Some things do not change, despite students' ages and abilities. The constant instructional goals remain critical in lesson and unit design and in teacher-and-student interactions: (1) building sight vocabulary; (2) helping students build confidence in their ability to learn; and (3) teaching students how to inquire into language and use what they know and find to read and write and participate fully in their own educational progress. The use of an integrated language arts approach and the language arts curriculum goals as described briefly in Chapter 4 remain the same; however, different aspects of language skills and processes receive more or less emphasis depending on the abilities of the students.
We have many students in U.S. schools in 4th grade and above who need work on the same reading and writing processes and skills addressed in chapters 1–5. These students are in peril in our school system and in our society because of their literacy levels. As we create instructional environments for these students, a few of the teaching tools we can bring to the task include integrated modes of teaching and learning, interrelated curriculum work, continuous rapid diagnosis, and a knowledge of how to use what they already know. The PWIM is one of several teaching strategies that allow us to pack our toolkit efficiently.
Modifying the PWIM
Major reasons for modifying the PWIM for older students are differences in what they bring to the PWIM as language learners and differences in age and maturity. Modifications necessary for older beginning readers include grouping patterns, use of and types of pictures, and pace through the moves of the model.
The difference in age means some of the hokey, fun things we can do as we teach 5-year-old kids we cannot do as we teach students who are 10–14 years old. For instance, it just doesn't work to call older students word detectives, language sleuths, or investigators; or to use the sheer force of your personality to induce a whole classroom of 13-year-old students into analyzing a word. Your joy in language exploration, lessons that place students in the role of inquiring into how language works, lesson design that requires participation in productive and engaging work, and never giving up on bringing them into fuller literacy are professional gifts that we can give these older beginning readers.
We must avoid thinking of older beginning readers as less capable learners. Although a 12-year-old may have a smaller number of synapses connecting neurons in the brain than a 6-year-old, many people continue to acquire vocabulary and increase their skill and sophistication in language use throughout their lives. We do not know the effect of synaptic proliferation (a dramatic increase in the number of synapses that connect the neurons in the brain occurring from birth or infancy to around age 10) or synaptic elimination (a decrease in the overall number of synaptic connections) on human learners. We do have data from research in cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and social and behavioral psychology about the effects of an enriched environment on human learning; much is available from these areas of study that we can use in designing instruction. There is even some evidence from neuroscience about “experience-dependent brain plasticity”; in simple terms, the idea is that the brain continues to create new synapses in response to new experiences throughout the animal's life. (See Bruer, 1997, pp. 4–16, for an excellent discussion of the brain and education.)
I take the optimistic view (even more so as I age!): With rich and appropriate instructional environments, almost everyone who is not severely neurologically impaired can continue to learn and develop. Part of the literacy challenge with these older beginning readers resides in finding better combinations of instructional strategies, allowing enough time for learning to occur, and helping them learn to attend to instruction when other realms of their lives may have little or no support for academic learning.
You may still engage in whole-class instruction, particularly if you have a heterogeneous group or a combination class in grades 4–6. If you have a small self-contained class, or if you tutor students one at a time, the PWIM still works for you and your students. In a tutorial situation, though little is done with building the learning community and less with the social aspects of communication, the teacher and student can take turns selecting pictures.
How much faster the lessons move from identifying items in the picture, to classifying these words, to writing paragraphs simply depends on the abilities of the students. The time between generating words and generating sentences and paragraphs by students generally shortens with older students, but not always.
As in kindergarten through much of 2nd grade, the emphasis on spelling and vocabulary development continues, but the phonetic, structural, and contextual analysis becomes more limited and more focused:
- On patterns of need, diagnosed from what students say or write;
- On exceptions to general rules (if the plural of house is houses and blouse is blouses, why isn't the plural of mouse, mouses? What about the plural for rice?); and
- On language conventions that must be memorized, such as the difference in meaning and spelling between the capital city and the capitol building.
With older beginning readers, the teacher or class can designate certain words for the word list or word bank, while continuing to have all relevant terms and descriptions on the chart and all the sentences on printouts.
