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Archive for May, 2009

Essential Study Skills

From a child’s point of view, there are advantages and disadvantages to having a teacher as a parent. The time off over holidays and summer vacations certainly provides plenty of options for family activities. However, that additional time at home also means plenty of opportunities for learning and character development.

In our household, Dad was the teacher, and he had three sons. So this meant plenty of sports and outdoor adventures. This also meant that we were given a choice every summer: 4 hours of summer school each day at the nearby public school or 90 minutes of daily supervised instruction at home. It was not much of a choice. Each summer we chose the option that Dad affectionately labeled as Essential Study Skills.

Despite our relief at finally graduating from Dad’s Essential Study Skills once we got summer jobs or took community college classes during our high school years, we have to admit that we learned quite a few useful skills each summer. The study skills were especially helpful, and to this day, we don’t understand why these skills are not taught and re-taught to mastery during the regular school year by “regular” teachers.

Maybe these study skills are not introduced because teachers assume that most are simply common sense and do not require  instruction. Or, maybe each teacher thinks that “some other teacher” should or has already taught them. From our personal experiences, study skills need to be taught, not just caught.

Parents can use the time off over holidays and during summer vacations to teach the study skills that teachers “did not have the time” to teach during the school year. Here’s how to develop your own Essential Study Skills plan for each of your children.

-Find out what your child’s relative weaknesses are by giving brief diagnostic tests. Check out these free diagnostic tests in phonics, spelling, grammar, and mechanics, just to name a few. Design short lessons to address those weaknesses.

-Have your child read for 30 minutes a day in a book at his or her challenge level. Not sure how to help your child pick a book that will best develop the vocabulary and comprehension skills that your child needs to achieve optimal growth? Check out these helpful articles: How We Learn Vocabulary from Reading Part II and Interactive Reading: Making a Movie in Your Head.

-Have your child study Greek and Latin vocabulary game cards. Which word parts should they memorize? Check out this article.

-Have your child develop his or her writing style and build writing fluency by spending 30 minutes a day writing journals, thank-you notes, blogs, emails, stories, or essays, while using the techniques taught in this article: How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers.

-Buy this fantastic self-guided resource: Essential Study SkillsThe forty lessons in Essential Study Skills (eBook) will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Often, the reason why students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because they don’t try hard enough, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success. Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable.

Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. Ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, advocacy/advisory, opportunity program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice.

Pennington Publishing's Essential Study Skills

Essential Study Skills

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Learn How to Study

Memory research tells us that we remember up to 70% of new information if that information is practiced withing 24 hours. If we don’t reinforce what has been learned soon after learning, we rapidly forget what has been taught. We need to end the “forgetting cycle for your child (or your students).” Here’s how to help your child learn how to study.

Review Daily Class Work and Workplace Tasks

Every day after school or work, teach your child (or students) to complete a ten-minute review of any notes, worksheets, reports, memos,and assignments that you worked on in that day. This review interrupts the “forgetting cycle” and will help you prepare in advance for tests, meetings, or discussion.

Memory research tells us that people remember up to 70% of new information only if that information is practiced and placed into the long-term memory within the first 24 hours after first learning that information. The level of retention drops to only 10% after one week. So, build in to your daily routine a review time soon after school or at the end of work every day. A little bit of review, rehearsal, and study with a Daily Review will actually save you time studying or preparing for the night before the test or business presentation.

Review Daily Class Work and Workplace Tasks

Purchase a spiral-bound notebook for each school subject. Label each notebook, according to the subject. Write the date of your Daily Review at the top of page and list the key areas of focus for that subject or class on that day. Write possible test questions, discussion points, questions for further research,  and memory tricks to remember key ideas and details for the most important content learned that day on small sticky notes and arrange them on the Daily Review page. A few nights before an upcoming test or business meeting, you can transfer the sticky notes to a study sheet and use them to create a practice test or presentation. Also, don’t forget sticky notes that you used to take marginal annotations on worksheets, articles, and from your textbook, articles, memos, or reports.

A Few Tips for Writing Memorable Sticky Notes

1. People remember information best when that information is organized in a structured manner.

Tip: Organize your sticky notes into distinctly memorable patterns. Try general to specific, alphabetical, and chronological patterns. Color code categories with different color stickies. For example, if you are studying the explorers you could use blue for people, yellow for their countries, green for their areas of exploration, and pink for their accomplishments.

2.  People remember information that is connected to visual imagery.

Tip: Draw out quick graphic or picture representations of key ideas on your stickies.

3. People remember events and information that are made exciting, interesting, or even embarrassing.

Tip: Personalize what you are trying to remember to keep things more memorable on your stickies. Relate the information that you want to remember to events and people in your own life.

