Clare van Hasselt

The NEMP 2000 oral reading record task data provide videotaped performances of Year 4 and Year 8 students reading aloud at an instructionally appropriate level. Text passages were presented within authentic fiction, non-fiction, or non-book contexts, giving students opportunity to use context-based cues when deciphering unfamiliar words. This study looked at New Zealand primary school students reading below the level expected for their chronological age. The aim was to document and analyse the specific difficulties these students face, the strategies they commonly utilise and the work habits and personal characteristics they bring to the oral reading task.

Students reading ‘below normal expectation’ in the NEMP oral reading tasks formed 18.3% of the 2000 NEMP sample. Forty-five videotaped student performances were randomly selected from Year 4 and Year 8 samples reading below expectation. The proportion of students reading within each text type and at the target reading bands was retained. A framework for coding students’ observable behaviours was developed to fully reflect student achievement and attributes. To achieve this, several innovative coding categories were developed. For example, actual strategies used by students pausing to decipher a text word were identified, regardless of whether the strategy led to a correct, incorrect or self-corrected response. Errors and strategies were analysed and identified as separate types and sub-types. Relevant work habits and personal characteristics were also identified.
• Students tended to read very slowly, at a mean rate of approximately 57 words per minute.

• The error rate was just over 9%, of which substitutions were the most common error type.

• Students paused to employ a strategy for approximately one in every 10 words, of which ‘context’ cues were the most common strategy type.

• In regard to oral reading fluency, students generally spoke with ‘little/no’ expression, while exhibiting ‘some’ degree of clarity, clause and sentence structure, and breath control.

  • Almost half the students moved closer to the text when reading, and nearly a quarter kept their place with their finger.

• Approximately half the students exhibited the sound work habits of ‘independent’ reading and remained predominantly ‘still’ during the task, while the majority ‘successfully’ followed instructions and applied ‘concentrated effort’.

• The majority of students exhibited ‘moderate’ levels of such personal characteristics as ‘sociability’, ‘confidence’, ‘risk-taking’ and ‘interest’.

• The students’ tendency to rely on context cues may indicate the greater emphasis placed on use of these cues in New Zealand reading programmes and/or a lack of ability in the use of phonological decoding skills.

• Positive statistical relationships between reading rate and oral reading performance descriptors (expression, clarity of speech, clause structure and sentence structure) suggest that these behaviours are inter-related aspects of the general problem of reading difficulties.

  • Students who place text close to their eyes and mark their reading place may be trying to improve their visual perception, eye-tracking or concentration.

• Although students reading below expectation do share some common learning difficulties, many exhibit sound work habits and a satisfactory range of personal characteristics in the NEMP one-on-one assessment setting.
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