Monthly Archives: September 2012

Reading Fluency: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! Part One

By Dr. Jan Hasbrouck 

I started my career as a reading specialist nearly 40 years ago, initially teaching students who were struggling with reading at the elementary and middle school levels. I found that many of my students had learned the basics of decoding, and many even had sufficient vocabulary and background knowledge to understand what they were reading … but something was getting in their way.

In those days, teachers weren’t often using assessments to examine things such as accuracy and rate. But just by working closely with these students and observing them carefully, it was clear to me that the rate at which they were reading—and the many other components that we would now refer to as “fluency”—was often a major stumbling block.

Now, almost four decades later, we have learned so much about the process of learning to read, and specifically we know much, much more about the essential skill of reading fluency! This year, in a collaboration with my esteemed colleague Dr. Deb Glaser, I have finally had the chance to share some of what we now understand about fluency.

The following information is taken from a book Dr. Glaser and I cowrote titled Reading Fluency: Understanding and Teaching This Complex Skill.

Learning to read is like constructing a structure with blocks. Fluent readers have established a firm foundation for reading by integrating various component skills so well that the act of reading occurs without the reader having to intentionally will the skills into action. When these various skills are fully established, reading happens automatically.

What is reading fluency? Many questions surround the definition of fluency as a concept, in part because fluency has many subtle mechanics that are interdependent and therefore difficult to separate. We define fluency as:

Reasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable prosody, that leads to accurate and deep comprehension and motivation to read.

Component #1: Accuracy

We purposefully listed accuracy first to underscore its crucial role. In order for a reader to understand what a text means, clearly that text first must be read with a certain level of accuracy. This may sound simplistic. However, to read text accurately a reader must read individual words accurately, which requires learning letters (graphemes) have associated sounds (phonemes) that need to be accurately identified and skillfully processed. Irregular words must also be read accurately. The recognition of common letter patterns as well the correct spellings of words also play roles in text accuracy. Then, of course, the correct meaning of words must be accessed. All this must happen simultaneously and automatically for a reader to be fluent.

Component #2: Rate

Rate is often mistakenly used as a synonym for fluency. Fluency is far more complex than rate alone! An all-too-common fallacy about rate is that “faster is better,” although most teachers likely know from their own experience that this cannot be true. Teachers know students who read quickly but still may not have good comprehension. Certainly, the rate at which text is decoded and recognized represents an important aspect of fluency. However, reading fast is not the same as reading fluently!  


Component #3: Prosody

Prosody is the technical term for what most teachers refer to as “good expression.” Prosody includes the pitch, tone, volume, emphasis, and rhythm in oral reading. Another aspect of prosody is how readers “chunk” words together into appropriate phrases. There is only minimal evidence that prosody influences reading comprehension. At this point, researchers in this field believe that prosody may be an outcome, rather than a contributor, to comprehension.

You may have noticed that we used some rather vague descriptors in our definition of fluency. Accuracy must be “reasonable.” Rate “appropriate.” And prosody “suitable.” What does that all mean? Stay tuned for my next EdView360 blog, Part 2.

Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D., is an educational consultant with Gibson, Hasbrouck & Associates, an author, and a researcher. She served as the executive consultant to the Washington State Reading Initiative and as an advisor to the Texas Reading Initiative. Dr. Hasbrouck worked as a reading specialist and literacy coach for 15 years before becoming a professor at the University of Oregon and later Texas A&M University. She is the author and coauthor of several assessment tools, research papers, and books, including The Reading Coach: A How-to Manual for Success and The Reading Coach 2: More Tools and Strategies for Student-Focused Coaches. 

About Jan Hasbrouck

Books by Jan Hasbrouck: The Reading Coach

Categories: Family, Literacy, Professional Developement | 2 Comments

Professional Development Must Engage Math Teachers in the “Big Picture”

By Dr. John Woodward

We understand the issue more and more every day. For years, we’ve been told that our students don’t stack up in math when compared with their peers in other countries. Our performance isn’t that bad at the fourth grade, but TIMSS and PISA data clearly show significant comparative declines as our students end eighth and tenth grade. One of many interpretations of these data is that math at the intermediate and middle grades is an exceedingly weak link in our educational system.

Were that not enough, the link between mathematical competence and success in the workplace is becoming ever clearer as the economy slowly emerges from a deep recession. A recent and fascinating issue of the Atlantic Monthly (Davidson, 2012) provides a lucid account of the extraordinary gaps in knowledge between highly successful manufacturing workers and their less-skilled counterparts who are employed, at least for now, on the same factory floor.  The former possess increasing amounts of quantitative knowledge, while the latter live in fear of automation or outsourcing. Success in math at the middle grades, which is obviously fundamental to success in high school and beyond, is a cornerstone for securing the future for American students.

