ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #1

Many movie theaters are now opting to sell you specific seats for a show time, rather than the traditional first come first served model. Although you have to pay a premium for this advanced purchase option, I think it’s worth every penny. Here’s why: If you time it right, you can show up to your assigned seat right before the start of the movie and skip the annoying previews (usually known as trailers for some reason). According to an editor on Reddit, these trailers (including commercials and warnings to “Please silence your cell phone”) average 15-20 minutes.

Do's and Don'ts of ELA and Reading Assessments

ELA and Reading Assessment Do’s and Don’ts: The Movie Trailer

In my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series, I began with a trailer to introduce the articles. This preview, Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples, focused on why teachers want quick, whole-class, comprehensive assessments which produce the specific data regarding what students know and what they don’t know about a subject and why normed tests and achievement tests, such as the PAARC, SWBAC, and other state CCSS tests don’t provide that data. As an enticement to read the articles (and check out my Pennington Publishing programs to teach to the assessments) I provided two assessments which meet that desired criteria: the 1. Alphabetic Awareness Assessment and the 2. Sight Syllables (Greek and Latin prefix and suffix) Assessment. Additionally, the respective downloads include the answers, corresponding matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons.

But first, let’s take a look at the first three-part episode in the Do’s and Don’t of ELA and Reading Assessments series: DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. DO use diagnostic assessments. DON’T assess what you won’t teach. Plus, wait ’til you see the FREE download at the end of this article! Plus, a bonus.

DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal.

A number of years ago, our seventh and eighth-grade ELA department gathered over a number of days in the summer to plan a diagnostic assessment and curricular map to teach the CCSS grammar, usage, and mechanics standards L. 1, 2, and 3. I was especially pleased with the diagnostic assessment, which covered K-6 standards and felt that the team was finally ready to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level standards.

By the end of the first two weeks of instruction, every ELA teacher had dutifully administered, corrected, and recorded the results of the assessment on our progress monitoring matrix. I began developing worksheets to target the diagnostic deficits and formative assessments to determine whether students had mastered these skills and concepts. I placed copies of the worksheets in our “share binder.” My students were excited to see their progress in mastering their deficits while we concurrently worked on grade-level instruction.

At our monthly team meeting, I brought my progress monitoring matrix to brag on my students. “That’s great, Mark.” “Nice work. I don’t know how you do it.” No one else had done anything with the diagnostic data.

Somehow I got up enough courage to ask, “Why did you all administer, correct, and record the diagnostic assessment if you don’t plan on using the data to inform your instruction?”

Responses included, “The principal wants us to give diagnostic assessments.” “The test did give me a feel for what my class did and did not know.” “It shows the students that they don’t know everything.” “It confirms my belief that previous teachers have not done a good job teaching, so I have to teach everything.”

Class time is too valuable to waste. Assessment is not an end in and of itself.

DO use diagnostic assessments.

Let’s face it; we all bring biases into the classroom. We assume that Student A is a fluent reader because she is in an honors class. Of course, Student B must be brilliant just like her older brother. Student C is a teacher’s kid, so she’ll be a solid writer. My assumptions have failed me countless times as I’m sure have yours.

Another piece of baggage teachers carry is generalization. We teach individuals who are in classes. “We all talk about a class as if it’s one organism. “That class is a behavioral nightmare.” “That class is so mean to each other.” “It takes me twice as long to teach anything to that class.” “This class had Ms. McGuire last year. She’s our staff Grammar Nazi, so at least the kids will know their parts of speech.” We lump together individuals when we deal with groups. It’s an occupational hazard.

To learn what students know and don’t know, so that we can teach both the class and individual, we have to remove ourselves as variables to eliminate bias and generalizations. Diagnostic assessments do the trick. Wait ’til you download the FREE diagnostic assessment at the end of this article; it transformed my teaching and has been downloaded thousands of times over the years by teachers to inform their instruction.

Additionally, diagnostic assessments force us to teach efficiently. When we learn that half the class has mastered adverbs and half has not, we are forced to figure out how to avoid re-teaching what some students already know (wasting their time) while helping the kids who need to learn. As an aside, many teachers avoid diagnostic assessments because the results require differentiated or individualized instruction. Naivete is bliss. Diagnostic assessments are amazing guilt-producers.