While these students may not have mastered useful phonics generalizations and spelling patterns, they usually have many of the mechanical skills emphasized at the early primary grades. For example, older beginning readers probably do not need to review the formation of letters, the names of letters, the difference between a letter and a word, the difference between a word and a sentence, and spacing between words.
Many older beginning readers have general understandings about the English language system that they are unaware of and are not using as readers and writers. These students' cognitions about how the English language works may range from simple to complex. For example, older students often recognize utilitarian spelling patterns (e.g., q is almost always followed by u) and useful phonics generalizations (e.g., when a word begins with /kn/ the k is silent or when a word ends in /ck/ as in check the last phoneme is /k/, and words do not begin with /ck/). Older students have understandings about sentence and paragraph content that can be built upon, such as the recognition of information that belongs together around a central idea in either English or Spanish. For students whose native language is Spanish, the similarities in the alphabet and in many of the phonemes (/b/, /d/, /f/) and syntax (as in the subject and predicate order in sentences or the functions of modifiers) can be used.
As you know, time is precious. Rapid diagnosis and the use of its results during and between lessons allow us to continuously shape instruction. So we engage in constant on-our-feet diagnosis; help students access and use what they already know; and teach and model the similarities of the cognitive processes of reading and writing. While our daily objectives focus on helping students become increasingly literate, our long-term goals include helping them learn more efficiently in school and helping them develop lifelong learning skills. After one or two picture word charts, you'll know what most individuals can do and how they perceive themselves as language learners; you'll also know about their general academic self-esteem.
Sequence of the Picture Word Inductive Model
Using the 10 steps of the PWIM (see Chapter 2, Figure 2.1), I've listed common modifications and extensions that may help you use the PWIM with older beginning readers. Adapt the PWIM to your situation and students, perhaps taking some of these suggestions and blending them with your own ideas. My list of modifications is aimed for students in 3rd grade or higher who need to increase their literacy skills.
Step 1. Ideas about pictures
- Choose additional pictures.
- Select pictures and photographs that support social studies and science units being taught. For social studies, use pictures of the neighborhood, the community, the town, or events to simultaneously anchor and expand students' explorations of the characteristics of these settings. For science, choose pictures of different animals and mammals in various settings (urban, rural, and rainforest), or plants (in houses, deserts, and oceans), or a variety of businesses and services (a dairy, the lunchroom workers, a dental hygienist). The list of possibilities is as extensive as the concepts and topics within the curriculum.
The picture and the process of converting it into a picture word chart continues to promote the expansion of students' vocabulary, the mechanics of spelling and language usage, and the use of observation in providing content and evidence in oral and written discourse. While there is continuing emphasis on phonetic and structural analysis, there is emphasis on content and what the picture shows. Particularly after 3rd grade, the picture can open an area of study and serve as a focal point for discussions, examples, and the exploration of a subject.
- Students can take their own photographs of scenes around their community, their neighborhood, the places they visit on field trips or beyond the school; develop their own picture word charts; classify their words; and write their own informative paragraphs or stories. Individual exercises should not replace the use of the PWIM with the whole class.
Step 2. Identifying items and ideas in the picture
- Target the first lesson as a group discussion about the picture if you have students who are shy or who have extreme language deficits.
- Spend more time discussing items in the pictures than you would with younger students. For example, you might bring in and have available during recess several different sports balls and have students talk about the games, and how the balls are alike and different. Activities like these build on what students know and expands their reading and spelling of these words.
- Students can scan, read, and gather additional information to identify items in the picture. For example, if you presented a picture of a farm with animals and equipment, you might provide a selection of fiction and nonfiction books about farm animals and life on the farm, which would expose students to additional resources and allow them to discover additional words or items to add to the picture word chart.
Step 3. Labeling the picture parts
- Label items in the students' native language.
- Label items in two languages.
- Use the sequence of seeing, saying, and spelling each word as an option, not a requirement.
Step 4. Reading and reviewing the picture word chart
- Begin the PWIM by reading and reviewing the chart together daily, but move the class toward silent practice and individual reading.
- Select certain words for reading or spelling emphasis.