Standards such as the Common Core are one way to renew our commitment to raising mathematical performance. Yet the challenges are significant, as evidenced in a recent survey of school districts from around the country (Center on Education Policy, 2011). Most districts agreed that the Common Core State Standards are more rigorous than most state standards and that, if implemented well, they will improve student math skills. Yet respondents also felt that new curricular materials, as well as fundamental changes in instruction, would be needed.

The Need for Professional Development

Every business organization, including school districts, wants to hire “turnkey” employees. These are teachers who can hit the ground running and deliver instruction at a high level. Yet with changing standards and what we know about how long it takes any professional to develop a high level of skills, this desire is unrealistic. The hope for turnkeys also puts aside the millions of teachers who already work in our schools. Again, the international message is clear and consistent: high-achieving countries hire the best candidates they can, but they continue their professional development through many years of employment (Akiba & LeTendre, 2009; McKenzie & Company, 2007). We need to adopt this thinking if we have any hope of raising the math performance of our students in today’s schools.

There are distinct features to high-quality professional development in mathematics for today’s teachers. First, it is crucial that teachers understand the concepts they are teaching. Some would argue that this means extensive refresher courses in college-level mathematics, most of which are taught in a traditional, symbolic fashion.

Learning more formal mathematics can possibly help some teachers, but it is an unlikely solution for most. Also, there is little guarantee that any of this kind of professional development transfers to the classroom. Instead, teachers need vivid demonstrations of key concepts (or “big ideas”) as well as opportunities to engage in learning activities that promote the kinds of instruction advocated in the Mathematical Practices component of the Common Core. Teachers – and their students – need opportunities to analyze, discuss, and reason about concepts. They also need to solve the kinds of problems that promote strategic thinking and persistence. Naturally, how to integrate thoughtful skills practice is also part of the picture.

Teachers also need to see the “big picture” within the different strands of mathematics. For example, they need to see how rational numbers develop in complexity over grades 3 through 7. This kind of connected understanding of a strand helps teachers see how the big ideas link together, how what was taught at a previous grade level needs to be reviewed, and how what students do at one grade level is important for the next grade level.

Vivid examples of classroom practice are also critical. How do I use fraction bars effectively? How do I orchestrate a classroom discussion with an eye toward students who do not normally participate? How do I assist students when they get stuck grappling with rich mathematical problems? Well-designed video examples can go a long way to improve practice, and they are something teachers can return to again and again.

Finally, teachers need a tremendous amount of assistance when it comes to instructional planning. Linking the contents of a district’s math adoption to Common Core State Standards is challenging in itself. Even more, creating opportunities within a unit of instruction for students to engage in mathematics at a high level is new to many teachers. It is easy to skip this kind of instruction, particularly if it is a new kind of classroom practice. Teachers need guided assistance doing this as well as developing a variety of assessments that tap into the kind of thinking we want today’s students to do in math.

There is good news.  We can provide the kind of professional development our teachers need. Our challenge is to accept the fact that this kind of work is an unavoidable feature of today’s successful school systems.

Dr. Woodward is a professor and dean of the School of Education at the University of Puget Sound. In a project funded by the U.S. Department of Education, he worked with the REACH Institute on a collaborative five-year program that examined teaching methods for helping students in grades 4-8 with disabilities succeed in standard-based instruction. Dr. Woodward is coauthor of the TransMath mastery-based intervention solution for middle and high school students and a lead trainer for NUMBERS math professional development.


Akiba, M., & LeTendre, G. (2009). Improving teacher quality: The U.S. teacher workforce in a global context. New York: Teachers College Press.

Center on Education Policy. (2011, September). Common core state standards: Progress and challenges in school districts’ implementation. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy.

Davidson, A. (2012, January/February). Making it in America. The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved January 26, 2012 from


McKenzie & Company. (2007). How the world’s best-performing countries come out on top.  Retrieved January 26, 2012 from

Categories: Math, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

Stop Hitting the ‘EASY’ Button!

By Jill Jackson

I remember when my local office supply store started stocking the big red “EASY” button on the counters near the register. I had visions of carrying it with me when I embarked on my weekly, travel-for-work exploits! Just the thought of stepping out of the line as my flight is delayed for the umpteenth time and finding a quiet corner at O’ Hare and smacking that “EASY” button seemed somehow soothing … if only it worked that way!

Oddly enough, I think that quite a few folks in education are trying to bring that “EASY” button into their offices or classrooms.

