Case Study – Natalie
My name is Carolyn Milz, and I am a senior at Concordia University in Ann Arbor. I am currently enrolled in a course that focuses on teaching struggling readers and writers. In this class, we are required to do a case study. I had the opportunity to work with a sweet little girl that I will refer to as Natalie. She is nine years old, and she was a joy to work with.
The School and Classroom
Ypsilanti, Michigan is home to Estabrook Elementary, a Title 1 school that strives to bridge the gap between low-income and other students. The school works with the community to be sure that the students here are learning in a safe environment. Their goal for this school year is to raise student achievement for all students. This is accomplished through use of technology, enriching lessons, and school-wide activities. It is a family oriented school that desires to work with families in order to meet the needs of their students. From my observations, I have noticed that the school is very diverse. It is safe to say that Caucasians are a minority, especially in the room I spent time in.
Ms. Nancy Christensen teaches 4th grade where my sweet learner, Natalie, is a student. Out of 31 students, there are 20 African-Americans, 5 white, 4 Latino, and 2 multi-racial. There are 18 girls and 13 boys. Five students have IEPs and qualify for special services, and three are English Language Learners. There are two children on the autism spectrum that have a paraprofessional with them throughout most of the day. Ms. Christensen had a student teacher from Eastern Michigan University when I was there, as well as three other Concordia students doing fieldwork for various classes.
Bullying has also been a problem in this classroom. One day when I was there, they had to have a class discussion on bullying and why it is not acceptable. I think it’s a problem throughout the whole school, though. Every time I come into the office to sign in or out, there are multiple students in there being punished or waiting to talk to the principal.
Ms. Christensen appears to have pretty good control over this class. One of the days that I was there, there was a substitute teacher for part of the afternoon, and it was a mad house. Without Ms. Christensen there, the students apparently thought they could misbehave. The students didn’t feel like this teacher had earned their respect. Ms. Christensen seems pretty strict and she is not afraid to hand out pink slips. There is also a clip system
where students move their clip up and down a board if they do certain things right or wrong.
Since this course was on reading, I asked Ms. Christensen about the reading levels of her class. There are varying reading levels in this classroom. Nine students are below reading level, thirteen are at reading level, and nine are above.
Classroom Reading Strategies
It was fortunate that my time in the classroom matched up with when the fourth graders have their Reading Block. This is a rotation that lasts for about two hours, and it is made up of mini lessons, reading time, and group work. Sometimes they are assigned a task on the mini lesson they were just taught. While I was there, they were working on literary elements, specifically in different versions of Cinderella from all over the world. Most children are also in a reading circle, or a small group that reads a chapter book together. My case study child was not in one of these groups. The groups appear to be set up homogeneously. All of the students in the groups appear to have similar reading levels. Natalie sometimes gets pulled out by me or another teacher, so I think that’s why she is not in one of these groups.
The CAFÉ strategies (Appendix A) are also a part of the Language Arts curriculum in this classroom. CAFÉ stands for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expand Vocabulary. This is a list the children can look at to make for an effective reading time. Are they remembering what they read? Do they know what they are reading? What skills are they using? Are they learning new words? These are questions that the children can ask themselves and should answer when they are reading. If the answer to any is no, then they should go through and see what they need to do to make it better. Each section has some suggestions underneath it to help them out, too. Each week they also have a ‘Daily Five Reading Ticket’ (Appendix B) that goes along with the CAFÉ strategies. They have a checklist of the reading assignments that need to be completed throughout the week. It’s a good way to keep them organized and on task, and it allows them to generally work at their own pace.
The classroom library has color-coded books for the different reading levels. The books include Accelerated Reader (AR) books, and the students can take tests on them to earn points. They can also work on a computer with “Brain Pop,” a program that allows kids to learn different reading and writing strategies.
