An After-School Intervention Program Worth Trying
by Deanna Hendrickson
The absence of literacy is a problem that stretches nationwide. Children are not learning to read in school. According to figures from literacy surveys, the United States is among seven of the thirty-nine Western Hemisphere nations with a literacy rate of below 80% (Brown, 2000). Reading is a critical skill that children need to master. One cannot go through life not knowing how to read. Reading is a fundamental skill needed in order to be successful in life. Reading effects one's future academic success, their quality of job or career, and their overall quality of life. Time is running out for our young learners. The Matthew Effect shows us that if students with reading difficulties are not caught within the first few yeas of elementary school, the gap for learning to read widens and is much more difficult to close (Bast & Reitsma, 1998). We have to catch students who have difficulty with reading early. Illiteracy continues to be a problem in elementary education. It is an issue that requires our immediate attention. We need an intervention for these struggling readers. We have implemented an after school intervention program to help those struggling readers.
This after school intervention program combines many of the strategies, vocabulary, and jargon from Reading Recovery and guided reading. Reading Recovery is a pullout program used with first graders who have very limited print knowledge and awareness. It is an intensive 30 minute lesson in which a trained Reading Recovery teacher works one-on-one with a student who is reading below his/her grade level and have limited knowledge pertaining to books and the reading of books. Guided reading is a similar method used to teach reading through small group instruction in the classroom. This method is also taught by trained teachers and emphasizes matching children to text. Guided Reading concentrates on the three cueing systems: semantic, visual, and meaning. Semantics refers to the structure of the sentence. Visual refers to how the word looks and using the pictures to help figure out the word. When reading for meaning, the reader has to think if what they have just read made sense. In a guided reading lesson, the teacher uses specific prompts to help the students use the three cueing systems to decode words and learn to read.
The after-school intervention program is an additional tool that educators can use to help the students who need additional support with reading. It is a small group (4-5 children), highly structured, fast-paced, 45 minute lesson for first through third grade students. The group meets 3 to 5 days a week after school. The duration of the program varies. The goal is to raise the reading level of the students in the intervention group to that of the average of the class. If the average level of the class is very high, it may take the intervention group three months or more to catch up. The progress that occurs within the group also is a critical factor. If the group progresses quickly, the game of "catch up" may not take as long.
Students are grouped according to their ability level in reading. This way, the whole group is reading the same level book. Each of our "little" books is leveled according to the difficulty of the text. We used the same method to level books as Reading Recovery. The classroom teacher uses his/her judgment to determine who will be selected for the intervention program. Usually, students who are reading below grade level are selected. Our district assessment defines what reading level is appropriate for which grade. We use the scores on the district assessment to guide our decision. For reading, our district uses the Developmental Reading Assessment. Once students have been selected, the parents are informed of the opportunity for their son or daughter to participate in our after-school intervention program. A letter is sent home with the student explaining the program. This letter also serves as a contract between the parent and the intervention teacher. The parent must agree that his/her child will be in good attendance, otherwise will be dropped from the program. The letter also stipulates that the parent is responsible for transportation (i.e. picking the child up after the lesson) if the child usually rides the bus. Once this contract is signed, it is a binding agreement between parent and teacher. Both parties agree to do their best to provide the support the child needs to excel in reading.
One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in this program was finding teachers to dedicate even more of their time to children after school hours. Many educators have families and busy lives. However, we were fortunate. In our first year, we had 7 teachers volunteer to pilot this program. These teachers were paid out of our Title 1 funds because the students we were serving were Title 1 students. They were paid at an hourly rate of $20.00 per hour. They were paid to attend and participate in the training sessions as well as observations, all of which were conducted after school hours. Once intervention teachers were conducting their own group, the teachers were observed and critiqued by our Literacy Mentor who was overseeing the project.
Our Literacy Mentor is responsible for supporting teachers in the area of literacy (reading and writing) throughout the district. Literacy is our district's number one priority. She "floats" from site to site to model, explain, or demonstrate lessons to help promote literacy within the classroom. She provides teachers with literature, activities, and other resources. For example, when we came to her with our concern of a high number of struggling readers, she researched many intervention programs before presenting this program to us. She took into consideration that our site had a 42% Spanish-speaking population. She also considered the fact that majority of our 730 students were on free and reduced lunch. As a team of intervention teachers, our goal was to reach the students who fell below grade level and bring them up to the class average. Once a program was chosen, she trained us, modeled lesson, organized discussion groups, and was available for observations and support as we needed it.
