Roberta Buhle


I’m Roberta R O B E R T A, Buhle B U H L E. I am a part time, I work, I really have two positions. Part time I’m a literacy coordinator in a medium sized district south of Chicago called Manheim District 83. And the balance of my time is bought up by the state. I’m involved in um literacy grant project with Nationalist University. So I guess my affiliations are Manheim District 83 in Franklin Park, Illinois and Nationalist University in Evanston.

I think we know enough about how literacy develops in young children to be able to recognize the red flags that someone may be developing in a way that might take longer and you really can’t let them take longer, because what happens is they get behind. We know enough about that to be able begin to make some decisions about when and where to intervene. And actually that’s a difficult decision to intervene in kindergarten. Years ago especially in the the Chicago area that I live in, it was it was considered appropriate to always wait until the second semester of first grade before you did any kind of intervention at all. I was a reading specialist first in a in a building, and we were encouraged to do that you know silently mandated not to intervene before the second semester of the first grade because you took from teachers the responsibility of deciding you needed help, when in reality good teachers in a relatively short amount of time both in kindergarten and in first grade start to get worried about some kids. And sometimes their worries fade you know on children because they’re shy, they had a difficult beginning or what or you know for any number of reasons, the teacher’s anxieties disappear, but there are some children for whom that concern remains. And because we know some some simple indicators that would say this child is worth taking a deeper look at.

Well they’re different at different grade levels. I first um let me start again. The the indicators that a child might be in trouble are different, the red flags so to speak, at different grade levels. Let me talk about um kindergarten first. In kindergarten it would be the child who after an introduction to a few letters of the alphabet that the teacher judges are relatively normal for kids to learn easily, that particular child doesn’t learn it quickly. Um it’s the it’s the child who when the teacher’s doing some word play struggles to make a rhyme where other children easily do the rhyme. It’s the child who doesn’t seem to understand his or her role during a storybook reading, that it’s something you respond to and you enjoy and you listen to and you comprehend. Um it’s the child who can’t do, I mean I’ve mentioned a predictor that’s very broad like not not really understanding what it means to listen to and enjoy a storybook, there’s also some very discrete things. Not being able to break off a beginning sound after the teacher’s kind of worked at it. So those are things that that begin to concern the teacher. Not recognizing your own name easily, uh and for some teachers in fact depending on what population what their norm is, there are different predictors. And one what might worry one teacher might not worry another. But there are also some really important ones that that I think teachers from all types of districts have in common and it’s in kindergarten and it’s being able to learn and remember the names of the letters of the alphabet, the sounds that at least the consonants make. Um and also for some children it’s just a it’s just a hesitancy to become involved in a literacy task. Almost a uh a shyness or an unfamiliarity with the task. And once the teacher sees some of that things what what good instruction requires you to do is take a deeper look. And so those predictors are the kind of things even though they’re not really deep, they’re the they’re the kindergarten teachers first sort of rough screening where she’s looking around and and deciding who she’ll spend more time with or who she’ll do something differently with. It’s that group of children that we now in kindergarten for a second semester not first semester, that that the kindergarten teacher may ask us to do something more in depth with. But frequently they’re recommended to us in the first semester, even though they may not receive services from us till the second semester.

