Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Critical Analysis of Eight Informal Reading Inventories, from The Reading Teacher

This post was originally published here...

While not technically a research article I suppose, I thought Nina L. Nilsson piece in April 08 issue of The Reading Teacher was useful and interesting. Nilsson compares eight IRIs on a variety of issues and discusses aspects of their validity.

The eight tests she looks at are:

  • Analytical Reading Inventory (ARI; Woods & Moe, 2007)

  • Bader Reading and Language Inventory (BRLI; Bader, 2005)

  • Basic Reading Inventory (BRI; Johns, 2005)

  • Classroom Reading Inventory (CRI-SW; Silvaroli & Wheelock, 2004)

  • Comprehensive Reading Inventory (CRI-CFC; Cooter, Flynt, & Cooter, 2007)

  • Informal Reading Inventory (IRI-BR; Burns & Roe, 2007)

  • Qualitative Reading Inventory-4 (QRI-4; Leslie & Caldwell, 2006)

  • The Critical Reading Inventory (CRI-2; Applegate, Quinn, & Applegate, 2008).

She concludes with a section on picking a test to use.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Social Networking in Plain English

Duane Lewis posted this video in Webtop (a closed social networking site for WV teachers and students). I thought it was interesting and I posted the comment below...

Hi Duane,

Interesting use of the word real in the blurb "Social Networking in Plain English." Lee LaFever used the phrase real world at least three times. Kind of begs the question... Are my relationships in cyberspace real? Virtual reality games like Second Life are starting to create substantial space between what's "real" and what's "not real." I thought it was fascinating back in the primary season that political candidates actually opened offices in Second Life.

Obviously my connections in Facebook are something other than imaginary. In the 1980's an American philosopher named Hilary Putnam described a puzzle. He asked a question somthing like this: "How do I know that my brain hasn't been removed from my body and suspended in some kind of a vat of nutrients to keep it alive by a mad scientist who is stimulating my brain with electrical impulses to make me 'see' and 'feel' all the things that I think are around me?" It was a modern restatement of Descartes and his skepticism. Both men functioned on the assumption that their choices where binary: either my dog (sitting here staring at me) is "real" or it's "not real."

Lee LaFever's language is typical in discussions of the Internet, and it makes me wonder if were not developing a third alternative in the real/not real dichotomy...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Figuring Out Ian Jukes (The Story of the Committed Sardine)

Originally published here on July 9, 2008.

Well, Monday August 4th my school district is bringing in Ian Jukes to kick off the
McDowell County 21st Century Learning Expo at the Armory in Beckley. So I've been reading up on Mr. Jukes....

Jukes advocates change. He thinks change is required to effectively reach the digital natives that are today's students. And he uses the story of the committed sardine to illustrate what it means to be an agent of change. The gist of the story is that individual teachers may feel small (like sardines), but if they advocate change, move in a different direction than those around them, then eventually other people will move with them in the direction of that change. It takes between 10% and 15% of a school of sardines moving in a new direction to bring about a change of direction for the whole group.

So I'm guessing Jukes is going to try and tempt us to go against the flow...

I May Not Be a Native, But I’m a Naturalized Digital Citizen…

Originally published here on July 8, 2008.

I was a little miffed when I first came across the distinction between digital natives and digital immigrants. The tone of the piece I was reading seemed to imply that it was somehow better to be a digital native. I didn't grow up with technology, so that makes me an immigrant to the digital world, regardless of my level of proficiency...

The digital me...My first memorable experience with technology was in high school. I had this thing that was a cross between a typewriter and a word processer. Its memory held a full page and it printed that out on thermal paper. Jimmy Carter was President at the time and there weren't a lot of actual laptops around. I was almost an adult, and I'd grown up with a pencil in my hand, listening to music that was recorded on cassette tapes or pressed in vinyl.

Having acknowledged that I didn't actually grow up with technology I must say that, as I look back now, I've had a keyboard for as long as I can remember. I don't remember when I got my first email address. Today my music is mostly in MP3 format, my camera is digital, I write HTML, I transfer files, I email my Mom, I take classes online, I use a SmartBoard in my classroom, and so on. I've blogged and I've telecommuted. And (I admit it) I've even Googled myself. But I'm not a digital native, I learned. For some reason I found that irritating, at first.

As I became a little more familiar with the concepts, I realized that being a digital immigrant (as opposed to a digital native) had more to with learning styles and social patterns than with competency per se. That made it a little easier to accept. And after thinking about it for a while I decided that I am as at home in the blogosphere, in cyberspace and in digital reality as most teenagers I know. Whether I am a native or an immigrant, I'm a digital citizen. Naturalized, perhaps - but still a citizen...