Each teacher is given a three-ring binder in which to keep all critical information: lesson plans, attendance records, book titles, running records, and a section for each child. In this binder, the teacher records all the information that will help direct their teaching. Before beginning this program, each teacher is fully trained in the five elements of the lessons. They also must do observation time, watching other intervention teachers do lessons. During the training, they are taught how to use the information of what occurs in the group to drive or direct their teaching. Skeletons of lesson plans are provided, so the teachers can insert what information they need to have a successful lesson. Also included in the binder is a reading grid for each child. Information from the running records are recorded on this grid, such as book title, book level, self-correction rate, error rate, and fluency rate. This grid or graph shows at a glance what level the child is reading at and how much progress in reading levels he/she has made. The teacher records this information to ensure that the books chosen are at the student's instructional level. Otherwise, if the book is too easy, the children are not using the skills they've been learning. If it's too hard, the children may become frustrated and give up.
Much of the lesson focus is driven by what the students need. However, there still needs to be some type of organization or foundation that the teachers can go. We provided each intervention teacher with all the supplies necessary for the lesson to be successful: a three-ring binder, a rolling cart in which to store all the supplies: a timer, writing utensils, white boards, markers, erasers, magnetic letters, "magic" or cover up tape, pencils, writing markers, and journals. To enhance student motivation, teachers were also given sticker books for each child. At the end of each lesson, if students worked hard, he/she got a sticker to put in his/her sticker book. Other teachers did different things to keep the children motivated. For example, I told my group that if they filled up one whole page with stickers, we would have a pizza party, just the five of us. Other teachers promised doughnuts or snacks. We did these things to reward the student's efforts, dedication, and hard work.
Elements of a Lesson
A typical lesson contains five elements:
- Familiar Reading: Familiar reading is an important aspect of the lesson. The rereading of familiar materials provides children with opportunities for independent, fluent reading (Allen & Dorn, 1995). Once a child becomes a fluent reader, his/her comprehension improves because he/she is not spending all of his/her time decoding unknown words. Students reread books that they have already read either in the intervention group or in class. These books are kept in "Book Boxes," small cardboard boxes. The children all have the same books in their book boxes, but may choose to read them in any order. They read in a "whisper" voice and continue to do so until the teacher asks them to put their books away. The "whisper" voice allows the teacher to clearly hear the student who is reading for the running record. It also ensure that there is no "parrot reading," where the student hears what his/her neighbor is reading and merely repeats it instead of actually reading it. This section of the lesson usually lasts 3-5 minutes.
- Running Record: While students are engaged in familiar reading, The intervention teacher chooses one child with which to do a running record. A running record is performed on a different student each day. This ensures on-going assessment and provides information that helps the intervention teacher plan his/her future lessons. The purpose of the running record is to provide the opportunity to practice strategies that the groups have learned or have been working on (Allen & Dorn, 1995).
- Introduction of a New Book: After the intervention teacher collects the Book Boxes, it is time to introduce a new book to the whole group. The teacher has carefully selected a level-appropriate book, meaning it should provide a challenge to the students but not be so difficult that the students become frustrated. The group discusses the cover of the book. The teacher uses prompting to help the children discover information that may help them when they are reading the story on their own. We also try to integrate a child's background or prior knowledge to the book so the children can make meaningful connections. It is also at this time that the teacher may do a "picture walk," where the students look at the pictures in the book and discuss what is happening in the pictures. This information helps children when they are reading they story. It may provide valuable clues, especially when it comes to decoding new words. After the introduction, each child reads at his/her own pace. The teacher moves around the table and provides support for any child that needs it, whether it is prompting for a cue or giving them a word they cannot figure out. The children are instructed that if they finish reading before everyone else, they are to read the book again. This ensures that everyone is on task. This portion of the lesson usually lasts 10 - 15 minutes.
- Word Work: This portion of the lesson is reserved for demonstrating with hands-on activities how words "work," meaning, identifying spelling patterns, suffixes, prefixes, chunking, etc. Here, the teacher provides children with limited print knowledge the opportunity to learn about words and letters (Allen & Dorn, 1995). The teacher selects a word out of the text to teach a specific skill. For example, the word "look" may be appear several times in the text. The teacher will then use that word as the foundation of the mini-lesson. The teacher must choose a word that the children already know and are familiar with; otherwise the lesson will not be effective. The intervention teacher may use the word "look" to introduce how they can make a new word by adding the ending "ing" or "ed" or "s". The teacher demonstrates this visually by writing it on a white board, which is similar to a chalk- board but is white and writing is done with erasable markers. Once the children see this on a white board, they may have the opportunity to physically manipulate the word themselves by using magnetic letters of the alphabet. The teacher will model the activity first on the white board, then allow the children to manipulate the letters.
As the teacher works with the group, s/he gets to know which tactics or methods work successfully for the students. The teacher uses this discretion to decide which methods to use. Others skills are also taught in this section: making and breaking of words, chunking, long and short vowel sounds, initial or ending sounds/letters, decoding, prefixes, etc. The lesson that is actually taught is decided by the needs of the students. The teacher uses the information obtained from the running records to decipher which skill to teach next. The section of the lesson lasts about 10 minutes.
