18 February 2007

Teaching using REACH - Mid Year Evaluation

Last summer, I went to a couple of trainings on REACH, a program that extensively uses Direct Instruction. Direct Instruction is a method of teaching in which teachers are given a script to read, students respond to the script (whole class) and the teacher does not move on until the whole class understands the material being taught.

The REACH system is specifically geared for those students who have been identified as struggling learners. At our school site, students were identified using three types of measures: 1.) an oral reading in which errors were recorded; 2.) the CAT-6 scores (state mandated assessment) from the previous two to three school years; 3.) on grade level preassessment literacy test. Using those three measures, students were then placed in three categories: benchmark, strategic and intensive. Benchmark students are at grade level and above. We no longer have GATE classes in our school district. Strategic students may need help in either Mathematics or Language Arts, but don't require the three hour intensive class. Some of these students have two hours of Language Arts or two hours of Mathematics.

Those students identified as intensive are in a three hour block of REACH. The criteria for remaining in the class was to be based on attendance and behavior. The District assured teachers that those students who were behavioral issues would be removed from the program. Furthermore, those students who have chronic attendance issues will fail and again, we were reassured that they would be removed.

My three hour block is set up in this manner: first hour is devoted to decoding; 2nd hour is reasoning/comprehension; 3rd hour is morphographs and writing. Decoding is the ability to read text fluently. As most teachers know (or should know), if a child cannot decode reading material fluently, they will not be able to comprehend the material they are reading. Overall, I've seen some of my students make great strides in decoding. Some have admitted to me that they now enjoy reading, where before they hated it.

At the beginning of the school year, the majority of my students were not able to read 100 words per minute. Some barely made it to 60 or 70 words in a minute with several errors in decoding. Now, I have students reading 150 to 160 words per minute with virtually no errors. They are excited about their progress and I'm excited for them. Two of my students have tested out of the program and have been placed into the strategic block. The hope for them is that next year, they will be able to move into a benchmark placement.

I think that this program works well for those students who are struggling learners, but have the desire to do better. I also think that when placement is correct, then students will be successful and will thus, try to improve. Finally, I believe that if a district promises its teachers that certain criteria would be in place that they need to follow through.

That being said, my criticism of the program has more to do with my district than the program itself. However, my main gripe with this program is the lack of creativity. For instance, right now I'm reading Bridge to Terabithia to my students. This is not in the program and if a district person were to come into my classroom, they would probably question me as this is "not in the script." However, my students love this book and next year, I'm going to seriously consider getting class sets of a few books to read with my REACH students.

I'm doing this for a couple of reasons. First, my students are 6th graders and I believe strongly that they should be exposed to literature that their peers have been exposed to. Second, my students are still expected to take the District assessments every quarter and the CAT-6, which tests them are on 6th grade standards, such as conflict, plot, theme, metaphors, and the like. The REACH program does not teach this and I have a problem that my students are being held accountable for something I've not taught them.

The other shortcomings have nothing to do with the REACH program, rather it has to do with my Districts reluctance to abide by the criteria set forth for maximum results. Students who have been behavioral issues have remained in the program because the District does not want any class to be too small. (In fact, one of my students who had tested out of the program was only removed after I fought very hard to have him removed.)

Class size number has also been a factor for those students who placed below the level that we had the most students place in. In REACH, students are placed according to their reading level. So, for instance, the majority of our students placed in B2, which is what we started teaching out of at the beginning of the school year. We had a handful of non-special education students place in A (lowest level) and B1, who were put into a B2 classroom. This has meant that these students have struggled all year. In a program that is built upon rewarding points for achievement based on whole class learning, this can cause great frustration for those students who are placed appropriately, but are being dinged for points due to misplacement of other students. Again, this all came down to class size numbers. The District was unwilling to create a classroom for a small number of students who did not place in the B2 level.

(Right now, a co-worker and I are considering making some changes to help those students who were misplaced by either going ahead and creating a new class or doing something after school to help these students.)

