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10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers

Don't Use Literacy Centers

10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers

Literacy Centers have been used by some teachers for years, but have become increasingly popular since the advent of Pinterest and the Teachers Pay Teachers “Culture of Cute.” Before getting into my 10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers, a huge disclaimer is in order. I love literacy centers, and as a reading specialist and author of a reading intervention program, which offers a centers-based approach to assessment-based instruction, I find them to be invaluable instructional tools. Plus, I also sell grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Academic Literacy Centers. However, I don’t love the ill-conceived and poorly implemented literacy centers I see struggling in so many elementary and middle school classrooms. Hence, the 10 Reasons Not to Use These Kinds of Literacy Centers.

So, here’s the list of reasons I’ve compiled not to use literacy centers. But don’t take my word on it, check out the teacher comments as well.

Questions about Literacy

Literacy Center Questions

1. TIME: Literacy centers take too much time to create, to set-up, and to clean up. Time management may be the most important factor in a teacher’s success or burn-

out. All time is reductive: You add this and that has got to go. Plus, centers can take an inordinate amount of class time. Some teachers have abandoned direct literacy instruction altogether and do two-hour literacy centers. As a reading specialist, I can assure you that guided reading is not the only effective form of reading instruction. Plus, those literacy center learning packets, “I Can” statements, recording sheets, etc. take way too much time to correct and record.

2. ORGANIZATON: Literacy centers are an organizational nightmare. Bins, bags, folders, cubbies? Office supply stores love literacy centers. Artsy-fartsy project-centered activities in literacy centers cost teachers money they just do not have, and the MESS. Students cleaning up? Let’s face it; it’s not their skill set. And by the way, elementary teachers… middle schoolers are worse at cleaning up by far. Custodians hate literacy centers… not only because of the chair or table positioning, but because of the continual mess, wear and tear on classroom furniture and flooring.

3. FUN: So many of the literacy centers I see selling on teacher sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers focus on creating activities, which students will like. Of course, students would rather play a literacy board game rather than practice reading fluency. Wouldn’t you? However, we teachers are not in the amusement business; we are in the learning business. Whether students enjoy the activity or not is not the end goal. Wouldn’t you rather have a former student bumping into you at a restaurant ten years later tell you, “I learned so much in your class,” rather than “I had so much fun in your glass.”? A focus on fun and a focus on learning are mutually exclusive in my experience. The productive kind of fun comes from peer and student-teacher relationships and the self-fulfillment of actually learning something.

4. CHOICE: Here I tend to blame the academics, especially the university education professors who hold such an influence over

Questions about Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Questions

teachers-in-training and teachers taking staff development for salary advancement. I have yet to read any convincing research in my field as a reading specialist that indicates that student choice in selecting learning activities has a statistically positive correlation with reading improvement. Most veteran teachers have learned that guided choice would be a much better approach to literacy center activities. For example, teachers know that allowing students some autonomy in choosing the types of books

makes sense (motivation and learning theory so affirm); however, allowing students to self-select books irrespective of reading level seems to be teacher malpractice to me. My experience in the classroom finds that some students will self-select challenging books at appropriate word recognition levels, but many will not. No research that choice presents higher gains. Literacy center choice? We are the adults, here. We know the Common Core Standards and what is best for our students. We guide them toward vegetables, not candy. And if we’re good at it, we can make them think that they do have some choice, say in when to practice that reading fluency passage, where to practice it, and how to practice it. These choices make sense, but not these kinds of literacy choices: board game or reading fluency, art station or reading fluency, etc.

5. CUTE: Other teachers and culture often unduly influence impact a teacher’s instructional decision-making. I know many teachers who have been peer-pressured into adopting and/or continuing literacy centers as their primary means of literacy instruction. The “Culture of Cute” promulgated by many teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers and influenced by Pinterest has had an enormous impact on elementary, and some middle school, literacy teachers. A teacher’s artsy-fartsy, cute-looking literacy centers may, indeed, impress the teacher next door, the walk-through principal-specialist-district personnel, and the parent community. However, cute alone never gets a student to score high on the Smarter Balanced or PAARC tests, let alone the SAT or ACT in years to come.

