When I was a new high school English teacher, I struggled to know how to support my students’ learning. It seemed like no matter how well I planned, differentiated instruction, or scaffolded lessons many students were not meeting the learning goals I created. I was frustrated because I did not possess the knowledge or skills to properly support my students.
Looking for ways to help struggling students
The students I taught during most of my tenure were, for lack of a better term, struggling readers. Most scored below “proficient” on the state reading assessment. As a secondary English teacher, I knew very little about reading development because I did not take literacy courses in my undergraduate program, and the students I taught could read. I taught literature and writing, and most of my efforts were aimed at getting students interested in texts that had very little to do with their everyday lives.
Applying what I was learning in my classroom
However, my efforts were redirected when I enrolled in a master’s program focusing on obtaining a clear picture of my students as readers. Almost immediately I was able to apply things I learned in my master’s classes in my classroom. At the beginning of one school year, I was enrolled in a reading assessment and intervention course. One assessment we learned about was a spelling inventory. A spelling inventory is a list of words chosen for their specific spelling or phonic features and is curated in an increasing level of difficulty. The results show a picture of each student’s orthographic development. From the assessment, I found that four students’ results suggested their orthographic development was at a range most often seen in middle elementary (grades 2-5).
Questions and concerns about educational journeys
These results left me with many questions and concerns about these students’ educational journeys, but more importantly, now that I was aware that there was a potential issue, I was compelled to investigate further to get a more detailed picture of each of these students’ reading needs. Using various assessments that were part of the assessment course, I was able to identify the reading needs that were unique to each student. From there, I developed a plan for each student that I thought would best support their reading development using resources learned from the master’s courses.
Because of the information I learned about my students’ reading development from the spelling inventory, I began every following school year by giving the spelling inventory. It was Step 1 in getting a more detailed picture of each student as a reader and a learner that state assessment data cannot provide.
The reading courses I took during my master’s degree program provided me with the knowledge and tools I was missing to better support my students’ learning needs. I became a more effective teacher as a result.
By: Tim Jansky, EKU Assistant Professor
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About the Author
Dr. Tim Janskyis an Assistant Professor at Eastern Kentucky University. His scholarship focuses on supporting the development of early career teachers through dialogue with moments of struggle.