So, overall I've been impressed with the growth I've seen in most of my students. Like I said before, some of them used to hate to read and now, they enjoy it. They understand what they are reading and are able to apply it. Much of my criticism has nothing to do with the program itself; rather it has to do with my District's reluctance to do what they promised to do.


At 11:25 AM, Blogger Dickey45 said...

Good to hear your success. About the reading outside of the program (Bridge to Terabithia) - if you use it as a reward to doing good work - wouldn't that be within the program itself?

At 5:51 AM, Blogger KDeRosa said...

Nice post, Ms teacher.

My understanding is that the REACH curriculum is a combination of SRA's remedial reading program "corrective reading" and their elementary school spelling program "spelling mastery" and writing program "reasoning and writing."

Had these students been in the DI reading program since K, they would have been proficient readers by grade 6. Bear in mind when students experience many years of reading failure it is very difficult to remediate them to proficiency. Many students are disenageged from learning by this point and do not want to put the effort in to correct bad habits and mislearning.

I do undertsand the concerns over the lack of literature in the programs and I suspect that's because there is so much remediation necessary. The 4th and 5th grade levels in the non-remedial DI reading programs are literature based.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger ms-teacher said...

Thanks KDeRosa. I agree with your comment about the students becoming disengaged after years of failure. That is why when I feel like I have the majority of the class with me, the District needs to ensure that students are appropriately placed and removing those who are creating problems in the classroom.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Hi Ms. Teacher,

Thank you for doing this post! I feel badly if I put you on any kind of guilt trip, because that was definitely not my intention. I'm actually glad that things worked out this way, because not only did I get feedback from you, I got feedback from others who are using DI, too. Thanks again!

At 6:42 PM, Blogger ms-teacher said...

No problem Dennis - I needed the gentle nudge. I have felt bad about not posting more on this site and more specifically, not posting a follow up to my post about Direct Instruction.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Jane said...

In the elementary schools (LAUSD) we have been using a heavy direct instruction program called Open Court for about 4 years or so. There are many great things about direct instruction, but my overwhelming feeling is that if one style worked 100% then everybody would do it. Baring that magic bullet, districts, principals and teachers need to be allowed to flex here and there within the script to allow for teachable moments and read alouds. If I didn't sneak in chapter books here and there, my students would have no exposure to chapter books in the elementary school! That's sad!

At 1:16 PM, Blogger KDeRosa said...

Jane, Open Court is a direct instruction program, not a DI program. Oc's performance with low performers is not as good as DI.

my overwhelming feeling is that if one style worked 100% then everybody would do it

You underestimate the power of ideology and vested interests in education.

teachers need to be allowed to flex here and there within the script to allow for teachable moments and read alouds.

I believe that experienced DI teachers are permitted to flex their creativity once they know what they are doing. The scripts were only developed once it became apparent that inexperienced teachers did not have the teaching skills needed to reliably teach to the high levels they are expected to in DI. This was especially true when teaching lower performers.

If I didn't sneak in chapter books here and there, my students would have no exposure to chapter books in the elementary school! That's sad!

In DI long stories and chapters books are built into the curriculum. In the first grade program, the last story is broken into sixteen chapters and takes a month of lessons to get through. In the second grade and subsequent levels there are only 140 lessons provided and the teacher has the option of spending the last 40 school days reading chapter books or proceeding to the next higher level. In the fourth and fifth grade levels of DI, the students read the Wizard of Oz and the Odyssey among other literature.

Just wanted to clear up any misconceptions.

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Darren said...

As with many things, NCLB included, the problem isn't with the program (or the law) as much as it is with local implementation.

At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Shannon and I have been teaching for 12 years. Of those 12 years, 8 of them have been Open Court. My principal recently came to me and asked if I would teach the REACH program level C. I hestiated but thought it would be a good experience. I am attending a week long training at the beginning of August which will help me prepare for the new school year. I really don't know much about this program and was curious if anyone had any advice or key ideas that they think might help me. Thanks. Shannon


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