Tuesday, December 11, 2012

DIBELS and other nonsense

Second grade has been interesting. That is to say, Julia adores her teacher, loves school, and every day I think about pulling the plug on it and homeschooling her. I think that's called a dichotomy: my equally impressive, simultaneous, and completely opposing feelings that school is great and I don't want to send her there anymore.

It started with the DIBELS. "The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of early literacy skills from kindergarten through sixth grade." (http://dibels.org/dibels.html) Basically, it's a test given periodically to make sure students are gaining those important building blocks on the way to reading fluency.

By all accounts, Julia was doing wonderfully. One paper came home from school showing her reading comprehension on par with that of a child halfway through third grade. She was... is a fluent reader. She can understand and retell stories read to her and that she read independently. But in October, she didn't achieve benchmark on the nonsense word portion of the DIBELS.

Trouble with nonsense words seemed to snowball or at least coincide with a bunch of other less than promising findings. We discovered she couldn't decode short vowel sounds. Then I began to pick apart the mechanics of her whole process. She doesn't use phonemes but seems to read by patterns. Suddenly there are all of these holes in her emerging literacy. She has started confusing b's and d's while reading, expanding a problem that had previously been contained to just her own messy handwriting.

For a while it seemed everything was falling apart. At least one source indicated DIBELS is not a good assessment for kids with hearing loss. Should we just do away with DIBELS? But we can't let her fall behind in reading. I was starting to lose sleep over it.

Fortunately, I am in regular contact with a handful of people that have infinitely more knowledge than I do about teaching kids to read. These experts suggested visual phonics. Visual phonics pairs a hand shape/motion with each sound. There are 46 of these sounds in the English language. (http://seethesound.org/visual_phonics.html)

I figure it's worth a try.

There was some delay in implementing visual phonics. I learned that our school district doesn't use visual phonics. They made up their own set of cues to avoid the cost of training teachers on the already developed, standardized program. Though completely baffled that there's even an option, I had to decide whether Julia should learn visual phonics (like the rest of the world) or the other thing.

We chose visual phonics.

So far, Julia has learned the cues for long and short "o". She announced afterwards that she doesn't like it and doesn't see how it's going to help.

"I never understood how this helped you remember to make an /s/ sound," I told her waving my index finger in front of my mouth like I've done so many times over the years. "But it did."

So we're forging ahead. Julia is getting extra practice at school with those nonsense words. She's got a stack of flashcards with different syllables that she combines to make her own nonsense words. I've increased the amount of daily independent reading time she has in case it's my corrections that are messing her up when we read together. She'll learn visual phonics whether she likes it or not.

And I, always the anxious mother, will attempt to trust the public school system... and breathe.

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