6. INDEPENDENCE: Literacy centers focus on independence and de-value teacher-dependence. “Gradual release of responsibility” does not mean let the blind lead the blind. Poor literacy centers allow students the independence to do what students want to do by themselves; better literacy centers involve students completing work independently without pestering the teach or being spoon-fed to do by themselves what the teacher wants them to do. The best independent work is solidly teacher-dependent.

7. BEHAVIOR: Literacy centers create behavioral management problems. Even the best classroom management training won’t

Questions about Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Questions

overcome poorly designed centers or deal with Jonathan or Amanda, who can’t be left alone for more than 10 seconds. Students cannot learn in a learning structure which promotes constant behavioral issues. Plus, fair to say that all teachers are not wired the same way. For example, some can tolerate more noise than others. That doesn’t mean that the less tolerant teacher is less kid-centered, or needs additional classroom management staff development, or is misplaced at a particular grade level.

8. COLLABORATION: Most literacy centers don’t accomplish their purported purpose: using cooperative collaboration to learn. Much of the 1980s research on cooperative groups has been discarded in the literacy center movement. Groups are treated as merely collections of students working individually to complete self-choice learning tasks. Groups are primarily a necessary evil for a teacher “to put up with” in order to “free up” the teacher to do, say guided reading, with a small group (where the only real learning takes place). Floating around most literacy centers, observers would see minimal collaboration, no shared leadership or defined leadership roles, and a whole lot of Bella, the smart or responsible student, doing the work for her wanna-be-best-friend Samantha, the lazy or manipulative student. No accountability. No benefit of working together.

9. TRACKING: Literacy centers promote tracking. Because guided reading has become such a dominant feature of literacy groups, and most all guided reading groups involve homogeneous compositions, say by reading levels, the rest of the literacy groups tends to be cemented into same ability groups. Heterogeneous groupings can be incorporated into literacy centers, but most teachers chose not to follow this organization and management challenge. I, personally, favor a mixed approach of flexible homogeneous and heterogeneous groups, but literacy centers rarely reflect this mix.

10. DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION: Literacy centers have been used to prop up many of the discredited features of differentiated instruction–an instructional approach of the late 1990s and early 2000s which tended to feature student choice based upon multiple intelligences, brain theory, and learning styles. Although I constantly tried to co-opt the movement to suit my own views that we should teach different stuff to different students based upon the results of diagnostic assessments, teachers and popular authors favored the idea that we should teach different ways to different students based upon a myriad of other factors. For example, I see many literacy centers on sale on Teachers Pay Teachers which favor learning styles as determinants for independent student choices of learning activities. This, despite the fact that there is no empirical evidence to prove the existence or efficacious impact using learning styles to promote academic achievement. Truly, old theories take a generation to die out. Click HERE to learn more.

Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLES

Academic Literacy Centers Grades 4-8 BUNDLES

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

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Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Collaborative Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers are separate grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs, designed to teach the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards in writing, reading, and language. The literacy centers maximize learning through collaborative tasks, each taking from 15–20 minutes to complete. These six independent centers free-up the teacher to conduct mini-conferences with individual students, teach a guided reading group, or walk the classroom to supervise. A variety of rotation options provides flexibility and the addition of other centers as the teacher sees fit.

I chose to include academic in the program title to reflect the rigorous lessons included in the Academic Literacy Centers. Unlike other literacy centers, which focus on hands-on activities, games, art, exploration, and creativity (all good things), these centers focus on learning the Standards. Students take biweekly unit tests (included) to measure their mastery of the key Standards.

Now, this is not to say that students won’t enjoy any of the activities (they will), but I would rather have students learn content and skills than just have fun. If you were expecting a carnival of cute games and manipulatives, select another product. This is solid grade-level work and you, your parents, your principal, and most importantly, your students, will see measurable progress in mastering the grade-level ELA Standards.

