Eliminate “To Be” Verbs: Convert Nouns and Adjectives into Vivid Verbs Lesson

Eliminate To Be Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

Ah, summertime! After a few weeks of avoiding any thoughts whatsoever about school, I’m now back in planning mode. How I can improve my students’ essays this next school year?

Do you get sentences like this one?

There are three reasons why it is important to know that “to be” verbs can be boring in essays.

This student makes a good point: Too many “to be” verbs in essays do bore me to death.

But, how can we get our students to reduce the amount of or eliminate the “to be” verbs in their essays to create precision of meaning, specificity, clarity, and just good old sentence variety? How do we get our students to use vivid “show me” verbs instead?

Teach the Convert Nouns and Adjectives into Vivid Verbs strategy. (See all five strategies here) Usually, nouns and adjectives are the easiest parts of speech to change to verbs.

Lesson Plan: Common Core State Standards W.3, 4, 5  L.2, 3 and Depth of Knowledge Levels 1, 2, 3 (20−30 minutes)

Behavioral Objective: Students will demonstrate the ability to identify the eight “to be” verbs, explain the characteristics of a “show me” verb, and convert _y nouns to _ify verbs to eliminate a “to be” verb on the formative assessment.

  1. Begin by telling students that their task is to learn how to replace weak and vague “to be” verbs with strong and specific “show me verbs.”
  2. Write the eight “to be” verbs on the board: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been or create a Dead Verbs Cemetery bulletin board (perfect for Halloween!). Tell students that writers generally avoid using “to be” verbs in essays. “To be” verbs can appear more frequently in narrative writing.
  3. Teach students that when a writer uses a “show me” verb, the reader can picture the physical or mental action of the verb. Write this example on the board: Three beautiful pieces of furniture were in her bedroom. Discuss how the “to be” verb, were, does not show a picture to the reader.  Write this example underneath the first one: Three pieces of furniture beautify her bedroom.
  4. Say, “Let’s figure out the strategy I used to replace the weak and vague ‘to be’ verb, ‘were,’ with the strong and specific ‘show me’ verb, ‘beautify.’ First, I deleted the ‘to be’ verb (X-out the ‘were’ in the first sentence). Next, I  looked for other words in the sentence to convert to a ‘show me’ verb. Convert means to change the form of something or someone; like when people travel outside of the country, they have to convert U.S. dollars to other money or like when mild-mannered Clark Kent converts to Superman in order to save the planet. Nouns and adjectives can often convert to verbs.” (Circle the noun, ‘furniture,’ and the adjectives, ‘Three’ and ‘beautiful.'” Remind students that nouns are persons, places, things, and ideas. Adjectives modify and are usually placed before nouns or pronouns and answer Which One? How Many? or What Kind? You might want to reference this Parts of Speech article with my Parts of Speech Song to review nouns and adjectives in context.
  5. Say, “I couldn’t figure out how to convert the noun, ‘furniture,’ or the adjective, ‘Three,’ into verbs, but the adjective, ‘beautiful,’ worked fine. I changed the ending of the word to the ending verb form, ‘ify,’ to create the ‘show me’ verb, ‘beautify.'”
  6. Say, “We need some practice converting nouns and adjectives to ‘show me’ verbs. Let’s start with the nouns. (Print and pass out the Change _y Nouns into _ify Verbs Worksheet to each student and read the directions out loud.) Complete items #s 1−10, but don’t complete the formative assessment at the bottom.”
  7. After most of the students have finished the worksheet, display the answer sheet and direct students to self-correct. Then say, “Now complete the formative assessment at the bottom of your worksheet.” (Tell students to pass in the worksheet and review to see if your student have mastered this lesson objective.

    Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

    How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

FREE RESOURCES: Enter your email above to subscribe to the Pennington Publishing Newsletter and we will send you two ready-to-use resources each week. In our welcome newsletter we’ll send out the 11 x 17 “To be or not to be…” poster (PDF file with printing directions) to post in your classroom and help your students eliminate “to be” verbs. We want you to see examples of the quality program materials found in these teacher-created and classroom-tested resources:

Teaching Essay Strategies provides the step-by-step resources teachers need to teach the argumentative and informational-explanatory essays. The program includes 8 complete writing process essays with accompanying readings (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory), 42 sequenced essay strategy worksheets, 64 writing opener lessons, dozens of writing skill worksheets (like the “to be” worksheet above), plus writing fluency quick writes Also save time grading essays with the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Also, check out the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4−8 programs. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video for a concise overview of the program.

Enter discount code 3716 and get 10% off of the purchase price and free shipping (purchase orders excluded).

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Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

According the the authors of the Common Core State Standards…

“The importance of students acquiring a rich and varied vocabulary cannot be overstated. Vocabulary has been empirically connected to reading comprehension since at least 1925 (Whipple, 1925) and had its importance to comprehension confirmed in recent years (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). It is widely accepted among researchers that the difference in students’ vocabulary levels is a key factor in disparities in academic achievement (Baumann & Kameenui, 1991; Becker, 1977; Stanovich, 1986) but that vocabulary instruction has been neither frequent nor systematic in most schools (Biemiller, 2001; Durkin, 1978; Lesaux, Kieffer, Faller, & Kelley, 2010; Scott & Nagy, 1997).” Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

Words are important. Of course, every teacher would agree. But which words should we teach? And in what instructional order?

Here’s what the authors have to say about which words

Tier Two words (what the Standards refer to as general academic words) are far more likely to appear in written texts than in speech. They appear in all sorts of texts: informational texts (words such as relative, vary, formulate, specificity, and accumulate), technical texts (calibrate, itemize, periphery), and literary texts (misfortune, dignified, faltered, unabashedly). Tier Two words often represent subtle or precise ways to say relatively simple things—saunter instead of walk, for example. Because Tier Two words are found across many types of texts, they are highly generalizable. Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

Tier Three words (what the Standards refer to as domain-specific words) are specific to a domain or field of study (lava, carburetor, legislature, circumference, aorta) and key to understanding a new concept within a text. Because of their specificity and close ties to content knowledge, Tier Three words are far more common in informational texts than in literature. Recognized as new and “hard” words for most readers (particularly student readers), they are often explicitly defined by the author of a text, repeatedly used, and otherwise heavily scaffolded (e.g., made a part of a glossary). Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

So, every teacher should be focusing on Tier Two words because they are generalizable and they are most frequently used in complex text. For example, the following Standards would be applicable for teaching Tier Two words in ELA classes:

The Language Strand: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, and 6) 

The Standards focus on these kinds of words: multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0). CCSS Language Strand

Tier Three words should be introduced in the context of content study. For example, the following Standard would be applicable for teaching Tier Three words in ELA classes:

The Reading Strand: Literature (Standard 4) Craft and Structure

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama. CCSS Reading: Literature Strand
Is there any research about the instructional order of Tier Two words

Yes. Dr. Averil Coxhead, senior lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies developed and evaluated The Academic Word List (AWL) for her MA thesis. The list has 570 word families which were selected according to certain criteria:

  • The word families must occur in over half of the 28 academic subject areas. “Just over 94% of the words in the AWL occur in 20 or more subject areas. This principle ensures that the words in the AWL are useful for all learners, no matter what their area of study or what combination of subjects they take at tertiary level.”
  • “The AWL families had to occur over 100 times in the 3,500,000 word Academic Corpus in order to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the words will be met a reasonable number of times in academic texts.” The academic corpus refers to a computer-generated list of most-frequently occurring academic words.
  • “The AWL families had to occur a minimum of 10 times in each faculty of the Academic Corpus to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the vocabulary is useful for all learners.”

Words Excluded From the Academic Word List

  • “Words occurring in the first 2,000 words of English.”
  • “Narrow range words. Words which occurred in fewer than 4 faculty sections of the Academic Corpus or which occurred in fewer than 15 of the 28 subject areas of the Academic Corpus were excluded because they had narrow range. Technical or specialist words often have narrow range and were excluded on this basis.”
  • “Proper nouns. The names of places, people, countries, for example, New Zealand, Jim Bolger and Wellington were excluded from the list.”
  • “Latin forms. Some of the most common Latin forms in the Academic Corpus were et al, etc, ie, and ibid.” http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/resources/academicwordlist/information

Furthermore, computer generated word frequencies have determined the frequency of Greek and Latin word parts. 

  • Over 60% of the words students will encounter in school textbooks have recognizable word parts; and many of these Latin and Greek roots (Nagy, Anderson,Schommer, Scott, & Stallman, 1989).
  • Latin and Greek prefixes, roots, and suffixes have predictable spelling patterns.(Rasinski & Padak, 2001; Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston, 2000).
  • Content area vocabulary is largely Greek and Latin-based and research supports this instruction, especially for struggling readers (Harmon, Hedrick & Wood, 2005).
  • Many words from Greek and Latin word parts are included in “Tier Two” and “Tier Three” words that Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002) have found to be essential to vocabulary word study.
  • Knowing Greek and Latin word parts helps students recognize and gain clues to understanding of other words that use known affixes and roots(Nagy & Scott, 2000).
  • “One Latin or Greek root or affix (word pattern) aids understanding (as well as decoding and encoding) of 20 or more English words.” 
  • “Since Spanish is also a Latin-based language, Latin (and Greek) can be used as a bridge to help Spanish speaking students use knowledge of their native language to learn English.” 

A Model Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Preview the Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Separate grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 appear at the end of the document and include multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0). Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Mechanics Scope and Sequence, and Spelling Scope and Sequence.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/TLS-Instructional-Scope-and-Sequence-Grades-4-8.pdf”]

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Spelling Scope and Sequence

For many teachers, spelling instruction has taken a back seat to other instruction, especially in the ELA middle and high school classrooms. Perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was relegated to an editing-only issue at the tail end of the writing process. Or perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was considered as part to whole instruction rather than in the predominant whole to part instruction of whole language reading and constructivism. Or perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was considered as the stepchild of vocabulary. Spelling workbooks, once a staple in both the elementary and secondary classrooms, were removed from supplemental program lists at district and state levels. However, things are changing. Educators who once thought that spelling word check would solve students’ spelling and writing issues are squarely facing the fact that they do have a responsibility to teach spelling patterns.

In fact, most all teachers support teaching some form of simple to complex instructional order in teaching spelling. For example, students need to be able to spell plurals for singular nouns with an ending prior to learning that nouns ending in /ch/, /sh/, /x/, /s/, or are spelled with “es” prior to learning nouns ending in /f/ are spelling with “ves” prior to learning about irregular plurals such as children and deer prior to learning about Latin plural spellings such as “” and “ae.” In other words, the simple academic language and grammatical instruction should precede the more complex. We have supportive (and recent–as of January 2016) educational research to validate this instructional order:

Here’s the research to support simple to complex instructional order…

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill) in which researchers summarize how instructional practice should be ordered: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

Of course, spelling instruction (like grammar and usage instruction) is certainly recursive. Once the simple is taught to “mastery” and the complex is introduced, the simple is always re-taught and practiced in other instructional contexts. For example, teachers will need to teach and re-teach the before spelling rule yearly from third grade through high school.

The Common Core Standards present a simple to complex instructional scope and sequence in the Language Strand Standards… albeit less so in the spelling Standards.

However, grade-level Language Strand Standards do not include a comprehensive spelling scope and sequence. A few examples from the L.2 Standards prove this out. Again, check out the simple to complex instructional order for the capitalization Standards.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.”

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.K.2.D  Spell simple words phonetically, drawing on knowledge of sound-letter relationships.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.D  Use conventional spelling for words with common spelling patterns and for frequently occurring irregular words.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.E  Spell untaught words phonetically, drawing on phonemic awareness and spelling conventions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.C  Use an apostrophe to form contractions and frequently occurring possessives.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.D  Generalize learned spelling patterns when writing words (e.g., cage → badge; boy → boil).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.E  Use conventional spelling for high-frequency and other studied words and for adding suffixes to base words (e.g., sitting, smiled, cries, happiness).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.F  Use spelling patterns and generalizations (e.g., word families, position-based spellings, syllable patterns, ending rules, meaningful word parts) in writing words.
  •  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.4.2.D and 5.2.D  Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.2.B, etc.  Spell correctly.
 After grade 3 the Common Core State Standards provide no specific spelling pattern Standards.

So, to summarize… Both educational research and the authors of the Common Core State Standards validate a simple to more complex mechanics sequence of instruction.

How Should This Affect My Spelling Instruction?

The simple to complex instructional order is clearly conducive to spelling patterns instruction. Students need to master the basic sound-spellings and sight words before moving on to more complex spelling patterns influenced by derivational affixes and roots. 

A spelling program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards provides a well-defined instructional order.

Site levels (and districts) need to plan a comprehensive year-to-year scope and sequence for spelling instruction. The Common Core State Standards provide bare bones exemplars or benchmarks, but educators need to fill in the blanks. Students will not improve spelling by reading and writing alone. Students need more spelling instruction than a weekly pre and post test, a personal spelling errors notebook, or simply being required to spelling content vocabulary words correctly. Spelling instruction is sequential.

A Model Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence

Preview the Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Mechanics Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

Also check out the diagnostic spelling assessment and recording matrices on the Pennington Publishing website.

 

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/TLS-Instructional-Scope-and-Sequence-Grades-4-8.pdf”]

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Mechanics Scope and Sequence

We may not all agree on using the Oxford (serial) comma. Some favor oranges, apples, and peaches. Others favor oranges, apples and peaches. English teachers tend to prefer the former, but journalists seem hooked on the latter. We also may not agree on the place of mechanics* instruction within ELA instruction. Some favor direct instruction of these skills. Others favor editing groups and mini lessons to handle the instructional chore. I personally lean toward the former with additional “catch up” individualization through research-based worksheets targeted to diagnostic assessments. Of course, I do use peer editing before turning in published works.

*When most teachers refer to mechanics we mean the technical components of composition: punctuation, capitalization, and abbreviations. Some will also include spelling, usage, and organization in this terminology. The Common Core authors use the umbrella term language conventions.

However, most all teachers support teaching some form of simple to complex instructional order in teaching mechanics. For example, students need to be able to define, identify, and apply simple abbreviations (Mr.) before learning acronyms (UNICEF) and initialisms (FBI). In other words, the simple academic language and mechanics instruction should precede the more complex. We have supportive (and recent–as of January 2016) educational research to validate this instructional order:

Here’s the research to support simple to complex instructional order…

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill) in which researchers summarize how instructional practice should be ordered: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

Of course, mechanics instruction (like grammar and usage instruction) is certainly recursive. Once the simple is taught to “mastery” and the complex is introduced, the simple is always re-taught and practiced in other instructional contexts. For example, proper noun capitalization will be re-introduced in every grade, every year. Sigh… The Common Core authors agree.

The Common Core Standards present a simple to complex instructional scope and sequence in the Language Strand Standards

However, grade-level Language Strand Standards do not include a comprehensive mechanics scope and sequence. A few examples from the L.2 Standards prove this out. Again, check out the simple to complex instructional order for the capitalization Standards.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.”

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.K.2.A
Capitalize the first word in a sentence and the pronoun I

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.A
Capitalize dates and names of people.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.A
Capitalize holidays, product names, and geographic names.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.A
Capitalize appropriate words in titles.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.4.2.A
Use correct capitalization.

The Language Strand Standards provide no capitalization Standards beyond grade 4. Again, the Common Core authors certainly advocate review.

So, to summarize… Both educational research and the authors of the Common Core State Standards validate a simple to more complex mechanics sequence of instruction.

How Should This Affect My Mechanics Instruction?

  1. The simple to complex instructional order is clearly not conducive to the more eclectic and hodgepodge DOL or DLR (Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review) instruction without major revamping of either program. 
  2. A grammar, usage, and mechanics program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards provides a well-defined instructional order.
  3. Site levels (and districts) need to plan a comprehensive year-to-year scope and sequence for mechanics instruction. The Common Core State Standards provide bare bones exemplars or benchmarks, but educators need to fill in the blanks. Just because acronyms are not mentioned in the Standards doesn’t mean that we aren’t supposed to teach them.

A Model Grades 4-8 Mechanics Scope and Sequence

Preview the Grades 4-8 Mechanics Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Spelling Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/TLS-Instructional-Scope-and-Sequence-Grades-4-8.pdf”]

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Grammar Scope and Sequence

Although the grammar debate* continues between 1.Those who favor part to whole (indirect, implicit, inductive) instruction and 2. Those who prefer whole to part (direct, explicit, deductive) instruction, both sides would generally agree that students should be able to define, identify, and use some things before other things. In other words, the simple academic language and grammatical instruction should precede the more complex. We have solid (and recent–January 2016) educational research to support this instructional sequence of instruction:

*When most teachers refer to grammar we mean the structure of the sentence, the components of the sentence, word choice, the order of words, parts of speech, and usage. Some will also include punctuation, capitalization and even spelling in this terminology. The Common Core authors use the umbrella term language conventions.

Here’s the research to back up these instructional assumptions…

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill) in which researchers summarize how instructional practice should be ordered: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

This is not to say that effective grammatical instruction is not recursive. It is and the writers of the Common Core certainly agree.

The Common Core authors also support a simple to complex instructional scope and sequence in the Language Strand Standards

However, neither the grade-level Standards, nor the Progressive Skills Review, provide a comprehensive grammar scope and sequence. A few examples from the L.1 Standards should suffice to prove these points. Again, notice the simple to complex pattern.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 1) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.”

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.1.F
Use frequently occurring adjectives.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.1.E
Use adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.1.A
Explain the function of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in general and their functions in particular sentences.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.4.1.D
Order adjectives within sentences according to conventional patterns (e.g., a small red bag rather than a red small bag).