In in first grade I’m going to assume that anything the kindergarten teacher was worrying about the first grade teacher would also worry about. ABC’s recognition, the difficulty breaking a word into sounds, difficulty blending sounds into a word, those are all thought of more as kindergarten, but for the child that comes in who is a worry to the teacher, I once had a teacher say to me when I said how how would you describe who you worry about was the kindergarten teacher, that I’ve heard from first grade teachers. She said it’s the it’s the child that as you’re falling asleep in April you’re saying to yourself have I done enough, do they have enough to make it into the next grade. Uh so in first grade the teacher has all those you know it’s got a cumulative, has all those same concerns the kindergarten teacher does, the ABC recognition, the association of sounds with letters, but but it begins to get broader. The first grade teacher also worries about the child’s ability to remember words. Not to sound them out, to be able to look at T H E and say the. To be able to look at W A S and say was. And she worries qualitatively that the child doesn’t do that. She worries quantitatively that even if the child does do it, there aren’t enough words. So now they have to have all that discrete stuff from kindergarten, now they also have to have this bank of words. Um I and and the reason I think they feel it’s important, it’s like I learned how to drive a stick shift. You have to be able to coordinate you know you had to and I thank God I don’t drive a stick shift anymore, but you had to be able to coordinate the clutch and the accelerator, the steering wheel and the little knob here where you were shifting. Well the I think first grade teachers whether they can articulate it or even bother to understand that these this group of words that the child doesn’t work at looks at says that’s the clutch, that they can operate without even thinking about it and they can concentrate on coordinating the car to go down the street and not to hit anybody and to go left when they want it to. So that’s that’s sight vocabulary and actually that’s become increasing important to be over the years. I think the other thing that would worry a teacher is that when a child came to a word that wasn’t a part of the child’s sight vocabulary and was phonetically regular, there were no tricks in them, there wasn’t like the silent E at the end of have, there were no tricks and the child still couldn’t even stumbling work their way through it, that would be a red flag. So not a bank of words, not the ability to figure out some new words that aren’t in their bank, um and the other thing that would be a big indicator would be what the child demonstrated in their writing. At entrance to first grade you would hope as a minimum that there are at least attaching consonate hearing and being able to attach consonates at the beginning and endings of words. And that they’re getting some rudementary understanding that there should be white space between those words. I’m not talking about capitalization, I’m not talking about periods, I’m talking about really broader stuff that kind of matches language. And of course the most complicated thing that may not always be the first thing to hit a first grade teacher is do they understand that as you read you’re suppose to be making sense out of what you read. You know either it’s suppose to be giving you information or enjoyment and I think sometimes that the reason that isn’t first on the teacher’s mind, although it’s there and huge and important, is because both she and the child who’s just learning how to read are living through that that magic kind of working your way word by word so that the child might be less able to concentrate on comprehension and sometimes the teacher’s less likely to focus on it. So those I would say, and there’s there’s actually a word that’s been real important to me for a long time that’s that I hear more now then I use to years ago and that’s fluency. So she’s also worried about if they have the sight vocabulary can they put it together in some kind of a way that let’s them realize what reading should sound like. And even if they put it together with expression are they not so halting but that gets back to sight vocabulary that it’s a labored slow ware, you know teachers have told me that listening to a child work through a passage that requires that much work is actually painful for them, even when it isn’t for the child. So those I would say are the red flags. By the time you get to second grade, of course you have all the things that worry you in kindergarten and first grade, I mean you have second graders who sometimes don’t know the letters, second graders who sometimes struggle with um uh decoding their way through a new word. But then really you are getting the the teacher’s really worried now about the child who having put some of the pieces together is not able to indicate that they can understand or that they should be trying to. And for me in second grade, fluency now becomes becomes almost my first focus, because what I’m wondering is if this child is reading this slowly and a year or so down the road they get some content that they’re going to be responsible for, I worry that they don’t have a big enough grasp of the whole fluency business to get them going. So I don’t know if I realized till I said it how you’re it’s it’s sort of like if if if you were a teacher I would imagine, I’ve known teachers who have done this, who do what they call looping, who go from grade to grade. I would imagine that you had the same components in your worry back, but that as you went to each grade level some rose up and some went down a little bit and it’s sort of like and eventually it’s all there and maybe harder to talk about later. Nice thing about K1 and 2 is that you can break it down and you can talk about it in ways that make sense to hear or make sense to think about.

You know the I think the important thing about thinking about what you want the child to look about, look like, let me start again. I think the important thing about thinking what you want the child to look like or to or what you want these literacy behaviors to be as they exit sixth grade, they’re exiting your building, is that it it gives you it’s your light at the end of the tunnel. And then because what that forces you to do is to say here’s what I want my sixth grader to do. Well if this is what I want my sixth grader to do what does my fifth grader have to do? What does my fourth grader? And sometimes as you back up what you realize is maybe I’m not I’m not asking enough out of my first grader because I’m gonna run out of time. so my sixth grader I would like my sixth grader I would like my sixth grader to have some sense when she approaches text of what exactly she needs to do with it first. Is she in this for absolutely nothing but pleasure, doesn’t even really have to understand it at a deep level, you know I can this is my time, it’s my independent reading time and I can just read this and just enjoy whatever parts of it I want or all of it. So and and then to understand the difference between that and I need to read this in a way that allows me to to leave the text with a certain amount of information. So I want that’s the first thing I want when they approach text is to understand what the difference is. And and I’m not saying those are the only two purposes but they’re sort of maybe extremes. The next thing I’d like my sixth grader to actually be able to articulate not just demonstrate is that it’s her job to understand this text given whatever purpose she had and as part of her job she needs to be asking questions of it, she needs to be monitoring whether or not she’s understanding given what her purpose is, she needs to be actively although by sixth grade it’s underground, actively making the kinds of connections that’ll make her understand it, she needs to be she needs to actually be summarizing it both in a micro way, little bits of summary and then incorporating it into what came before. So spirilling down till the end of whatever her piece is. She needs to be able to have an enormous bank of words that she doesn’t think about as problems so that she can concentrate on those things I said first. She needs to have an enormous bank of words. She has to have the ability she has to have the ability to actually I’m lost, so cut and paste. She has to have the ability to approach words that she’s never seen before and to be able to work her way through it in some way that allows her to say it or to understand that’s it’s ok for her to skip it and so I I guess what I’m looking for, it’s the old fashioned thing, I’m looking for accuracy, I’m looking for a deep level of comprehension deeper I think then we’ve been asking or what I asked of kids when I was when I was I was a fifth grade teacher, a deeper level. And and as the best comparison I want kids to be able to ask their own question, not answer mine. And um I want them to be fluent. I want it not to be a difficult task. I want it to seem smooth, even when they’re working at it. I do not hold as my as my task that I have to teach them to love reading, I’ve decided only recently that you can’t make someone love something and just because they don’t love it, it isn’t something that they’re going to choose to do like I do before I fall asleep at night, that they won’t be competent literate adults. I want to be able to have them demonstrate these pieces and then kind of let them go their way.

About 12 or 13 years ago uh based on the need that we perceived in first grade and that first grade teachers helped us understand I developed a first grade program and it was a tutorial intervention. We used para-professionals, reading recovery was not available to us at the time, but Clay’s books were and also the work of Daryl Morris who’s now at Appalacha State, but who was at Nationalist University at the time. We developed a first grade program. After the program had been placed for awhile and we could show by our own sort of nieve brand of of documentation that we were making a difference with kids, the district that I was with at the time asked to uh decided that they would have an external review. It was the reality of it is it was reforendum time and things would be cut and they really I think realized the value of this intervention. And interestingly enough they realized because the parents used to call and tell them that they were grateful. So they were looking for ways to protect this and so the program and so they did this external review and Doctor Rebecca Bar and Dr. Robert Slaven came in and did an external review and one of the things they noticed and it’s actually an important point was that there was a percentage of children, not a huge percentage, this was a very affluent, a fairly affluent fairly affluent um district that really had some pretty high achieving kids. But they noticed that at the end of first grade even those children who had received a whole years worth of one to one instruction for 35 minutes a day, although they were significantly better, were not judged competent enough to be able to handle second grade text with ease. And so the question became, it was a series of questions that they laid out for us, which was lovely, would you do something different during the same amount of time then you had been doing? Would you increase the amount of time that you spent with them? Or would you do something earlier? And what we decided to do was to do something earlier. We also did something a little different. But the earlier was intriguing and and scary in a way, because now for a person who had originally been told you know five years prior to that don’t go in before the second semester of first grade but now we’re talking about going into kindergarten. We are, this particular district I’m speaking of is in Naperville, Illinois and we are a two and a half, they were and still are a two and a half hour kindergarten day. Now if you’re going to pull a kindergarten child for as little as 15 minutes and that’s all we were going to begin with, and you have a very competent group of kindergarten teachers you better have a good reason to pull them out and you better be able to be very specific about what it is that you’re going to do and how it is going to help. So what we did was we looked at those predictors. Ok if a child doesn’t learn their ABC’s let’s let’s part of our 15 minutes be be ABC’s recognition. If they don’t know the sounds by the first time, some sounds, teachers are worried, ok let’s also teach the sounds. So that was upper case and lower case, recognition were components and sounds. We put them together and wrote our own ABC book and we did it all as one piece so we might have been going through the book and going A A ah ah apple. B B bu bu ball. So that was that was sort of our alphabet piece of it. The other thing we did was the thing that research suggests in conjunction with recognition and sound can come together and make a difference about how kids do was phonemic awareness. And so we did something called aconen blocks sort of a variation of aconen blocks. And we had a picture we spent an enormous amount of time picking out pictures to I will add, a picture that was a stimulus and then we had a number of boxes. We began with a penny um that was much to intriguing for the children. We moved to a little token, they still played with those. So eventually because you can only have 15 minutes and nobody can play, I mean it has to be playful but they can’t play. And so what we did was we had them pushing their finger, just pushing their finger in the box. Well they’d look at a picture of a goat and they’d say ggooaatt and we would model it and they would do it. So now in remem in keeping in mind that this is all in 15 minutes the tapes of of these wonderful tutors doing this are incredible. I remember one, there is so much that you have to cram into 15 minutes that the child said to her, uh oh you know I’m not feeling well, he said to her, I was sick last night. And she said I’m really sorry to hear that, can you tell me the name of this picture and move it in and I tell you that because one of the things that that we’ve been complimented on for this program is the pacing. It’s incredibly brisk but the nice thing about it is these kindergarten children who struggle with these issues are probably the least likely of a class to be able to sit quietly for 15 minutes with one task. They’re just not use to doing this, although I don’t know it that’s actually I’m not even sure I want you to have that in the tape because I don’t want to make it sound like you know kids who struggle (interruption). The pacing is really important in this, so we’re moving from ABC recognition to conjunctual sound, right into uh uh breaking up the word by just moving your finger or with some kids tapping on their face, whatever seems to work with them. Now later we add a small storybook reading, but the the book reading was a very simple what what we’d call a too easy and what I think Fallis and Purnell which is better known than our own classification which no one knows is called a B, like a level B book. And so it might be something like I see the dog, I see the cat, I see the lion, and and the teacher would read the page and then the child would read the page after her. And the teacher would point to each one and the child would be asked if the child couldn’t he might put his hand on the top of her finger so that he can feel her read her way through, so they also read the storybook. Then there was also a small writing component and the writing component might just be to write a sentence and it it’s called a shared pen, we it’s two pencils but if we know that the child’s name was um Nancy and in the sentence the word started with an N we might say I’d bet you’d know that that first sound we’re saying here. Now later to keep it brisk we actually wrote the sentences. So we designed the sentences to have the consonants we wanted, actually as I think about it, it’s a pretty stilted thing. Um so that basically is what they did for the 15 minutes. Now I think as we judged all the components that would be in this program I hesitate to have you to have anyone think that those are the components that that constitute good literacy instruction. One of the reasons we’re comfort, that’s a bunch of discrete stuff. Even though they’re predictors of success and not being able to do them sends up a red flag, they are never meant to be what a whole program is. I was comfortable doing K leap in that setting because in the other 2 hours and 15 minutes that they were in there the teachers did repeated readings of favorite storybooks, the children were encouraged to do their own emergent readings, there was developmental spelling where they they could be at as as unique on the scale as still scribbling where with us we were asking them to do something conventional. They the the classroom was giving them original context. And probably the most interesting first outcome when we did this pilot which really pleased me because it and it’s something I don’t know how it’d measure, I only know by teacher antidote the teachers that I trust was before the child demonstrated any letter knowledge any phonemic awareness knowledge any consonator knowledge any acquisition of a sight vocabulary, the teachers felt that they attended better. And I think that what we’re doing with children who come with a set of complex behaviors that are rich, they’re rich, they’re rich behaviors these kids have, they just don’t match the kind of rich behaviors we want in the classroom. They might tell a great story, but they have trouble reading one, they might love to sing about letters but they don’t recognize them so they’re there’s this wonderful balance. It appears though that these are the children who are looking left and looking right when the teacher is trying to give instruction, so what they were saying to us was they’re paying attention. And I think of uh a woman that I had great that I had great respect for who is Meg Gallager who was affiliated with National Lewis for awhile, she said that what any intervention should aspire to do is to make them more responsive to group instruction in the classroom because the classroom teacher can’t do one to one all the time. so what you’re hoping to do is to set them up for success there. And so to have the teachers say gee they they face front now and they have a sense of what they’re suppose to be doing here was very pleasing to me. We did do some follow up work on this uh intervention. We’ve become as we we um were really playing with it in the beginning and it went through a series of changes, we only did it in 3 out of 14 schools, so we had a naturally occurring control group and the differences between the achievement of these children as they exited the program and the achievement of the children who looked the same in the beginning but had not had this intervention was remarkable actually.

