Archive

Archive for September, 2010

How to Teach Verbs

Verbs come in many forms in English. Knowing the definition of this basic part of speech only gets us so far. We do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to verbs. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. Even the die-hard writing process folk, never fans of direct grammar instruction, have always agreed that teaching the definitions of the parts of speech a must. Ask English-language arts teachers what they wish their students knew about grammar and they will universally answer “parts of speech.”

We know that students have learned these parts of speech ad nauseam, but why can’t they remember them?  Have their teachers been negligent or unskilled? Or is repeated instruction the only way to learn grammar? Is it the problem of learning grammar divorced from the context of writing?

Following is an instructional approach guaranteed to interrupt this forgetting cycle with definitions of key verb components and clear examples.

1. DIE AR

(Yes, a depressing mnemonic. Perhaps a secret wish to kill off the Accelerated Reader® program?)

DEFINE Help students memorize the definitions of the key verb components. Rote memory is fundamental to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, and even songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Song. Test and re-test to ensure mastery.

IDENTIFY Help students identify verb components in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry kills two birds with one stone: identification practice and sentence modeling.

EDIT Help students practice error analysis for each verb component by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Finding out what is wrong does help clarify what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need the mentor texts and writing practice to master their verb components. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing translates into long-term memory and application.

APPLY Help students their knowledge of verbs correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for infinitive verbs…

To ________________ how ________________ a two-wheeler bike, a child must first practice how ________________ themselves ________________ falling.

Possible response: To learn how to ride a two-wheeler bike, a child must first practice how to balance themselves to avoid falling.

REVISE Help students understand the importance and relevance of learning verbs by revising their own authentic writing. Stress using what they have learned about verb components to improve coherence, sentence variety, author voice, word choice, clarity, and style. Make sure to share brilliant revisions that reflect these improvements as your own mentor texts. Post them on your walls and refer to them often to reinforce definition, identification, and writing style.

2. Assessments

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, such as verbs, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to allocate to direct instruction. It may be that one class tends to have mastery re: past tense verbs, linking verbs, and infinitives but weaknesses in helping verbs, future tense verbs, and subject-verb agreement. A different class may have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Why so? It just seems to work that way. Second, diagnostic assessments provide an individual baseline upon which to build learning. Sharing this data with students is crucial. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate their learning and see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out my favorite whole class diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure true mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of verb components must be comprehensive, including all steps of the DIE AR process. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only satisfies the teacher (and colleagues) that the teacher has covered the subject, i.e. teaching verbs. Far better to use the data to affect instruction. Good teachers re-teach judiciously and differentiate instruction according to test data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses. A good recording matrix for formative assessments will clearly inform the teacher as to who lacks mastery over which verb components and how many students need remediation. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design in which the teacher distributes worksheets, monitors practice, and uses mini-conferences to assess mastery ensures effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be a planning or management nightmare.

Verbs Instructional Scope and Sequence

A verb shows a physical or mental action or it describes a state of being.

Examples:

Physical action: She works long hours

Mental action: but knows that

State of being: there is more to life than work.

Linking verbs connect a subject with a noun, pronoun, or predicate adjective and show either physical or mental actions.

Examples:

He looks like the man (noun). She sounds like her (pronoun). The guilty one is he (predicate adjective).

Linking verbs include the following: appear, become, feel, grow, keep, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, seem, stay, and taste. Other linking verbs that describe a state of being include the “to be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

Helping verbs help a verb and are placed in front of the verb.

Examples: I had heard the bell.

Helping verbs include the “to be” verbs, the “to do” verbs: do, does, did, the “to have” verbs: has, have, had, as well as can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would.

Past Verb Tense

The past tense simply adds on a __d or __ed ending to the base form. The past tense is used for an action that took place at a specific time or times.

Examples: I found the missing key. She started her homework.

Another form of the past verb tense is the past progressive. The past progressive describes an action that took place over a period of time in the past.

Example: Amanda was entertaining her guests when her grandmother arrived.

The past perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that was completed before a specific time in the past. The past perfect is formed with had + the past participle (a verb ending in d, ed, or en for regular verbs).

Example: Cecil and Rae had finished their study by the time that the teacher passed out the test study guide.

Another form of the present perfect verb tense is the past perfect progressive. The past perfect progressive describes a past action that was interrupted by another past event. It is formed with had been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: My dad had been driving for two hours in the snowstorm when the Highway Patrol put up the “Chains Required” sign.

Present Verb Tense

The present verb tense uses the base form of the verb and adjusts to a singular third-person subject by usually adding on an ending s. Plural subjects require verbs in the base form.

Examples: He finds the missing key. They find the missing key.

The present verb tense has the following uses:

  • To generalize about a physical or mental action or a state of being

Example: We look for the best candidates for this office.

  • To describe a physical or mental action that happens over and over again

Example: He plays the game like it is a matter of life or death.

  • To refer to a future time in dependent clauses (clauses beginning with after, as soon as, before, if, until, when), when will is used in the independent clause

Example: After she leaves for school, we will turn her bedroom into a guestroom.

