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September 12, 2011 Evidence-Based Small Group Literacy Instruction: Measuring Progress and Growth By Angela Bunyi
Grades 3–5


    It feels great to be back! This is my fourth year writing with Scholastic, and with each year I have written through the lens of a different grade level. My posts have detailed my time as a fourth grade teacher when I freshly transitioned from being a literacy coach, a third grade teacher, which followed my time teaching fifth grade, and now my current role of academic/literacy interventionist for a K-6 school. In this role, I am responsible for small group literacy instruction for select students in kindergarten through 6th grade. With the great responsibility of meeting individual student needs, and quality small group planning and instruction, there is little down time. With up to four small groups per grade level each day, it is possible that I need to create up to 28 lesson plans a day. How does one know what to plan? More importantly, how does one know what is successful? I am finding it critical to utilize evidence-based literacy instruction and assessment to guide instruction, and I'd like to share some tips on making the most of your time with small group work in your classroom. In this post I have included some printable resources and hands-on materials for literacy instruction as well.


    Know Your Literacy Standards: I Can Statements/CAFE Board

    In many schools and districts it is a requirement to clearly post the learning standards for the day in your classroom. This is the case in our school as well but with two modifications. The first modification is the wording of the standard, which should be converted to student-friendly, but explicit terms. The second modification is that, for example, if a visitor were to enter a classroom and see students working with play money and ask, "What are you doing?" the student could respond with, "I am creating different ways to make change from a dollar." 

    In many of our classrooms, you will find I Can T-Charts on the board, to help create purpose behind the posting of the standards. With this procedure in place, students are better equipped to know what they are learning -- and with meaningful lesson planning -- why.

    Considering I work exclusively under the literacy umbrella for planning and instruction for grades kindergarten through sixth grade, I will be utilizing the CAFE board in a modified fashion. CAFE stands for comprehension, accuracy, fluency, and expanding vocabulary and comes from the work of Gail Boushey and Joan Mosher.

    Each week, students will receive guidance under each component. Utilizing this organization, student-friendly learning standards will be organized and displayed on the board each week.

    Supportive Downloads

    CAFE Banner Headings: CAFE_poster

    Sample Reading and Writing Targets: Sample CAFE targets


    Measurable Goals/Outcomes: Teachers and Students

    In the state of Tennessee, aggressive changes have been made under the new evaluation process. It is a stressful time for many teachers, but one of the 64 (yes, 64!) evaluated points sticks out to me. Before going through my first observation this year, my administrator reminded me to make sure I make it clear to my students what goals and outcomes were expected. So, for example, if I was working with a student on segmenting phonemes in words a measurable goal might sound like this, "Sam, you have been doing a great job segmenting the sounds in these words. In fact, if you can accurately segment the next five words with me, then I'll know you have this and we can move on to the next part of our lesson." What I think is significant about this is that it takes the hunch portion of the "I know they know it" out of the lesson and creates a perimeter for both the teacher and student. Even with the challenging task of listening to a child read out loud during a guided reading session, one can create the goal of using taught strategies or self-monitoring how many errors are encountered while reading. 


    Photo: This student works on rhyming, initial sounds, and stretching sounds out using a slinky. How does one measure success?

    Weekly Progress Monitoring

    My position requires weekly progress monitoring assessments for students each week. Based on these results, I am able to create tailored and specific small group lesson plans. For example, first graders will address specific sight words in fun and engaging ways while kindergartners will address a few select letter names or sounds. Using progress monitoring results, my literacy team can teach students exactly what they need to know. More importantly, keeping these weekly results in a portfolio help us all monitor and track the progress of each and every student. After having a teacher ask how a student was doing, I was able to pull out my notebook that clearly showed areas of strength and areas for improvement. And it's really motivating to have specific assessments each week that measure the progress made with each student. After working with first grade students on adding, deleting, substituting, and segmenting phonemes I was excited to see growth from every student. 

    So, although my position requires weekly progress monitoring-and with specific assessment criteria -- I encourage you to create an assessment portfolio for your students this year. In only a few short weeks, our portfolios for each student speak volumes! And I'll be honest, I have had years where I very much kept up with student work through portfolios successfully only to struggle with it the next year. As it is the beginning of the school year, there is still time to make this a routine in your classroom. I can assure you it will be helpful in creating plans for each of your students, while revealing for your students and parents when it is time to reflect on how far one has grown. 

    Bonus Downloads

    Although I have shared my decoding and comprehension signs before, I recently converted the cards to hand-held size for students to use and utilize during guided reading sessions. Justprint on cardstock, laminate, and bind together. I hope it will help you in your classroom this year!

    Decoding Strategies

    decoding board

    Download these decoding strategy resources below. Beanie babies not included.

    Download hand-held decoding cards (PDF)

    Download hand-held decoding_cards (PDF)

    Comprehension Strategies


    The tangible items on my comprehension strategy posters come from Tanny McGregor's Comprehension Connections.

    Download hand-held comprehension cards (PDF)

    Download hand-held comprehension cards (PDF)

    Next Post

    You can find my next post right here on Top Teaching on September 26 (every other Monday). I hope to hear from you before then!




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