Grades 5, 6, and 8 have no specific adjective Standards. Obviously, Grade 5 teachers would review the Grades 1-4 adjective Standards. Common sense is not thrown to the wind by the Common Core authors. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.7.2.A
Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., It was a fascinating, enjoyable movie but not He wore an old[,] green shirt).

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.9-10.1.B
Use various types of phrases (noun, verb, adjectival, adverbial, participial, prepositional, absolute) and clauses (independent, dependent; noun, relative, adverbial) to convey specific meanings and add variety and interest to writing or presentations.

So, to summarize… Both educational research and the authors of the Common Core State Standards validate a simple to more complex grammar sequence of instruction.

Instructional Implications

  1. Even a cursory glance at the recent research and the Language Strand and Progressive Skills Review Standards should convince teachers using DOL/DLR (Daily Oral Language / Daily Language Review) and  Writers (Writing) Workshop that an order of grammar instruction makes some sense and so re-ordering the instructional sequence of the former openers/bell ringer activities and the mini-lessons of the latter makes sense. 
  2. Selecting a grammar program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards makes a lot of sense. 
  3. Defining a specific year-to-year instructional scope and sequence (the Common Core Standards are far too generic) with colleagues provides a game plan and also defines the content for assessment. It makes sense to establish a set of skills and expectations to be mastered at each grade level.

A Model Grammar Instructional Scope and Sequence

Why reinvent the wheel? Preview the Grades 4-8 Grammar and Usage Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this helpful planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Also check out my articles on Mechanics Scope and Sequence, Spelling Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/TLS-Instructional-Scope-and-Sequence-Grades-4-8.pdf”]

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Research-Based Vocabulary Worksheets

The two most often-used methods of vocabulary instruction include passing out a vocabulary list to be memorized for the Friday quiz and pre-teaching a few vocabulary words prior to reading. Each method has its limitations. Retention of rote memorization without reinforced, deliberate practice is minimal. Exposure to a key word in a reading selection without context provides minimal understanding.

Whereas the Common Core State Standards have been widely criticized in some academic areas, I’ve never heard a parent, student, or teacher criticize the vocabulary Standards detailed in the Language Strand. Whether states re-write, re-name, or simply re-number the Common Core State Standards, the essential components of vocabulary instruction are retained. As an MA reading specialist, both vocabulary acquisition and retention are the keys to the kingdom. But minds are not simply empty vessels to be filled with ACT/SAT vocabulary; minds are also to be trained to acquire and retain words on their own. The latter is not the natural process that some describe (or hope for). Surely the process of vocabulary growth can be made more efficient and accurate with training. That’s where good teaching comes in… and one important instructional strategy is the research-based vocabulary worksheet.

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a vocabulary worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

Most of the Tier II academic (not content-specific) language is gained through widespread reading of challenging text, Reading lots of words matters, but reading at a word recognition level of about 5% unknown words, coupled with context clues instruction and practice maximizes the amount of vocabulary acquisition and retention. According the writers of the Common Core, text complexity really matters. Research-based vocabulary worksheets can help provide deliberate practice in how to independently grow vocabulary.

The second key to vocabulary development is deep instruction in the words themselves. Passing out the vocabulary list to memorize is not “deep instruction.” Let’s take a look at the Common Core Vocabulary Standards to understand. Following are the eighth grade Standards. Highlights are my own to facilitate skimming and to provide your own vocabulary check-list of “Do that,” “Don’t do that, but need to” self-evaluation. After the Standards follows research-based vocabulary worksheets from my grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the grades 4-8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit (slices of the aforementioned programs) to see how each of the Language Strand Vocabulary Standards L.4, 5, and 6 are incorporated into weekly classroom practice. The examples are from the fifth grade program. Yes, flashcards and tests are included in each program. Each program follows a grades 4-8 instructional scope and sequence and includes the Tier II Academic Words List.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4
Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.A
Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.B
Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., precede, recede, secede).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.C
Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.D
Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.A
Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.B
Use the relationship between particular words to better understand each of the words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.C
Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions) (e.g., bullheaded, willful, firm, persistent, resolute).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
 [pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Vocabulary-Worksheets.pdf”]

Check out the research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheet and the research-based spelling patterns worksheets.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Research-Based Spelling Worksheets

Years ago at the height of the whole language movement in California, a fourth grade teacher began his first year of teaching. Committed to teaching to the individual needs of his students, he consulted his mom for advice. Mom had recently retired after teaching 35 years as an intermediate and upper elementary teacher. She also had waded into the middle school environment for a few years before settling down in fifth grade for the last ten years of her career. Mom suggested that he assess his students and then assign targeted worksheets to address specific deficits indicated by the assessments. Her son had never heard this in his experiential learning teacher training program. He knew how to do role plays and simulations, but not much about teaching (even in his methods classes).

Mom climbed up into the attic and brought down her neatly packed boxes of teaching files. She dug out hundreds of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and reading worksheets for her son to check out.

The rookie teacher was overwhelmed at the treasure trove of resources. Most of the worksheets fit the fourth grade age level and were quite good. As a veteran teacher, mom had carefully weeded out the “drill and kill” worksheets and had saved the ones that students learned from best. Every worksheet had been field tested and had Mom’s seal of approval. Some of the worksheets were from educational publishers long out of business or bought up by huge educational syndicates, but most of the worksheets were Mom’s own–no doubt revisions of store-bought products. Half of these worksheets were on old mimeograph (ditto) paper (Remember the smell?) Half of them were word processed documents after the advent of cheaper school copiers and duplo machines.

Mom warned her son not to share the worksheets with colleagues. No, she wasn’t worried about the copyright infringements; she was worried that her untenured son would be accused of not solely teaching the district adopted curriculum. She had heard that State Superintendent of Schools, Bill Honig, had removed workbooks from the approved supplemental resource list and was even reported as telling principals to confiscate any spelling workbooks at school sites. Those were the early days of the National Writing Project in which spelling (and punctuation, grammar, and word choice) were relegated to the editing-only stage of the writing process. Teachers regularly told students not to worry about spelling (or anything smacking of language conventions) during the rough draft stage of their writing because they could “clean up” the language for their final draft. If they chose to complete final drafts.

Of course spelling, grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary scores plummeted during the late 1980s and early 1990s, sparking yet another “Back to Basics” movement. Mom had warned her son about the cyclical nature of educational movements and philosophies. “Been there; done that,” said Mom. “Remember that your first priority is to your students. You will learn what works best. But don’t be dumb. Wait until you’re tenured to share any of these worksheets with your colleagues. They’ll want them… even the ones that have said otherwise.”

In his fourth grade classroom the new teacher faithfully taught the district adopted curriculum, but he found time to “sneak in” worksheets targeted to individual assessment-based skills and concepts deficits. Students completed assigned worksheets, self-corrected and self-edited any errors from the Answer Book, and brought up the graded worksheet to their teacher for review. Each worksheet had a short test (a formative assessment) to see if the student had mastered the focus skill or concept. The test was a short written application to see if the student understood and could use what was learned correctly. Most of the time the student successfully masted the skill. Students loved completing the worksheets and placing the gold star next to their name on the wall poster.

The spring test results came in shortly after school started back up in September. The principal called in the now second-year teacher and asked him why his test scores were so much higher than those of his grade level team. “I just followed the district-adopted curriculum and I had great kids,” he replied.

That night he took Mom out the dinner.

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a spelling worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

As publisher of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction (slices of the aforementioned programs), our company has applied the following research suggestions to create research-based spelling worksheets. Following will state the research suggestions listed as “Dos” in the above article and the specific worksheet applications of the research will follow with the worksheets from the programs listed above. A sample Spelling Patterns Worksheet is provided thereafter.

  1. Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. The Spelling Pattern Worksheets are assigned according to the results of the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (the link connects to the eight grade assessment). Each of the grades 4-8 assessments includes an audio file to make administration simple (great for make-ups as well). Here’s a link to the eighth grade audio file and to the recording matrix for progress monitoring. These whole class assessments perfectly correspond with the targeted worksheets so that students complete only those grade level spelling patterns which students have not yet mastered. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems. Students are motivated to practice by mastering each unmastered concept or skill, marked with an “/” on the data matrix. Once a student has mastered a worksheet, points are assigned and the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. Yes, gold stars work, too!
  2. Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently. Directions are concisely and clearly written so that students can complete the worksheets independently. Each worksheet has been field tested in grades 4-8 classrooms and revised to ensure student success. The applicable spelling rules and examples are provided before the practice section on every worksheet.
  3. Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. The Spelling Pattern Worksheets provide samples (examples) of each focus spelling pattern.
  4. Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it. Students complete a spelling sort to apply the focus spelling pattern. The practice section also includes rhyme, word search, and word jumble activities.
  5. Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedbackStudents complete the spelling sort and practice section and self-correct and self-edit from the Answers Booklet to gain immediate feedback and learn from their own mistakes.
  6. Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. Next, students complete a short formative assessment (a brief written application of the focused spelling patterns) at the bottom of each worksheet and bring up the completed worksheet to the teacher for a mini-conference. The teacher evaluates the formative assessment to determine mastery and quickly checks the practice section to make sure that the student has completed and self-corrected. If mastered, the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. If unmastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches and the student completes the formative assessment once more.
  7. Distribute practice over extended periods of time. Students work at their own pace, completing the Spelling Pattern Worksheets. The teacher provides points for each mastered worksheet.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Spelling-Worksheet.pdf”]

Check out the research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and the research-based vocabulary worksheets.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Research-Based Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets

Not all worksheets are created alike. Worksheets need not “drill and kill” students to boredom or busy-work. Good teachers can spot a good worksheet when they see one.

Research-based worksheets serve any number of important instructional objectives:

  • Worksheets can target practice in a specific skill or help students learn a new concept.
  • Worksheets can serve as excellent independent practice.
  • Teachers can use worksheets to individualize instruction according to the results of diagnostic assessments.
  • Worksheets can also provide purposeful work while the teacher works one-on-one with a student or with a small group of students.

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

As publisher of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook, our company has applied the following research suggestions to create research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets. Following will state the research suggestions listed as “Dos” in the above article and the specific worksheet applications of the research will follow with the worksheets from the programs listed above. A sample Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheet is provided thereafter.

  1. Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. The Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets are assigned according to the results of the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment and the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment. These whole class assessments perfectly correspond with the targeted worksheets so that students complete only those concepts and skills which students have not yet mastered. The teacher monitors progress on a data matrix. The publisher’s worksheet do not teach concepts or skills in isolation. Each is properly contextualized to build upon prior knowledge. Each is taught in the context of writing. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems. Students are motivated to practice by mastering each unmastered concept or skill, marked with an “/” on the data matrix. Once a student has mastered a worksheet, points are assigned and the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix.
  2. Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently. Directions are concisely and clearly written so that students can complete the worksheets independently. Each worksheet has been field tested in grades 4-8 classrooms and revised to ensure student success. Definitions of key academic language (and grammar lingo) are provided.
  3. Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. The Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets provide samples (examples) of each instructional application of the focus concept or skill.
  4. Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it. Students complete a practice section that is not too long, and not too short. The practice sections have been carefully designed to be comprehensive, yet not repetitious. Every instructional component of the focus concept or skill has at least one deliberate practice opportunity.
  5. Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedbackStudents complete the practice section and self-correct and self-edit from the Answers Booklet to gain immediate feedback and learn from their own mistakes.
  6. Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. Next, students complete a short formative assessment (a brief written application of the concept or skill) at the bottom of each worksheet and bring up the completed worksheet to the teacher for a mini-conference. The teacher evaluates the formative assessment to determine mastery and quickly checks the practice section to make sure that the student has completed and self-corrected. If mastered, the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. If unmastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches and the student completes the formative assessment once more.
  7. Distribute practice over extended periods of time. Students work at their own pace, completing the Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets. The teacher provides points for each mastered worksheet.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Grammar-Usage-and-Mechanics-Worksheet-1.pdf”]

Check out the research-based spelling patterns worksheets and the research-based vocabulary worksheets.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

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Drill and Kill Worksheets

Teachers are no different than most people. They say one thing, but often do another. Most teachers (I certainly will include myself) have at one point in their teaching careers derided the use of drill and kill worksheets as a waste of valuable instructional time. We have slandered rote memorization and isolated skills instruction. We have rolled our eyes and whispered derogatory comments in the staff room about lazy and uncreative Mr. Worksheet. Isn’t it time for him to retire?

However, if you google “grammar worksheets,” you get 2,970,000 hits; if you google “vocabulary worksheets,” you get 8,250,000. Clearly more teachers other than Mr. Worksheet like their worksheets and see the value of deliberate, targeted, independent practice. Thought I’d dig into the educational research a bit to see whether what teachers say or what teachers do makes more sense.

In a 2016 article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” for the American Psychological Association, researchers present the case for deliberate practice: “It doesn’t matter what subject you teach, differences in students performance are affected by how much they engage in deliberate practice… Deliberate practice is not the same as rote repetition. Rote repetition — simply repeating a task — will not by itself improve performance. Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills. Although other factors such as intelligence and motivation affect performance, practice is necessary if not sufficient for acquiring expertise (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

Although deliberate practice is not solely reserved for worksheets, it would certainly seem that targeted, independent worksheets can certainly provide deliberate practice that involves “attention, rehearsal, and repetition” and need not succumb to rote repetition. Worksheets can also introduce and help students practice “new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills.”

Math teacher, Robert Evan Foster, discusses the difference between deliberate practice and rote repetition on math worksheets in an interesting article: “There is a paradoxical problem in teaching math. Students need to know certain mundane facts so they can move on to problem solving. A student who has to look up every multiplication fact on a cheat sheet lengthens their homework algebraically. On one hand, a teacher needs to make sure the students know their math facts. On the other hand, the teacher risks mind numbing boredom on the part of the students doing the homework.”

“I think that the root of the dilemma is found in the length of the worksheets. I was asked the question, ‘If a student can demonstrate that they know how to divide a three-digit number, by a two-digit number 100% of the time with five problems, why do they have to do an additional 45?’ Teachers don’t have to assign more problems than necessary for the student to demonstrate mastery of the math skill. Five problems will do just as well as 50. You have students who are learning their basic math facts. In turn, they aren’t wilting in the field out of boredom doing the last 45 problems.”

So, besides deliberate, targeted practice (avoiding rote memorization) of new knowledge or skills, what do the American Psychological Association researchers suggest? I’ve weeded out a few of their suggestions and focused in these key ones. See the article for the entire list.

Research (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993) suggests several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance. Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction:

  • Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems.
  • Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedback.
  • Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it.
  • Distribute practice over extended periods of time.
  • Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria.
  • Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently.
  • Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies.
  • Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills.

Considering these research suggestions, it certainly seems to me that targeted, independent worksheets can provide effective practice if they are “carefully designed” to apply the educational researchSo maybe what teachers do for their students (using worksheets) actually does make sense.

The author of this article has written English-language arts and reading programs for grades 4-8 teachers and their students which include assessment-based worksheets, designed according to the above research-based suggestions. For examples of worksheets providing deliberate practice according to research suggestions, check out Research-Based Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets, as well as Check out the Research-Based Spelling Patterns Worksheets and the Research-Based Vocabulary Worksheets for examples. Visit the author’s website for product information.

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



What to Teach in Reading Intervention

Key instructional components are needed in any successful Tier II and III reading intervention programs. A balanced approach of decoding, encoding, syllabication, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency development will achieve significant results in minimal time.

All too often, teachers will purchase piecemeal programs, such as Read Naturally® or Accelerated Reader™ and expect such programs to suffice as comprehensive reading intervention programs. Clearly, they are not.

Which specific instructional components belong in a balanced reading intervention program?

Program Components

Diagnostic Reading Assessments

  • Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42 audio file and consonants: 12:07 audio file) PLACEMENT ASSESSMENT
  • Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38 audio file) PLACEMENT ASSESSMENT
  • Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minute individual assessment) PLACEMENT ASSESSMENT
  • Alphabetic Awareness
  • Syllable Awareness (5:48 audio file)
  • Syllable Rhyming (5:38 audio file)
  • Phonemic Isolation (5:54 audio file)
  • Phonemic Blending (5:53 audio file)
  • Phonemic Segmenting (5:2 audio file)
  • Outlaw Words (whole class untimed assessment)
  • Rimes (whole class untimed assessment)
  • Sight Syllables (whole class untimed assessment)
  • Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minutes)

Whole Class Instruction (18−23 minutes per day)

  • Sound-Spelling Cards (name, sound, spellings)
  • Sound−by−Sound Spelling Blending
  • Vowel Transformers (syllable rules)
  • Syllable Blending and Syllable Division Worksheets

Small Group Reading Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

Phonemic Awareness (individualized Tier III or small group Tier II instruction as determined by diagnostic assessments)

  • Alphabetic Awareness Workshops
  • Rhyming Awareness Workshops
  • Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation Workshops
  • Phonemic Isolation Workshops
  • Phonemic Blending Workshops
  • Phonemic Segmenting Workshops

Phonics (individualized Tier III or small group Tier II instruction as determined by diagnostic assessments)

  • Short Vowels
  • Silent Final e
  • Consonant Digraphs
  • Consonant Blends
  • Long Vowels and Vowel Digraphs
  • Vowel Diphthongs
  • r and l−controlled Vowels

Fluency (modeled readings and practice determined by diagnostic assessment as individualized Tier III or small group Tier II instruction)

  • Online Modeled Expository Readings (each recorded at three different reading speeds)
  • Fluency Group Practice
  • Timing Charts to Measure Growth

Individualized Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

  • Spelling Pattern Worksheets
  • Reading and Spelling Game Cards Games
  • Context Clues Vocabulary Strategies and Practice
  • Comprehension Worksheets

Training Modules/Publisher Support

Both new and veteran teachers need training and support in any reading intervention curriculum.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated by both older readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Teachers print copies from their own digital masters.

