Literacy Case Study - Reading Ability Group

Mini Case Study

Clinical Observation Log
Noah is a 6 ½ year-old boy in Barbara Parker’s 1st grade class. According to Ms. Parker, Noah performs in the “middle” reading ability group. She indicated that Noah would probably be a good candidate for this case study.Over the course of eight two-hour visits (between September 23rd and October 28th), I was able to observe Noah in a Literacy class setting. Since Noah seemed unaware that I was paying special attention to him during my visits, I was able to inconspicuously observe him in his natural environment.

During the whole group Literacy instruction time (i.e. as students sat on the carpet, and Ms. Parker taught Literacy to all of them simultaneously), Noah often looked tired, bored, and/or distracted. When he yawned and wiggled in his seat sometimes, it seemed like he was having a difficult time focusing on the lesson.

Oftentimes, Noah was not looking at Ms. Parker as she taught. Instead, he sometimes looked around the room or at the ground. When Ms. Parker posed questions to the entire group, only rarely did Noah raise his hand to volunteer an answer. This suggests that perhaps Noah feels shy, tired, or perhaps even lacks confidence when in a large group setting.

On my third visit, during group Literacy instruction, Ms. Parker had to remind Noah twice to pay attention. On that same day, Ms. Parker was giving students words orally to write on their papers. Noah was distracted, and he got behind during the dictation. He should have already written four words on his paper (sack, stack, pack, tack), but he had not written any of the words. In order to catch up, he copied the words from his neighbor’s paper.
He was also once reminded to follow along with his “reading finger” as the class read a decodable book aloud. Because Noah was not paying attention at one point, he was looking at the correct page. On a positive note, Noah was able to perform well and read accurately when he stayed on task and followed the text with his “reading finger.”

Fluency and Punctuation
The times I observed the teacher calling on Noah to answer a question or to read aloud, he usually performed satisfactorily. For example, on my second visit, Ms. Parker called on Noah to read an entire page out of an Open Court decodable book. The passage included a question and a statement. He was able to read the words flawlessly, as well as show inflection in his voice for the question. In this example, this demonstrated that Noah understood the distinction between sentences that use question marks and sentences that end with periods.

Noah’s familiarity with punctuation was highlighted on my eighth visit, when the class was dissecting sentences from a decodable book. The dialogue was as follows:

Ms. Parker: What kind of sentence is that, Noah?
Noah: A question.
Ms. Parker: Good!

The ability to recognize and distinguish various punctuation marks is extremely important in developing fluency. However, it is definitely evident that Noah needs more practice with punctuation in order to improve his fluency. On my fourth visit, Ms. Parker asked Noah to read the sentence, “Is the bug big?” Noah first attempted reading the sentence as a statement, not as a question. She reminded him to read it as an “asking sentence,” and to use inflection in his voice. After her assistance, Noah read the question appropriately. When Ms. Parker told him to read aloud the sentence, “No!” a similar problem occurred with his intonation. She had to remind him to read the exclamatory sentence with emphasis and emotion. (Note: IRI results will later show that Noah struggles with punctuation when reading orally.)

During a dictation test on my third visit, the students were asked to write the word “snack.” I noticed Noah was silently making a genuine effort to sound out the word. He used a hand gesture to indicate the letter “c,” and he also looked up at the Open Court alphabet to assist him in this task.
Noah showed interest in the lessons during many key moments when the entire group was asked to vocally participate in phonics exercises. It was clear that Noah enjoyed participating in phonics games that involved hand/body gestures. For example, on my fourth visit, Ms. Parker taught the students a hand gesture to represent the “g” sound. She then said different words, and students were instructed to make the gesture only if the word began with the “g” sound. However, Noah made the hand gesture after every single word Ms. Parker said, regardless of whether or not it started with “g.” Based on this observation, it was difficult to conclude whether or not Noah understood this concept. Nevertheless, it was obvious that he took pleasure in this activity, possibly because it allowed him to move and be active.

