Jefferson Reading Teachers Implement Unique ELA Strategy Using Song, Poems & Performance

“But if you only have love for your own race, then you only leave space to discriminate, and to discriminate only generates hate, and when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah,” sang Jefferson Middle School seventh and eighth graders at a recent Morning Fluency Performance in the library. The students were singing “Where is the Love,” by the Black Eyed Peas as part of a reading support group.

Jefferson Middle School Reading teachers Amber Promber and Stephanie Wilson developed the unique fluency performance based on a workshop they attended with Dr. Timothy Rasinski at LoGuidice Center early this year. The teachers knew from the assessments that students needed fluency and vocabulary instruction in order to increase their comprehension.

“I remember listening to Dr. Rasinski and getting so excited because he was giving us ideas on how to work with our students,” said Ms. Promber.  “He began with a childhood song, and those that remembered the song were welcomed to sing along  I know songs that I haven’t heard for years come on the radio and I begin singing along and instantly know the words. Who doesn’t love music? Part of his concept is to teach reading fluency by song lyrics, poetry, and speeches.”

The teachers began to get to know the students by having them fill out a Reading Inventory that they created, in order to understand how the students felt about reading and what they enjoyed.  Most of the students had negative attitudes about reading, especially reading aloud in front of peers.

The teachers followed “The Fluency Development Lesson (FDL)” created by Dr. Rasinski with each group.  First, they read the previous text as a group or in a partner read in order to practice accuracy and fluency. Then, the teachers introduced a new, short passage (part of a song, poem, and/or speech). The groups discussed the structure, content, and meaning of the short passage and practiced chorally reading the passage several times as a group. Then, students practiced reading the passage in pairs or triads giving fluency feedback to their group members.

Teachers chose a few words from the short passages for students to add to their vocabulary. Students brainstormed examples and non-examples of the vocabulary word, and then created a student-friendly definition.  Students were encouraged to take a copy of the passage home to practice with parents, family members, pets, teachers, and other students. 

“I got a lot out of it,” said Jefferson Middle School eighth grader Rosairis Morales. “Some words, like terrorism, I had never heard of and by listening and reading the song, it helped me understand the meaning better and overall made me a better reader. It is fun, simple and fast. I don’t really like reading but I love doing this type of reading and using music and poems to motivate me to read better.”

The key that brings the fluency lesson together is the performance portion. Students performed their pieces multiple times to principals and other teachers.

“I think this type of learning through performance is good for students because they gained confidence; they worked as a team, and helped each other,” said Mrs. Promber.  “They had control in how the class was going to go. As teachers, we were just guiding them through the steps, and modeling how the reading was to be done.  It was fun because we shared different music that we enjoyed.  I now also have a different variety of music that the students introduced me too.  We always encouraged them to practice, and taught them through repeated practice, we were bound to improve.  They trusted us, and knew that our rooms were a safe place to learn.”

The program has been a success. According to data from the Scholastic Reading Inventory (a test of reading comprehension), the eighth graders all improved their Lexile (scale of reading ability) scores. The average yearly growth for an eighth-grader is about 58L. Students who participated in this program gained from 50 Lexiles to over 400 Lexiles.

“When students know they will be performing a text, they are provided with an authentic reason to read a text again and again,” said Annette Miller, JPS ELA Coordinator. “Each time they read, they understand the text at a deeper level and improve their fluency- just as an actor, singer, or poetry reader would. This repeated practicing, culminating in a performance, just makes sense. Mrs. Promber and Ms. Wilson know that the complexity of teaching requires continual growth and development and regularly take advantage of opportunities to learn from respected researchers, such as Dr. Rasinski. They should be commended for their initiative and professionalism.”

posted on 07/17/2014 - filed under: Academics, ELA, Middle School, Spotlight, Students, teachers