  • To discuss literature, art, movies, theater, and music—even if the content is set in the past or the creator is no longer alive

Example: Thomas Jefferson states that “all men are created equal.”

Another form of the present verb tense is the present progressive. The present progressive describes an ongoing action happening or existing now.

Example: She is walking faster than her friend.

The present perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being happening or existing before the present. The present perfect is formed with has or have + the past participle (a verb ending in d, ed, or en for regular verbs).

Example: He has already started his science project.

The present perfect verb tense has the following uses: To describe an action that took place at some unidentified time in the past that relates to the present.

Example: The students have studied hard for today’s test.

To describe an action that began in the past but continues to the present.

Example: The teachers have taught these standards for five years.

Another form of the present perfect verb tense is the present perfect progressive. The present perfect progressive describes the length of time an action has been in progress up to the present time. It is formed with have been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: The students have been writing for over an hour.

Future Tense

The future verb tense places the action of the sentence in the future. English does not have endings for the future verb tense. Instead, use the helping verbs such as the modals: can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would + the base verb form.

Examples: I will find the missing key. I should visit my sick friend later this week.

Another form of the future verb tense is the future progressive. The future progressive describes an ongoing action that will take place over a period of time in the future.

Example: Amanda will be taking reservations over the holidays.

The future perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that will be completed before a specific time in the future. The future perfect is formed with a helping verb such as the modals: can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would + has or have + the present participle (a verb ending in d, ed, or en for regular verbs).

Example: We will have walked six miles by three-o’clock this afternoon.

Another form of the future perfect verb tense is the future perfect progressive. The future perfect progressive describes the length of time an action will be in progress up to a specific time in the future. It is formed with will have been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: The students will have been playing the same video game for two hours by the time their friends arrive.

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

How and When to Teach Adjectives

Adjectives come in many forms in English. Knowing the definition of this basic part of speech only gets us so far. We do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to adjectives. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. Even the die-hard writing process folk, never fans of direct grammar instruction, have always agreed that teaching the definitions of the parts of speech is an essential. Ask English-language arts teachers what they wish their students knew about grammar. Parts of speech will come to their minds first.

But why do teachers have to re-teach adjectives every year? Is it the past teacher’s fault? Or is it simply the way we learn grammar? Following is an instructional approach guaranteed to interrupt this forgetting cycle. At the end of this article, I will share an instructional scope and sequence for adjectives with clear definitions and examples.

1. DIE AR

(Yes, a depressing mnemonic. Perhaps an unspoken wish re: the Accelerated Reader® program?)

DEFINE Help students memorize the definitions of the key adjectival components. Rote memory is fundamental to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, and even songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Rap. Test and re-test to ensure mastery.

IDENTIFY Help students identify adjectival components in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry kills two birds with one stone: identification practice and sentence modeling.

EDIT Help students practice error analysis for each adjectival component by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Finding out what is wrong does help clarify what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need the mentor texts and writing practice to master their noun components. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing translates into long-term memory and application.

APPLY Help students their knowledge of adjectives correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for adjectives…

It takes a lot of (idea) ________________ for a (person) ________________ to drive a (thing) ________________ to their (place) ________________.

Possible response: It takes a lot of SELF-CONTROL for a TEENAGER to drive a SPORTS CAR to their (place) to their HIGH SCHOOL.

REVISE Help students understand the importance and relevance of learning adjectives by revising their own authentic writing. Stress using what they have learned about adjectival components to improve coherence, sentence variety, author voice, word choice, clarity, and style. Make sure to share brilliant revisions that reflect these improvements as your own mentor texts. Post them on your walls and refer to them often to reinforce definition, identification, and writing style.

2. Assessments

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, such as adjectives, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to allocate to direct instruction. It may be that one class tends to have mastery re: articles but weaknesses in modifiers. A different class may have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Why so? One of the mysteries of life. Second, diagnostic assessments provide an individual baseline upon which to build learning. Sharing this data with students is vital. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate their learning and see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out my favorite whole class diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure true mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of adjectival components must be comprehensive, including all steps of the DIE AR process. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only satisfies the teacher (and colleagues) that the teacher has covered the subject, i.e. teaching adjectives. Far better to use the data to affect instruction. Good teachers re-teach judiciously and differentiate instruction according to test data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses. A good recording matrix for formative assessments will clearly inform the teacher as to who lacks mastery over which adjectival components and how many students need remediation. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design in which the teacher distributes worksheets, monitors practice, and uses mini-conferences to assess mastery ensures effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be a planning or management nightmare.

 

Adjectives Instructional Scope and Sequence

Primary Elementary School

An adjective modifies (describes) a proper noun, a common noun, or a pronoun with how many, which one, or what kind. An adjective is usually placed before the noun it modifies.

Examples:

How Many? The five teammates

Which One? took that bus

What Kind? to the old arena across town.

Articles

An article is an adjective placed before nouns and pronouns. Articles include a, an, and the.

The article a is used before a word starting with a consonant sound, for example a tiger; the an comes before a word starting with a vowel sound, for example an anteater.

Intermediate/Upper Elementary School

Simple Modifiers

A modifier describes the meaning of another word or words and makes it more specific or limits its meaning(s).