Be an objective teacher, willing to let diagnostic data guide your instruction. Teaching is an art, but it is also a science.

DON’T assess what you won’t teach.

Many teachers begin the school year with a battery of diagnostic assessments. The results look great on paper and do impress administrators and colleagues; however, the only data that is really impressive is the data that you will specifically use to drive instruction. Gathering baseline data is a waste of time if you won’t teach to that data.

I suggest taking a hard look at the diagnostic assessments you gave last year. If you didn’t use the data, don’t do the assessment. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t layer on that diagnostic assessment in the spring if you are willing (and have time) to teach to the data. Diagnosis is not restricted to the fall. Teachers begin the school year with high expectations. Don’t bite off more than you can chew at once.

Additionally, more and more teachers are looking critically about the American tradition of unit-ending tests. Specifically, teachers are using unit tests as formative assessments to guide their re-teaching. Rather than a personal pat on the back (if students scored at an 85% average) or a woe-is-me-I’m-a-horrible-teacher-or-my-students-are-just-so-dumb-or-the-test-was-just-too-hard response (if students scored at a 58% average), unit tests can serve an instructional purpose.

Now I know that teachers will be thinking, “We have to cover all these standards; we don’t have time to re-teach.” I’ll address this concern with a simplistic question that more than once has re-prioritized my own teaching. It really is an either-or question: Is teaching or learning more important?

For those who answer, learning, don’t add to your admirable burden by assessing what you won’t teach.

That’s it for now. The credits are rolling, but keep reading because the end of the credits may have a few surprises. Purchase your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 2 and get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview: Don’t assess what you can’t teach. Don’t assess what you must confess (data is dangerous). Analyze data with others (drop your defenses). Steal unashamedly from others.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 Instructional Scope and Sequence FREE Resource:

 

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts

As an ELA and reading intervention teacher at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels (I know… the grass

Do's and Don'ts of ELA and Reading Assessment

Do’s and Don’ts of Assessment: The Trailer

is always greener :)), I’ve had the opportunity to learn the value of assessment-based instruction. So when a fellow teacher challenged me at a recent professional development workshop on assessment with the following rhetorical question, I answered quickly and moved on to the rest of my presentation.

She asked/stated, “Don’t you think it makes more sense to spend valuable class time teaching, rather than assessing?”

Later, I sat down at the computer to provide a more comprehensive answer. Happens to me all the time. I think of the really good answer, quip, or comeback later when the moment has passed. I came up with 52 solid reasons to support assessment-based instruction.

Now, I doubt if the teacher wanted to hear even my quick answer, let alone my 52-part answer. Don’t worry, you’ll only get the one reason in this article, but the rest will follow.

I’ve opted for a Do’s and Don’ts approach to clearly explain what does and does not “make sense” for ELA and reading assessments, but in classic movie sequel promotion, I’ll provide a cliffhanger to entice viewers to check out the next article. More Do’s and Don’ts probably won’t bring everyone back into the theater and sell more popcorn (Yes, my ELA and reading intervention resources are for sale in the lobby at https:\\www.penningtonpublishing.com); however, my 15 free ELA and reading assessments, with corresponding matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons just might do the trick. Tell you what… I’ll kick start this first episode with two assessment freebies. So, dim the lights because the “coming to a theater or drive-in near you” trailers are over and the feature now begins. Please silence your cell phone.

Do’s and Don’t of ELA and Reading Assessments 

1. DO use comprehensive assessments, not random samples.

As an ELA teacher and reading specialist, I certainly value random sample normed assessments. In fact one downside of the Common Core State Standards was the replacement of nationally normed assessments. The new PAARC, SWBAC, and other state iterations are criterion referenced (the Standards) achievement tests, not statistically normed tests. For example, we used to be able to state the reading comprehension and vocabulary grade levels percentiles for individual students, but no longer.

However, to be honest, the normed assessment data did not inform instruction (and frankly, the CCSS assessments do only marginally better). What both the normed and Standards-based tests provide are random samples of ability or achievement, respectively. In other words, they can accurately state, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

However, knowing that there is a problem is of limited value. Back in 1970 the NASA team in Houston worked round the clock to test what would and what would not work to help the three Apollo 13 astronauts survive and make the re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Their specific data were informative and applicable to the astronauts. They made it home alive! (if you haven’t seen the movie).

