Archive

Archive for July, 2010

Common Core State Writing Standards

For years, English teachers have struggled with essay terminology. Fittingly, the word essay derives from the French verb essayer which roughly means “to try” or “to attempt.” Some teachers have attempted rather precise definitions and limitations of the genre. More recently, state exams have become the tails that wag the dogs in terms of essay classification. In California, for example, the California Standards Test even refers to a multi-paragraph summary as an essay.

Now, we have a different approach to defining the essay. The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing. (The third writing classification, narrative, is acknowledged and brief mention is made of poetry and “other forms.”) The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards. The committee used the 2009 ACT national curriculum survey of postsecondary instructors of composition, freshman English, and survey of American literature courses (ACT, Inc., 2009) as reference and found that “write to argue or persuade readers” was virtually tied with “write to convey information” as the most important type of writing needed by incoming college students. Hence the two essay classifications.

Following is an executive summary of the two essay classifications, using the language of the document within my own organizational structure. The full document (Appendix A) is found here.

Argument

Definition

Arguments are used for many purposes—to change the reader’s point of view, to bring about some action on the reader’s part, or to ask the reader to accept the writer’s explanation or evaluation of a concept, issue, or problem. An argument is a reasoned, logical way of demonstrating that the writer’s position, belief, or conclusion is valid.

Application within Subject Disciplines Grades 6-12

  • In English language arts, students make claims about the worth or meaning of a literary work or works. They defend their interpretations or judgments with evidence from the text(s) they are writing about.
  • In history/social studies, students analyze evidence from multiple primary and secondary sources to advance a claim that is best supported by the evidence, and they argue for a historically or empirically situated interpretation.
  • In science, students make claims in the form of statements or conclusions that answer questions or address problems. Using data in a scientifically acceptable form, students marshal evidence and draw on their understanding of scientific concepts to argue in support of their claims.

Grades K-5

Although young children are not able to produce fully developed logical arguments, they develop a variety of methods to extend and elaborate their work by providing examples, offering reasons for their assertions, and explaining cause and effect. These kinds of expository structures are steps on the road to argument. In grades K–5, the term opinion is used to refer to this developing form of argument.

Informational/Explanatory Writing

Definition

Informational/explanatory writing conveys information accurately. This kind of writing serves one or more closely related purposes: to increase readers’ knowledge of a subject, to help readers better understand a procedure or process, or to provide readers with an enhanced comprehension of a concept. To produce this kind of writing, students draw from what they already know and from primary and secondary sources. With practice, students become better able to develop a controlling idea and a coherent focus on a topic and more skilled at selecting and incorporating relevant examples, facts, and details into their writing. They are also able to use a variety of techniques to convey information, such as naming, defining, describing, or differentiating different types or parts; comparing or contrasting ideas or concepts; and citing an anecdote or a scenario to illustrate a point.

Application within Subject Disciplines Grades K-12

Informational/explanatory writing addresses matters such as the following:

  • Types (What are the different types of poetry?)
  • Components (What are the parts of a motor?)
  • Size, function, or behavior (How big is the United States? What is an X-ray used for? How do penguins find food?)
  • How things work (How does the legislative branch of government function?)
  • Why things happen (Why do some authors blend genres?).

Informational/explanatory writing includes a wide array of genres, including academic genres such as literary analyses, scientific and historical reports, summaries, and precis writing as well as forms of workplace and functional writing such as instructions, manuals, memos, reports, applications, and resumes. As students advance through the grades, they expand their repertoire of informational/explanatory genres and use them effectively in a variety of disciplines and domains.

Comparing and Contrasting the Essay Classifications

Although information is provided in both arguments and explanations, the two types of writing have different aims.

