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Archive for October, 2014

Reading Intervention Whys, Whats, and Hows

As reading intervention and special education teachers already know, a cookie-cutter approach to remedial reading instruction will quickly prove ineffective. Struggling readers are snowflakes. Each is different and has a different set of reasons as to why reading is so challenging.

Assessment and Instruction: The Problem of Whys, Whats, and Hows in Reading Intervention

Learning the unique characteristics for each snowflake requires comprehensive assessment. All too often, assessment is limited to establishing the whys. The whys can certainly serve as placement criteria and will indicate general problem areas, such as decoding, or a learning disability, such as auditory processing challenges. The Wechler, Stanford-Binet, DAS, Peabody, Woodcock-Johnson, etc. do serve a purpose. However, these assessments just do not indicate specific reading deficits (the whats), nor do they inform instruction (the hows).

Students deserve specific and comprehensive assessment to accurately determine the whats. Assessment based upon samples, such as the San Diego Quick Assessment®, Slosson Oral Reading Test®, the Names Test®, the Basic Phonics Skills Test®, and the Qualitative Spelling Inventory® fail to pinpoint specific deficits. Plus, because of their sampling, these tests leave out sight words or sound-spelling patterns. The teacher diagnostician is forced to make generalizations and use informed guessing to determine the content for reading remediation.

If teachers do not know the whats for each of their students, they will be forced to use an inefficient scatter gun approach to instruction. The hows become a teach-everything-to-everyone approach to cover bases. All too often teachers will resort to a reading program with lockstep procedures. Students learn over and over again what they already know and/or fail to adequately practice what they actually need to improve.

The Assessment-based Instructional Alternative to Reading Intervention

Teachers need comprehensive assessments to accurately pinpoint each what of instruction in these areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, spelling patterns, outlaw (non-phonetic) words, rimes, sight syllables (the high frequency syllable components), and fluency. Get these assessments and recording matrices in one location here. Every reading intervention teacher needs these comprehensive reading and spelling assessments.

Once teachers know the specific reading deficits, teachers can formulate individual reading plans for each child. Each reading plan requires the right resources (the hows) for assessment-based instruction.

Resources which provide teachers the instructional tools and flexibility to match the hows to the whats (instruction to assessment) will allow the teacher to truly individualize instruction in a Tier I or Tier II reading intervention program.

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, 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.

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Common Core Vocabulary: 12 Program Assessment Questions

Although much of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects affirm what elementary and secondary ELA/reading teachers have always been doing, the breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction in vocabulary may be a noteworthy exception.

The writers of the Common Core State Standards include vocabulary development among a variety of instructional Strands across the curriculum and grade levels. Additionally, the appendices add significant discussion on vocabulary acquisition. Perhaps a brief self-assessment of 12 basic questions may be in order.

Common Core Vocabulary: 12 Program Assessment Questions

  1. Outside of independent reading, would you say that the bulk of your vocabulary instruction is planned and purposeful or incidental and “as the need arises?”
  2. Do you teach vocabulary across the curriculum? Using the same strategies?
  3. How do you teach Tier II and Tier III academic language words? Which words do you teach and how were they determined?
  4. Do you and your colleagues teach a purposeful scope and sequence of vocabulary instruction across the grade levels?
  5. Do you teach the connection between vocabulary and spelling/syllabication?
  6. Do you teach grade level multiple meaning words? How were these words chosen? Which words do your colleagues teach?
  7. Do you teach specific context clues strategies?
  8. Do you teach Greek and Latin word parts? Which do you teach? Which do your colleagues teach?
  9. Do you teach dictionary and thesaurus research skills?
  10. Do you teach word figures of speech? How were these words chosen? Which words do your colleagues teach?
  11. Do you teach word relationships? How were these words chosen? Which words do your colleagues teach?
  12. Do you teach word connotations?

In a nutshell the Common Core Vocabulary Standards do establish the instructional expectations included in the above questions:

The Reading Strand in both Literature and Informational Text includes the same Standard (8.4): Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

and

The Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects Standards include Vocabulary Standard RST 8.4: Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6–8 texts and topics.

and

The Language Strand devotes three separate Standards: L.4, 5, 6 to vocabulary acquisition.

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

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

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

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 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).

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Selective Implementation of the Common Core

Cherry Picking Which Common Core Standards to Teach

In a related article I focused on the “cherry picking” of certain Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects Standards by district curriculum specialists and teachers. I said that cherry picking can mean picking the easiest fruit on the tree, picking the best fruit on the tree, or picking just the fruit on the tree that we want and ignoring the rest. Straight off wikipedia, so you know that it’s the truth.

I suggested that the latter use of “cherry picking” would seem to apply to many districts and teachers as they have begun implementing the Common Core ELA/Reading Standards. Of course we all tend to teach what we know, but we also teach what we want to believe. The former I could classify as unconscious cherry picking. The latter is conscious cherry picking and has a hidden agenda.