Training videos are provided for each instructional component.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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Reading Program Placement

Far too often grades 4-12 students are placed in reading intervention classes where they don’t belong. Far too often students are not placed in reading intervention programs where they do belong. In the following article I will discuss a common sense criteria for reading program placement and a few pitfalls to avoid. I will also provide three complete reading program placement assessments with audio files and recording matrices.

First of all, a caveat. No criteria for reading program placement are perfect. Students meeting reading program placement criteria will be placed in reading intervention classes only to be filtered out, once subsequent diagnostic assessments have been evaluated. Some students may miraculously master reading program placement tests who do need to be placed into reading assessment classes upon further observation by classroom teachers or specialists. We are dealing with human beings here, and although our assessments may be reliable, kids most certainly are not.

Secondly, a disclaimer. I am the publisher of Teaching Reading Strategies, a reading intervention program which I will promote at the end of the article.

Common Sense Criteria and Pitfalls to Avoid with Reading Program Placement

  1. The program placement criteria must match the class. A reading intervention class with curriculum and delivery designed to teach explicit and systematic phonics, structural analysis, and fluency to increase vocabulary, improve reading comprehension, and improve spelling must have placement assessments which match what the program teaches. Using PAARC or SBAC “Standard Not Met” overall English-language arts/literacy scores to place students into reading intervention programs makes zero sense. Using a qualitative spelling inventory because “poor spellers tend to be poor readers” when spelling is not a key instructional component makes less than zero sense.
  2. Use teachable tests. Assessments take time to administer and correct. If instructional time is allocated to assessment, the assessments need to provide data that teachers will be able to use. A common sense guideline should be “If you can’t teach to it, don’t test it.” For students who do qualify for reading program placement, the program placement assessments should provide comprehensive data that teachers can “teach to.” What use is a random sample test or spelling/phonics inventory that cannot be used beyond program placement? Far too often, expensive reading intervention programs use separate random sample tests for program placement and then require more instructional time for additional diagnostic tests (and correction/recording/analysis) once program placement is made. For students who do not qualify for reading program placement, the program placement assessments should still provide teachable data to help teachers differentiate instruction. For example, if a student demonstrates mastery of all phonics elements other than the and w-controlled vowels, is at or above grade level fluency norms but fails to pause at commas, and has mastered 90% of spelling patterns, that student will not meet criteria for reading program placement; however, the regular classroom teacher will still derive teachable data from each of those three assessments.
  3. (Most) All students need to be assessed. Using teacher recommendations, past grades, past program placements, and cum file reviews are notoriously unreliable program placement indicators. Teachers and schools have divergent views as to what does and does not constitute reading proficiency. If the program placement assessments provide usable data for all students, using a “first-sort” or “multi-tiered” batch of assessments (which all too often weed out students who need to be placed in reading intervention) is unnecessary. Now let’s use some common sense here. Gifted and talented students, honor course students, etc. can “take a pass”; however, having taught at elementary, middle, high school, and community college levels I have often found interesting anomalies. When in doubt, always assess.
  4. Use common sense data analysis. Students are snowflakes. Each reading intervention candidate will have certain strengths and weaknesses, and as a side note: the reading intervention program can’t be a cookie-cutter, lock-step, A-Z curriculum which treats all students the same. Most reading specialists recommend 80% mastery criteria on multiple measure assessments. Using the three reading program placement assessments which I recommend (and are provided below), two of the three assessments not mastered at the 80% criteria would place a student in a Tier II instructional setting; all three of the assessments not mastered at that level would place a student in a Tier I instructional setting. As another aside, the Teaching Reading Strategies program incorporates both Tier I and II instructional delivery within the same reading intervention class.
  5. Include behavioral criteria for reading program placement. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) need to be in place alongside of Response to Intervention (RtI) to form a cohesive (MTSS) Multi-Tiered System of Supports for these students. Once reading program placements have been administered and a student meets the criteria for reading intervention placement, site level decision-making regarding proper placement is key. One or two behaviorally-challenged students can disrupt the instructional delivery and prevent success in any reading intervention class.

Three Effective Reading Program Placement Assessments (for a reading intervention class with curriculum and delivery designed to teach explicit and systematic phonics, structural analysis, and fluency to increase vocabulary, improve reading comprehension, and improve spelling)

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42 audio file, print copy and consonants: 12:07 audio fileprint copy)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38 audio file, print copy)
  3. Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minute individual assessment print copy).

Note that these placement tests provide assessment-based instructional data to inform the teacher’s selection of Tier 2 (small group of 5−8 students) and Tier 3 (individualized) instruction for each student. A built-in management system provides the instructional resources which allow the teacher to simultaneously supervise small group and individualized instruction. Nine additional diagnostic assessments (audio files) are administered during the first two weeks of instruction: syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, and sight syllables. Flexible Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction is assigned according to the assessment data. All reading diagnostic data are recorded on a one page recording matrix. All spelling patterns diagnostic data are recorded on a multi-page recording matrix. The matrix facilitates assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrix also serves as the progress monitoring source.

Why not check out the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies Introductory Video (15:08)?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesIn addition

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

to the diagnostic and formative assessments, the program offers blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Teachers access five online training videos to learn how to teach each instructional component.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

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Student-Centered Reading Intervention

As a reading specialist and author of a reading intervention program, I am often asked the same question in a variety of ways: “What are the essentials of an effective reading intervention program?” “What do students need most in a successful reading intervention program?” “What are the instructional priorities in a good reading intervention program?” “We only have 30 minutes a day (or any amount) to teach our lowest readers’ what do we need to teach in that amount of time?”

This question is a real-world question, not the “In a perfect world with unlimited resources of time, money, and instructional personnel, what would be the ideal reading intervention program?”

Districts and schools wisely begin at the ideal and then adjust to realities. With apologies to my Reading Recovery colleagues, one on one reading instruction is just not practical in most settings. Too many kids, too few teachers, too little time, too little money.

So many teachers look at the Response to Intervention literature and try to apply Tier I, II, and III models to their own instructional settings. Square pegs in round holes more often than not lead to frustration and failure. While reading specialists certainly support the concept of tiered interventions, the non-purists know that implementation of any site-based reading intervention is going to need to adapt to any given number of constraints.

Instead of beginning with top-down program structure, I suggest looking bottom-up. Starting at the instructional needs of below grade level readers and establishing instructional priorities should determine the essentials of any reading intervention program. In other words, an effective site reading intervention program begins with your students. The reading intervention program at your school should probably look substantially different than that of a cross town school. A successful reading intervention program is based upon the needs of your students in your instructional setting.

An effective problem-solving approach to designing a site-based reading intervention program would include the following: 1. Identify the instructional needs. 2. Prioritize those needs. 3. Evaluate and allocate site resources. 4. Identify instructional strategies and components which can match the needs and resources. 5. Develop or purchase program materials to efficiently teach to those prioritized instructional needs. That’s student-centered reading intervention.

This student-centered approach has many benefits.

It is realistic. Many districts and schools purchase time-consuming (and expensive) reading intervention programs such as Language!® Live and READ 180 Next Generation with the best intentions and the firmest commitments to teach these programs with fidelity. However, the site resources in terms of time, personnel, and on-going staff development do not match the program requisites. The life span of most reading intervention curricula is quite short. Schools wind up dropping the programs, carving up the programs, adapting the programs, or using parts of the programs over the years. Most every elementary and middle school site has at least a few reading programs collecting dust on the shelves. The point is that school resources change more often than student needs.

It is flexible. The instructional needs of students do change over time. School populations shift, different instructional trends in, say primary grades, do affect what older students know and don’t know, and school resources are always in flux. Teachers transfer in and out of grade level assignments and schools. Assessment-based program design can adapt to change.

It is results-based. One important given of the Response to Intervention movement is a pragmatic approach to reading intervention. “If it ain’t workin’, try something else.” A student-centered response to intervention program design is not locked in to an established program. If progress monitoring indicates that only minimal gains are being made in any given instructional priority, the instructional strategy and/or delivery needs to change.

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies program provides student-centered Tier 2 and Tier 3 reading intervention to struggling readers in

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

a half-year intensive program (70 minutes per day, 5 days per week) or full-year program (55 minutes per day, 5 days per week). Students receive whole class direct instruction, as well as small group and individualized instruction based upon assessment-based needs. The Teaching Reading Strategies 13 diagnostic assessments (audio files) are administered during the first two weeks of instruction: fluency, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, spelling patterns, syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, and sight syllables and inform teachers as to the instructional priorities of their students. The formative assessments in each instructional activity, workshop, and worksheet help teachers monitor progress and adjust instructional accordingly. Complete training videos and the no-prep design make this reading intervention program a teacher favorite. Check out the Teaching Reading Strategies Introductory Video (15:08) to learn more.

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Teaching Reading Strategies and RtI

To understand how the Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program aligns with the Response to Intervention (RtI) model, a brief orientation to the educational alphabetic jargon may be helpful. Increasingly, both educational literature as well as school district and site implementation are combining RtI and PRIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support) into a comprehensive (MTSS) Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Now RtI is generally used to reference the academic piece of the intervention puzzle.

According to the well-respected RtI Action Network, “Response to Intervention (RtI) is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs. The RtI process begins with high-quality instruction and universal screening of all children in the general education classroom. Struggling learners are provided with interventions at increasing levels of intensity to accelerate their rate of learning. These services may be provided by a variety of personnel, including general education teachers, special educators, and specialists. Progress is closely monitored to assess both the learning rate and level of performance of individual students. Educational decisions about the intensity and duration of interventions are based on individual student response to instruction. RtI is designed for use when making decisions in both general education and special education, creating a well-integrated system of instruction and intervention guided by child outcome data.” http://www.rtinetwork.org/learn/what/whatisrti

In the three-tiered RtI model, Tier 1 targets a whole class and focuses on differentiating instruction to teach the core curriculum; Tier 2 targets small groups (5−8 students) to teach to assessment-based deficits; and Tier 3 targets individuals to teach to assessment-based deficits.

The Teaching Reading Strategies program provides both Tier 2 and Tier 3 reading intervention to struggling readers in a half-year intensive program (70 minutes per day, 5 days per week) or full-year program (55 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Students receive whole class direct instruction, as well as small group and individualized instruction based upon assessment-based needs. The Teaching Reading Strategies delivery model is teacher-based, not computer-based (except for the online modeled fluency readings).

The Teaching Reading Strategies program uses 3 assessments for program placement:

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42 audio file and consonants: 12:07 audio file)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38 audio file)
  3. Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minute individual assessment). The placement tests provide assessment-based instructional data to inform the teacher’s selection of Tier 2 (small group of 5−8 students) and Tier 3 (individualized) instruction for each student. A built-in management system provides the instructional resources which allow the teacher to simultaneously supervise small group and individualized instruction.

Nine additional diagnostic assessments (audio files) are administered during the first two weeks of instruction: syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, and sight syllables. Flexible Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction is assigned according to the assessment data. All diagnostic data is recorded on a one page recording matrix. The matrix facilitates assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrix also serves as the progress monitoring source.

Program Components

Whole Class Instruction (18−23 minutes per day)

  • Animal Sound-Spelling Cards
  • Sound−by−Sound Spelling Blending
  • Vowel Transformers
  • Syllable Blending and Syllable Division Worksheets

Small Group Reading Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

Phonemic Awareness

  • Alphabetic Awareness Workshops
  • Rhyming Awareness Workshops
  • Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation Workshops
  • Phonemic Isolation Workshops
  • Phonemic Blending Workshops
  • Phonemic Segmenting Workshops

Phonics

  • Short Vowels
  • Silent Final e
  • Consonant Digraphs
  • Consonant Blends
  • Long Vowels and Vowel Digraphs
  • Vowel Diphthongs
  • r and l−controlled Vowels

Fluency

  • 43 Animal Fluency Online Modeled Readings (each recorded at three different reading speeds)
  • Fluency Grouped Practice
  • 43 Fluency Articles and Timing Charts

Individualized Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

  • Spelling Pattern Worksheets
  • Reading and Spelling Game Cards Games
  • Context Clues Vocabulary Strategies and Practice
  • SCRIP Comprehension Worksheets

Training Modules

Both new and veteran teachers will appreciate the extensive video training resources of the Teaching Reading Strategies program. Videos are provided for each instructional component.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

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Schoolwide Independent Reading Program

As an MA reading specialist, author, and frequent blogger on independent reading, I am constantly receiving posts and emails regarding the Accelerated Reading™ program. I frequently joke that I wish I had had the foresight to develop an AR-style program years ago. I’d be living in my castle in the Loire Valley fending off critics when not visiting my offshore tax haven in the Cayman Islands. But I’d feel a bit guilty knowing that schools could implement their own independent reading program for free (relatively speaking).

However, I’m pretty sure that the effectiveness of my AR-style program would not have been judged as following:

“Accelerated Reader was found to have no discernible effects on reading fluency, mixed effects on comprehension, and potentially positive effects on general reading achievement.” What Works Clearinghouse

or

“A hypothetical example may help us understand whether AR should be used or not. Drug A and Drug B are both designed to cure a specific disease. A is known to be effective with highly beneficial long-term effects. There is little evidence for or against B, but suggestive evidence that it may be harmful in the long run. A drug company produces AB, more expensive than A alone, and justifies it by providing studies showing that AB tends to be effective. A scientist reviewing the research shows that no study has compared AB to A alone. Clearly such studies are called for before the medical establishment endorses or even approves AB. A is providing access and time to read. B is tests and rewards. Accelerated Reader is AB.” Dr. Stephen Krashen

So here’s a recent post to my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article and my response including a free alternative for an effective schoolwide independent reading program:

“I am a new principal of an elementary school that uses AR and honestly am not a fan however my teachers “love” it.  I’m really puzzled by what they “love” about it.  Our school spends over 5K for this program a year which in my opinion could be better used purchasing more books for the library or assisting teachers with classroom libraries.  How do I get my teachers/staff as well as parents to see this?”

Yes, many teachers and parents love the AR program. Why so?

  1. It’s well-organized.
  2. It requires no prep–just place and use.
  3. It’s motivational and competitive.
  4. It gets kids to read.
  5. It works with so many books at so many reading levels.
  6. The school has been using it for years. If you stopped using it now, all the previous money spent would be “wasted.”
  7. Many other schools use it.
  8. Teachers, administrators, and parents know of no other schoolwide independent reading programs.

Of course, many teachers and parents (add in students, administrators, and reading specialists) do not love the AR program (Check out the comments on my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article for plenty of examples.

And, yes, I completely agree that the 5K per year could be better used purchasing more books for the library or assisting teachers with classroom libraries.” So here’s my answer to your final question: “How do I get my teachers/staff as well as parents to see this?”

By offering a more enticing alternative.

How to Implement a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP)

(Apparently every schoolwide independent reading program must have an acronym (AR, SSR, DEAR, etc.) Were I smart, it would be named the PIRP (Pennington Independent Reading Program).

  1. Buy tons of good books.
  2. Teach students and parents how to select appropriate reading level books.
  3. Teach students, parents, and teachers where and when to read books.
  4. Teach students and parents how to read and discuss books.
  5. Teach parents, teachers, librarians, and administrators how to motivate independent reading. 

1. Buy tons of good books. A good school librarian is an indispensable asset. Good librarians and teachers read what their students read and pay attention to what their students are and should be reading. They are “in the know.” What works for their school culture is not the same as what works for other schools. They pay attention to publisher marketing, but they exercise solid judgment. Librarians and teachers are patient and crafty. They know that good school and classroom libraries aren’t “built in a day.” They know when and where to shop for bargains. They know how to solicit parent and community donations. They know how to lobby administrators and district personnel for book money. They buy a wide variety of books to appeal to the interests and needs of their readers. For example, a shameless publisher plug: they buy low level, high interest decodable books for older remedial readers, such as the author’s Sam and Friends Phonics Books.

2. Teach students and parents how to select the right books. We really need to take the mystery out of book selection. There is no such thing as a sixth grade reading level. Lexile levels do not provide adequate criteria for book selection. Same for the Degrees of Reading Power (DRP), Fleish-Kincaid Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Book List, Accelerated Reader ATOS, Reading Recovery Levels, Fry’s Readability, John’s Basic Reading Inventory, standardized test data, etc.

The two key criteria for effective book selection are reader interest and word recognition level. Reader Interest: If the student is not interested in the genre, subject matter, author, book title, or book jacket, it’s the wrong book. Students have their own literary tastes, but also like what their peers like. Adults can expose students to new tastes, but cannot make a seventh grader like Pride and Prejudice. Choice is important, but within certain common sense limitations: Word Recognition Level: On the technical side, books are made up of words. Readers have to understand words to understand sentences and ideas. Glad to clear that one up for you:)  Students need to understand about 95% of the words to comprehend and enjoy what they are reading. The 5% unknown words are just the right amount for vocabulary acquisition through application of context clue strategies. For how to select books using this criteria, click here; for why the 5% is the optimal percentage, click here. So simple, but effective. And, most importantly, both parents and students can apply this criteria to help select appropriate books. No rocket science required.

3. Teach students, parents, and teachers where and when to read books. I’ll step on a few toes with my recommendations here. An effective schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP) does not have to involve independent reading at school. I’m not a fan of wasting instructional time with what can best be done at home: independent reading and discussion of that reading. For my lively debate on the merits of reading at home with Dr. Stephen Krashen (Free Voluntary Reading) and Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer), click here. Teachers just have too much to teach and too little time to do so. With the proper student and parent training, independent reading is the perfect homework.