  • Arguments seek to make people believe that something is true or to persuade people to change their beliefs or behavior. Explanations, on the other hand, start with the assumption of truthfulness and answer questions about why or how. Their aim is to make the reader understand rather than to persuade him or her to accept a certain point of view. In short, arguments are used for persuasion and explanations for clarification.
  • Like arguments, explanations provide information about causes, contexts, and consequences of processes, phenomena, states of affairs, objects, terminology, and so on. However, in an argument, the writer not only gives information but also presents a case with the “pros” (supporting ideas) and “cons” (opposing ideas) on a debatable issue. Because an argument deals with whether the main claim is true, it demands empirical descriptive evidence, statistics, or definitions for support. When writing an argument, the writer supports his or her claim(s) with sound reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Narrative Writing

Narrative writing conveys experience, either real or imaginary, and uses time as its deep structure. It can be used for many purposes, such as to inform, instruct, persuade, or entertain. In English language arts, students produce narratives that take the form of creative fictional stories, memoirs, anecdotes, and autobiographies. Over time, they learn to provide visual details of scenes, objects, or people; to depict specific actions for example, movements and gestures).

Creative Writing beyond Narrative

The narrative category does not include all of the possible forms of creative writing, such as many types of poetry. The Standards leave the inclusion and evaluation of other such forms to teacher discretion.

My Take

Although much makes sense in the Common Core State Writing Standards in terms of essay classification (I happen to use the same classifications in my Teaching Essay Strategies writing curriculum, teaching four argumentative and four informational/explanatory essays), much of the document assumes things not yet proven. A few examples should suffice.

  • Who is to say that college English professors are the experts in defining the essay? The experiences of my three sons at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. San Diego, and San Diego State would prove otherwise. With few exceptions, the writing topics and prompts assigned as papers and exams were uniformly contrived, artificial, and downright incoherent for both assignments and exams, leaving my sons, me, and my English high school and middle school colleagues shaking our collective heads. Basing the K-12 writing standards on how and what college professors teach may be a shaky foundation.
  • Who is to say whether the personal essay, narratives, and poetry are less important than argument and informational/explanatory writing?
  • Other forms of writing may be more developmentally appropriate at different grade levels and may actually serve as effective scaffolds to the two essay classifications.
  • Application of the these essay classifications may work fine within the social sciences; however, our science colleagues may find these forms constraining, and perhaps out of sync with their rigid scientific methodologies.

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies, at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Teaching ELA/Reading: 10 Impediments and Solutions

None of us gets into the teaching profession with the hopes of being mediocre. All ELA/reading teachers want to do their best for their students. But how can we give our best when so many impediments stand in our way? I’m not talking about the usual ones we discuss in the staff room: discipline problems, overbearing administrators, bothersome parents, lack of materials. I’m talking about the all of the stuff that reductively minimizes our opportunity to be our best. In other words, if we could just rid ourselves (and our students) of… XXXX, we could truly be the teachers we want to be. So, let’s explore the impediments many ELA/reading teachers that keep us from teaching how and what we need to teach, the solutions as to how to reduce or get rid of these in our teaching repertoire, and most importantly what to teach now that the impediments have been removed.

10 Impediments and Solutions

1. Standards

Impediments: Although most teachers support the notion of an instructional scope and sequence, district-state-national standards were not delivered at Mt. Sinai. Some ELA/reading standards are more important than others and we ultimately and practically teach our students, not the standards. Our students are an unruly lot, refusing to progress at exactly the same rates and generally making a mess of our year-to-year academic standards.

Solutions: Establish priorities in terms of instructional time. Does anyone think that an identifying author’s purpose standard merits the same amount of attention as a reading comprehension standard? Develop a balance between teaching grade-level and review standards, according to the needs of your students indicated by diagnostic data.

2. School Culture and Interruptions

Impediments: At the middle or high school level, the ELA classes check out all books in the library, get student identification pictures, get picture re-takes, listen to counselor career presentations, and attend discipline assemblies. Daily announcements, spirit assemblies, guest speakers, phone calls interrupt all teachers. Not to mention the usual bathroom/counselor/nurse passes.

Solutions: Be assertive and learn to say “No.” Get other colleagues on board, work through the appropriate channels, and be willing to compromise; but guard “time on task” and re-visit these impediments regularly—they have a habit of sneaking back in.

3. Traditions

Impediments: 3rd grade silkworms and the reading incentive program, 4th grade dioramas and animal reports, 5th grade sugar cube castles and state reports, 6th grade science projects and PowerPoint® presentations, 7th grade African masks and oral reports, Martin Luther King, Jr. essay contest and 8th grade U.S. Constitution graduation requirement. You get the idea.

