Summers-Knoll Case Study
My name is Stephanie Emington and I am a student at Concordia University studying elementary education with a major in Language Arts. This case study was birthed in a college class for educators entitled Teaching Struggling Readers and Writers. The study focuses on a first grade struggling reader and writer from a private school called Summers-Knoll in the Ann Arbor area. The study will introduce the school in general, the student’s classroom and cooperating teacher, and the student himself. We will call the student Aslan and the teacher Melanie for privacy purposes.
Summers-Knoll School Background and Beliefs
The case study subject attends Summers-Knoll school in the Ann Arbor area. The school has easy access by bus route to the downtown area as well as to County Farm Park, providing a rich opportunity to embrace holistic, real world learning experiences. Summers-Knoll is highly focused on making connections to the local and global community by providing the students with realistic and enriching, cultural experiences.
As a private, nonsectarian school, Summers-Knoll serves students from kindergarten to the eighth grade. Each class in the school contains approximately 14 students, creating a tight-knit community atmosphere. Summers-Knoll’s communal atmosphere is furthered by is extreme openness to parental input, which is encouraged by the headmaster, whom we will call Michelle.
Summers-Knoll school is progressive and thrives on the teachers’ united dedication to fostering a nurturing, positive, creative environment for the students. All students are welcome, whether they struggle, have special needs, or are highly gifted. Teachers aim to support students as fully realized human beings with a heightened desire for rich, academic exploration. The educational program is rigorous, creative, engaging, interactive, adventurous, unique, and largely indirect. Summers-Knoll also places a high emphasis on becoming an accepting community that teaches students to value themselves and celebrate the diversity of others. Teamwork and collaboration are highly encouraged.
Summers-Knoll does not give out report cards with grade markings. Instead, parents are given student assessments through a portfolio system of multiple pictures and homework done throughout each period. A lot of the instruction is top-down.
Summers-Knoll Literacy Approach
The literacy approach of Summers-Knoll, like the school, heavily involves global and cultural exploration and exposure. Students are taught French, Latin, and Mandarin along with their English studies. The approach to English language learning is top-down and involves major literacy immersion. In English, students are given the opportunity to read multiple styles and genres of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction through group, partner, and individual study. For bottom-up instruction, students practice individual and group journaling strategies. Differentiation is the key, though there are no ELL instructors or pull-out programs at Summers-Knoll.
The case study student, Aslan, is in Melanie’s multi-age first and second grade classroom. This class is in high need of differentiated instruction.
The class consists of eight boys and six girls for a total of 14 students. Six of the students are Caucasian, four are Multi-Ethnic, two are Middle Eastern, and there is one Hispanic and one African American student. Two students are technically learning English as a second language, with their first languages being Turkish and Hebrew. One student is diagnosed as learning disabled and one is technically dyslexic. None of the students have been officially diagnosed with ADD or ADHD but several of them display multiple characteristics of the disorder. As for literary levels, one student is reading at a sixth grade instructional and seventh grade frustrational level, according to a miscue analysis and running records. Another student stumbles over simple sentences at the first grade level. With such a broad-sweeping degree of abilities around the bell curve, finding time for authentic, differentiated instruction is of real importance for Melanie.
Melanie’s Literacy Approach
To reach students at multiple levels, Melanie uses a variety of group and individual practices to foster deep literacy learning. Every day, students have quiet reading time on their own and then with a partner. There is also a set time in which Melanie implements chapter book reading, in which she either plays a cassette tape or reads aloud while the students lay and listen on the ground and couches. Throughout this time, Melanie pauses to initiate frequent checks for understanding as a group. Currently, the students are entranced by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty Macdonald. The eager smiles, attentive eyes, and quiet posture of the students suggest to me that most of the students enjoy the story and are excited to hear about how the characters’ problems will be solved.
Morning poem classwork and individual and group story-writing time are also literary practices implemented on a regular basis.
As a routine, Melanie posts a poem in large print on the wall each day. She starts off the school day by introducing the poem. The scheduled student for the day will either stand in front of the class and read the poem aloud or engage the class by asking for their help in reading the poem aloud as he or she points to the correlating words. Reading new poems frequently provides exposure and development of vocabulary, language skills, and writing styles. This practice is one form of top-down immersion for the children in Melanie’s class. After morning group poetry time, the teacher leads the students into brainstorming together to create a poem that mirrors the same writing style as the author that was read that day.
In addition to writing a poem each morning as a group, students have individual writing time in which they get to construct their own personally concocted stories. This time allows for differentiation. Students who are more advanced can write more extensive stories with complex plots and developed vocabulary. Frustrated students can scribble down their thoughts and then orate to Melanie later so that she can write in academic English next to their scribbles. In this way, the students are fostering an appreciation for writing and storytelling without dabbling and dawdling in the complication of mechanics. This shows the class that their ideas and stories are important, valued, and wanted. It creates a culture of storytelling and literacy. The encouragement to write at every level helps the students to continually grow in appreciation for learning. There is a tangible excitement about the creative production process; students also realize that they need to develop their skills in order to progress and their willingness to learn in order to enhance their stories is evident.
