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Archive for December, 2011

CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

One controversial component of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS has been the Language Strand. The Language Strand consists of the following for each grade level: Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3), and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6).

The main point of contention, of course, has been the inclusion of Language as a separate strand with grammar, usage, and conventions divorced from writing instruction and vocabulary divorced from reading instruction.

In fact, the writers of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) go out of their away to alleviate the fears of writing-based and literature-based devotees with the following disclaimer: “The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts (51).” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

A second issue has received far less attention than the aforementioned point of contention in curricular mapping committees and ELA forums, but has created more rumblings in the educational publishing world. This second issue will perhaps have a greater impact than the first on classroom instruction.

In the Language Strand, at the end of both the K-5 (p. 30) and 6-12 (p. 56) Language Standards is a document titled “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade” with this subheading: “The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) in Language standards 1–3, are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.”

CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

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  1. 3.1f. Ensure subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement.
  2. 3.a. Choose words and phrases for effect.
  3. 3.3a. Produce complete sentences, recognizing and correcting inappropriate fragments and run-ons.
  4. 4.1g. Correctly use frequently confused words (e.g., to/too/two; there/their)
  5. 4.3a. Choose words and phrases to convey ideas precisely.
  6. 4.3b. Choose punctuation for effect.
  7. 5.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense.
  8. 5.2a. Use punctuation to separate items in a series.†
  9. 6.1c. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun number and person.
  10. 6.1d. Recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).
  11. 6.1e. Recognize variations from standard English in their own and others’ writing and speaking, and identify and use strategies to improve expression in conventional language.
  12. 6.2a. Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
  13. 6.3a. Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.‡
  14. 6.3b. Maintain consistency in style and tone.
  15. 7.1c. Place phrases and clauses within a sentence, recognizing and correcting misplaced and dangling modifiers.
  16. 7.3a. Choose language that expresses ideas precisely and concisely, recognizing and eliminating wordiness and redundancy.
  17. 8.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood.
  18. 910.1a. Use parallel structure.

Analysis and Implications of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

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No Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6) are included-only Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3). In other words, grammar, usage, and conventions warrant this second document. Compared to previous state standard documents, the CCSS sees these components as specific building blocks to literacy, and not just incidental outcomes learned by some mysterious form of academic osmosis.

Of the 18 CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards, 14 are Grade 3-6 Standards. Clearly the writers of the CCSS have chosen to notch up the rigor of previous state standards by devolving most of the heavy instructional lifting of grammar, usage, and conventions skills to elementary teachers.

The CCSS defines grammar, usage, and conventions as “skills.” Skills are to be applied to the writing craft. National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, and Writing Process advocates have been loath to accept this skills/craft instructional distinction.

Tacit acknowledgement is made that these grammar, usage, and conventions skills must be reviewed at each grade level. In other words, the cyclical nature of skills acquisition is affirmed. Unlike many previous state standards documents, the CCSS writers seem to get the fact that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The examples in Appendix A of the CCSS document are helpful in this regard.

Although the writers of the CCSS document have been careful to leave methodological autonomy to teachers, the inclusion of a separate language strand, the labeling of grammar, usage, and conventions as “skills,” and the review component of the 18 Language Progressive Skills Standards certainly promote some means of both direct and differentiated instruction in the Standards themselves.

The grammar, usage, and conventions skills require deep instruction, not just review practice, as with Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review methodologies. And that means intensive, direct instruction and guided practice following an instructional sequence that includes the review components as scaffolding to build onto with new skills. Periodic “mini-lessons” are just not going to cut it. Each of the 18 Language Progressive Skills Standards cries out for diagnostic assessments and differentiated instruction for the sake of instructional efficiency and individual mastery.

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 lessons.  The lessons 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 PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

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

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

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate (Cool Hand Luke, 1967).” A great line from one of Paul Newman’s best movies… but also relevant to, arguably, one of the more controversial strands of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): writing. Controversial because of three reasons:

  1. As with the reading strand, much of the writing focus is now on the argumentative and informational/explanatory domains, rather than on the narrative.
  2. The new history/social science, science, and technology literacy standards include each of the ten components from the writing strand.
  3. It looks like secondary content area teachers are going to have to start talking to one another. Some tips on beginning this conversation are in a related article, but the purpose of the present discussion to make the case for using a common language of instruction.