Check out the author’s Essential Study Skills learn more helpful study skills.

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The Seven Essay Writing Rules

Essays have different rules than do stories, letters, poems, or journal writing. Essays respond to a writing prompt or writing topic. The writer is required to develop a thesis statement in the introductory paragraph, then follow with at least two body paragraphs which address the thesis statement, then end with a concluding paragraph.

The Common Core Writing Standards divides essays into argumentative and informational/explanatory. Argumentative essays argue a position or point of view; informational/ explanatory essays explain and analyze. Each of these types of essays focuses on the subject of the writing prompt and follows the following essay writing rules.

Keep in mind that essays are a very formal type of writing. Although they may certainly express opinions, essays present evidence in a fair and balanced manner. Think of presenting evidence in an essay as an attorney would present evidence in a court of law. All of the traditional rituals have to be followed. The attorney (writer) has introductory remarks (introductory paragraph) in which a verdict (think thesis statement) is stated. Next, the attorney (writer) presents the main points of the case and the evidence that supports them (body paragraphs). Finally, the attorney (writer) presents the closing arguments (conclusion paragraph).

Here are the seven essay writing rules:

1. Write in complete sentences. Intentional fragments, such as “Right?” don’t belong in essays.

2. Write in third person. Talk about the subject of the essay. Don’t personalize with first person pronouns such as I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours, ourselves. Don’t talk to the reader with second person pronouns such as you, your, yours, yourself, yourselves. The essay is to be objective (fair and balanced), not subjective (personalized). Rid essays of “I think,” “I believe,” and “In my opinion.”

3. Do not abbreviate. Abbreviations are informal and serve as short-cuts, so they don’t belong in essays. So write United States, not U.S. in essays.

4. Do not use slang, such as kids. Use official, or formal, words, such as children.

5. Do not use contractions. Again, essays are very formal, so write “do not” rather than “don’t.”

6. Do not use figures of speech. Be direct and precise in essay writing. Essays do not use poetic devices or idiomatic expressions. For example, don’t write “He let the cat out of the bag.” Instead, say “He shared a secret.”

7. Do not over-use the same words or phrases. For example, avoid over-use of the “to-be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.

Find eight complete writing process essays, 40 essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comment download to use computer assisted grading.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

 

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Interactive Reading-Making a Movie in Your Head

Everyone knows that effective communication between two friends or family members is a two-way, active process. One-sided communication does not help people understand each other. People best understand one another when they pay attention to each other, see things from the other person’s point of view, and ask questions when they don’t understand each other.

Reading is different form of communication, but the process should be the same. Reading really is about communication between the reader and the author. Now, it’s true that the author is not speaking directly to the reader; however, readers read best when they pretend that this is so. Reading specialists estimate that reading comprehension is a 50-50 interaction. In other words, about half of our understanding of the text is what the reader puts into the reading, in terms of prior knowledge, understanding of word choice, and knowledge of text structure.

So, how can students  learn to read interactively to improve reading comprehension? The way we watch movies can provide some helpful insights. Most people will say that they understand movies better than they understand books. Why is this so?

First of all, the light of the movie or television screen and the sound draws your complete attention and focus. Distractions are limited, so you concentrate well.

Secondly, you actually do a lot more than “watch” a movie in the movie theater or at home. It is true that movies are a visual experience, but they are also a listening experience. The audio system and quality of the movie soundtrack make a huge difference in how well you understand a movie. Anyone who has seen a foreign movie with subtitles will admit that it is harder to understand the movie without sound. Movies are multi-sensory.

Thirdly, you involve yourself in the movie that you watch. Everyone imagines themselves shooting up the bad guys, looking into the eyes of the beautiful actress or handsome actor, or running away from the evil alien-monster-robot. You may even “talk” to the characters during crucial scenes, such as “I know what’s behind that door. Don’t open it!” You predict what will happen and probably even compare the plot to other movies of that genre as you watch. You act as a movie critic as well, thinking of how boring or exciting a scene may be.

So, let’s apply what to do as a movie watcher to what readers should do to read interactively.

First of all, limit any distractions to improve reading concentration. In the classroom, it may be asking the teacher to move seats away from a friend who talks too much. At home, it may be reading away from the distractions of the television, phone, music, or bothersome little brother.

Secondly, apply all of the senses to the reading. Listen to what the author is saying, try to feel what the characters feel, see the changing settings how the author describes them.

Thirdly, involve yourself in the reading by “talking to the text.” This internal dialog improves concentration and helps you better interact with the author. Summarize, compare, re-read, interpret, and predict frequently as you read. Make your reading a two-way active process, not a one-way passive activity.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, 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 decodable take-home books 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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How to Break Bad Reading Habits

Many people do not read well because of poor silent reading habits. Correcting these poor reading practices and replacing them with good reading practices will improve reading comprehension. You can become a better reader by practicing these tips.

