Friday, September 12, 2008

Alphabet of woe

The other day I saw one of my (mildly annoying) students from last year. "Miss Brave," she said with interest, "are you a teacher now?"

"Am I a teacher now?" I repeated, slightly put out. "I was a teacher last year, too, my friend!"

"No, not a writing teacher," she replied with exasperation, "like a teacher teacher."

"I'm a reading teacher this year," I said.

"Oh," she responded, "so you turned into a reading teacher?"

Poof! Like magic, I've turned into a reading teacher! And I really enjoy it, too. Even though all I've done so far is running records (if I have to hear one more kid butcher his way through Fancy Dance -- in which the lines "They wear beadwork and bells. They wear feathers and fringe" frequently get mangled into "They were badwork and bells. They wear fathers and fingers" -- I might scream), I think I'm getting into the groove and gearing up for what's ahead. So far, that entails writing everything down in multiple places (I swear I am going to start dreaming of lists of kids' names that have letters of the alphabet -- representing their reading levels -- next to them) and color coding everything. I'm fully prepared for the fact that my administration is going to count all the labels in my binder to make sure I'm seeing my students enough times a week and that they're going to grill me when my kids don't move up on their running records.

Today we had an Academic Intervention Services meeting in which we discussed how many kids each of us could expect to have in our groups. I thought AIS groups were supposed to have no more than ten, hence the phrase "small group instruction," but it turns out we can go up to 15. Theoretically, we are supposed to be servicing the kids who are below grade level, but in some classes this can be up to three-quarters of the kids in the class. In one of my classes, 16 of the 22 kids are below grade level. So I asked, am I supposed to take 15 kids and leave 7 with the classroom teacher? We all agreed that this did not make sense.

Just to give those of you out there who are not reading teachers an idea of how this works: In reading, kids are assigned reading levels that correspond to a letter of the alphabet. Theoretically, kids should come into first grade at a level C and leave at a level I. (If you think that sounds like a big jump, you're right -- first grade is widely considered the most crucial year for reading progress. I've heard it said that if kids aren't reading on grade level by the time they leave first grade, they'll never catch up to grade level.) In second grade, they should enter at a level I and leave at a level M. The kids I will service in AIS range from A to H.

In order to find out what a kid's level is, you do something called a "running record." When you do a running record, a kid reads a book out loud to you while you sit there with a teacher's copy of the same text and record all his or her mistakes (or "miscues," as the running record calls them). (My favorite miscue so far has been "mother" for "mouth," so that a sentence about someone trying to whistle became "She puts two fingers in her mother and blows.") A handy little chart at the bottom of the running record converts the number of miscues to the percentage of words the child read correctly. Then you ask them some comprehension questions. In order to achieve a certain level, the child has to read with 96% or above accuracy and answer three out of four comprehension questions correctly.

We do running records five times a year, in September, November, January, March and May. Unfortunately, right now a lot of our kids are experiencing what we call "summer slump" or "summer slide," in which they don't read over the summer and forget how. I've had a lot of kids take dramatic tumbles from H all the way back down to E. On the one hand, this is disappointing, but on the other hand it probably means that they'll jump right back up pretty quickly (I hope).

The other day, a sweet boy for whom English is obviously not a first language said to me, "Miss Brave, when are you going to use me?"

Trying not to laugh, I asked, "What do you mean?"

"I've already read all these H books from Ms. C's class," he said, indicating his book baggie, "and I am ready to be an I!"

Awwww! Let's hope so!


X said...

Every year I have lots of kids who start out at M...and I teach seventh grade.

Ms. Peace said...

Hey I love your blog. I can totally relate. I'm a 4th year NYC public school teacher. Sorry to be dropping a link on a comment, but I'm haven't really figured out how to network with other bloggers.