Identifying the fact that a student has a problem is not helpful data. What teachers want are comprehensive assessments which specifically determine “What my kids know and what do they not know.” The Standards-based tests may permit some ability grouping or class placements, but the data do not target instruction. Following are two quick, but comprehensive small group or whole class assessments with recording matrices, which provide specific data that will provide exactly what each individual student has an has not yet mastered. I’ve included one for Pre-K, grades 1, 2, 3 and reading intervention, English-language development, and special education teachers, and one example for grades 4 through adult learners.

Assessment #1: The Alphabet

It may come as a shock to secondary teachers that many older students do not yet know the alphabet. Of course, this comes as no surprise to those who work with struggling English readers. One of the most popular reading intervention programs, Read 180, includes the normed Foundational Reading Assessment. The test provides 10 items designed to measure students’ knowledge of uppercase and lowercase letter names.

Last I checked, the English alphabet has 26 letters. Teachers want to know precisely which upper and lower case letters students can name, identify, match, and sequence and which ones they cannot. A comprehensive alphabetic assessment provides these data. Download it below.

Assessment #2: Sight Syllables 

The Standards-based assessments may be able to accurately summarize that a student has not yet mastered sight syllable recognition of the common affixes through random sample test problems. However, from the test results we can’t learn exactly which of the common Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes a student has and has not yet mastered in terms of syllable recognition. The former doesn’t help the teacher; the latter could transform a teacher’s instruction and student learning. A comprehensive assessment on the research-based, high frequency Greek and Latin prefixes and roots provides these data. Download it below.

COMING ATTRACTIONS!

Enough for now. But, get your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 1 and get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview.

2. DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal.

3. DO use diagnostic assessments.

4. DON’T assess what you won’t teach.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Alphabet Assessment, Matrix, Activity, and Game Cards FREE Resource:

Get the Sight Syllable Greek and Latin Assessment, Matrix, Activity, and Game Cards FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Middle School Spelling

Diagnostic Spelling Patterns Assessment

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

In the Whole Language Movement and concurrent National Writing Project popularity of the 1980s and 1990s, spelling was relegated to the editing stage of the writing process. Teachers were instructed to throw away their spelling workbooks and some states, including California, prohibited state funding for the purchase of spelling programs.

I, like other ELA teachers, cheerfully relegated spelling to the dumpster. After all, one less subject to teach! And, to be honest, the only spelling teaching I ever did was to pre-test on Monday, throw out a word search or crossword puzzle of the spelling words, tell students to study the list, and post-test on Friday. Hardly teaching at all.

During that period of time I was earning my masters degree as a reading specialist. The buzzword(s) of our program was balanced literacy. Upon reflection, I have no idea of what opposite ideologies were being placed in proper balance. We had no phonics (decoding) training, nor any spelling (encoding) training.

For my masters thesis I was able to convince my supervisor to approve a qualitative historical analysis, not the usual experimental design. I chose the reading instruction included in the McGuffey Readers. For 85 years, these readers were the primary instructional tool for American teachers. The readers were not just for primary students: intermediate and middle school tweeners also received instruction in this series.

The readers consisted of morally-based character education stories, vocabulary, phonics, spelling, and a few comprehension questions. As I pored over the editions from 1836 up to the 1920s, I found certain pedagogical refinements, but the instructional methodology was remarkably consistent. As a publisher, I understand the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy; however, consumers have always been suckered by the “New and Improved” marketing strategy, as well. The readers were largely unchanged, in terms of how reading and spelling were taught.

As you might imagine, the juxtaposition of my masters program reading philosophy and that of the McGuffey Readers caused quite a bit of consternation for me. I had just completed six years of middle school teaching and was now at the high school level. Every professional development class that I took and taught ignored the skills of reading and writing and focused solely on the content of literacy. If I mentioned that spelling had been an integral instructional component for most of our country’s history (including the New England Primer and others prior to the McGuffey Readers), it was only in the context of see what outdated forms of instruction those ill-informed educators used to teach.

However, subsequent to the Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read in 2000, I, like so many other ELA teachers who practiced their skills as reading specialists, was confronted with new, consistent reading research findings  that have made me backtrack and see the value of teaching the reading skills found in the McGuffey Readers. In reading terms, structural (or word) analysis is essential for above grade level, at grade level, and below grade level readers. Computer detection of eye-movement and the correlation of good readers look at the sound-symbol relationships within words was convincing. In other words, phonics and spelling (two sides of the same coin) matter.