Solutions: Develop the mindset that any instructional activity that can achieve the same objectives in a more efficient manner than another instructional activity should be the one you choose. Don’t confuse content and process objectives.

4. Colleagues

Impediments: “We all teach XXXX. It’s a team decision—there is no I in team.” Disagreement is perceived as personal attack. Gossip, friendship, even romance. And colleagues tend to prey upon our good natures to get us to follow their agendas.

Solutions: Affirm your colleagues’ agendas, but don’t get sucked in. Always run a cost-benefit analysis when changing instruction. Being a team player doesn’t mean sacrificing your autonomy. Do what makes sense for you and your students.

5. Scheduling

Impediments: Advanced band is only offered this period, the special education pull-out study skills program, the reading intervention program, the remedial-basic-advanced-honors ELA classes, and the computer lab. And others.

Solutions: The needs of the students should dictate schedules; however, well-intended interventions, pull-out programs, and tracking can reduce the amount of core instructional time each student receives and/or change a teacher’s instructional plans. Insist upon differentiating instruction within the scope of the core ELA curricula and the confines of the regular classroom to address student needs.

6. Pigeonholing

Impediments: Shouldn’t the ELA teachers teach XXXX? Reading (literature and reading skills and SSR), writing, listening, speaking. Note-taking. Critical thinking. Problem-solving skills. Study skills. Career exploration. And let’s add on basic parenting.

Solutions: Preach “all teachers are teachers of reading, writing, and thinking.” Get to know the process-oriented standards of your math, social studies, arts, foreign language, physical education, and science teachers for ammunition and encourage everyone to share the load.

7. Educational Fads

Impediments: Learning styles, rigor and relevance, multiple intelligences, small learning communities, tribes, Cornell notes, reading fads, levels of questioning. And a few hundred more.

Solutions: Before jumping onto bandwagons, talk to veteran teachers for their “what comes around, goes around” perspectives, search the Internet for the real research on any educational fad, and take all professors’ and presenters’ information with grains of salt. Stick to the basics when in doubt.

8. Bureaucracy and Paperwork

Impediments: Progress monitoring charts, skills documentation, reading logs, independent learning goals, student evaluations. Staff meetings. Department meetings. Grade-level team meetings. Cross-disciplinary meetings. Vertical articulation. The mind boggles.

Solutions: Veteran teachers know how to cut corners when they need cutting. Ask them. Insist upon written agendas with time allocations and a time-keeper for meetings. Push to get everything in writing that can be written on an agenda and e-mailed in advance. Hold colleagues accountable for “birdwalking.” Keep business meetings all-business, and schedule personal hang-out/discussion time prior to or after meetings.

9. Testing

Impediments: State testing, district testing, diagnostic assessments, formative assessments, summative assessments. Standardized test preparation. Unit test review.

Solutions: Select colleagues committed to protecting teacher instructional time as district representatives on testing committees. Minimize isolated test preparation. The best test preparation is good teaching in the core ELA instructional components.

10. Ourselves

Impediments: I love to share my personal life with my students. My students love my stories. My students love my jokes. I just enjoy talking with students. I go with the “teachable moments.” I teach more of this because I like it better. I hate teaching, never liked, or I’m bad at XXXX… so I don’t teach it.

Solutions: We are often our own worst enemies. Ask a trusted colleague to observe you, your personal idiosyncrasies, and how you waste instructional time. Video-tape yourself. Don’t confuse your own teaching style with poor time management. Teach all the core curricular components and work on those in which you are weak.

Instructional Priorities

There are curricular priorities that most ELA teachers would agree to teach “if only they had the time.” To be practical as possible, here are the specific “Big Six” ELA instructional components with percentages of instructional time that make sense to allocate to each. Having taught at the upper elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels, I believe that the core instructional components and allocations of instructional time should remain constant across those levels. Take stock of what you teach and how much time you allocate to each instructional component. And feel free to disagree.

