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Archive for March, 2012

Are You Ready for RtI?

Are you ready for RtI? Response to Intervention is the collaborative model of decision-making and curricular intervention regarding students with special instructional needs. Although RtI sprang from Special Education in the early 2000s as an alternative screening and delivery mechanism to the then-predominant “discrepancy between ability and achievement” model, the approach gained legitimacy after the revisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004. Since then, the RtI model has gained buy-in from influential educational authors and general education stakeholders as a comprehensive approach to identify students needing intervention via research-based diagnostic assessments, to provide flexibly tiered instruction to meet their instructional needs, and to monitor their progress. Students who do not show a positive response to such interventions are tested to determine if they qualify for special education services.

Of course, the RtI model presupposes collaboration from all stakeholders in a school and/or district. All-too-often, this presupposition has doomed RtI at some school sites and in some districts from the get-go. Jumping into RtI and the three-tier instructional delivery model without first addressing legitimate concerns and before gaining stakeholder consensus has given a black-eye to a promising means of delivering a truly first-class education to all children. A related article, Ten Reasons Teachers Avoid RtI Collaboration, details the most common concerns regarding RtI and its collaborative model. Following is an anonymous survey, using these ten reasons, to be administered at the opening exploration of RtI implementation to gauge RtI readiness of a teaching staff and its administration.

How Would You Rate Your Educational Modus Operandi (M.O.) on this 1-5 Likert Scale?

  1. Autonomous (I basically do my own thing)-Collaborative (I plan and implement instruction according to grade-level team or department consensus)
  2. Not Confident of Abilities (I either don’t have the requisite skills set or knowledge that my colleagues seem to have)-Confident of Abilities (I more than hold my own compared to my colleagues)
  3. Job Insecurity (I am often worried about retaining my job)-Job Security (I never worry about retaining my job)
  4. Castle-keeper (I am very protective about maintaining my program)-Open House (I am open to changing my program or courses I teach)
  5. Content focused (I exclusively teach grade-level standards and content)-Process/Skills focused (I focus instruction on process objectives and skills acquisition)
  6. Concerned about Standardized Test Results (I am often worried about the results of my students’ standardized test scores)-Unconcerned about Standardized Test Results (I am never worried about the results of my students’ standardized test scores)
  7. Lazy, Burned-out, or Checked-out (I often feel this way)-Motivated (I am extremely motivated to improve the quality of my instruction)
  8. Anti-Change (I am resistant to trying new instructional approaches)-Pro Change (I am ready to try new instructional approaches)
  9. Adverse to Differentiated Instruction (I do not differentiate, adjust, or individualize instruction)-In favor of Differentiated Instruction (I want to differentiate, adjust, or individualize instruction)
  10. Has No Support or Curricular Resources to Differentiate Instruction (I do not have the support, time, or curricular resources to modify instruction)-Has Support and Curricular Resources to Differentiate Instruction (I do have the support, time, or curricular resources to modify instruction)
Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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.

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, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , ,

Ten Reasons Teachers Avoid RtI Collaboration

If your school and/or district is moving toward a Response to Intervention (RtI) model, knowing the ten reasons why some teachers and administrators avoid RtI collaboration will help those committed to the RtI process make fewer mistakes and get more buy-in from stakeholders.

Teachers and administrators tend to be individualists, and school structures tend to reinforce this personality trait. Collaboration is simply easier for some and harder for others. Knowing why collaboration is difficult or downright threatening for individual staff members will help an RtI team address the individual concerns of its stakeholders. Dealing head-on with these stumbling blocks in the beginning stages of the RtI process will get everything “on the table” and prevent future problems during implementation.

RtI teams that avoid this necessary step and rush into structural and curricular decision-making for the sake of efficiency or meeting imposed timetables will deal with these individual concerns down the road anyway. Once the RtI model has been implemented, it is much more difficult and less efficient to backtrack and address individual concerns. Those RtI teams which take the time to address stakeholder concerns tend to have a much better track record in moving a staff toward the collaborative culture so necessary to effectively implement RtI.