Natalie is one of the students that has an IEP. She meets regularly with different teachers, at least one of which is from the Intermediate School District (ISD). This teacher, Marla, was very excited to talk with me. She gave me lots of the items she uses to assess Natalie, including a Reading Retelling Profile (Appendix C) and an ICAT Skill Acquisition sheet (Appendix D). She struggles with school in general. Particularly, they have been working with her on reading comprehension and retelling of stories. They are working on developing an Instructional Consultation Team (ICT) for her. This would be a group that meets and discusses strategies that could best help her based on the level she is at. Both Natalie and her teachers have informed me that she reads at about a third grade reading level.
I did two interviews with Natalie. The first (Appendix E) was used to make a reading profile, and the second (Appendix F) was used to get to know her a little bit better. Natalie has a bit of a sad home life. For the most part, she lives with her grandmother. She has many siblings, but does not live with any of them, as they live with their own mothers. Natalie has four brothers and one sister, most of who are younger than she is. In her spare time she likes to play video games, specifically the Wii.
Natalie is eager to read with me every time I come, and becomes frustrated when she must do another activity rather than work with me. I have noticed that she likes to read informative texts rather than narrative. Her favorites include books about dogs and historical greats, such as Abraham Lincoln. Natalie is very interested in history and wishes to learn more about her ancestors.
When I first met Natalie, I asked her some questions about her experience and feelings towards reading. She likes to read books, especially when people read to her, but at the same time she dislikes reading, because the words confuse her and it’s hard. It just doesn’t come easily to her. She really enjoys looking at the pictures, though.
Natalie struggles with comprehension and the ability to retell what she just read. I discovered that some of this might be because she reads mostly informative texts, and it is hard to retell what you just read if there is no plot to it. In addition to that, I’ve noticed that she has some trouble with decoding and sounding out words. She usually guesses or just waits for me to tell her what the word is. My initial focus for her was comprehension, but I moved my focus to a bit more towards sounding out words towards the end.
Throughout my 20 hours I have spent with Natalie, there are many things I have noticed about her. She is very easily distracted. Sometimes the room would get too busy, so we would have to go out into the hall to work together. This didn’t work too well, as she would just stare at everyone that went by and would quickly get off task. I had to say her name a couple of times to get her back to reading, or I would point to the page to remind her where her place was. I got to work with two other girls along with Natalie from time to time, and Natalie is a very slow oral reader compared to them. The other girls read very quickly and they read with confidence. Natalie never volunteers to read first when we are in our small group setting. She works much better one-on-one with me.
Natalie often guesses on words she doesn’t know. Instead of taking the time to figure them out, she almost appears impatient and tries to quickly move on. She usually looks at the first couple of letters and makes a guess based on what those are. Sometimes it seems like she doesn’t even look at the rest of the word. Finally, it got to the point where whenever she came across a word she didn’t know, we would stop our reading. I pulled out some paper and a marker, and I would write the word she didn’t know. I would then cut out the words into sections. I made her use a ‘Say-It-Move-It Mat’ (Appendix G) to pronounce the words. Visually seeing the word broken up really made her take her time and figure it out, and really seemed to help. I really wish I could have done more with her on decoding rather than comprehension.
First Assessment – Appendix H
On April 23, I decided to give Natalie a word list to try. I knew that she was reading at a third grade level, but I decided to try and give her a little bit of a challenge at first, just to see if that was still the case. I gave her the fourth grade level word list (Appendix I). I wasn’t all too much surprised when she only scored a 9/20. She wasn’t discouraged, though, and she didn’t seem too frustrated. I decided to wait until next time to try another one with her.
Second Assessment – Appendix J
On April 30, I went one grade level down on the examiner word lists. I gave Natalie the third grade list to try (Appendix K). She only made it through five words without getting so discouraged and upset, that I let her stop and try another level down. I kept assuring her that it was okay, and she should just do her best. None of that was helping, though. I’m not sure why the lower reading level seemed to frustrate her more. There could have been outside factors that caused her mind to be elsewhere this day. I wish I could tell you why that was the case, but I, too, am unsure.
Third Assessment – Appendix J
After quitting that one, I gave her the second grade list (Appendix K). This came easier to her, but she only scored a 13/20, which is still the frustration level. I was very surprised that she had such a hard time with the third grade list, and was still at the frustration level on the second grade list. A lot of the words she got wrong, though, were minor errors. For example, the word was ‘insects’ and she only said ‘insect.’ I had to mark it wrong, though. She essentially knew the words, but didn’t say them perfectly. Ultimately, she should have scored better, and I know she could have.
