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Rachel Cason Action Research Project Fall 2013

Action Research Project The BIG Question

What is the best way to improve students blending skills as they read?

Action Research Project Meeting with Cooperating Teacher

Students to Participate: Student J and Student H Skills to be Addressed: Reading/Blending

After meeting with Ms. Young about my action research project, we decided that Students J and H would participate in this project. Both of these girls are English language learners, and they both struggle with reading. Student J is progressing particularly slowly in the classroom. Ms. Young indicated that she can identify letters and match them with their sounds, but she cannot blend the sounds together to read the entire word. Student H is on a slightly higher reading level, but she, too, has trouble blending unfamiliar words. Ms. Young suggested that I focus on basic phonics skills that emphasize blending. Our goal is to help these two students become more comfortable with reading unfamiliar words by blending together the individual sounds they already know. I hope to help these students understand and enjoy reading more as a result of this project.


Student J: Interest Survey Auditory Blending Test Reading Blending Test Letter Recognition Test Student H: Interest Survey Auditory Blending Test Reading Blending Test Yopp-Singer Test

Student Interest Survey Student J 1. The three things that I do best in school are: 1.__Painting______________ 2.__Playing with friends______ 3.__Science_________ 2. Some of the things that I would like to work on this year are _Reading and painting_______ 3. I would like to learn more about_Reading. I like to read, but I cant.___

4. Outside of school, my favorite activity is___painting._____________________

5. My hobbies are___art, reading with a teacher, playing with my brothers and sister, dancing_________

6. The clubs, organizations or private lessons that I participate in are ____ ____Panting Club______________________________________________

7. My favorite sport is _football_________________________

8. The sports that I play in and out of school are___(none)_____

9. My three favorite books are: 1.__Pete the Cat_____________ 2._Barbie Butterfly_______ 3._Puppy Named Princess____ 10. One of my favorite authors is _(none)___

11. If I could choose between watching television, playing video games or using the computer, I would pick__computer________________because___I like computer games___ 12. I enjoy these types of reading: (circle those that apply) Story Books Craft/Games/Puzzles Fiction Fairy Tales Non-Fiction Geography Comics Sports 13. The person that I consider to be a hero is __mom and dad____ because___they take care of me.______________

14. I have traveled to ___(none)______________________ If I could pick a place to travel to, I would choose___the beach ___ 15. Some of the chores and responsibilities that I have at home are _____ ____clean my room and help my mom. __ 16. Three of my friends are: _Heidy, Maia, Destiny_____________ ____________________________When I am with my friends we like to ___play outside. 17. Something about me that Id like to share with you is_____I have 5 brothers and 1 sister.___________________________

Student Interest Survey Student H 3. The three things that I do best in school are: 1.____Writing_____________________ 2._Calendar__________________ 3.__Painting___________________ 4. Some of the things that I would like to work on this year are ___Reading, writing _____________

3. I would like to learn more about___reading and science__________________________

4. Outside of school, my favorite activity is___writing my own stories _____

5. My hobbies are__cooking (especially cupcakes and cookies)_

6. The clubs, organizations or private lessons that I participate in are ____ ______Painting club, ballet, cheerleading

7. My favorite sport is ___football_______________________

8. The sports that I play in and out of school are__(none)__________ __________________________________________________

9. My three favorite books are: 1.__Pinkalicious___________ 2.__Barbie Doctor_________ 3.__Puppy Named Princess______ 10. One of my favorite authors is _(none)___

11. If I could choose between watching television, playing video games or using the computer, I would pick__computer________because__I use it to talk to my cousin in Mexico. 12. I enjoy these types of reading: (circle those that apply) Story Books Craft/Games/Puzzles Fiction Fairy Tales Non-Fiction Geography Comics Sports 13. The person that I consider to be a hero is __my dad______________ because__he keeps me safe.____________________ ______________________________________________________ 14. I have traveled to ___Georgia_________________________ If I could pick a place to travel to, I would choose___the beach__ 15. Some of the chores and responsibilities that I have at home are _____ __cleaning my room and taking out the trash______________________________ 16. Three of my friends are: _Maomi, Michelle, Maia _________________ ____________________________When I am with my friends we like to ___play house__________________ 17. Something about me that Id like to share with you is__I just helped paint my bedroom. We painted hearts on the wall!______________

Auditory Blending Test

This test requires the teacher to read each word in segments as they are broken apart on the test sheet (see next page). Students must then blend the sounds together to pronounce the whole word. This word list was taken from Teaching Children to Read: The Teacher Makes the Difference by D. Ray Reutzel and Robert B. Cooter, Jr.