Ten Reasons Teachers Avoid RtI Collaboration

  1. Autonomy-Teachers and administrators choose education as a career because they crave some measure of control over decision-making. Educators develop their own teaching/leadership styles and philosophies to reflect their personal values. As a result, educators tend to actively or passively resist outside imposition or control. RtI collaboration certainly threatens this autonomy.
  2. Fear-All teachers and administrators share one trait in common. They know their own limitations. The fear is that others will discover these limitations and not accept them as valued professionals. No teacher or administrator wants to be recognized as incompetent. The fear is that RtI collaboration will expose individual limitations.
  3. Job Security-Finding out limitations can be perceived as potential “dings” on performance evaluations for both teachers and administrators. Additionally, the RtI model may expose overlap or redundancy and this may threaten jobs. Because sharing resources is a key ingredient in the RtI recipe, RtI collaboration may identify underutilized resource personnel.
  4. Castles-Individual fiefdoms protect job security. Our individual educational castles, created to address and protect student needs, tend to make collaboration challenging or even undesirable. Those who keep the keys of their respective castles may be loath to give these up. Sharing isn’t just a problem in kindergarten. Each school and district has its own fiefdoms and the RtI collaboration model requires open castles and transparency.
  5. Content Queens and Kings-Many teachers, especially at the secondary level, entered the teaching professional because of their genuine love of their respective disciplines. Any moves away from content-centered instruction toward process or skill-centered instruction threaten their roles. Those content-centric teachers and administrators focus on content standards, but may ignore the balanced approach of the new Common Core State Standards. Sharing responsibility for teaching content with others or taking on process or skill instruction may be their concerns regarding the RtI collaboration model.
  6. Test Madness-A disease endemic to many educators, but frankly more to administrators than teachers. And with good reason. Administrators are directly judged by standardized test results. And now, several states have made the move toward evaluating teachers by the test results of their students. Of course, those supporting such evaluations tend to beg at least two questions relevant to the RtI process: 1. Are standardized tests capable of accurately measuring RtI student achievement? and 2. Will teachers teach all non-tested content and process standards and continue to teach to diagnostic student needs when their jobs and salaries may be affected by the test results? Test-crazed-cultures may encourage educators to take short-cuts and teach to results, not to student needs. This is not to say that an effective RtI model and optimal standardized test results are necessarily mutually exclusive. However, test madness remains a reason why some avoid RtI collaboration.
  7. Lazy, Burned-out, or Checked-out Teachers and Administrators-Let’s face it. Most sites have their share, but not as many as the public may perceive. All educators go through professional cycles of interest and lack thereof. Some will own up to their feelings; others will not. Psychologists remind us that motivation is a cyclical process. Effective practice with expert coaching leads to achieving personal goals. Achieving personal goals leads to self-satisfaction. Self-satisfaction leads back around to a positive association with practice. Teacher and administrator interest can be re-kindled with the right practice, but RtI collaboration does push to the initial practice step and those lazy, burned-out, or checked-out teachers and administrators will resist until they begin the cycle.
  8. Anti-Change Agents-Many teachers and administrators gravitate toward the status-quo. “I’ve/We’ve always done it this way” or “This is how I was taught and it worked for me” or “I tried that, but it didn’t work for me/us” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “What goes around, comes around” or “This too shall pass” guide a tremendous amount of educational decision-making. We are all products of our own experiences, and change challenges our established comfort zones. Anti-change agents can be particularly adverse to RtI collaboration.
  9. Fear of DifferentiationAdjusting instruction to student needs provokes resistance. No teacher feels under-worked. Adding on the task of changing instructional delivery to meet the diagnostically-determined needs of students is overwhelming to most. No wonder that tracking and pull-out programs are key features of most educational institutions. However, ask any teacher whether it would be ideal to teach to each student as his or her levels of need and you would receive a universal Yes. Dealing with the Myths of Differentiating Instruction can be helpful, but there is just no doubt that those who avoid differentiated instruction are reticent to support RtI collaboration.
  10. No Support or Curricular ResourcesTeachers and Administrators are all-too-often expected to do “more with less.” No wonder that the RtI model, which demands resources of time and student-centered curriculum leads to frustration and an unwillingness to whole-heartedly support RtI collaboration.

    Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

    Teaching Reading Strategies

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.

