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Interview with Steve Griffin, MS, CCC-SLP, Literacy Intervention Coordinator, Reynoldsburg, OH

August 27, 2007

Linda Schreiber: I'm speaking with Steve Griffin, who is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and literacy intervention coordinator at Slate Ridge Elementary School in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Good morning Steve.Steve Griffin: Good morning Linda.Linda: I read about you in The ASHA Leader and am
Linda Schreiber: I'm speaking with Steve Griffin, who is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and literacy intervention coordinator at Slate Ridge Elementary School in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Good morning Steve.

Steve Griffin: Good morning Linda.

Linda: I read about you in The ASHA Leader and am interested in having you share with our readers a little bit more about your role in literacy development and intervention at your school. For how long have you been a literacy intervention coordinator and how has your role changed since you graduated?

Steve: I've only served in this dual role as an SLP and literacy intervention coordinator for 2 years. I'm heading into my third this fall. Prior to coming on board at Reynoldsburg, I assumed a more traditional school SLP role in another school district. There my initial efforts focused exclusively on articulation, language, fluency, and voice. But it was my learning experiences and time spent in this district that led me to the position I hold today at Slate Ridge Elementary where my role is anything but traditional. However, my role truly started to change within my first two years in the public schools. In The ASHA Leader article, I referred to one particular experience, which really ignited the evolution of my role. What was important for me to realize was 1) that there are many factors negatively influencing the reading achievement of children today in the public schools, and 2) that my training as an SLP allowed me to help limit, if not completely eliminate, many of those factors. This realization ultimately transformed my role and helped me to form many of the bedrock beliefs I subscribe to today:

Linda: Well, tell me about those beliefs.

Steve: They are that:
  • One of, if not the primary goal of, the public schools is to create literate individuals.

  • It is far more efficient and cost-effective to prevent reading difficulties than it is to remediate them.

  • Professional development and ongoing professional dialogue about literacy is essential if we expect all children to learn to read. Collaboration is key!
These beliefs ultimately shifted my practice away from the discrepancy model and led me to establish a leadership role in advocating for more effective practices aligned to a preventative model or what today is being referred to as RTI (Response to Intervention).

When I met Karen Hand, the principal at Slate Ridge Elementary, we discovered that we both shared a similar vision for operating a school under the RTI model, and she offered me the dual role in her building that I currently hold. It was a tremendous opportunity. I am very fortunate to work in a school that is so focused on literacy, promotes collaboration among outstanding teachers, and has an administrator that understands the benefits of prevention of reading problems. Karen by the way is an SLP as well.

Linda: And what kind of success are you seeing in using a preventative approach?

Steve: The level of reading achievement that our students have been able to obtain has truthfully shocked me to some extent. I never imagined the difference we could make. Of the students who were enrolled at Slate Ridge for both their 1st and 2nd grade school years, 90% of them have met or surpassed reading achievement goals in areas of phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, oral reading fluency, and comprehension. It is important to note that this achievement was obtained with a very diverse and at-risk population of students. Of the students who attended our school for their 2nd grade year, only over 80% reached their reading achievement goals. Pretty impressive numbers by any measure.

Linda: Your school consists of kindergarten through fourth grade?

Steve: Yes our school is K through 4. The data I am referring to is from a class of approximately 100 students who began 1st grade during the 2005-2006 school year. We closely monitored their progress through the 2006-2007 school year. We do have impressive data on our 3rd and 4th grade students as well, but the approach taken at those grade levels is more remedial than preventative. The feedback we got from the state through the Ohio Achievement Test in Reading was consistent with our own data. Our school received an Excellent Rating, which I know many of our teachers are proud of.

Linda: So your administrator obviously recognizes the role that speech-language pathologists play in literacy development and the knowledge we have in knowing child development and some of the early, emerging literacy skills.

Steve: Absolutely. As previously stated, Karen is an SLP herself. She understands that our training in areas such as sequential skill development, assessment and screening, data analysis, and intervention practices is unique and in ways very different than traditional teacher training. When the expertise of an SLP is merged with the other professional expertise in the schools, we get a great balance of assets that allow us to collectively have impact on student achievement; more so than if we all worked independent of one another. But collaboration can at times be very challenging and our natural tendency is to shy away from things when they become difficult. I do know that some of my most rewarding experiences as a professional come when true collaboration is taking place. That is another useful aspect of our school that Karen set up, plenty of common planning time!

Linda: You mentioned the wait-to-fail model. This model requires a discrepancy between how the child is performing and the child's potential (however that may have been measured) before the child receives intervention.

Steve: Correct.

Linda: So, with the new rules and regs of IDEA, do you have more flexibility in this regard?

Steve: Absolutely. With the data we are consistently collecting, we can justify our educational decisions and have confidence that these decisions are driven by good information and not arbitrary. What hopefully will continue to take place, not only at Slate Ridge, but across our district and others is a shift in mindset and a change in the way we approach reading and use school personnel. We do not need to use a number of standardized assessments simply to "qualify" children for special services. Intervention is a part of the general education program. Waiting for referrals and testing and meetings to take place takes too much time. We can gain reliable data more efficiently to make more timely educational decisions for our kids.

Linda: So as the literacy intervention coordinator, are you implementing the lessons and intervention with the children?

Steve: Absolutely. We (me, our intervention teachers, and special education teachers) work with all the students who need small group instruction. Our school is unique in the way our personnel is used. We have an extra half-time teacher at each grade level in our building. These are the designated intervention teachers, each of them general education trained. I work primarily with these teachers to coordinate and plan the interventions. Along with the classroom teachers, we screen all students to identify those who are not meeting critical milestones in early literacy. Once those children are identified, we collaboratively plan evidence-based interventions appropriate for each individual student. I typically play a significant role in this planning but we are most effective when each professional involved actively participates. We really have made successful attempts to coordinate the instruction that takes place in the general education classroom and the small group interventions so that they support each other. This takes a lot of professional development; a lot of training on phonemic awareness; a lot of training on the written alphabetic code, both the basic code and the advanced code. Our intervention teachers have frequently asked, "Why was I never taught this in my training?" I find myself asking the same question after working with them.

I am amazed on a regular basis what our intervention and classroom teachers accomplish when they integrate some of this new information with their existing knowledge. It is very impressive to watch them work and create. At our school, we have so many kids that are at-risk, I often take on anywhere from 30 to 50 kids myself just for literacy intervention across 1st through 4th grades.

Linda: You are very busy. How do you fit in the intervention? Are you teaching literacy in the classroom or are you pulling them out of the classroom for small group work?

Steve: Both. Whole class instruction is generally led by the classroom teacher, or we sometimes co-teach it. We pull out kids who need more help for 20 minute sessions daily in groups no larger than four.

Linda: So they're still receiving literacy instruction in the classroom but then also in a smaller group when needed for specific skills?

Steve: Correct. We do not want to pull a child for small group during the block of time when the literacy instruction is taking place in the classroom. They might leave the room during less structured times, center time, or maybe during other content area instruction (particularly if they are strong in that area).

Linda: Is there a particular program or strategy you have found works with children who are at risk?

Steve: At Slate Ridge we don't subscribe to one single program. We use bits and pieces from a number of resources. When a student is not meeting milestones, we make sure that we have accurately identified the essential early literacy skills that are lacking and also have considered what factors are contributing to this block in learning. The essential skills that are lacking are typically in the areas of phonological awareness, alphabetic principle, or understanding of the advanced alphabetic written code.

Sometimes we find more significant problems such as information retrieval, vision or more significant linguistic deficits. Either way, we try to accurately diagnose the issue causing the literacy problems and then aggressively attack the issue with research-based intervention. If a student does not respond to the intervention, we change the approach. Reading IS rocket science in my opinion! I have not seen one single program that meets all needs so we understand the importance of pooling our resources. What is most important is that we understand the process of learning to read so we know which resources are appropriate to use and when to use them!

Linda: What are your goals with your kindergarten, first-grade group?

Steve: The bottom line is that our student must meet grade-level requirement for oral reading fluency. For example, a first-grade student needs to be reading 40 or more words per minute on a grade level passage. In addition to reading fluency, students also need to demonstrate appropriate levels of reading comprehension. Our teachers measure comprehension several ways, one of them being through the use of the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA).

Linda: But I am guessing you do a lot of teach-test-teach-test while you are instructing.

Steve: You hit on something very important there! Using data to drive educational decision making is essential in literacy. Some of the diagnostic or achievement tests I've seen that are mandated by governments and school districts are not providing us the information we really need to drive instruction on a daily and weekly basis. Administering an assessment and then not receiving the data back in a timely manner is not useful. And the educator must be able to interpret the data in a way that can drive instruction or it is useless. When it comes to literacy development, time is not an expandable commodity. The research is clear. If a child leaves first grade struggling with reading, there's an 80% chance that in fourth grade he or she is going to still struggle with reading. We need to make good educational decisions for those students in the early grades so reliable, timely, and useful information is essential!

Linda: And that's not to say that older children who are struggling with literacy can't be helped. You're saying that the best time to teach is during the early years.

Steve: Absolutely. The difference between the intervention with a fourth-grade student and intervention with a first-grade student is the rate of progress. You can provide meaningful intervention for a six year-old who is at-risk and he or she might need just nine weeks of intervention to be right on track. With a fourth-grade student who needs the exact same intervention, it might take the entire school year to make the same amount of progress. This goes back to the belief that it is more cost-effective and efficient to prevent the reading problem than it is to remediate it.

Linda: Common sense almost.

Steve: Of course!

Linda: Steve, you mentioned that the results are pretty positive and is that something you have written up that people can access by any chance?

Steve: Absolutely. I've got all the data that you could want. The most impressive data is from the group of students I referred to earlier. Our second graders for the 2006-2007 school year--they came to us when we opened up the building from all different kinds of schools and classrooms--over half of them were determined to be significantly at-risk for literacy failure. Now over 90% of them read over 90 words per minute on a second-grade passage and they have a comprehension level that's commensurate to their reading fluency.

Linda: That's impressive.

Steve: It is, and it can be done everywhere. I truly believe this!

Linda: Steve, thanks for sharing this model with us today. If readers have more questions, they can email you at sgriffin@reyn.org