1. Improve your reading posture. Reading difficult text is not a relaxed activity. Your body position has much to do with how well you understand the text. Reading in bed is wonderful for putting you to sleep, but not for studying. Instead, sit up straight in a straight-backed chair at a desk or table with good lighting and keep your feet flat on the floor. Place two hands on the reading. Keep the distance from eyes to book about the same distance as that of your forearm. Don’t angle the book too much so that you can keep your head straight. Not perfectly comfortable? Good! Reading is not supposed to be relaxing; it is supposed to be stimulating.

2. Adjust your reading attitude. Reading may not be your favorite mental activity, but it is a crucially important study skill. As a child, you learned to read. Now, you read to learn. Good readers learn more in school and succeed to a greater degree in the workplace. Be realistic and honest with yourself. Are you reading just to tell yourself or others that you did so? Are you reading for in-depth understanding?

3. Establish a purpose for your reading and adjust your level of comprehension. Not everything should be read for the same reading purpose. Reading an article about a favorite movie star does not require the level of comprehension that reading a computer manual does.

4. Improve your concentration. First of all, turn off the music, put away your phone, get away from the television and computer, and find a quiet room. Anything competing with full concentration reduces reading speed and reading comprehension. Good reading can not include multi-tasking. Stop taking mental vacations during your reading. For example, never allow yourself a pause at the end of a page or chapter-read on! Minimize daydreaming by forcing yourself to make personal connections with what is going on in the reading. Prompt yourself to quickly return to the text when your mind first begins wandering.

5. Improve your reading attention span. Begin with short, uninterrupted reading sessions with 100% concentration and gradually increase the length of your sessions until you can read for, say 30 minutes. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your reading attention span will take time to improve. Take a short, pre-planned break away from your reading area after a reading session. Don’t read something else during your break.

6. When reading silently, don’t pronounce the words in your head and don’t move your lips while reading. These are called sub-vocalizations and they interfere with your understanding of the text. Focus on what the author is trying to say. After all, the purpose of reading is not to say the words; the purpose of reading is to understand the meaning of the text.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, 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 decodable take-home books 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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Why Spelling Is So Difficult

President Andrew Jackson once remarked, “It’s a d____ poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word!” Many Americans would readily agree. In fact, the English language is notorious for its spelling irregularities. Looking at the glass as being half-empty, it is true that only about half of our spellings exactly match their sounds.

What a crazy system, in which the word fish could be spelled as “ghoti.” That’s /f/ spelled “gh” as in rough, /i/ spelled “o” as in women, and /sh/ spelled /ti/ as in nation. Or how about the fact that the “ur” sound /ur/ can be spelled differently five times in one sentence? Her nurse first works early. Or how about the fact that the “sh” sound /sh/ can be spelled in 14 different ways? shine, sugar, ocean, tissue, ration, fuchsia, shist, pshaw, spacious, nauseous, anxious, conscious, chaperone, mansion.

However, looking at the glass as being half-full, the fact that 50% of the spellings exactly match their sounds certainly provides a helpful foundation upon which to build good spelling. We don’t have to memorize every word individually. Upon this 50% foundation, an additional 30% of spellings which conform to about eight of the most useful spelling rules can be added. This leaves about 20% of the words that must be memorized. We call these “Outlaw Words” for good reason. Jessie James couldn’t even spell his own name!

Additionally, our vocabulary is an amalgam of linguistic and historical influences. Over 50% of our academic words are built on ancient Greek and Latin word parts. French and Spanish add to our spelling lexicon as well. So, by studying languages we also improve our English spelling. If fact, spelling and vocabulary have a reciprocal relationship-spelling influences vocabulary and, conversely, vocabulary influences spelling.

So, given that our English spelling system is not simplistic, what should we do?

1.      Master the 50% foundation. The common sound spellings are very consistent. A wonderful multiple choice assessment of these patterns can be downloaded free at .

2.      Learn the eight conventional spelling rules that will add on another 30% of the spelling words that would be otherwise irregular.

3.      Memorize the common Outlaw Words. Many of these are our most frequently used words.  Make up memory tricks such as “you would rather have more dessert than a desert” or the “principal is my pal” for difficult words that do not follow the spelling patterns or conventional spelling rules.

4.      Memorize the most frequently misspelled words and commonly confused words.

5.      Memorize homophones: words that sound the same, but are spelled differently.

6.      Study the etymological (how the word was formed in its historical context) connections from Old and Middle English.

7.      Study the derivational spellings from other languages. Example: colonel from the French

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 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.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

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

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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