A literacy interventionist, Marnie, double-checked her notes. She had it right. Andy, a fifth grader, was indeed reading Poppy (Avi, 2005). Andy kept calling the main character Bobby instead of Poppy. He seemed really confused about the plot, the characters, and well . . . just about everything. He couldn’t seem to recall even the most basic details of the book even though his reading log indicated that he had completed the first four chapters. Initially, Marnie had thought that the book might be a bit out of Andy’s reach. But Marnie had listened while Andy read the first couple of pages, and he had seemed comfortable. There was also good reason to believe that he was motivated to read the book. Poppy is an animal fantasy, and Andy loves animal fantasies; he had devoured books such as the Catwings series (LeGuin), The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Cleary, 1990), and Stuart Little (White, 2005). So what could the problem be?
At the next session, Marnie asked Andy what he thought Poppy could do to elude Mr. Ocax. (Mr. Ocax is an owl and Poppy is a mouse.) He said, “I think Bobby should become invisible.” Marnie sputtered, “What do you mean? The mouse’s name is Poppy, not Bobby. How can Poppy become invisible?” Andy just sat there looking confused. At that point, Marnie decided that the only viable choice was to halt the conference and send Andy off to reread Chapter 4—a chapter that he reportedly had finished.
Confusion and Collaboration
After the session, Marnie sat there wondering what could be going on with Andy. He had always been such a hardworking student. He had started intervention group two years below grade level. But that gap had been whittled down to a single year, and until fairly recently, Marnie had considered it to be a realistic goal for him to place out of intervention by the end of the school year. Now Marnie realized that the goal might be in jeopardy. Although her schedule was jam-packed, she would have to find some time to talk to Andy’s teacher. Unfortunately, her school did not build any time into the school day for collaboration. The administration said that they did not have the staff available to cover classrooms. If any collaboration was to be done, it would have to be on the teacher’s own time.
At the end of the school day, Marnie traded her bus duty with one of her fellow interventionists so that she could try to catch Andy’s teacher before she left for the day. When she reached Andy’s classroom, the teacher, Liz, was standing there with her coat on, stuffing papers into a tote bag.
Marnie said, “Hi, Liz. Can I talk to you about Andy for a minute?”
Liz replied, “I’m really sorry. My grad class starts in 40 minutes. I’m doing a presentation today. I need to get there to set up.”
Marnie said, “When can we talk?”
Liz said, “I don’t know. Why don’t you send me an email? I really have to run. I can’t take the time to pull out my calendar right now.”
Marnie watched Liz rush out of the door. Then she went back to her office and sent Liz an email. She received a reply the next morning offering three possible meeting times, but all of them conflicted with Marnie’s schedule. She could trade duties with someone, but rescheduling a team meeting or a group was almost impossible. The school’s master schedule was a house of cards; trying to move one thing would cause everything else to come tumbling down. Marnie replied to the email with some suggestions of her own. The emails flew back and forth for the next several days. Finally, they agreed to meet for 10 minutes before the next faculty meeting. Marnie didn’t think that 10 minutes would be long enough, but at this point, she’d take what she could get.
Marnie explained to Liz that Andy had been making fairly good progress until recently. She had brought along his reading log, his response journal, his running records, and her anecdotal notes, even though she knew that there was no time for Liz to really look at them. Marnie described Andy’s recent lapses: the inability to retain basic information about the story, the superficial response journal entries, and calling the main character Bobby instead of Poppy.
Liz said, “That’s funny. He keeps calling the main character in our class novel Poppy instead of Bobby.”
Marnie said, “Your class novel? I thought you conducted a reading workshop. Aren’t your students reading self-selected books?”
Liz replied, “Oh, they still have their self-selected books. But we are reading Things Not Seen (Clements, 2006) as a class novel, too. I met with Cindy and Lena [the other fifth-grade teachers], and we decided that it would help them get ready for middle school. This book addresses the social issues that kids face in middle and high school.”
Marnie then realized that Andy was trying to read three books at the same time. Marnie has a hard time doing that herself even though she is an avid, accomplished adult reader. Andy, as a struggling reader, was being asked to remember the storyline and characters of three different books simultaneously. No wonder the poor boy was confused! The principal called the meeting to order, and they had to stop talking.
Marnie was frustrated. Why hadn’t she known that the fifth grade was doing a whole-class novel study? If she had known that, she could have made some adjustments. Maybe she could have given Andy a collection of short stories to read, such as Every Living Thing (Rylant, 1996), or maybe some magazine articles. She realized that it was very important to find a way to regularly communicate with teachers to avoid these situations.
After the meeting, Marnie tried to corner Liz for a minute to schedule another meeting. Liz said, “I’m sorry, Marnie. I simply can’t right now. I have to go and set up a science experiment before the kids come in.”
Marnie said, “But we need to find a way to collaborate if we are going to help Andy.”
Liz sighed and said, “Andy isn’t my only student. I have 24 others with a wide range of abilities, needs, and learning styles. I have to teach them everything, not just reading. If I don’t get back to my room right now, I’m going to have a chaotic morning because I’m not ready for them.” Once again, Marnie watched Liz rush out the door.
