WHAT I IMPLEMENTED IN MY CLASSROOM
WHAT I IMPLEMENTED
I implemented the instructional technique targeted questioning with my 20 first grade students. This instruction occurred during guided reading. Using the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmarking System, I was able to determine each student’s guided reading level as well as determine a score for their comprehension abilities. Based on their scores, I organized my students into groups so that they would be learning with peers who were reading at a comparable level and needed similar instruction. I had a total of four guided reading groups. Group 1 met with me five days per week, Group 2 met with me four days per week, and Groups 4 and 5 met with me three days per week. Prior to implementing my action plan, Group 1 was reading below grade level expectations, Group 2 was reading on grade level, Group 3 was reading slightly above grade level, and Group 4 was reading significantly above grade level.
WITHIN BEYOND ABOUT
In order to deliver effective questions to my students, I strategically preplanned the questions I wanted to ask them. Using the Fountas and Pinnell Literacy Continuum, I developed a set of within, beyond, and about the text questions to ask each guided reading group throughout the Day 1 and Day 2 lessons. Within, beyond, and about the text questions promote different levels of thinking. Questions that are within the text are the most basic. Within the text questions involve activating background knowledge and summarizing important information about the reading. Demanding a higher level of thinking, beyond the text questions ask that the students make predictions and connections as well as synthesize and infer. The most cognitively demanding questions come from the about the text level of the continuum. At this level, students’ minds are stretched by answering questions that require them to analyze and critique what they are reading. Here, they use complex evaluating methods to think critically about the text. Because I had such a range of reading abilities in my classroom, I differentiated the questions to meet the needs of each of my guided reading groups. Thus, depending on the needs of my students as well as the weekly whole group target skill, I created questions from all three levels of the literacy continuum and implemented them into each of my guided reading lesson plans. The link below provides example within, beyond, and about Fountas and Pinnell questions for each guided reading level.
Moreover, after planning the questions I wanted to ask my students, I also planned answers to those questions. In doing so, I easily assessed if student responses were meeting expectations. During lessons, as students responded to the questions, I took anecdotal notes to compare and contrast their answers with the target responses. This allowed me to assess their comprehension levels and modify instruction to support their needs and promote growth.
WEEKLY TARGET SKILL
In addition to developing questions based on my students’ needs, I also derived questions on my district’s weekly comprehension target skill. During the first five weeks of my action research, I based questions on the main idea and detail, comparing and contrasting, the author’s purpose, the sequence of events, as well as cause and effect. Throughout the sixth week of my action research, I reviewed the target skills that each of my groups struggled with the most. Furthermore, I presented my groups with reading comprehension passages (CPs) that corresponded with various target skills as a form of formative assessment. Each group’s CP included a reading passage that matched their Fountas and Pinnell guided reading level accompanied by a set of questions that required written responses. The data from the CPs highlighted my students’ strengths as well as their areas for improvement. Providing my students with a range of target comprehension skills and CPs stretched the minds of my students and this data allowed me to see more clearly where each of my students needed further instruction.
WHY I IMPLEMENTED THIS PLAN
According to my research, students learn best by talking. As students speak, they are verbally representing their thinking. By engaging students in discussions about texts, their ability to comprehend ideas expands (Fountas and Pinnell, 2017). Because my students showed a need for further instruction in reading comprehension, I knew I needed to get them talking about what we read in guided reading groups.
In order for these discussions to occur, teachers must ask the right questions. Jan Richardson (2016) explains that the answers that students give are only as good as the questions that teachers ask. Thus, teachers must be purposeful in the questions that they ask their students. As stated by Workman (2014), implementing targeted questions during small group instruction is one way for students to increase their reading comprehension. She explains that when students are asked questions that demand deeper thinking, they are participating in the type of literacy instruction and learning that is expected of critical thinkers.
Because of the student data I examined and what I learned from this research, I chose to implement targeted questions in my guided reading groups. I used the Fountas and Pinnell Literacy Continuum to plan the questions I would ask each of my small groups. As I previously explained, this literacy continuum categorizes questions into three different levels: within, beyond, and about the text. Each level demonstrates a different depth of thinking. Incorporating these kinds of questions during guided reading was good for my students in particular. My students were capable of responding to literal questions about the text, this is within the text level thinking. However, when my students needed to answer more cognitively demanding questions, they struggled. Fountas and Pinnell (2017) state that students need to engage in all three levels of thinking as they process texts. By the end of my study, my students expected deeper level questions after they read. So as they read, they began to read for deeper meanings and connections (Workman, 2014).
WHY MY STUDENTS NEEDED THIS PLAN
I chose to implement this action research plan because my students showed a diverse need in reading comprehension. Prior to starting my action research, I gave my students a reading benchmark assessment as a pretest. Using the Fountas and Pinnell leveling system, many of my students were reading above grade level expectations. Out of the 20 students in my classroom, 10 students were reading above level, five students were reading on level, and five students were reading below level. Of the 10 students reading above grade level, only one student received a perfect score on the comprehension portion of the benchmark. While these students had great accuracy and fluency, their lack of understanding of what they read posed some concerns. Furthermore, the students reading below grade level expectations scored particularly low on the comprehension portion of the assessment. This data point supported my implementation of targeted questioning to increase reading comprehension because it exposed the struggles that my students experienced when they were answering questions about a text and demonstrating their understanding of what they read.