Initial Observations of Aslan: Behavior
I noticed that Aslan was engaged in very distracting hyperactive behavior the majority of his time spent in the classroom. He had a hard time sitting still and was constantly talking to his neighbors or stirring up trouble by intentionally irritating fellow classmates with such behaviors as poking them with pencils, stealing their erasers, or commenting with negative humor about the quality of their work. He seemed to quarrel with the other students a lot and always sat at the edge of his chair. He often would crawl on his hands and feet out of the room during group reading time while Melanie was reading aloud. He found humor in annoying his classmates and creating new antics and scenarios as the days went on. He had excessive energy for the daily classroom tasks. I also discovered that he was very creative in his disruption. He often proclaimed loudly that he was bored or “didn’t want to” when it came to participation in class activities.
It was not uncommon for Aslan to be sent out of the room until he could calm down so as not to disrupt the other students. He often got in trouble during French writing time for talking to others too much; he was usually teaching other students how to write in cursive or quarreling about table space. His biggest time of disruption daily was in art class. Even if he did have a good day in Melanie’s classroom or in French, his disposition consistently turned sour upon entering the art room and he became loud and noticeably disdainful.
Aslan’s relationship with the art teacher was poor on both ends. His disruptive behavior became expected and upon his arrival the teacher would say such phrases as “Aslan, what are we not going to do today?” Later when she was practicing calming meditative exercises with the students, Aslan wiggled and exclaimed, “This is not helping me!” The upset teacher replied in a raised voice, “Aslan, you are ruining everything! Please leave the room.” I found this very unfortunate.
A final behavioral observation I made about Aslan was that he seemed to struggle a lot with fear of people seeing his work if it contained mistakes. He begged Melanie to let him write, but then during writing time he didn’t want to do his work. After misspelling French words and writing a story that he found dissatisfactory, Aslan ripped up and threw away both, destroying all of his precious work.
First Interview with Melanie: Aslan’s Background and Behavior
After observing Aslan for extended periods, I decided to engage in discussion about his background with the main classroom teacher, Melanie. Melanie was very kind and gave me plenty of background information. Regarding Aslan’s behavior, she affirmed that his misbehavior was a consistent issue and had been since his arrival in her classroom. She told me of some incidences; he had stomped on another child’s foot and had stolen a boy’s lunch and smashed it on his head. In her opinion, Aslan’s misbehavior was a cry for attention wherever he could get it. She told me that Aslan’s parents just had a baby five months prior and with the new addition there was a possibility that Aslan was desperate for attention. In addition to this, Aslan just moved to the United States two years ago from Turkey.
According to Melanie, Aslan lived in Turkey for six years and learned little English while he was there. After his move to America, in order to adjust to the language difference, Aslan’s parents chose to move him from a third grade Turkish classroom to a first grade English classroom. As a result of the shift, Aslan is being taught some of the same content he learned before in Turkey and therefore gets bored at times. At the same time, he is still learning the ins and outs of the English language.
Interview with Aslan
I noticed during French writing practice that Aslan was much more eager to tell other students how to say and write Turkish words than to do the rest of his work, explaining to the other students “how they write it in Turkey” and demonstrating “how they say it in Turkey.” I expressed interest in his language mastery and asked if I could interview him. He gladly obliged and surprisingly he sat comfortably still during the entire interview, remained positive and engaged, and offered very knowledgeable answers. Melanie later stated that it was probably because he was glad to have all of the attention solely focused on him, so he didn’t need to earn it or act up to get it.
I began my interview by asking Aslan questions about his life both inside and outside of the classroom. I first learned that, although he acts up in art class, art and science are his favorite subjects. He said that he is actually interested in learning, despite how it looks outwardly. I also asked him about his home life.
At home, Aslan speaks both Turkish and English, as do his parents and grandparents. His family also reads and writes in both Turkish and English. It took the student about half of a year to learn to speak basic English. Along with the two languages, Aslan also speaks, reads, and writes in full German and partial French, Latin, Spanish, and Mandarin. He was very excited to share the Turkish language with me. He began by explaining that theTurkish alphabet has four more letters than the English one and that there is no x or y within it. He insisted that Turkish was the easiest language to learn because the words are “spelled just like they sound”. He said that it was hard for him to learn English because words are not always spelled the way they sound and vice versa. I realized that Bora was struggling with the wide variety of sound and letter correlation in English phonics.
Aslan said that when he is at home he sometimes speaks Turkish and sometimes speaks English. However, the student only reads Turkish books at home because he can decode and comprehend them easily on his own. This is a second problem. Reading solely Turkish outside of the classroom allows for little English practice and immersion other than in school. Melanie was unaware of this until I told her what I had learned.
Aslan also said that it would be hard for him to translate a Turkish book into English and he guessed that he was at a third or fourth grade reading level. In all reality, his miscue analysis and running record recorded him at a first grade frustrational level. Aslan’s main mistakes were with words that included the “th” sound, like the, then, there, and this. He often exchanged “this” and “his”, as well as “the” and “he”. He read through the words very quickly and didn’t correct them upon making mistakes. However, when he saw that I made a light mark next to them with my pencil, he asked why, and insisted that he had correctly said the word until I explained it to him. He rushed through the words during every assessment.