- Writing Time: Writing is the last element of the lesson. Each child has his/her own journal. This is a time to promote oral discussion and enhance vocabulary. It is also a time to provide opportunities to apply their developing knowledge of writing in an independent, yet supportive, setting (Allen & Dorn, 1995). Journal writing may take many shapes or forms. The group, depending on their level, may do an innovation, which is a rewrite of a story they've read, become familiar with, and liked. Another option is to have each student write his/her individual story. Once again, the activity is student driven; meaning whatever the students need to work on, the teacher will facilitate that type of lesson. This element of the lesson combines skills that are taught in the reading portions of the lesson. Children are required to constantly read and reread what they have written. They are instructed to ask themselves if what they've written sounds right, looks right, and makes sense (the three cueing systems). These are prompts used when the children are learning to read and decode words in a book. Once again, the teacher is moving around the table giving support in various ways: modeling proper form, listening to students read his/her story, or giving praise for a job well done. Because this is the last element of the lesson, all of the remaining time is used for this activity. It's duration usually last approximately 15 minutes.
Familiar Reading/Running Record:
Children sit around the table with their chairs turned outward, away from the teacher. As Cindy is reading, I notice she is really using the initial letter to decode a word. I say, "I notice that your making the /b/ sound, why?"
"Because it starts with a "B." She says as she points to the letter.
"Good noticing! What else could you try if that word is tricking (reading Recovery vocabulary) you?"
"I could put in a word to see if it makes sense."
"OK. Let's try that."
"I want to ride on the b..book."
"Does that make sense?" Cindy shakes her head "no." "Let's try again." Cindy now checks the picture and smiles.
"I want to ride on the boat."
"Does that make sense?"
"Does it look right?"
How did you figure that out?"
"You can see it in the picture!"
"Wow! Good for you! You used the picture and the first letter to help you figure out that tricky word. Good for you! Let's keep reading."
By verbally prompting for the reading cues, Cindy was able to search her memory for what action or strategy to do next. The teacher verbalizes things the student should be thinking when he/she gets stuck. Our ultimate goal is to use the prompts so often and in the same manner that the children begin to internalize the prompts. Then, they can decode words on their own and become independent readers. In turn, the cueing systems will become automatic. As adults we do this every time we read a piece of writing, we just don't realize it because it has become so natural to us.
Introduction of a new book:
When introducing a new book, it is important for children to make predictions as to the subject matter of the text. These predictions serve as a purpose for their reading. However, before beginning a new book it is also imperative that the children be given a foundation to begin upon. For example, in the book, Father Bear's Surprise, there are some points the teacher should bring to the student's attention. The cover of the book shows the three bears outside in the forest. It is snowing. You can see that Father Bear has a gift under one of his arms. My students live in Southern California and have limited knowledge of snow. So I asked the children, what was that white stuff on the cover of the book we were about to read.
"Snow!" the children exclaimed. I proceeded to ask them if they had ever been to the snow (in the mountains) and what it felt like when you were in the snow. I took the connection closer to the book by adding, "What do bears do when it snows outside?"
"They sleep." The children replied.
"That's right. They hibernate or sleep during the winter." The word "hibernate" appears in the story, so it is important to use the vocabulary that is in the text. After the discussion about the cover, the children make predictions as to what they think the story will be about. Then, they read the book with that purpose in mind.
Word work ties many elements of the intervention lesson together. It combines reading, writing, problem solving, using the cueing systems, and manipulation of letters and sounds. Here is a lesson where the children use their skills to make a brand new word from a word that they are already familiar with:
The teacher gives the students the magnetic letters to make the word "look." (All the students know this word. They can read and write it. They know it when they see it.)
"Boys and girls, I'd like for you to make the word "look." The children do so. The teacher checks to see if everyone has it spelled correctly.
"Read that word that you made." The children read the word. "Excellent. Today, I'm going to show you how to make a new word from that word 'look' that you all know so well." The teacher now passes out more magnetic letters for the ending "ing," "ed," and "s."
"Now I want you to take your letter "s" and put it on the end of that word "look." The children do so.
"Good. Now we've made a whole new word just by adding the ending 's.' Can you read your new word?" All the children read "looks." The teacher then says a sentence so the children can hear the new word being used.
The teacher may also use a different tactic to teach this lesson. The children are asked to write the word "look" on their white boards, which are smaller versions of the teacher's white board. They do so enthusiastically. They too have erasable markers and erasers. The teacher models on his/her white boards where to add the letter "s."
"Boys and girls, please write an "s" on your boards. Make sure you put it after the "k" in "look." The children write the letter "s." "Can anyone read the new word we've made?"
"I can!" Cindy states triumphantly. "It says "looks."