MEETING DIVERSE LEARNING NEEDS
My 20 students were unique. It was imperative for me to teach to their individual needs if I wanted them to grow. Organizing my guided reading groups by the Fountas and Pinnell leveling system was one way that I differentiated questions. Some of my students were reading below grade-level expectations, some were meeting grade-level expectations, and some were above grade-level expectations. I grouped my students based on their reading level so that they were learning within their zone of proximal development.
For my Group 1 and Group 2 students, I started by planning targeted questions that were primarily within and beyond the text. When students struggled to respond to the beyond the text questions, I modeled how to use my own background knowledge to make connections with the text. I also introduced them to the about the text questions by modeling. I explicitly showed these groups how I used text evidence to support my responses. Utilizing interactive read-aloud time, I demonstrated this deeper level of thinking. After sufficient modeling, I gradually began to implement more about the text level questions into their guided reading plans.
Because my Group 3 and Group 4 students were reading above grade level expectations, I needed to meet their comprehension needs differently than the other two groups. These students shined when it came to understanding the literal meaning of the texts and could even connect the readings to their previous knowledge. I challenged these students to read like writers. I modeled this sophisticated level of thinking so that my students could see how to read texts analytically. Similar to Groups 1 and 2, I also gradually released my instruction and began to ask more about the text questions so that Groups 3 and 4 could engage in deep, critical discussion about the texts.
CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE PRACTICES
The demographics in my classroom provided an additional array of needs. My students came from their own individual backgrounds. Understanding this diversity meant that it was vital for me to ensure all of my students felt as though their culture was represented and appreciated in our classroom. In particular and in regards to reading comprehension, my students would likely feel more confident answering higher level thinking questions when they can find some way to connect to what we were reading. Despite the majority of my students being Caucasian, it was important that other races were represented in our classroom, as well. I chose to represent other cultures in our classroom through the books I selected for my guided reading groups to read. In doing so, all of my students were provided with opportunities to feel a connection to our texts.
My students were each unique readers and had varying needs when it came to guided reading and reading comprehension. I fostered equity by giving each of my students guided reading instruction at their specific level. Though each guided reading group met with me on a weekly basis, the frequency in which each group met throughout the week varied. For instance, my students reading below grade level expectations met with me every day as they needed more support. On the other hand, the group of students that were reading above grade level expectations only met with me three days per week because they did not as much intervention. Despite meeting for different quantities of time, my students each received the support they needed in order to grow.
Throughout my action research, I also fostered accessibility. In order for my students to grow and reach their fullest potential, they needed to be reading texts that were not too easy and not too difficult for them. Thus, I organized my students into small groups based on their reading level. In doing so, students reading below grade level expectations could experience success in my guided reading group. For those students, the on-level content was too challenging. They needed to be reading texts that they could decode so that we could work on comprehending what they read.
Finally, I incorporated multiple perspectives into my study. During my action research, many decisions needed to be made that required me to reach out to other trusted professionals for their input. The research of Fountas and Pinnell greatly impacted my instruction. Their benchmark leveling system helped me organize my students into their appropriate reading level group. I used Fountas and Pinnell’s literacy continuum to guide my lesson plans and questioning. Furthermore, their continuum helped me to identify when it was time to move a student up a guided reading level. In addition to researchers, I looked to my school staff for advice. I had multiple staff members observe my guided reading lessons and give me feedback on my instruction. If portions of my lessons needed improvement, their advice helped me to make adjustments so that I could better my teaching practices.
While implementing my action research plan, I collaborated with other professionals and community members to improve student learning. My first-grade team, school literacy coach, and principal worked with me to devise questions for my guided reading groups, as well as answer my questions when I needed some guidance. They helped me to find resources and differentiate questions for each of my guided reading groups as well as individual students. Moreover, they assisted me in modifying my workstations to match my capstone goals. For instance, with their help, I added a “writing about reading” station where students choose a question of their choice and write about a text that they recently read. They also took the time to observe my literacy block and give me feedback on my teaching practices. Their immediate feedback helped me to modify my instruction to better meet the needs of my students.
Additionally, I worked with external stakeholders during my action research. My CADRE associate, district personnel, CADRE peers, and university professors supported me in my journey to become a more effective educator in reading comprehension. My CADRE associate took me to visit other first grade teachers in our school district during their literacy block. After our various school visits, my CADRE associate and I spent ample time discussing what we observed. Seeing other district personnel during their instruction gave me new strategies to add to my teacher toolbox. We selected some of these strategies that would fit within my teaching style and coincide with the needs of my students during my action research. For example, I learned new ways to deliver guided reading objectives. I also learned new ways to motivate students to participate when it comes time to respond to questions during guided reading. Collaborating with my CADRE peers was also beneficial during my capstone journey. Through conversations with my cohort, I was able to brainstorm with educators in a similar position. Knowing my teaching style, they helped me to develop an action plan that fits within my philosophy of teaching. These teachers also helped me to problem-solve when parts of my action plan were not effective. Finally, my university professors guided me during my journey to become a more effective educator in reading comprehension. My professors have provided me with ample strategies that I have implemented in my classroom. The research that I have done in their courses allowed me to learn about the characteristics of great literacy educators. Because of their assistance, I was better able to support my students’ needs in reading comprehension.