Here’s what the “EASY” button sounds like: “Gee, teaching didn’t used to be this hard; what happened to the good ole days?” or “Wow! I need to figure out an easier way to do this!” or “Isn’t there a way that I can make this faster?” or “If only the parents/prior teachers/board/administrators/community would do ____, then I wouldn’t have to spend so much time.”

Here’s the secret: THE EASY BUTTON HAS LOST ITS POWER! Well, it never really had any power, but let’s not get hung up on that.

The real deal is this: Teaching is hard. There, I said it! Teaching is hard, and it’s not for the faint of heart —or the faint of spirit, for that matter.

So we really need to level with ourselves and change the conversation from “How can I simplify this?” to “How can I make this more powerful for the students?”

By switching the conversation, we are placing the focus on the STUDENTS we serve. We organize around what is best and most efficient and effective for the kids—even when it’s tough on the adults … even when it stretches us and causes us to stay a little later, prep a little longer, ask a zillion more questions, or ask for help and risk admitting that we don’t have the answer. And who benefits? The kids AND the teachers.

Why is dumping the “Easy” button helpful to teachers? Because we gain confidence in what we’re capable of doing for our students. That’s the way confidence grows: by trying something you didn’t think you could do and actually doing it! And NOTHING tops a confident teacher!

So once we dump the “EASY” button, what will things look like on our campuses?

  • We will discuss options for fixing teaching problems without the filter of “How much time will this take?”
  • We will analyze our current practices and ask: What practices serve me well, but don’t necessarily pay off for my students?
  • We spend the time in the lesson prep, knowing that excellent teachers make teaching look easy because they’ve planned for lessons so thoroughly.
  • We will remind each other during team meetings that just because something is difficult or time-consuming doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.

I’ve been working with struggling schools for more than 10 years now, and what I have learned over time is that teaching is NOT magic, and it IS difficult. But more than so many other professions, it’s worth it because the return on the time/energy/expertise investment is off the charts!

Commit with me to working through the difficult, even when the “Easy” button seems like the thing to do. We won’t regret it.

Jill Jackson is owner and managing director of Jackson Consulting, a full-service literacy consulting and school improvement company serving the nation’s lowest-performing/high-poverty school districts. Check out Jill’s tell-it-like-it-is tools and tips at, Tweet her at, or post to her wall at

Categories: General Education, Professional Developement | 20 Comments

From Zero Tolerance to Full Support

Effective Models for Responding to Problem Behaviors in Students With EBD

By Dan Habib

Issues Summary

Over 2 million young people in the United States have an emotional/behavioral disability (EBD). Statistics released by the Southern Poverty Law Center and The Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders reflect the grim outcomes for these students:

  • Students with EBD have the worst graduation rate of all students with disabilities. Nationally, only 40 percent of students with EBD graduate from high school, compared with the national average of 76 percent.
  • Students with EBD are three times as likely as other students to be arrested before leaving school.
  • Students with EBD are twice as likely as other students with disabilities to live in a correctional facility, halfway house, drug treatment center, or on the street after leaving school.
  • Female students with EBD are twice as likely as students with other disabilities to become teenage mothers.
  • 75 percent of young adults with EBD have been involved with the criminal justice system at some point in their lives.

Traditional Responses to Problem Behavior in School

Students with EBD typically do not respond well to traditional discipline policies and educational programs. As such, schools can easily and wrongly dismiss them as “problem kids,” further reinforcing the characteristics of EBD (anxiety, depression, low self-worth, aggression), which leads to cycles of discipline referrals.

With the rise of school violence in the 1990s, schools responded by securing the safety of their students and faculty through the initiation of zero-tolerance policies. Across the country, many of those policies still exist today. The goal of zero-tolerance is to deter problem behavior by providing swift consequences for misconduct, sending a strong, “one strike, and you’re out” message to students. Seriously dangerous behaviors that jeopardize the safety of students and staff require consistent and firm consequences.

However, zero-tolerance prescribes non-negotiable punishment (typically, suspension or expulsion) for misconduct, regardless of the extent or context of the infraction. This “one-size-fits-all” framework impedes administrators from using their professional judgment, common sense, and teaching skills to correct minor infractions and help students behave positively. By focusing solely on punishment, zero-tolerance neglects to examine the root causes of problem behavior and consequently can do little to prevent the behavior from reoccurring. Rather than increasing school safety, zero-tolerance often leads to increased suspensions and expulsions for both serious and mild infractions and disproportionately impacts students with disabilities.

According to a 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, students covered under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as students without disabilities.