I took a job as a district elementary reading specialist in Elk Grove Unified School District (the third largest district in California) and, along with a cadre of other bright program specialists, we were able to help improve elementary student reading proficiency percentiles from 45 to 72% within only a few years Elk Grove Unified School District. However, the same growth was not achieved by middle and high school students. Middle school reading proficiency continued to under-perform in the mid 40 percentiles. Our brilliant District Reading Coordinator and Associate Superintendent for Elementary knew why this was so, but the Associate Superintendent of Secondary Education refused to move entrenched secondary teachers toward reading skills instruction.

The false dichotomy of elementary teachers teaching students to learn to read and secondary teachers teaching students to read to learn continues to contribute to the widely recognized middle school slump in reading ability. Only one-in-six of below grade level readers by grade 6 ever improve to at grade level reading. “In the simplest terms, these studies ask: Do struggling readers catch up? The data from the studies are clear: Late bloomers are rare; skill deficits are almost always what prevent children from blooming as readers” (American Federation of Teachers, as published by Reading Rockets).

Middle Schoolers Need Spelling

Middle School Spelling

As a reading intervention specialist, the Response to Intervention movement of the last decade has largely focused on early primary reading intervention. Few middle schools have adopted comprehensive reading intervention programs, and even fewer high schools. Interestingly enough, I have found more remedial reading and writing programs at the community college level than at the high school level, here in California.

So what can middle school ELA teachers do? Advocate for your students, especially those one-in-six students, to develop effective Response to Intervention reading programs in your school and district. Take the plunge and differentiate reading instruction within your classroom. Risk the behavior management challenges and multi-level lesson plans for the good of your kids.

However, if the above seems un-do-able for now, or if you’re in the been there and done thaphase, what small (yet, signficant) step can you take to make a difference for your middle school students? Teach spelling. Not the useless pre-test, word search or crossword puzzle, study, and post-test method I used to employ; not the useless pass out and memorize the list of all “No Excuse” spelling words; not the silly requirement to spell correctly your list of hard SAT, ACT, or Academic Word List vocabulary words, but a comprehensive spelling patterns program for grade-level spelling patterns instruction and remedial spelling patterns instruction. Teaching spelling for a small amount of time per week will give your middle school students the biggest bang for the buck, in terms of reading skills development.

Do your middle school students need spelling instruction? Absolutely? Still unconvinced? I challenge you to administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Recording Matrix. It has 104 words (I did say comprehensive) and covers all common spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. It only takes 22 minutes and includes an audio file with test administration instructions. Once you see the gaps in your middle school students spelling patterns, you’re going to want to fill those gaps.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment FREE Resource:

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Reading Comprehension Strategies

The International Literacy Association (ILA) was kind enough to post my article, “Should We Teach Reading Comprehension Strategies,” so I thought I would share on my own Pennington Publishing Blog. The take-away is that some minimal instruction and practice using the classic reading comprehension strategies: activation of prior knowledge, cause and effect, compare and contrast, fact and opinion, author’s purpose, classify and categorize, drawing conclusions, figurative language, elements of plot, story structure, theme, context clues, point of view, inferences, text structure, characterization, and others is helpful, but not to teach reading comprehension. Teaching these reading strategies has value only in that they serve to help developing readers self-monitor their own comprehension by closely examining the text and developing the author-reader dialog. However, the predominant reading instruction (what teachers should spend most of their time doing) should be teaching the skills that develop  improved reading comprehension. In my mind, the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies (See FREE download below) serve both purposes. The ILA article follows for those interested in the details and the relevant research:

Reading Comprehension Strategies?

Should We Teach Reading Comprehension Strategies?

Reading teachers like to teach. For most of us, that means that we need to have something to share with our students: some concept, some skill, some strategy. To teach content, teachers must be able to define what the content is and is not. Teachers also need to be able to determine how the content is to be taught, practiced, and ultimately mastered. The latter requirement necessitates some form of assessment.

However, teachers do recognize that reading involves things that we can’t teach: in other words, the process of reading. Thinking comes to mind; so does the reader’s self-monitoring of text; and the reader’s connection to personal prior knowledge.