Step 5. Reading and classifying the words
- Students need to become increasingly articulate about the categories they form and their attributes. For example, cheese, peach, chilled juice, inchworm—all have /ch/; together they make only one sound; and that sound is /ch/ as in church. Or, red car, big chrome bumper, tan leather seats, small steering wheel, four chrome wheels, wide tires—all describe the car in the picture.
- Students who are having difficulty pronouncing the words can use the American Heritage Talking Dictionary on CD-ROM. They can use their word cards for the correct spelling of the words.
Step 6. Reading and reviewing the word chart
Step 7. Adding words
- Ask students to find many words that belong to useful categories. Some of these words can be generated as part of the lesson; however, place greater responsibility on older students for accumulating additional words for homework than you would on younger students.
Step 8. Creating titles
- To introduce your students to the idea of creating titles, read to them the titles and first paragraphs or pages from well-written, informative books. Providing good examples of titles and explaining the relationship between titles and paragraphs advertises books you want students to read, emphasizes concepts being taught in other curriculum areas, and allows beginning readers to hear a fluent reader engaging with prose.
- Take opportunities to pursue, through paragraph development, the several equally accurate titles your students may suggest (suggestions from individuals and from groups). Work on denotations and cultural implications as they surface.
Step 9. Generating sentences and paragraphs
- Turn categories formed in Step 5 into paragraphs so students can understand how classifying content can help them organize their ideas into informative prose.
- Classify sentences into groups that form the basis for paragraph development.
- Gather additional information from nonfiction books; as information increases, so will the length of group compositions and individual compositions developed around different aspects of the picture. One well-organized paragraph, however, may still be a worthy goal for group and individual work.
Step 10. Reading and reviewing sentences and paragraphs
- Make several opportunities for students to do independent writing in their journals and create new sentences related to the chart.
- Ask students to serve as audience and supporting collaborators to help each other develop ideas.
- Use opportunities to put together multiple-paragraph pieces related to social studies content and to develop study guides.
Whatever teaching strategy is being used, we desperately need these students to engage in the effort to move forward into literacy: thus, the structure of lessons should minimize the possibility of passive participation and maximize student participation in their progress.
The Literacy Challenge with Older Students
The struggle with how to teach students to read well is always with us. How do we make our attempts—to help all children learn to read well enough to handle the materials they encounter in school and the materials they encounter as productive citizens—more productive?
Early in the schooling experience of most children, educators can identify the children for whom the system is not working. We generally know by the end of 1st grade which students are not learning to read or which students are not responding to the instruction the system is providing (Juel, 1988). We also know that the correlation of their reading performance with the probability they will drop out of school is significant at the .001 level (Garnier, Stein, & Jacobs, 1997); we are certain by the end of 3rd grade (Lloyd, 1978; Juel, 1988); we see the cumulative results of this lack of literacy at the beginning of middle school; and we see the tremendous number of students who quit school in 9th and 10th grades.
Particularly large urban districts are concerned about two well-documented national trends: (1) U.S. schools have been least successful in teaching children from low-income families to read (Cooley, 1993; McGill-Franzen, 1994); (2) Of the black youth who remain in school through 12th grade, 46 percent cannot read at a basic level; and 39 percent of Hispanic youth who remain in school through 12th grade cannot read at a basic level (Mullis, Campbell, & Farstrup, 1993). Moving back to the middle school level, the National Education Longitudinal Study of 8th graders (Hafner, Ingles, Schneider, & Stevenson, 1990; Kaufman, McMillen, & Bradby, 1992) reports that 6.8 percent of its 8th grade cohort had dropped out of school within the first two years of the study. Hispanic students and black students dropped out of the cohort at a rate twice that of their peers.
We have spent millions of hours and millions of dollars to help students of all ages who read and write poorly or not at all. And our success rate is not good. One hypothesis for explaining this poor return on our literacy investment questions the curriculum content and instructional strategies used in many of the compensatory and remedial programs. Serious concerns about remedial programs have been raised:
- Instruction in many remedial and compensatory programs has been influenced by “the legacy of `slow it down and make it more concrete'” (Allington, 1991). So little of the language curriculum is presented, and without the higher-order concepts, that many students cannot pull the skills pieces together and progress as readers.