Marnie sighed, too. She had a caseload of 32 students, seven more than Liz, across three different grade levels. She had to submit weekly progress monitoring reports for each of these students and prepare for and attend monthly intervention conferences. She had to administer diagnostic assessments to all of the students that teachers expressed concerns about and universal screening assessments to newly enrolled students. In addition, the literacy team was responsible for all school literacy events, such as the Family Reading Night and the book sale, as well as for maintaining the school bookroom and the professional library. Since she didn’t have a regular class, she was also scheduled for bus duty, lunch duty, and recess duty. She had all of these responsibilities, yet she was willing to find time to meet. Marnie was not willing to surrender yet. At least Liz had responded to her emails. She’d try sending her another email.
During lunch with the two other interventionists, she discussed the difficulty in finding time to collaborate with Liz. She told them that she was going to try to collaborate via email. The school counselor was in the lunchroom and overheard the conversation. He told them that they should never send any information about students over the Internet. It was not completely secure, and there was a risk of violating confidentiality. Now Marnie was back to the drawing board.
That evening, Marnie’s five-year-old son gave her his “home-school folder.” Marnie and all of the other kindergarten parents were told to be on the lookout for the home-school folder every day. It contained fliers, notices, notes from the teacher, corrected papers, and homework. Marnie had to empty the folder of corrected papers and fliers. She signed anything that needed to be signed and returned it to the folder. If she wanted to send a note to the teacher, she would put it in the home-school folder. Marnie put her son’s homework aside until after his snack and 30 minutes of media time. That evening, when she was returning the folder to her son’s backpack, the idea struck her. She and Liz could have a “home-school folder.” They wouldn’t have to find a time to meet. They could communicate in writing, and Andy could be the courier.
For Marnie to have any hope that Liz would read the information in the folder, she would have to be succinct. Liz wouldn’t read pages and pages of notes. As a matter of fact, she probably wouldn’t even read a whole page. Marnie was certainly willing to keep Liz informed and eventually hoped to persuade Liz to use this information to provide more effective classroom instruction for Andy. But her immediate goal was information flow in the other direction—for Liz to keep her apprised of happenings in the classroom, which would enable her to greatly improve the effectiveness of her intervention sessions with Andy. However, getting Liz to write back would be a real challenge. It would have to be easy and to the point. Then she thought about the form she had filled out to put in her son’s home-school folder. She had checked a couple of boxes and written a few phrases, yet it communicated all that the teacher needed to know about her son’s reading experience that evening.
She could create a form. Liz would only have to check boxes and write short phrases, and then Marnie would have the needed information! The next morning, Marnie started working on the form. She shared drafts of the form with the other members of the literacy team. They reviewed it and gave feedback, including some of their own ideas for improving the form. A couple of the other interventionists expressed interest in using it, too, once Marnie finished with its development. After several drafts, she was finally ready to launch it.
Marnie gave the folder to Andy and asked him to give it to Liz. The folder contained both the form completed by Marnie and a blank form with a sticky note attached requesting that Liz complete the form, put it back in the folder, and return the folder via Andy. The next day, Andy came to intervention class without the folder. He also didn’t bring it the following day or any of the days for the rest of the week. Marnie was about to give up, but early the next week, Andy came to class with the folder. Marnie peeked inside and was delighted to see that Liz had completed the form.
Liz and Marnie developed a routine of completing the form at least once a week. Andy eventually asked about it, and Marnie explained the purpose of the folder. During that day’s session, Andy discovered a way to keep track of the characters in his novel. Andy suggested that Marnie write that on the form. Marnie said, “Why don’t you write it on the form yourself?” Andy did. From then on, the folder became a three-way communication among Marnie, Liz, and Andy. Andy took responsibility for filling out the parts that were obvious to him, such as the title of the book he was reading. In addition to all of the other uses for the folder, it provided Marnie with another method to measure Andy’s progress. She knew that Andy truly understood the lessons being taught when he could fill in the “strategy focus” and “word study” portions of the form.
The collaboration folder continued to expand and evolve. In addition to the completed form, Marnie would occasionally add a copy of her anecdotal notes or a running record that highlighted a change in Andy’s strategy use. Liz included standard-sized copies of her class anchor charts in the folder whenever the class created a new anchor chart. Marnie noticed that Andy found the anchor charts extremely helpful. So she had him affix the anchor charts into the “resources pages” section of his reading response journal.
Eventually, the entire literacy team and some of the special education resource teachers adopted the collaboration folder. Some teachers and interventionists even took the concept a step further: they began communicating through a collaboration log. The collaboration log was simply a spiral notebook. The teacher and interventionist wrote observations about their student in the notebook and put it in each other’s mailboxes rather than delivering it via student couriers. The collaboration log turned out to be a rich source of documentation at intervention meetings.
The collaboration folder had a very positive effect on Andy’s progress. Marnie used it to improve her intervention sessions with Andy right from the beginning—and to her delight, Liz eventually also started to use it to modify some aspects of Andy’s classroom instruction. His intervention sessions and classroom instruction became progressively more aligned with each other. Among other changes, the kinds of inconsistent terminology and contradictory instructional approaches that were described at the start of this article were eliminated. Once Andy started to receive instruction that was coordinated between his classroom and his intervention group with a common goal, mastery occurred at a much faster rate.
Teacher-Interventionist Collaboration Sheet
Name __________________________________ Date ____________________
Instructional Goal: _________________________________________________
Strategy Focus: ___________________________________________________
Word Study Focus: ________________________________________________
Resources Used: __________________________________________________