But what about reading comprehension? Is it content or process? Can we teach it, practice it, and master it? Is reading comprehension the result or goal of reading?

Those who hope that comprehension is the result look to fill developing readers with the concepts needed to be learned, such as phonological (phonemic) awareness; the alphabetic principle; reading from left to right; understanding punctuation; and spacing. Teachers also introduce, practice, and assess student mastery of the requisite reading skills, including phonics, syllabication, analogizing, and recognizing whole words by sight. These concepts and skills have a solid research base and a positive correlation with proficient reading comprehension.

Furthermore, these concepts or skills can be clearly defined, taught as discrete components, and assessed to determine mastery.

The same cannot be said for reading comprehension strategies, such as activation of prior knowledge, cause and effect, compare and contrast, fact and opinion, author’s purpose, classify and categorize, drawing conclusions, figurative language, elements of plot, story structure, theme, context clues, point of view, inference categories, text structure, and characterization.

Note that the list does not include summarizing the main idea, making connections, rethinking, interpreting, and predicting. These seem more akin to reader response actions than strategies, per se.

None of the specific reading comprehension strategies has demonstrated statistically significant effects on reading comprehension on its own as a discrete skill. Although plenty of lessons, activities, bookmarks, and worksheets provide some means of how to learn practice, none of these strategies can be taught to mastery, nor accurately assessed.

So, if individual reading comprehension strategies fail to meet the criteria for research-based concepts and skills to improve reading comprehension, should we teach any of them and require our students to practice them?

Yes, but minimally—as process, not content. We need to teach these strategies as being what good readers do as they read. The think-aloud provides an effective means of modeling each reading comprehension strategy. Some practice, such as a read-think-pair-share, makes sense to reinforce what the strategy entails. A brief writing activity, requiring students to apply the strategy, could also be helpful. But minimal instructional  time is key.

Daniel Willingham, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia, suggests that reading comprehension strategies are better thought of as tricks, rather than as skill-builders. They work because they make plain to readers that it’s a good idea to monitor whether they understand as they read.

In other words, teaching a reading comprehension strategy, such as cause and effect, is not a transferable reading skill, which once learned and practiced can be applied to another reading passage by a developing reader. However, when teachers model paying attention to the author’s use of cause and effect in a story or article and have students practice key cause and effect transition words in their own context clue sentences, it’s the analysis of the text and the author’s writing that’s valuable, not the strategy in and of itself.

In fact, a 2014 study by Gail Lovette and Daniel Willingham found three quantitative reviews of reading comprehension strategies instruction in typically developing children and five reviews of studies of at-risk children or those with reading disabilities. All eight reviews reported that reading comprehension strategies instruction boosted reading comprehension, but none reported that practice of such instruction yielded further benefit. The outcome of 10 sessions was the same as the outcome of 50.

So, should we teach reading comprehension strategies? Yes, but as part of the reading process, not as isolated skills with extensive practice. Reading comprehension strategies have their place in beginning reading, content reading, and reading intervention classes, but not as substitutes for reading concepts and skills.

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Do teach the reading comprehension strategy “tricks,” but limit instructional time and practice. Focus practice more on the internal monitoring of text, such as with my five SCRIP reading comprehension strategies that teach readers how to independently interact with and understand both narrative and expository text to improve reading comprehension. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:


Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

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Squinting Modifiers

Avoiding Squinting Modifiers

Squinting Modifiers

Not too many English teachers will read this article and teach this lesson plan. For the few who do, you need to know that you are really grammar nerding-out by examining the subject of squinting modifiers. I, myself, had never heard of the term until the advent of the Common Core State Standards. I was teaching eighth-grade ELA and found “squinting modifiers” listed as a Language Strand Standard. I knew all about misplaced and dangling modifiers, as no doubt you do, too; however, this old dog needed to learn a few new tricks.

It’s not like I hadn’t seen squinting modifiers in my students’ writing (and in my own). I had assumed that these writing errors were classified as misplaced modifiers. Not so. Neither were squinting and dangling modifiers the same. The latter distinctions are frequently misunderstood. Re-examine the Trump and Clinton graphic after reading the lesson and you’ll see why countless ELA teachers have mistakenly referred to the future POTUS comment as a dangling modifier. It’s quite clearly a squinting modifier, I’m sure you will agree. No huge matter; it’s a modifier error that needs fixin’, but the confusion is not a distinction without a difference. Teaching your students to identify the differences among modifiers will equip your students with specific revision strategies to avoid these errors.