The intervention teacher would then inquire as to how she figured it out. All the children in the group would have a chance to read the "new" word. Then the teacher continues the lesson by writing the other endings on the word "look." The children can read and write the words. The children's white board might have this on it by the end of the lesson:
To test for understanding, the teacher would then have students erase their boards completely and give them a quick "quiz."
"Children, please write the word "looking" on your boards. Good. Erase. Now, write "looks." Stretch (listen carefully to the sounds as you say the word very slowly) the word if you have to so you can hear the ending sound." The quiz would continue until all of the teaching points are reached.
Writing also ties everything together. It promotes oral discussion, decision making, teamwork, and other problem solving skills in addition to the strategies of reading and writing.
For example, in one group, the children worked together to brainstorm ideas for a story. They were all writing the same story, but all had input as to what was going to occur in the story. After the group agreed on what would come next, the children would write it in their journals.
"How can we make our beginning "spicy" so we hook the reader into our story and want to keep reading?" the teacher asks.
"I know! One dark night..." says Monique.
"That IS a spicy beginning." The teacher replies.
"How about, One dark and scary night?" Xochilt asks.
"Yes!" The group agrees.
"OK. Then that is how we will begin our story. Please write the beginning we have so far." The children write "One dark and scary night." Here the teacher is moving around the table prompting individual students for proper grammar, correct spelling, etc.
For instance, I notice that Monique forgot a capital at the beginning of her sentence.
"What do we start our sentence with?" Monique checks her beginning and gasps.
"Oh. I forgot. I need to fix that." She says.
"There. Does it look right now?"
"I think so too. Now check your other words."
The teacher continues to move about from student to student. She facilitates learning. She notices what students are struggling with and prompts for the correct answer.
We are now currently finishing our third, going on our fourth year, of our intervention program. We have seen measurable growth in the participant's reading and writing ability. We base our success on many things. We base it on the growth each student has made in reading or text levels, as well as the progress they made on the pre and post test required by our district. For example, upon entering our program, one student was reading at a DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) level 4. After participating in our after-school intervention program, she read a DRA level 20. Normally, without intervention, students progress approximately one level in reading per month. We are in school nine months out of the year. Without intervention, that student would only be reading a level 13. The intervention not only helped improve her reading scores beyond the normal range; it also raised her scores in the writing portion of our district assessment as well.
We also base their success on the ability to take risks in their reading and writing, in their use of three reading cueing systems, use of strategies, the improvement that occurs in their writing, the growth towards achieving the state standards, and confidence level. We base success on the change of attitude the children have when they realize that they CAN read and reading is actually fun. If nothing else, this program gives children a second chance at learning to read. It teaches them the foundation and skills they need to be successful. With the proper scaffolding, prompting, and lesson planning, each of our children has made tremendous progress and caught up to the average of their class in reading.
I was one of the teachers to pilot this intervention program. I chose four of my at-risk readers in my second grade classroom to be my intervention group. The results were extremely pleasing. I believe that being their classroom teacher also helped their progress. I could refer to things we had done during our group or during class to prompt for a cue or strategy. The children were able to make connections between the things we learned in class with the things we learned in intervention group. In a sense, the children in my group received double support. I think being their classroom teacher and intervention teacher was more powerful. I had children make such outstanding progress, that I actually cried during a guided reading lesson while in the classroom. Monique, who at the beginning of the school year, could not pick out the word "a" out of a string of random letters, was now reading with fluency and comprehension at a level 18.
"Teacher, why are you crying?" she asked.
"Because you're such a great reader!" I said.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you cry."
"Don't worry Monique, it's a happy cry."
The most wonderful, gigantic smile appeared on her face as she watched tears roll down my cheeks. Do I think the extra time and effort are worth it? Do I feel this is a valuable intervention for children with reading difficulties? The answer is an adamant "YES!"
Allen, A. & Dorn, L. (1995). Helping low achieving first- grade readers: A program combining reading recovery tutoring and small group instruction. ERS Spectrum, Summer, 16-24.
Bast, J. & Reitsma, P. (1998). Analyzing the development of individual differences in terms of Matthew Effects in reading: Results from a Dutch longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 34(6), 1373-1399.
Elliot, I. (2000). Neighborhood school that's big on reading. Teaching Pre K - 8, 30(5), 40-43.
Fielding, L. (1998/1999). Making balanced use of cues when reading. The Reading Teacher, 52(4), 392-393.
Gaskins, I. W. (1999). Problem solving- struggling readers : A multidimensional reading program. The Reading Teacher, 53(2), 162-164.
Hedrick, W. & Pearish, A. (1999). Good reading instruction is more important than who provides the instruction or where it takes place. The Reading Teacher, 52(7), 716-726.
Townsend, M. & Wilkinson, I. (2000). From Rata to Rimu: grouping for instruction in best practice New Zealand classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 53(6), 460-471.