Archive for December, 2016

Quick Reading Assessments

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

At the start of the school year or when they get the inevitable transfer students, veteran teachers realize that they can’t depend solely upon previous teacher or counselor placements with regard to student reading levels. Teachers don’t want to find out in the middle of a grade-level novel that some students are reading two or more years below grade level and can’t hope to understand the book without significant assistance.

The best quick initial reading assessment? Reading. Specifically, a short reading fluency passage, but one that gives you not just a reading fluency number, but one that also gives you a good ballpark of what grade level the students can independently access. You’ve never seen anything like this before.

This “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level.

Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage and two-minute expository reading fluency is a much better measurement than a one-minute narrative reading fluency at only one grade level. The Pets Fluency Assessment is my gift to you and your students.

High levels of reading fluency are positively correlated with high levels of comprehension. Although not a causal connection, it makes sense that a certain degree of effortless automaticity is necessary for any reader to fully attend to meaning-making.

A good guideline that is widely used for acceptable fluency rates by the end of the school year follows.

2nd Grade Text            80 words per minute with 95% accuracy

3rd Grade Text            95 words per minute with 95% accuracy

4th Grade Text            110 words per minute with 95% accuracy

5th Grade Text             125 words per minute with 95% accuracy

6th Grade Text            140 words per minute with 95% accuracy

7th Grade Text            150 words per minute with 95% accuracy

8th Grade Text            160 words per minute with 95% accuracy

Having administered the Pets Fluency Assessment, two more initial assessments will help you further pinpoint any relative weaknesses and give you a game-plan for assessment-based instruction

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42audio file, print copy and consonants: 12:07 audio fileprint copy)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38audio file, print copy)

These two recording matrices will help you keep track of individual student fluency, phonics, and spelling data: fluency and phonics recording matrix and spelling recording matrix. The matrices facilitate assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrices also serve as the progress monitoring source.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, has written a reasonably priced Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program, which includes all of the instructional resources to help students master the demonstrated relative weaknesses in fluency, phonics, and spelling plus other diagnostic assessments (phonemic awareness and sight words) for remedial reading instruction.

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness activities to remediate all deficits indicated by the assessments. Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

Why not get this assessment plus 12 other reading assessments AND all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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. Perfect for guided reading.

Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

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Six Simple Steps to Teaching Spelling

Grades 4-8 spelling instruction was once relegated to editing stage of the writing process by some Writers Workshop purists. The Common Core authors would seem to concur. From grade 5 on up, the only Spelling Standards read as follows: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.2e Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.2b ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.2b Spell correctly.

However, many veteran grades 4-8 teachers still teach spelling, especially in terms of spelling patterns, conventional spelling rules, derivational and etymological influences, accent placements and vowel shifts because they know how structural word analysis facilitates proper use of our language, better reading comprehension, and improved writing.

Plus, when you know your students still can’t spell the there, their, and they’re words, someone’s gotta teach ’em!

So, what’s the most efficient, research-based methodology to teach spelling in the fewest number of instructional minutes per week?

Six Simple Steps to Teaching Spelling:


1. Administer a weekly diagnostic pretest of 20 words based upon a focus spelling pattern: not a silly holidays, colors, or “ed” word themed list. Check out my grades 4-8 spelling patterns instructional scope and sequence for guidance. Briefly explain the weekly spelling pattern with examples. Display the spelling words and direct students to self-correct their spelling errors by circling the misspelled sound-spellings.


2. Have students create their own Personal Spelling List of 10 unknown words. Students complete the Personal Spelling List in this priority order:

  • Pretest Errors: Have students write the spelling words they missed on the diagnostic pretest.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students write the words they missed on the last posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on teacher-corrected spelling errors found in their own writing.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students add on unknown words from non-phonetic outlaw words, commonly confused homonyms, spelling demons, and high frequency lists. I provide these in my spelling programs or teachers can simply do a web search to find appropriate lists for your students.


3. Create or purchase (Yes, my program has them) a spelling sort based upon the spelling pattern. Students complete the sort and self-correct to learn from their own mistakes.


4. Individualize Spelling Instruction

  • Administer a spelling patterns diagnostic assessment, not a random sample spelling inventory. Feel free to use my 102 word Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and recording matrix for each student, post the matrix and print the number of Spelling Pattern Worksheets according to the results and amount of students in your class. Here’s an audio version to make you really love this assessment 🙂
  • Print the answers to these worksheets in a half-dozen Answer Booklets.
  • Students complete a worksheet, self-correct and edit the practice section, and then complete the formative assessment at the bottom of each worksheet. Want to see some samples? Download the following six Spelling Pattern Worksheets including short schwa, long schwa, “_able,” “_ible,” “_ant-ance-ancy,” and “_ent-ence-ency”  spelling patterns (with answers).

Get the Spelling Pattern Worksheets FREE Resource:

  • Students mini-conference about the spelling pattern focus of the worksheet. If the student has mastered the spelling pattern in the formative assessment, direct the student to X-out the slash on the matrix and assign points. If the formative assessment indicates that the student has not yet mastered the spelling pattern, re-teach the pattern and tell the student to re-do the formative assessment.

5. Students study their Personal Spelling List(s) for the spelling formative posttest for homework.


6. Administer a weekly or bi-weekly posttest. Many teachers elect to give the spelling posttest at the end of the week; others choose to combine two spelling patterns lessons and include these as part of the bi-weekly unit test. I give a bi-weekly test of two Personal Spelling Lists to save class time. There is no law, nor research, saying that you have to test each Friday.To administer the weekly or bi-weekly posttest, direct students to take out a piece of binder paper, find a partner, and exchange dictation of their Personal Spelling List(s) words (10‒20 Minutes weekly or bi-weekly). Students then turn in their posttests for the teacher to grade. I know… you think they’ll cheat. In my experience, very few do. Also… this works with second graders (I’ve done it) on up.

The author’s Differentiated Spelling Instruction provides quality spelling programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Following are the program components:

Pennington Publishing's Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

  • Diagnostic Spelling Assessment: a comprehensive test of each previous grade level spelling pattern to determine what students know and what they don’t know with Spelling Assessment Mastery Matrix
  • 102 Remedial Sound-Spelling Worksheets Corresponding to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (Grade 8… other grade levels have fewer to correspond with grade-level spellings. All grade levels use the same diagnostic assessment.)
  • Weekly Diagnostic Spelling Tests
  • Weekly Spelling Sort Worksheets for Each Spelling Pattern (with answers) formatted for classroom display. Students self-correct to learn from their own mistakes.
  • Syllable Transformers and Syllable Blending formatted for classroom display and interactive instruction
  • Syllable Worksheets (with answers) formatted for classroom display
  • Four Formative Assessments (given after 7 weeks of instruction)
  • Summative Assessment
  • Spelling Teaching Resources: How to Study Spelling Words, Spelling Proofreading Strategies for Stories and Essays, Syllable and Accent Rules, Outlaw Words, 450 Most Frequently Used Words, 100 Most Often Misspelled Words, 70 Most Commonly Confused Words, Eight Great Spelling Rules, Memory Songs and Raps (with Mp3 links), and Spelling Review Games

Read one of our customer testimonials: “I work with a large ELL population at my school and was not happy with the weekly spelling tests, etc. Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important at this age group. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. We have just adopted RtI at my school and your spelling matrix is a great tool for documentation. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students.”


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The W.C. Wayside Chapel Joke

I first heard this one in Boy Scouts, but have heard it told in Young Life and countless youth groups. The “story” always gets more than its fair share of laughs, but the language is a bit archaic. Acknowledgments to the staff writers from Jack Paar’s Tonight Show (yes, before Johnny Carson). I’ve thrown in a few of my own gags to add to the mix. Here it is. Enjoy!

An English lady, while vacationing in Switzerland, fell in love with a small town and the surrounding countryside. She asked the pastor of a local church if he knew of any houses with rooms to rent that were close to town, but out in the country. The pastor kindly drove her out to see a house with a room to rent. She loved the house and decided to rent the room. Then, the lady returned to her home in England to make her final preparations to move to Switzerland.

When she arrived back home, the thought occurred to her that she had not seen a “W.C.” in the room or even down the hall. (A W.C. is short for “water closet” and is what the English call a toilet.) So she immediately emailed the pastor to ask him where the “W.C.” is located.

The Swiss pastor had never heard of a “W.C.,” and so he Googled the abbreviation and found an article titled “Wayside Chapels.” Thinking that the English lady was asking about a country church to attend near her new home, the pastor responded as follows:

Ms. Smith,

I look forward to your move. Regarding your question about the location of the W.C., the closest W.C. is situated only two miles from the room you have rented, in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees. The W.C. has a maximum occupancy of 229 people, but not that many people usually go on weekdays. I suggest you plan to go on Thursday evenings when there is a sing-along. The acoustics are remarkable and the happy sounds of so many people echo throughout the W.C.

Sunday mornings are extremely crowded. The locals tend to arrive early and many bring their lunches to make a day of it. Those who arrive just in time can usually be squeezed into the W.C. before things start, but not always. Best to go early if you can!

It may interest you to know that my own daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband. I remember how everyone crowded in to sit close to the bride and groom. There were two people to a seat ordinarily occupied by one, but our friends and family were happy to share.  I will admit that my wife and I felt particularly relieved when it was over. We were truly wiped out.

Because of my responsibilities in town, I can’t go as often as I used to. In fact, I haven’t been in well over a year. I can tell you I really miss regularly going to the W.C. Let’s plan on going together for your first visit. I can reserve us seats where you will be seen by all.


Pastor Kurt Meier

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Daily Paragraph Editing

Evan-More’s Daily Editing is certainly an improvement over the publisher’s Daily Language Review or the popular Daily Oral Language (from many different publishers). The instructional scope and sequence of Daily Paragraph Editing is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and most other state Standards in grammar, usage, and mechanics. This being said, most of the same criticisms detailed in my previous article still apply. Editing in the context of a paragraph does not solve the issue of teaching skills in isolation. Requiring a student to write a similar article is not the same as requiring students to apply specific skills learned in a lesson in the context of their own writing.

Additionally, Daily Paragraph Editing really only tests students’ previously acquired skills. Testing is not the same as teaching. Direct instruction in the language conventions of grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling is what the Common Core Language Strand authors envisioned, not endless practice without effective instruction.

Yes, kids need lots of practice, but we teachers need to remember what we learned in our teacher training programs about effective lesson design: Explicit Behavioral Objectives, Connection to Prior Learning and Lesson Transitions, Pre-teaching, Direct Instruction in the Content or Skill Standard with Multi-modality Examples and Language Support, Checking for Understanding, Guided Practice (which certainly could include some editing, but why not decision-making between what’s right and what’s wrong, instead of error-only scavenger hunts?), Formative Assessment, Re-teaching, Individualized Instruction, and Independent Practice. Of course, teachers are accustomed to different names for the essentially the same lesson components. Essentially, the teacher uses comprehensible input to introduce new learning, the students practice with the teacher’s help, the teacher assesses students’ mastery of the lesson content and skills and uses the data to re-teach or individualize instruction, and assigns independent practice in which the students’ apply what they have learned. Basic lesson design.

The Daily Paragraph Editing program suffers from the same false assumptions that some teachers, administrators, and parents frequently share: All students are alike and need the same instruction. We know better. Kids are snowflakes: each is different and has different needs and different levels of content and skills mastery, particularly in the disciplines of the Language Strand: grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, and knowledge of use.

A cookie-cutter approach to instruction such as Daily Paragraph Editing, Daily Oral Language, and Daily Language Review winds up re-teaching what some students already know (a waste of time), not building upon previous grade-level instruction, and short-changing instruction for those students, such as our ELL, Special Education, and below grade level students who need assessment-based practice. Students need effectively designed grade-level instruction, using all of the elements of direct instruction; plus, they need assessment-based individualized instruction for additional remedial practice so they can “catch up” while they “keep up” with rigorous writing instruction.

Teaching that helps students actually learn and retain skills and concepts requires something more than just a writing opener used only a few minutes each day. We teachers can do better than piecemeal and ineffective instruction. Good teachers don’t just want to address Standards, they want their students to learn, retain, and be able to apply them in the reading and writing contexts.

Bottom line? The Daily Paragraph Editing program is a short-cut to “teach” Language Strand Standards that can’t possibly transfer to long term content and skills acquisition. It has many of the same issues as Daily Language Review and Daily Oral Language. Teachers wind up “teaching” the same content and skills year after year. Clearly, we have better alternatives for effective instruction in the the Language Strand Standards.

Here is the most effective alternative…teachguide-6th

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). 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.

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