A Thank You Letter from the Boston Police Department

I absolutely love receiving REAL mail. Mail that’s not advertising anything or informing me of my financial accounts. So, I got a little spark of excitement when I spotted a handwritten envelope in my mailbox at school. When I finally opened the envelope, it was something I never expected to see: a card from Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and an official Boston Police badge.

The card contained a thank you note for the written community support that the BPD received following the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the events that followed. It is intended for my ESL students from the 2012-2013 School Year, whose publication Being Bostonian: How We Make Boston Strong was written for and mailed to the Boston Police shortly after April vacation last spring.

My husband kindly and beautifully framed the card, letter, and badge, and I will present it to my students tomorrow. I am so proud of them, and I know they will be excited that their publication was recognized.

Boston Strong Card

Boston Strong Card

BPD Letter

Letter from Police Commissioner Ed Davis

BPD Badge

Boston Police Official Badge

Three Part Frame

Malala Yousafzai News Broadcast

Below you will find three wonderful video clips from Japan’s NHK Television Broadcast about Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the United Nations in July. It was interesting to watch and re-watch these clips in Japanese. Although I do not speak any Japanese, the images alone served to tell Malala’s story and how it has affected children in Pakistan and around the world.

 I am so pleased that my student Quddus Rodrigues and his fabulous “super mama” Filomena are featured in this compelling program. Quddus is a model of how reading and writing can inspire us and empower us to advocate for others. I love that he is a young man that stands for education. As Malala says: “Let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge…Education is the only solution.”
Quddus’ Clip in the Broadcast
Malala Broadcast, Part I
Malala Broadcast, Part II

Adapting Text for ELLs: “Taliban shot teenage girl for fighting for girls’ rights”

In a recent comment on the post “Letters to Malala Yousafzai”, veteran teacher Amethyst asked about lower lexile texts for ELL students. Adapted texts are a valuable resource to ELL teachers as they allow for us to convey grade-level content to our students with comprehensible language. Although I have found decent adapted or modified texts on the subscription sites Achieve3000 and EdHelper.com, these sites do not offer texts on more current events nor do they provide articles on the more controversial or deep topics that peak my students’ (and my own) interest.

I have found that it is sometimes easier to simply adapt authentic texts myself, rather than wade fruitlessly through the depths of a search engine. In preparing adapted texts for ELLs, I have found the guidelines in this article from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) extremely helpful.

In summary, the TEA advises teachers to adapt text by employing the following steps:

1. Identify main ideas and key words in the original article.

2. Use a clear topic sentences followed by supporting details.

3. Shorten sentences.

4. Simplify grammar and vocabulary.

5. Rephrase complex ideas.

6. Clarify by giving examples or giving the meaning of a word in parentheses.

7. Make the text easier to look at by using bold headings and larger font sizes.

I would also advise adding some graphics and some words for discussion.

Since it is summer and my text adaptation skills are a little rusty, I created a sample adaptation. I began by printing out, reading, and marking up the original article. I marked the main topics of each paragraph or section and also wrote some ideas for key vocabulary words.

Original article with my annotations

Original article with my annotations

Next, I used Microsoft Word to type up my own adaptation of the text (click the link to download it). The most time consuming part was thinking about the paragraph organization and headings.

Although it does take some time to adapt a text for ELL students, it is worthwhile to create an engaging text appropriate for your own students’ levels. Also, by the time you introduce the text to the class, you will be very prepared for your lesson because you will definitely have familiarized yourself with the content.

Rising Star: Quddus Rodrigues, Teen Civil Rights Advocate and Creative Writer

I am extremely proud of Quddus Rodrigues, who has been my student for the past three years at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School. I have always known Quddus to be a thoughtful and creative person who expresses a deep concern for those around him, and it has been to my absolute delight that his talents have been recognized both locally and internationally in recent months. I will now present you with a photo essay of  Quddus’ life as a rising star in both the civil rights and creative writing arenas.

Thursday, July 11, 2013: Preparation for Malala Yousafzai Documentary

Quddus prepares for his interview for a Malala Yousafzai documentary for NHK television.

Quddus prepares for his interview for a Malala Yousafzai documentary for NHK television.

In late June, I was contacted by Yoshiko Uno-Flukes, a UK-based researcher for NHK television, a respected Japanese station. NHK is producing a documentary film on Malala Yousafzai, to whom my students had written letters in October after she was attacked by the Taliban on her way to school. They were especially interested in Quddus’ letter. Last Thursday, Quddus and I prepared for the interview for several hours by reviewing the events and responses to Malala’s shooting and recovery, including the well-written piece “Girls Who Risk their Lives for Education“. The above photo shows Quddus writing his responses to interview questions provided by NHK while referencing an article.

Friday, July 12, 2013: Grub Street Orientation

Quddus and his mother, Filomena, attend his Young Adult Writing Program Orientation at Grub Street.

Quddus and his mother, Filomena, attend his Young Adult Writing Program Orientation at Grub Street.

Quddus poses with the famous Grub Street red typewriter.

Quddus poses with the famous Grub Street red typewriter.

Quddus and Filomena enjoy post-orientation sushi, shrimp-fried rice, and Boba tea in Chinatown after the orientation.

Quddus and Filomena enjoy post-orientation sushi, shrimp-fried rice, and Boba tea in Chinatown after the orientation.

In April, at the suggestion of my colleague and dear friend, author and educator Paula Leoni, Quddus completed his application for the prestigious Grub Street Young Adult Writing Program Summer Teen Fellowship. This program awards young adult writers with a stipend and provides them with a three week intensive writing experience that includes instruction from and meetings with published authors. Click here to read his application. The piece “Mystery Mansions of Madness” will have you in stitches!

Last Friday, Quddus, his mother, and Paula attended the orientation at Grub Street, located in the Steinway building at the edge of Boston’s theater district. Afterwards, they enjoyed a sushi dinner at which Quddus apparently tricked his mother into eating a mouthful of wasabi. Luckily, laughter quickly ensued! 

Special thanks to Paula Leoni for providing the photographs.

Saturday, July 13, 2013: The Making of a Malala Documentary

The NHK film crew captures Quddus and his mother strolling through their Dorchester Center neighborhood.

The NHK film crew captures Quddus and his mother strolling through their Dorchester Center neighborhood.

The NHK film crew captures the art of thinking, writing, and reflecting.

The NHK film crew captures the art of thinking, writing, and reflecting.

The NHK crew interview Quddus.

The NHK crew interview Quddus.

NHK records Quddus' reactions to Malala Yousafzai's recent speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday.

NHK records Quddus’ reactions to Malala Yousafzai’s recent speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday.

The NHK crew records Quddus' verbal reflections on Malala's speech.

The NHK crew records Quddus’ verbal reflections on Malala’s speech.

I was so impressed that NHK traveled all the way from New York City on a hot Saturday afternoon to interview Quddus. He is certainly a very interesting young man.  I cannot wait to see the documentary.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Quddus grabs a caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks before the Grub Street orientation. He complained, "It's so much work being famous! You always have to have your picture taken!" HA!

Quddus grabs a caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks before the Grub Street orientation. He complained, “It’s so much work being famous! You always have to have your picture taken!” HA!

Waking Up

Quddus poses with his fellow writers on the first day of the Young Adult Writing Program.

I was so excited to receive the following text from Quddus on Monday afternoon: “Had fun made friends had a great time”. I cannot wait to attend the final celebration. I’m sure we will all be hearing so much more about Quddus, a rising star on a bright path. We are all so proud!

The Roslindale Language and Literacy Center: Powered by Donation

Beginning in the summer of 2013, the Roslindale Language and Literacy Center will be open for business. We offer the following services: Evaluation, Consultation, and Reading and Writing Intervention. We service children and adolescents ages 5 – 18, and we specialize in meeting the needs of  pre-adolescent and adolescent students who struggle with reading and writing. Our services are available at no cost. However, we do accept donations. These donations are used to fund the costs of running the clinic.

Our Process

Initial Interview

The intial interview serves to inform parents and children about our practice and services. This interview allows us to gather information about the child’s academic history and parental concerns. It also provides the child with a chance to experience the evaluation environment prior to the actual evaluation experience.

Evaluation

We provide a comprehensive evaluation of your child’s oral and written language abilities: speaking and listening skills, reading skills, and writing skills. We do not offer psychological testing at this time.

Consultation

The purpose of the consultation is to review the evaluation results with parents, and when appropriate, with the child. We will explain how these results can be used to inform IEP services as well as appropriate strategies and tools for teaching at home and for services at our center. Together, we will examine your child’s areas of strength as well as areas of language learning need.

Reading and Writing Intervention

Based on the results of assessments, we will provide 1:1 or small group reading and writing intervention services to build your child’s skills in reading and writing. Intervention services are based first and foremost on a child’s individual needs, and we utilize  multi-sensory methods to support your child’s learning. Parents are encouraged to attend intervention sessions with children to learn about the intervention process and strategies to assist their child in the home.

Community Access

Our services are free. This allows for all members of the community to access reading services.However, we do accept donations. All proceeds from donations are used to fund the cost of the clinic.

Location

We are located in the Metropolitan Hill section of Roslindale, near the Pleasant Cafe. Street parking is readily available.

Contact

For more information, please contact Jennifer Dines (jenniferdines@gmail.com) or call 617-331-8829.

Scientific Literacy at the Roslindale Farmers’ Market

While wandering through the booths filled with edible greens, baked goods, and handmade soaps at the Roslindale Farmers’ Market on this muggy Saturday morning, I spotted a sign with the word “Literacy” and magnetically fluttered towards it like a moth drawn to light.

The sign read:

Boston University ALES: Advocates for Literacy in Environmental Science

Boston University ALES: Advocates for Literacy in Environmental Science

Attached to the sign was a table with scientific instruments and props. And behind the table were the ALES themselves!

Three of the ALES with their scientific tools at the Roslindale Farmers' Market

Three of the ALES with their scientific tools at the Roslindale Farmers’ Market

I learned that the ALES are a group of Boston University graduate student scientists who travel to various locations (including public schools) to promote science by providing explanations and demonstrations of what scientists do. Their goal is to create public awareness of the contributions that scientists make to society. They strive to show that scientists do not exist  in “ivory tower” laboratories, but rather solve problems and study phenomenon presented by the world. The ALES certainly proved their capability to meet their objectives through their delightful demonstrations this morning.

The demonstration below served to personify soil by showing that it is a breathing entity that exhales carbon dioxide.

The breathing soil with a CO2 monitor

The breathing soil with a CO2 monitor

Maple woods, like the strips seen here, makes up the floors of bowling alleys.

Maple woods, like the strips seen here, makes up the floors of bowling alleys.

The prop above shows the growth of various maples. A member of the ALES informed me that maples are used to construct the floors of bowling alleys.

133 year old Red Spruce

133 year old Red Spruce

I learned that some species of trees do not deal well with shade, but they grow very quickly with enough sunlight. However, species that can tolerate shade often outlive sun-worshipping species. The BU ALES explained this as “Tortise and the Hare” syndrome. I also learned that I can classify the Red Spruce as a “tortoise” because it is able to withstand shade.

The BU ALES offered a variety of fungi to grow at home.

The BU ALES offered a variety of fungi and plants to grow at home.

Finally, the BU ALES offered goody bags of plants and fungi to grow in your home, and they explain to you how to create appropriate soils and containers for your goodies.

The 20 minutes or so at the BU ALES booth enriched my meager knowledge of environmental scientists, and I will definitely be contacting them in the fall to arrange for them to visit my classroom. I cannot wait to learn more from them and enhance my scientific literacy. Thank you to the BU ALES for promoting literacy in our community!

The Boston University Advocates for Literacy in Environmental Sciences are available for school visits and public presentations. Please contact ales@bu.edu for more information.

Question Generation Reading Comprehension Intervention for an Adolescent English Language Learner with a Language-Based Learning Disability

Below is a paper that I wrote for the course “Development and Disorders of Spoken and Written Language” at MGH Institute of Health Professions. I found the topic of teaching students to generate their own questions to be very interesting, and I found a lot of information that I could apply to my own classroom in terms of instruction in reading comprehension. The student name used is a pseudonym.

Question Generation Reading Comprehension Intervention for an Adolescent English Language Learner with a Language-Based Learning Disability

Background Information

            Miguel is a cooperative and friendly 13-year-old eighth grade student who has attended the Boston Public Schools since the first grade, after moving from Puerto Rico where he was born. Miguel speaks Spanish at home with his mother. He participates in all classroom tasks, and he has excellent attendance. Although he has received instruction in English for seven years, state testing and classroom assessments of academic language place Miguel at the intermediate level of ESL. Miguel also presents difficulties in reading comprehension. Although Miguel is able to recall stories and information presented orally, he struggles with comprehension of passages presented to him in written form. Woodcock-Johnson III testing shows that while Miguel has average listening comprehension and oral language recall abilities, his broad reading abilities are in the low range (4th to 8th percentile). Miguel has an Individualized Education Plan with a goal in the area of reading comprehension.

Article Summaries

Singer and Dolan (1982) studied the effects of instruction in problem-solving story schema and question generation on a group of eleventh graders reading complex works of short fiction. The researchers noted that, while teacher-posed questions are common in traditional reading instruction, they are problematic because students need to develop independence by setting their own purposes and questions for reading. Complete comprehension occurs when the reader achieves coherence between posed and answered questions, story content and organization, and instructional objectives. Many short stories in high school curricula adhere to a problem-solving schema in which the main character wishes to achieve a goal and encounters obstacles on the path to achieving that goal. The story concludes when the character meets either success or defeat. In the experimental group in this study, students received instruction about five story elements (character, goal, obstacles, outcome, theme), and they were given general questions to use when posing questions about each element. This group received instruction in how to develop questions specific to a particular story from a set of general questions. Students in the control group responded to teacher-posed questions. After three weeks, the experimental group performed significantly better than the control group on multiple-choice quizzes that asked questions about story structure. This implies that direct instruction assists students in improving self-directed comprehension and that instruction in higher level story grammar and comprehension strategies is essential for students to be able to process, store, and retrieve information from more complex short stories. The subjects in the experimental group were able to write questions connected to the instruction that they received, demonstrating that they used cognitive resources to comprehend the text, rather than simply memorizing and recalling text events as they occurred.

Wong and Jones (1982) investigated the effects of meta-comprehension training on students with learning disabilities and on students with typical achievement. There were 120 subjects in all: eighth and ninth grade students with learning disabilities as well as sixth grade students with normal achievement. 60 subjects, 30 from each age group, comprised the experimental group and were provided with explicit instruction in setting a purpose for reading and self-questioning. Subjects were then presented with passages in which they were to locate the main idea and construct questions. Subjects in the control group were provided with the same passages as the experimental group, but they did not receive any instruction in generating questions nor were they asked to self-question when reading. All subjects received comprehension tests on given passages. This procedure was repeated over four days with different sets of short passages from instructional reading textbooks. The results show that the training benefited the comprehension performance of the subjects with learning disabilities, but it did not affect the achievement of the sixth grade subjects. Students with learning disabilities who received trainings demonstrated greater accuracy on comprehension questions than untrained subjects at the same grade level. When students with learning disabilities were presented with self-questioning training, they were able to improve both their awareness of the text as well as their skill in formulating questions. A performance gap between trained and untrained students with learning disabilities shows that it is important for students with learning disabilities to receive this training in order to increase students’ text comprehension. Additionally, the study demonstrates that students with learning disabilities do not lack the ability to learn and apply meta-comprehension strategies.

Cohen (1983) investigated the results of a question generation intervention on younger students. The subjects consisted of 48 children in the third grade with a range of skill levels in reading. The intervention for the experimental group consisted of instruction in generating questions about short stories using the words who, what, when, where, why, and how at the literal level of comprehension. Students in this group were also provided with tasks that involved applying questioning instruction to short stories. The students in the control group were not given any instruction or practice in generating questions or in applying the question generation strategy to short stories. All subjects completed pre- and post-intervention question generation assessments as well as a standardized assessment of reading comprehension. The experimental group scored 56% on the pre-test and reached 87% on the post-test. The control group’s scores were 36% and 38% respectively. Additionally, the standardized test also showed improvement for the experimental group with scores of 74.5% on the pre-test and 88% on the post-test. The control group received scores of 74.5% on both the pre-test and the post-test. This study shows that third grade students are capable of generating literal comprehension questions for short stories, and that training in questioning enhances comprehension. The improvement in the experimental group’s scores on the standard assessment may indicate that children who received instruction asked themselves questions spontaneously, without being requested to do so. The results of this study suggest that question generation instruction is beneficial in the primary grades and may improve students’ abilities to comprehend fiction texts.

Nolte and Singer (1985) focused on teaching a process of active comprehension to students in the fourth and fifth grades. The study investigated whether students given directed instruction in active comprehension demonstrated comprehension superior to that of a control group. The study also examined whether students independently used the active comprehension process after the intervention on passages in which they received no direct instruction. The instruction in active comprehension for the experimental group consisted of the teacher reviewing story structure and components and then modeling appropriate questions for the students. Responsibility was gradually released to students leading themselves through the question generation process through small groups, partners, and, finally, independent work in question generation. The control group received traditional reading comprehension instruction with the teacher reviewing vocabulary and asking a before-reading question. The students in this group then read silently and completed a comprehension exam after reading. The researchers wanted to see if the effects of the question generation training resulted in students demonstrating better comprehension on a new passage than students in the control group. Students who participated in active comprehension training performed better on comprehension tasks than students in the control group. The study shows that direct instruction in the process of self-questioning before, during, and after reading has a positive effect on student reading ability. Self-questioning may provide students with motivation to read closely and carefully in order to answer their own questions to satisfy curiosity. Instruction in active comprehension helps students to develop metacognitive skills. Furthermore, students who ask themselves questions are able to focus attention on important text details. When students receive instruction in comprehension through teacher modeling of questions and student self-questioning, the process enhances comprehension, and the strengthened comprehension skills are transferred to other texts that the student encounters.

Davey and McBride (1986) explored the impact of training in question generation on reading comprehension of short expository texts as measured by the quality and form of questions generated, the accuracy of responses to literal and inferential comprehension questions, and the accuracy of predicted response performance, a measure of self-monitoring. The subjects were 125 sixth graders who participated in five sessions over a period of two weeks. Subjects were divided into five groups. The question-training group received instruction in constructing two types of questions: questions connecting information across sentence units and questions focusing on important information. They received a rationale for question generation and instruction using a self-evaluation checklist. A second group practiced responding to literal questions and a third to inferential questions. A fourth group practiced generating questions without training. A fifth group received neither training nor practice; they read passages and completed a vocabulary activity. At the conclusion of five sessions, subjects read texts, generated questions, and responded to four inferential and four literal questions. Subjects predicted their performance on the assessment. Generated questions were scored for quality and form. Question responses were scored for accuracy, and self-assessments of performance were compared with actual performance. For quality of generated questions, the question-training group surpassed all other groups, but for form of generated questions, the question-training group performed better than all other groups with the exception of the inference-practice group. On literal questions, the question-training and question-generation-practice groups performed better than the group that received no training and the group that practiced inferential questions. On inferential questions, the question-training group outperformed all other groups. Finally, the training group demonstrated more accuracy in predicting performance than any other group. The brief training in question generation resulted in positive outcomes in terms of generating quality questions, responding accurately to comprehension questions, and accurately predicting performance. The study demonstrates that students are capable of being trained to make inferences with expository texts in order to increase comprehension. The results also suggest that, while practice with literal tasks may suffice to increase literal comprehension, direct instruction is required for an increase in inferential comprehension.

Implications for Teaching

Current state high school graduation requirements mandate that Miguel pass reading comprehension examinations that consist of a variety of passages that include varying levels of fiction and non-fiction, including complex works of short fiction. If Miguel does not achieve proficiency in responding to multiple choice and essay questions about a variety of readings, he will not be able to receive a high school diploma, which will limit his educational and career options. Therefore, it is essential that Miguel develop comprehension strategies to use in attacking various types of readings.

Because Miguel possesses solid oral language skills in English but struggles with the written form of the language, it appears that Miguel requires targeted instruction in reading comprehension. It appears important to provide Miguel with strategically planned reading instruction that will effectively and quickly allow for him to attack a reading with independence. It appears that question generation would be a beneficial area of instruction for Miguel. In fact, after an examination of research on 16 categories of reading comprehension instruction, the National Reading Panel (2000) concluded that the most scientific support exists for the category of question generation.

Nolte and Singer’s (1985) work suggests that self-questioning could provide motivation for Miguel to read closely. Additionally, the strategy may allow for him to focus more intently on textual details.

Wong and Jones’ (1982) study indicates that Miguel is likely to possess the capability to understand and apply metacognitive strategies in reading comprehension. In order to successfully use a question generation strategy to increase comprehension, Miguel will most likely require explicit training in understanding how to formulate questions and apply these questions to focusing on a reading selection.

Singer and Dolan’s (1982) research implies that Miguel may benefit from instructional experiences that require him to apply content knowledge of story and text structure to generating questions. These activities could assist Miguel in understanding, storing, and recalling information from a reading as they allow for him to strategically apply a cognitive framework for understanding a complex text rather than simply storing and remembering various random details from a reading.

Cohen’s (1983) experiment shows that question generation training may lead to Miguel applying a self-questioning strategy without prompting and thus increase his comprehension of any text encountered.

Davey and McBride’s (1986) work demonstrates that, although practice with literal comprehension questions may suffice to increase Miguel’s performance in this area, explicit and direct instruction is likely essential to more fully develop abilities in inferential comprehension.

While research on question generation that specifically mentions adolescent English Language Learners with Language-based learning disabilities appears limited, it does seem that there is evidence that a question generation intervention would benefit a student with learning disabilities as well as a student learning English as a Second Language. Wong and Jones’ (1982) subjects, adolescents with learning disabilities, demonstrated improvement in comprehension as a result of question generation training. Furthermore, Cardenas-Hagan (2011) states that it is imperative for teachers of adolescent English Language Learners to implement strategy instruction in reading comprehension into their lessons.

References

Cardenas-Hagan, E., (2011). Biliteracy instruction for Spanish-speaking students. In J.R. Birsh (Ed.), Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills (pp. 605-630). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.

 

Cohen, R. (1983). Self-generated questions as an aid to reading comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 770-775.

 

Davey, B., & McBride, S. (1986). Effects of question-generation training on reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology78(4), 256.

 

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Reports of the subgroups. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

 

Nolte, R. Y., & Singer, H. (1985). Active comprehension: Teaching a process of reading comprehension and its effects on reading achievement. The Reading Teacher, 24-31.

 

Singer, H., & Donlan, D. (1982). Active comprehension: Problem-solving schema with question generation for comprehension of complex short stories. Reading Research Quarterly, 166-186.

 

Wong, B. Y., & Jones, W. (1982). Increasing meta-comprehension in learning disabled and normally achieving students through self-questioning training. Learning Disability Quarterly, 228-240.