Thursday, 26 December 2019

More of our favorite things from 2019

In this second annual review of our “favorite things” from the year past, we celebrate the many gifts that our students and teachers give us every day. As the year draws to a close, let’s unwrap the highlights from 2019!

#1: Ideas that motivate and inspire
Collaboration with BrightFish teachers is a significant part of the joy of working in schools. The inspiration that we get from our dedicated teachers is truly a gift that takes the program to places we could never reach on our own. While we’re busy adding more features to roll out in 2020, some of the best ideas can only be delivered in person, such as motivational rewards, celebration walls, special prizes for achieving milestones in the program and fish-themed classrooms. With all of these great resources, we’ve now started a classroom gallery where our teachers can share what works to motivate their kids.

Prizes and fish-themed rewards inspire students at Taylor Elementary School.

#2: Grading that is timely and relevant
Teachers are reinforcing the importance of BrightFish Reading by integrating the data into their class grading programs. Here are a few of the great suggestions from teachers for grading:
  • by points earned: BrightFish provides a total and percentage based on the number of points earned out of the maximum available for each story. Convert the points percentage into a grade.
  • based on activity scores: Vocabulary and comprehension activities are scored with an overall percentage by story. Take the average of these scores to create one grade for each story or by skill area. 
  • based on stories completed per week: The average completion rate is 60 to 90 minutes per story, but that varies by student and reading level. Evaluate activity scores and stories completed to grade based on effort (time) and accuracy (scores). 
#3: Challenges to apply new skills
When students finish working on stories in their assigned level of BrightFish Reading, they can try Challenge activities to apply the skills they have learned. Passages are longer and contain graphical features such as sidebars and timelines, and questions simulate high-stakes testing to help students build confidence. Read more about BrightFish Challenges here

#4: Time for data chats
As part of our teacher training program, we emphasize the role that regular data chats can have on student achievement. Using data in the Student Progress Report for regular discussions is a great way for teachers to check in with students and help them improve their scores in BrightFish activities. While "good" progress may be different for each student, we created a checklist that teachers can use to determine appropriate interventions. We’re happy to report that it’s the #1 downloaded item from our Teacher Resource page!

#5: Data that informs and even surprises
This fall, we introduced a new reporting system that we hoped would give teachers easier access to the data they need. Like any new system, there was a typical learning curve and feedback phase where we honed the reports to make them simpler to read and use. A funny thing happened along the way – and it’s something we didn’t exactly expect. Teachers started asking all kinds of really interesting, in-depth questions about the data, which showed us that our new design was working. The feedback gave us even more ideas for reporting (see favorite thing #6).

#6: Teacher feedback to make us better
This year, we introduced an “upvote” option, which enables teachers to suggest new features and “vote” on their favorite ideas. A very dedicated teacher panel also gave us invaluable insights into how teachers were using our reports and provided ideas for new features that would enhance the use of the new system. Any time we are planning to roll out new tools, we can utilize the panel to get specific feedback and reactions to make changes as needed.

#7: Live chats and instant connections

Last year, we introduced live chat support to give our teachers another avenue for reaching our technical and instructional team. A few teachers used it a lot, but the majority still relied on email and phone to ask questions. We’re not exactly sure why, but this year we saw our live chat averages balloon – and it became the top way for teachers to get in touch with us. The great thing about live chat is that we can resolve most issues in under a minute – so it gets teachers on their way quickly and back to working with the class. 

#8 Students working hard – even on Christmas Eve!
We use monitoring software that lets us see when students are logged into BrightFish Reading, and for how long. This year we set a new benchmark for daily usage of more than 2,000 users  – and then went even higher. There are so many students logged in at all hours that we’ve had to start posting alerts for system updates and scheduling them between 12 midnight and 5 a.m. And if Santa was looking for extra effort to make the “nice” list, we even had kids working on December 24!

#9: Kids saying the darndest things
Periodically, we poll our students to see what they think of BrightFish Reading and how they would improve it. As usual, they didn’t disappoint and gave us some pretty interesting thoughts and ideas. Read some of our favorites from 2019.

#10: Winters that melt into spring
Well, maybe we're not near to spring just yet. But we’re looking forward to the “second half” of this school year and the continued collaboration, surprises and highlights that are sure to come in 2020! 

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Addressing learning challenges in reading

Students who have a disorder in one or more of the learning processes involved in language often experience significant difficulties with reading comprehension. There are a number of underlying causes that can be addressed by structured, scaffolded instruction and practice to develop reading skills. 

We know from the research into reading delays that students with learning disabilities typically rely on working memory to process and understand words. This requires more attention and cognitive energy than when reading subskills are fluent and automatic. 

Building from the bottom up

In BrightFish Reading, we employ a mastery-based methodology that helps students improve their word recognition processing and develop comprehension strategies to extract information from text.

The reason that we start each story unit with word recognition fluency is that it builds mastery of word and phrase-level subskills to the point of automaticity. This overlearning approach ensures that processing becomes virtually automatic so that students can free up cognitive capacity to attend to the meaning of what is being read. Students combine automatic processing with explicit instruction and scaffolded practice in vocabulary and comprehension strategies as they build a story from words to phrases to paragraphs and finally the full text. 

Remediating skill gaps

There are a number of strategies that you can use with your students to strengthen their skills development. Here are a few suggestions for activities that can develop these important reading foundations based on underlying deficits:

1. Review Patterns: Auditory processing disorders can cause issues with the ability to distinguish differences in sounds. Problems in visual perception can include reversing letters and skipping words. In BrightFish Reading, you can use data from the Student Progress report to see errors in visual match and sound match activities. Together with your student, review the trials for each story unit and look for patterns of errors. Choose the most common pattern, such as missed starting consonants, and work on those first. Then move to the next pattern.

Isolating patterns of errors can help focus remediation on specific skill gaps.

2. Set Word Challenges: Ask students to identify words from each passage that they find challenging. Have them keep a journal where they write down difficult words and their definitions. Work on the words together to discuss their meaning and application in the passage. 

3. Use Graphic Organizers: The graphic organizers used in BrightFish Reading can be downloaded from the Teacher’s Guide page as blank templates that can be printed. These are excellent resources to assist students as they work through the questions onscreen, but also to identify, organize and remember important ideas from what they read.

Read more of my strategies here.