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IDENTIFYING NEEDS - the key to a successful reading programme

If our reading programmes are going to make a difference we must have a clear picture of what our students can do and what are the next learning steps.

Our Informal Prose Inventory procedure not only provides a comprehensive check on the all important decoding strategies that our readers are using, but MOST IMPORTANTLY exposes those readers who are reading fluently but not actively processing the text and who need to be taught comprehension strategies. 

Click on the sample recording sheets (above) for further explanation.
These IPIs have been used extensively in New Zealand and Australia for the last 20 years.

"I heard about your IPIs from a research team at a literacy conference in Perth. They said they had 'scoured the globe' looking for a resource such as this and claimed yours was the best around."  Sharon O'Brien, Western Australia

Available as three stand alone resources. Each collection covers all the 9 levels of difficulty with 2 tests at each level. IPI 1 and 2 are fiction text, IPI 3 is non fiction. 

Part 1: The Running Record component allows you to do an all important check on decoding fluency. Sometimes there are gaps in our more able readers word attack strategy that could use a bit of polishing.
Part 2: Retell and Questions  - a measure of the reader's ability to construct the literal meaning of text. Sometimes we rush into critical thinking about text too quickly and leave out this important foundational skill.
The retell looks at the students ability to accurately process the information they are reading and hold onto it. This only occurs when the student has habitualised active reading strategies. 

Comprehension - should we be measuring critical thinking?
Well to be perfectly honest, we don't think the 'formal' testing scenario is the place to try an analyse students critical thinking ability. I have worked with other tests which try to measure this and found that it is actually possible to answer many of the questions without reading the text which seems to be a disconnect as far as I am concerned.

We think that our SharpReading guided reading sessions provide a much more authentic opportunity to measure critical thinking. 

Guidelines for Interpreting Informal Prose Inventory Data
Here are some guidelines for next steps for your readers.

IPI Testing criteria (pass marks): Accuracy 97%, Retell 50%, Answering Questions 75%.
If the student fails to meet one (or more) of these criteria then this level becomes their Instructional Reading Age.

Here are some examples which we have analyses and identified the next teaching step from the data.

A student tested on Level 5:  Reading age 10-11 years.
Accuracy 99%  Retell 80%  Comp 95% - Passed all 3 criteria well.
Instructional Level is at least Level 6. Test on Level 6 (RA 11-12yrs).

Accuracy 98%  Retell 55%  Comp  80% - Passed all 3 criteria.Instructional Level is Level 6. Probably no need to retest at Level 6. Accuracy 98%  Retell 47%  Comp  75% - Failed the retell. Instructional Level is Level 5. 

Accuracy 98%  Retell 55%  Comp  68% - Failed the comp. Instructional level is Level 5.Accuracy 98%  Retell 40%  Comp  68% - Failed the retell and comp (but not badly).
Instructional level is Level 5.

Accuracy 98%  Retell 18%  Comp  68% - Failed the retell (below 20%) and comp.
Instructional level is Level 5.

Accuracy 98%  Retell 45%  Comp  25% - Failed the retell and comp (below 30%).
Instructional level is Level 5. No need to retest. Just need to strengthen comprehension at level 5.

Accuracy 98%  Retell 18%  Comp 29% - Where both the Retell is below 20% and the Comp below 30% Instructional level should drop down to Level 4. No need to retest.The decoding is strong enough. Slightly easier text (lesser concept loading) will take the pressure off while comprehension strategies are strengthened.

The weaker decoder
Accuracy 96%  Retell 75%  Comp  85% - Failed the decoding.
Instructional Level is Level 5 with a focus on identified decoding issues.
Where accuracy drops below 97% there usually is enough data to identify something to work on. 

Accuracy 93%  Retell 55%  Comp 75% - Instructional Level 4.
As soon as the Accuracy drops below 94% regardless of the comprehension scores, the instructional level moves down and the decoding issues become the focus of instruction.

The value of the IPI testing procedure is that it clearly identifies the good decoders who are weak comprehenders. The issue for many of these students is that fluent decoding can become a very mechanical process with very little engagement of the brain. They therefore need to be taught and given the opportunity to habitualise mental strategies that force them to process text. 

We have found that 6 months instruction in our SharpReading programme results in huge improvements in retelling scores as a result of students learning how to construct meaning and by so doing, make the text memorable.

Informal Prose Inventories (also known as Informal Reading Inventories) provide valuable insights into the decoding and comprehension strategies that a reader is using. This information, alongside the informal day to day observations you make, will inform decision-making about the needs of your individual learners and help you to design programmes that build on your reader's strengths and address their weakness. 

Background to the Informal Prose Inventory

During my 18 years as a primary classroom teacher I was often perplexed by the students who arrived in my classroom at the beginning of the new year with overinflated reading ages. When I started working with them in reading groups it was quickly apparent that while they could decode the text they didn't have a good understanding of the content.I looked for ways to assess comprehension only to find that the research was inconclusive; comprehension is a very illusive cognitive process, difficult to measure. In my search for some way of providing comprehension benchmarks for students, I created a series of Informal Prose Inventories. In addition to the traditional running record component that provides a measure of accuracy and decoding strategy use, I included comprehensive retelling and question prompts as measures of understanding to provide a more valid scoring system than the subjective measures used in the past.

Selection of test passages
Passages were taken from stories published in New Zealand School Journals. An attempt to select passages that were 'neutral' but not 'redundant' - passages from within a story that could stand alone as an extract and generate interest and engagement from the reader. Using my own class over a number of years I eventually established a credible progression.

Grading the text
NZ School Journal stories are already graded using Warwick Elley's Noun Frequency Method. I used this same method to establish the reqading age for each passage as the overall readability of a story can be significantly different from a portion of it.

Trialling the progression
Having assembled a number of passages at each of my reading levels (reading ages) I trialled these passages with my own class and over a number of years established a series of stories which provided a credible progression for a wide range range of readers.There was also a reasonable correlation to other testing procedures used in the school (PAT).

I joined the New Zealand Graduate School of New Zealand as a tutor in 1999 and began to use this resource as part of the literacy programme that I was responsible for training teachers. The first set of tests were published in 1999 followed by a second set in 2001 at the request of teachers for more tests at each level. For the second set I followed the same selection process and employed a teacher to trial the tests in schools to sort out any difficulties.
In 2003 a third set was written, trialled and published, this time non-fiction passages in recognition of the difference comprehension demands presented by the different text genres.

These tests are used extensively in New Zealand schools and in Queensland and Western Australia.


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