Student J: 14/30 correct. This student did not have much difficulty blending words with only two sounds, but she had a hard time blending words with three or four sounds. Even after hearing me pronounce the whole word blended correctly, she had trouble understanding that the sounds I gave her created the word I said.

Student H: 24/30 correct. This student was able to blend almost all of the words with two or three sounds, but she had more trouble with the words that had four sounds. She seemed to have a better understanding of how letters can blend together, but she lacked practice.

Auditory Blending Test a-t

t-o i-n i-f b-e a-s s-ea n-ow g-o s-ew

l-ap t-ip m-an st-ate b-ox sc-ab r-ug m-ind th-ink p-ig

lap tip man state box scab rug mind think pig

l-o-ck s-t-e-m b-ea-k h-i-de c-a-sh m-i-c-e sh-ee-t f-r-o-g j-u-m-p t-ur-key

lock stem beak hide cash mice sheet frog jump turkey

Reading Blending Test

After completing the Auditory Blending Test, I used the same word list but modified the assessment format to assess the students reading skills (see next page). I asked students to look at the word, segment the word by saying each sound, and then blend the word.

Results: Student J: 8/30 correct. This students difficulty with auditory blending carried over into her reading ability. Although she could usually tell me the sounds each letter makes, she could not blend the sounds together to form the whole word. She often just guessed at what the word might be, based on the beginning or ending sound.

Student H: 15/30 correct. This student had a similar problem. She had no trouble identifying letters and their sounds, but she struggled with blending the sounds together while reading. She usually did not guess if she wasnt sure; sometimes she just got stuck on a certain section of the word and could not blend it with the rest. She also had trouble with consonant digraphs.

Reading Blending Test at

to in if be as sea now go sew

lap tip man state box scab rug mind think pig

lock stem beak hide cash mice sheep frog jump turkey

Letter Recognition Test Student J

This test requires the student to identify upper case and lower case letters in a random order. I used this assessment with Student J because I wanted to make sure she really knew all the letter names as her teacher said she did. Results: Student J: 48/52 correct. In both the upper and lower case tests, she identified U as V and Y as W. However, she correctly identified V and W. This indicates that she has probably simply learned U and Y incorrectly, and the problem should be fairly easy to correct with continued practice. She does indeed have a good grasp on letter names, as well as their sounds, which she sometimes told me during the assessment.

Yopp-Singer Test Student H

This test required the student to segment words as I called them out. Her segmentation was recorded on a separate sheet and scored according to the correct breakdown. I used this assessment with Student H because I wanted to see if she could distinguish between the sounds in the words and understand that the words are made of these different sounds blended together.

Results: Student H: 16/22 correct. On items she missed, there were two common patterns: first, she often failed to completely segment the words. For example, on the word grew, the student segmented it as /gr/-/ew/ instead of separating the first consonant blend into /g/ and /r/. Second, she often repeated vowel sounds in two different segments of the word. For example, she segmented wave as /wa/-/ave/ instead of separating the /a/ sound as its own separate sound. Student H demonstrated that she does have a good understanding of how segmenting and blending work, at least when working with auditory assessments. She needs more practice with applying these skills to reading.

Research Paper: An investigation of the best ways to teach blending.


Action Research: Blending Techniques Rachel Cason Samford University


The Problem Reading is a skill that does not develop overnight. For many students, this process takes many years of practice and instruction before it becomes natural. According to Williams, children may develop different reading skills at different rates, meaning that they may be proficient in one area while still struggling in another (1980). In the case of this project, the students have mastered naming the letters of the alphabet and their sounds, but they have not mastered blending those sounds to read words fluently (Young, 2013). Thus, it is critical to find out what strategies might be useful for helping these students blend sounds and improve their overall reading capabilities. Decoding Decoding and blending go hand-in-hand. In order to learn to read, students must be able to break words apart and understand their parts, but they must also be able to put the individual parts together to create the whole word. Decoding, then, is an important skill for early reading instruction, as it leads to an understanding of how sounds work as parts of a whole word (Williams, 1980). Studies have shown that after teaching students about syllables, adding and deleting phonemes, and substituting one sound for another, they are able to read a greater number of words than those students who did not receive this type of instruction. Even when they were asked to read new words, besides those used during instruction, the students were able to read the words more easily than students who had not received the decoding instruction. (Williams, 1980). Therefore, it is important for students to practice both segmentation and blending for them to be most successful in their reading.

ACTION RESEARCH: BLENDING TECHNIQUES Explicit Instruction One of the most important aspects of phonics and phonemic awareness instruction is that it must be taught explicitly. Research has found that the specific type of instruction does not matter as much as the fact that it must be explicit and it must begin early (Stahl, 2003). Stahl examines a study involving several different approaches to teaching phonics and phonemic awareness. In the first approach, the instruction was direct and explicit. Students received direct instruction and practice in letter-sound matching, blending, and reading words in texts that used highly decodable words. In the second approach, teachers used an embedded method that indirectly taught these skills through immersion in literature. The first approach used reading to supplement the phonics instruction; the second approach used phonics instruction to supplement the reading (Stahl, 2003). The results of the study indicated that the direct approach was clearly superior to the immersion approach in its effect on phonological awareness and decoding (Stahl, 2003). However, students generally expressed more positive attitudes toward reading when they were involved in embedded or whole-language approaches, rather than direct phonics instruction, and comprehension abilities seemed to be unaffected by the type of phonics instruction used (Stahl, 2003). Therefore, it appears that while direct instruction is the best option for teaching blending and other phonological awareness skills, students may become bored with this method and may lose interest in reading as a result. Direct instruction should also include plenty of literacy opportunities that are exciting and engaging for students. One way to keep students engaged during direct instruction is to use manipulatives. For students who struggle with learning in any content area, verbal instruction alone is usually insufficient, and manipulatives help with concentration and engagement. According to Williams,

ACTION RESEARCH: BLENDING TECHNIQUES wooden squares can be used to model syllable segmentation, and this is one example of how a simple hands-on activity can make it easier for students to pay attention and remember what they learn (1980). Williams also notes that a failure-free environment is also crucial for student motivation and success. The classroom should be a place of clear instruction, timely feedback, and plenty of practice so that the students remain engaged and encouraged (1980). Elkonin Boxes One strategy that combines direct instruction and manipulatives is a method using Elkonin boxes, or sound boxes. These boxes were developed by a Russian psychologist named D.B. Elkonin, and they are used to teach both segmentation and blending (Griffith & Olson, 2004). Traditionally, an Elkonin box uses a picture that represents a word, as well as a matrix of boxes that represent the phonemes in the word. For each phoneme, a counter is pushed into the corresponding box as the sound is heard (Griffith & Olson, 2004). It is important to note that the boxes do not necessarily correspond to the number of letters in the word. Rather, there should be one box for each sound, which may mean that one sound accounts for more than one letter. For example, the word sheep contains five letters, but its Elkonin box would only need three boxes because it has three phonemes: /sh/, /ee/, and /p/ (Classroom Strategies, 2013). The sounds can also be blended together again after the student practices segmenting. Students model the smoothness of the word by running a finger along the bottom of the boxes as they repeat the word (Reutzel & Cooter, 2011). This technique helps students learn to decode and segment words, which is an integral part of learning to read, and it also helps them put the word back together again after they understand its parts. A variation of the traditional sound box includes the printed letters in the words to help students with reading, not just hearing, the words. Letters of the word can be written inside the

ACTION RESEARCH: BLENDING TECHNIQUES boxes to make it easier for students to learn reading and spelling. This strategy also helps keep students engaged because seeing the letters on the page helps them relate the exercise more easily to real reading and writing (Griffith & Olson, 2004). Including the actual words and letters, rather than just the sounds, is a way to make sound boxes more relevant to students who are interested in learning how to read, and engagement is an important part of helping students remember what theyve learned. Conclusions Based on this research, it is evident that effective blending instruction must include several components that are helpful for all phonological awareness instruction. First, instruction must be direct and explicit. Students need to have a clear understanding of what they are expected to learn. However, instruction must also be relevant and engaging so that students will learn to enjoy reading. One way to do this is to include manipulatives in the instruction, which helps tactile learners and makes the lessons more interesting for everyone. Finally, teaching blending should also include teaching decoding. To fully explore words, students should have experience with breaking words apart as well as putting them back together. Elkonin boxes integrate all of these strategies into a single technique. This strategy uses manipulatives to represent phonemes, which are broken down and then blended together again. It also incorporates both listening and reading, and it is a direct method for teaching them. Because they so perfectly combine the aspects of effective phonological awareness instruction, Elkonin boxes will be very useful in this action research project. They will be used to help students blend letter sounds, and they will provide an engaging, interactive method for this instruction.


Classroom strategies: Elkonin boxes. (2013). Retrieved from Griffith, P. L., & Olson, M. W. (2004). Phonemic awareness helps beginning readers break the code. Retrieved from Reutzel , D. R., & Cooter, Jr., R. B. (2011). Teaching children to read: The teacher makes the difference. (6 ed.). Pearson. Stahl, S. A. (2003). Teaching phonics and phonological awareness. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (Vol. 1). Retrieved from =Elkonin boxes phonemic awareness&ots=5xS5MMTHZC&sig=NKgHdIIJowS55Hc5wt-pG87WLgM Williams, J. P. (1980). Teaching decoding with an emphasis on phoneme analysis and phoneme blending. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 72(1), 1-15. doi:10.1037/00220663.72.1.1 Young, A. (2013, September 24). Interview by R. Cason.

Teaching Blending Strategy

After researching instruction techniques and giving an interest survey to my students, I decided to use a modified version of Elkonin boxes in my action research meetings. Both of the students in my group love to paint, so I wanted to incorporate painting to keep them engaged and excited. I created my own sound boxes and laminated them so that the students could paint on them. My plan is to select a few words from the initial assessment and first have the students practice segmenting and blending the phonemes without reading the letters. Instead of using counters in the boxes to model the phonemes, they will use paintbrushes to draw a line of paint into each box as they pronounce the sounds. I will then emphasize using smooth brush strokes along the bottom of the boxes to blend the words, just like you blend paint. After using only the sounds, I plan to use the letters in the next session. I will use the same words, but this time we will write the letters on the sound box sheets before painting. This way, the students will be able to see how the letters blend together as they read the entire word. Once those words have been mastered, I will repeat this two-session sequence with a new set of words. I hope that this strategy will be both effective and engaging for my students!

Sample Elkonin Boxes

Word List: Tip, Lap, Rug, Sheet, Lock (3 sounds) Stem, Scab, Frog, Jump, Mind (4 sounds)

Timeline for Implementation

Date 10/01/13 Interest surveys Schedule

10/08/13 and Initial assessments 10/22/13 10/29/13 Use 3-part sound boxes to audibly blend words with three sounds: tip, lap, rug, sheet, lock. Use paintbrushes to blend different paint colors across the bottom of the boxes (instead of running finger under the boxes). Use 3-part sound boxes to read words with three sounds: tip, lap, rug, sheet, lock. Write the letters above the corresponding boxes and practice with paint as before. Then practice blending and reading the words on a separate page. Use 4-part sound boxes to audibly blend words with four sounds: stem, frog, jump, scab, mind. Practice with paint as above. Middle Assessment: Use word cards for words covered so far. Ask students to blend/read the words. Use 4-part sound boxes to read words with four sounds: stem, frog, jump, scab, mind. Write the letters above the corresponding boxes and practice with paint as before. Then practice blending and reading the words on a separate page. Final Assessment: Use word list of words covered plus a few new ones to assess students' reading / blending skills.



11/12/13 11/19/13


Progress Chart
Strategies/ Schedule
Use paint on sound boxes to blend the sounds in words as they hear them (3-part boxes). Use paint on sound boxes to blend words as they read them (3part boxes). Blend words separately on word cards. Used paint on sound boxes to blend sounds in words as they hear them (4-part boxes). Middle Assessment: blend/read all words studied so far.


Session Time
20 min.

Student J
5/5 words. Some trouble hearing/ repeating ending sounds

Student H
5/5 words

Teacher Observations
Both LOVED the paint! Attentive; eager to help me set up and clean up.


20 min.

5/5 words

5/5 words

Read words easily on word cards after working with the sound boxes.


20 min.

5/5 words

5/5 words

Successful even though these words had four sounds instead of just three.


20 min.

-5 correct reading -4 correct after hearing individual sounds -1 incorrect

-7 correct Students did better with reading the first set of words, since -3 correct we had covered them after hearing twice. Indicates that the individual practice with both sounds listening and reading is -0 incorrect beneficial.


Use paint on sound boxes to blend words as they read them (4part boxes). Blend words separately on word cards.

20 min.

5/5 words

5/5 words

Both tend to have the most trouble with ending sounds. It seems like they forget what the ending sound is by the time they get there in the blend.