- Oversimplification of content such that the instruction being used actually impedes literacy learning (Roehler, 1991).
- The time available for students in remedial programs to engage in reading is often less than that for their peers because the emphasis is on skills-based instruction instead of on reading and on learning reading strategies (Johnston & Allington, 1991).
- Instruction for good and poor readers frequently varies: Poor readers often experience lessons with less emphasis on the final performance (reading), and more emphasis on drills and materials that focus on fragments of literacy performance, as well as reinforcement of old reading strategies. Good readers are taught more effective reading strategies (Allington, 1983; Applebee, Langer, & Mullis, 1988).
- The less responsive students are to the curriculum and instruction they are experiencing, the more likely the educational system is to fragment their curriculum and daily lesson content—focusing instruction on the lowest-level subskills and losing sight of the student performance goals of reading and writing as communication (Pearson, 1992, p. 1080).
- Remedial programs usually take a synthesis of skills approach, teaching phonetic and structural analysis, comprehension skills, and vocabulary piece by piece, with the idea that the students will be able to put the pieces together at some time and read and write. The better students are given more opportunities to put all the pieces together as they read material at their level and more opportunities to build the concepts necessary for word recognition and comprehension.
- Instruction in writing is subject to the same criticism. The program for the more proficient students tends to be balanced among writing, communicating the message, and using standard grammatical conventions. Middle school and secondary students who have difficulty communicating through writing, however, receive instructional feedback that appears to emphasize grammar and mechanics, not the message each student is trying to communicate (Applebee, Langer, Jenkins, Mullis, & Foertsch, 1990; Gentile, 1992). Low performing students also have less time to write than high-performing students (Applebee, Langer, Mullis, Latham, & Gentile, 1994).
Researchers who have analyzed the operations and results of the compensatory and remedial reading programs offer much for us to think about as we work with these students or with teachers responsible for instructing them. For example, when students are placed in remedial programs, does the amount of reading and writing they do become reduced in favor of an unbalanced emphasis on skills taught in isolation from the acts of reading and writing? Are these skills taught piecemeal, disconnected from personal inquiry into how language works?
Allington (1994) and Moore and Davenport (1988) address how efficient schools have become in sorting those who can perform in the current curriculum and instructional program from those who cannot perform satisfactorily. Allington strongly recommends that schools spend less time and money on sorting students into special programs and groups and spend more time on providing instructional interventions and environments that teach all students.
Changing the Literacy Achievement Picture
When I work with schools in schoolwide action research or improving language literacy, I find belief in what I call the M & Ms of school improvement: materials, movement, and money. In other words, the people I work with think that if they just had more of those three things, they would have the magic wands for improving student achievement. In facilitating and working as critical friend with these faculties, I often ask them to check their school improvement or district improvement plans. Is the solution to low student achievement or to helping remedial readers too heavily weighted toward materials (investing heavily in new commercial programs? the right language kit? the right computer and software package?); toward movement (moving students into other classrooms, adding Title I classes, adding special education classes, forming alternative schools?); or toward money (seeking or expending funds on additional programs? adding staff?)?
I've spent many days, weeks, and months in remedial reading and compensatory classes during the last 25 years, and one of the major similarities across time and place has been an incredible reliance on commercial programs and skills development materials to improve reading achievement. I've seen many caring teachers who were primarily skillful materials and records managers. Yet, if these students were independent learners, if they could learn through materials, they would not be in these classes or groups.
Our remedial and compensatory programs may have continued as they are because of the belief that all we have to do is decrease class size and student achievement will improve. The stress of working with students from different backgrounds, the increased public attention to student achievement, and politics keep this belief fresh. This belief operates across U.S. districts and many states despite more than 30 years of reduced class sizes and small-group work for these students with an abysmal success rate in reading achievement. (In many districts, successful redesignation from remedial programs back into regular classroom programs is from 4 percent to 10 percent.) Of course, I like smaller classes. I was generally less fatigued with classes of 20 students than with classes of 30 to 35 students. I think it would take a reduction to 4 students per teacher, however, to make class size alone a durable factor in improved student achievement.
