Teacher Scholar Voices

The Critical Consumption of Curriculum: Exploring the Reading and Writing Connection in Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention Program

Teacher Scholar Voices

Brecon Riley

This past year, I worked as a reading intervention teacher and coach at a school in the Oakland Unified School District. I was given the Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) program to use, with the promise that this would result in significant gains for my students, all of whom were more than two grade levels behind in their reading. When I first began my inquiry I wanted to determine the overall effectiveness of this literacy program. However, as I refined my thinking during my Mills Teacher Scholars inquiry sessions, I decided to narrow my focus to the writing component of the program.

LLI places heavy emphasis on having students write about their reading. In fact, every other day students spend the largest portion of their time (15 minutes) writing about texts, rather than reading.

As a teacher, you hear countless times that reading and writing are connected. Logically, this makes sense to me. One could easily argue, for example, that reading rich narratives by published authors would help children to write a higher quality narrative themselves. What I was not so clear on, however, was how writing could or would inform children’s ability to read texts. I wanted to see how and why such a heavy emphasis was placed on writing in this program in order to increase students’ reading levels.

Indicators of Success

My first step in analyzing the writing to reading connection was to determine what success looked like for my students. Obviously, increasing their reading levels would be “succeBreconPic1ss” in terms of the intervention program. But what did “success” look like in terms of the reading and writing connection? After much deliberation (and through the help of my colleagues) I landed on several indicators of success that I hoped would build my second graders’ early reading skills through writing. I wanted students to use their growing knowledge of phonics, spelling patterns, and sight words in their writing. An additional indicator was that students would be able to re-read their own writing with accuracy.

Figuring Out that Tricky Word

Once a month, Daniela, our Mills Teacher Scholar facilitator, would come to collect video data of my students re-reading their writing and also to interview them. Through this process I was able to both see my students’ thinking as they read and solved words, and also to hear their opinions on writing about their reading. I noticed that students were using more meaning cues when solving for unknown words when re-reading their own writing, whereas, they seemed to rely on mostly visual cues when reading a published text. This was what I hoped students would do as readers– consistently use visual, structure and meaning cues to read words.

There was one particular video, in which an English learner student, Jessica*, was solving for the word “nuts.” She first sounded out the word as “huts,” mistaking her roughly written “n” for an “h,” but quickly realized that did not make sense in the story. Jessica remembered that the mother bear’s favorite food was honey, so she then corrected herself and replaced “honey” for “huts.” When she crosschecked with the visual cues, she realized that “huts” did not look like “honey” and though she showed signs of confusion on her face, she was adamant that the word should be “honey,” since this is what the mother bear liked in the text she had read. Seeing Jessica work through this thought process showed me that she was independently using multiple cuing systems to help her solve unknown words. Interestingly, during reading time in our group, I often had to prompt Jessica to do this kind of thinking.

I found that the other students I worked with also used more meaning cues when solving unknown words in their own writing in comparison to when they read published texts. When Michael* was re-reading his writing (pictured to the right), he read “fall” instead of “fly” the first time through. However, he immediately realized that this story was about what animals can do, so he went back and re-read the sentence, inserting the correct word, “fly.”

Based on this data, I was able to draw the conclusion that having students write about their reading allows them to create deeper meaning and use this understanding to solve for unknown words. I hope that with continued practice of reading their writing aloud, students would be able to transfer this skill to reading other texts as well. I will be delving more into this idea next year.

More Questions than Answers

The Mills Teacher Scholars inquiry process sparked my curiosity around the reading and writing connection and allowed me to be a critical consumer of curriculum that addressed this connection. Rather than just take the Fountas and Pinnell LLI system at face value, I was able to evaluate the implications and effectiveness of a particular component of the program.

[callout template=”default” border_top= “10px #83ab3f solid” border_bottom=”10px #83ab3f solid” font_style=”italic”]”The Mills Teacher Scholars inquiry process sparked my curiosity around the reading and writing connection and allowed me to be a critical consumer of curriculum that addressed this connection.” [/callout]

The Mills Teacher Scholars process also called for me to look closely at particular focal students. By collecting data on only a few students, I could get a greater depth and range of data, including video, student interviews and writing samples, and generalize what I learned to draw conclusions about the effects writing has on reading. I used the information gained from these focal students to enhance the writing portion of the program for all of the children I worked with.

As a result of my inquiry work I ended the year with more productive questions to investigate. I am still left wondering about additional ways writing instruction can enhance students’ reading abilities. How exactly does having students sound out words in Elkonin boxes for their writing help them decode during their reading? How does writing increase students’ abilities to critically think about a text? Does writing help students use all types of cues (meaning, structure and visual) when solving for unknown words? I am hoping that further inquiry projects will lead me to greater understanding.

*name changed for privacy

Brecon Riley is currently an instructional coach at Transformational Schools on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. During the 2015-16, school year she worked as a reading intervention teacher and literacy coach at RISE Community School in East Oakland and participated as a teacher scholar leader in the Mills Teacher Scholars program. She has worked as a 3rd and 4th grade mentor teacher on the south side of Chicago, as well as a preschool teacher.