The Big Six

1. Word Study (Vocabulary, Spelling, Syllabication) 16%

2. Grammar and Mechanics 16%

3. Reading Strategies 16%

4. Literary Analysis 16%

5, Writing Strategies 16%

6. Writing Process Papers 16%

That leaves 4% for the impediments that you cannot remove. Such is life.

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

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

What Effective and Ineffective RtI Look Like

Overview

Response to Intervention (RtI) is a K-12 site-level decision-making process designed to facilitate and coordinate early and flexible responses to student’s learning and behavioral difficulties. RtI promotes data-based decision-making with respect to service placement and on-going progress monitoring. RtI was introduced as special education policy in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004). It is the law of the land. However, how that law is implemented at school sites will differ widely. Following are a few indicators of what effective and ineffective RtI can look like.

What Effective RtI Looks Like

An RtI team meets regularly at a school site. Composed of resource specialists (special education, reading specialist, EL coordinator), teachers, counselors, psychologists, and administration, most teams designate (or hire at large schools) an RtI coordinator. Typical responsibilities include the following:

Gatekeeping/Decision-Making- The RtI team may review recommendations of Student Study Teams (SST), or replace the SST as program gatekeepers. The team attempts to reduce unnecessary referrals to special education by ensuring that all students in the general education setting have access to appropriate curriculum and instruction at their own levels of need.

Diagnostic Assessment- The RtI team approves appropriate academic and behavioral diagnostic assessments and develops a process for efficient implementation and evaluation of the diagnostic data.

Placement- The RtI team typically follows a three-tiered approach to service placement akin to the Pyramid Model (Fox, Dunlap, Hemmeter, Joseph, & Strain, 2003): Tier 3 includes students requiring intensive instruction; Tier 2 includes at-risk students requiring strategic small group instruction; Tier 1 includes students requiring differentiated instruction within the core class.

Progress Monitoring-RtI requires specific procedures for regular documentation of progress at each assigned level of placement. The RtI team approves appropriate formative assessments and develops a process for efficient implementation and evaluation of the formative data. The RtI team applies this data to adjust tiered placement of students and recommends specific interventions and/or instructional practices to service providers.

Instructional Materials-The RtI team recommends the purchase of instructional materials suitable to the three-tiered instructional design.

Instructional Coaching-The RtI team works with site and district administration to coordinate professional development to ensure that service providers are equipped to deliver the research-based interventions appropriate to student needs.

What Ineffective RtI Looks Like

RtI can certainly look like “the same old sow with new lipstick.” New terms can substitute for old ones and the process for delivering instructional and behavioral support to students can remain essentially the same. Following are a few pitfalls to avoid in developing the RtI process:

We’re Not on the Same Page-All team members need to be thoroughly acquainted with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) and related research.

Not Everyone Is Involved-RtI will fail if it is or is perceived as a “top-down” decision-making entity. Teachers are key to RtI success. Parent buy-in is essential.

Too Much Time and Overwhelming Paperwork-RtI needs to be efficient. Ironically, many of the old, inefficient means of individual diagnostic and formative assessments and record-keeping for progress-monitoring are promoted in much of the RtI literature. To secure long-lasting support, time and paperwork have to be minimized without sacrificing accuracy.

No Professional Development-Without the investment of quality site-based in-service training and support, the RtI process will be compromised.

No Budgetary Support-The three-tiered model requires purchase of instructional materials appropriate to each intervention. Resource specialists and teachers cannot be expected to re-invent the wheel or simply “water-down” the core instructional materials for service delivery.

Following are free diagnostic reading assessments, created by a team of reading specialists, that are user-friendly, simple to score and analyze, and designed to enable resource specialists and teachers of all levels of expertise to differentiate reading instruction: penningtonpublishing.com 

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

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , ,

Eight Reading Intervention Models

Administrators, special education teachers, ELD coordinators, reading specialists, teachers, and parents need to work together to mesh Response to Intervention (RtI) guidelines with resources, personnel, and schedules  to plan and implement effective reading intervention programs that will work for their own schools. Following are eight intervention models with proven track records. After all, why re-invent the wheel? Each of the following models is described and analyzed in pro-con format and includes suggestions for successful adaptations and preparations for your school site.