Much can be said in favor of a common language of instruction in writing. Using the same writing terms permits clear communication among teachers as well as with students. Terminology used by teachers in the subject disciplines can be quite “in-house” and can lead to misunderstanding/misuse out of context. Getting on the same page in terms of what we mean when we say “thesis statement,” for example, will facilitate more productive cross-curricular discussions, expectations, and instructional planning. Besides teachers, students have to scale the academic language barrier for each new teacher and course of study. Some of this may be necessary, but there is little doubt that students who hear and use the same academic vocabulary from grade to grade and course to course are more likely to apply prior content and process knowledge to new academic situations and tasks. Yes, students need to be flexible learners, but teachers also need to be “user-friendly” to their clients.

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

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I propose using the CCSS language of instruction for the key writing terms across all subject disciplines in elementary, middle school, and high school. Some of us will have to come down out of our castles and give up pet writing terms that we’ve used for years, and ones that, indeed, may be more accurate than those of the CCSS. But for the sake of collaboration and service to our students, this pedagogical sacrifice is a must. Following are the first two (of ten) components of the writing strand with their respective purposes and forms, according to language of the CCSS document. The 6-12 Writing Strand uses the same writing terms and a.-e. components, but scaffolds more complex expectations grade to grade. Following is the 6th grade Writing Strand with relevant comments regarding additional scaffolded Grades 7-12 components.

CCSS W1 Argumentative Essays

Purpose

1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

Comments: Some teachers would distinguish between argument (focus on the writer) and persuasion (focus on the reader), but the CCSS makes no such distinction. Many teachers would prefer using thesis statement, instead of claim, but even the California revisions make no such reference.

Form

a. Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.

Comments: Essentially the introduction here with some reference to the organizational plan of the essay. Grades 7-12 scaffold alternate or opposing claim(s): “address” in the California revision (7th), “distinguish” (8th), make “clear” (9th -10th), and make “precise” (11th – 12th). The focus is on defining the claim(s) in context of competing claims.

b. Support claim(s) with clear reasoning and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

Comments: The writing terms for the body paragraphs are reasons and evidence. The usual structure of the body paragraph would identify the reason as the topic sentence and evidence as support/development. However, more mature writers could also select complementary claims as topic sentences (See 1a. “claim(s)) with reasons and evidence as support/development. Grades 7-12 replace “clear evidence” with “logical evidence” and add “accurate” to “credible sources. The California revision inserts “counterarguments” at 7th grade only. Grades 9-12 add the criteria of fairness and sense of audience to the argument.

c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to clarify the relationships among claim(s) and reasons.

Comments: Grades 7-12 scaffold in “counterclaims” and “evidence.”

d. Establish and maintain a formal style.

e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument

Comments: In other words, the conclusion.

CCSS W2 Informational/Explanatory Essays/Texts

Purpose

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

Comments: The language of these standards suggests a variety of writing genre that would come under the umbrella of informative/explanatory, including, but not limited to the traditional essay.

a. Introduce a topic; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

Comments: Essentially the introduction here with reference to the organizational plan. The California revision includes “or thesis statement” following “Introduce a topic” in Grades 6-12. Specific strategies to be used throughout the body paragraphs to examine the topic are detailed. Additional strategies are scaffolded across the grade levels: “previewing” (7th), “broader categories” with “definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect” omitted (8th), “to make important connections and distinctions” (9th -10th), and “each new element build upon that which precedes it to create a unified whole” (11th – 12th).

Form

b. Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

Comments: Essentially the same types of evidence in Grades 7-12 that would develop the body paragraphs of the essay/text.

c. Use appropriate transitions to clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts. Grades 11-12 add “syntax” to transitions.

d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic. Grades 11-12 add “techniques such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic.”

e. Establish and maintain a formal style. Grades 9-12 add “objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.”

f. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the information or explanation presented.

Comments: In other words, the conclusion. Grades 9-12 add two examples of conclusion strategies: “articulating implications or the significance of the topic.”

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, an e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

Writing , , , , , ,

The Problem with Dialectical Journals

Well, at least we know how our students feel about dialectical journals… But, how should teachers feel about dialectical journals?

Teachers grapple with how to assign independent reading activities to help students interact with assigned novels or independent reading. Dialectical journals have been teacher favorites since literature-based reading pedagogy was popularized in the 1980s. KWL charts and variations upon the same theme have served as into-through-beyond activities within English-language arts, history/social science, and science courses.

At surface level, these forms of reading response seem to assist students in reaching our goals of promoting independent reading comprehension. The thought/hope has been that if we can just get students to access their own prior knowledge of content and story schema, then help students connect these to what the author has to offer, then establish a relevant and personal connection/application to the readers’ lives… students will problem-solve their way to full comprehension and reading enjoyment. The pendulum has clearly swung from the author to the reader side of the equation.

The Problem with Dialectical Journals

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After years of “teaching” this reader-centered, literature-based approach, educators are starting to see the results. Almost 60% of community college students and 30% of university students require at least one year of developmental coursework. And, yes, remedial reading is the chief subject of this remediation. http://www.communitycollegecentral.org/Downloads/Developmental_Education_TOOLKIT.pdf

Good readers may be able to put up some of this reader-centered nonsense and still engage with the text; however, students with reading difficulties desperately need comprehension strategies that will help them understand what the author has to say. The focus on personal relevance impedes comprehension. Tier I and II Response to Intervention readers confuse “What it means to me” strategies with “What the author means” strategies. The latter is much more important for developing readers (and for that matter, all readers). Some personal application within teacher-guided class discussion makes sense, but should be secondary to teaching the text itself.

In lieu of dialectical journals, teachers should help students learn and apply the five types of independent reading strategies that promote internal monitoring of the text: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. These SCRIP strategies promote the reader-author conversation and, thus, internal monitoring of text to help students achieve your goal: “to get them to read and understand what they are reading on their own.” Here are some SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies resources and bookmarks. Having a consistent language of instruction that works for narrative and expository texts is useful.

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, 390 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, Writing , , , , , , ,

Community College Remedial Reading Costs

Much has been said about the burden that our community college system has shouldered due to the economic downturn. Unemployment certainly has led to increased enrollment in our nation’s community colleges. Some have registered for course work to improve job skills, some to earn Associates of Arts degrees or certificates, some to transfer to universities, some to meet welfare to work mandates, some to avoid unaffordable university tuition, and some because they simply have nowhere else to go. Increased enrollment in our community colleges has created an economic double-whammy for both hard-pressed state budgets and for community colleges themselves. An increasingly key factor in this double-whammy has been the cost to remediate the skill set of these new students, especially in reading.

Remedial Reading Costs: Whammy #1 On State Budgets

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The financial burden of increased community college enrollment has severely impacted already-strained state budgets and much can be attributed to the cost of remedial programs. For example…

  • Community colleges are the most heavily subsidized educational institutions. In California, a similar undergraduate course in English 101 runs $108 at community college, $649 for the California State University, and $1320 for the University of California.
  • Significant numbers of these new community college students are receiving state-funded financial aid.
  • Most of the new community students double-dip by taking remedial course work, especially in reading, which repeats previously funded coursework in the K-12 system.
  • Community college remediation represents a considerable financial and opportunity cost. Recent estimates suggest a $3.7 billion annual price tag just for the remediation of recent high school graduates who attend community colleges. http://all4ed.org/files/remediation.pdf.
  • Most remedial students drop-out. Only 17% of students who enroll in a remedial reading course at a community college receive a bachelor’s degree within eight years, compared to 58% of students who take no remedial education courses. http://www.communitycollegecentral.org/Downloads/Developmental_Education_TOOLKIT.pdf The cost per community college dropout is $17,700 in federal and state financial aid and in city and state funding for the community college system. (Community College Spotlight, The Hechinger Report)

Remedial Reading Costs: Whammy #2 On Community Colleges

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Additional financial burdens due to the new wave of community college students have been placed upon the community colleges themselves. And much has been due to the remedial needs of these new students. For example…

  • States have resisted increasing student fees during the economic downturn due to public pressure and the enrollment boom has exacerbated the budgetary shortfalls of community colleges.
  • Community colleges have had to cut full-time staff and non-mandated coursework.
  • The most expensive programs happen to be the mandated remedial programs, especially remedial reading courses, which the majority of the new students must take to prepare for transfer courses, certificate program courses, or Associates of Arts courses. A few facts will suffice: Virtually all community colleges offer remedial or developmental education. Almost 60% of community college students require at least one year of developmental coursework. http://www.communitycollegecentral.org/Downloads/Developmental_Education_TOOLKIT.pdf

Remediation, especially reading remediation, has always been a tough issue for state legislators and community colleges. Some have been reluctant to accept the reality that so many of our high school graduates or drop-outs still cannot read at the levels they need to function in society. Others recognize the problem, but play the blame game by pointing fingers at the failures of K-12 education. While the costs of providing remedial reading education are high to both state and community college budgets, the costs of not providing the resources are incalculable.

This is especially true in our economic downturn. According to the Sacramento Bee, “Unemployment for 21-25 year-olds without a college degree hovers at 25%, while those with college degrees are at 8% (December 11, 2011).” Although not the job-guarantee as in years past, community colleges and university training certainly remain gateways to economic opportunities. For students seeking accelerated degree programs, there are many options beyond the traditional community college-state university route. For example, check out Averett College for great degree programs!

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, spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies.

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , ,

Why D.O.L. Does Not Transfer to Writing

“I greatly prefer D.O.L. over isolated study because it addresses all the issues at once, not just commas or just capitalization or just subject-verb agreement.  Kids have to consider all those, just as they do when they are writing.”

On the surface, this teacher response sounds reasonable and the practice seems authentic. Students do need to multi-task throughout the writing process. However, does the Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) instructional practice lead to transfer in student writing? After all, the chief reason why we teach grammar and mechanics is to improve writing.

The short answer is “No. D.O.L. does not transfer to writing.”

But first, for the uninitiated, here are the basic Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Procedures:

  1. Teachers write or project two sentences on the board, each with four errors in mechanics and/or grammar. *
  2. Students come up to the board and correct the errors or identify the errors with proofreading marks, one sentence at a time.
  3. The teacher and students discuss the corrections. Some teachers require students to write out the corrected sentences on binder paper or in a composition notebook.

*A variation has the teacher pass out a D.O.L. worksheet with the error-filled sentences to each student. Each student writes the corrections and proofreading marks on the worksheet.

Learning Theories Explain Why D.O.L. Does Not Transfer to Writing

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Psychologists and educational theorists have developed learning theories to explain how new learning and skills are most efficiently mastered and best transfer to other academic activities. Teachers studied many of these in their post-graduate teacher-training coursework. Although many of these learning theories would suggest different pedagogical approaches, each would exclude D.O.L. as a viable instructional approach to teaching grammar and mechanics, if transfer to writing is the indeed the instructional goal. Let’s examine the most influential of these learning theories to explain why D.O.L. does not transfer to writing.

Behaviorism

Behaviorists stress practice and reinforcement of skills in a controlled environment. The conditioner is front and center in this theory. Behaviorism has fostered the direct instruction movement with its carefully crafted lesson design and measurable behavioral objectives. Teachers isolate learning variables and provide extensive guided and independent practice.

In contrast, the instructional design of D.O.L. does not isolate or control learning variables. A D.O.L. lesson may include a serial comma error, a subject-verb error, a usage error, and a quotation marks error. The focus is on review, not instruction.  Practice of the skill is minimal, just one per lesson. No wonder that D.O.L. produces minimal transfer of grammar and mechanics concepts and skills to writing, if the behaviorist theory has merit.

Cognitivism

Cognitivists stress the importance of learning through patterns and not isolated events. The content is front and center in this theory. The learner develops new skills within the context of previously learned patterns and the “rules” which define them. Cognitivism has largely shaped the standards-based movement with its carefully designed instructional scopes and sequences.

In contrast, D.O.L. does not teach from patterns or rules. Each skill is practiced in isolation with little generalization. For example, “Titles of movies are to be underlined (italicized), not placed with quotation marks” is taught on its own without connection to the rule: “Titles of whole things are underlined (italicized).” The D.O.L. approach is somewhat akin to teaching reading by learning isolated sight words (a generally discredited instructional practice), rather than through an explicit, systematic phonics program. No wonder that D.O.L. produces minimal transfer of grammar and mechanics concepts and skills to writing, if the cognitivist theory has merit.

Constructivism

Constructivists view learning as a process in which learners actively construct new ideas or concepts based upon their own prior knowledge or experience. The learner is front and center in this theory. Establishing the relevance of the learning to the individual’s intrinsic needs is emphasized to motivate learning.

In contrast, because D.O.L. is simply oral, error analysis, students do not practice the skills in context of their own writing. D.O.L. provides no personal connection to the student’s own expression of ideas. In essence, teachers using D.O.L. purport to teach writing without writing. No wonder that D.O.L. produces minimal transfer of grammar and mechanics concepts and skills to writing, if the constructivist theory has merit.

Informal Learning

Informal learning theorists, such as Robert Marzano, advocate building upon prior knowledge to help students refine and adjust their understanding of previously developed big ideas or concepts. The big idea or concept is front and center in this theory. New learning is only acquired and mastered in the meaningful context of the old and will frequently challenge the construct and understanding of the big idea or concept.

In contrast, D.O.L. does not build or refine the big idea of how grammar and mechanics affect writing. For example, how comma placement affects meaning, how sentence variety emphasizes words and their meanings and not others, how language derivations affect usage or spelling. No wonder that D.O.L. produces minimal transfer of grammar and mechanics concepts and skills to writing, if the informal learning theory has merit.

Connectivism

Connectivists place high importance on developing meaningful connections between ideas and concepts. Connections to other similar learning and skills are front and center in this theory. Much of the brain-based learning, pioneered by neuroscientific research emphasizes the importance of these analogous connections.

In contrast, D.O.L. does not emphasize these skill connections. For example, “Titles of movies are to be underlined (italicized), not placed within quotation marks” is taught on its own without connection to other similar examples, such as “Titles of television shows are to be underlined (italicized), not placed within quotation marks.” No wonder that D.O.L. produces minimal transfer of grammar and mechanics concepts and skills to writing, if the connectivist theory has merit.

Now, good teachers use discussion to make D.O.L. instruction more useful. Some even have added on a writing component to extend the practice, motivation, and personal connection. But, these band-aides simply hide the wounds inflicted by this instructional practice. Our students deserve better grammar and mechanics instruction that will meaningfully transfer to student writing.

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 lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also 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 PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

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

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , ,

Secondary Reading Program Placement

No matter which school-wide model of reading intervention is used at the middle or high school levels, the problem of proper reading placement is common to all. School counselors, administrators, and/or data processors making student course schedules typically have little reliable data upon which to make these placements. Using longitudinal standardized test data and input from elementary or middle school teachers can serve as initial placement criteria, but this is far from a perfect process. More on this initial screening here.

Once student schedules have been set, it is frequently a logistical nightmare to make changes. Class sizes, other course placements (such as with math levels), and parent input all are part of the decision-making process. Every set-in-stone any placement process will have exceptions. New students and student transfers throughout the year come to mind. Administrators who value the importance of reading will ensure the flexibility of the process to prioritize student needs over programmatic concerns.

Once school has started in the fall, it does make sense to have a “weeding out” and “weeding in” assessment process in place to confirm proper placement for reading intervention. This is important for already-placed and yet-to-be-placed students.

Now, an initial caveat is in order before I address this important issue of finding out what students know and don’t know. I do buy into the Response to Intervention (RTI) model that minimizes tracking and promotes differentiated instruction. Most all students should be in heterogeneously mixed Tier I classes in which well-trained teachers differentiate literacy instruction. However, some mix of push-in, pull-out instruction makes sense for Tier II and III students.

Secondary Reading Program Placement Assessments

Now as to the assessments themselves… Why waste time and money on an achievement test that purports to determine reading levels when diagnostic assessments will provide teachers with both the sorting data and the data that can be used to differentiate instruction? Killing two birds with one stone makes sense. So, which initial diagnostic assessments are needed to double-check initial placements and place new students?

I suggest whole-class diagnostic assessments in phonics (decoding) and spelling (encoding) and individual oral fluencies from brief passages found in the grade-level literature (narrative) and history or science (expository) textbooks. The phonics and spelling diagnostics will cover the word identification side of the ledger and the fluencies will measure the word recognition side. Secondary teachers shouldn’t shy away from creating their own oral fluencies which are representative of their instructional textbooks. It’s really not rocket science. After all, teachers need to know whether students can read their books or not.

How much time will these screening assessments take to administer and record?

The comprehensive phonics test linked above takes 15 minutes to administer and 1 minute per student to correct and record on an assessment matrix. The comprehensive spelling test linked above takes 25 minutes to administer and 2 minutes per student to correct and record. Both tests can be corrected and recorded by responsible student aides, paraprofessionals, or parents. I recommend 30 second fluencies for each narrative and expository passage, so 1 minute to administer and record per student. Recording matrices are provided in the above links.

Now, of course these assessments are not the only ones we should use in reading intervention (Tier II and III) classes, but they will more than suffice as a Harry Potter sorting hat.

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, 390 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.

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