On my fourth observation of group Literacy, Ms. Parker asked Noah to find the appropriate vocabulary word on the board that means “a blast of wind” (answer: gust). He had not been paying attention, so he asked Ms. Parker to repeat the question. After she asked him again, Noah was unable to identify the appropriate word. When another student answered the question correctly, Ms. Parker then asked Noah to come erase the word “gust” from the chalkboard. He was successful in locating the word once it was told to him, but he was unable to define the word.

Invented Spelling
Invented spelling is highly common among students at this age, and it plays an important role in helping them learn how to write. When children use invented spelling, it shows that the child is thinking independently and analytically about the sounds of words and the logic of spelling.
Noah exhibited the use of invented spelling, in both observations and in the Early Literacy Assessment of the IRI. The following examples demonstrate Noah’s invented spelling during a journal writing session (words in parenthesis are the actual spellings):

hokegam - (hockey game)
stow - (stole)
fum - (from)
nott - (knocked)
uttrtem - (other team)
gole - (goal)

Although Noah uses invented spelling quite frequently in his writing, he scored 100% on an oral spelling test during one of my visits.
IRI Administration
Building Rapport - October 7, 2004

What kinds of activities do you like to do in your spare time?
Eat ice cream and play outside on my swing set.

Do you like to read?

Why do you read?
Because reading is fun.

How do you think reading helps you?
Reading helps me learn about animals and stuff.

Do you read at home?

How often do you read at home?
Pretty often.

What kinds of things do you like to read?
Dr. Seuss

What are some of your favorite books?
Danny and the Dinosaur [by Syd Hoff]. A Dr. Seuss book that I like is Left Foot, Right Foot.

What is reading? How would you describe reading to someone?
Learning about things.

What do people do when they read?
They look at pages and read the book.

When you’re reading, do you ever come to a word that you don’t know?

What do you do when that happens?
I sound it out.

Is there anything else you do?
Sometimes I ask my mom for help.

Do you know someone who is a good reader?
My mom.

What makes your mom a good reader?
Because sometimes she reads me books before bedtime, and she knows all the words.

What is your favorite part about reading? What comes easiest to you in reading?
The pages, because they tell you something when you read them.

What is the most difficult part about reading?
When I come to a long word that I don’t know, and I have to sound it out.

How does reading make you feel?
It makes me feel good when I read out loud.

Analysis of Instructional Implications

In regard to the retellings, Noah was inconsistent. Of the six passages he retold, he completed two “excellent” retellings, two “satisfactory” retellings, and two “unsatisfactory” retellings. However, Noah’s main area of weakness was his oral readings. He showed difficulty with word recognition, punctuation, and overall fluency. He had a significant number of miscues on five out of the six passages, which categorized them in the “frustration” level. Some of Noah’s less frequent miscues during oral readings included reversals and repetitions. His most common miscues involved substituting other words or phrases and omitting words or punctuation.

Lack of Fluency
Much of Noah’s oral reading in this assessment lacked fluency, which is a common characteristic of students at the beginning stages of reading. His words were frequently choppy, hesitant, and appeared laborious. This is to be expected, since reading is a developmental process. It is only natural that early readers do not read as smoothly as more experienced readers. Noah’s oral reading skills were possibly negatively affected by several factors. First, he may have felt awkward or uncomfortable reading out loud to a person he does not know very well. Also, he may have been distracted by noises and other activities that were happening in the hallway where the testing took place. In addition, Noah periodically yawned during all the observations. This suggests that he was tired and not operating at his full potential. All of these factors were reasons why I administered two sets of word lists and passages—in attempt to obtain the most accurate results possible.

It is likely that Noah’s lack of fluency is directly related to his limited word identification strategies, low sight vocabulary, and/or insufficient practice. Over time, his struggles will likely diminish, therefore improving his overall reading abilities. As Noah’s sight vocabulary and word identification strategies advance, his fluency will probably flourish.