1. The Early-Late Reading/English-language Arts Model

Description

All students are grouped according to reading (or literacy) levels. The lower-middle group is scheduled to begin school, say 55 minutes before core instruction. The middle-upper group is scheduled to begin after the early group is dismissed. This traditional elementary school model has now been implemented by some middle schools. High schools and community colleges traditionally have larger student populations, which provide greater schedule flexibility with extended morning and afternoon classes at some sites.

Pro

*Reduces class size for both remedial and other readers

*Does provide a specific daily time for reading remediation

Con

*Reduces the instructional time for other content areas

*Arbitrary placement of students into “high” and “low” groups

Suggestions

*Make early-late placement flexible so students can transition from early to late and from late to early.

2. The After-School Remedial Reading Model

Description

Students are flexibly grouped according to reading levels. Teachers and/or instructional assistants provide compensatory instruction beyond the instructional day. Both full-year and half-year intensive programs are typically used in this model.

Pro

*Provides compensatory instruction so that students are able to “catch up” and “keep up” with grade-level instruction

*Is easily scheduled and allows for flexible student groupings and “in and out” transitions

Con

*Budgetary considerations

*Student and parent “buy-in”

Suggestions

*Explore flexible teacher scheduling e.g., split-schedules, part-time hires, shared contracts.

*Use a highly-trained reading teacher with excellent curricular resources.

3. The Pull-Out Remedial Reading Model

Description

Students are pulled from Reading/English-language Arts instructional blocks according to diagnostically assessed reading deficits and receive reading instruction, frequently from special education specialists.

Pro

*Does not disrupt student schedule

*Students can be remediated in ability groups

Con

*Interrupts student and teacher instruction and students miss out on core instruction

*Pull-outs can be perceived as embarrassing for students

Suggestions

*Pull out students at beginning or ending of period or during assigned reading time.

*Use a highly-trained reading teacher with excellent curricular resources.

4. The Reading Elective Model

Description

Students are assigned to a remedial reading class in lieu of their elective.

Pro

*Students can be scheduled throughout the day in roughly defined ability groups

Con

*Replaces the students’ elective choices

Suggestions

*Use a highly-trained reading teacher with excellent curricular resources.

5. The Replacement Model

Description

Students are assigned to a remedial reading class in lieu of their language arts, physical education, science, or social studies core classes, or combination thereof.

Pro

*Students can be scheduled throughout the day in roughly defined ability groups

Con

*Students miss out on grade level instruction

Suggestions

*Use a highly-trained reading teacher with excellent curricular resources.

6. The Reading/Language Arts Block Model

 Description

The school schedules an extended period (or days) of reading/language arts with time within the block allocated to Tier I and II differentiated reading instruction.

Pro

*Does provide for a specific time for reading intervention

*Does not disrupt student schedules

Con

*Requires all teachers to be proficient in and committed to remedial reading instruction

*May not provide enough time for remedial reading instruction

Suggestions

*Need school-wide professional development in remedial reading instruction.

7. The Heterogeneously Grouped Differentiated Instruction Model

Description

Students are grouped heterogeneously with the expectation that teachers will teach Tier II or III reading skills through differentiated instruction.

Pro

*Mixed class provides opportunities for flexible grouping and peer tutoring

*Does not disrupt student schedule

Con

*Requires all teachers to be proficient in and committed to remedial reading instruction

*May not provide enough time for remedial reading instruction

Suggestions

*Need school-wide professional development in remedial reading instruction.

8. The ELD and SDAIE Grouped Instruction Model

Description

English-language learners are grouped according to CELDT or other assessments into leveled ELD or SDAIE classes to receive differentiated reading instruction, support content instruction, and maximize language acquisition. Separate newcomers classes are usually the norm.

Pro

*Narrows ability grouping by language development levels

*Differentiates instruction

*Provides extensive support for newcomers

Con

*Limits student scheduling

*Tracking affects student attitude and behavior

*Requires extensive ELD or SDAIE expertise

Suggestions

*Train a cadre of teachers in specific teaching strategies.

*Guarantee “in and out” program mobility for students.