We Tend to Teach What We Know: Unconscious Cherry Picking

Elementary and middle-high school English-language Arts teachers are generally well-trained and/or interested in teaching reading and writing—less so in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary acquisition, listening, and speaking content and skills. After all, how many grammar classes are required for teachers earning their elementary or secondary English credentials? 0. Thus, when districts and teachers began implementing the Common Core State Standards in 2011 and 2012, district curriculum specialists and teachers initially gravitated toward the known and put the unknown on the backburner. In my school district we’ve had plenty of Common Core reading and writing trainings, but not one moment of training dedicated to the Language, Speaking, or Listening Standards. Conscious cherry picking—but perhaps a reasonable approach, given the paramount importance of reading and writing to literacy.

However, having acclimated themselves and their students to the Common Core Reading: Literature, Reading: Informational Text, and Writing Strands over the last four years, many teachers are now ready to teach the well-balanced approach intended by the Common Core writers—including all of the Strands.

Indeed, these other Strands are trending. As an educational publisher I use my blog to promote my books. I have to keep track of search results and key search terms to drive traffic to my blog. My blog drives traffic to my website and sells my books. As states “raced to the top” to adopt the Common Core State Standards in 2011, googling “Common Core Reading Standards” and “Common Core Writing Standards” got the most search results in the field of English-language Arts/Reading. Googling “Common Core Language Standards” and “Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards” got negligible amounts of search results.

I just googled the same search terms and found 42,500,000 search results for “Common Core Reading Standards” and 27,200,00 for “Common Core Writing Standards.” However, I was shocked to see the increase in search results for “Common Core Language Standards.” 40,600,000 results! Teachers may have initially gravitated toward what they know, but now they are shifting focus to what they want to know.

So why aren’t district trainings responding to this need? Why aren’t many district curricular specialists and university professors promoting the Language, Speaking, and Listening Strands? Why aren’t budgetary allocations being funneled into all of the Common Core ELA/Reading Strands?

We Also Teach What We Want to Believe: Conscious Cherry Picking

Many state, county, and district curriculum specialists, as well as university professors don’t want teachers to implement all of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.

Specifically, many of these “movers and shakers” were inculcated in the 1980s whole language philosophy of implicit whole to part learning. Age is a factor in educational decision-making. The educational “movers and shakers” are now in their 50s or 60s. And all of us, to a certain extent, are products of our times. These educational decision-makers were taught that explicit part to whole language instruction was useless or even counter-productive. Educational research studies which confirmed this philosophy were trumpeted; studies which pointed in the other direction were brushed aside. Unlike the unconscious cherry picking, this was conscious cherry picking.

Choosing to make selective choices among competing evidence, so as to emphasize those results that support a given position, while ignoring or dismissing any findings that do not support it, is a practice known as “cherry picking” and is a hallmark of poor science or pseudo-science.

— Richard Somerville, Testimony before the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, March 8, 2011.

In terms of instructional approaches to literacy, this meant that explicit part to whole phonics, spelling patterns and rules, structured approaches to writing, explicit vocabulary strategies, grammar, usage, and mechanics practice were disparaged and even forbidden in some states.

At the height of the whole language movement fanaticism in California, principals were even instructed to confiscate spelling workbooks from their teachers.

By the late 1990s most school districts and teachers had abandoned the whole language philosophy in reading. Failing test scores demanded the switch to explicit phonics and spelling instruction. However, because standardized tests emphasized reading and math, the whole language philosophy maintained its influence on grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary acquisition, speaking, and listening content and skill development.

For many educational “movers and shakers,” this hidden agenda remains.

Many district curriculum specialists are simply not providing training and budget allocations for the other Language Strand and Speaking and Listening Strand precisely because they don’t want to emphasize the explicit part to whole instruction called for in the Common Core State ELA/Reading Standards. To fail to choose is a choice.

Additionally, neither the PARCC and Smarter Balanced Common Core assessments focus on grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, speaking, or listening Standards. So even for the less philosophically-driven and more pragmatic teach-to-the-test district decision-makers, it’s reading and writing that remains the focus.

However, younger teachers are beginning to experience some instructional cognitive dissonance. Although still force-fed much of the whole language philosophy at district level trainings and in university coursework, they see things differently in their classrooms. They don’t believe that their students will “catch on” to grammar or spelling by just writing a lot or through the editing process or via simplistic mini lessons or via writing “warm ups” such as Daily Oral Language. They don’t believe that students will acquire necessary academic vocabulary solely through reading. In other words, younger teachers tend to believe in explicit, not implicit, instruction. What is “taught” works better than what is “caught.” And retired teachers who gutted out the whole language movement of the 1980s and kept passing out their phonics, grammar, spelling, and mechanics “drill and kill” worksheets are smiling. And so are many of their former students.

