What’s the Deal? D.O.L.

What’s the Deal? D.O.L.

Honestly, I didn’t even realize that teachers were still using DOL. I don’t mean that to sound snarky. I mean that as the honest to god truth. DOL otherwise known as Daily Oral Language is a practice from the past that needs to be retired. Research has indicated this practice is ineffective for years. Let’s learn a bit more. 

What is DOL?

D.O.L. stands for Daily Oral Language it is also sometimes referred to as D.L.R. or daily language review. The point of DOL is for students to practice writing conventions, grammar, and spelling skills. It does so in a “fix it” format. Students are shown several incorrect sentences or examples and have to find the mistakes and fix them. I completed many DOL pages as a child. Now they’re even digital but they aren’t beneficial. 

It Doesn't Work

There are a lot of reasons why DOL doesn’t work. Research shows that even though it might look like DOL works to improve grammar and language conventions it isn’t.  

Presenting Incorrect Information

We cannot present incorrect choices more than we present correct choices. Imagine a struggling student in your class. If this student constantly sees the incorrect spelling of words, grammatical mistakes, or punctuation errors they start to internalize these mistakes as correct. This not only confuses your diamonds in the rough but also your English as an additional language learner. These students don’t have much exposure to the language and every exposure they have to English they are absorbing everything they possibly can about the language. If they are constantly shown these mistakes they will begin to internalize them as correct. We don’t want to provide more non-examples than examples. It just doesn’t make sense. 

It doesn’t transfer.

Your average students may be able to do the task but the next problem with DOL is that it doesn’t transfer into student writing. Students who constantly fix where periods go in these jumbled, fix-it sentences are rarely able to apply this knowledge to their own writing. Isn’t the point of teaching spelling, grammar and writing conventions to help students improve their own writing? If it doesn’t even do that, respectfully, what is the point?

This leaves you with your advanced learners. These kids don’t need this practice. They already are able to do these skills so this additional practice doesn’t help them learn in any way. 

Repetition does not mean learning

Completing a task over and over does not ensure that knowledge is attained. If students solve three daily oral language problems a day, how does this help them improve as a writer? Imagine a classroom that has three math problems to solve each day and expects students to suddenly know how to multiply and divide or, better yet, multiply and divide fractions. Repetition can be good for learning but not in DOL. 

It teaches them by showing what they don’t know

Think about the math classroom mentioned above. Can you imagine sitting down each day trying to solve three multiplication and division problems of fractions with no other context or any other knowledge? Students would be frustrated. They would want the lesson to teach them how to do it. They would want the inquiry to try to solve this with more assistance. The same thing is true for grammar.

We can’t just place sentences in front of children with an “of course it should start with a capital letter and have end punctuation” sort of attitude. Such an attitude doesn’t even make sense as an educator. Of course, students need relevant instruction that is tied to what they are doing as a reader and a writer.

What To Do Instead

Grammar… ick. Most teachers are aware that grammar instruction needs to happen in the classroom but they don’t enjoy teaching it and don’t have strategies to teach it. Grammar and writing conventions need to be taught in the context of writing and reading instruction. Gone are the days when it is ok to teach these skills in isolation outside of the context of reading and writing. The skills taught need to be transferrable.

Teach grammar during reading. Notice grammar during guided reading or shared reading. Point out authors decisions and uses of the English language in a strong context. Teach grammar during writing. Help young authors learn that proper nouns need capital letters and sentences should end in punctuation. Teach them in the context of their own writing. Model this during shared writing. Show them over and over. Provide many correct examples and coach them in the use of grammar in their own writing. 

Questions?

Change can be difficult. Eliminating a practice from long ago that is no longer beneficial can be difficult but it needs to be done. Here are a few more articles if you still aren’t convinced. 

Why Daily Edits Aren’t Grammar Instruction: Teaching Grammar Through Guided Reading

Why Daily Oral Language Doesn’t Work

 

Let me know in the comments below how your journey to move away from DOL is going! 

Changing Our Thinking: Assessing, Not Assuming

Changing Our Thinking: Assessing, Not Assuming

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing the importance of not making assumptions about students and using assessment to guide our instruction.