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

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

Don’t Teach to the LCD

Teachers get into our profession for different reasons. Some of us truly enjoyed school and have always wanted to be teachers. Some of us value the independence of our own classrooms. Some of us like being part of a team. Some of us like the job security (true until recently). Some of us like the vacations. However, all of us share two common denominators: we enjoy working with students and we want to help make a difference in their lives.

These common denominators require some degree of compassion, empathy, and idealism. Admirable and necessary character traits for an educator, if you ask me. However, our penchant for helping individuals can work cross-purpose to our overall mission of helping all students. In fact, we often wind up teaching to the LCD (the Lowest Common Denominator). Perhaps I  had better explain…

Problems

  • We may spend an inequitable amount of time, resources, and personal teacher attention on students who need instructional remediation. Our desire to see every student succeed often means that we give more to the neediest. Remedial instruction often includes more instructional time within the school day. “Early Bird” classes in primary, intervention classes in intermediate, middle, and high schools provide that additional time. Our schools fund these special classes, which often include lower teacher to student ratios and more supplies (such as remedial texts) to students who perform lower than grade-level norms. Within the “regular” class setting, students with instructional and/or behavioral challenges receive more personal teacher attention than do other students. Now, few teachers would argue that these students do not deserve this additional time, resources, and personal teacher attention. This would run counter to “who we are” as educators. However, in the real world there are fiscal, legal, and systemic constraints. All students can certainly be labeled as needy—think middle-performing and gifted students… Don’t these students deserve equitable time, resources, and teacher attention? Teachers are less comfortable with the concept of “taking away” instructional time, resources, and personal teacher attention. But, schools are reductive entities. Giving more there takes away from here.
  • We may slow down the instructional pace to ensure that all students have a greater chance at mastering our teaching objectives. Typically, this means that we repeat instruction, provide additional examples, and spend more time on guided practice. Increased success in mastery of the teaching objectives for remedial students often comes at the cost of boring middle-performing and gifted students to tears.
  • We may cater to the perceived needs of remedial students. Beyond special classes, we spoon-feed alternative instruction (pre-teach/re-teach, TPR, student choice, learning styles, and more) within the classroom. Teachers may provide peer tutoring or use instructional aides to monitor progress of remedial students and especially special education students. Teachers repeat or re-explain whole-class instructions to individuals. In catering to the needs of some students, we may find ourselves unintentionally lowering expectations for these students. For example, we may be advised to reduce the class or homework for individual students. We may choose to ignore teaching certain challenging standards. We may adjust tests, grading scales, or the type of assigned work.

Solutions

  • Commit to spending an equitable amount of time, resources, and personal teacher attention on all students. Often, this means middle-performing students who can get “lost in the shuffle.” Think of the student names that are hardest to learn. They belong to your middle-performing students. I will bet that you quickly and more easily learn the names of your students with instructional or behavioral challenges and the names of your brightest students.
  • Be an anti-tracking advocate. Tracking students assumes that there is such a possibility of a homogeneous class. There is no such animal. For example, as a reading specialist I can assure you that lumping together a group of remedial readers into an intervention class does not make homogeneous instruction possible. Students are remedial readers for a wide-variety of reasons. At the other end of the spectrum, no two gifted students are gifted in the same way. Tracking costs additional money. Reducing class sizes for some raises class sizes for others. Scheduling tracked classes is a nightmare and involves real costs. We can also discuss the negative social stigma for some students that often derives from tracking.
  • Differentiating instruction for all of your students means that all deserve your personal attention. All students need to be personally challenged at the points of their diagnostically assessed instructional needs. Affording equitable personal teacher attention does not necessarily mean that you interact in the same way with each student; however, assigning appropriate learning activities needs to reflect that goal.
  • Speed up your instructional pace. You don’t have to become a “fast-talker,” but becoming consciously aware of how you manage class time, and especially how you deliver instruction, is essential to the success of all of your students. Counter-intuitively, remedial students benefit from a “hurried, yet relaxed” instructional pace. Setting a daily time for differentiated instruction will allow you to judiciously address students who need more time.
  • Guard time-on-task zealously. Use the full amount of class time by designing effective “openers” and “closers.” Train your students to make quick instructional transitions. Know your own proclivities. If you are the “funny teacher,” tell fewer jokes. If you are the “share my personal life teacher,” tell less stories and spend more time on Facebook®. Having a peer observe your time-on-task instructional patterns can be an eye-opening experience. Advocate forcefully for fewer class interruptions.
  • If two instructional activities or methodologies accomplish the same mastery, teach the one that takes less time. To tread on a few cherished traditions: sugar cube or toothpick forts and castles, dioramas, masks, oral book reports from every student, and quite a few science projects just have to go. Process and fun are fine, but we have choices to make as professionals.
  • We know from years of educational research that maintaining high expectations for all students is essential to their success. Guard against those that would provide the “realistic” caveat to that statement. Maintain your idealism that all students can and must learn. Treat students as individuals and know their needs, but don’t cater to them and avoid spoon-feeding. Encourage independent learning and maximum effort from your students.