These six Academic Literacy Centers have been designed to minimize or eliminate preparation, correction, behavioral problems, and clean-up time and to maximize flexible, on-task learning:

Academic Literacy Centers

Reading: Eight expository reading fluencies and corresponding comprehension worksheets

Writing: Eight sentence revisions lessons, which include revising sentence structure, grammar application, and writing style and eight literary response activities, which include literary quotation mentor texts and writer response tasks with different rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form)

Language Conventions: Eight grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons including online links for both grammar and mechanics content and/or skills

Vocabulary: Eight vocabulary worksheets including Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues; Greek and Latin Word Parts; Language Resources; Figures of Speech; Word Relationships; Connotations; and Academic Language Words

Spelling and Syllabication: Four spelling sorts based upon conventional spelling rules and four syllable worksheets

Study Skills: Eight reading and writing, listening, test-taking, memorization, and goal-setting lessons

 FAQs

Can I set up, tear down, and move these centers quickly? Yes. Set up and tear down only take a few minutes. Perfect if you share a classroom or move to another classroom.

Are there directions for each lesson and activity? Yes. There are longer teacher directions and shorter student directions on the literacy center task cards (provided in both color and black and white).

Do the literacy centers have the same instructional procedures for each lesson and activity? Yes. Read the directions and model the first activity or lesson for each literacy center once and your students will be able to work independently thereafter.

How much correction is there? Plenty, but your students will do all the correcting. Answers are provided with each task. Students learn from their own mistakes.

Are there unit tests? Yes, biweekly tests are provided on the grammar, usage, mechanics, vocabulary, and spelling content and skills. Answers, of course.

Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLES

Academic Literacy Centers Grades 4-8 BUNDLES

What exactly is Common Core State Standard grade-level specific and what is not? The sentence revisions (Writing Center), vocabulary worksheets (Vocabulary Center), spelling sorts (Spelling Sorts and Syllabication Center) each have separate grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 lessons and activities. Other lessons and activities cover the breadth of the grades 4–8 Standards. The reading fluencies and comprehension worksheets are leveled at third, fifth, and seventh grade levels.

Can I add my own centers? Yes, and I have six additional remedial literacy centers (sold separately) each include diagnostic assessments and focus on assessment-based instruction: Reading Fluency with Modeled Readings, Phonics and Sound-Spelling Card Games, Phonemic Awareness and Sight Words, Vowel Transformers and Spelling

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

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Sight Words: Which to Teach and Which Not To

Sight Words

Which sight words should we teach?

Most teachers and reading specialists advocate some teaching of sight words: the question is which ones make sense to teach and which ones don’t make sense to teach? Don’t worry… At the end of the article you’ll get the assessments, word lists, activities, and suggested resources you need to teach. But, we do need to answer the question.

First, let’s dispel a few notions about how we learn to read. It’s not a which came first, the chicken or the egg? question some still suggest. In other words, the end result is not all that matters. Witness the plethora of reading intervention classes in upper elementary and middle schools to see how many of our students can “read,” but not understand what they are “word calling.” How we get to the end result does matter. Reading does not teach phonemic awareness, nor does reading teach phonics and multi-syllabic decoding.

We have plenty of reading research to positively assert that explicit, systematic phonics instruction is the most efficient approach to teaching beginning and remedial readers. The Look-Say Method of the Dick and Jane readers (sight words only instruction) and the Onset-Rime Method (b-ack, h-ack, j-ack, l-ack, p-ack, r-ack, s-ack, t-ack) have largely been placed on the dustbin of instructional approaches.

However…

We can certainly take things too far. We know some things, but we don’t know a lot of things about reading. We are only at the beginning stages of brain research.

So…

A prudent approach to both beginning and remedial reading instruction is to focus on decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling) instruction and practice, but to also “throw in” a healthy dose of sight words practice just to be sure. But, all sight words are not created equal.

Which Sight Words Not to Teach and Why

Don’t pass out lists of high frequency reading or spelling words for students to memorize. Intuitively, it would seem to make sense to have students memorize the words that they are going to read or spell most often. However, our gut-level instincts lead us astray here.

  • The Dolch and Fry word lists of the most commonly used words in basal readers were never designed to provide a list of words to study. Countless U.S. classrooms still, unfortunately, have these reading goals (and assign parents the task of teaching): 10 words by the end of kindergarten; 100 words by the end of first grade; 200 words by the end of second grade; and 300 words by the end of third grade. As a reading specialist, I’ve worked with hundreds of elementary, middle school, high school, and even community college students who can word call each of these lists, but not read with comprehension.
  • Similarly, the Slosson Oral Word Reading Test and San Diego Quick Assessment were only designed to test word recognition and they do provide correlations to reading comprehension, but authors Richard L. Slosson and Charles L. Nicholson, as well as Margaret La Pray and Ramon Ross respectively, never advocated using their random sample assessments as instructional tools.
  • The “No Excuse” spelling word lists, floating around since Rebecca Sitton popularized this band aid approach to spelling mastery during the height of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s still, unfortunately, serves as the entire spelling program for countless U.S. classrooms with absolutely no research validating its instructional validity.

Which Sight Words to Teach and Why

The first group of sight words are, indeed, words; the second and third groups are word parts.

  • Outlaw Words: These words break the law, that is they break the rules of the alphabet code and are non-phonetic. Words such as the and above are Outlaw Words because readers can’t decode them. I’ve heard way too many teachers and parents force children into sounding out words which can’t be done because they break the code. It is true that many of our high frequency and high utility words happen to be non-decodable, but many are not, so the efficient approach to sight words instruction is to teach and have students practice only the non-decodable words, not the high frequency words which mix non-decodable and decodable. Why confuse students? We have to teach these outlaw words because they are exceptions to our phonics rules.
  • Word Families (Rimes): A rime is a vowel and the final consonants in one syllable, such as “ack.” The rime usually follows an first consonant, e.g. “b,” or consonant blend, e.g. “tr,” to form words, e.g., “back” or “track.” Students apply these to other starting consonants (called onsets) to recognize or say new words. By the end of second grade, students should know every one of these 79 word families with automaticity through explicit, systematic phonics instruction. If they don’t, gap fill with flashcard practice and activities to help students master the rimes. I have found plenty of success teaching the word families that students do not know with sound-spelling blending. Again, the focus is remedial, not instructional, with the rimes.
  • High Frequency Greek and Latin Prefixes and Roots: Greek and Latin word parts make up over 50% of the words in the dictionary. Some are decodable in English, and some are not. Because of the strong reading-vocabulary connection, it does make sense to have students teach and practice the Greek and Latin high frequency prefixes and suffixes which they do not know. Like with rimes, the analogous relationships formed by morphological (meaning-based) word parts make this a sound sight words instructional focus. For example,  bi means two in bicycle, just as it means two in bicameral or biped.

FREE Sight Words Assessments

Outlaw Words: Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Word Families (Rimes): Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Greek and Latin High Frequency Prefixes and Suffixes: Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Click HERE to get a one-page Reading Assessment Matrix for these sight word assessments.

FREE Sight Words Lists and Activities

Outlaw Words: Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

Word Families (Rimes): Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

Greek and Latin High Frequency Prefixes and Suffixes: Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

But wait… Why not get these sight word assessments, sight word lists, ALL (not the sample) sight word activities plus 10 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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Interactive Notebooks Assessment-based Individualized Instruction

Assessment-based Individualized Instruction INB

INB Assessment-based Individualized Instruction

Many teachers have found Interactive Notebooks (INBs) to be an excellent addition to their instructional repertoire to teach grade level Common Core Standards. Some teachers have gone “whole hog” with reading, vocabulary, history, science, and math INBs, while others have waded into the water with only one content area. Still others may or may not have dipped their toes into the INB pool and decided that a more traditional approach to content instruction works for them (without the mess and additional time of the INB) To each his or her own…

A number of years ago I decided to experiment with teaching interactive grammar notebooks to my seventh grade ELA students. Like many secondary ELA teachers, I, was skeptical about INBs simply being artsy-fartsy, “cute” projects to prop up teacher egos at Open House. Wrong!

As an author of quite a few grades 4 to high school grammar programs, I began to convert the program content to an INB format used by AVID: Cornell Notes. Cornell Notes is a natural fit in that is designed to be interactive: Students take notes and respond to the content. After the lesson students synthesize the learning.