There are several specific literacy strategies that could be implemented to address some of Noah’s reading difficulties. Encouraging Noah to continue reading books (including pattern books) at his “independent” and “instructional” levels is extremely important. It is also imperative for Noah to hear adults read to him so that he can learn correct phrasing, intonations, and expression. “Echo reading” is also a useful strategy that would help him learn better reading habits. Modeling appropriate intonation and punctuation from a simple text would help Noah to be a more fluent, independent reader. Providing books on tape for Noah to listen to (as he follows along with the book) is a fantastic way for him to hear a fluent reader. Another technique to consider is allowing Noah to tape record himself reading a story, which would give him an opportunity to critique his own reading. All of these strategies are potential methods for Noah to work on improving his fluency.

Ignoring / Omitting Punctuation
A common mistake in Noah’s oral reading is that he often ignored punctuation. Not only did this mistake often result in improper intonation, phrasing, and expression, but it frequently changed the entire meanings of the sentences. There may be a few explanations for this problem. First, Noah may be so primarily focused on word identification as he reads text that he may inadvertently ignore punctuation. Although it is possible that he may in fact notice punctuation marks as he reads, he may be overly concerned with correctly pronouncing words. This could result in his forgetting to acknowledge punctuation.

Despite often ignoring punctuation and using inappropriate intonation, Noah correctly identified most punctuation that appeared in the given texts. For example, in the Early Literacy Assessment, he correctly identified a period, exclamation mark, and question mark. However, he did confuse a comma with an apostrophe. So, the problem apparently is not that he is unable to recognize punctuation marks, but that he perhaps has not had enough practice expressing punctuation when he reads orally.

Noah needs more direct experience in understanding the role of punctuation in text. For instance, he should be taught basic punctuation concepts in natural reading and writing environments.
Reading picture books that instruct children about punctuation would likely be an effective and entertaining springboard for a lesson on the proper uses of punctuation. An example of such a book is Punctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver.

Limited Word Recognition
It was evident in some of the Graded Word Lists and Graded Passages that Noah had some difficulty with word recognition. For both Forms A & B of the Pre-Primer and Primer word lists, he scored at the instructional level. He was at the frustration level for both Grade 1 word lists. Sometimes, Noah substituted real or made-up words for the actual word. Other times, he opted to “pass” or waited to be told unknown words instead of attempting the words himself. Perhaps being able to “pass” words was new concept for Noah, so he might have taken advantage of this option more so than in normal situations.
The high number of miscues in the oral passages resulted in frustration levels for five out of the six readings. A good majority of these miscues can be attributed to Noah’s lack of word recognition. Since Noah is a 1st grader, this data would suggest that in terms of word identification, his word recognition is at a Primer level.

During the “Building Rapport” portion of the IRI, Noah said that he sounds words out when he is attempting an unknown word. Although this is an excellent strategy to use, it would be beneficial for him to practice using different strategies as well. For instance, when reading a passage, he should try to remember using context clues to help him identify words. By noticing the words surrounding the unknown word, this might help him think of a word that makes sense in the sentence. Also, he might try to determine if the unknown word is similar to any of the words that are part of his reading vocabulary. In addition, more practice with identifying root words, prefixes, and suffixes would probably help him correctly pronounce many more words.

Overall, Noah performed well in the Early Literacy Assessments. In addition, he was usually able to do a satisfactory or excellent job of retelling the stories. The area that was most outstanding involved his answers for the comprehension questions for all of the graded passages, both in oral reading and silent reading. On both Forms A & B of the graded passages, he answered the comprehension questions at the independent or instructional levels through Grade Level 1.

It is interesting to note that despite his overall lack of fluency and significant amount of miscues in most of the oral readings, he scored very well on the comprehension questions. This suggests that although he makes mistakes when reading passages orally, he is able to successfully grasp the overall concepts. Noah seems to understand that the primary goal of reading is comprehension. This is supported by the fact that when I asked him to define “reading,” he responded by saying, “[Reading is] learning about things.”

It can be concluded that over time, Noah will become a much better reader. Developmental maturation, increased practice, and perhaps, the occasional reminder to stay on task, will help him excel in reading.