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Is MPS' Level 3 Intervention from Fountas & Pinnell like feeding sick kids Twinkies?

Updated: Jul 1

Fountas and Pinnell tweeted out their tip of the day to parents. A strategy called "Lips the Fish" where a student looks at the first letters of the word and then guesses the word from the context clues. Needless to say the Science of Reading community flipped out. Why? We will get to that soon.



Minneapolis is required to develop a "Read Well by Third Grade" literacy plan. In the plan it lists the only Level 3 Intervention as LLI, a balanced literacy intervention by Fountas Pinnell.


Steve Dyksta in this YouTube video around the 52 minute mark explains why the data supporting LLI shows that LLI has no measurable effect on student outcomes despite the publishers claims. LLI is basically doubling down on balanced literacy for students who balanced literacy has failed. Steve described LLI study as similar to checking the health of students who are feed nothing but Twinkies as compared to students feed nothing but Twinkies, but then provided with a walk during the day.


In the EdWeek article LLI is listed as one of the most popular intervention tools and called out for not aligning with the science of how students learn to read.


Here is another review posted by a teacher on the Facebook group Science of Reading - What I should have Learned in College, which provides the same feedback on LLI cueing strategies.


For those that find research papers boring or inaccessible, let's take a look at an actual LLI lesson on posted to YouTube: LLI Level A Guided Reading - YouTube.


Here we can see Lips the Fish and Eagle Eyes in action and how they are failing students.


Here we go:

Video starts with students reading predictable books. What are predictable books? Books where the words from page to page are fundamentally the same with one change that can be predicted by the pictures in the book. Watch the Purple Challenge video for a good example.


Now it is time for student to be assessed with a running record. Girl reads, Taco sees a “square”. The correct word is “squirrel”. So here we go this is what guessing the word from the first letters looks like.


Teacher asks, girl looks confused and then teacher tells her the correct answer is “squirrel”. No instruction. "Square" and "Squirrel" have the same first two letters.


Next error, “Taco sees a ladybug”. There is a picture of a lady bug so the teacher indicates that this makes sense. Students in balanced literacy are taught to read for meaning. She does instruct student to sound out the word bug.


Next student say’s “we…we…we” words are “woof…woof…woof”.


We are now talking letter sounds. This is positive. (Would like to know what best way for teaching letter sounds is.) They are going from a to z. Spent 1 minute on it.


Now we are asking kids to come up with list of words that start with the letters S, T, and P. A bit of struggle for kids.


New book. Hard to tell if kids could read the title.


On pages two and three we have words and pictures. “Let’s start by looking at the pictures.” We found a chair in the picture and now we are going to use “Eagle Eye”.


Eagle eye instructs students to take their eyes of the written word and look to pictures as clues to what the word may mean. This is a horrible strategy, and you watch students implode once are expected to read books without pictures. Keep in mind this a costly level three intervention where a teacher is working with a small group of students.

Let’s now turn to the next page and look at the pictures. We see “bike” now lets use our Eagle eye and look for “bike” in the picture.


Next page same thing, except now house replaces bike. I can paint my house.

Next page same thing, except now flower replaces house.


Students are being instructed to cover up the word flower except the “F” and use a new strategy. “Lips the Fish” Lips the Fish is where students read the first part of the word and the guess the rest of the word. Like the beginning of the video when a student read “Square instead of Squirrel”.


Now students are going back to “Eagle Eye” and looking for a picture that starts with the “F” sound. Students are being instructed to use both “Eagle Eye” and “Lips to Fish” to confirm they read the word accurately.


Skipping ahead to page 14. More “Eagle Eye” and “Flips the Fish”. Oh no. Now we have found a word that is not in the pictures. “Friends”. What is the strategy for this? Student uses “Lips to Fish” and “Eagle Eye” and guesses “Frog”.


The new strategy is called “Teacher just tells you the word”. After teacher tells the kids the word is “Friends” she covers up the letters except “F” and asks if the word could be “Friends”, after she has told them the word is “Friends”.


Now using finger to follow each word.


Now independent reading where students are using “Eagle Eye” and “Lips the Fish” to read the same predictable book.


Whoops missed Flowers as Flower. We need another strategy.


Now we came to the word “Swing”. Student is confused. Instructed again to look at the pictures, do you see a picture of a “Swing”?


Whoops missed “Myself” for “me”. Using the “Teacher just tells you the word” strategy.


Student has no idea what word is and teacher isn’t paying attention. He should use the strategy called, “Find a new school”.


Now talking about the book, Fiction or non-fiction.


Now we have magnetic letters. Asking students to use letters to Spell. “He” Sounds out “He” now let’s make “Me” from “He”. Now “On” Teacher sounds out “O-n” How many sounds are in “On”. Claps out two sounds. Now “I-t”. Now “T-o” One student is spelling “TO” as “OT” this is student that clearly has reading issues.


Video Ends.


How many students in MPS are receiving LLI interventions? We don't know. Do we have data showing if our interventions work? No, we don't. Do we know how many students are receiving interventions at all? Nope.


In 2014, MPS had a special ed audit which called out our literacy instruction and asked MPS to implement a "interventions for all" model. Which basically says, your core instruction needs to be revamped. What was true in 2014, remains true today. We need a data informed literacy plan that addresses the needs of the students and aligns with what decades of research tells us how children learn to read.






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