External Theoretical Support for Turkish English Language Learners like Aslan
Aslan’s struggles with phonetics and the differences between the languages of Turkish and English are backed up solidly by research under Paul Shoebottom. Paul Shoebottom has a masters degree in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Birmingham in England and wrote The Differences Between Turkish and English for the Frankfurt International School. Shoebottom’s research is in agreement with Aslan’s interview about the Turkish language. The Turkish alphabet is, in fact, similar to the English alphabet, with a few additions. In agreement again, Shoebottom states that Turkish students struggle with the “th” sound in words such as “then”, “think”, and “clothes”. He also states that they struggle with words beginning with “w” or “v” which was again confirmed by Aslan’s missed words on the word list. An additional challenge for Turkish learners is the consonant split. Words like “strength” can be hard for English learners because it is rare in the Turkish language to group three consonants together.
The most prominent part of Shoebottom’s study to me was that which showed the phonetics of Turkish. According to Shoebottom, Turkish is, in fact, as Aslan said, a phonetic language. He says that words are spelled the way they are pronounced and pronounced the way they are spelled. This makes it easy for Turkish students to quickly translate Turkish from paper and page to the mouth. This makes it harder for Turkish students to decode English words.
Second Interview with Melanie: Aslan’s Literacy
After interviewing Aslan, I talked to Melanie again. She told me that there are a few books that he will listen to, such as The Magic Tree House. She also showed me books from Brand New Readers that Aslan liked to read. She said that he has a good visual memory, but needs to work on his attention and motivation. She stated that the major problem was that Aslan tended to guess on words rather than sounding them out, something I noticed during my 100 Basic Word assessment and miscue analysis.
Strategies for Intervention
Overall, as found through the interviews and assessments, Aslan’s major issues are these: First, he needs to be able to keep his attention and not be a distraction to the rest of the class or himself for that matter. Second, he needs to stop guessing on words and actually sound them out because English is not as phonetically consistent as Turkish. Third, he needs to start being immersed in the English language outside of the classroom as well.
Here are a few solutions I propose.
First, behaviorally, Aslan needs to be given some attention without distracting from the class. As a high energy student, meditative exercises don’t do much for Aslan. When the art teacher kicked him out of the classroom, I asked him what would help him to focus. I asked him what he would do for a warm-up if he was the teacher. He proceeded to practice some jumping and afterward he was able to calmly focus on the task at hand. The teacher could, instead of doing her own exercises, give each child a day to plan exercises with her to help warm-up the class with. The teacher could also let each child lead a quick exercise before the class starts. In this way, both hyperactive/energetic and calm students could get their energy out and focus before the class begins. It also provides a way for all students to get some craved-for attention without it all going to the student who misbehaves. This gives the students buy-in. Somehow Aslan needs to realize that he is part of a bigger class where everyone matters, yet still be shown that his energy and creativity are valued and worthy of attention as well.
Second, Aslan needs help working through phonics explicitly. Somehow he needs to be taught to slow down and read. Melanie includes Aslan intentionally and intensively in group poem reading and writing time, uses phonic intervention teaching explicitly in a one-on-one meeting with him during individual and paired reading time, and encourages him in his personal pursuit to write a narrative story. She is currently encouraging him more because he ripped the last story out of his notebook.
To focus Aslan’s attention on sounding out words, Melanie tried a one-on-one exercise with Bora. To get him to slow down and sound out words phonetically, she chose a book called Mouse in the House. In this book, which he assumed would be easy, there are plenty of short words. However, these words are not ordinary words. They are nonsensical sound words like zingy zangy zoo. Instead of spouting out words by memory or quickly guessing words like sight words, Aslan would need to try and truly sound these words out if he was going to succeed. Bora did try to sound the words out and it worked out to give him the phonetic exercise that he needed. He is still working on this book.
I think the next step for Aslan is to partner with his parents and grandparents to get him reading English, not just Turkish outside of the classroom. Perhaps having him read to the class eventually would give him the attention he desires, show his achievement, and give him a sense of desire to learn. Out-of-class immersion will help make English language learning real to Aslan.
Summers-Knoll is an excellent school with teachers who go out of their way to differentiate for their students. Melanie does a tremendous job assisting each one of her students, especially with so many around the bell curve. She has done a novel job of assisting Aslan who is not only a struggling reader and writer, but who also technically should require ELL outside support. With a new baby in the home and a still new adjustment of changing countries and changing grade levels, Aslan may need extra care and support to show him how to receive healthy attention, rather than that gained by disruptive misbehavior. Melanie’s print-to-speech intervention using Mouse in the House and nonsensical phonemic words is brilliant and helping Aslan a lot. Allowance for him to exert excess energy through exercises before class in school and English immersion with his family outside of school could be positive action steps to be taken to provide Aslan with the differentiated education that Summers-Knoll boasts of and so clearly seeks after.