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How I modified a scripted tutoring lesson to invite a child to read and write.

Research emphasizes the importance of tailoring instruction to the needs of the individual child (Allington and Cunningham, 1996; Invernizzi, 2001), especially for children who experience difficulty with literacy acquisition. In this article, I examine tutoring interactions with Ricky, a friendly, vivacious first-grade boy who started the school year significantly behind peers in reading and writing. As a teacher researcher, I have explored the question "What instruction can I provide to meet Ricky's individual learning needs?" Based on reflection of our bi-weekly tutoring sessions and on my own study of literacy, I have modified instruction to meet Ricky's individual learning needs. As I am learning new ways of conceptualizing and implementing literacy instruction, Ricky is acquiring and enjoying literacy!


How I Modified a Scripted Tutoring Lesson to Invite a Child to Read and Write

Research on literacy tutoring emphasizes the importance of having a structured lesson plan (Marious, 2000; Pikulski, 1994). As a tutor of beginning readers, I have experienced success with a Book Buddies four-part structured lesson plan, whereby students engage in (1) rereading for fluency; (2) direct instruction ,in letter sounds, phonics, and spelling; (3) writing; and (4) new book reading (Invernizzi, 2001). As time has permitted, I also have engaged in interactive storybook reading (Klesius and Griffith, 1996). Many tutees have responded well to this structure.

Then I met Ricky, a friendly, vivacious first-grader who has his own conceptualizations of literacy learning and enjoyment. I always will remember Ricky's greeting upon our first encounter. With each sentence running into the other, Ricky exclaimed,

"Hi, I'm Ricky. What toys do you have? Let's play!"

With these first words, I immediately became fond of Ricky. At the same time, I wondered how I could help him derive as much enjoyment from reading and writing as playing with toys.

This first perplexing day of tutoring prompted me to study the field of literacy acquisition and weekly to reflect in writing on interactions with Ricky. From research on reading achievement, I learned the program model is a necessity but does not guarantee quality instruction. Both excellent and poor instruction have been documented across all delivery models and the instruction must be tailored to the needs of the individual child (Allington and Cunningham, 1996; Invernizzi, 2001). From Schools That Work: Where All Children Read and Write, by Allington and Cunningham (2002), I came to believe that many children are at-risk for reading failure because of a mismatch between their personalities and the' approach taken to instruction. Some students thrive on the predictability of a basal reading approach, deriving pleasure from knowing exactly which story and activity page they are to complete and noting the visible signs of their progress. Other more adventuresome types like the variety of a literature-based approach, offering self-selection and varied ways of sharing, still others prefer expressing themselves over reading about an unknown author account. They enjoy telling stories and writing about them. By writing, they use and learn words that they then read.

These research underpinnings gave me permission to adapt the structured Book Buddies lesson plan to meet Ricky's needs. Continually, Ricky teaches me new ways of conceptualizing reading and writing instruction.

Modifications to the Scripted Lesson Plan

Inviting Ricky to Participate in the Session.

While reading a familiar book, Ricky paused. The following dialog precipitated.

Ricky: "You're not helping me! You're not helping me!" [Accusingly and looking as if he is going to cry].

Carol: [In a firm voice, I responded to what I viewed as misbehavior]. "I'm glad to help. You know the beginning sound. Make the beginning sound, then I'll help you sound out the rest."

Ricky: [with crossed arms, a pout, and a sarcastic voice]. Buh buh buh!

Carol: B-all.

Ricky: ball.

Carol: Good! You put the sounds together.

[Minutes later, after I offered help when he was stuck on a similar word].

Ricky: [with a scowl on his face] "Uh! Stop helping me! I can do it myself!"

At this point, I thought, "Hey, kid, make up your mind! Do you want help or not?"

After reading Lindfors' (1999) book Children's Inquiry, I started examining my encounters with Ricky from a new perspective. Lindfors explained, "The challenge is to hear through the words to the intention that lies behind them and gives birth to them" (p. 64). I decided Ricky wanted very much to read independently and was frustrated when he could not. He needed to learn how to manage his frustration more politely and I needed to learn how to help him in ways that respected his need for control over his own learning.

With support from reading research, I developed a more flexible lesson plan in the form of a simple checklist, which allowed Ricky to monitor his own work. Ricky enjoyed drawing smiley faces to signify accomplishment of tasks. Preferring variety, Ricky made different choices on different days. Some days Ricky chose to begin the lesson by reading to me; some days he asked me to read to him; some days we wrote for a few minutes. I put a clock in front of him so he could monitor his own use of time.

I also created a chart of Ricky's reading strategies. Ricky drew pictures to refer to each reading strategy. As he was becoming familiar with the chart, we would practice tallying use of the strategies. As we progressed, I was able simply to point to the picture representation of the strategy and he would apply the strategy appropriately.

