Dissecting Dibels

This weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about the wonderful PA Day session that the K-2 teachers got to participate in on Friday. The speaker, Kathryn, is an instructional coach with our Board, and she talked about Dibels, phonemic awareness skills, comprehensive literacy, inquiry, and teaching skills in context. I found myself nodding along with much of what she shared, but I also found myself contemplating new ideas and considering questions.

Here are some of my new ideas:

  • Use poems during guided reading groups to provide a context for some phonemic awareness skills that have been orally reviewed. I thought that I would try putting these poems into Explain Everything on the iPads. Then students can annotate the text, but also record their reading of it. This will also give my students more experience using Explain Everything, which may help them when they want to use this screencasting app for other purposes (e.g., to explain thinking in Math, Language, Social Studies, or Science).
  • Do progress monitoring regularly (i.e., every couple of weeks). Since establishing the groupings, I’ve been trying to do some quick assessments through my small group time, by recording students as they demonstrate their knowledge of the specific target area in Dibels (e.g., Phoneme Segmentation Fluency). These assessments aren’t official ones though, and while I have the data, I haven’t graphed it to monitor growth. I will be using the Progress Monitoring Booklets this week, so that I can really start to see this student growth as compared to their Aim Line (target).
  • Make more use of transitional times for reviewing phonemic awareness skills. I remember Lori, another Grade 1 teacher, doing this regularly when she taught Kindergarten. While I’ve been doing this more recently during clean-up times and times when we first come to the carpet, Kathryn made me consider other options. Now I’m even thinking of some games that we can play when lining up and possibly even when moving through the halls. I think that this could be a good way to make the most of our time at school, while increasing phonemic awareness skills.

While I’m very excited about these new ideas, I’m also thinking a lot about many questions that have come to mind.

  • Are the benchmarks the same for our Stage 1 ELL learners? Knowing that for some of these students, it may take longer to meet these benchmarks, how do I know when I should keep on trying what I’m already doing versus attempting a new approach?
  • What are some of the suggested interventions for the students that are continually falling below the target? I know that this would be a good time to talk to our Learning Resource Teachers, Instructional Coach, and ESL teacher, but are there other places that we should be looking for suggested resources and activities?
  • I really want 100% of my students to reach the “minimal level of okayness,” but how reasonable is it for this to happen? What does the classroom program look like in the cases where this has happened? I’d love to know more about the program design and the interventions from teachers that have met with this high level of success.
  • Kathryn spoke regularly about “teaching skills in context,” but then there are so many websites and support materials that make these skills separate from comprehensive literacy and inquiry. How do you teach these skills in context? When doing so, do you still access these games and blackline masters, and how do you use them with your students?

I know that there are other schools both inside and outside of our Board that are using Dibels. I would welcome any feedback and/or insights from people that are familiar with this program, as I continue to contemplate how to best meet student needs. Thanks for your help!


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