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

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

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 grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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Cherry Picking the Common Core

One of our more flexible idiomatic expressions in English is “cherry picking.” Cherry picking can mean picking the easiest fruit on the tree or picking the best fruit on the tree, or picking just the fruit on the tree that we want and ignoring the rest.

The latter use of “cherry picking” would seem to apply to many districts and teachers as they have begun implementing the Common Core Standards. To get a bit technical, many have bought into the fallacy of selective attention, known as confirmation bias.

As elementary and middle-high school English-language Arts teachers began unraveling the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects in 2011, they tended to gravitate to the Reading: Literature, Reading: Informational Text, and Writing Strands.
Although some decried the “loss” of literature with the new focus on expository reading text, most began interpreting the Standards as “basically teaching what they already teach” with a few added tweaks. In my school district the mantra at all district Common Core trainings has been “Common Core-ize it!” In other words, keep on doing what we have been doing, but add on a few close reading strategies and some expository text and “You’re good to go!”

It’s human nature. We interpret new sensory input in light of previously acquired sensory input. Cherry picking.

Now, some of this Standards-cherry-picking does make sense. Now let me mix my food metaphors a bit. Obviously, reading (the meat) and writing (the potatoes) remain the cornerstones of literacy and should be instructional priorities. Additionally, there is some practical rationale to not introducing everything at once, so stair-stepping in the Standards would seem to be a prudent approach. However, we are in year four of implementation of the Common Core State Standards. The full dinner includes more than just meat and potatoes.

The cherries many have been avoiding would include the Language Strand and Speaking and Listening Strand. Scant attention has been paid to either of these Strands. I’ve asked countless district curriculum specialists and teachers whether they have read either of the Strands, and if they have, could they name one of the Standards in that Strand, and if they can, have they implemented any of the Standards in their district trainings or in their classrooms. You know their answers.

It’s time to set the table with a well-balanced meal.

Teachers are ready. Teachers can chew gum and walk at the same time. Teachers can implement the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects as they are designed–each part working to better the whole. I just googled “Common Core Reading Standards” and got 42,500,000 (not surprising) search results. “Common Core Writing Standards” got 27,200,00 (not surprising) search results. But these search results did surprise me: “Common Core Language Standards” got 40,600,000 results. Obviously there is significant interest in moving beyond the implementation of just the reading and writing Standards.

Now of course I am biased as well. As an educational publisher, I’m selling curriculum to address these up to this point ignored Standards. So, you would expect my own cherry picking. But I also feel that our students deserve a well-balanced diet. They need the full meal–not just the meat and potatoes. My take is that a diet of meat and potatoes can only take our students so far. Students also need the grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, speaking, and listening knowledge and skills to inform and equip them in their reading and writing.

And how about cherries jubilee for dessert?

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.

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

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

 

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Progressive Skills Review

Although English-Language Arts teachers have rightly focused on the Reading Standards for Literature, the Reading Standards for Informational Text, and the Writing Standards Strands of the Common Core State Standards, other Strands now deserve our focus as well.

The Language Strand has been one of the more controversial components of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. The Language Strand includes the following Standards 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).

Whole language (whole to part) writing and literature-based devotees have been chagrined at the inclusion of Language as a separate Common Core Strand. Anticipating this reaction, the Common Core writers went out of their way to placate the purists who believe that grammar, usage, and conventions (mechanics and spelling) taught in isolation from writing instruction and vocabulary taught in isolation from reading instruction are mortal sins.

“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

Less controversial, but still noteworthy, has been the inclusion of specific grammar, usage, and mechanics skills that need to be reinforced throughout the Grades 3‒12 Standards. These Language Progressive Skills found at the end of both the K-5 and 6-12 Language Standards include 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.”

The tacit admission that some skills-based instruction in language conventions is, indeed, desirable, and is, in fact, necessary to acquiring advanced literacy has been a tough pill for some purists to swallow. National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, and Writing Process fellows have been loath to accept this distinction between skills and craft. Grammar rules are back in style.

However, most teachers have welcomed the emphases of these language skills across the grade levels. In fact, the repetition of the skills in the Common Core document validates what teachers have long been saying: Language acquisition and mastery is a cyclical and developmental process and not the introduction-reinforcement-mastery model that direct instruction gurus have long advocated. In other words, “No wonder we have to teach the same stuff year-to-year and over and over again before it starts to sink in. Maybe last year’s teacher really did teach this stuff after all.”

Let’s take a quick look at these 18 Language Progressive Skills:

CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

…..

  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.

Of course these Language Progressive Skills Standards beg these two fundamental instructional questions: How do we teach these skills? How do students best learn these skills?

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

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

Increasingly, teachers are answering this question with assessment-based instruction. Check out the helpful free diagnostic assessments and progress monitoring matrices for grammar, usage, and mechanics in the upper right dropdown menu of the author’s website.

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 grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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