It is not enough to know that a student is a struggling reader. Knowing a child’s grade level in terms of reading is helpful, but this is still not enough information to plan a targeted program of remediation.
There are many commercial diagnostic assessments available; however, any assessment, whether commercial or teacher- designed, should include the following elements:
- A phonemic awareness test that includes blending and segmenting of words For example, “What is this word – /t/ /a/ /p/?” (blending) and “What are the sounds that you hear in the word “sit?” (segmenting) This should begin with words that have 2 phonemes (“me”) and continue to include words with 4-5 phonemes (“band,” “stand”).
While there are other components of phonemic awareness (rhyming, phoneme deletion, onset-rime, etc.) phoneme blending and segmenting are the two skills that are most highly correlated with reading success.
- A single word assessment, with examples of real words and non-words from a sequential list, beginning with CVC short vowel words and including words with initial and final blends and digraphs, long vowel pairs, diphthongs, variant vowels, and words with 2-3 syllables
- A list of high frequency words The words missed should be recorded and then included in daily practice activities. The use of multi-sensory techniques is especially useful in learning to read and spell these often irregular words.
- A short decodable passage with patterns that the student has mastered (from the test #2 above “Single Word Assessment”) Ask the student to read orally and then to recall facts and details from the passage in a “retell”. While the student is reading, record any errors to help with identification of the student’s specific decoding difficulties.
- A grade level passage Ask the student to read orally and then to recall facts and details from the passage in a “retell.” While the student is reading, record any errors to help with identification of the student’s specific decoding difficulties.
(Note: Struggling students typically perform significantly better when reading the decodable passage. If a student reads the grade-level passage more fluently, he may be attending to context clues and using background knowledge to “guess” at the words. This student will still need explicit instruction and practice in decoding skills to fill in any gaps in this critical skill.)
- A spelling inventory Ask the student to spell isolated words with the same patterns as in Step #2 “Single Word Assessment.” This will help to determine which of the patterns the student is not only able to decode, but to encode as well.
- A writing sample Ask the student to choose a familiar topic and write a story (narrative) or a factual piece (expository) about the topic. This will help to determine the student’s knowledge of sentence structure, mechanics such as capitalization/punctuation.
When all of this information has been compiled and analyzed, the teacher can determine which phonemic patterns need to be taught using single words, phrases and then decodable text. Elements of written expression can also be analyzed and target for explicit instruction.
Lynn has been a practitioner in the field of literacy education for almost 40 years and has served as a special education teacher, teacher educator and trainer, intervention director, and university professor. Her focus has always been on intervening with struggling readers and on helping educators to do this most effectively. Lynn is the developer and facilitator of OGOA’s Connect to Comprehension Course.
When working with those with learning differences, it is important to be a quality diagnostician. What I mean by this is to always be diagnosing the student’s strengths & weaknesses in order to accurately prescribe the explicit instruction that Lynn mentioned above. The most effective way to do so is by using testing protocols that target the specific areas needing remediation. Lynn’s list of assessments are the perfect compilation to administer to the struggling reader.
The Orton Gillingham Online Academy also provides an informal coding assessment in the comprehensive Orton Gillingham basic language Course that targets these specific areas as well. The main thing here is that benchmark assessments need to take place 2-3 times per year, along with weekly or bi-monthly progress monitoring to make certain the students are responsive to the instruction. Continuing an intervention plan without doing so is like driving to an unknown destination without the correct road map. We will get lost every time. Too many students get “lost” in the education system due to ineffective instruction. Providing our students with the correct “road map” to navigate the system successfully is one of the greatest gifts we can offer them.
Keep doing what you are doing because the world needs what only you have to offer!