Example: I ate the big piece. The word big is a modifier, making piece more specific.

Comparative Modifiers

Use er for a one-syllable modifier to compare two things.

Example: big—bigger

Also use er for a two-syllable modifier to compare two things. However, if the word sounds wrong, use or more or less.

Examples: easy—easier, but gracious—more gracious

Adjective Tip: These comparative modifiers are irregular:

good/well—better, bad/badly—worse (not worser ), much/many—more

Superlative Modifiers

Use est for a one or two-syllable modifier to compare three things. However, if the word sounds wrong, use or most or least.

Examples: easy—easiest, but gracious—most gracious

Adjective Tip: Avoid the common mistake of using superlative adjectives to compare only two things.

Example: Problem—Of the two basketball players, James is the most improved. Solution—Of the two basketball players, James is the more improved.

Adjective Tip: These superlative modifiers are irregular. good/well—better— best, bad/badly—worse (not worser)— worst (not worstest), much/many—more worst—most

Determiners

Determiners are adjectives that indicate number, or expand or limit meaning. They come at the beginning of noun phrases, and usually we cannot use more than one determiner in the same noun phrase.

Examples: each, either, every, neither, no, any, some, much, many, more, most, little, less, least, few, fewer, fewest, what, whatever, which, whichever, both, half, all, several, enough

Middle School

Proper Adjectives

Proper adjectives are adjectives that derive from proper nouns. In English, proper adjectives must begin with a capital letter.

Examples: American, Canadian, Mexican, German, Russian

Three-Syllable Comparative Modifiers

Use more or less for a three-syllable or longer modifier to compare two things.

Example: wonderful-more wonderful

Always use more or less for adverbs ending in __ly.

Example: quickly—less quickly

Adjective Tips:

  • Some long comparative modifiers are adjectives. Adjectives describe a proper noun, a common noun, or a pronoun with How Many? Which One? or What Kind?

Example: intelligent—The intelligent man was more intelligent than his father.

  • Some long comparative modifiers are adverbs. Adverbs describe an adjective, adverb, or verb with How? When? Where? or What Degree?

Example: angrily—She argued angrily, even more angrily than her mother.

Always use most or least for adverbs ending in __ly.

Example: quickly—most quickly

  • Some long superlative modifiers are adjectives. Adjectives describe a proper noun, a common noun, or a pronoun with How Many? Which One? or What Kind?

Example: intelligent—Of the many intelligent men in the group, he was the most intelligent.

  • Some long superlative modifiers are adverbs. Adverbs describe an adjective, adverb, or verb with How? When? Where? or What Degree? Example: angrily—Of the three arguing angrily, she argued most angrily.

High School

Participles

Participles are verb forms with _ing and _ed endings that serve as adjectives. Generally, participles end in either _ed or _ing.

The _ed ending means that the noun that is modified has a passive relationship with something else in the sentence.

Example: Scared at the noise, the boy hid under the covers.

The _ing ending means that the noun that is modified has an active relationship with something else in the sentence.

Example: Running the bases, the baseball player kept his head down.

Predicate Adjectives

Predicate adjectives follow linking verbs and modify the preceding noun.

Examples: The girls were embarrassed.

The teacher seemed tired.

Writing Style

Don’t use descriptive adjectives instead of well-chosen nouns and verbs. Especially avoid using adjectives that do not add meaning to a sentence. For example, adjectives such as interesting, beautiful, nice, and exciting do not help your reader understand the nouns or pronouns any better. Be specific as possible with your adjectives. The sympathetic man is better than the nice man.

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

How and When to Teach Pronouns

“No part of speech causes more problems for my students than pronouns.” True. And no part of speech requires as much prior knowledge about our language. Adults misuse pronouns frequently and no wonder. Proper pronoun usage can be complicated and often our oral language filter misguides us.

We do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to pronouns. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. We do need to learn how to use pronouns correctly. Even the die-hard “only-teach-grammar-in-the-context-of-writing” folk, who too-often relegate direct grammar instruction to the garbage heap, would agree that teaching the definitions of the parts of speech is a must. Ask any English-language arts teacher what they wish their students knew about grammar. Parts of speech would be the response.

But why can’t students retain what they already have “learned” about pronouns? Is it bad teaching? Is it the nature of grammatical instruction? How can we change the forgetting cycle and ensure mastery? Read on and learn an effective and memorable instructional approach that will help your students master and remember pronoun rules and proper usage. At the end of this article, I share an instructional scope and sequence for pronouns with clear definitions and examples.

1. DIE AR

(Not the best mnemonic, but effective. Perhaps a comment on the popular Accelerated Reader® program?)

DEFINE Students should memorize the definitions of the key pronoun definitions and proper usage. Rote memory is key to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, and even songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Rap. Your students will love it. Test and re-test to lead students to mastery.

IDENTIFY Students should identify pronouns in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry provides model sentences and identification practice.

EDIT Students should practice error analysis for each pronoun definition by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Finding out what is wrong does help us understand what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need the mentor texts and writing practice to master pronouns. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing transfers to long-term memory and correct application.