Fourth Assessment – Appendix L
The same day as the previous two assessments, I did an oral reading record on Natalie as well. Ms. Christensen had a lot of awesome books that came with different assessments we would do, so I chose one to do with Natalie. I used a book called Turtle’s Small Pond, which I believe was at a second grade reading level. She scored a 100% on this assessment, and I was very pleased! Natalie even read further in the book than she needed to. I think she could tell I was happy for her.
Fifth Assessment – Appendix M
On May 7, my last day of fieldwork, I performed one last assessment on Natalie. Since she scored the highest on the second grade word list, I decided to give her a comprehension and retelling assessment at that level. The selection I chose was a piece called, ‘Father’s New Game.’ It was fairly short and about 300 words. I even recorded her reading the piece, which was really neat. It took her about six minutes to read the whole thing.
Overall, she generally scored at the instructional level on this assessment. It consisted of about four different parts: concept questions, a miscue analysis, retelling, and answering some questions at the end. The part she struggled with the most was the retelling. Out of 49 ideas, she only recalled about 21. If I would have probed and asked some more questions, I probably could have gotten her to remember a few more things, but I just left it alone. Natalie read the piece fairly well, and ended up at the instructional level. She omitted quite a few words and that’s where most of her errors came from. I thought that was pretty good, because she did well with decoding for the most part.
The part I was the most pleased with was the questions at the end. It really pulled everything together for her, I think. She only missed one of the questions, receiving a 7/8. Although it took her a bit longer than it should have to read this, she got it done and I was very proud of her. It really made me feel like I accomplished something with her during our time together.
After talking to the teachers my first day at Estabrook, they made it sound like it would be beneficial for me to work on comprehension and retelling stories with Natalie. Through my experience with her, though, I think they need to go back and do more of a bottom-up approach with her. She still struggles a lot with decoding, and I think her reading level and ability to comprehend what she reads would increase if she learned some more strategies for sounding out words. I’m not sure if they are aware of her learning style, either, so I would inform them to make sure they plan plenty of visual activities for her to do. I think she will learn better and benefit more from their teaching if they instruct in a way that best speaks to her.
The teacher should also make sure Natalie stays on task. She often gets distracted, and in a big classroom, it can be hard to keep all of the children on the right track, especially in this school. The teachers need to work on making the students feel important. They need to let the kids know they care. Natalie should be checked on often and reminded to do the job that needs to be done.
I am glad that they are working on getting a team ready to work with Natalie. I pray she will benefit from this and really develop a liking for reading and writing in the future.
Conclusion and Reflection
When I first set foot into Estabrook Elementary, I was immediately outside of my comfort zone. I plan on becoming a Lutheran School teacher in an area that is mostly a white population. I enjoy working with middle class families and haven’t had much exposure to those in the lower class. This was an eye-opening experience for me, especially after I saw the kids treat the substitute teachers the way that they did. The attitudes of some of the children just shocked me, and I couldn’t believe some kids would have the audacity to treat adults the way that they did. Coming to Estabrook, though, was a great experience to have. It exposed me to areas and children that I might not have ever had a chance to encounter. Sometimes it’s those kids who need us the most, and I was placed in this room for a reason.
Ultimately, I wish I could have had more time to work with Natalie. I discovered too late that I should have been working with her on decoding and the basic concept of reading the whole time, rather than working with her on comprehension. I think my work was still effective, though. I still would have liked to expand my focus.
I really hope and pray that I left a lasting impression on Natalie. I strived to make her enjoy reading and writing, and I tried to cater my assessments and text choices towards her needs and interests. It saddened me on my last day of fieldwork when she looked me in the eyes and told me not to leave. I’m sad that it is likely that I won’t see her again, but I find joy in remembering the time that we did spend together. I hope I influenced her enough that she will continue to improve and be successful. It was an experience that I will never forget, and I hope Natalie feels the same way.