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, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , ,

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

As an MA Reading Specialist and author of quite a few spelling curricula (eight at last count), I’m often asked about spelling word lists by grade levels. Which words are right for which grade levels? Is blank (substitute any word) a third or fourth grade word? Which spelling words are the most important ones to practice?

We Americans are fixated with lists. From Letterman’s Late Show Top Ten to Blackwell’s Ten Worst Dressed List, we pay attention to them all. Lists influence big money. For example, universities invest millions of dollars to adjust staffing, course offerings, and campus improvements to better their annual U.S. News and World Report rankings.

We American are also fixated with grades. We sort and categorize anything of value by grade. From diamonds to education, we esteem these divisions even when the placement criteria overlap or have dubious or arbitrary merit. In education, we divide our new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into grade levels, although many standards are simply repeated in each grade level. See the CCSS spelling standards in the Language Strand as a prime example.

Of course, educational publishers promote and encourage our list and grade fixations. Lists and grade levels, such as with spelling instruction, sell more books. For example, no publishers in their right minds would offer a one-volume comprehensive spelling program, when separate grade level programs with separate spelling lists would sell more. Publishers of spelling curricula have been doing the latter for years. A brief history is illuminating:

American English Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

As early as 1783, Noah Webster published his first edition of what became widely known as The Blue-backed Speller. He began “with the alphabet and moving systematically through the different sounds of vowels and consonants, then syllables, then simple words, then more complex words, then sentences.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_Webster His grade level lists were used by teachers in multi-grade, one-room school houses and these divisions were further solidified with spelling bees. Webster’s 1806 dictionary sold poorly but served as the foundation for subsequent dictionaries bearing the Webster name.

By the 1840s, Webster had lost market share to the works of William Holmes McGuffey. McGuffey’s 1836 publication of his Eclectic Reader became wildly popular and McGuffey spun off his success with his 1846 Eclectic Spelling Book. McGuffey set out to standardize American spellings along the lines of Noah Webster’s 1806 dictionary and used Webster’s diacritical marks, as well as his “orthography, pronunciation, and syllabication (Preface).” Interestingly, McGuffey keyed his early spelling lists to the alphabet and not to the sound-spelling system. For example, his alphabet card for W has a picture of a wren and the spelling wren. Of course, the wr_ has the /r/, not the /w/. His lists are organized along the same lines.  Lesson 16 is titled “The Various Sounds of U” and has 44 words which include short /u/, long /u/, r-controlled /ur/, and others.

So, grade level spelling programs and word lists have been around for all of U.S. history. Educational movements to the contrary have proven to be short-lived. California removed grade level spelling books from its state adoption lists at the height of the whole-language movement in the 1980s. Principals were instructed by school district personnel to direct teachers not to use grade level spelling workbooks, and in some documented cases principals were even told to confiscate grade level spelling programs. More eclectic approaches such as Rebecca Sitton’s No Excuse Spelling Words program (more lists) replaced the grade level spelling programs. However, with the return to phonics-based instruction in the 1990s, grade level spelling programs and word lists returned.

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels: What Makes Sense

Ideally, spelling instruction would be tailored to individual student needs. However, our “factory system” of American education, which divides students into grade level instruction by age with accompanying grade-level standards is not likely to change.

Accepting this reality, it does make sense to establish a scope and sequence based upon research-based spelling patterns. Although there are no “set in stone” fourth grade words or fourth grade spelling patterns, there are spelling patterns that build upon previously mastered spelling patterns. The developmental nature of spelling has been well-established in orthographic research. Additionally, there is simply no doubt that good spelling instruction dovetails with good vocabulary instruction. As the reading-spelling connection is well-established for the primary grades, so is the vocabulary-spelling connection thereafter.

Of course, most grade level spelling programs and word lists are predicated upon the specious notion that spelling instruction equals spelling learning. Teach it and move on. Or add on a simplistic review before moving on. No attention is paid to whether the spelling patterns have actually been mastered or not. However, a spelling-vocabulary program for intermediate and upper elementary, as well as middle school students based upon diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments is certainly possible. A spelling-vocabulary program of “grade-level” spelling patterns and word lists organized in a meaningful instructional scope and sequence combined with individualized remediation of previous foundational spelling patterns is certainly possible.

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 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).

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