Mary Bowman-Kruhm
Writer/Speaker/Teacher

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I encourage you to read the following articles:

Specific Strategies to Help Students with Severe Reading Difficultiesa brief list of some time-tested reading strategies

Directed Reading-Thinking Activity (DRTA)a time-honored, teacher-directed lesson format for guiding students through the reading process

Phonemic Awarenessa term that has become widely known and researched only in the last few years

Readers Theatre scripts:

"A Day in the Life of Police Officer"

"Busy Fingers"

"Busy Toes."

I also invite you to read my article "Whole Language: What It Is, What It Isn't" on the website of the AVKO Dyslexia Research Foundation. There I discuss what used to be known as the "psycholinguistic" approach to reading. It is more a philosophy, a framework, a theory, an orientation, rather than a reading program.




Specific Strategies to Help Students with Severe Reading Difficulties

NOTE: Usually a combination of several techniques is needed for students
reading three or more grade levels below expectation.

The following is a brief list of some time-tested strategies.

Reading Recovery. Although this very specialized program requires training and is aimed at beginning readers, many of its features and its format can be used with any student.

Visual Auditory Kinesthetic Tactile (VAKT). A tracing technique, also called the Fernald method, after Grace Fernald, who structured and popularized the process.

Impress Reading. Reading together with the student, with the teacher's finger first guiding the words as they're pronounced, then the student taking over.

Oral Reading. Reading with listener noting miscues and keeping word bank. Especially useful with a student's own language experience story he or she has dictated or written.

Cloze. In addition to the traditional written cloze, try choral cloze with a language experience story: Erase (or eliminate in copying) some words, read the story, and ask students to supply the missing words or letters.

Sign Language. Limited research after glowing first results but worth a try.

Tape Recording. Listening to someone else read or listening to self read to build metacognitive skills if student recognizes miscues and attempts to self-correct.

Color Reinforcement. Use color selectively to serve as a mnemonic; e.g.,

—green at left margin (go) and red at right (stop) to help tracking,
—various colors to highlight specific vowel sounds,
—colors which represent sight words (yellow for corn, orange for an orange).

Writing/Printing. D'Nealian and cursive simultaneously. Teach reading and spelling as you teach the alphabet.

Keyboarding. Teach the keyboard so students can use computer programs. At same time, teach individual letters and combining them to make words.

Readers Theatre. Reading short radio-type scripts is especially useful in conjunction with other of the above strategies as a way to reinforce words learned and keep words in context.

Commercial Programs. Pick and choose carefully; research thoroughly before ordering. Materials and training are generally expensive; research is often skimpy and done by "researchers" with a vested interest.

by Mary Bowman-Kruhm

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Directed Reading-Thinking Activity (DRTA)

A Directed Reading-Thinking Activity is a time-honored, teacher-directed lesson format for guiding students through the reading process. The DRTA should be a staple around which every teacher builds instruction. Simply saying "Read pp. 217-224 tonight" or doing round robin reading to get through a story or section of material is simply not adequate. Directing students' reading and teaching them strategies for comprehending (and monitoring their comprehension) is a necessity if the reading is to be of value. A DRTA does even more. It builds on past knowledge while enhancing students' background, provides opportunity for identification of unknown words, develops vocabulary, encourages problem-solving, cognition, and metacognition, and prepares students for reinforcement activities.

Summary of Steps:

1. Prepare for reading. Refer students to text or a section of text.
  • Activate prior knowledge, arouse interest, develop vocabulary.
  • Preview material. Ask students to survey title, subheads, illustrations, pictures, etc.
  • Ask: "What do you think this story (chapter, section, or passage) will be about?" Encourage predictions. Ask: "Why do you think so?"
  • Establish purpose(s) for reading; e.g., to reach some conclusion, to grasp general ideas, to understand sequence of events, to predict events, to follow directions, etc.

2. Read. Ask students to read silently to a predetermined place.

3. Check comprehension & vocabulary. Ask questions from Step 1. Some predictions will be refined or reformulated. Ask students "How do you know?" to encourage substantiation. Ask students to re-read silently or orally as appropriate.

Repeat steps 2 & 3 to end of material. Feel free to skip less important passages or summarize for them. Do a "Think-Aloud" to let them know why; i.e., model your thinking process as you read a section of the story or text.

4. Check comprehension based on original purpose(s) set prior to reading. Questions should be of varying types (text-explicit, text-implicit, & critical thinking).