 

How We Discuss Students

Kevin is good at math. DaQuain is good at science. Kara is good at reading. Amaria is good at writing. Teachers used to define students by what they were good at and what they aren’t good at. Recently I heard a colleague say, “And she is really good in math… you know, even though she is a girl.” This came out not even moments after I was praised for including STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) in my class this year. “It is so good for the boys. They really need that time. The girls like it too…” There is a real danger in categorizing kids and then holding kids to the label that has been applied. This becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers end up pushing kids harder in the subjects they are good at and creating excuses for them in the areas they aren’t so good at. I’m sure that as a child I was labeled good at reading and not good at math. I knew it. Teachers had lower expectations of me in math and I had lower expectations of myself. 

We need to believe that all students can learn every subject. All students can do challenging things. All students can learn. Our learners might have different learning styles and they might become proficient at different times but all learners can learn. 

What's the Problem?

Recently I completed an addition fact inventory of my students. We sat down one on one and I asked them different facts. What is one plus four? What is six plus zero? I took note of what they did. Could they answer the question? Could they answer the question within five seconds? This is part of our schools definition of fluent. Could they explain how they solved the fact? What strategy did they use? This information was so helpful to me as a teacher. My role in the assessment process was simply to document- yes they did, no they did not, what did they do. I was as objective as I could be. Later I was asked by a peer why I assessed everyone. Why didn’t I just assess the kids who were bad at math? 

The assumption that some of my students are bad at math and some are not is inherently problematic BUT the fact that we would assess students only based on our assumptions is extremely problematic. Listen, there is a saying about assuming things. Do you know it? If you assume you make an ass out of you and me. Just look at the spelling… Ok, inappropriate jokes aside, assuming is so harmful to student learning. 

While completing this fact inventory one of the students who might be considered the highest struggled the most. Had I assumed this student knew because he almost always has an answer first would have meant I missed gaping holes in his understanding of numeracy. One of my students who takes the longest to answer math problems and might be considered low actually had the best strategies for solving. This student consistently structured to five or ten and could always explain how they arrived at an answer. 

In reading, the same applies. I have a student who is quite a high decoder but while reading has very limited comprehension. This child would be considered a good reader and might not be assessed because she can decode. When kids miss comprehension questions while doing B.A.S. I can’t say, “Oh they know. They just made a mistake.” If kids actually know, they’ll do it. Sure, everyone has off days but, is this mistake due to an off day or a lack of understanding somewhere. I always try act as though it is a lack of understanding. Giving the benefit of the doubt during assessments doesn’t help student learning. 

The problem with making assumptions about our students is that we’ll usually get it wrong. When we make incorrect assumptions we are missing out on opportunities to teach. 

What to do Instead

Remain Objective

The most important thing I know about assessing students is go in with an empty mind. Try to be as objective as possible. Notice what students can and cannot do. Act as though this student belongs to another teacher. What do you notice? What can this child do independently? What understandings does this child have? What partial understandings does this child have? Are there any misunderstandings? These are the questions that will assist us as teachers. 

Assess Everyone

Don’t skip over kids because you’re sure they know. Assess all of your students. If you think they have an understanding and then see that they do have understanding- great! If you think they have an understanding but see that there are some misunderstandings- great! Now you can use this information to guide your instruction. Just the other day I noticed a student drawing tallies to solve a math problem but then counting by ones. This is information I can use to teach. I now know we need to work on structuring to fives. What do you know, this student doesn’t know how to count by fives past 20. Ok, now we’re talking. Now this is information that I can use. Imagine if I saw tallies and then just assumed this student knew how to use them. 

Don’t Give Kids the Benefit of the Doubt

Just, please. Recently during reading assessments I had a student who retold every story backwards. The student always started with the ending and then retold back to the beginning. This is something I hadn’t noticed before. I immediately thought, he must know. Why is he doing this today? If had just made an assumption and given him the points on the assessment he didn’t earn I would have missed this opportunity. Later while speaking with him he said he likes to start with what he remembers first. We later read a story about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Being able to retell a story in the order it happened is an important skill. We can work on this skill now. Giving him the benefit of the doubt would have meant a missed opportunity for learning. 

Understand That a Single Assessment is a Snapshot

I know this is totally cliché. I know but I am still going to say it. One assessment is just a single picture of learning in one particular moment and setting. You need to take each assessment as fact but don’t forget to put it back into the larger context of learning. 