Unfortunately I left the district then, but the people who took responsibility for what it was I did back in Naperville have followed the children and what they see there is that when they come into the first grade intervention program they leave, they need less sessions. And when they exit , they exit at higher book levels. So there is at least at the end of first grade and I know they’re planning to follow them over time, they’re because the fortunate the wonderful thing about this particular school district is that they gave us the opportunity to enter in all of our information into a data base. Which allows us to ask the questions we need to ask, how do these kids look different than other kids. And you know that that one of the things that I offer as as I reflect on this program when you intervene in kindergarten and it costs a lot of money, this program did not take the place of the first grade intervention that was in place, when you decide to do this you don’t take everybody that you would have taken in first grade anyway. What you’re looking for are those children that are the neediest of the needy. Those are the children that we see in the kindergarten program. Now the profile for that child in one district may be quite different than in another. Or the quantity of children might be, maybe that’s a better that’s a fairer statement, because you have a standard, you want all kids to look a certain way when they leave kindergarten. So this is a very small subsection of kids and when I look at what reading recovery has done and what success for all has done and some of the bigger programs that have had the where with all to trace the kids over time I believe that the neediest of the needy are actually always vulnerable. And may always need some form of help. And maybe they always remain uh maybe through sixth grade, sensitive to appropriate instruction. No matter what we did in kindergarten, no matter what we did in first grade in the intervention program for these kids, if the second grade teacher didn’t give them enough reading at their independent level, not at independent reading, reading independent level books, books that were easy for them. If she didn’t give them that opportunity the the risk factor for them was not as diminshed as she did that. So it’s continuum. You all you all need to be talking the same language, you all need to be worried about the same things and because the emphasis changes between grade to grade because the kindergarten teacher’s worried about this, a little more than that, the first grade teacher’s worried about this a little more than that, and the second grade teacher’s worried about a combination of things, you need teachers that are doing the best thing they can at each of those. So each of them has to say click in and maybe all those who’ve had vision of if this is what we would like them to look like, it looks great. You know this is our this is our mandate at this grade level so.

K leap had a letter knowledge component recognition production and sound. K leap had a book reading segment, being able to track print in familiar text very heavily scaffolded by a teacher, K leap had a phonemic awareness segment that was not related to letters that was just related into breaking into sounds, and K leap had a writing although in all honesty I have to call it a spelling component because when you come in with a preset of of uh sentences I’m a little uncomfortable calling it writing. But it was a spelling piece. So those were our four main segments for K leap.

The types of text that primary children are exposed to is more complicated than putting out the kind of list that you might do if you were looking at what high school kids are exposed to. Because because of the limited decoding proficiency of young children there are multiple text that they’re exposed to but they’re in multiple settings. There is a read aloud setting, there is a shared setting, and there is I always call it the solo setting. Now the child is on their own and they’re reading this piece of text. So first let me talk about the different kinds of texts. Um I think there’s what comes to your mind right away in terms of of what the content of the text there is there is narrative text, and all the sub genres that go with that, there is uh informational text and all the sub genres that go with that. Keeping those 2 things in mind, for the primary teacher looking at the informational text the child needs to read informational text solo, they need to do some reading on their own, but at a very young age kindergarten first and second grade the text that they can read on their own that’s informational is limited. And actually by the very nature of it restricted in it’s scope. So you have to move to another setting to take a look at the same kind of text. So there is informational text in the solo setting where the child is on their own with it and it’s limited. There’s informational text in what we called a shared book setting where it’s not quite as rich as it could be or should be, but it’s definantly more complex in nature than than the solo reading that the child does. And the teacher might do that in a shared setting. Which might be a big book that the teacher reads along, with or without pointing just in a in a shared way so that the child is realizing that there’s a little more here than just sitting and listening to the teacher read a book that’s not facing them, there’s some responsibility here and maybe joining in the teacher going along. Then there is probably the most sophisticated setting and I and the most sophisticated text rather and this is really something that I think primary teachers have are are just seeing themselves as being, it’s sort of a new responsibility and that’s doing read alouds with informational text. I know that there are many teachers who’ve done it all along but I’m gonna reflect back on my own practice and I read more storybooks than I read informational text. And when you find out I think Borders or uh Barnes and Noble did a survey that 80% of all text that males got is informational instead of narratives so so then so there are multiple texts that that are increasingly difficult depending or easy depending on the setting. Um and actually the the the kindergarten, first, second grade teacher has this incredible potpourri I uh taught eighth grade which is about as close as I got to high school and when I taught eighth grade I felt as though wrongly or rightly everything the child had to be on their own. As a primary teacher I’ve got this whole back, will I pick something out that’s really complex and wonderful and read it out loud and sort of in you know get the feel of the the words and the mouth and model what what fluent reading sounds like, or will I watch the excitement of giving them something that might be more restricted but they’re gonna read it by themselves and so this will be something you know that will have a certain kind of excitement. So the the primary teacher really has the this I mean you can look at it 2 ways you can think this is really complicated and it is. Because actually you should be putting yourself in all those settings, putting the kids in all those setting so then you’re picking out multiple texts and siting multiple settings. And I I would like the the high school teacher or the older teacher the teacher or older children to realize that that’s part of the joy of our job is that sort of complex choices that go on all the time.

I helped develop, and I’m gonna repeat this because he said you should repeat because you never know where you’re clip’s at. Um I helped developed a kindergarten intervention that was in English. I have since moved from a monolingual setting into a bilingual setting. And I’ve also learned that age doesn’t matter. You can be humbled at any age. I have been humbled and one of the things that’s humbled me is the notice that not only do children have are are are there a group of children who are learning to read but they’re learning a new language. And there is a group of teachers who are not only teaching children to read they’re teaching children another language. And so I have a question for myself. And and I’m going to be answering it in a couple of months. Can I take that format that we used for our intervention program that has four components, a writing/spelling component, and ABC knowledge component, a reading component and a phonemic awareness component, can I take those 4 things that appear to go across languages and can I develop a program that makes sense for the Spanish speaking student who’s being taught in the classroom in Spanish. And so so who who if I’m going to provide an intervention support it has to be in Spanish. Now some of those in in each of those components there’s gonna be a separate question, there’s really gotta be two questions. Are those the only 4 components that we’ll need and if even if they are even if I’m lucky enough to say yeah that’s it I I I’ll teach them to recognize the letters and the sounds and I’ll teach them phonemic awareness and I’ll teach them how to spell in conjunction with me and I’ll teach them how to read and get some concept to word, will I do it the same way? So and I I’ve I wish I had answers. Uh I am fairly comfortable that we will be able to in this intervention in kindergarten, I’m fairly comfortable that we’ll be able to teach letter sounds and letter recognition. I’m less sure of phonemic awareness beyond the beginning letter and even then I’ve been challenged by some excellent bilingual teachers who say why would you bother to teach them to break off individual letters when in fact we’re teaching them to know sounds in a syllable form, so why would you not do it that way? So what we’re going to play with is is both ways. Um I I have my preference but I won’t say what it is because I’m trying to keep an open mind. Um the book reading I also feel somewhat comfortable with. And the spelling piece I’m feeling comfortable with. My question is will it be enough and will it transition them into English in ways that are that are appropriate. So it’ll be an exciting semester coming up where we’ve hired uh a Spanish para-professional and an English para-professional and in my new district which is a very has very different demographics and very different population of children in and teachers uh will intervening in kindergarten make a difference in children as they go into first grade and I absolutely plan to follow them.