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Fountas and Pinnell – Early Literacy Experts Offer New Reading Intervention Program

When it comes to early literacy and the teaching of reading, Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell may well be the two most recognized experts in America. More than a decade after releasing “Guided Reading, Good First Teaching for All Children,” the number one selling professional teacher resource in the US, these two literacy experts have released another noteworthy book as part of a new program called Leveled Literacy Intervention.

Fountas and Pinnell

When it comes to reading instruction in the early grades, the names Fountas and Pinnell are likely the two most referenced authors in the country. Fountas is currently a professor in the School of Education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The former classroom teacher, language arts specialist, and consultant currently directs the Literacy Collaborative within the School of Education at Lesley.

Pinnell, professor emeritus at The Ohio State University, is the recipient of the International Reading Association’s Albert J. Harris Award for research and the Charles A. Dana Foundation Award for contributions to the field of education. Generally considered the catalyst for bringing Reading Recovery to schools in the US, she too has an extensive background in classroom teaching and the development of comprehensive approaches to literacy education.

Amazon.comIn 1996, the two reading experts revolutionized classroom teaching with their systematic approach to small-group reading instruction. Today, the concept of Guided Reading is a featured technique in nearly every elementary school in America.

Their latest efforts, the Leveled Literacy Intervention program was created in response to the demands of teachers and administrators for a scientifically-based, early intervention program for struggling readers. Utilizing a comprehensive anchoring text, “When Readers Struggle: Teaching that Works,” the program focuses on preventing difficulties before they become long-term educational challenges.

Featuring an A–Z Text Gradient, “Benchmark Assessment System,” LLI provides teachers critical feedback on both the strengths and the needs of readers in kindergarten through Grade 3. While some aspects involve support within the whole class settings, a critical component of the program involves small group intervention and individual one-on-one sessions.

Response to Intervention

The new work from Fountas and Pinnell comes on the heels of a new educational term causing great consternation in many corners, Response to Intervention (RTI). The phrase is a result of
recent legal language changes in special education law that have resulted in a renewed focus on learners who struggle in the early grades.

There is growing body of evidence regarding the importance of reading at or above grade level in early childhood. One of the most sobering of educational research elements is the revelation that a child not reading on grade level by the third grade will in most cases be destined for significant educational challenges for the remainder of their schooling years.

In its simplest terms, “response to intervention” is a multi-step approach to providing children who struggle with learning additional educational instruction. The process involves teachers making specific teaching adjustments to help struggling students be more successful.

Such steps differ significantly from taking a student aside and simply offering more time utilizing the same instructional techniques. RTI features a fundamental tenet that if students struggle with the initial instruction, teachers must use differentiated teaching practices for the additional sessions.

Those adjustments, referred to as specific intervention techniques, are then closely monitored to determine the effectiveness of each practice. Because the interventions are graduated and vary in intensity, teachers then have a much larger tool box for helping students master specific concepts.

The ongoing assessment process, referred to as progress monitoring, involves scientifically-validated measurement tools. Frequent and regular assessment of students helps teachers identify specific learning goals for those students.

Ultimately, the philosophy ensures that students who are struggling with learning are not doing so because they have been exposed to just one teaching technique that simply did not work for those students.

Most importantly, considering a child for special education services is postponed until such interventions have been used. At the same time, these practices can lead to an earlier identification of those children who have real disabilities and therefore require special education services.

Program Predates Current Stimulus Funding Measures

Begun entirely outside of the RTI push, Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention program is a small group, intensive, supplementary intervention system designed specifically to help struggling readers and writers. In direct response to the urgency to have students on grade level in the early years, LLI seeks to bring each student to grade-level competency in just 14-18 weeks.

Under President Barack Obama, federal officials continue to focus on accountability measures such as test scores and the use of scientifically-based research learning tools. This push towards “outcome based” education, backed now by federal stimulus funds, has many companies hard at work developing new products to fit updated literacy theories and match the Response to Intervention concept.

However, well before funds were to become available from the federal government, Fountas and Pinnell were at work on their intervention program for students and teachers. The authors clearly understood one key issue early on. For as long as educators can remember, there have been few options available for struggling students unless they were referred for special education services.

Amazon.comPlacing a learning disability or other special education label on a six year old has always been a concern for educators. By the same token, elementary teachers, reluctant to refer a child to special education, had little in the way of proven strategies to work with students who were performing below grade level.

Most importantly, the program focuses on the students within the teacher’s classroom, not the instructional materials.

“It’s about teaching children,” states Fountas. “It is about teachers becoming better observers of the learners.”

Uniqueness of LLI

Unfortunately, the over-arching issue of greater accountability is leading towards entire canned, intervention programs that are extremely expensive. Schools seeking grant money to tackle this important issue are often required to adopt one of these specific programs.

However, with Fountas and Pinnell, the approach is more of a two-fold process focusing on teacher actions that are known to garner proven results. It begins with a focus on high-quality instructional practices that ensure teachers utilize time-tested, proven first teaching techniques.

LLI features a fairly tight framework of 300 lessons based on 300 separate reading texts that give educators an arsenal of effective tools. Those reading materials include fiction, non-fiction, story series featuring recurring characters and some classic tales.

It follows with timely and developmentally appropriate intervention techniques based on the feedback obtained from progress-monitoring students. Therefore the program is less about purchasing a canned package of materials and more about developing sound teaching practices.

4 comments

1 hein { 05.29.09 at 5:17 am }

Interesting project!

2 v. rogers { 06.12.09 at 12:32 am }

We have a debate at my school: is it an effective strategy to send home the next year’s basal reader with struggling readers over the summer? Some teachers say this is frontloading and will help the students’ comprehension when they return after the summer. What do you think?

3 anita smith { 10.05.09 at 11:06 pm }

Basal readers are anthologies…the stories are not presented in order of difficulty…some entries are intended to be read aloud by the teacher, some to be read aloud by students…not all the stories are on a level to be read independently by struggling readers…in fact, probably very few entries could be read independently by struggling readers…so, no…this is not frontloading but it is increasing the struggle…better to send home materials that are selected as being on the individual child’s independent level…sending materials that are instructional or too hard will not benefit the child. BTW…When Readers Struggle is an amazing book…love it.

4 Lydia Lopez { 03.13.10 at 3:26 pm }

If the basal, with its collection of various stories is sent home through the summer as a resource for the child to maintain good reading habits through the summer then it’s a good idea. Children can only learn to become stronger readers by reading, and the reading process shouldn’t end during the summer vacation. Of course, a supportive parent needs to support the child during this process and encourage the pleasurable reading through the summer, along with frequent trips to the library. The varied levels of difficulty found within a basal should not become a problem as more advanced text serves to encourage more reading, investigation of unknown vocabulary, etc. I say, if the basal has been handed to the child to encourage reading during the summer than it’s a good tool.

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