Using the strategy of "role-reversals" (Juel, 1994, p. 54), whereby I pretended to be the child needing help to read certain words, we were able to establish more equal roles as learners rather than to engage in a traditional teacher-student relationship. This strategy also focused Ricky's attention on print and brought a greater sense of playfulness to the session. Juel's study of tutoring involving student athletes and first grade students cited "role-reversals" as one of the most effective techniques for helping children with word recognition.

Including Storytelling with Interactive Storybook Reading.

While engaged in interactive storybook reading, I noticed Ricky's propensity to use the stories of others as a frame of reference for his own stories. Consider this dialog that precipitated during the reading of Monster-Manners, a book he later described as a favorite.

Ricky: I like this guy here. He's kinda cool.

Carol: What makes him cool?

Ricky: He has cool pants with hearts on ... He has socks on ... a shirt; vest and a horn on his head. And that one's kinda freaky.

Carol: Yeah. How's he freaky?

Ricky: He's just freaky-looking. Let's just read it.

[Reading Monster Manners].

Ricky: What's that say?

Carol: Noisy. And this says, `Let's have a parade in the library! Sometimes they're so quiet, you'd never know they're there. Oops! Sometimes they are careless and leave things on the stairs. Sometimes they put their toys away ...'

Ricky: He's repairing his truck from getting broken. He left his bat on the ground and she left her ball and when he tripped over the bat, he probably hit his head right there and probably got hit by the truck, and it bounced out of the way and the wheel broke. And then he fixed his car back to regular _`cept for it's really crooked, like this ...

[Ricky yanks a Lego toy from his pocket and demonstrates how the car was crooked].

Carol: Uh Huh. Then it was fixed. So when they are careless and leave things on the stairs, are you saying they get hurt?

Ricky: Yeah.

While Ricky was turning my planned read aloud into a playful storytelling session, I was a bit perplexed. Do I interpret his storytelling as an interruption of the text and redirect him? Do I interpret his interaction with the text as a window on Ricky's view of literacy?

After reflection on reading research, I learned, more than just attending to and sounding out words, Ricky was experiencing literacy by listening to the story, thinking about the story, spending time looking at the pictures, and then taking the story further by predicting, pretending, and embellishing. Ricky needed to be redirected at times based on my understanding of our priorities; however, I was learning to listen as Ricky taught me his unique view of literacy.

I then decided to help Ricky understand the connection between oral and written language by engaging him in narrative storytelling (Bear and Barone, 1998). He enjoyed telling stories about himself while I wrote or typed his words. Then. we read his stories together. Although on a higher reading level. Ricky could read these stories. They were written in his own language. I also wrote Ricky's retellings of and responses to stories I had read to him. After a few weeks, Ricky became interested in writing, then reading brief narratives and responses from his reading.

Using Performance Reading to Encourage Rereading

Remarking, "I already read it," Ricky challenged rereading, a well-documented strategy for fluency development (National Research Council, 1998). My traditional response of, "when we read easy books we get faster and read more like adult readers," was met with the affirmation, "I'm already a good reader."

Rather than debate the issue of rereading with a first grader, reflection and research led me to alter the purpose of rereading to fit Ricky's understanding of literacy. With knowledge of Ricky's interest in self-expression, we now reread books for a different purpose--to prepare for audiotaped performances.

Ricky was thrilled the first time I asked if he would like to audiotape his reading of a book. When familiar with the book, expression came naturally for him. After the audiotaped performance, Ricky would read back over the book while listening to the audiotape. To my satisfaction, he also enjoyed correcting his own errors! After listening to his taped readings, Ricky's parents also became excited about Ricky's progress as a reader and praised his accomplishments.

I also noticed Ricky's amusement when reading comical lines from easy readers. I decided to engage him in read alouds and partner reading that reflected his sense of humor. Before reading, we predicted what might happen. I read with expression, changing my voice in silly ways to reflect different characters. Again, I used the "role reversal" technique to focus his attention on words he could read. After reading, we used picture and word clues to make predictions and to summarize previous reading. Often, we wrote and shared journal responses.

Introducing Dialog Writing and Free Writing

During another tutoring lesson, I informally was assessing Ricky's growing word knowledge by having him spell words on the chalkboard. Ricky enjoyed the looseness of writing on the chalkboard and the immediate gratification of a point system he created for every correct spelling.

Midway through my spelling list, Ricky directed, "Close your eyes. I'm writing something and you can't look 'til I'm finished." He wrote some words for me to read and then asked in writing, "Do you like your dog and r-at?" I answered his question in writing, and then told him about my sister's dog who "just got his hip fixed at the vet." He expressed concern about the dog and inquired about how the dog could be born with a problem. We continued to dialog on the chalkboard.

As we dialogued back and forth, I became aware that Ricky's interest in dialog writing fit with his interest in storytelling. I decided Allington and Cunningham's (1996) description of children who prefer self-expression over reading about a faraway author account was true of Ricky. My reading of Bissex's (1980) book Gnys At Wrk about her precoccous child who learned to write before learning to read extended my thinking on this issue. I planned to engage Ricky in free writing every day, as an avenue for reading.