5. Follow-up with activities or assignment.

Cautions:

Richard Vacca in Content Area Reading (Little, Brown, & Co., 1981) notes that:

  • Atmosphere is everything. The teacher must set the tone for an open, supportive environment and may inhibit student participation by rejecting any predictions.
  • "Wait time" is also important. Allow reflection time or students will expect the answers to be given if they wait the teacher out.
  • Analyze the content before class to determine logical stopping points in reading, select relevant concepts and ideas, decide purposes for which students should read, prepare tips about useful reading strategies; e.g., "Skim to the bottom of page 221 quickly; the information of that treaty isn't very important."

by Mary Bowman-Kruhm

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Phonemic Awareness

We have all heard of phonics and phonetics but phonemic awareness is a term that has become widely known and researched only in the last few years. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that sounds make up language. It is a precursor to phonics. Do not confuse it with phonics. Phonics refers to the sound-symbol relationship. It is an awareness that speech is composed of discrete units. It allows children to develop the alphabetic principle. It is an auditory skill.

Recent research indicates that children who acquire a sense of phonemic awareness more easily learn to read than those who don't. Those who lack phonemic awareness are in a situation similar to a child with no concept of time who is told, "Be home at 2:15." In the May/June 1996 issue of Teacher Magazine, an article, "The Best Of Both Worlds," uses the following quote to explain the term.

"Connie Juel, a professor of education at the University of Virginia, offers an example in The Leadership Letters, an occasional series from the publisher Silver Burdett Ginn. A teacher, she writes, can tell a child that the letter f makes the sound you hear at the beginning of the word fish. But, she points out, 'to a child without phonemic awareness, there is no 'beginning' sound in fish.'"

The article goes on to say that preliminary studies show that the "areas of the brain where phonological processing occurs behave differently in children with reading difficulties ....". That means children with a tendency to learning problems need more explicit instruction in phonemic awareness—and certainly all children can more easily learn to read if their early teachers emphasize the sounds letters make.

Here are some basic activities to develop phonemic awareness. What others can you think of? [NOTE: The focus is on sounds, not letters, although you may, for example, based on group, want to point out that k/c or g/j, sound the same.]

  • Shopping: The teacher tells the students that s/he is going to the store to buy ___. Children take turns adding other words that begin with the same sound. Listing the words on chart paper connects all the language arts areas.
  • Clapping or Tapping: The teacher claps or taps out a rhythmic pattern. The students reproduce the pattern.
  • Story Reading: The teacher chooses as read-aloud a book (e.g., Down the Road by Alice Schertle) or poem (e.g., Poe's "The Raven") that contains a great deal of rhyme and uses the rhyme patterns for activities.
  • Pass It On Rhyme Game: Sitting in a circle, the teacher says a word and the children pass that word plus one that rhymes with it on. Example: The teacher starts with the word all. The first child says, "all, ball." The second child says, "all, ball, call," and so on.
  • Consonant Cards: (This is an effective way to transition to phonics.) The teacher (or each child) makes a set of 3" x 5" cards with one common word chunk centered on each card; e.g., all, it, at. Cards are cut into strips to make consonant cards. After laying a consonant in front of the word chunk, the teacher (or child) pronounces the word formed. If it is a real word the child puts it in one pile, if a nonsense word it goes into another pile.
  • by Mary Bowman-Kruhm

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A Day in the Life of a Police Officer

Adapted by Mary Bowman-Kruhm; based on the book A Day in the Life of a Police Officer (Rosen/PowerKids Press)

Characters: Narrator, Officer Jerry Morales, Bruno, Police Chief, Police Officers (any number), Dispatcher, Student

Narrator: The job of the police is to enforce our laws, protect us, and try to prevent crime. Jerry Morales is a police officer. Like most police officers, he has a partner who works with him. Unlike most police officers, Officer Morales does not have a person for his partner. He has a big German shepherd dog named Bruno.

Officer Morales: Time to get up and take a walk, Bruno. Let's go or we'll be late for roll call.

Police Chief: I'm glad to say that we didn't have any big problems in Frederick last night. Here are your orders for today.

Police Officers: OK, let's go. Time to get out on patrol. Let's move out.

Narrator: Before they go on patrol, Officer Morales checks his car to be sure it is clean, both inside and out.

Officer Morales: Jump in your cage, Bruno. You can ride in the front seat later today. Good dog!

Bruno: Woof!

Narrator: Bruno does what Officer Morales tells him to do. He looks for lost keys, finds drugs, chases people who run from the police, and searches buildings. Suddenly a voice comes over the police radio in Officer Morales's car.

Dispatcher: Officer Morales, someone has reported that a bike shop on West Patrick Street has an open door. Check it out right away.

Officer Morales: Uh, oh, Bruno. Time to get to work.

Narrator: Officer Morales drives to the store.

Officer Morales: Go, Bruno.

Narrator: Bruno jumps out of the car and runs through the door. Officer Morales stands by, ready for trouble. He hopes Bruno will not get hurt if anyone is inside.

