Monday, May 30, 2011

Benchmarking Wonders and Woes

We use the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmarking Kits at our school to assess our students reading levels and determine strengths and needs to plan for instruction at the beginning and end of each school year.  We have been using these kits for about 5 years now, so we are able to begin to dig deeply into them and really analyze them more and more now.

I am maybe a strange duck because I LOVE benchmarking.  I learn so much about kids, the reading process and our teaching every time I benchmark a student.  After each student leaves me, I need to spend at least 5 minutes jotting down revelations and wonders.  Being I do not have my own classroom anymore, I was able to benchmark a range of students at various levels and grades.  I taped the oral reading and conversations to use for teacher trainings/conversations in the future, so that we can really have discussion about our own perceptions about how well a student is really comprehending.  The assessments are subjective, but if we all can listen in on some common reading and talk about it, our subjectivity just might become more standardized.

I had many ah-ha's, wonders, woes and noticings benchmarking this year.  Here was a biggie. . .

1.  I noticed that for many students, meaning breaks down when they are not attending to punctuation.  For many readers who read through periods and dismissed dialogue, the intended message was skewed.  Much was missed.  I did a little research and discovered that sentence structure and dialogue becomes varied at about level I and J.  With effective reading instruction, kids at this level are able to decode many words, read sight words and are pretty strategic.  However, the importance for us to teach students how  "reading the punctuation" to help us understand who is talking and to express feelings becomes even more prevelant. Otherwise, we might be allowing our kids to only receive the surface level meaning.  They maybe only just get "the gist". (When benchmarking, I've found it helpful to add a code for reading through punctuation.  I circle the missed punctuation mark and draw a line through it.  I know this is not a counted miscue, but I think it needs to be noticed, especially if it is a pattern.)

So, I was thinking about how we could address this.  One thing I may encourage teachers to try is to implement 2 different units of study at this level (end of first grade/beginning of second or during guided reading at any level that has this need).  One powerful unit of study is on dialogue.  Significant Studies for Second Grade has a 5 week study on dialogue.  It can be broken up over the year or taught during a continuous 5 weeks.  When I first read this book a few years ago, my thinking was that it was silly to spend so much time on dialogue, but now I see why it's important.  I plan on bringing in various texts at these levels and having teachers study the various sentence structures.  We can than apply the mini-lessons found in this resource to these texts.

The second unit of study to try is one on fluency.  In Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency by Fountas and Pinell, the chapter on fluency is broken down into several components: rate, pausing, intonation, phrasing and integration.  Each component can be modeled and taught separately and then students buddy up and help to support and coach each other.   We developed a 1 - 2 week unit of study for fluency at our 2nd and 3rd grade levels at our school based on this need.  Hopefully, we will begin to notice an increase in attending punctuation in our students' oral reading.

Our kids are actually making huge gains in accuracy and comprehension, overall.  I know our teachers at our school work hard to help them become successful and I am so proud of them.  I am one lucky literacy coach to be working with so many professionals who truly care about their kids.

I will continue to blog on Benchmarking Reflections.  I'm hoping those of you who also use the F & P Benchmarking kits will comment on these reflections and also add your own wonderings.
Shari :-)

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