To improve student achievement in reading, the best investment is probably in ourselves—expanding the number of teaching strategies we have ready for use and expanding our understanding of the structure of the discipline of language arts. This is something that we—public school educators—have some direct control over. We cannot change neighborhoods, home environments, and socioeconomic circumstances, but we can change the range of instructional opportunities and the learning environments available for students and for ourselves.
We have the capacity to provide powerful literacy instruction. Although it would undoubtedly require extended staff development at the school or district level, we could provide our older students who are still learning to read with much more teacher and student interaction in which highly literate persons guide and facilitate their development in reading and writing and communicating. These students need teachers who will take them into a world that is currently inaccessible, and in some ways invisible, to them.
We are teachers and we have chosen our profession because we believe teaching works. Using a strategy such as the PWIM—or any of the inquiry-oriented and explicit instruction strategies—does not take much in the way of materials or movement. What it does require is continuous, focused teacher and student interaction and continuous action-research-on-your-feet instruction and a good basic knowledge of how the English language works. To that end, are school and district improvement plans weighted heavily toward expanding the staff's teaching repertoire and instructional range? Improving the staff's skills takes time, money, and focus—but it is probably the best investment a school or district can make for improving student achievement.
Applying and Consolidating Curricular and Instructional Principles
The picture word inductive model is not magic, nor do I mean to imply that it is a panacea for all literacy woes. It is just one powerful teaching strategy from a range of many available, both documented and undocumented. However, part of my professional affection for the PWIM is that it allows me to apply several curricular and instructional principles I believe in as a language arts teacher and educator. The PWIM allows me to consolidate my beliefs about what works in developing literacy:
- A multidimensional approach: Teaching several aspects of literacy simultaneously and using multiple teaching/learning strategies
- An inquiry-orientation: Teaching students how to learn and how to construct knowledge
- A collaborative orientation: Teaching students to learn together and support each others' efforts
- A formative assessment orientation: Using what students can do, what they notice, and the language arts objectives and skills of the curriculum to shape the next move in the lesson, the next lesson, or the next unit
- Explicit instruction: Using modeling, demonstrations, explanations, and applications to build knowledge and skill
- Metacognitive control: Developing students' knowledge and use of their own cognitive resources.
My teaching beliefs facilitate growth in reading and writing for all students. If we apply these beliefs more fully in our teaching, older beginning readers would have a better chance of making progress in literacy before giving up on the educational system. Older beginning readers are often branded academic failures; we might instead view them as learners who have been failed by the school system.
My beliefs come from my own experience as a teacher and from studying our professional knowledge base, gathering ideas, and trying them out. I could give you personal experiences and stories, research studies and syntheses, and reports of scholarly commentary until your eyes glaze. Instead, I ask you to think about your own set of operational beliefs that shape your teaching stance, interaction with students, and lesson design. Do you see ways that the PWIM could help you consolidate valued instructional principles? Do you see aspects of curriculum that it could enhance?
One of the advantages of the picture word inductive model is its respect for the learner. Respect is a valuable asset when working with students who have difficulty learning to read. Students generate the words and the sentences that will be learned and classified; they gather additional words and information from trade books and other resources. They learn from each other and from the teacher. The concepts they own about how language works are used to support instruction and are constantly being extended—despite their native language. Whether the student is 6 years old, 12 years old, or 36 years old, whatever is available as a language foundation can, through teacher and student interaction and collective effort, be a base for rapid literacy development.
A positive aspect in addressing the literacy challenge is that these older students, whatever their native language or home environment, bring more knowledge with them than 6-year-olds. The older students are more mature; if they choose to engage, they can make rapid progress, moving ahead in reading and literacy much faster than the average 6-year-old. Many older students who have not learned to read and write well are resourceful persons in their daily lives inside and outside of school; one of our aims in a rapid literacy development program is to have them use their natural cognitive resources for academic purposes.