Following is a quick lesson to help your students. If the lesson works for your students, check out these related lessons: comparative modifiers, superlative modifiers, misplaced modifiers, and dangling modifiers (CCSS L.1). These modifier lessons are excerpts from Pennington Publishing’s full-year Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

Squinting Modifiers Lesson

Today we are studying squinting modifiers. Remember that an adjective modifies a noun or pronoun and answers Which one? How many? or What kind? An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb and answers What degree? How? Where? or When? A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that serves as an adjective or adverb to describe, limit, or add to another word, phrase, or clause.

A squinting modifier is a word or phrase placed between two words so that it could be misunderstood to describe either word. Revise by placing the modifier before or after the word, phrase, or clause that it modifies. Example: Walking up hills quickly strengthens your legs. “Quickly” could modify “hills” or “strengthens.

Sentence Diagram

Modifiers are placed to the right of the predicate after a backward slanted line in sentence diagrams. The object of comparison is placed under the modifier and is connected with a dotted, slanted line. A squinting modifier will create confusion for a sentence diagrammer, because the diagrammer will have some uncertainty as to where to place the modifier. Uncertainly is always a good clue that something is not quite right and must be revised. That’s why sentence diagramming can be an excellent tool for developing writers. 

Examine the sentence diagram on the left with the squinting modifier, and revise on the right.

Avoiding Squinting Modifiers

Squinting Modifiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to learn more about sentence diagramming and get free lesson plans? Check out “How to Teach Sentence Diagramming.”

Mentor Text

This mentor text, written by Francois de La Rochefoucauld (the French author), avoids squinting modifiers and uses contrasting modifiers to make a humorous point. Let’s read it carefully: ‘Why is it that our memory is good enough to retain the least triviality that happens to us, and yet not good enough to recollect how often we have told it to the same person?

Writing Application

Now let’s apply what we’ve learned to respond to this quote and compose a sentence with contrasting modifiers. Create your own squinting modifier if you wish.

Remember that the above lesson is just an excerpt of the full lesson from my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Want the full lesson, formatted for display, and the accompanying student worksheet with the full lesson text, practice, fill-in-the-blank simple sentence diagram, practice (including error analysis), and formative assessment sentence dictation? You’ve got it! I want you to see the instructional quality of my full-year programs. Click below and submit your email to opt in to our Pennington Publishing newsletter, and you’ll get the lesson immediately.

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Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

 

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs, and the value-packed Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Get the Squinting Modifiers Full Lesson FREE Resource:

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Dangling Modifiers

Avoiding Dangling Modifiers

Dangling Modifiers

“Tossed high in the air, the dog caught the Frisbee®.” That poor dog! Obviously, “Tossed high into the air” was not intended to modify the dog. The writer meant the Frisbee®; however the one being modified is not identified, so we have a perfect case of a dangling modifier.

Following is a quick lesson to help your students. If the lesson works for your students, check out these related lessons: comparative modifiers, superlative modifiers, misplaced modifiers, and squinting modifiers (CCSS L.1). These modifier lessons are excerpts from Pennington Publishing’s full-year Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

Dangling Modifiers Lesson

Today we are studying dangling modifiers. Remember that an adjective modifies a noun or pronoun and answers Which one? How many? or What kind? An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb and answers What degree? How? Where? or When? A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that serves as an adjective or adverb to describe, limit, or add to another word, phrase, or clause.

A dangling modifier is an adjective or adverb that does not have a clear connection to the word, phrase, or clause to which it refers. A dangling modifier usually takes the form of a present participle (“__ing”), a past participle (“__d,” “__t,” “__ed,” “__ en”), or an infinitive (to + the base form of a verb). To eliminate the dangling modifier, place the do-er of the sentence as the subject of the independent clause or combine the phrase and independent clause. Example: Fired from your job, your car became your home. (Your car was not fired; you were).