4. Teach students and parents how to read and discuss books. Without proper training, a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP) will fail. Parents are the best resources we have to monitor and engage students with their independent reading. Reading at the 5% unknown word level will help students increase vocabulary, but we also need to increase reading comprehension. Teachers need to teach independent reading comprehension strategies and practice these in the classroom; however, the extensive practice needs to take place at home with daily student-parent discussions of what the child has read that day during independent reading homework. I recommend a 3-minute student-led book discussion with the parent following 20 minutes of independent or guided reading for primary children and 30 minutes for older readers, four or five days per week. To guide independent reading and the book discussion, I recommend using the SCRIP Bookmarks. Yes, you have permission to print, share, and distribute these.

The SCRIP acronym refers to the five reading comprehension cueing strategies which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Good readers learn how to carry on an internal dialog while they read. To train students and parents how to self-monitor and increase reading comprehension, click here for five lessons from the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. These SCRIP strategies provide teachers with the language of instruction to teach and model reading comprehension. Librarians can use these to do effective book talks.

5. Teach parents, teachers, librarians, and administrators how to motivate independent reading. 

Yes, I recommend accountability for independent reading homework. I have parents award points for the quality of the student-led book discussion. I also “require” the same amount of reading and discussions over vacations and summer recess. Call me a fascist.

I take a balanced approach and recommend such in the development of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). On the one hand, we want our students to become lifelong readers. We want them to intrinsically enjoy reading and choose to read on their own. See Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards for the pitfalls of reading incentives. Also take a look at the heart-breaking teacher, parent, and student comments as to how AR tests, grades for books read, and reading motivational ploys have destroyed students’ love of reading following my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article.

I do see the value in some marketing and promotion of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). Students work well when pursuing goals and everyone likes rewards. Students also like competition. I would offer these guidelines from years of experience “running” IRPs as a a school reading specialist: If you’re going to reward based upon quantitative data, do so by page numbers read, not by books read. Emphasize class competitions, not individual competitions. Reward with literacy-related incentives, e.g. books, bookmarks, posters, not toys or candy. Get your students to review books in class, on schoolwide posters and in newsletters, and especially in the library. Keep schoolwide competitions limited in time: Several two-month competitions or challenges work much better than one year-long competition or challenge.

Would love to see your thoughts.

 

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Conjunction Junction

The old Schoolhouse Rock song poses the question: “Conjunction junction, what’s your function?” A clever rhyme, but the rest of the lyric provides little help to answer the question. Here’s the answer with some memory tricks to help your students remember and use the three types of conjunctions to add sentence variety to their writing.

Coordinating Conjunctions: Used to join words, phrases, and clauses and form compound sentences

FANBOYS

For And Nor But Or Yes So

Correlative Conjunctions: Paired conjunctions used to join words, phrases, and clauses

either, or             neither, nor         whether, or         both, and             not, but

such, that            as, as                    rather, than        as many, as         no sooner, than

Subordinating Conjunctions: Used to begin dependent clauses and form complex sentences

Bud is wise,

but hot!

AAA

WWW

Before, unless, despite (in spite of), in order that, so, whileif, since, even though (if), 

because, until, that, how, once, than, 

After, Although (though), As (as if, as long as, as though), 

Whether, When (whenever), Where (wherever)

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets

High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

Quite often I get emails from both parents and teachers regarding what to do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension. As a reading specialist, I have had the opportunity to serve students and teachers in assignments at the K-6, middle school, high school, and community college levels. I, too, have struggled with students in the same predicament at each level. Following is a nice representative sample of parent comments on my blog and teacher comments on another popular blog with some solutions to the problem:

Hello, I was hoping you could give me some advice.  I have an 8 year old daughter who can read orally very well.  She also aces all her spelling tests.  When someone reads aloud to her, she can summarize what was read very well.  But when she reads silently to herself, she doesn’t seem to absorb much at all.  I will have her read a short, at or below grade level paragraph in head her, sometimes 2 or 3 times, and she often can’t answer simple questions about it.  I’ve stressed making sure that she is going slowly, and actually READING each word and not just SEEING it.  I gather this means her comprehension must be rather low, and I was wondering if you have any advice for how to support growth in this area?  Her grades are average or above average in most areas in school, but as she gets older and is transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” she is really struggling, and I would like to know how to support her.  Thank you!

Jessi

On the “A-Z Teacher Stuff” blog, the question is explored by both primary and elementary teachers:

I have a student that scored at a mid-4th grade level in reading fluency and yet her comprehension is at a high 1st grade level.
She loves to read but has a very hard time with even simple recall.
Could this be an indicator of a disability? What can I do to help her?

Not necessarily an indicator of a disability…I can fluently read a medical text or legal documents or ‘Le Petit Prince’ in French (or the more than 2000 page healthcare bill)…doesn’t mean I comprehend all of it…
Your student should be reading books that s/he can read fluently and with good comprehension…reading IS meaning…anything else is ‘word calling’…

I have a student who is very similar. He can read challenging texts fluently and with good accuracy, but when I ask him to retell or even orally answer basic questions from the story he has difficulty. Now this same child can do written comprehension tasks wonderfully when he is given the opportunity to go back to the text. He then demonstrates higher level thinking skills and a deep understanding of the books we read, just not immediately after an initial read.

In his reading group I have been spending a lot of time talking about how readers need to think about what they are reading as they read rather than JUST saying the words correctly and sounding smooth. I would suggest breaking down stories into smaller chunks, such as reading one paragraph/page at a time then checking for understanding by retelling or questioning.

Some five years ago I wrote an article about the same issue, but focused on the the over-use and over-dependence upon fluency practice in reading instruction. My related article regarding the a popular fluency program stirred up quite a fuss. I was forced to delete after a threatening letter promising legal action from that company.  However, the article did not focus attention on what parents and teachers need to do to address the problem.

First of all, a few important caveats… 

Reading is thinking. Cognitive challenges certainly limit comprehension. A student with an IQ of 85 is not going to have to same capacity for understanding text as a student with an IQ of 135. Sad, but true. English language learners have three challenges to comprehension: academic vocabulary, knowledge of American idioms, and knowledge of English grammar. Special education students may have auditory or visual processing disorders which require work-arounds to comprehension. Children with physical impairments, such as chronic inner ear infections, tend to have reading challenges. Finally, socio-enonomic status definitely can inhibit comprehension if a child has minimal access to books and limited conversations with literate adults.

Reading is a skill. We know a lot more about the connection between the alphabetic code and reading comprehension than we used to; however, we still have a long way to go. What we do know is that there is a statistically significant correlation between good decoders and good “comprehenders.” Children without phonemic awareness do not make the connection between the alphabetic code and words. Children without a sophisticated knowledge of the alphabetic code (phonics) struggle with a “sight words only” band-aid to reading approach when they transition from simple K-2 narrative to grades 3-adult multi-syllabic expository reading. By hook or by crook, every child needs to develop decoding skills. Lastly, the transition from reading out loud to silent reading does not magically occur for every child at the beginning of third grade as we have traditionally believed. Let’s spend a bit of time exploring this…

In an article published on April 21, 2016, Kristin Coyne, discusses the little-understood transition from oral to silent reading.

“Researchers at the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) at Florida State University will tackle that paradox over the next four years. Funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, a team headed by FCRR researcher Young-Suk Kim will examine a poorly understood area of literacy: the relationship between oral and silent reading, and how those skills, in turn, relate to reading comprehension.”

We do know that most children seem to transition from out loud reading to silent reading by subvocalization. In other words, they say the words “in their heads.”

“’What we ultimately want is instantaneous recognition without subvocalization because that’s faster,” Kim said. “But we don’t know how that process happens.’

Until recently, measuring silent reading was difficult: After all, you can’t hear the child’s progress. But researchers can now see this progress, with the help of advanced eye-tracking technologies that follow students’ eye movements as they read text on a computer screen.

‘It’s very fascinating how precisely we can measure this,’ Kim said. ‘We can even determine exactly which letter a student is focusing on.'”

Notice that our amazing brains do process at the individual letter level and not at the whole word or sentence level as some of the “whole language” advocates used to argue.

Having addressed the important caveats, we can get the crux of the issue: What can we, as parents and teachers, do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension?

1. Diagnose and eliminate subvocalization . As a parent or teacher, do give a diagnostic fluency assessment. Although I mentioned above the problem of over-dependence upon fluency practice, some fluency practice is certainly important at all grade levels. During the fluency assessment, in addition to recording miscues, words read accurately, and total number of words read in a two-minute timing, observe the child’s mouth. If the child is mumbling or moving lips, he or she is subvocalizing. THE FIX: Tell the child (and parent) that he or she is doing so and that good silent readers avoid this “bad habit.” Suggest reading with a pencil between the teeth or lightly clenching teeth until the habit is broken. Most children only need a few reading sessions with this simple “therapy” to fix the problem.

2. Diagnose and eliminate multiple eye movements. During the fluency assessment notice what the child is doing with his or her eye movements. If the child is moving eyes noticeably from left to right, it may indicate a tracking problem. Good readers look at the center of the page and use their peripheral vision to attend to letter correspondences from left to right. Poor readers have multiple eye fixations per line. Again, researchers have found statistically significant correlations between readers with minimal eye fixations per line and good “comprehenders.” THE FIX: Tell the child (and parent) that he or she has too much eye movement per line and should focus on the center and “look out to the left and to the right” as he or she reads. Demonstrate how easy it is to “see things to the left and right by looking at the center” by having the child touch hands and slowly move them apart to test peripheral vision. Teach the child to place the hand (not a finger) in the center, underneath the line being read and drop down as the text is being read. *Note: Never have the child point at each individual word. If the center of the line hand tracking does not work, a referral to a certified vision trainer (optometrist or opthamologist) may be required. Be careful on this one. Vision therapy can be helpful, but should not be a “once per week for three years commitment.” Buyer beware.

3. Talk to the child about what reading means. Often, children are so focused on the skill that they don’t focus on the thinking. Simple, but true. Good decoding skills are not an end in themselves, but should make reading for meaning effortless. Automaticity is the goals of phonics instruction. THE FIX: Tell the child, “When you are reading, concentrate on what the person is saying to you.” Teach the child to pause after each sentence to ask and answer that question. Transition to the paragraph.

4. Teach students to make a movie in their heads as they read. Visualization is a powerful aid to reading comprehension for both narrative and expository text. THE FIX: Read my article: Interactive Reading: Making a Movie in Your Head.

5. Many children fail to comprehend text because they daydream as they read. In other words, they lose attention to the text. Students who use self-questioning strategies develop a greater understanding of the text than passive readers. THE FIX: Teach the child how to use the SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies. Each strategy emphasizes internal self-monitoring of text and the article has some great free bookmarks to download.

6. Poor readers often just don’t know what good readers do as they silently read. THE FIX: Show the child  what a good reader does by using Think-Alouds in which the parent or teach reads silently out loud. In other words, you read the words of the text and employ #s 3, 4, and 5 above to interrupt the text to capture its meaning. Have the child do the “think aloud” for you and other children. Emphasize how quickly the brain makes these applications so that reading continuity is not compromised.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

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30 Spelling Questions, Answers and Resources

In the midst of the 1980s whole language movement, California State Superintendent of Schools Bill Honig strongly encouraged principals to confiscate spelling workbooks from their teachers. Even today, spelling instruction remains a contentious topic. No other literacy skill seems to run the complete gamut of instructional implementation from emphasis to de-emphasis. Following are the 30 spelling questions, answers, and resources to help teachers get a handle on what does and what does not work in spelling instruction.

Now, with my ambitious goal of providing 30 questions, answers, and resources, I’ve got to be concise. I won’t be going deep into orthographic research (much of which is contradictory and incomplete) or into detailed instructional strategies. Also, a disclaimer is certainly needed: I am a teacher-author of several spelling programs, some of which I will shamelessly promote at the end of the article. But, to be fair, I do have some relevant expertise and experience in spelling to share. I have my masters degree as a reading specialist (in fact I did my masters thesis on the instructional spelling and reading strategies used in the the 19th Century McGuffey Readers). More importantly, I have served as an elementary and secondary reading specialist and have taught spelling at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels. So, enough for the credibility portion of the article and onto why you are reading and what you hope to learn, validate, invalidate, and apply in your classroom.

Why Teach Spelling?

1. Why is spelling such a big deal? If Einstein couldn’t spell, why does it matter? Won’t spell check the best way to solve spelling problems? Whether justified or not, others will judge our students by their spelling ability. Spelling accuracy is perceived as a key indicator of literacy. And spelling problems can inhibit writing coherency and reading facility. Spell check programs do not solve spelling issues. They  just takes too long to correct frequent misspellings and cannot account for homographs.

2. Can you teach spelling? Aren’t some people naturally good or bad spellers? Isn’t it learned through extensive reading and writing? Yes, poor spellers and good spellers can be taught to improve their spelling abilities. No brain research has demonstrated a genetic predisposition for good or bad spelling. There is no spelling gene. No, spelling isn’t learned through reading and writing, but there are positive correlations among the disciplines. They are each separate skills and thinking processes and need specific instruction and practice accordingly.

Whose Job Is It to Teach Spelling and to Whom Should We Teach It?

3. Isn’t spelling the job of primary teachers? Please, God, let this be so. Yes and no. Primary teachers are responsible for much of the decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) foundations, but intermediate/upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers have plenty of morphological (word parts), etymological (silent letters, accent placements, schwa spellings, added and dropped connectives), and derivational (Greek, Latin, French, British, Spanish, Italian, German language influences) spelling patterns to justify teaching spelling patterns at their respective grade levels.

4. Should content teachers teach spelling? Yes. The Common Core State Standards emphasize cross-curricular literacy instruction. Upper elementary teachers in departmentalized structures, middle school, and high school teachers should certainly come to consensus regarding spelling instruction and expectations.

5. Should we teach spelling to special education students? Yes, even though spelling is primarily an auditory skill and many special educations have auditory processing challenges. These students require more practice, not less. Gone are the days when special education teachers said Johnny or Susie can’t learn spelling. however, some visual study strategies do make sense.

6. Should we teach spelling to English-language learners? Yes. We cripple our English-language learners when we solely focus on reading skills and vocabulary acquisition. Besides, Spanish has remarkably similar orthographic patterns as English.

How Does Spelling Connect to Other Literacy Skills?

7. How are spelling and phonemic awareness related? The National Reading Panel stressed the statistically significant correlation. Spelling is an auditory, not a visual skill, and so the connection between phonemic awareness, which is the ability to recognize and manipulate speech sounds is clear. Check out the author’s free phonemic awareness assessments.

8. How are spelling and reading related? Spelling (encoding) and reading (decoding) are both sides of the same coin. So many of our syllable pronunciations depend upon spelling rules. Check out this relationship in these teachable resources: Ten English Accent Rules, Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules, and How to Teach Syllabication: The Syllable Rules.

9. How are spelling and vocabulary related? Spelling is highly influenced by morphemes (meaning-based syllables) and language derivations. Read this article on How to Differentiate Spelling and Vocabulary Instruction for more.

How Should We Teach Spelling?

10. How much of a priority should spelling instruction take in terms of instructional minutes? I suggest 5 minutes for the spelling pretest (record on your phone to maintain an efficient pace and to use for make-ups); 5 minutes to create a personal spelling list; 10 minutes to complete and correct a spelling pattern sort; 10 minutes of spelling word study (perfect for homework); and 5 minutes for the spelling posttest (every other week for secondary students).

11. Should we teach spelling rules? Absolutely. Just because the English sound-spelling system works in only about 50% of spellings does not mean that there are not predictable spelling patterns to increase that percentage of spelling predictability and accuracy. Although the sound-spelling patterns are the first line of defense, the conventional spelling rules that work most all of the time are a necessary back-up. Check out the free Eight Great Spelling Rules, each with memorable mp3 songs and raps to help you and your students master the conventional spelling rules.

12. What about teaching “No Excuse” spelling words and using Word Walls? These can supplement, but not replace, a spelling patterns program. Teaching and posting the there-their-they’re words directly and emphasizing these common misspellings makes sense.

13. What about outlaw (non-decodable) spelling words? Using these words as a resource to supplement unknown words on the weekly spelling pretest is highly effective. I suggest you “kill two birds with one stone” by giving this multiple choice Outlaws Word Assessment for reading diagnosis and then the same list for spelling diagnosis.

14. What about using high frequency words to teach spelling? As a supplementary resource to the personal spelling list unknown high frequency words, such as the Dolch List, can certainly be included. But using high frequency words as weekly spelling lists involves learning in isolation. Plus these lists include both decodable and non-decodable words. Parents can certainly assess their own children and provide results to the teacher.

15. What about using commonly confused words (homonyms) to teach spelling? Some words look the same or nearly the same (homographs) or sound the same or nearly the same (homonyms) and so are easily confused by developing spellers and adult spellers alike. Check about this great list of Easily Confused or Misused Words.

16. What about teaching spelling through a Spelling Pattern Sort? Extremely valuable and a necessary instructional activity for any spelling patterns program. Closed spelling sorts based upon spelling patterns are certainly more effective than open sorts.

“Students can… spell words that they don’t think they know how to spell by comparing words through sorts. Knowing how to spell familiar words gives the students reference points for knowing how to begin spelling new words. Here are just a few of the sorts that students can experience:

  • Sort beginning sounds
  • Sort Digraphs from Blends
  • Sort long vowels from short vowels
  • Sort words with closed syllables from words with open syllables
  • Sort words that double the ending consonant before adding –ing with those that do not
  • Sort prefixes and suffixes
  • Sort base words and root words

Teachers can even combine a sound sort with a letter pattern sort. The list goes on and on.” Sandy Hoffman

17. How should learning styles inform spelling instruction? Good teachers always use multiple modalities instruction. But, the research and practical application of VAKT is dubious at best and has no application to spelling. Teachers gave up teaching students to trace letters years ago. Spelling is primarily an auditory skill, so if there are auditory processing challenges, special attention and additional practice will be necessary. Check out this article titled Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences for more.

