For the first time in 25 years, Read Naturally founder Candyce Ihnot has moved her reading lab to a new school. In a series of blog posts, Candyce will share “stories from the lab,” in which she describes the successes, challenges, and surprises of operating Read Naturally Live in a new setting. She’ll sprinkle each post with bits of wisdom from decades of creating Read Naturally materials and using them with the beloved students she keeps at the center of her work. In this post, Candyce solves an important mystery that emerged in the lab after checking her students' initial placement.

​The Over-Practicing Mystery

I recently finished checking the initial placement of my 12 students. Whew! It turned out to be more challenging than I expected! After all these years of experience, I still suffered some angst as to whether to adjust the levels and goals of these students I am just beginning to get to know.

My first step was easy enough: I printed the Students-at-a-Glance report. My next step was to evaluate the data. I found plenty of good news. Each average cold-timing score was within the placement range for the student’s level, all students’ goals were appropriate for their cold timings, and each student’s average comprehension score was at least 60%.

(The student whose comprehension score was 60% needed some immediate comprehension support. How I supported this student will be the topic of a future post.)

As I further analyzed the data, though, I knew I needed to make some adjustments. I had to figure out a new plan for Mathias, as I wrote about last time. Furthermore, I noticed that two students passed with an average of three practices, and their average hot-timing scores were close to their goals. But all the other students practiced many more times, and their hot-timing scores far exceeded their goals. What was going on? 

The next day I entered the lab on a mission to find out why the students were over-practicing. Here is what I noticed:

  • The two students with only three practices were from different class periods, but they sat in the same seat. Their computer screen was the most easily viewed by the teachers. The other students’ screens were facing away from the teachers.
  • We teachers were spending too much time with certain students, making other students wait.
  • The students kept right on practicing (instead of playing Wordtastic) even after they had met their goals!

As soon as I knew what the problems were, I got to work on the solutions.

First, I rearranged the desks into a horseshoe shape so that I could easily see all the students’ computer screens from wherever I stood in the classroom. This way, the other teachers and I could immediately tell if a screen turned red, signaling that a student needed a hot timing.

Next, I started to pay attention to how long the other teachers and I sat with kids. There are a few kids in the class who just love to tell charming stories about their birthday or the tooth they lost. They’re so cute it’s hard to cut them off! But when I take too long with one student, another student has to wait. Furthermore, the chatty student isn’t reading. I remind myself that I may be the only person in that child’s day insisting that he or she reads a large number of words. So, with that belief, I’m not so worried if I gently interrupt their story. I say something kind but direct: “Another student needs me, so I’m going to finish up here with you. I hope you will tell me about your Grandma later.”

Finally, it was clear that instead of doing the wait-time activity (the Wordtastic game), the students were just continuing to practice. (Was this a bad thing? I had to pinch myself! The kids were actually reading!) But, this “problem” made me realize I needed to do some additional training with the students on the practice and waiting-for-teacher steps. During the practice step, the computer says, “When you finish practicing, click Start to practice again, or click Next to play the word game.” The kids weren’t listening to the full sentence. As soon as the computer said, “click Start,” that’s what they did. Practicing the same story too many times can get to a point of diminishing returns. So, I needed to remind them they could click Next to play the word game once they knew the story well. We want them to expand their vocabulary, get new ideas, stay motivated, and move on as soon as they can.

I learned a lot in the process of checking initial placement. The main thing I learned was to count my blessings. Overall, these kids were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing. When I looked around and took in the room as a whole, I saw that the students were all reading. When I closed my eyes and listened, I heard their voices reading along. It was music to my ears. We still have lots of work to do this year, but so far, things are off to a great start.

Click the links below to access Candyce's previous posts:
Behind the Scenes
Who Signed Me Up for This?"
Thinking Outside the (Placement) Box