APPLY Students should apply pronouns correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for the he/him/his/himself pronouns…

________________ gave ________________ ________________ old fishing rod, but ________________ ________________ kept the new one.

Correct response: He gave him his old fishing rod, but he himself kept the new one.

REVISE Students should understand the importance and relevance of learning pronouns by revising their own authentic writing. Stress using what they have learned about pronouns to improve coherence, sentence variety, author voice, word choice, clarity, and style. Make sure to share student revisions that reflect these improvements as your own mentor texts. Post them on your walls and refer to them often to reinforce definition, identification, and writing style.

2. Assessment

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, including pronouns, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to allocate to direct instruction. It may be that one class tends to have mastery in subject case pronouns, but has weaknesses in object case pronouns. A different class may have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Diagnostic assessments inform instruction.  Second, diagnostic assessments provide an individual baseline upon which to build learning. Sharing this data with students is important. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate their learning and see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out whole class diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of noun components must be comprehensive, including all steps of the DIE AR process. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only proves that the teacher has covered the subject, such as pronoun definitions, rules, and proper usage. Good teachers re-teach as needed and differentiate instruction according to formative test data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses and eliminate repetitive instruction on what students have already mastered. A good recording matrix for formative assessments will clearly inform the teacher as to who lacks mastery re: pronouns and how many students need remediation. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design with targeted worksheets, monitored practice, and mini-conferences to assess mastery will ensure effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to involve impossible planning and impossible instructional implementation.

Pronouns Instructional Scope and Sequence

Primary Elementary School

  • A pronoun is a word used in place of a proper noun or common noun.
  • First person pronouns take the place of the one speaking. These pronouns include the singulars I and me and the plurals we and us.
  • Second person pronouns take the place of the one spoken to. The singular and plural pronouns use the same word: you.
  • Third person pronouns take the place of the one spoken about. These pronouns include the singulars he, she, it, him, and her and the plurals they and them.
  • Possessive pronouns placed before a noun show ownership. These pronouns include my, your, his, her, its, our, and their.
  • Possessive pronouns with no connection to nouns also show ownership. These include mine, yours, his, hers, ours, and theirs.

Pronoun Tip: Make sure the possessive pronouns his and their are not combined with self or selves.

Intermediate/Upper Elementary School

Subject Case Pronouns

Use the subject case pronouns, which include the singulars I, you, he, she, and it and the plurals we, you, and they in these grammatical forms:

  • when the pronoun is the sentence subject. The sentence subject is the “do-er” of the sentence.

Example: She and I attended the concert.

  • when the pronoun is a predicate nominative. A predicate nominative follows a “to be” verb (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been) and identifies or refers to the subject.

Example: The students who got into trouble are they.

  • when the pronoun is part of an appositive, such as after than or as. An appositive is a noun or pronoun placed next to another noun or pronoun to identify or explain it.

Example: Marty is smarter than I.

Pronoun Tip: When compound subjects are joined by or or nor, the pronoun that refers to the subjects agrees in number with the antecedent closer to the pronoun. Example: Neither water nor sodas did their jobs quenching my thirst.

Pronoun Tips: To test whether the pronoun is in the nominative case, try these tricks:

  • Rephrase to check if the pronoun sounds right.

Example: The last one to arrive was he. Rephrase—He was the last one to arrive.

  • Drop other nouns or pronouns when there is a compound subject and check if the remaining pronoun sounds right. Remember that English is a polite language; the first person pronouns (I, me, ours, mine) are always placed last when combined with other nouns or pronouns.

Example: John and I play video games. Drop and check—I play video games.

Object Case Pronouns

Use the object case pronouns, which include the singulars me, you, him, her, it and the plurals us, you, and them in these grammatical forms:

  • when the pronoun is the direct object. The direct object receives the action of the verb.

Example: The challenge excited him.

  • when the direct object is described by an appositive phrase (a phrase that identifies or explains another noun or pronoun placed next to it).

Example: The teacher yelled at two students, Rachel and me.

  • when the pronoun is an indirect object of a verb. The indirect object is placed between a verb and its direct object. It tells to what, to whom, for what, or for whom.

Example: Robert gave him a king-size candy bar.

  • when the pronoun is an object of a preposition. A preposition shows some relationship or position between a proper noun, a common noun, or a pronoun and its object. The preposition asks “What?” and the object provides the answer.

Example: The fly buzzed around her and past them by me.

  • when the pronoun is connected to an infinitive. An infinitive has a to + the base form of a verb.

Example: I want him to give the speech.

Pronoun Tips:

To test whether the pronoun is in the object case, try these tricks:

  • Rephrase to check if the pronoun sounds right.

Example: Joe smiled at all of them. Rephrase—At all of them Joe smiled.

  • Drop other nouns or pronouns when there is a compound subject and check if the remaining pronoun sounds right. Remember that English is a polite language; the first person pronouns (I, me, ours, mine) are always placed last when combined with other nouns or pronouns.

Example: She gave Kathy and me a gift. Drop and check—She gave me a gift.

The pronoun who is in the subject case. The who takes the role of the subject.

Example: Who is the best teacher?

Who and Whom

The pronoun who is in the subject case. In other words, it takes the place of a noun acting as the subject of a sentence.

Examples: Who did this?

Who is the best teacher?

Pronoun Tip: Try substituting he for who and rephrase, if necessary. If it sounds right, use who.

The pronoun whom is in the objective case. In other words, it is takes the place of the direct object, the indirect object of the verb, or the object of the preposition.

Examples: Whom did Joan love?

I like whom you gave the award.

To whom does this letter concern?

Pronoun Tip: Try substituting him for whom and rephrase, if necessary. If it sounds right, use whom.

Relative Pronouns

The pronoun that can refer to people or things; the pronoun which can only refer to things.

Use the pronoun that when the clause is needed to understand the rest of the sentence.

Example: The movie that we watched was entertaining.

Use the pronoun which in clauses that provide additional, but not necessary information.

Example: That dog, which is friendly, was easy to train.

Don’t restate the subject with a pronoun.

Example: That dog, which is friendly, he was easy to train. Problem—The he is unnecessary and grammatically incorrect.

Middle School

Indefinite Pronouns

An indefinite personal pronoun does not specifically reference a common noun or proper noun and so can act as a singular or plural to match the verb. These pronouns include: anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, one, someone, somebody, and something.

Pronoun Tip: Look at surrounding words for singular and plural clues.

An indefinite numerical pronoun does not indicate an exact amount and can act as a singular or plural depending upon the surrounding words. These indefinite numerical pronouns include all, any, half, more, most, none, other, and some.

Examples: in All of the food is wonderful, all is a singular pronoun. In All girls know best, all is a plural pronoun.

Pronoun Tip: When the object of the preposition is uncountable, use a singular pronoun to refer to the object. Example: All of the salt fell out of its bag. When it is countable, use a plural pronoun to refer to the object.

Example: All of the coffee beans fell out of their bag.

Pronoun Tip: The ending word parts body, one, and thing indicate a singular indefinite pronoun.

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns refer to the subject, and intensive pronouns emphasize a noun or pronoun. Both are object case pronouns and include myself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, and themselves.

A reflexive pronoun is essential to the sentence. You could not understand the sentence without the pronoun.

Example: He gave himself a pat on the back.

Intensive pronouns are not essential to the sentence. You could understand the sentence without the pronoun.

Example: I, myself, happen to love eating pizza.

Pronoun Tip: Notice that each has self or selves as the second syllable.

Pronoun Tips: A pronoun that refers to or replaces a previous common noun, proper noun, or pronoun is called an antecedent.

  • Make sure antecedents are specific. Otherwise, the pronoun reference may be confusing.

Example: When Bobby asked for help, they asked why.

Problem-Who is they? Get more specific. When Bobby asked for help from his teachers, they asked why.

  • Don’t have a pronoun refer to the object in a prepositional phrase.

Example: In Twain’s The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County, he uses political humor. Problem—Who, or what, is he?

  • Make sure that the singular pronouns this and that and the plural pronouns these and those specifically refer to what is intended. Keep these pronouns close to their references.

Example: He made an egg, put the dog food in its bowl, and put this on his toast to eat. Problem—What is this?

  • Don’t have a pronoun refer to a possessive antecedent. A possessive is a common noun, proper noun, or pronoun that shows ownership.

Example: In San Diego’s famous zoo, they treat their zoo-keepers well. Problem—Who are the they and their?

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns refer to nouns close to or away from the speaker. These pronouns include this, that, these, and those. The words this (singular) and these (plural) refer to nouns and pronouns close to the writer (speaker). The words that (singular) and those (plural) refer to nouns and pronouns away from the writer (speaker).

High School

Possessive pronouns can connect to gerunds (verb forms ending in “ing” that serve as a sentence subject).

Examples: His cooking is not the best. Their cooking the dinner is not the best idea.

Pronouns and Writing Style

English is a polite language. Place others before yourself. For example, She and I enjoy a walk in the park, not I and she enjoy a walk in the park.

When use of a pronoun will create confusion, repeat the noun and omit the pronoun. For example, Eating their dessert caused the boys to lose their focus is more clear than Eating their dessert caused them to lose their focus.

Don’t use first and second person pronouns in essays. Focus on the subject, not the author or reader in essays.

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

How and When to Teach Nouns

“A noun is a person, place, or thing.” Well… partially right, but there is much more. And knowing the definition of this basic part of speech only gets us so far. We do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to nouns. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. Even the die-hard writing process folk, who relegated direct grammar instruction to the pedagogical garbage heap in the 1980s, always agreed that teaching the definitions of the parts of speech is an essential. Ask English-language arts teachers what they wish their students knew about grammar coming into their classes in the fall. Parts of speech will be their first, and perhaps only, answer.

But why do teachers have to re-teach nouns every year? Is it the previous teacher’s fault? Is it the cyclical nature of instruction? Is it something in the water? Following is an instructional approach guaranteed to interrupt this forgetting cycle. At the end of this article, I will share an instructional scope and sequence for noun components with clear definitions and examples.

1. DIE AR

(Admittedly a depressing mnemonic. Perhaps a subconscious wish re: the Accelerated Reader® program?)

DEFINE Help students memorize the definitions of the key noun components. Rote memory is fundamental to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, and even songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Rap. Test and re-test to ensure mastery.

IDENTIFY Help students identify noun components in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry kills two birds with one stone: identification practice and sentence modeling.

EDIT Help students practice error analysis for each noun component by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Finding out what is wrong does help clarify what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need the mentor texts and writing practice to master their noun components. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing translates into long-term memory and application.

APPLY Help students the noun components correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for common nouns…

It takes a lot of (idea) ________________ for a (person) ________________ to drive a (thing) ________________ to their (place) ________________.

Possible response: It takes a lot of SELF-CONTROL for a TEENAGER to drive a SPORTS CAR to their (place) to their HIGH SCHOOL.

REVISE Help students understand the importance and relevance of learning the noun components by revising their own authentic writing. Stress using what they have learned about noun components to improve coherence, sentence variety, author voice, word choice, clarity, and style. Make sure to share brilliant revisions that reflect these improvements as your own mentor texts. Post them on your walls and refer to them often to reinforce definition, identification, and writing style.

2. Assessment

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, such as noun components, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to allocate to direct instruction. It may be that one class tends to have mastery re: proper nouns, common nouns, and noun phrases but weaknesses in abstract nouns, concrete nouns, and noun clauses. A different class may have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Why so? One of the mysteries of life. Second, diagnostic assessments provide an individual baseline upon which to build learning. Sharing this data with students is vital. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate their learning and see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out my favorite whole class diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure true mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of noun components must be comprehensive, including all steps of the DIE AR process. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only satisfies the teacher (and colleagues) that the teacher has covered the subject, i.e. teaching the noun components. Far better to use the data to affect instruction. Good teachers re-teach judiciously and differentiate instruction according to test data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses. A good recording matrix for formative assessments will clearly inform the teacher as to who lacks mastery over which noun components and how many students need remediation. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design in which the teacher distributes worksheets, monitors practice, and uses mini-conferences to assess mastery ensures effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be a planning or management nightmare.

Noun Components Instructional Scope and Sequence

Primary Elementary School

  • Common Nouns, such as teenager, high school, sports car, freedom
  • Proper Nouns, such as Mary, Pinewood Elementary School, Microsoft Word®
  • Compound Nouns, such as baseball, playground, cartwheel
  • Single Nouns, such as desk, Ms. Brady, group
  • Plural Nouns (with spelling rules), such as books, churches, lives

Intermediate/Upper Elementary School

  • Abstract Nouns (nouns that cannot be sensed), such as freedom, patience, thoughts
  • Concrete Nouns (nouns that can be sensed), such as ice cream, velvet, movie
  • Nouns as Simple Subjects, such as George left town.
  • Nouns as Compound Subjects, such as George and Sam left town.
  • Nouns in Compound Sentences, such as George left town, and Sam left, too.
  • Complete Nouns/Noun Phrases, such as Crazy George and his best friend left town.
  • Nouns as Objects of Prepositional Phrases, such as George and Sam left town for the vacation of a lifetime.
  • Collective Nouns (nouns that refer to groups with members), such as That herd of sheep was in the pasture.
  • Nouns to Avoid (things, stuff, etc.), such as The thing is… I already have that stuff.
  • Nouns as Abbreviations, such as I love the U.S.A.
  • Nouns as Acronyms, such as We had a guest speaker from N.A.S.A.
  • Hyphenated Nouns, such as English-language arts is my favorite subject.
  • Irregular Plural Nouns, such as deer-deer, child-children, foot-feet

Middle School

  • Noun Clauses, such as Whenever I studied, I passed my tests.
  • Greek and Latin Noun Plural Formations, such as cactus-cacti, crisis-crises, appendix-appendices
  • Nouns as Direct Objects, such as I left my wallet.
  • Nouns as Indirect Objects, such as I gave John my wallet.
  • Nouns as Gerunds, such as Smoking is hazardous to one’s health.
  • Nouns as Appositives, such as That nice couple, Juan and Tasha, brought us cookies.
  • Mass (non-count) Nouns (These nouns don’t form plurals and are usually abstract), such as mud, insurance, music

High School

  • Nouns as Nominative Absolutes (a separate phrase or clause that modifies the main noun and verb), such as “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed (Second Amendment to the United States Constitution).”
  • Nouns as Predicate Nominatives (a noun or pronoun following a noun and a linking verb that defines or re-names the noun), such as Joe is a murder suspect.

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

Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

Most teachers believe in some form of learning styles or multiple intelligences theories. The notion that each child learns differently, so we should adjust instruction accordingly (learning styles) just seems like such good old-fashion common sense. The theory that each child has different innate abilities (multiple intelligences) just seems to be confirmed by common experience. But common sense and experience are untrustworthy and unreliable guides to good teaching. Despite what the snake oil learning styles and multiple intelligences folk tell us, they are simply wrong. Here are five reasons why.

1. We don’t know enough about how the brain works to change the way we teach. What we do know about the brain suggests that catering instruction to specific modalities can be counter-productive. Knowledge is stored in the form of memories and only 10% of those memories are visual and auditory representations. Meaning-based memories make up the 90% (Willingham on Learning Styles Don’t Exist–TeacherTube). Those impressive-looking illustrations of the brain on the Universal Design for Learning site and interesting graphic organizers on the multiple intelligences sites hopelessly simplify what we know is a far more complex subject. Daniel T. Willingham, cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Virginia advises districts, schools, and teachers to “save your money” on any brain-based instructional in-services or instructional resources. See Willingham’s excellent YouTube on the fallacy of brain-based instruction.

2. Research does not support adjusting instruction according to learning styles or multiple intelligences theories. To sum up his extensive meta-analysis of modality research, Willingham states “…we can say that the possible effects of matching instructional modality to a student’s modality strength have been extensively studied and have yielded no positive evidence. If there was an effect of any consequence, it is extremely likely that we would know it by now (American Educator 1995).” With respect to research on multiple intelligences, “The fundamental criticism of MI theory is the belief by scholars that each of the seven multiple intelligences is in fact a cognitive style rather than a stand-alone construct (Morgan, 1996). Morgan, (1996) refers to Gardner’s approach of describing the nature of each intelligence with terms such as abilities, sensitivities, skills and abilities as evidence of the fact that the “theory” is really a matter of semantics rather than new thinking on multiple constructs of intelligence (http://www.indiana.edu/~intell/mitheory.shtml),” Frankly, the essential variables of motivation, preference, teacher perception, and the learning tasks themselves probably cannot ever be isolated in an experimental design, thus prohibiting statistically significant conclusions regarding how students learn best and how teachers should teach.

3. Learning styles and multiple intelligences theories beg the question about how students learn. The assumption is that students learn best by receiving instruction in their strongest modality or intelligence. This may make sense for designated hitters in the American League. Allow me to explain. In the American League, pitchers rarely bat; instead, designated hitters bat for them. The designated hitter does not play in the field. It would make sense for the designated hitter to practice according to his modality strength. Developing kinesthetic expertise in slugging home runs will earn him his multi-millions. But exclusive kinesthetic batting practice will not help him become a better fielder. There is no learning transfer. We certainly don’t want designated hitters in our classrooms. We want students to be complete ballplayers. In fact, it makes more sense to practice our relative weaknesses. Why should kinesthetically adept Johnny continue to make project after project rather than practicing in his areas of relative weakness: oral (auditory, aural) and written (visual) communication?

4. By emphasizing the how of instruction, learning styles and multiple intelligences practitioners lose sight of the what of instruction and tend to force square blocks into round holes. For teaching input to be processed and stored in the memory, that input has to match how the information will be stored. Little of what we teach will be stored as visual or auditory representations. This does not mean that good teaching won’t use the visual or auditory domains, but the focus of most all of our instruction is meaning-based. We want our students to know stuff. We have to match the how of instruction to the what of instruction, not the reverse. “All students learn more when content drives the choice of modality (Willingham in American Educator 1995).” It should go without saying that if a child has, for example, an auditory processing disability, the how of instruction should be limited in that modality. Similarly, adapting learning tasks to perceived student intelligences is impractical for the vast majority of our teaching standards. A student with musical intelligence still needs meaning-based practice to understand the roles of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

5. Although learning Styles and multiple intelligences theories seem individual-centered and egalitarian on the surface, the converse is more likely true. The practical applications of these theories tend to pigeon-hole students and assume that nature plays a greater role in learning than does nurture. For example, teachers disproportionately tend to label African-American children, especially boys, as kinesthetic learners and Asian kids are more often classified as visual learners. Being labeled limits options and dissuades effort and exploration. Learning styles and multiple intelligences assessments particularly have this egregious effect. Our students are not stupid. Labeling them as “good at” and “has strengths in” also labels them as “bad at” and “has weaknesses in.” Students “shut down” to learning or “self-limit” their achievement with such labels. If limited to what the students know and don’t yet know, assessments data can be productive. If extended to how students learn, data can be debilitating. Additionally, who is to say that how a student learns remains a constant? Teachers certainly have an important role in nurturing motivation, risk-taking, and exploration. Teachers should be about opening doors, not closing doors.

Unfortunately, the differentiated instruction movement has largely adopted learning style and multiple intelligence theories. Check out why differentiated instruction should be more about the what and less about the how in 23 Myths of Differentiated Instruction. As we move ahead in the Response to Interventionprocess, this subject of how to best serve students with learning challenges is especially relevant. Readers may also wish to check out the author’s introductory article: Learning Styles Teaching Lacks Common Sense.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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.

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Learning Styles Teaching Lacks Common Sense

Different strokes for different folks. What works for you doesn’t necessarily work for me. These sayings appeal to our American ideals of individualism and equality, don’t they? And they certainly seem to apply to how we think we should teach. Our assumption is that we all learn differently so good teachers should adjust instruction to how students learn. Specifically, we assume that some students are better auditory (or aural) learners, some are better visual learners, and some are better kinesthetic learners. Or add additional modalities or intelligences to the list, if you wish. All we need to do to maximize learning is to adjust instruction to fit the modality that best matches the students’ learning styles or intelligences. It just seems like good old-fashioned common sense.

However, common sense is not always a trustworthy or reliable guide. Galileo once challenged Aristotle’s wisdom and the popular consensus of two millennia that objects fall at different rates, depending upon their bulk. Galileo climbed to the top of the leaning tower of Pisa and dropped a tiny musket ball and a huge canon ball at the same time. Defying common sense, those objects reached ground at the same time. Even today, ask most people whether a nickel or computer would hit the ground first. Most would still pick the computer.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Teachers encounter counter-intuitive examples in teaching all the time: a not-so-bright student whose parents both have master’s degrees, a student with high fluency but low comprehension, an administrator who has never taught in a classroom. These anomalies just don’t make sense, but they happen quite frequently. In fact, before recent IDEA legislation, students with demonstrated learning problems could not qualify for special education unless there was an established discrepancy between ability and performance. In other words, unless the student’s learning disability challenged our notions of common sense, the student could not qualify for special education services.

Most teachers will say that they believe in some form of learning style or multiple intelligences theory. Most will say that they attempt to adjust instruction to some degree to how they perceive students learn best. Many use modality assessments to guide their instructional decision-making. This is particularly true within the special education community. Although there probably has been some change, Arter and Jenkins (1979) found that more than 90% of special education teachers believe in modality theory. These assumptions are especially relevant as special education teachers assume lead roles in the expanded Response to Intervention models, especially with respect to the three-tiered instructional model.

But these common sense assumptions are simply wrong for the most part. To understand why, we need to define our terms a bit. When we talk about how our students learn we need to consider three components of the learning process. First, the learner accesses input, that is teaching, through sensory experiences. Next, the learner makes meaning of and connects that new input to existing knowledge and experience. Finally, that learner stores this input into the short and long term memories.

Now, this learning process is not the same as knowledge. Learning (the verb) leads to knowledge (the noun). And knowledge is not how students learn. Knowledge is what students learn. Knowledge is stored in the memory. Knowledge = memory. Memory includes everything and excludes nothing. It even includes learning how to learn. We have no separate data bases.

So how is knowledge (memory) stored in the brain? According to cognitive scientists, 90% of the memory is meaning-based. Only 10% of the memory consists of visual or auditory representations (Willingham 2009). These percentages do reflect what we teach. Most everything we teach is meaning-based. So, shouldn’t we focus our teaching energies on matching how we teach to how the knowledge is stored?

Auditory Memory

Let’s start with the 10%. If knowledge will be stored as an auditory memory, teaching should emphasize this modality. For example, if band students are learning how to tune their instruments, they need to listen to and practice hearing the sound waves, not necessarily see a spectrograph or understand the complexities of how sound is produced. Or if students are learning to read with inflection, they need to hear good models of inflection and mimic those models. Both sound waves and reading inflection knowledge are stored primarily as auditory memories. To tune their instruments, band students will access their auditory memories of wave sounds and apply this knowledge to raising or lowering the pitch of their instruments. To read with inflection, students will recall the rhythm, emphasis, and altered voices of modeled readings and apply this knowledge to reading in front of the class.

Visual Memory

And now the balance of the 10%. If knowledge will be stored as a visual memory, teaching should emphasize this modality. For example, if art students are learning the color spectrum, they need to see and practice the colors with their various hues, not just memorize ROY G BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet). Or if students are memorizing the locations of the states, they will need to see and practice their shapes, sizes, and relationships to other states on political and/or physical maps. Both colors and the locations of states are stored primarily as visual memories. To draw an apple from memory, art students will access their visually stored memories of various hues of red and/or other colors and apply this knowledge to their watercolor. To pass the map test, students will recall the images of the political and/or physical maps and correctly label the states.

Meaning-Based Memory

And finally to the 90%. These meaning-based memories are stored independent of any modality-“not in terms of whether you saw, heard, or physically interacted with the information.” (Willingham 2009). If knowledge will be stored in the memory as meaning, teaching should be designed to emphasize this outcome. For example, if history students are learning the three branches of the federal government and the system of checks and balances, they need to understand the meanings of the terms: legislative, executive, and judicial as well as the specific limitations of and checks on powers that the framers of the Constitution designed to ensure balance and prevent abuse. Good teaching would emphasize both rehearsal and application of this information to ensure understanding. This would, of course, necessitate using the auditory (or aural) modality. It would also certainly be appropriate to use the visual modality by drawing the three-branch tree with each branch representing the divisions of government. However, most of the learning process will necessitate memorizing how, what, where, when, and why facts through meaning-storage strategies and techniques (such as repetition), establishing cognitive connections to prior knowledge and experiences with plenty of appropriate examples, and practicing trial and error feedback through class discussion, reading, and writing. Whew! Complex, meaning-based stuff. On the test, students will not access memories of the teacher’s lecture voice or the teacher’s tree drawing to answer the multiple-choice questions. Students will recall meaning-based memories derived from teaching that appropriately matches the content to be learned. If 90% of what our students learn is meaning-based, why waste limited planning and instructional time fixating on the 10%? Now that’s good old-fashioned common sense.

Check out Dr. Daniel Willingham’s YouTube on this subject.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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.

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,