18.Why aren’t the Common Core Standards more specific about spelling instruction? When establishing instructional priorities to address these spelling Standards, many teachers have placed spelling (Standard L. 2) on the back-burner. To wit, the intermediate elementary Standards: (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e) “Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.”) and middle school Standards: (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b “Spell correctly.”) However, the primary Standards are much more specific and the authors make a solid case in Appendix A for the importance of spelling instruction.

19. Is spelling a good subject for homework? Yes. Parents can certainly supervise spelling sorts practice, creation of the personal spelling list, and even assist the teacher with diagnostic spelling tests of supplementary spelling word lists.

What about Individualizing Spelling Instruction?

20. What about qualitative spelling inventories? Qualitative spelling inventories accurately reflect and diagnose developmental spelling stages or indicate broad spelling strengths and weaknesses; however, their lack of assessing specific sound-spelling patterns make specific teaching applications problematic.

21. Is there a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment? Check out the author’s free diagnostic spelling assessment. This 64 word assessment with recording matrix is comprehensive and based upon the sound-spelling patterns to be mastered in K-3rd grade.

22. How should teachers individualize spelling instruction? Give a spelling patterns diagnostic assessment. Teach to the indicated individual unmastered spelling patterns. Targeted Spelling Pattern Worksheets with formative assessments help focus instruction on diagnostically determined spelling deficits for each student. Students catch up while they keep up with grade level spelling patterns. Having students create personal spelling lists from the weekly spelling pretest is also excellent individualized instruction. Check out the author’s eighth grade Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Matrix. Now, if you just had the corresponding spelling pattern worksheets to teach to these deficits…

When Should We Teach What Spelling?

23. Can spelling instruction be defined by grade levels? Grade levels may not be easily divisible by grade levels, but we do need an instructional scope and sequence for spelling instruction. Here’s a For those grades 4−8 teachers who don’t wish to re-invent the wheel, here is the comprehensive TLS Instructional Scope and Sequence Grades 4-8 of the entire Language Strand (grammar and usage, mechanics, knowledge of use, spelling, and vocabulary)., which includes spelling patterns for grades 4-8

What is the Best Way to Study Spelling?

24. What spelling review games are most effective and fun? Check out these Spelling Review Games based upon spelling patterns.

25. What about writing spelling words over and over again? No. No. No.

Does the Weekly Spelling Test Make Sense?

26. Does the weekly spelling test help students learn spelling words? Yes. The research is clear on this one: the test-study-test instructional approach results in spelling achievement. But, the weekly posttest is probably not efficient for upper elementary and older students. Biweekly posttests work well, but only if the teacher adopts a personal spelling list approach based upon weekly diagnostic assessments.

27. What kinds of spelling tests make the most sense? A Weekly Spelling Test based upon a focused spelling pattern allows the teacher to teach the spelling pattern and provide practice opportunities to their students to apply these patterns in spelling sorts.

28. Can the weekly spelling pretest be used as a diagnostic assessment to differentiate instruction? Yes. Dictate 15-20 spelling pattern words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students. After the dictations, have students self-correct from teacher dictation (primary) or display (older students) of the correct spellings.

Students create personal spelling list in this priority order.

  • Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students add on up to five spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on up to five teacher-corrected spelling errors found in student writing.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select and use words from other resources linked in this article.

What Criteria Should Teachers Use to Pick a Good Spelling Program?

29. Here’s a nice set of criteria based upon “A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM” and “A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM.”

30. Give me an example of a good one!

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

DSI-C

Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

As slices of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs, Differentiated Spelling Instruction provides quality spelling programs for grades 4-8.

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How to Teach Grammar to Primary Students

For those of you primary teachers wondering how to teach the rigorous grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards… you are not alone. As the author of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) (grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary) program, I get the “What would you recommend for teaching these Standards to primary students? question quite often. Debbie’s post below is in response to my article, “Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work.”

Hi Mark,

I hope you will respond to this via email.
What do you suggest for teaching grammar skills in 1st grade? I am moving from 3rd/4th, where I was lucky enough to read your article years ago and dumped DOL at that time. With success. I am moving to 1st grade next year and am not sure what effective grammar teaching/learning looks like at that level.
Thank you for any feedback. I have a principal who supports getting rid of DOL even though only a few of us have done that. I think he would be happy to see something more effective replace it in primary grades.

Thanks again,

Debbie

Beginning now in kindergarten, the Common Core Language Strand Standards start getting extremely rigorous and very quickly. Middle school and upper elementary teachers are constantly shocked when they discover that what they once introduced as a new Standard at their respective grade levels is now introduced in, say, first grade. For  example, check out this first grade Language Standard (1d):

Use personal, possessive, and indefinite pronouns (e.g., I, me, my; they, them, their; anyone, everything).

Having taught English extensively at both the middle and high school levels (as well as serving as an elementary reading specialist), I will assure you that secondary teachers still “introduce” instruction in these three pronoun usages.

One approach I would recommend is simple sentence diagramming. Learning the functions of the parts of speech in the context of sentence structure by seeing their visual representations and manipulating the word choices and sentence structure makes a lot of sense. Check out “Does Sentence Diagramming Make Sense?” and “How to Teach Sentence Diagramming” to understand the whys and hows of this traditional approach to grammar.

But for those of you thinking that some primary students would not have the fine motor skills to draw traditional sentence diagrams… I would wholeheartedly agree. Tom Diagram2However, if teachers draw or tape the lines, sentence diagramming makes a whole lot of sense. Use blue tape on tables or on individual whiteboards to draw the sentence diagram.

For example, you could use simple fill in the blank sentence diagrams and pre-printed cards to manipulate on the big whiteboard (for the teacher) and on tables or individual whiteboards for students.  Use blue tape for the horizontal and vertical lines or printed sheets of paper if kids are advanced enough to write out the words with pencil or dry erase markers.

Check out this instructional approach to learning the functions of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and simple adverbs and how these parts of speech serve as sentence subjects, predicates, objects, and modifiers:

Tom eats.

Tom eats cake.

Tom eats yummy cake.

Tom often eats yummy cake.

Tom ate.

Tom ate cake.

Tom ate yummy cake.

Tom often ate yummy cake.

Tom will eat.

Tom will eat cake.

Tom will eat yummy cake.

Tom often will eat yummy cake.Tom Diagram

Lots of word-building possibilities with this instructional approach as well:

She sips.

She sips milk.

She sips her milk.

She sips her cold milk.

She loudly sips her cold milk.

He slurps, drinks (sight word), gulps, chugs, tastes.

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, taste juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, taste their juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, taste their tasty, yucky, big, little (sight word), icy juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, quietly, happily, sadly, slowly, quickly taste their tasty, yucky, big, little (sight word), icy juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

This instructional approach is also great for sentence building (think “add on an adjective or adverb”), vocabulary development (think “add on a prefix or suffix”), reading (think outlaw words, vowel sounds, r-controlled, and consonant blends, and spelling (think plurals and inflections). Plus, students are learning all of these skills  in the writing context.

Business size game cards of the following would be perfect for this instructional activity (See below 🙂)

  • 43 animal sound-spelling vowel, vowel team, and consonant cards
  • 45 consonant blend cards
  • 60 alphabet cards (including upper and lower case with font variations)
  • 90 rimes cards with example words
  • 108 sight-spelling “outlaw” word cards
  • 60 high frequency Greek and Latin prefix and suffix cards with definitions and example words
  • 60 vowel and vowel team spelling cards
  • 90 consonant and consonant blend spelling cards
  • 30 commonly confused homonyms with context clue sentences
  • 60 most-often misspelled challenge word cards

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, sells these game card sets as one component of his Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. Mark is also the author of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary programs.

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How to Teach Vocabulary

How to Teach Vocabulary asks and provides possible answers to the How Do the Common Core Authors Suggest We Teach Vocabulary?  Why Should We Teach Explicit Vocabulary? Won’t Students Learn More from Independent Reading? Which Vocabulary Words Should We Teach? To Whom Should We Teach Academic Vocabulary? How Much Class Time does it take to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? Disclaimer: The author has published several vocabulary resources.

How Do the Common Core Authors Suggest We Teach Vocabulary?

The Common Core authors include vocabulary instruction in both sets of Reading Standards and in the Language Strand. The Language Strand includes Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.); Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.); Language Resources (L.4.c.d.); Figures of Speech (L.5.a.); Word Relationships (L.5.b.); Connotations (L.5.c.); and Academic Language Words (L.6.0) for each grade level.

Teaching context clues is just as important for writing development as they are for reading development. Check out these context clues strategies to improve your student’s efficiency in vocabulary acquisition.

Language play not only makes instruction enjoyable, it also reinforces vocabulary knowledge and expands word knowledge. Check out these fun vocabulary games.

Why Should We Teach Explicit Vocabulary? Isn’t Isolated Vocabulary Instruction a Big “No No?” Won’t Students Learn More from Independent Reading?

Besides the fact that the Common Core authors specifically include Standards which required direct instruction, it just makes sense that some direct instruction will be necessary. We’re not suggesting long lists of isolated words, though some memorization is important.

Independent reading certainly produces the bulk of our Tier I and many Tier II words, but some of the latter require in-depth understanding.

Which Vocabulary Words Should We Teach?

In Appendix A the authors discuss academic language and suggest that students get the most “bang for the buck” out of teaching Tier 2 words. An amazing list developed by academic word frequency can help teachers prioritize non-domain specific words that are truly cross-curricular.

Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes make up at least one syllable of 50% of dictionary words. But which should students know and at what grade level. Check out these frequency studies of the most often used word parts and the grades 4-8 instructional scope and sequence for vocabulary instruction. Knowing how to teach these word parts so that students will be able to learn related words is critically important.

To Whom Should We Teach Academic Vocabulary?

The short answer is every student. Teaching only survival vocabulary to English language learners, special education students, and remedial reading students is handicapping the very students who need to power of words most. We have to avoid the “soft bigotry of low expectations” (Michael Gerson).

How Much Class Time does it take to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards?

Most English-language specialists suggest that short, interactive vocabulary lessons make sense. Adding just 20 minutes per week practice, say 10 minutes twice per week, can make an enormous difference. Check out this sensible weekly instructional plan.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

For teachers looking only for a solid one-year vocabulary program, check out the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits (grades 4-8). The 56 Vocabulary Worksheets include

Pennington Publishing's Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.); Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.); Language Resources (L.4.c.d.); Figures of Speech (L.5.a.); Word Relationships (L.5.b.); Connotations (L.5.c.); and Academic Language Words (L.6.0). Students learn ten Tier Two and Tier Three words (the words recommended in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects) each week. Want to check out sample lessons? Preview This Book.

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How to Teach Writing Mechanics

How to Teach Writing Mechanics asks and provides possible answers to the What is (and isn’t) Writing Mechanics, Why Teach Writing Mechanics? When Should We Teach Writing Mechanics? What Writing Mechanics Should We Teach? How Should We Teach Writing Mechanics? How Much Class Time for Writing Mechanics? questions related to teaching the nuts and bolts of punctuation, capitalization, formatting, citations, quotations, etc. Disclaimer: The author has published several writing mechanics resources.

What is (and isn’t) Writing Mechanics?

Since this is a “catch-all” subject, let’s discuss what I do mean and don’t mean by writing mechanics.  I do mean punctuation (commas, periods, colons, semicolons, dashes, ellipses, parentheses, and brackets), capitalization (including proper nouns, common nouns, abbreviations, and acronyms), formatting (paragraphing, indentations, when to skip and not skip lines, proper headings and spacing, what goes where and what does not), citations (MLA rules, the purpose thereof, and creative problem solving including references, in-text formatting, and list of works), quotations (direct, indirect, titles of works, and dialogue rules). I did mention rules, as no doubt you noticed. However, mechanics is also about style and coherency. “Let’s eat Grandma” comes to mind. Or how about…

I’M STUFFED DO WE HAVE TO EAT GRANDMA AFTER ALL WE JUST FINISHED EATING GRANDPA CAN’T WE WAIT UNTIL MOM’S DONE COOKING

Your students will love more of these examples.

Some teachers would, but I don’t mean grammar. Grammar refers to the sentence components and their functions, such as the parts of speech, subjects, predicates, objects, and modifiers. Grammar also means the arrangement of words within the sentence (the syntax), the formation of phrases and clauses, and word choice. Additionally, grammar includes study and practice in the accepted rules of proper usage, such as subject and verb agreement, pronoun and antecedent relationships, and whether to split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions. Finally, grammar is used to identify and correct non-standard usage. Check out a related article on How to Teach English Grammar.

I also don’t mean spelling. The authors of the Common Core State Standards lump the entire kitchen sink into the “language conventions” category. However, as an MA reading specialist, I will assure you that spelling (encoding) has much more to the how-to’s of reading (decoding) and vocabulary than with proper comma usage.

Why Teach Writing Mechanics?

The authors of the Common Core include writing mechanics in a separate Language Strand as Standard L. 2., and the accompanying Smarter Balanced and PAARC tests do test mechanics. Teaching mechanics will not only help your students avoid eating Grandma, but will also provide a forum for rich language discussion. The differences in British and American punctuation are fascinating. The changing nature of mechanics rules and the controversies between editors of new and old media are instructive. Want to raise a real ruckus? Try debating the serial comma rule! By the way, I don’t consider myself a serial comma killer.

When Should We Teach Writing Mechanics?

The Common Core State Standards have shifted so much of the language conventions to the primary or intermediate elementary grade levels. Such is the case with mechanics. Of course, review is essential and it is nice to have the recursive nature of language instruction validated by the Common Core authors. So, writing mechanics is certainly a K-12 focus.

What Writing Mechanics Should We Teach?

Because of the downward shift in terms of instructional responsibility, it does make sense for upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers to begin teaching more complex writing mechanics skills. Building on prior knowledge will allow teachers of older students to “get to” issues of, say punctuation and capitalization that heretofore (always wanted to use that word) have never been addressed. It does makes sense to share the instructional load and to prioritize instruction. Layered, sequenced instruction makes sense. An establish scope and sequence makes more sense than a fix-the-random-error “curriculum,” such as DOL or DLR. Most of us old veterans of Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review would agree that these “error fix-a-thons” (Jeff Anderson) never transferred to student speaking or writing. District committees and instructional teams at the site level can and should align and sequence instruction. For those grades 4−8 teachers who don’t wish to re-invent the wheel, here is a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence of the entire Language Strand (grammar and usage, mechanics, knowledge of use, spelling, and vocabulary) from my own Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

How Should We Teach Writing Mechanics?

Both direct and individualized instruction are needed to teach students writing mechanics. We do need to up the rigor of direct instruction as explained above, but we also need to build on individual student strengths and weaknesses. Because primary and intermediate elementary teachers are transitioning to more writing mechanics instruction, older students will have even a greater diversity of skills sets. Teachers can choose to teach as if none of their students knows anything and repeat the instruction that some have received, or use diagnostic assessments to determine mastery of writing mechanics for each student and provide remediation to those who need it.

Effective diagnostic assessments will help teachers identify what grammatical concepts and skills students have and have not mastered from previous grade levels. Here’s an effective 32 question writing mechanics assessment (with answers) and recording matrix. Teachers can create mini-lessons and/or assign remedial worksheets to correspond to items on the diagnostic assessment to “catch up” individual students to grade level direct instruction. Of course, my grades 4-8 programs provide these resources.

How Much Class Time for Writing Mechanics (and all Language Conventions) Instruction?

Most English-language specialists suggest that short, interactive language conventions lessons, including writing mechanics, (say 20−30 minutes twice per week with a focus on just a few skills, including a brief review to connect to prior learning) makes sense. Clear examples and quick practice in which students apply the skill or rule and identify what is correct and what is not helpful. Short dictation sentences in which students apply the writing mechanics focus will serve as formative assessments to inform the teacher as to mastery or if re-teaching is necessary. Less effective is the “teach writing mechanics only in the editing stage of process papers” approach via mini-lessons. Direct instruction makes a difference. Individualized instruction with targeted worksheets (corresponding to the diagnostic assessments) can add another 15-30 minutes of classroom instruction per week or be assigned as homework.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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How to Teach English Grammar

How to Teach English Grammar asks and provides possible answers to the most pressing When, Why, How, What, and Whom questions related to teaching grammar. Disclaimer: The author has developed numerous grammar-based programs.

Definition: Identifying the Scope of the Subject

Grammar has become a catch-all term that refers to everything most English teachers don’t like to teach, but still need to do. Admittedly, some still don’t teach it. They have their reasons. In this article the writer refers to grammar as most teachers do. Grammar refers to the sentence components and their functions, such as the parts of speech, subjects, predicates, objects, and modifiers. Grammar also means the arrangement of words within the sentence (the syntax), the formation of phrases and clauses, and word choice. Additionally, grammar includes study and practice in the accepted rules of proper usage, such as subject and verb agreement, pronoun and antecedent relationships, and whether to split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions. Finally, grammar is used to identify and correct non-standard usage. Broadly speaking, grammar is the study of how our language is used and how it can be manipulated to achieve meaning.

Contextual Relevance

The Great Grammar Debate in currently in the midst of an uneasy cease-fire. The authors of the Common Core State Standards attempted to toe the line between those favoring direct (part to whole) instruction in grammar and those favoring indirect (whole to part) instruction in grammar. My take is that the inclusion of a separate Language Strand, including K−12 grammar and usage Standards (L. 1, 2, 3), the focus on recursive skills in the Progressive Skills Review, and the accompanying Smarter Balanced and PAARC tests (which include grammar), have tilted educators toward the direct instruction camp. And this remains the case with more and more states dropping out of the Common Core testing consortia. For some reason, many educators and interest groups in red states who have dropped out tend to favor more explicit grammatical instruction that their respective colleagues in blue states which have hung onto the Common Core.

Given the plethora of Internet searches for grammar resources, the renewed interest in older teaching techniques such as sentence diagramming, and the popularity of grammar websites and discussion forums, it seems fair to say that part to whole grammatical instruction is now a trending topic.

When to Teach Grammar and Usage

More and more rigorous standards have shifted to the primary or intermediate elementary grade levels. Such is the case with grammatical instruction. Most middle school teachers would agree that the instructional scope and sequence of the Common Core Language Strand Standards for grades 2−5 would mimic that of most state standards a mere decade ago. In fact, after deleting the vocabulary Standards, the Common Core authors assign three pages for each of the  first, second, and third grade Standards; one page for both fourth and fifth grades; one page for each of the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades; and only one-half page for each of the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Check out a grades 4−8 instructional scope and sequence of grammatical instruction.

Why Teach Grammar and Usage

The academic vocabulary used in grammatical instruction offers an important language of instruction to apply in other areas of academic work: writing, speaking, and reading. For example, learning to define, identify, and apply dependent clauses effectively and correctly empowers students to write, speak, and read with greater coherence. In my view the research regarding the effectiveness of certain grammatical instructional techniques is inconclusive.

How to Teach Grammar and Usage

Both direct and individualized instruction are needed to teach students the grammar. Our students are not tabular raza (empty slates): Many will have had good language training from previous teachers and from literate home environments. We need to build on their strengths and individual instruction according to their weaknesses. Most teachers would agree that grammar is not “just something that needs to be fixed.” Grammatical instruction is more than just error analysis or correction. Grammar and mechanics instruction cannot exclusively be relegated to end of writing process as mere editing skills. Jeff Anderson, author of Everyday Editing, calls such activities “error-filled fix-a-thons.” Most of us who have tried Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review would agree that this hodgepodge instructional approach does not transfer to student speaking or writing.

Most curricular specialists suggest short, interactive grammatical lessons (say 20−30 minutes twice per week with a focus on one grammatical skill or concept, including a brief review to connect to prior learning. Precise examples and quick practice in which students apply the grammatical skill or concept to identify what is correct and what is not makes sense. Mentor texts in which students see and hear the application of the grammatical lesson focus in the reading context and writing application in which students construct their own sentence(s) to apply the in the writing context is sound instruction. Short dictation sentences in which students apply the grammatical focus will serve as formative assessments to inform the teacher as to mastery or if re-teaching is necessary.

Effective diagnostic assessments will help teachers identify what grammatical concepts and skills students have and have not mastered from previous grade levels. Here’s an effective 40 question (multiple choice) diagnostic grammar and usage assessment and recording matrix. Teachers can create mini-lessons and/or assign remedial worksheets to correspond to items on the diagnostic assessment to “catch up” individual students to grade level direct instruction. Of course, my assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs provide these resources.

What Grammar and Usage to Teach

It makes sense share the load and to prioritize instruction. Layered, sequenced instruction makes sense. An establish scope and sequence makes more sense than a “shotgun” approach. Students need to understand the function of an adverb before they can write adverbial clauses. The Common Core State Standards provides a bare bones sequence of instruction and the Progressive Skills Review does an admirable job of setting critical Standards for annual review. District committees and instructional teams at the site level can align and sequence instruction. For those grades 4−8 teachers who don’t wish to re-invent the wheel, here is the comprehensive TLS Instructional Scope and Sequence Grades 4-8 of the entire Language Strand (grammar and usage, mechanics, knowledge of use, spelling, and vocabulary).

All instructional time is reductive. Instructional minutes in one subject area take away from instructional minutes in another. Most curricular specialists would allocate no more than an hour of direct grammatical instruction per week and no more than thirty minutes of individualized instruction per week. Teachers do have other subjects to teach. Of course, homework is always a possible option.

Whom to Teach Grammar and Usage

All students need grammatical instruction and at each level in K−12 instruction. As more and more of public education is divided up into need-based groups, such as special education, English-language development, remedial, and honors classes, students must receive equal access to all of the curriculum, including grammar. The notion that grammar can’t be learned by students with auditory or visual processing disorders or by students with certain learning styles is a myth. The notion that non-native speakers cannot or should not learn English grammar is also a myth.

For too long, grammatical instruction has been de-prioritized as school districts focus on the reading and math priorities of standardized tests

Students are whom we teach, not ever-changing standards, courses of study, fads, personal preferences, or personal agendas. Therefore, if students don’t know how to define, identify, and use adjectives, we need to teach them (a vague pronoun reference). And we can.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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Resurrection Facts and Counterclaims

Having recently written and edited two articles for teachers: Teaching Fact and Opinion: When, What, and How and The Difference between Facts and Claims, I thought I’d meld these critical reading skills with the facts of the resurrection narrative and the common counterclaims made against the resurrection in a lesson plan. Just in time for Easter!

Target Audience for this Lesson

Although a religious story, the resurrection narrative is certainly part of our shared cultural literacy. My bias as an educator is that we would certainly do a disservice to our students by failing to teach the theological distinctives and key literary works of the world religions. However, that being said, the lesson may be most appropriate for high school church youth groups, college parachurch organizations, Christian schools, Christian homeschoolers, or adult Sunday School classes. See what you think.

Lesson Plan

Instructional Objectives: Learners will demonstrate the ability to define the key terms: fact and claim and recognize textual examples in narrative text.

Learners will demonstrate the ability to recognize and apply elements of narrative sequencing to re-order text.

Methodology

  1. The teacher will define fact and claim and provided supporting examples.
  2. The teacher will call upon individual learners to provide their own examples of fact and claim example sentences as guided practice.
  3. The teacher will provide guided practice with whole group response to identify fact and claim example sentences.
  4. Learners will re-sequence the facts presented in the resurrection story from chapters 15 and 16 of the Gospel According to Mark (NIV). The Gospel According to Mark was chosen from the four gospels because of its brevity and widely-accepted status as the earliest of the four gospel manuscripts. Additionally, the 14 verses perfectly fit our matching assessment as you will see.
  5. In a matching assessment learners will apply the lesson to identify the facts and claims from the resurrection narrative embellished with 12 counterclaims. The 12 counterclaims represent common challenges to the traditional interpretation of the resurrection story. Students will write down the capital letters, which represent the facts from the resurrection narrative in proper sequential order.

Direct Instruction

Anticipatory Set Opener

What is the difference between these types of sentences?

  • Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 by John Wilkes Booth.
  • Booth assassinated the President to keep African-American slaves from gaining U.S. citizenship.

Answers: The first sentence is a fact. Lincoln’s assassination is a fact attested to by eyewitnesses and medical experts. Statements were recorded in newspapers and in government documents. The second sentence is a claim since it provides a reason for the assassination. The claim is supported by evidence: John Wilkes Booth attended a speech given by Lincoln in March of 1865 in which Lincoln discussed the subject of citizenship.

Let’s work at developing a precise definition of these terms: fact and claim.

Here’s our first definition.

Fact: Something done or said that meaningfully corresponds to reality.

What is a fact?

  • A fact is something that could be verifiable in time and space. Example: The wall was painted blue in 2016. Explanation: The fact would certainly be verifiable if the school office files contained a similar shade of blue paint chip, attached to a dated 2016 receipt for blue paint and a painting contractor’s 2016 dated invoice marked “Paid in Full.”
  • A fact is an objective reflection of reality. Example: If a classroom’s walls are blue, then someone must have painted them that color. Explanation: A fact exists independent of our sensory experience.
  • A fact must be reasonable. Examples: A leaf floated from the top of the tree to the ground. (fact) Green threes floated down up sky the through. (not a fact) Explanation: The first sentence is reasonable in that it makes sense in terms of our experience, our knowledge of deciduous trees, the law of gravity, and language. The second sentence is not a fact because it has mixed categories of meaning, e.g., “green” and “threes,” “down” and “up” and is syntactically (the order of words) nonsensical, e.g., “sky the through.”

What isn’t a fact?

  • A fact is not definition. Examples: It’s a fact that blue is a mix of green and yellow or 2 +2 = 4 and If A = B and B = C, then A = C.” Explanation: Definitions simply state that one thing synonymously shares the same essence or characteristics of another thing. Much of math deals with meaningful definitions, called tautologies, not facts, per se.
  • A fact is not opinion. Example: It’s a fact that the wall color is an ugly shade of blue. Explanation: Again, a fact does not state what something is (a definition). A fact does not state a belief. In contrast, an opinion is a belief or inference (interpretation, judgment, conclusion, or generalization).
  • A fact is not a scientific theory. Example: The universe began fifteen billion years ago with the “Big Bang.” Explanation: “Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.” Stephen Jay Gould
  • A fact cannot be wrong.  Example: He got his facts about the blue wall all wrong. Explanation: We really mean that he did not state facts or that he misapplied the use of those facts.
  • A fact is not the same as truth.  Example: It’s a fact that the classroom walls are blue. Explanation: This is known as a category error. We can state the fact that the walls were painted blue or the fact that someone said that they are blue, but this is not the same as stating a truth. There is no process of falsification with facts, as there is with truth. For example, we could not say “It’s not a fact that the classroom walls are black.” Similarly, in a criminal court case, if a defendant pleads not-guilty to the charge that he or she murdered someone, the prosecution must falsify this plea and prove the truth of the guilty charge via evidence, such as facts, in order to convict the defendant.
  • A fact is not a phenomenological representation of reality. Example: The walls appear blue during the day, but have no color at night. Explanation: Just because the blue color appears to disappear at night due to the absence of light, does not mean that this describes reality. To say that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west describes how things appear from our perspective, not what factually occurs.

Guided Practice: Ask students to share examples of “done” and “stated” facts.

Here’s our second definition.

Claim: An assertion of belief about what is true or what should be.

What is a claim? What is a counterclaim?

  • A claim can be a judgment. Example: Undocumented immigrants who maintain clean criminal records should be not be deported from our country. Explanation: A claim can weigh evidence and reach a conclusion based upon that evidence.
  • A claim can be an inference. Example: The recent missile tests indicate that the country has developed the means to attack neighboring countries. Explanation: The test results regarding missile capabilities can be logically applied to hypothetical situations.
  • A claim can be an interpretation of evidence. Example: The fact the DNA tested on the murder weapon matches the blood type of the defendant means that the defendant could have fired the weapon that killed his wife. Explanation: The interpretation that the physical evidence links to the defendant is a claim. The fact supports the claim.
  • A claim can express a point of view. Example: The election of that candidate would be horrible for the country. Explanation: A point of view expresses an arguable position and frequently considers contrasting points of views by stating counterclaims and refutations.
  • A claim can be supported by research, expert sources, evidence, reasoning, testimony, and academic reasoning. Example: The new research on cancer cures is promising. Explanation: Specific research and quotations from medical authorities may offer convincing evidence.
  • A counterclaim argues against a specific claim. Example: Others contend that the opposite point of view is true. Explanation: Acknowledging the opposing assertion(s) of belief shows an understanding of other points of view.

What isn’t a claim or a counterclaim?

  • A claim is not an opinion. Examples: Mr. Sanchez is the best teacher in the school (opinion). Mr. Sanchez’ students perform above the school average on standardized tests (claim). Explanation: The former opinion cannot be proven to be true. The latter claim could be proven to be true with test evidence and data comparisons.
  • A claim is not evidence. Example: In the book, Walk Two Moons, Phoebe was self-centered when she demanded the best bed at the sleepover. Explanation: In an argumentative essay claims can be stated in the thesis and/or topic sentences. For the balance of the essay, the writer uses reason or evidence (which may include facts) and analysis to support the claim(s).
  • A claim is not description. Example: The sunset’s shades of yellow, red, and orange were quite remarkable. Explanation: Description does not assert a truth as a claim does.

Guided Practice: Ask students to share examples of claims.

Guided Practice Whole Group Response: Is it a Fact or a Claim?

  • My mom told me, “We moved to this city in 2002.” FACT
  • I learned to read and write as a child. FACT
  • Teachers should assign more homework to students. CLAIM
  • He said he was not interested in the story. FACT
  • Police officers need more training in how to handle high speed chases. CLAIM
  • The candidate you support for Congress is less qualified than the one I favor. CLAIM

Individualized Practice and Application

Context (Connecting to Prior Knowledge)

Some 2000 years ago, Jesus was arrested by the Jewish Council and turned over to Roman authorities to carry out the death sentence by crucifixion.

Directions

Read the following mixed-up (out of sequence) story, which includes the 14 facts (verses) from the resurrection narrative as told in Chapters 15 and 16 in The Gospel According to Mark (NIV) and the 12 common counterclaims against the resurrection. Take out a piece of paper and list the capital letters representing the verses which tell the story in proper sequence.

Helpful Hints

Apply the definitions of a fact to keep the verses found in the resurrection story and a claim to delete these sentences from the story. Also pay attention to narrative elements, context clues, syntax (the order of words and sentences), transitions, and punctuation. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to know the basic story…

Note: Click on this PDF document for printing… The Resurrection Narrative Page 1

The Resurrection Narrative: Facts and Claims

(A) Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. (B) Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (C) Jesus’ body was stolen to validate his followers’ beliefs. (D) It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, (E) Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (F) Jesus was resurrected as a spirit, not in bodily form. (G) But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. (H) So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. (I) Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb (J) “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. (K) The empty tomb is a symbol of life conquering death, not a historical reality. (L) Jesus did not actually die, but feinted, and was buried alive. He recovered in the tomb and came out alive−thus creating the illusion of resurrection. (M) The disciples of Jesus were confused and returned to the wrong tomb, which was empty. (N) and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (O) But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (P) Mass hallucination, caused by deep grief, caused many to witness the resurrected Jesus. (Q) The gospel writers (and other New Testament writers who comment on the resurrection) are not eye witness testimony, but are based upon oral tradition and composed at least twenty-five years after the resurrection event. (R) When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. (S) As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. (T) When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. (U) The gospel writers embellished details not in the original oral account and added detail to the story over time. (V) The gospel writers included legendary elements to the basic story of Jesus’ death in keeping with the literary conventions and superstitious world view of the time. (W) The gospel writers (and other New Testament writers who comment on the resurrection) and/or later church scribes edited the resurrection story with additions and deletions to harmonize accounts and establish the resurrection as historical fact. (X) The gospel writers (and other New Testament writers who comment on the resurrection) provide contradictory evidence and omit such key elements of the story so as to question the reliability of the historical accounts. (Y) Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Z) The editorial comments of the gospel and letter writers apply circular reasoning and beg the question (assuming what has not been proven) to support the resurrection and accompanying religious doctrine recorded in the New Testament.

Note: Click on this PDF document for printing… Answers Page 2

Answers

DEATHBRINGSJOY

The Gospel According to Mark 15 and 16

(D) 42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, (E) 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (A) 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. (T) 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. (H) 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. (B) 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

(R) 16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. (I) Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb (N) and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

(G) But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. (S) As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

(J) “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. (O) But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

(Y) Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® All rights reserved worldwide.

Common Claims vs. the Resurrection

  • Jesus’ body was stolen to validate his followers’ beliefs.
  • Jesus was resurrected as a spirit, not in bodily form.
  • The empty tomb is a symbol of life conquering death, not a historical reality.
  • Jesus did not actually die, but feinted, and was buried alive. He recovered in the tomb and came out alive−thus creating the illusion of resurrection.
  • The disciples of Jesus were confused and returned to the wrong tomb, which was empty.
  • Mass hallucination, caused by deep grief, caused many to witness the resurrected Jesus.
  • The gospel writers (and other New Testament writers who comment on the resurrection) are not eye witness testimony, but are based upon oral tradition and composed at least twenty-five years after the resurrection event.
  • The gospel writers embellished details not in the original oral account and added detail to the story over time.
  • The gospel writers included legendary elements to the basic story of Jesus’ death in keeping with the literary conventions and superstitious world view of the time.
  • The gospel writers (and other New Testament writers who comment on the resurrection) and/or later church scribes edited the resurrection story with additions and deletions to harmonize accounts and establish the resurrection as historical fact.
  • The gospel writers (and other New Testament writers who comment on the resurrection) provide contradictory evidence and omit such key elements of the story so as to question the reliability of the historical accounts.
  • The editorial comments of the gospel and letter writers apply circular reasoning and beg the question (assuming what has not been proven) to support the resurrection and accompanying religious doctrine recorded in the New Testament.
  • Attached are the answers, the resurrection narrative from The Gospel According to Mark (NIV), and the common claims against the resurrection.

Debriefing and Closure

Discuss results of the matching test. You may also wish to ask students what evidence (including facts) would be needed to support the claims. For further study you might also have students read the resurrection story in the other three gospels according to Matthew 28:1−10, Luke 24:1−44, and John 20: 1−29 to compare and contrast the accounts.  You may also wish to analyze the nature and quality of the facts from Mark 16:9−20, which the earliest manuscripts do not include. Finally, you might assign research into the claims against the resurrection, their counterclaims, and their refutations.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies

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The Difference between Facts and Claims

What is the difference between these two declarative sentences?

  1. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 by John Wilkes Booth.
  2. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 to keep African-American slaves from gaining U.S. citizenship.

Answer: The assassination is a fact attested by eyewitnesses and medical experts. The reason for the assassination is a claim made by John Wilkes Booth that Lincoln must be killed to prevent granting U.S. citizenship to former slaves.

Knowing the difference between fact and claim is critically important to effective argumentation in both speaking and in writing.

Let’s work at developing a precise definition of these terms: fact and claim.

The word fact is from Latin factum something done, from factus made, from facere to make]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © Harper Collins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014

The word claim is from Old French claimer< Latin clāmāre to cry out; (noun)

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Here’s our first definition.

Fact: Something actually done or something said in a meaningful way.

What is fact?

  • Fact is something that could be verifiable in time and space. Example: The wall was painted blue in 2016. The fact would certainly be verifiable if the school office files contained a similar shade of blue paint chip, attached to a dated 2016 receipt for blue paint and a painting contractor’s 2016 dated invoice marked “Paid in Full.”
  • Fact is an objective reflection of reality. A fact exists independent of our sensory experience. Example: “If a classroom’s walls are blue, then someone must have painted them that color.”

What isn’t fact?

  • Fact is not definition. Examples: “It’s a fact that blue is a mix of green and yellow” or “2 +2 = 4 and If A = B and B = C, then A = C.” Definitions simply state that one thing synonymously shares the same essence or characteristics of another thing. Much of math deals with meaningful definitions, called tautologies, not facts, per se.
  • Fact is not opinion. Example: It’s a fact that the wall color is an ugly shade of blue. Explanation: Again, a fact does not state what something is (a definition). A fact does not state a belief. In contrast, an opinion is a belief or inference (interpretation, judgment, conclusion, or generalization). Check out the related article on Teaching Fact and Opinion by the same author.
  • Fact is not a scientific theory. Example: The universe began fifteen billion years ago with the “Big Bang.” Explanation: “Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.” Stephen Jay Gould
  • Fact cannot be wrong.  Example: He got his facts about the blue wall all wrong. Explanation: We really mean that he did not state facts or that he misapplied the use of those facts.
  • Fact is not the same as truth.  Example: It’s a fact that the classroom walls are blue. Explanation: This is known as a category error. We can state the fact that the walls were painted blue or the fact that someone said that they are blue, but this is not the same as truth. There is no process of falsification with facts, as there is with truth. For example, we could not say “It’s not a fact that the classroom walls are black.” Similarly, in a criminal court case, if a defendant pleads not-guilty to the charge that he or she murdered someone, the prosecution must falsify this plea and prove the truth of the guilty charge via evidence, such as facts, in order to convict the defendant.
  • Fact is not a phenomenological representation of reality. Example: The walls appear blue during the day, but have no color at night. Explanation: Just because the blue color appears to disappear at night due to the absence of light, does not mean that this describes reality. To say that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west describes how things appear from our perspective, not what factually occurs.

Here’s our second definition.

Claim: An assertion of belief about what is true or what should be.

What is a claim?

  • A claim can be a judgment. Example: Undocumented immigrants who maintain clean criminal records should be not be deported from our country. Explanation: A claim can weigh evidence and reach a conclusion based upon that evidence.
  • A claim can be an inference. Example: The recent missile tests indicate that the country has developed the means to attack neighboring countries. Explanation: The test results regarding missile capabilities can be logically applied to hypothetical situations.
  • A claim can be an interpretation of evidence. Example: The fact the DNA tested on the murder weapon matches the blood type of the defendant means that the defendant could have fired the weapon that killed his wife. Explanation: The interpretation that the physical evidence links to the defendant is a claim. The fact supports the claim.
  • A claim can express a point of view. Example: The election of that candidate would be horrible for the country. Explanation: A point of view expresses an arguable position and frequently considers contrasting points of views by stating counterarguments and refutations.
  • A claim can be supported by research, expert sources, evidence, reasoning, testimony, and academic reasoning. Example: The new research on cancer cures is promising. Explanation: Specific research and quotations from medical authorities may offer convincing evidence.

What isn’t a claim?

  • A claim is not an opinion. Examples: Mr. Sanchez is the best teacher in the school (opinion). Mr. Sanchez’ students perform above the school average on standardized tests (claim). Explanation: The former opinion cannot be proven to be true. The latter claim could be proven to be true with test evidence and data comparisons.
  • A claim is not evidence. Example: In the book, Walk Two Moons, Phoebe was self-centered when she demanded the best bed at the sleepover. Explanation: In an argumentative essay claims can be stated in the thesis and/or topic sentences. For the balance of the essay, the writer uses reason or evidence (which may include facts) and analysis to support the claim(s).
  • A claim is not description. Example: The sunset’s shades of yellow, red, and orange were quite remarkable. Explanation: Description does not assert a truth as a claim does.

Applications to Speaking and Writing

  • Use facts to support your claims and not vice versa.
  • Using more than one fact to support a specific claim can be effective if the facts are directly related. Avoid using a shotgun approach of loosely related facts.
  • Facts usually do not stand on their own as effective evidence. Facts require careful analysis to relate to the claim(s).
  • Don’t rely upon facts as your sole evidence. Other types of evidence can be convincing. A variety of evidence addresses the needs of a variety of readers and provides balance to how you prove your argument. Check out this article on types of evidence by the same author.
  • A claim is not your argument. A claim is not the same thing as the thesis statement or the topic sentences in an argumentative essay. The claim is your overall belief about what is true. How you prove your claim is your argument and your essay structure provides the means to that end.
  • Keep your claim specific. General claims usually are not provable and resort to mere description.
  • Effective claims usually do not consist of absolute statements about what is right and wrong. They explore ideas, theories, points of view, and concepts. In other words, claims rarely involve simple assertions; they are usually multi-faceted and complex.
  • Always acknowledge possible counterclaims and provide counterarguments when relevant.

    Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

    Teaching Essay Strategies

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets including subject-predicate, unity, coherence, and parallelismwriting fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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Grammar Programs

Teachers frequently ask which Pennington Publishing grammar program will best meet the needs of their students. Of course most of us use grammar as a catch all term to mean parts of speech, syntax, usage, sentence structure, subjects and predicates, punctuation, quotation marks, and capitalization. For those teachers using the Common Core Standards, they are looking for materials to teach the Language Strand 1, 2, and 3 Standards.

Three of our products will do the job. Let’s compare and contrast each with helpful links to help you make an informed decision for your students. Each product is appropriate for grades 4−8 students. The products are listed from least expensive to more expensive.

Materials in the Grammar Openers Toolkit (eBook) have been selected as a “slice” of the comprehensive one volume curriculum: Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, by the same author. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics is a one-volume, non-grade level, standards-based curriculum and includes both basic and advanced skills for each lesson.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar Toolkit

Grammar Toolkit

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

What is the instructional design of each one-volume, full year program?

  • Comprehensive. The standards based-scope and sequence includes everything your students need to learn about grammar: the part of a sentence, the function of these parts (such as the parts of speech) the arrangement of words with the sentence, word choice, grammatical terminology and mechanics: capitalization, punctuation, conventional spelling rules. No other grammar textbook or workbook is needed.
  • Flexible. Each lesson provides both basic and advanced mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills. Teachers choose what to teach to their students, so the curriculum works well for upper elementary, middle, and high school students. Special education students and English-language learners thrive with the individualized instruction.
  • User-friendly.Minimal teacher prep design with simple and clear procedures and instructional activities, suitable for the novice English teacher with little background in grammar as well as for the veteran English teacher. Tips and writing hints for the grammatically-challenged teacher are provided in the scripted lessons, as are all the answers.
  • Balanced and research-based.The Grammar Openers Toolkit and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics are balanced curricula; students learn all of the grammar and mechanics skills and rules in the context of authentic writing, not in isolation.
  • Formats. Both the Grammar Openers Toolkit and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics are sold as eBooks. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics is also available in print (three-ring binder) and includes the digital copy (PDF) of the entire program and FREE SHIPPING. Please add 10% shipping/handling for all purchase orders.

What materials are the same in both programs?

  • Each program includes 64 Sentence Lifting lessons, formatted for classroom display. These scripted twice-per week lessons provide explicit and systematic direct instruction in the Common Core Standards of mechanics, spelling, and grammar. Lessons use mentor texts (student and literary examples), simple sentence diagramming, sentence combining, and sentence manipulation activities. The only advance preparation is to select student sentence models.
  • All Sentence Lifting lessons follow the same format. First, the teacher selects either basic or advanced skills and introduces these with definitions and examples. Next, the teacher asks students to apply the skills and analyze practice sentences in a “What’s Right? and What’s Wrong?” interactive discussion. Then, the teacher reinforces the learning in the reading context with the Literary Sentence Model and Student Sentence Model. Finally, students apply the skills in the simple Sentence Diagram and Sentence Dictations and then self-correct and edit their work when the teacher displays the answers.

What materials are in the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program (385 page print and/or eBook) that are not in the Grammar Openers Toolkit (200 page eBook)?

  • Also included are 64 grammar cartoons from master cartoonist, David Rickert, (one for each of the 64 Sentence Lifting lessons.
  • Teaching Grammar and Mechanics provides comprehensive and prescriptive whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessments in multiple choice format—use Scantrons® or Grade Cam® if you wish. Everything in the scope and sequence of instruction is assessed. Students complete targeted grammar and worksheets to practice and master the unmastered skills indicated on their diagnostic assessments.

Here’s what teachers are saying about the Grammar Openers Toolkit and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics:

“I’ve been teaching for quite a while and seen quite a few grammar programs. This one is the best I’ve used.”

Julie Inouye

“This is an amazing product. It makes individualized instruction a breeze!”

Shawna Pounds

“This is a great product for teaching grammar and mechanics. I like how it allows for students to achieve mastery. It has great step by step directions for teaching the skills as well as help on differentiating instruction.”

Laura P.

Want to see lesson and assessment samples, the scope and sequence, and alignment documents for the Grammar Openers Toolkit and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics? Preview This Book

And for our third grammar product… the comprehensive, grade-leveled Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4−8 programs. Each 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade program (750−808 page print and digital format) provides comprehensive instructional resources, aligned to all of the grade level Standards in Common Core Language Strand (grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling vocabulary, and knowledge of use). Detailed instructional scope and sequence and alignment documents create a unified instructional plan across all five of the grade levels to teach the Language Strand Standards with fidelity and efficiency. The print version includes a digital copy (PDF) of the entire program for classroom display and interactive practice and includes FREE SHIPPING. Please add 10% shipping/handling for all purchase orders. 

Following are the instructional components in each of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs:

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics (CCSS L.1,2)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) provides 56 interactive Language Conventions lessons, designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics Standards. Each scripted lesson (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) is formatted for classroom projection. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into each 25-minute lesson. The instructional scope and sequence also integrates review and practice for each of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills.

Biweekly grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary unit tests require students to define, identify, and apply their knowledge of these language Standards in the writing context. The accompanying Student Workbook includes an interactive worksheet for each Language Conventions lesson with the complete lesson text. Students take notes on and annotate the text, complete a practice section, fill out a simple sentence diagram, and use the mentor text to apply their knowledge of the grammar and usage concept. Students complete sentence dictations and then self-correct from the projected display.

Spelling (CCSS L.2)

Each grade-level program provides a comprehensive spelling curriculum with weekly spelling lists and spelling sorts based upon developmental spelling patterns. The instructional sequence is designed to review previously introduced spelling patterns and add new grade-level spelling patterns. Students create personal spelling lists to supplement these spelling patterns from spelling errors in their own writing and spelling resources found in the appendices. Syllable worksheets assist students in learning the skills of structural analysis. Students complete spelling pattern sorts for each weekly lesson in their Student Workbooks and self-correct from the projected display.

Knowledge of Language (CCSS L.3)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) has 56 Language Application openers to help students apply the L.1,2 Standards in the reading, writing, speaking, and listening contexts. These five-minute interactive lessons help students practice grammatical constructions, vary sentence patterns, and maintain a consistent voice and tone with precise and concise word choices. Students take margin notes on the lesson text and complete language application revisions on 56 Language Application Worksheets in their accompanying Student Workbooks and then self-correct from the projected display.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (CCSS L.4, 5, 6)

The Student Workbook includes two independent Vocabulary Worksheets per week to help students learn all of the grade-level vocabulary Standards: context clues, multiple meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships, connotations, academic language, and denotations/dictionary skills. Vocabulary Study Cards are provided for each lesson.

Individual Student Workbooks

Consumable student workbooks provide interactive practice in each of the above instructional components. The 196-page Student Workbook includes the full instructional text of each language conventions, spelling, language application, and vocabulary lesson with interactive practice and formative assessments. Workbooks are priced at the cost of printing copies on your school copier… without all the prep time. Yes, the workbooks are a necessary component of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also includes all of the resources for teachers to meet the diverse instructional needs of individual students. The writers of the Common Core State Standards recognize the need for both review and remediation, especially in the Language Strand. In fact, a critical component of these Standards is the Progressive Language Review. The Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program has diagnostic grammar and usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments to determine the specific remedial needs of your students. The assessments are administered whole-class and mastery recording matrices allow the teacher to organize instructional materials and to monitor the progress of individual students at a glance.

Teachers want to teach the skills and concepts from previous grade-level Standards that their students have not yet mastered. However, many teachers abandon assessment-based instruction because they lack the instructional tools and management procedures. Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) provides those tools and procedures for efficient and effective remediation. Teachers individualize instruction according to the results of each diagnostic assessment with 77 Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets and 102 Spelling Pattern Worksheets. Students who fail to master the formative assessments in the Language Conventions lessons are assigned corresponding Language Worksheets. Each targeted worksheet includes definitions, examples, writing hints, a practice section and a short formative assessment. Students progress at their own rates to master previous grade-level Standards.

Appendices (CCSS L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The appendices in Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) contain a wealth of practical resources for both students and teachers. Language convention appendices include grammar, usage, and mechanics resources, proofreading strategies and practice, supplemental spelling word lists, spelling review games, and Syllable Worksheets. The vocabulary appendix provides review games, context clues practice, and vocabulary teaching resources.

The Teacher’s Guide and Training Videos

The Teacher’s Guide is user-friendly. Both veteran and new teachers will appreciate the scripted instructional directions and flexibility of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program. Teachers are provided complete PDF files of the Teacher’s Guide, formatted for classroom projection and interactive instruction. The Teacher’s Guide includes classroom management plans for both grade-level and remedial instruction to maximize learning and minimize class time. Seven short training videos assist teachers to make full implementation of the program simple and successful. Teachers are granted license to upload all student worksheets and reference materials on class websites for easy access at home.

Here’s what teachers are saying about the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs:

“The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. The student workbooks are fantastic. I’m teaching each Standard in the Language Strand and remediating previous grade level Standards. The no prep and minimal correction design really respects a teacher’s time. This program frees me up to teach!”

Julie Villenueve

To preview Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)…

For additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact Pennington Publishing at mark@penningtonpublishing.com or 888.565.1635.

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Read 180 Foundational Reading Assessment

I teach two “regular” and one “support” English-language arts classes on a block schedule at a middle school in Elk Grove, California. Elk Grove Unified is the third largest school district in California with a treasure trove of ethnicities and languages and schools ranging from 75% free and reduced lunch semi-urban (my school) to schools from wealthy rural enclaves.

I served for years as a district elementary reading specialist before the sunset of our program at the beginning of the recession. I transitioned back to the classroom as a middle school teacher. With no funds to purchase new language arts or reading intervention programs and the advent of the Common Core State Standards, we teachers were encouraged to develop our own curriculum. Works for me!

As the only reading specialist on staff, I volunteered to teach our “support” classes. I will admit to having dual motives. I’m also an author and publisher of assessment-based curriculum. I decided to put what I learned as a district elementary reading specialist into practice in the classroom and into writing curriculum. I’ve always found teacher-created curriculum to be the stuff that works best for kids and trying out and revising curriculum to get the best results in your own laboratory (the classroom) is ideal. So on with my DISCLAIMER: I sell my own reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies with the Sam and Friends Phonics Books and Reading and Spelling Game Cards.

As money has finally started to creep back into education, districts are now turning their attention and dollars into purchasing reading intervention programs. My district has decided to “speed pilot” two reading intervention programs for our secondary schools: Language!® Live is the re-vamped Language!® program from Voyager Sopris with new contributing author Louisa Cook Moats; and Read 180 Next Generation is the thoroughly revised offering from mega publisher Scholastic/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with new contributing authors Kevin Feldman and Kate Kinsella. At my middle school we have one pilot teacher for each program. Training has been extensive from these two eager publishers because Elk Grove Unified is the third largest district in California and a district-wide adoption would be quite a plum for either of the two companies.

So I’ve been able to check out these two programs to compare to my own. A bold move given that my cost per class of 25 students is about $15 per student, whereas the cost per class for each of the two comparative programs is closer to that of a well-equipped Lexus. I started my comparisons with the screening and placement assessments in Read 180. Of course, as a publisher (check out my program advert to the right of the article, you would expect bias. See what you think.)

Our school has always struggled with screening and placement for our “support” classes. As a large middle school with about 1100 students, we have five “feeder” elementary schools and lots of transfer students. Program scheduling is a nightmare. We have used a variety of assessments, teacher recommendations, and decision-making tools to place students with mixed results. Since teachers have done “their own thing” in the “support” classes for years, the “curriculum” and instruction has only haphazardly matched the student needs indicated by the placement tools. Since the placement criteria has been a “moving target,” misplacement of students has been an ongoing concern. Our principal makes all transfer decisions and, fair to say, these are rare. Once students are placed in a “support” class, they remain all year. So if the district adoption of either the Read 180 or Language Live! program would mean that screening and placement assessments and exit criteria would be honored at our school, we might be moving onto the right track. Or will we? This article will focus on the Read 180 Foundational Reading Assessment.

Read 180 Foundational Reading Assessment

As described in a companion article, READ 180 and Phonemic Awareness, the first part of the Foundational Reading Assessment (designed by Dr. Richard K. Wagner as a K-2 test and published as such for another program) consists of a short random sample 12 rhymes, initial, final, and medial sounds (3 each). I can hear kindergarten teachers cringing at the sample size and components. The take-away from my article is that the test assesses only part of what constitutes phonological or phonemic awareness and is not teachable because it is not comprehensive.

The next component of the assessment is the Letter-Word Identification Strand, which includes 10 items designed to measure students’ knowledge of uppercase and lowercase letter names and 20 items designed to measure students’ sight word knowledge. The last component, the Word Attack Strand, includes “40 total items, specifically 10 items designed to measure students’ ability to identify letter sounds and 30 nonword items designed to measure students’ decoding skills” (SRI College and Career Technical Guide).

Sight Words

“A total of 20 sight word items were developed using the 100 most frequent words from Fry’s (2000) 1000 Instant Words. The distractor items were other high-frequency sight words or common decodable words.”

Criticism

Sight words are, by definition exceptions to the rules. Random sampling presupposes that the components are representative of the whole. How can there be external validity when the sample does not match the group? It’s a bit like tasting 6 of the 31 (the same percentage) ice cream flavors at Baskin Robbins and claiming that students either like or don’t like all ice cream based upon the results. Missing 20 out of 20 sight words indicates that the student does not know those 20 sight words. It does not mean that the student does not know the remaining 80. My Teaching Reading Strategies program assesses and provides instruction to remediate all 100 of the most frequently used sight words. That makes more sense.

Why have sight words as part of a screening and placement test in the first place. Knowledge of sight words is not a reliable indicator of reading difficulties. And why 20 test items when there are only 30 phonics sound-spellings (a much more reliable indicator). The ratio is completely out of whack. Plus, as any remedial reading teacher will tell you, the easiest reading remediation is memorizing those 100 words.

Phonics

“A total of 30 nonword items were developed, representing the full range of commonly taught phonics skills. All targets and distractors were nonwords or obscure English words that are unlikely to be known. In addition, all targets and distractors follow conventions of English spelling, and care was taken to avoid Spanish words, slang, and nonwords that sounded like real words.”

Criticism

While my Teaching Reading Strategies program includes the same sound-spellings as the 30 nonword items, my program includes 52 vowel sound-spellings and 50 consonant sound-spellings in the nonword format. Phonics tests are necessary as screening and placement assessments for reading intervention, but why not test everything that needs to be taught with corresponding activities and worksheets? The tests take only 12 minutes to give and can be graded on Scantrons® or Grade Cam®. Audio files are provided with the program. Why not check out these assessments yourself?

Finally, the little known fact about the READ 180 program is that students who fail the Foundational Reading Assessment will need to be assessed and placed in another program: SYSTEM 44. This program is a separate program and is extremely expensive. The publishers claim that READ 180 and SYSTEM 44 can be taught concurrently in the same classroom, but none of our pilot teachers throughout our district is doing so. Fair to note that the Language!® Live program and Teaching Reading Strategies each provide the instructional resources to teach the full range of student pre-reading and reading needs within the same program.

Mark Pennington is the author of the Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. Teaching Reading Strategies Book Preview

 

 

 

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438 Essay e-Comments

The user-friendly The Pennington Manual of Style provides concise definitions, explanations, and clear examples to help developing writers learn what is good writing and why it is good writing. Students also learn what is wrong, why it is wrong, and how to fix errors. The manual is organized as follows: Essay Organization and Development (Introduction, Body, and Conclusion), Coherence, Word Choice, Sentence Variety, Writing Style, Format and Citations, Parts of Speech, Grammatical Forms, Usage, Sentence Structure, Types of Sentences, Mechanics, and Conventional Spelling Rules.

For teachers, this guide provides a common language of writing instruction and discourse to use when students submit essays online. The Pennington Manual of Style enables teachers to download the entire comment bank of 438 Essay e-Comments into the Autocorrect function of Microsoft Word®. Then, teachers type in the assigned alphanumeric code and the entire formatted writing comment appears in a comment bubble where desired on the student’s essay. Teachers can save time, yet do a more thorough job of essay response. It’s simple to add in personalized comments. Here are the 438 Essay e-Comments.

Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense      

*Manually responding to essays in red ink can be time-consuming and frustrating. Teachers find themselves using the same comments over and over again, while most students barely glance at their final grade or rubric score and maybe skim the comments before cramming their papers into the depths of their backpacks. Using the computer to respond to student writing solves these problems.

*Having students submit their essays on the computer allows the teacher to insert comprehensive and prescriptive comments in half the time. Students can be held accountable to respond to these comments through revisions and edits.

*Using the 438 e-comments enhances the interactive writing process. The teacher-student interaction changes from static summative evaluation to dynamic formative assessment. This is not an “automatic” grading program. Teachers choose which comments to insert, according to the needs of their students.

*Teachers can edit the 438 e-comments and add in their own personalized comments with text or audio files. Imagine… inserting a quick audio comment to summarize relative strengths and weaknesses of the paper. Unlike other e-grading programs, teachers can save their custom comments.

*Teachers can link to resource sites to provide additional practice or reference.

*Teachers can require their students to address each comment by using Microsoft Word® “Track Changes.” Students then re-submit revisions and edits for peer and/or teacher review. Just like real professional writers do with their editors!

*Students can use the Essay e-Comments and add their own for peer response.

*Essay e-Comments can be added onto all teacher and student computers at school and at home, enhancing the social nature of writing response.

The Pennington Manual of Style is included in the comprehensive Teaching Essay Strategies program. Purchase includes the download (into Microsoft Word for any Windows Version) and the teacher short-cuts.

For example, the teacher types “e29” and this comment is inserted into the margin of the student’s essay submission:

e29 Get more specific. The support evidence is too general. Add more specific evidence by including Fact, Example, Statistic, Comparison, Quote from an Authority, Logic, Experience, or Counter-Argument/Refutation. FE SCALE CR

For more examples, check out The Pennington Manual of Style on the author’s website.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get The Pennington Manual of Style e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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Using Evidence in Writing

Teaching students to use appropriate evidence in argumentative essays is a difficult task. Students generally understand how to use textual evidence in direct and indirect quotations, but are less adept at creating reasons apart from the text itself.

Additionally, students tend to lean on one or two types of evidence as their “go to” strategies and wind up with less than convincing argumentation as a result.

I teach students to imagine themselves as a jury in a murder trial. Each juror will be convinced by different types of evidence. Some will lean on eyewitness testimony; for others only hard core forensic evidence will do; still others are all about the motive. Wouldn’t it make sense for a prosecuting attorney to reach out to all juror interests?

Similarly, student writers need to consider the needs of their audience in the types of evidence they bring to the argument. Here are eight types of evidence with a clever memory trick for students to reference. Of course, not all eight types of evidence would be appropriate for all argumentative subject matter.

Types of Evidence: FE SCALE CC

  • Fact means something actually said or done. Use quotes for direct or indirect quotations.
  • Example is a subset typical of a category or group.
  • Statistic is a numerical figure that represents evidence gained from scientific research.
  • Comparison means to show how the subject is like something else in a meaningful way.
  • Quote from an Authority is something said by an expert on the subject.
  • Logic means to use deductive (general to specific) or inductive (specific to general) reasoning to prove a point.
  • Experience used as evidence may be a commonly known event or an event of which there is limited knowledge.
  • Counterclaim/ Counterargument—A counterclaim states an argument against your point of view. The counterargument disproves the counterclaim.

Teachers may also be interested in these two articles by Mark Pennington: How to Write an Introduction and How to Write a Conclusion.

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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READ 180 and Phonemic Awareness

My district, Elk Grove Unified, has decided to “speed pilot” two reading intervention programs for our middle schools and high schools: READ 180 Next Generation from Scholastic Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with new authors Kevin Feldman and Kate Kinsella and Language!® Live from Voyager Sopris with contributing author Louisa Cook Moats. I teach at a large middle school and we have one pilot teacher for each program. Training has been quite thorough, especially from the well-funded READ 180 reps. Elk Grove Unified is  California’s third largest school district and so a district-wide adoption would be welcomed by either of the two companies.

Although I am the only reading specialist on staff, I decided not to pilot either of the two programs. However, I do have a vested interest in getting to know both READ 180 and Language!® DISCLAIMER: I am the author and publisher of my own assessment-based reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies with the Sam and Friends Phonics Books and Reading and Spelling Game Cards. I’ve chosen not to sell my own program within my district to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

I do use Teaching Reading Strategies with a seventh grade support class, so I can compare programs and results with those of the students in the READ 180 and Language!® at the same school with the same placement criteria. I’ll not pretend to have created an experimental design to determine if there are statistically significant differences between my program and the others. Of course I am biased, but I can present a few observations and allow teachers to draw their own conclusions.

I decided to start my comparisons with the screening and placement assessments for each program. As a reading specialist, I’m always concerned about using assessments to deny or provide services. Plus, as a matter of equity I’m very invested in the placement process: I hate to see a child overlooked who needs to learn to read but I’m equally distraught to see a student misplaced into a program who does not need to be there.

I decided to start my analysis with the READ 180 program. Specifically, in this article I’m taking a look at the phonological awareness component from one of the two assessments in the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI): The Foundational Reading Assessment. The second assessment is the Reading Comprehension Assessment. In my first article on these two reading intervention programs, I noted my concern that no encoding (spelling) test was included as part of the screening and placement assessments for READ 180. Jane Fell Greene’s encoding test has always been part of the competing Language!® program.

I emailed Dr. Richard K. Wagner, author of the READ 180 assessment (originally developed as the iRead Screener for another program). I asked him “If you were to add a print component that would ameliorate some of the limitations of the computer-based format, what would that include? I was hoping that you would have added an encoding test and a timed fluency assessment at the students’ lexile levels.

Rick kindly responded: “What you say makes sense.”

Now onto the specifics of what is actually on the READ 180 Foundational Reading Assessment. This computer-based assessment includes a total of 82 possible items, divided into three strands: Phonological Awareness, Letter-Word Identification, and Word Attack.

Let’s look at the first two of the three strands. In my next article I’ll tackle the word attack component. The Phonological Awareness Strand has 12 total items. First, let’s look at two definitions to get us on the same page:

Phonological awareness refers to a general recognition of speech sounds. “When that insight includes an understanding that words can he divided into a sequence of phonemes, this finer-grained sensitivity is termed phonemic awareness” (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998, p. 51).

Phonemic awareness is the recognition that words are made up of speech sounds (phonemes) and that these phonemes can be segmented (pulled apart), blended (put together), or substituted, added, or subtracted from one word to the next to create new words. It also refers to the understanding that the phonemes combine to form distinct syllables and words.

It doesn’t take a reading specialist to understand that phonological awareness precedes phonemic awareness. However, what teachers need to know to properly screen and place students is student mastery of the basic phonemic awareness skills. This data we do not get from the Foundational Reading Assessment. If teachers have to assess for proper placement (we do), why not kill two birds with one stone and assess to inform instruction as well?

Three of the test items in the phonological awareness assessment measure students’ rhyme identification skills. Students see an image and hear a word read aloud. They then see three more images and hear three more words. One of the words matches the beginning, middle, or end sound of the first word, or rhymes with the word. The test design certainly makes sense, but why only three rhymes? Rhyming is a critical component of phonemic awareness and is one of the earliest developmental stages of pre-reading. Rhyming is usually taught at home, in nursery school, and in kindergarten.

If I were designing the assessment, I would include 10 rhymes: one for each of the five short and five long vowel sounds. That would be an assessment that would properly screen, help place, and ultimately provide useful data for the teacher to teach to… in other words, assessment-based instruction. Yes, that is the format for my Rhyming Assessment in the Teaching Reading Strategies program. The test is a simple five-minute whole class audio assessment.

The balance of the Phonological Awareness Strand test includes students’ abilities to identify initial, final, and medial sounds (only three test items for each). These elements of phonemic isolation are important pre-reading skills, and teachers need to know exactly what their students do and do not know for both program placement and for instruction. My phonemic isolation assessment has 10 teachable components on the five-minute whole class audio assessment.

And, most importantly, why isn’t phonemic segmentation, phonemic blending, and syllable awareness part of the assessment? These kindergarten−first grade pre-reading skills are essential skills to assess. And, no, READ 180 does not include separate diagnostic assessments for these elements of phonemic awareness. Teaching Reading Strategies does. Each of these three assessments has the usual five-minute whole class audio assessment.

The second component of the Foundational Reading Assessment tests letter name and letter sound knowledge items. The test uses a sample of 5 items assessing lowercase letter name knowledge and 5 assessing uppercase. Last I checked, there are 26 letters in our alphabet. Additionally, 10 letter sound items are included.

Interestingly, the publishers have taken the step to test the validity of their assessments to those of the University of Oregon’s Dibels Next assessments; however, Dibels Next assesses all 26 upper case and lower case letters as does my own Teaching Reading Strategies program. Knowing which letters students know and don’t know allows the teacher to teach to those deficits. Again, the READ 180 program does not provide assessment-based instruction with its screening assessments. Sampling has its drawbacks; teachers need teachable data.

The little known fact about the READ 180 program is that students who fail the Foundational Reading Assessment will need to be assessed and placed in another program: SYSTEM 44. This program is a separate program and is extremely expensive. The publishers claim that READ 180 and SYSTEM 44 can be taught concurrently in the same classroom, but none of our pilot teachers throughout our district is doing so. Fair to note that the Language!® Live program and Teaching Reading Strategies each provide the instructional resources to teach the full range of student pre-reading and reading needs within the same program.

READ 180 and Language!® use adaptive computer technology to teach individual student deficits. Technology is wonderful; however, there are limitations. Most teachers I know prefer to control

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

what needs to be taught, when it needs to be taught, and how it needs to be taught—not trust the machine and a canned reading program to “fix ‘em.” This is especially important in teaching phonemic awareness. Since phonemic awareness is an auditory, not a visual skill set, the face to face teacher to student instruction is essential. All six of the alphabetic and phonemic awareness assessments in the Teaching Reading Strategies program have specific corresponding instructional activities to ensure that your students will master each of these essential pre-reading skills.

In my next article I will continue my comparative analysis of the screening and placement assessment components in the READ 180 Next Generation and Language!® Live programs with the word attack (phonics and sight words) screening and placement assessment.

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Comparing READ 180 and Language! Live

As money has finally started to creep back into education, districts are now turning their attention and dollars into purchasing reading intervention programs. My district has decided to “speed pilot” two reading intervention programs for our secondary schools: Language!® Live is the re-vamped Language!® program from Voyager Sopris with new contributing author Louisa Cook Moats; and READ 180 Next Generation is the thoroughly revised offering from mega publisher Scholastic/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with new contributing authors Kevin Feldman and Kate Kinsella. At my middle school we have one pilot teacher for each program. Training has been extensive from these two eager publishers because our district, Elk Grove Unified, is the third largest district in California and a district-wide adoption would be quite a plum for either of the two companies.

I am not one of the pilot teachers; however, I am curious. So now my DISCLAIMER: I sell my own reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies with the Sam and Friends Phonics Books and Reading and Spelling Game Cards. I developed the program in three instructional settings: grades 4−6 as a district elementary specialist; middle school as a “support” teacher; and high school as a co-teacher of a remedial reading class with a special education teacher.

As my colleagues have been piloting, I’ve been able to log-in as a student and check out these two programs to compare to my own. A bold move given that my cost per class of 25 students is about $15 per student, whereas the cost per class for each of the two comparative programs is closer to that of a well-equipped Lexus. But, you get what you pay for… right? Well, you do get a lot of bells and whistles.

I’ll begin with the screening and placement assessments for the programs. First I’ll start with the READ 180 program. This article will begin to tackle just one of the two assessments in the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI): The Foundational Reading Assessment. The other assessment is the Reading Comprehension Assessment. As a reading specialist, I always gravitate to phonemic awareness, decoding, and encoding materials, so I’ll start there.

My first ah, ha was the lack of a spelling test as part of the screening and placement assessments. The Language!® program has one; my program has one. What gives?

I will say from my own 25+ years of teaching remedial reading that a student’s ability to encode (spell) certainly has helped me properly place students in instructional programs to target their individual needs. I would go as far as saying that a spelling test (Jane Fell Greene’s encoding test, the Qualitative Spelling Inventory developed by Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, and Johnson (2000), or my own comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment) provides essential information for program placement.

I did a little digging to see if a spelling assessment was part of the READ 180 companion program for beginning readers: SYSTEM 44. Nope. The Scholastic Phonics Inventory® has letter name recognition, sight word recognition, and nonword decoding, but there is no accompanying spelling test.

I decided to email the assessment author, Dr. Richard K. Wagner, and Rick kindly replied twice to my questions. Not to put words into his mouth, but I seemed to get support for my view that using spelling as a screening assessment makes sense.

Now READ 180 does provide individualized assessment and spelling instruction as part of its program, but not as part of its screening and placement. I will give my take (Spoiler Alert: It’s not the best Yelp review) on this spelling “instruction” in a related article.

But why use screening and placement assessments solely to determine whether students qualify for some form of tiered reading intervention? In other words why waste time giving separate placement and diagnostic assessments? Why give a test that provides nothing to teach to?

My Teaching Reading Strategies program uses 3 of its 13 diagnostic assessments (fluency, phonics, and spelling) to both place and provide comprehensive data to inform instruction. For example, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment includes 102 assessment items with an accompanying audio file to handle the 23 minute test administration. Each of the 102 spelling pattern test items has a corresponding worksheet to help students master each of their deficit spelling patterns. Students complete spelling sorts, rhymes, word jumbles, and brief book searches. After completing each worksheet, the students self-correct to learn from their own mistakes and complete a short formative assessment.  Now that’s a placement assessment that gives you something to teach.

In successive articles I will continue my comparative analysis of the other screening and placement assessment components in the READ 180 Next Generation and Language!® Live programs, as well as my shameful self-promotion of Teaching Reading Strategies.

Mark Pennington is the author of the Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.

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