Sentence Diagram

Modifiers are placed to the right of the predicate after a backward slanted line in sentence diagrams. The object of comparison is placed under the modifier and is connected with a dotted, slanted line. A dangling modifier will not fit properly in a sentence diagram, because it has nothing to modify. One great reason to teach sentence diagramming; if a word or phrase does not fit, it is misused. Where might the modifiers, “Our own” be misplaced within this sentence and so create confusion? Answers: Our children loved their own presents. Their children loved our own presents.

Want to learn more about sentence diagramming and get free lesson plans? Check out “How to Teach Sentence Diagramming.”

In the sentence diagrammed below, “After learning the facts, the article was helpful” includes a dangling modifier. Did the article learn the facts or someone else? Obviously, the person being modified is not mentioned: hence, the dangling modifier.

Avoiding Dangling Modifiers

Dangling Modifiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mentor Text

This mentor text, written by George Bernard Shaw (the British author and humorist), uses an adjectival phrase to modify “countries” for humorous effect. Let’s read it carefully: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

Writing Application

Now let’s apply what we’ve learned to respond to this quote and compose a sentence with a modifying adverbial phrase. Create your own dangling modifier if you wish.

Remember that the above lesson is just an excerpt of the full lesson from my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Want the full lesson, formatted for display, and the accompanying student worksheet with the full lesson text, practice, fill-in-the-blank simple sentence diagram, practice (including error analysis), and formative assessment sentence dictation? You’ve got it! I want you to see the instructional quality of my full-year programs. Click below and submit your email to opt in to our Pennington Publishing newsletter, and you’ll get the lesson immediately.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

 

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs, and the value-packed Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Get the Dangling Modifiers Full Lesson FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Misplaced Modifiers

Fixing Misplaced Modifiers

Misplaced Modifiers

Following is a quick lesson to help your students. If the lesson works for your students, check out these related lessons: comparative modifiers, superlative modifiers, dangling modifiers, and squinting modifiers (CCSS L.1). These modifier lessons are excerpts from Pennington Publishing’s full-year Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

Misplaced Modifiers Lesson

Today we are studying misplaced modifiers. Both adjectives and adverbs are modifiers. Remember that an adjective modifies a noun or pronoun and answers Which one? How many? or What kind? An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb and answers What degree? How? Where? or When? Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson, circle or highlight the key points of the text, and study the examples.

A misplaced modifier modifies something that the writer does not intend to modify because of its placement in the sentence. Place modifiers close to the words that they modify. Examples: I drank only water; I only drank water. In these sentences only is the modifier. These sentences have two different meanings. The first means that I drank nothing but water. The second means that all I did with the water was to drink it.

Sentence Diagram

Modifiers are placed to the right of the predicate after a backward slanted line in sentence diagrams. The object of comparison is placed under the modifier and is connected with a dotted, slanted line. A misplaced modifier will not fit properly in a sentence diagram. One great reason to teach sentence diagramming; if a word or phrase does not fit, it is misused. Where might the modifiers, “Our own” be misplaced within this sentence and so create confusion? Answers: Our children loved their own presents. Their children loved our own presents.

Want to learn more about sentence diagramming and get free lesson plans? Check out “How to Teach Sentence Diagramming.”

 

 

 

Mentor Text

This mentor text, written by George Bernard Shaw (the British author and humorist), uses an adjectival phrase to modify “countries” for humorous effect. Let’s read it carefully: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

Writing Application

Now let’s apply what we’ve learned to respond to this quote and compose a sentence with a modifying adverbial phrase.

Remember that the above lesson is just an excerpt of the full lesson from my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Want the full lesson, formatted for display, and the accompanying student worksheet with the full lesson text, practice, fill-in-the-blank simple sentence diagram, practice (including error analysis), and formative assessment sentence dictation? You’ve got it! I want you to see the instructional quality of my full-year programs. Click below and submit your email to opt in to our Pennington Publishing newsletter, and you’ll get the lesson immediately.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

 

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs, and the value-packed Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Get the Misplaced Modifiers Full Lesson FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , ,



All Well and Good

Good and Well

Not all Good

All well and good? Well, perhaps not all of President Trump’s tweets include good grammar, mechanics, spelling, and proper word choice, as evidenced by his take-down of the New York Times on the Sean Hannity show.

