THE JUSTIFICATION FOR MY STUDY
My Capstone Project was centered around my guided reading groups, but the instructional strategies being learned were also implemented during whole group instruction. I was an elementary school educator in a suburban Omaha school district. According to Census data, within my school’s zip code there were 9,714 households. Of those households, 68.1% were two-parent-family households, 4.1% were male-led family households, 7.4% were female-led family households, and 20.4% were nonfamily households (people who live alone or share a residence with unrelated individuals). The mean household income in my school’s zip code was $97,703. The demographics in my school’s zip code show the total population to be 27,073. Within this population, 92.% of individuals were Caucasian, 4.4% were Hispanic/Latino, 3.9% were African American, 2.2% were Asian, and 1.7% were other races. It was important for me to remember that while this make-up of families might look similar from an exterior perspective, every child in my classroom was different. Each of my students came from their own unique, individual background and had their own personal academic needs that guided my instruction.
As of the fall of 2018, 497 students were enrolled at my school, encompassing grades kindergarten through sixth. In the 2017-2018 school year, 7.1% of students received the free and reduced lunch program and 6.15% of our school’s students were minorities. This data informed me that my students had many similarities in regards to culture. It was beneficial for me to introduce different cultures in my classroom, through my instruction, so that my students learned to respect, appreciate, and learn from cultural diversity.
I was one of three first grade teachers at my school. Of the 20 students in my classroom, two students were qualified for speech-language services, one student had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for behavior, two students were on an Individualized Ideal Plan (IIP) for behavior, one student was on an IIP for academics, and one student had a 504 plan. My students had very diverse needs. It was important for me to differentiate my instruction so that each student could get the support they needed in order to reach their individual goals. Similar to the demographics of my school’s zip code, 16 of my students were Caucasian, three were bi-racial, and one was African American. These demographics provided an additional array of needs in my first grade classroom, as all of my students came from their own unique background. 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 regards to reading comprehension, in particular, students would likely feel more comfortable answering beyond-the-text level questions when they could find some way to connect to what we were reading. Even though the majority of my students were Caucasian, it was important that other races were represented in our classroom. Other cultures could be represented in our classroom through the books I selected for my guided reading groups to read. Thus, all of my students were provided with opportunities to feel a connection to our texts.
THE NEED FOR THIS STUDY
I selected data to analyze from a variety of sources such as the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) Assessment, Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Assessment, IXL Program, my district’s Common Summative Assessments (CSA), as well as my anecdotal notes. The data I collected from my students showed a diverse need, specifically in reading comprehension.
In early September, my students took the MAP Reading Assessment. The MAP Reading Assessment is an online standardized test that measures the academic progress of my students three times a year, in early fall, winter, and end of the school year. This test measured each students’ skills in reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing, and concepts of print. According to the data I received on the Comprehension portion of the exam, 25% of my students scored Below Average, 10% of my students scored Average, 15% of my students scored High-Average, and 50% of my students scored High. The standard deviation for my student’s Comprehension on the MAP Assessment was 15.8. This was much higher than the average standard deviation, showing the vast difference in the needs of the students in my classroom. I had to differentiate my instruction by expliciting selecting questions that matched the needs of the students in each of my guided reading groups.
When examining my students’ reading benchmark assessments in November, using the Fountas & Pinnell leveling system, more than half of my students were reading above grade level. 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 two of these students received a perfect score on the comprehension portion of the benchmark. While these students averaged high words correct per minute, and had great fluency, their lack of understanding of what they read posed some concerns. How could my students truly succeed if they could not fully grasping the message of the text? This data point, specifically, supported my implementation of targeted questioning to increase reading comprehension because it exposed the struggles that my students were experiencing when they were answering questions about a text and demonstrating their understanding of what they read.
At the beginning of November I introduced my students to the online IXL Program. This website and iPad App allows students to work on their literacy skills and aligns with our district adopted reading curriculum. As our class continued our journey with IXL, I was able to collect data on my students for further analysis of, and growth in, their comprehension skills. The comprehension benchmark took place the week of November 12th. This benchmark highlighted my students’ ability to make inferences about illustrations. Of the 25 questions asked, half of my students got at least 20 questions correct. However, four of my students answered less than 12 answers correctly. The data I collected from this assignment helped my instruction in guided reading. I knew exactly which students struggled to connect meaning to the illustrations in our books and I incorporated more of this skill into my daily guided reading instruction.
My school district’s Common Summative Assessments (CSA) shined a lot of light on areas where my students needed to improve, specifically highlighting reading comprehension. At the end of each reading unit, my students were given a CSA that focused on the skills and strategies we had been practicing. A November CSA asked the students to read a short passage and answer questions about what they read. Although 17 out of 20 students answered surface-level questions about the text correctly, their scores showed that they struggled to understand beyond-the-text-level questions. Out of the 20 students in my classroom, 7 students correctly responded to the higher-level thinking questions, 4 students partially answered the questions correctly, and 9 answered incorrectly. This data informed me that my instruction must emphasize beyond-the-text questions.
Finally, I had been taking anecdotal notes during guided reading since the beginning of the school year. These notes highlighted the diverse need in reading with regard to comprehension. Since the beginning of the school year, my students had grown as readers. They read faster, more fluently, and even recalled information from a story. Yet, many struggled to push their understandings from the text past surface-level. I used the student growth in fluency and information recall as a foundation to push my students to beyond the text understanding through targeted questioning.
The information gained from this study was imperative because it allowed me to understand the areas in which my students needed improvement, as well as provided me with the opportunity to study new methods to assist my planning and ensure growth in each student, no matter how large of range.
Furthermore, this study helped me to plan more effective lessons, as I needed to think critically about the questions I must ask each group of students during guided reading. As an educator, I worked to build confidence in my abilities to create and guide a reading group plan that tracked and helped my students reach their individual goals. I needed to differentiate my questions so that each reading group was set up for success while still promoting their growth. I wanted to be able to specifically praise each student and show them how they have grown over the year throughout our small groups. It was my hope that, as I gained more knowledge about integrating higher level thinking questions, it would reflect in my student’s reading achievement.
I had the opportunity to collaborate with highly qualified professionals such as my team, principal, literacy coach, and CADRE Associate to help ensure that I made the growth that was needed to become an effective educator in reading comprehension. This study supported me in my career because it provided me with knowledge and skills that would improve my instruction in reading comprehension that I used as a foundation and built upon throughout my career as an educator.