Officer Morales: Good dog, Bruno. I like to see you come out wagging your tail. That means no one has broken into the store. Now to call the dispatcher.

Bruno: Woof!

Narrator: Officer Morales gets back on the radio.

Officer Morales: Everything is ok inside the store. Call the store's owners to let them know the door is open.

Narrator: Bruno and Officer Morales get into the car and go back on patrol. Later, Officer Morales will write a report that says they checked the store.

Dispatcher: All cars in the area, go to West Patrick and Hoke Place. There is a fight.

Narrator: Police officers who get there first try to break up the fight.

Police Officers: Let's break it up. Move on. Move on. Everyone go home.

Narrator: The people do not move on. Some of them want to fight. Others want to watch. Officer Morales and Bruno drive up.

Officer Morales: Go, Bruno.

Narrator: Bruno slowly walks through the crowd of people.

Bruno: Grr-rrr. Grrrr-rr.

Narrator: The crowd breaks up. They forget about the fight. Other police officers move the crowd along.

Officer Morales: Sometimes Bruno does a better job than a police officer could.

Dispatcher: There is a car wreck on Park Street at Wood Road. Go there right away, Officer Morales.

Narrator: Officer Morales and Bruno drive to the wreck with the siren on and the lights flashing. Officer Morales takes pictures while the medics help the people who are hurt.

Officer Morales: Did you see the wreck? What happened? I need to know all the facts.

Narrator: Bruno guards the car while Officer Morales talks to people about what happened to cause the wreck, but he gets tired of waiting and wants to play. Bruno turns on the car lights with his paws. Suddenly Officer Morales sees red and blue lights flashing. He runs back to the car.

Officer Morales: Bruno, you know you should not play with those lights! Bad dog.

Bruno: Woof!

Narrator: Sometimes Officer Morales takes Bruno to visit a school with him.

Officer Morales: Students, today I'm going to talk to you about three things: Obey the law, say no to drugs and play safely. Then Bruno and I will show you how we work as a team.

Bruno: Woof!

Student: Did you go to school to learn how to be a police officer?

Officer Morales: Yes, I did. I still go to school. Twice a month I go to classes that help me be a good officer. And I have to pass tests too. But I love being a police officer. I like to help people and I love working with Bruno.

Bruno: Woof! Woof!

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Busy Fingers

Adapted by Mary Bowman-Kruhm; based on the book Busy Fingers by C.W. Bowie
(Charlesbridge)
; illustrated by Fred Willingham

A Readers Theatre written for a Narrator and 7 students. Readers’ parts are unnumbered so that fewer than 7 students can be assigned multiple roles.

Narrator: I know we can all do lots of things with our fingers. Show me you can raise your fingers…

(All raise fingers high.)

Reader #____: HIGH!

Narrator: Show me you can use your fingers to touch your…

Reader #____: toes.

(All touch toes.)

Narrator: Now use your fingers to say…

Reader #____: I love you.

(All sign “I love you.”)

Narrator: And use your fingers to wave goodbye, too.

All (waving): Goodbye, goodbye.

Narrator: Now count your fingers.

Reader #____: 1-2-3-4-5.

Narrator: And add the fingers on the other side.

Reader #____: 6-7-8-9-10.

Narrator: Busy fingers all the day, as we…

Reader #____: Work.

Narrator: And as we…

Reader #____: Play.

Narrator: And then before someone tucks us in bed and turns out the light, our fingers blow a kiss…

(All blow kiss.)

All: Goodnight!

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Busy Toes

Adapted by Mary Bowman-Kruhm; based on the book Busy Toes by C.W. Bowie
(Charlesbridge)
; illustrated by Fred Willingham

A Readers Theatre written for a Narrator and 11 students. Readers’ parts are unnumbered so that fewer than 11 students can be assigned multiple roles.

Narrator: We have toes that are…

Reader #____: BIG!

Narrator: We have toes that are…

Reader #____: Little.

Narrator: What can you do with your toes? Raise your hand if you can…

Reader #____: Wave your toes.

Reader #____: Tickle with toes.

Reader #____: Rub a doggie’s tummy with toes.

Narrator: Some people use their toes to…

Reader #____: Draw.

Narrator: Some people use their toes to…

Reader #____: Dig.

Narrator: It’s best to test the water with your toes before you take a bath. Then you can use your toes if you want to…

Reader #____: Splash!

Narrator: How many toes on your right foot?

Reader #____: 1-2-3-4-5.

Narrator: Five toes on one foot. Then add the toes on your left and you’ll get 10.

Reader #____: 6-7-8-9-10.

Narrator: We can use toes to push. And we can dance on tippy toes. And at the end of the day, we all have…

Reader #____: Tired toes.

All: Goodnight, toes!

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Mary Bowman-Kruhm
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