In fact, as an English teacher, I’ve written and recorded a few of his egregious mis-tweets and speech oopses in a funny YouTube video titled, “Word Crimes (Revisited).” The song is a spin-off of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s hilarious 2015 “Word Crimes,” found on the parody master’s Mandatory Fun album. Believe me, the president’s English teachers owe us quite an explanation.

Let’s take a look at these two troublesome words, good and well, and provide some clarity about the meaning and usage of these oft-confused words.

Understanding the roles of two parts of speech are helpful in this regard. The word, good, is an adjective; well is an adverb. Both of these parts of speech modify other parts of speech. Modify is an important academic language termwhich means “to define, identify, describe, to expand, or to limit.”

Two Parts of Speech

To review, an adjective modifies a noun with Which One, How Many, or What Kind. Examples: that bird, few students, dark chocolate

Note that, in English, we place adjectives before nouns. Use of more than one adjective usually follows the Which One, How Many, or What Kind adjective order.

An adverb modifies an adjective, adverb, or verb with What Degree, How, Where, or When. Examples: less, carefully, there, later

Note that, in English, we place adverbs in different places within sentences for emphasis. Use of more than one adverb usually follows the What Degree, How, Where, or When adverb order.

Practice memorizing these parts of speech descriptions in the Parts of Speech Song.

Good as an Adjective

The word, good, modifies a noun and answers what kind. Example: Ms. Samuels is a good teacher. Explanation: What kind of teacher is Ms. Samuels? A good one. Notice that good can also modify the pronoun, one.

Well as an Adverb

The word, well, modifies an adjective or verb and answers how.

Example #1 (modifying an adjective): The well-chosen lyrics fit the song perfectly. Explanation: “Chosen” is an adjective, answering what kind or, perhaps, which ones, and the adverb, “well,” answers how the lyrics were chosen.

Example #2 (modifying a verb): The students speak well of their principal. Explanation: The students speak how about their principal? They speak well.

Good and Well in Predicate Adjectives

A predicate adjective follows a linking verb and refers back to a preceding noun to modify the noun. One type of linking verb is a “to be” verb: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Example: The school librarians were helpful. Explanation: The predicate adjective, “helpful,” follows the linking verb, “were” and modifies the noun, “librarians.” Example: The school librarians were extremely helpful. Explanation: The adverb, “extremely,” modifies the linking verb, “were,” and is part of the predicate adjective phrase, “extremely helpful.”

Other types of linking verbs use the five senses: look, sound, smell, feel, and taste. A few more linking verbs are used frequently: appear, seem, become, grow, turn, prove, and remain.

With these linking verbs, use good as a predicate adjective when stating a sensory action. Examples: Bob and Joanne look good; their voices sound good; they smell good; they feel good; and their desserts taste good.

Use good as a predicate adjective when describing someone’s emotions.

Examples: “The situation,” she explained, “did not seem good to me.”

“I never felt good about it either,” added her friend.

Use good as a predicate adjective when describing someone’s character. Examples: The woman is kind, good, and trustworthy.

Use well as a predicate adjective when referring to health. Note that grammarians would still classify well as an adverb, serving as a predicate adjective.

Examples: Suzanne asked,How are you, John?

“I am well,” he replied.

“You do look well,” she commented. “I feel well, too.”

Use well to mean broadly or fully when it is listed first in a predicate adjective phrase. Note that no hyphen is used after the noun to which the predicate adjective phrase refers.

Examples: The celebrity was well known and always well mannered with his adoring fans.

Good and Well as Expletives

Expletives are not just swear words. Expletives are extraneous words or phrases which are not part of the semantic (meaning) structure of a sentence. For example, “There” followed by a verb is usually an expletive, unless used to indicate where. Both good and well can serve as expletives. Examples: “Good. That’s what I want to hear,” he said. “Well, I mean that’s what I need to hear,” he clarified. Explanation: Both “Good” and “Well” add no meaning to the sentences.

Good and Well as Nouns

In addition to their use as expletives, adjectives, and adverbs, both good and well can serve as common nouns. Philosophers have used good as a noun to mean “that which is valued.” Example: The wise always seek the ultimate good in others. To be charitable, perhaps President Trump was using good in this sense in some lines of his criticism of the news media (see graphic at beginning of article). Anyone living in a rural area will be familiar with a water well; Texans know all about oil wells; and the holes at the top of old school desks? Those are ink wells.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

 

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs, and the value-packed Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , ,