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Maddie's Story: Setting goals and meeting one-on-one

Michele Dufresne

In my previous three posts I shared with you a story about a first grader named Maddie who is having difficulty learning to read. I am going to tutor Maddie long distance using Skype. Before I left town, I had a chance to work with Maddie twice in person. In the next two posts, I will share these sessions with you and some thoughts about what kinds of instruction will help Maddie.

After reviewing the data I collected using Marie Clay’s Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement, I have developed the following long-term goals for Maddie:


1. I would like Maddie to be able to read in a phrased and fluent manner at grade level text (level 16/I) by April. Since we are starting at level C, we have a long way to go.

2. I would like Maddie to learn how to work independently to solve new and unknown words by breaking them apart. She will need to learn how words look and sound alike and how large words are made of parts she knows.

3. I would like Maddie to consistently check (self-monitor) when her reading isn’t looking right, sounding right, or making sense, and take action to self-correct her errors. I would like this self-correcting to take place very close to the error.

I have immediate strategies for Maddie that I hope will lead to reaching the above goals in about 12 weeks.

Increase the number of words she recognizes in text. She has a very limited sight vocabulary. To achieve this goal, I will: 

  • Use several easy books that have very similar words in each book.
  • Have Maddie build and break easy words from her books to increase her ability to use those words in different contexts.
  • Have Maddie write the words I want her to read. There are reciprocal gains from reading and writing. Maddie knows how to write many words, and she can learn to read these same words. I will find multiple opportunities in each lesson for her to write words, both in isolation and when writing stories.
  • Have a tray with words made from magnetic letters. I will keep 4 -5 words we are working with on the tray so I can easily use them whenever I want.

Maddie needs to learn to self-monitor (check her reading) using meaning, using the initial letter of a word, and using familiar words.  To do this I will:

  • Ask, “Does that make sense?” “Try it again and make sure it makes sense and looks right.” Or, simply, “Were you right?”
  • When she makes a mistake (and sometimes when she has not) I will cover the first letter of a word and ask her what letter she expects to see. Since Maddie knows most of the letter sounds, it will be easy to teach her to check by using the first letters of words.
  • I will teach her new words so she can have “islands of certainty” to check her reading. I will not expect her to know every word in each book, but I will ask her to check with the words she knows.

My goals will change as I move along, but here are a few videos from our first session together.

Listen to Maddie read Bella’s Birthday. Maddie is reading this for the fourth time. I read it to her during her initial assessment and then she took the book home and read it a few times to her family. I am pleased with how smoothly she is reading a level C book. This book is providing Maddie with the core reading vocabulary she will need in order to read more complex text. 

 After she read Bella's Birthday, I had her work on the word my so that she will know it whenever she encounters it in new contexts. During the initial assessment word test, Maddie was unfamiliar with this word; when I asked her to write it, she recorded mi.

 I am impressed with what Maddie is doing! Following the assessment last week, I sat and read a pile of level B and C books with her. I sent them home with her and she has read them several times with her family. Reading and rereading books is a powerful learning tool. Maddie is lucky to have such great parental support. I am taking a chance and moving up to level D instead of spending today’s session with level C books as I had planned. So here you see me introduce her to an old favorite book published by Rigby called Father Bear Goes Fishing. Listen to her read this book for the first time.

 Below you can observe both the book introduction and Maddie’s first reading of The Missing Puppy. I like this book because the structure is fairly repetitive and it provides both support and challenges. It gives Maddie another chance to see new words in a meaningful context.

 Here is just a snippet of Maddie’s writing. I am getting ready to cut up the story and have her reassemble it. Practicing writing gives Maddie a chance to listen and record sounds in words, reinforce the words she knows, and learn to spell new words by using the ones she already knows. Writing is Maddie's strength. She knows most of her sounds and can write quite a few words. I don’t have the video taping worked out so you cannot see very much of this – I will try to do better next time!

 The last video I am sharing shows Maddie reading her most challenging book yet, Georgie Giraffe, the Detective. I started by giving Maddie a rich introduction to the story, which will help her to grasp the material conceptually before working with the text. This book has more challenges than Father Bears Goes Fishing and The Missing Puppy. I decided to take a chance with it to see what happened. I was prepared to support her with these challenges along the way. Most importantly, I wanted Maddie to feel confident and successful. I didn't want to blow it by making it too hard – but I also didn't want to waste time if she was ready to move on. I am very pleased with how she did. Afterward, I took time to work on another new word – can. For some children, working on both went and can would be too much, but she was learning words so quickly that I decided to try it out.

With just a few simple sessions, Maddie is off to a great start. By reading appropriate books and spending just a little time making and breaking words, Maddie is taking on new sight vocabulary and learning to self-correct. I am feeling very optimistic!

Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books  early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

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