to present progress data to the state, but this state never really tested my ability to handle this teaching situation. I had a sink-or-swim lesson in special education literacy instruction.
“OK, what’s your point, Jen?” All teachers take the same Reading Instruction Competency Assessment (RICA), but I have yet to see a case study that includes a child with special needs. Every student deserves effective reading instruction, and every teacher deserves to be prepared to reach any child. A physical impairment does not necessarily mean there is also a cognitive impairment, and if a student has a communication impairment that hinders reading assessment it should not be assumed that he or she cannot retain reading instruction.
Teachers who are ready to accept those capable students and work with them so their education is adequate are so needed right now, both in special education and in general education. I do see the incredible value of structured literacy lessons . . . but I think it is important that up-and-coming teachers (particularly in special education) realize how many accommodations may be necessary in order to make reading truly accessible to all students and feel comfortable taking that initiative to deviate a little from what they’ve been taught. It’s great to have a variety of approaches to teaching in your back pocket, but it is also great to know that you can be flexible. Yes, there is an “order” to how lessons are designed to be taught, but the bottom line is that the students’ needs must be met.
By the way, if you have seen a RICA case study that includes a child with special needs, please let me know. I am learning and trying to grow as much as possible, and I appreciate all the insight I can get from other professionals in this field.