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The purpose of this paper presentation is to discuss the Quality Instruction towards Access and Basic Education Improvement project’s (QITABI) Early Warning System (EWS) that provides individualized Arabic reading support to struggling readers within a classroom. QITABI piloted the EWS within its Early Grade Reading/ Balanced Literacy Approach (EGR/BLA) in 20 Lebanese public primary schools in 2017-2018. At the presentation, we will share the EWS design, results, challenges and lessons learned. World Learning, an international non-profit organization, has been implementing QITABI in Lebanon since 2014.
Context of the problem - Internationally, there is a growing evidence around the importance of offering immediate support to struggling readers in class. Teachers are encouraged to change their assessment practices and adopt “… a formative evaluation system. Such assessment will help teachers evaluate the students’ work systematically”. (Center of Educational Research and Development (CERD), Yousef Sader). A common international model of formative assessment, response to intervention, is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs. The process begins with universal screening of all children and differentiated instruction in the classroom. Struggling learners are provided with tailored interventions based on their identified needs.
In Lebanon, many struggling readers and in the absence of formative evaluation and in-class support were exposed to classroom retention reaching 10% in grade 4 and even to school drop-out reaching 3% in the first primary cycle (CERD 2008).
EWS Design - To respond to such a need in Lebanon, QITABI designed and offered an educational preventive program to provide immediate support to struggling readers in the Arabic classroom. The EWS program is the last tier of a three-tier EGR/BLA intervention program.
In tier 1, the teacher starts the academic year by assessing all students reading levels, in class, using the universal screening (US) tools to differentiate instruction across all tiers. In tier 2 the teacher, provides support to small groups of learners through guided reading twice per week for 10 to 15 minutes to reinforce specific reading skills that are not acquired yet. In tier 3, EWS, the teacher supports excessively the struggling readers who did not benefit from the guided reading in Tier 2. The support lasts from 15 to 20 minutes for 2 to 3 days per week up to 12 weeks. The teacher follows up on each learner and documents his/her performance in reading and other subjects, along with other information based on specific indications such as, school absenteeism, interaction with others, engagement in the school environment, and favorite learning style.
After 12 weeks of intensive support in class, and in case the teacher does not see the desired development in the learner’s reading performance, he/she should alert the curriculum coordinator, the principal and the parents. Together, all stakeholders are expected to devise an action plan and intervene immediately to support the student.
Results - Towards the mid of January 2018, teachers conducted a midline US to monitor students’ progress in Arabic language reading. Students who showed little or no progress were identified potentially eligible for EWS in-class intensive support. As of February, 509 students were identified as struggling readers based on evidence from midline US, semester 1 school exam, and EWS indicators. This number of students constituted 20 to 27% of the students per grade. Consequently, Arabic language teachers began their intensive in-class intervention targeting the identified students. US assessment was conducted again towards the end of the school year to show that out of the 453 EWS students assessed in May 2018, 48.6% improved in at least one reading level with an average of 1.3 levels increase. Moreover, mean scores of the different reading skills, namely the concept of print, letter sound recognition and familiar words, measured for struggling readers, presented a significant increase between the mid-of-year formative assessment and the end-of-year assessment results. This was also reflected when analyzing the annual teacher reports on the EWS students in relation to the student’s improvement in reading level. Student’s improvement in the different reading skills was significantly associated with his/her performance in reading.
When looking at the EWS student mid-year indicators report and end of year reading level improvement, we noticed that there is a significant relationship between reading results of EWS students and their status of performance in science, math, their school grades as well as their involvement in extracurricular activities. Other indicators, such as student causing damage at school, involved in conflict, staying alone, absenteeism, receiving warnings and performance in foreign languages did not have any significant relationship with the improvement of learners. This could be due to the insignificant number of students identified to cause damage, involve in conflict, etc.
Challenges and lessons learned – Delays in conducting the diagnostic US at the beginning of the year led to shorten the guided reading period that precedes identifying struggling readers. This might have caused the over reporting of EWS students. Another limitation faced by the pilot study was that some of the teachers did not classify struggling reader except if he/she performed below average in other languages, leaving some of struggling readers without the needed support. This might explain why there was no significant relationship found in the improvement in reading performance and the performance in foreign languages.
QITABI plans to enhance the training/coaching of teachers to further build in their capacity on the timely administration of the US. In addition, it will focus on the teachers’ ability to analyze the different EWS indicators with respect to students’ improvement.