By Francisco Nieto
Reading is arguably the most important thing an elementary student needs to master, and fluency, as the research shows, is a great indicator of how successful overall they will be. It is also why so many schools and teachers, including myself, have spent so much time and resources to make sure our students meet reading growth benchmarks.
The Running record, as a fluency assessment is commonly known, is now an important staple in most elementary schools. The process as it exists on paper, is far too slow and cumbersome, nor informative enough to the student themselves.
But now it’s all about to change. The reason can be summed up in one word: video.
Using Read With Me Fluency, an iPad app we’ve recently released to iTunes, our teacher-led team is testing how video can alter the meaning of a reading assessment for students, teachers and parents. We’d like to share some of our findings and innovative enhancements to the otherwise standard paper-and-pencil oral reading assessment using audiovisual records.
How does it work?
Using the front-facing camera on the iPad, our app records a video of the student as they read a passage on the screen that is synced to the teacher’s device. The result is a valuable record of a student’s progress as well as a mirror for the teacher, student, and parent to reflect on their performance — in real time.
Why is this important?
Video lets students see themselves reading. This may not mean much at first, but having personally conducted hundreds of paper pencil assessments of different flavors and shapes over the years, the difference is undeniably clear. When students can see their own faces reading alongside a detailed report of their words per minute, their accuracy, as well as their mistakes, it all begins to make sense to them. It becomes easier to talk about goals and progress.
Students ask to see their video again. They listen to the words they produce as they reread the passage. They recognize where they got stuck as if seeing themselves in the third person, and the synapses begin to reconnect in new ways. The light bulbs begin to glow.
Videos are a great way of comparing growth
Spreadsheets are fine, and seeing a student’s oral reading fluency scores in numerical form might be fine for many teachers and administrators. But for students and parents especially, data analysis of benchmark goals can often be a disconnected thing. For all stakeholders, however, having two audiovisual clips to compare can vividly illustrate improvement beyond purely quantitative measures. Of course we want to know statistics, but what does that growth actually look and feel like?
Cold numerical assessment data, while informative and tremendously useful for grouping students and designing intervention strategies still lacks that concrete flesh-and-bones feel that human observation provides. By combining numbers and data about a student with an audiovisual record of that same experience, we can get a more complete picture that satisfies broader cognitive needs.
Parents want to know how their kids are reading
Waiting for parent-teacher conferences to learn about your child’s progress in school should be a thing of the past. Logging in and checking for yourself how your kids are doing in reading and math will one day be a standard thing.
Read With Me reports marry the quantitative data with a visual record of the reading event. We grab it and send it off to parents for them to review. Picture a parent at work getting an email on their phone with a video about their child reading: Congratulations! Salvador is reading 140 words per minute. He is above benchmark. How tempted would he be to watch the clip instead of doing their job?
Parent conferences can be more informative
Teachers often put assessment data before parents who may or may not truly understand what grade level reading looks like, where their child needs to be by comparison, and how to help them get there. Bringing a video to the table, however, offers the chance to look at something more tangible, and a great way to bring a smile to the face of a parent who can actually see the growth their child has made.
New reading behaviors can be uncovered
Watching an instant replay of a student reading can yield interesting discoveries for both students and teachers. Simply observing anything twice forces the viewer to reexamine it from a new perspective. While scoring a text, an evaluator might be more concerned with not missing a miscue, but when the actual reading is over, and one gets to observe the replay, patterns may begin to appear.
Students will also notice their own reading behaviors. From their prosody to their pronunciation, they will make their own judgments on how they read, and will be compelled to reflect on their own growth, on their own terms.
Are they nervous? Are they rushing? Do they pause and hesitate to pronounce something wrong, thereby bringing down their words-per-minute rate overall?
It’s one thing to tell them what they did or didn’t do, and it’s another thing for them to see it for themselves.
Next year’s teacher will love it
Sending a report to the following year’s teacher is an invaluable way to let that teacher know what to expect. It’s one thing to get a file or to download a report about a student with numbers and data, and it’s another thing to see for oneself how the student is interacting with text. Putting a face to the data makes it come alive and imbues it with an extra level of meaning.
A diligent teacher will look at that video, and even before that student steps into the class. They can take off where the last teacher left off (from the student notes) or come up with a new strategy and not have to reinvent the wheel to address a particular reading issue. Reading specialists and speech pathologists will have a more complete picture about how to address those students they haven’t yet met but who will be part of their caseload.
So now it’s more work?
In this experiment we have unwittingly turned our app on its head. Suddenly the initial idea of making running records faster, less obtrusive now results in a potentially more in-depth and involved process. A running record can now be a more meaningful teachable moment; a goal setting conference; a chance for students to observe and reflect on their own reading behaviors.
In the end this really depends on how you use it and what routines you build around it. Some teachers just want to get through the whole process while others want to dig deep and get a complete profile. Read With Me let’s you decide what route to take.
We are still developing on our best practices around the use of Read With Me. The video component and would love to invite you to do the same. Teachers everywhere are going to add to the ideas outlined above and we look forward to your feedback and suggestions.
We believe also believe there is a great opportunity for researchers in reading behavior and fluency to take another look at how kids interpret their own reading experience. Again we welcome anyone who wants to connect. We are still building and improving the app and hope to add more features based on user suggestions. The idea is to make it as customizable as possible so it works in whatever that is needed on a school-by-school or user-by-user basis.
Bio: Francisco Nieto is an app developer and a teacher in Oakland, California. He is the co-founder of sleek-geek inc., a company dedicated to making apps and tools to make life easier for teachers and schools, while improving outcomes for students.