Maybe today one of my students didn’t know four divided by two when I asked on the fact inventory but can always do it in class. I watch for the next few days and notice that this student consistently demonstrates proficiency. After observing I notice that the student does know how to divide by two. I can ask him the problem again and see or maybe I just decide he knows based on what I have observed and move on. Just make sure that this decision is based on something concrete and not an assumption. It is never bad to give additional practice just to check.

What I've Learned

Assessing students can be a tricky thing. I know that it is best to try to remove all bias when assessing. Look into their misunderstandings and try to understand where they are coming from. It’s tricky but I know that with practice it gets easier. 

Stop & Think! A Cautionary Tale About Sharing Reading Levels

Stop & Think! A Cautionary Tale About Sharing Reading Levels

This post is one of reflection as an elementary team leader and as an elementary teacher. It is also a cautionary tale against leveling students. I suppose you could say it is also a cautionary tale warning the dangers of not providing enough professional development to staff when introducing new methods. 

Even the Experts Disagree

Before we step too far into this hot topic. Let’s just reflect upon the experts and what they say. There are many more experts on this topic. I have just chosen Irene Fountas, Gay Su Pinnell, and Lucy Calkins for simplifying the arguments.

Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell are firmly against children knowing their reading level and reading levels being anything other than a teacher tool. Fountas and Pinnell hosted a webinar quite recently to express their thoughts on reading levels. If you follow Fountas and Pinnell on Twitter, you will frequently see this belief tweeted out. Reading levels are for teachers. Reading levels guide instruction but they are not the be all end all of reading instruction. Kids should not know their reading level. Reading levels should not be shared with parents. Classroom libraries should be organized by series, characters, topic, author, genre, or interest. I admit that I subscribe to the beliefs of F&P- especially after this year.

Lucy Calkins does not agree with Fountas and Pinnell. She believes that children should know their reading levels. It should also be clearly laid out for them what they will need to achieve as readers to move up to the next level. Calkins believes that 70% of the classroom library should be organized by level and the remaining 30% should be series, topic, author or genre. 

I’ve taught in schools where kids and parents were not told levels. In fact, when they did start to release levels to parents, the parents had to attend a class to learn about levels before they could learn their child’s level. I have taught in schools where levels were known by kids and parents and where levels were used as a motivator to push kids along as readers. I’ve worked at schools with no distinct policies and the choice is left up to teachers. While each school may work differently I’ve noticed one method with better success. 

What Our School Used to DO

At my current school teachers were given choice about reading levels. Some shared with kids and parents, some shared with parents, some shared with kids, some didn’t share at all. The reason reading levels were shared was to help quantify a child’s learning. If I tell a parent that this child started the year at a level B and is ending the year at a level H, the parent can see growth. Parents also liked it because they felt they could see how good a teacher was by how many levels a child moved up. I am aware that this is not how things go… but I’m just sharing what we did. 

Teachers were not provided much professional development at all in regards to reading levels. In fact, I was never even trained in the D.R.A. I had given F&P B.A.S. before and my principal said good enough, they were the same thing. The teacher education around reading levels and even best teaching practice from the last 10 years was almost nonexistent. We also switched to the workshop model with a 15 minute presentation from a colleague and me. There was no parent education on our new reading and writing curriculum because not all teachers were following it. As you can see, this was a recipe for disaster.

This inconsistency created a huge problem. There wasn’t flow from grade 0 through grade 5. Parents were confused by different expectations at each grade level. Some teachers shared DRA levels which are numbers and some converted our DRA scores to letter levels. Some classroom libraries were organized by level. Some classroom libraries were organized by topic or genre. There was a large outcry that we needed more consistency. This year we’re working to educate our staff and provide more consistency 0-5.

The Crisis We Created

Sharing reading levels with students can seem harmless. It is one way a teacher can help a teacher find a just right book. If a child knows they are a K then they can find a book that is a K. The problem is that readers began to identify with their level more than they should. Readers were quickly able to tell who were the best readers in the class and who were the worst based on level. It reminds me of the reading groups the existed when I was a child. The groups were clearly labeled by ability. Some kids were the birds and some kids were the worms. A reader’s identity is built up of so many things. Their interests and life experiences play a huge role. Their race and gender orientation and religion and so many of the important things that make that child unique play a role in their reading identity. It appears as though when a level is introduced the level begins to take precedence. 