A long-term study in Texas released in 2011—Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study on How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement—tracked 1 million students in Texas between their seventh- and twelfth-grade school years. The study confirmed the prevalence of suspension as a default response to behavior issues in school:

  • 60 percent of public school students studied were suspended or expelled at least once between their seventh- and twelfth-grade school years.
  • Only 3 percent of disciplinary actions were for conduct for which state law mandates suspensions and expulsions (e.g., bringing a weapon to school). 97 percent of suspensions/expulsions were for minor infractions that did not jeopardize the safety of the school population (e.g., talking back to the teacher, talking in class, noncompliance with dress code).
  • Approximately 59 percent of students disciplined 11 times or more did not graduate from high school

The study also showed that disciplinary measures are not color-blind. African-Americans were 30 percent more likely to face disciplinary action, often for a similar incident, that would not lead to suspension for a white or Latino student.

Further, according to recent studies conducted by the Schott Foundation, students who are suspended or expelled often drop out of school altogether, which can lead to juvenile delinquency, arrests, and prison. Taking students out of their learning communities for non-violent misconduct is not only counterintuitive but has furthered the development of the school-to-prison pipeline. According to reports from groups such as the American Bar Association and the American Psychological Association, zero-tolerance policies are associated with declines in academic achievement and increases in student misconduct, repeat suspensions, school dropouts, and poor attitudes toward adults. Research also links zero-tolerance to increases in referrals to the juvenile-justice system for infractions that used to be handled in schools.

There are economic consequences when youth exhibiting treatable behavior problems are transferred to the juvenile-justice system. The anti-crime organization “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” cites that the cost of keeping a young person in juvenile detention for one year is between $35,000 to $50,000, compared with $12,000 to $15,000 per year to provide effective prevention and intervention programs to an adolescent. Furthermore, the country saves an estimated $1.7 million for every young person kept from engaging in a life of crime.

What Works?

The good news is there are numerous alternatives to zero-tolerance policies that actually work. Rather than cling to ineffectual strategies, many schools around the country are embracing proven (also known as “evidence-based”) models that help all students, including those with EBD, achieve success in school. These models are effective because they are rooted in prevention, build upon the inherent strengths of each student, and seek to address the underlying causes of problem behavior.

For far too many students with EBD, school is seen as the place where they are misunderstood, punished, and isolated. However, school is an ideal setting for students, particularly those with EBD, to develop meaningful relationships with competent, trustworthy adults who recognize their potential. These relationships are key to sustaining climates of success, safety, tolerance, and excellence in which students learn to thrive.

Many successful evidence-based models that address issues facing schools and students—particularly those with disabilities—fall under the educational framework called response to intervention (RtI), or Multitier System of Supports (MTSS). In short, RtI:

  • Provides all students with the best opportunities to succeed in school
  • Identifies students with learning or behavioral problems
  • Ensures that students receive appropriate instruction and related supports

RtI models have consistently been shown to be effective. In November 2011, the National Association of School Psychiatrists (NASP) held a congressional briefing at which it shared its findings on how schools can create safe, supportive conditions for learning. Experts underscored that: (1) student wellness (social, emotional, behavioral, and psychological) is essential for academic achievement, and (2) schools must emphasize both student wellness and academic achievement equally if all students are going to learn to their fullest potential.

The key components of safe and supportive conditions for learning presented by NASP are rooted in the best practices of RtI and include:

  • School-wide frameworks, such as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), that prevent negative behaviors such as bullying, violence, gang involvement, substance abuse, and truancy
  • Comprehensive and coordinated learning supports (e.g., effective discipline and positive behavior supports) that directly contribute to student social-emotional wellness, mental health, and positive behavior
  • Positive school climates that promote student connectedness and family engagement
  • Effective use of data to identify and address the most critical issues related to school safety and engagement
  • School-based specialized instructional support personnel who are integrally involved in develop­ment, delivery, and evaluation of these services

By adopting best practices for responding to problem behavior in students with EBD, we can break the cycle of discipline referrals and negative outcomes to ensure that these students achieve and sustain success in school and beyond.

Dan Habib is the Filmmaker in Residence at the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. Until joining UNH in April of 2008, he was the photo editor at the Concord Monitor. Two of his recent documentaries—Including Samuel and the new film Who Cares About Kelsey?—are now available through Sopris Learning. Including Samuel was broadcast nationwide on public TV stations in Fall 2009 and was nominated for an Emmy in 2010. Hear a recent interview with Dan at

About Dan Habib

Videos By Dan Habib: Including Samuel, Who Cares about Kelsey

Categories: Family, Positive School Climate | 1 Comment

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