During another tutoring session, as we were returning word study picture and word cards to their envelopes, Ricky pretended each card was cash and proceeded to count each card. I helped him put the cards away and proceeded with our writing sort.

In the midst of writing a word, Ricky paused and exclaimed, "I want to write `cash'." At the bottom of his paper, he began writing the word "cash." He asked me to help him sound it out. I decided this fixation with cash was important to him and contributed to overall literacy goals. After we discussed the "sh" sound I had been stressing in previous lessons, the following dialog precipitated.

Carol: What would you like to do with your cash?

Ricky: Buy things for my store.

Carol: What kind of store do you own?

Ricky: A book store!

Carol: How will people know about your book store?

Ricky: I'll have a sign.

Carol: Making a sign sounds like a good idea.

Ricky: Yeah!

Ricky was thrilled to make a sign for his store. He planned to post the sign on his bedroom door for his family to read. After making the sign, we made a list of all the items he would sell and their prices. Ricky wrote more that day than I had seen previously.

Inspired by Juel's (1994) My Books, I began writing books about experiences with Ricky. I wrote about the first day I met him, our pet stories, eating ice cream, and a bad hair day when I visited him at school. Immediately after reading the first book I wrote about us, Ricky exclaimed, "I want to write a book about my feelings about you and my dog." Together we made Ricky a book like mine and explored writing topics. He wrote about me. He expressed his interest in playing golf and going swimming together. He wrote his sister a letter about tutoring and put it in her desk at school. He drew a picture of his mother's many dogs and cats, and then wrote about the kind of dog he wants his mother to buy for him.

Bissex's (1980) emphasis on writing as a reflection of the writers personality definitely is true in Ricky's case. As an illustration, consider the following written dialog after reading the book My Lost Top.

Carol: Where did the top go?

Ricky: I will tell you where the top is after you play with me.

Carol: Would you like to play Find the Lost Top?

Ricky: [laughing] Okay!

We continued our written dialog about the rules of our game. When the top was difficult to find, we wrote clues to help each other find the top. Although not particularly conscious of his engagement in a literacy learning experience, Ricky was writing with considerable intensity and purpose. His purpose was to play a game and find a hidden object; my purpose was literacy learning and enjoyment. According to Roskos & Christie (2000), "people, all people, ... learn more efficiently, with greater intensity and with more purpose when the learning is fun. Enjoyment keeps learners going when those moments arrive that require patience, perseverance, and application" (p. 204).


If we are simply teaching a subject, the information can be standardized. But students like Ricky teach us that people cannot be standardized. Each student approaches us where he is, the only place from which he can approach us. Our task as educators is to take each child from "where he is" to "where he needs to go" in reading (Bissex, 1980). Recognition of Ricky's unique personality and perspectives was central to Ricky's growth in literacy. After becoming more aware of Ricky's need to influence his learning, I was more able to respond to his individual learning needs. As a result, both of us were able to make tremendous strides as learners!

Thank you, Ricky, for demanding to be taught in ways you could learn, so I, in turn, could learn from you.


Allington, R.A. & Cunningham, P.M. (2002). Schools that work: Where all children read and write. Boston, MA:Allyn & Bae

Bear D. R. & Barone, D. (1998). Developing literacy: An integrated approach to assessment and instruction. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Bissex, G. L. (1980). Gnys At Wrk: A child learns to write and read. Harvard University Press.

Invernizzi, M. (2001). Book Buddies: A Community volunteer tutorial program. In Morrow, L. M. and Woo, D. G. (Eds.). Tutoring programs for struggling readers: The America Reads Challenge (pp. 193-215). New York: The Guilford Press.

Juel, C. (1994). At-risk university students tutoring at-risk elementary school children. In Hiebert, E. H. and Taylor, B. M. (Eds.). Getting reading right from the start: Effective early literacy interventions (pp. 39-61). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Klesius. J. P. & Griffith, P. L. (1996). Interactive storybook reading for at-risk learners. The Reading Teacher, 49(7), 552-560.

Lindfors, .I W. (1999). Children's Inquiry. Columbia University: Teachers College Press.

Marious. S. E. (2000). Mix and Match: The effects of cross-age tutoring on literacy. Reading Improvement. 37(3), 126-30.

National Research Council (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. C.E. Snow, M.S. Bums, & P. Griffin (Eds.). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Pikulski, (1994). Preventing reading failure: A review of five effective programs. The Reading Teacher. 48 (1), 30-39.

Roskos, K.A. & Christie, J. F. (2000). Play and literacy in early childhood: Research from multiple perspectives. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Doctoral Student in Reading Education
University of Virginia
COPYRIGHT 2002 Project Innovation (Alabama)
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Author:Payne, Carol Canady
Publication:Reading Improvement
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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