Final Assessment: Read/blend all words studied, plus five new ones (bed, dog, fan, tank, sand).

20 min.

-6 correct reading -8 correct after hearing individual sounds -1 incorrect

-12 correct reading -3 correct after hearing individual sounds -0 incorrect

Neither could read all the words correctly, even the ones we had studied. With repetition, I think this would improve. The fact that they could blend some of the words after hearing me pronounce the sounds indicates that their auditory blending has improved as well, even if their reading skills havent quite caught up.

Simplified Progress Chart

In addition to the progress chart above, I created a simplified chart that included just the basics to make it simple for the students to understand. This chart included the date, a simple statement of the activity for the day, and a place for the students to put a smiley face sticker at the end of each lesson. Students loved placing the stickers on the chart and reviewing what we did after each session!

Results Graphs for Middle Assessment

Both students got more words correct than incorrect. Student H was eventually able to read and pronounce all the words, while Student J got one incorrect even after auditory assistance. Even though the students needed to hear me say some of the sounds aloud before they could blend the words on their own, this is still an improvement over their initial assessment, in which they struggled to blend the words after only hearing them. This indicates that their auditory blending skills and reading skills have improved.

Results Graphs for Final Assessment

Again, both students showed evidence of improvement in their auditory blending and reading skills. Student J needed the most auditory assistance on the new words that we had not worked with in our previous sessions. Despite the new challenge, she still only read one word completely incorrectly. Student H, however, did an excellent job of transferring these skills to the new words, reading them with ease.

This process has been very enlightening because it has shown me just how much planning and thinking goes into creating lessons that will be beneficial for struggling students. Because both of my students had trouble with auditory blending as well as blending while reading, I had to find an activity that incorporated both skills. I also wanted to use an activity that helped with decoding rather than just blending, since decoding and blending are two strategies that go hand in hand. After exploring my options, I decided that the Elkonin boxes were a great way to incorporate all of these skills. I also realized that keeping the students engaged takes a lot of creative thinking. My students both expressed their love of painting on their interest surveys, and I knew right away that I could use paint as a hook to get them interested in our sessions. Once I knew that I wanted to use sound boxes, I realized that the girls could compare smooth strokes with a paintbrush to smooth blending while they read. I hope that this connection stays with them as they continue practicing reading in the classroom. Although this creative approach took more time to set up and was more difficult to execute, it was extremely successful in that the students begged to meet with me every time I came to their class. It would have been much easier to just use counters on the sound boxes, but the paint made the students excited about learning. I did not realize how valuable student engagement is until I worked on this project. When the students were doing an activity they enjoyed, they were much more receptive to the learning aspect because they were having fun at the same time. On assessment days, I noticed that the students had trouble paying attention because they were only reading words off the page. They were much more alert and engaged

when they got to work with the paint. In the future, I would like to find some way to assess them in a more interactive and engaging way. This way, they might pay better attention and would hopefully perform better as a result. The students data seems to indicate that the sound boxes strategy was indeed helpful. At the middle assessment, it was clear that the students had a better grasp on the words that we had practiced with both the auditory and reading approaches. Therefore, repetition and multiple approaches seem to be the key to solidifying these words in the students minds. This idea was confirmed in Student Js results on the final assessment. She struggled with the new words more than those she had seen before, meaning that she needed more time to explore and work with the words before she was comfortable reading them on her own. However, Student H demonstrated that the skills were also transferrable to those words she had not practiced with. She read them with little trouble because she was able to apply the strategy we had been working on. Since the two students reacted differently to the new words, I can now see that they would probably need to proceed differently from this point forward. Student J would need plenty of repetition and practice with a set of words before she can learn to apply the blending skill to unfamiliar words. Student H can progress more quickly since she seems to understand the concept a little better now. She could tackle new words without as much repetition. I should also choose different sets of words for the two students. Student J might need to work with words that have fewer (2-3) sounds until she can master the skill and transfer it to those kinds of words. Then she could progress to words with four sounds. Student H, though, seems ready to move on to more difficult four-sound words, possibly involving more blends and digraphs. By choosing different words, these students instruction can be more easily tailored to their specific needs.

In summary, I think this approach was successful because it was engaging for the students, it incorporated a variety of skills that are related to blending, and it increased the students abilities to blend words in auditory and reading situations. Fine-tuning the word selection and the pace of instruction would make this approach more appropriate for each individual student and help them each reach their highest potential.