As a naturalized digital citizen (an NDC) I've thought occasionally about the people around my school (and other places) who aren't very digital. What to call them? One suggestion I've heard is "dinosaurs" - digital dinosaurs. That may be nice imagery, but it seems inconsistent. It's, well, dehumanizing (since, after all, dinosuars weren't human). Somewhere else I came across the term digital refugee. That's closer. My problem I suppose is that refugee is a legal status. A refugee is a type of immigrant. I don't think of myself as anything like a refugee in the digital world - wishing that I could leave this place and go home.

Eventually I came up with the idea of a digital alien. There are teachers (and parents) who roam the halls of my increasingly digital school - and, yet, they don't speak the language. They don't understand that I wear my flash drive on a cord around my neck sometimes because it's geek jewelry. Oh well...

I'll probably talk more about the digital native v. digtal immigrant thing - especially since Ian Jukes is coming to speak to my county's teachers in August. For now I'll close by saying that I'm pleased to have an address in the blogosphere and proud to be an NDC.

The Death of Reading First?

Originally published here on June 30, 2008.

Appropriations committees in both the House and Senate have now approved budget bills for the 2009 fiscal year that have no funding for Reading First, according to Alyson Klein at Education Week.

While it looks like Reading First will disappear from the federal budget on October 1st if Congress has its way, education funding would be up by about 4% overall. Title I and special education funding for IDEA would both increase.

To me the issue looks partisan. And I have to question the wisdom of Congress on the issue since the report card on Reading First is still out...

Hugo’s New Book…

Originally published here on June 28, 2008.

I have a review of Hugo Kerr's new book, The Cognitive Psychology of Literacy Teaching: Reading, Writing, Spelling, Dyslexia (& a bit besides) available at Suite101. You can read it here...

What Is a Disability?

Originally published here on June 26, 2008.

What is a disability? That sounds like a simple question. But if you work in special education in the U.S. you probably know that it isn't all that simple. The definition of "specific learning disability" has changed considerably in the last few years.

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an interesting story last week in its news blog. Congress has been tinkering with the definition of the term "disability." They eventually decided to leave it unchanged for the purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Congress looked at broadening the definition. Here's how the Chronicle explained it:
The bill maintains the existing definition that a disability must “substantially limit” a “major life activity” to be considered for coverage under the law. An earlier bill, opposed by college officials, had defined a disability as any “physical or mental impairment.”

This highlights a couple of ideas. First, disability is a social construct. Often we codify it in law. But even then, the definition varies somewhat from law to law, depending on the purpose of the particular law we're discussing.

MeSecond, a disability is not a medical condition. It may be the result of a medical condition. But some people with epilepsy have a disability and some people with epilepsy don't. Substitute whatever medical issue, condition, syndrome or disorder you like for "epilepsy." The issue remains how it affects you, how it limits your activity. And very similar disabilities can be the result of very different medical conditions.

Society is interested largely in accommodating disabilities. How well we protect the disabled in our society is a measure of the maturity of our civilization and of the value we place on human life.

Reading the Chronicle blog post made me think back to the dyslexia discussion with Hugo Kerr (and others) last month that I had on the Reading Teachers listserv (hosted by the International Reading Association). Hugo wanted to define the term "dyslexia" more clearly and called it "an innate, neurological condition." He wants dyslexia to be a medical condition. And yet both the International Dyslexia Association and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes say that dyslexia is a disability.

If we accept the idea that "dyslexia" is the name of a disability (not of a medical condition, per se), it becomes much easier to understand why so much disagreement exists about the causes and symptom of dyslexia. If we see dyslexia as the name of a disability, it becomes easier to understand why rates of dyslexia vary from place to place. In a society without books and reading there'd be no dyslexia - even if the same neurological problems that lead to dyslexia in the US or Britain were common. (An example of such a society is the Lashi of Myanmar; the 30,000 or so Lashi-speakers have only a 1% literacy rate in their own language.)

Does dyslexia exist? If it is a medical or biological condition, the research is still not completely in on that question. But if it is simply a name for a disability, for a set of problems or symptoms that impede the way an individual copes with an important part of life (reading) in modern society, then dyslexia exists. Its status may be in danger; it could be completely subsumed into the legal/educational concept of "learning disabilities." But at the moment it exists. And it exists simply because we say it does. What we mean by the word "dyslexia" may change. It may have more than one cause. But it exists in the realm of ideas, and it will continue to exist as long as it is a useful idea...