Results of a Two Year Action Research Study on the Effectiveness and
Results of a Two Year Action Research Study
The purpose of this study is to collect data to help determine the effectiveness and also the ease of use for classroom teachers of a classroom reading program called Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds. This program is an original classroom, small group and tutoring program aligned with current reading and cognitive research and linguistic findings. Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds is a supplemental decoding, fluency, spelling and vocabulary development program which is designed to be used four times a week in whole class lessons of approximately 15-20 minutes. In addition to this, Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds can also be used in small group reading lessons, learning centers or for one on one tutoring.
Two kindergarten classes piloted the program the first year, 2003-2004. One of these classes was a regular kindergarten class and the other was an inclusion kindergarten class. In the inclusion model, students with diagnosed disabilities are included in a class with 'regular' students. Instead of being pulled out for services such as the specific learning disabilities resource room the SLD resource teacher works with the students in the classroom. The inclusion model typically has a slightly lower student/teacher ratio and the teacher has a teaching assistant. The curriculum taught and expectations are the same for the inclusion class as the other classes; although a lower class average score on standardized assessments might be expected. The two kindergarten teachers who piloted Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds in their classrooms during the 2003-2004 school year were provided the Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds materials. They attended a six-hour workshop and read the training material. The teachers committed to using the Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds program for fifteen to twenty minutes, four times per week. This was in addition to their regular reading program.
Letters were sent home to the guardians of the students in these classrooms to explain what we were doing and for what purpose. The parents or guardians were asked to sign a permission form for the results of their child's test scores to be included with the results of the class as a whole. The individual students were not identified. The average reading progress of the two kindergarten classes who were piloting the program was evaluated by looking at their August, January and April dictation scores and their April running record scores. These average class scores were then compared to the average class scores on the same tests for the four kindergarten classes at Forest Lakes Elementary School who were not using the Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds program during the 2003-2004 school year. Forest Lakes Elementary School is located in Pinellas County Florida and is a high performing 'A' school. Because of the high socio-economic backgrounds of many of the students and the excellent teaching staff, the scores of all of the kindergarten classes were very good to begin with.
Method of Evaluation
Pinellas County, Florida's instructional assessment data was used to determine the effectiveness of the program. These assessments include an alphabet recognition test given three times a year, a dictation test given two times a year, and a running record evaluation given at the end of the year. These tests are given to all of the kindergarten classes in Pinellas County. During the running record the student reads a leveled story and the examiner marks each word that is read correctly. There is no expected level on the running record for the end of kindergarten. First grade students are expected to be on a level 11 as determined by the results of a Running Record by January. There is an expectation in Pinellas County that kindergarten students will end the year with a dictation score of at least 20 out of 37. Because we know that no matter how good a program might seem, if it is hard to organize, difficult to use or does not hold the interest of the students; teachers are unlikely to consistently use it. So, along with scores to evaluate the effectiveness of Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds we asked the teachers involved to answer the following questions:
The Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds Program
Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds is an original classroom, small group and one on one, reading program building on the 'sounds first' philosophy of Lindamood-Bell and Phono-Graphix. Over the past thirty years there has been considerable research on reading and the consensus has been that poor reading skills are associated with an inability to access the phonemic level of language and therefore the phonemic basis of the alphabetic code. (Rosner and Simon 1971; Calfee, Lindamood, and Lindamood 1973l; Fox and Routh 1975; Bradley and Bryant 1978; Shankweiler et al. 1979; Lundberg, Olafsson and Wall 1980; Stanovich, Cunningham and Cramer 1984, 1985; Wagner and Torgesen 1987; McGuinness, McGuinness, McGuinness 1996.) Research has also shown that while natural skill in phonological awareness aids in reading acquisition; instruction in an alphabetic writing system likewise aids in the refinement of phonemic awareness skills. (Morais et al. 1979; read et al. 1986; Ben-Dror, Frost, and Bentin 1995; McGuinness, McGuinness, and Donohue 1995); During the past ten years, new MRI technology has confirmed the most exciting news of all- brain plasticity. (Shaywitz 2003) Students who do not have strong natural ability to access the phonemic level of language can develop those necessary skills with targeted instruction.
Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds is a classroom, small group, or tutoring, reading program that teaches children the underlying phonemic skills: segmenting sounds in words, blending those sounds back into words, and manipulating or moving sounds in and out of words and deleting sounds from words. This skills training is accomplished while the students are learning the alphabetic principal or sound to symbol relationship of the English language. This is accomplished with whole group instruction using large magnetized letters to build words by their sounds. The classroom lessons can then be reinforced in small groups, learning centers, or in tutoring sessions with small versions of the letters, bags of words categorized by their sounds for sorting activities, and blackline masters. The lessons are taught in an explicit and systematic manner that teaches both the underlying phonemic skills and the sound to symbol relationship of the 'basic code'. All of the lessons are carefully scaffolded. The lessons move from building words with the consonant vowel pattern to cvc, then cvcc, and ccvc patterns with ample opportunity to practice segmenting, blending and manipulating sounds in words of increasing complexity.
Sounds and letters are never taught in isolation. The whole word is said first, often in the context of a sentence. Brain research shows that students remember new information when they can attach meaning to it. For instance, by saying the word 'cat' first and using it in a sentence; then inviting the students to visualize a cat and listen to the sounds in the word cat, as the teacher says the word slowly, the students are able to connect the phonemes in the word cat to something meaningful to them. They are also making connections between the visual centers of their brain and the auditory centers.
Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds is a linguistic program that teaches English phonemes as the real and stable units of the writing system and letters as arbitrary symbols for those sounds. The students are taught to recognize the 44 sounds of their language in whole words they commonly use and the letters in the basic code that are 'pictures' for those sounds. Then they are taught the 65 spelling patterns for the remaining 'advanced code' sounds. For example, they learn that 'ay' as in play, 'ai' as in rain, 'a consonant e' as in pane and 'ea' as in steak, are all advanced code pictures for the sound /ay/. The units of study are introduced by their sounds and the students learn the different spelling patterns for those sounds by sorting large magnetized words on a white board or chalk board, sorting smaller word in learning centers; by being sound detectives and highlighting the 'ay' spelling patterns in words with the /ay/ sounds in a story. They also build the words with the /ay/ sound with large magnetized letters in whole class work or with smaller letters for small group or center work.
Next the students learn about and practice the 21 code overlaps. For instance, they learn that the letters 'ow' in the word tow are a picture for the /oe/ sound, while the same letters 'ow' in the word now are a picture for the /ow/ sound. The students practice these overlapping sound pictures with sorting exercises and also through their previous work with the skill of auditory manipulation. They have to try one sound and then the other sound to determine which sound makes a word that they know and that also would make sense in the sentence they are reading.
These activities are all developmentally appropriate for young children and use the strengths children bring to learning. Research shows that children are very good at sorting and classifying and at using analogies to make sense of the world around them. Children learn best when they are active, when they are using manipulatives and when they are discovering things for themselves. The lessons in Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds take advantage of the way children learn. All of the lessons use fun manipulatives in labeled 'sound bags' that are also simple and easy for the classroom teacher to use with her whole class. An entire lesson can be completed in only fifteen to twenty minutes. The lessons engage all of the students in active learning.
From the very first lesson the teacher uses a visual aid by drawing lines and writing numbers under the lines. This helps the children to order the sound-pictures (letters) in the correct left to right progression. During the final stage of the program the children learn to build 'big words'. The students learn to hear the 'chunks' in big words and to build them by their chunks in left to right order. They are also explicitly taught prefixes and suffixes and special endings. Students learn that in big words there is usually a strong chunk and a weak vowel. They also participate in fun activities with manipulatives where they discover the concept of closed and open syllables.
The kindergarten teachers who participated in this research study did whole class instruction with their students for 15-20 minutes a day 4 times each week. They used the first book of the program, The Basic Code Book and the glossy cardstock manipulatives that go along with The Basic Code Book. The students practiced segmenting the sounds in whole words, blending those sounds back together to say the word and they practiced manipulating sounds in simple words. They also practiced these skills in their writing. By the end of the year most of the students were reading beginning to mid level first grade books, some were reading books on a beginning second grade level or higher as assessed by the April running records scores.
In fact, the results of these two classes was so good and the teachers involved enjoyed the program so much that the following year the other four kindergarten teachers decided to use the program. They received the materials and took the 6 hour workshop, read the training material and committed to using the program in addition to their regular curriculum for 15-20 minutes, four days each week.
Because of this change in events, for the second year of the research project, 2004-2005, we decided to compare the Pinellas County PIAP scores of the four classes who had started using Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds the second year to their scores in 2003-2004.We also compared the second year scores of the original two teachers with their first year scores to see if their scores stayed the same, went down, or continued to improve. Finally, we compared the second year PIAP scores of the original 'regular' kindergarten class, the original inclusion class and the average of four classes that started Phonetics First! - Focus on Sounds We are aware that every year there is a new group of students, so to try to moderate this effect we took an average of each of the classes that began the program in the second year and then averaged those four average scores. Individual student's ability may vary within a class from year to year but the overall demographics of Forest Lakes Elementary school has remained stable and by averaging such a large group of individual scores any extremes were mitigated. The scores of the original two classes continued to be averaged separately in the graphs because of the potentially different population in the inclusion class.