Teachers are habitual creatures, just as are our students. It takes time to change from teaching to the Lowest Common Denominator to differentiating instruction for all of your students.

R

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.

Reading, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach the English-language Arts Standards

Every English-language arts teacher shares the same problem—too much to teach and not enough time to teach it. Whether you are teaching on a traditional six-period schedule with 55 minute classes or on a modified block schedule with 90 minute classes, the challenge is the same. By the way, I teach three 85 minute ELA classes, five days per week (I know you’re drooling right now), and there still is not enough time. Elementary teachers face the same dilemma.

So, where are the magic beans that will allow us to teach all of the have-tos (think Common Core ELA standards) and still have a bit of time to teach the want-tos? Following are a few suggestions to help the clever ELA teacher have her cake and eat it, too.

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.

First, I must get my caveats out of the way. I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all standards-based instruction. Yes, I am committed to differentiated instruction. Secondly, I do believe that our primary job is to teach students, not standards, per se. These being said, most of us would agree that having standards makes some sense and helps us follow an instructional scope and sequence that benefits students. Standards also gives us something to talk about during department meetings.

A few ideas…

1. Teach to the standards, not content. Adjust instructional content and methodology to the standards. Don’t paste on standards to a short story, for example. We sometimes spend a lot of time teaching very little, if we don’t get this right.

2. Prioritize. Not every standard is equally important. No ELA teacher would seriously argue that teaching “author’s purpose” is as important as “drawing inferences.” Most state departments of educations have developed power standards that get the most bang for the buck.

3. Spend more time on the new standards and less on the old ones. All standards-based instructional scopes and sequences have both grade-level and review standards. Some even include accelerated standards. Now, don’t ditch the review standards as did a former colleague of mine. We have to teach according to the diagnostic needs of our students, and this often necessitates review.

4. Kill two birds with one stone. Many ELA standards are complimentary and can be combined to increase instructional efficiency. For example, context clue standards (say using antonyms to define) can be included with inference standards. For example, students can identify and compose antonym clues within sentences that require inference or state implication.

5. Break down the standards into scaffolded skills. Many of these skills will actually be prerequisites to being able to master the overall standard. For example, a reading or speaking standard on pronunciation or articulation would possibly necessitate instruction in syllable rules.

6. Don’t teach what they already know. Pre-assessment for each standard can eliminate some components and also refine instruction. “If they know it, they will show it. If they don’t, they won’t.” Adjust instruction according to the data. I suggest saving direct, whole-class instruction for truly un-mastered standards. Targeted small group instruction is more effective for those who have yet to master standards than their peers already have. By the way, doing a quick review or pulling aside a group to pre-teach before giving the pre-assessment will likely decrease the number of students that will require instruction and practice.

7. Don’t over-teach. We often waste instructional time by “beating the dead horse.” Don’t use three examples, when one will do. Avoid unnecessary repetition, especially for the sake of those students not paying attention or requiring remediation. Using quick formative assessments, either oral (show me thumbs up or down, color cards) or written (tickets out the door) can inform the teacher if more instruction is really needed and for whom. Having a “hurried, yet comfortable pace” will enable the teacher to teach more and bore students less.

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

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