The entire point of creating levels is to move up levels. Parents understand that decoding is essential to moving up. If you can read harder words then you can read harder books. When you and I were kids comprehension wasn’t stressed much. I had to do simple retells but the deep underlying comprehension was never part of my reading education. The comprehension you get to by inferring or reflecting on author’s craft was never required and many of our parents don’t even consider that when thinking about if a book is just right. Parents wanted their child to move through the levels and become better and better readers. Children wanted to move through the levels and become better and better readers. Teachers wanted the same thing and with little background or training on the levels began pushing kids through. Once a child could decode the story and do a retell, maybe a few other simple comprehension tasks they were moved on. The system seemed to work… until it didn’t. 

This year we switched from D.R.A. to Fountas and Pinnell B.A.S. I trained our teachers this August and we set out to assess our kids. I knew that scores would drop slightly because of the types of comprehension questions that would be asked. I knew that we weren’t teaching for comprehension and rich understanding but I had no idea what was in store. I converted the scores from the DRA to BAS and was shocked. Some 4th graders were listed at an 8th grade level. Most grade 3 students were supposedly reading at a 5th or 6th grade level. While we do have very intelligent children at our school, we do not have whole classes years ahead of where they should be. 

Teachers began to assess and the cracks started to show. As teachers worked to assess and assess the students were moved down and down. Even in my grade 1 class most students are currently reading at a beginning of grade 0 reading level. Where did we go wrong and how did we go so far off the tracks? The answer is simple. We didn’t train teachers in reading levels or our new reading curriculum. Without this knowledge teachers were doing their best to apply prior knowledge to an entirely new system. It clearly wasn’t work. Unfortunately the fix will not be an easy or simple one. 

Where do We go Next?

In the midst of our testing crisis we had a CPT meeting (Curriculum Planning Team). This team includes all elementary teachers and teaching assistants. We meet once a week to discuss a wide variety of things. We started to discuss classroom libraries and how we should organize them. A strong case was made for organizing them by level. It was easiest. Kids got it and their parents got it too. A few teachers were arguing against this. The whole reason we were in this testing mess was partially due to levels. At the end of the meeting tempers were rising and the debate was getting heated. As the leader, I pressed pause and said we would have to return to the topic another time. I suggested we look into educational research to guide us further, the teachers seemed to support this decision and I hoped it would lead us in a positive direction.

That night I went home and searched and searched for research. I was stunned to learn that I couldn’t find much research supporting leveled libraries. I did however read some interesting research explaining that reading levels are a sham. I always love to hear from opinions opposite my own to have my beliefs challenged and put into perspective. The next week I challenged our staff to form an opinion and find research to support their opinion. We would then continue the conversation with advice from the experts. 

The day of the meeting I was so nervous. It was a completely open decision. Our principal said that whatever was decided would be tested out for the year and we would reflect at the end of the year. I expected everyone to bring research that supported unleveled libraries but argue that we should still level ours. That didn’t happen at all. At the end of the meeting we decided that we did not want our libraries leveled. We instead wanted our libraries organized by genre and topic. We wanted kids to be able to quickly find stories they wanted to read based on interest, not level. Our classroom libraries are currently being unleveled. We are working to teach our students about choosing a book based on interest, not level. This has been a HUGE struggle for me. I will have to write another post just about this soon. We are hosting a parent education night to explain our program to our parents and we are slowly moving forward. This will be an uphill journey but we are beginning and that is what matters.

What I Hope You Can Learn From Us

When telling students and parents levels we hadn’t thought of the ramifications. I believe that if parents are to learn levels then there needs to be some sort of parent education tied to learning the levels. Levels are complex. So, so complex. This is the exact reason why Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell are so adamant about reading levels being used for anything other than a teacher’s tool. Kids need to build a reading identity and so often when they are given a level it becomes the only source of their reading identity. I can assure you that a large majority of the reading I do is far too easy for me. I like it though. I can tell you that I am the type of reader who loves nonfiction and young adult literature. I love reading blog posts and articles written in list format. I don’t know my reading level and even if I did I wouldn’t always follow it. Readers are complex and reducing them to a level takes away the complexity. 

thoughts

I know this post is a bit jumbled as I continue try to wrap my head around our current situation and determine next steps moving forward. What are your thoughts on sharing reading levels? How does your school do it? Do you have any advice for our school moving forward from this? I would love to hear what you have to say!

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom