Thursday, 2 February 2017

Breaking Down the Placement Question

In the spirit of Groundhog Day, I thought I would answer a question that keeps coming up. How do we determine where to place students in BrightFish Reading?

The short answer: place them at their current grade level.

Now for the long answer. Many reading programs require fitting students into a fixed reading level, so weve all become a little conditioned to focusing on the question of placement. BrightFish Reading takes a different approach, by breaking down on-level content to make it accessible. Students "construct" passages, starting with fluency in the words and phrases in the text, then moving on to key vocabulary. From there they read paragraphs, showing understanding of facts and details, then work up to the full text and higher-level comprehension, such as authors purpose and themes.

How are the levels different?
The instructional design of BrightFish Reading is based on a student-centered approach to reading. When students begin the fluency exercises  tackling one, two and three letter words theres not much difference between 8th grade words and 6th grade words. The words and phrases get increasingly difficult, but the progress is gradual and builds confidence as students master each activity. 

As students complete stories, they will gain a deep understanding of connected text in the band range for that grade level. The vocabulary and comprehension exercises align to standards, giving students the ability to practice and improve. As the difficulty of each exercise increases, so do the rewards. With constructive feedback and encouragement, the goal is to challenge but never frustrate.

Where are the pain points?
Vocabulary is one of the most difficult skill areas for students who are behind their peers in reading. It makes sense that the less reading you do, the more gaps there are in your vocabulary. So its not surprising to see struggling readers get low scores on their first attempts in the vocabulary exercises. Whats really interesting is what happens as students complete stories, get feedback and work with the helper tools in the program. We see their vocabulary scores improve. The error data in the Teacher Dashboard provides insights into where students are making mistakes and how they are learning from one activity to the next. 

Vocabulary error data in BrightFish Training Reports

What about the Cloze?
The BrightFish Cloze pre-test is another data point for teachers to get a measure of how well students can comprehend text at grade level. It's not a placement test but it does provide an indicator of how well students are likely to do in a given grade level in BrightFish Reading. When students score below 10 on their grade-level Cloze, teachers will want to closely monitor their progress to provide extra support. Students who score above 80 will likely enjoy the challenge of working on stories a grade level above their current grade. 

When should I make adjustments?
As teachers, you know your students the best, so weve created a flexible system that allows the assignment of multiple levels. If you think students would benefit from a broader range of text complexity  either up or down you can easily assign additional grade levels to individual students or whole classes.

Ive posted a how to article on adding levels to a class or student menu. Find it here.

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