My personal philosophy is to teach traditional grammar, usage, and mechanics in the reading and writing contexts, so I added on the grammar cartoons of my favorite illustrator, David Rickert with content related questions that required analysis and writing application. I added on simple sentence diagrams to help students practice the grammatical concepts in the context of sentence structure and created practice sentences. After all, practice makes perfect. I used the best foldables on the web (thanks Tangstar) and worked to create graphic organizers that would be less mess and less time-consuming. The foldables were designed to rehearse and synthesize the lesson components with some freedom of choice. I also created bi-weekly unit tests for all 56 lessons, which require students to define terms, identify concepts or skills, and apply their knowledge in original sentences. Done! A great grades 4-8 Common Core State Standards-aligned INB (if I do say so myself). But…

Something was missing: formative assessments for each lesson. How did I know and how would teachers know who would buy my Grades 4-8 Teaching Interactive Grammar Notebook if their students understood each lesson before they took the unit test? How would we know if we needed to go back and re-teach a certain aspect of the lesson? What if some students got it, and some did not? Rather than just move on to the next lesson, we had to know. After all, it’s really not about teaching… it’s about learning.

Like my traditional grammar programs, I added on two short mechanics and grammar formative assessments to each lesson. Now I knew if they got it or not, and who got it and who did not. Done! But…

Something was still missing: assessment-based individualized instruction. I’m always preaching, “Don’t assess if you don’t plan to teach to the assessment” to my ELA and reading intervention colleagues. Time to practice what I preach with my INB. Just like I have in my traditional grammar programs, I added on individualized instructional resources to my Grades 4-8 Teaching Interactive Grammar Notebook: worksheets (each with their own formative assessments), songs, posters, hand-outs, videos, you name it! Problem…

This INB was now a veritable tree-eating monster! With the additional hundreds of pages of resources to individualize instruction–many of which teachers would never use…

I figured it out. I created a section on the Cornell Notes for online links and resources.  Now INBs can help teachers individualize instruction so students can “catch up” while they “keep up” with grade level instruction. You’ll love it!

Grades 4-8 Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4-8

Interested in checking out the author’s Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook? Click HERE.

Or check out the traditional style Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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.

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Reading Fluency Assessment | Expository Article FREE

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

It’s back to school and good teachers want to know if their students can read the class novel, assigned articles, or their textbooks. Teachers also want to know what level reading is appropriate for each of their students. Teachers need a reading fluency assessment that matches their curriculum. With the move to more and more informational/expository reading, it makes sense to assess students’ reading fluency accordingly. Wouldn’t it be great if you found a two-minute, numbered reading fluency that was leveled, at say first through seventh grade reading levels, did not require prior knowledge, was interesting, and was expository text, and was FREE? Here you go!

This “Pets” expository fluency article is leveled in a special pyramid design: Using the Fleish-Kincaid formula, the first paragraph is at the first grade 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.

With this design, the reader begins at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language, longer sentences, and multi-syllabic words. As the student reads the article, the teacher notes  the reading levels at which the student has a comfortable degree of accuracy and automaticity. Accuracy at the 95% or better decoding and automaticity with relatively effortless reading. The 383 word “Pets” expository fluency article is a two-minute expository reading fluency, which is a much superior measurement than a one-minute narrative reading fluency at only one grade level.

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.

Following are end-of-year expected reading fluency rates:

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

The Pets Fluency Assessment is my gift to you and your students. But, how do I best remediate reading fluency deficits? Pennington Publishing’s Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit (a slice of the comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program) includes 43 animal fluency articles with vocabulary to pre-teach. Word counts are provided in the left margin for fluency timings. The YouTube videos of each article are recorded at three different reading speeds (Level A at 95-115 words per minute; Level B at 115-135 words; and Level C at 135-155 words) to provide modeled readings at each of your students’ challenge levels.

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)?

Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Phonemic Awareness Assessments FREE!

Phonemic Awareness Tests

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

“There is considerable evidence that the primary difference between good and poor readers lies in the good reader’s phonological processing ability” (University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning). We all know the importance of phonemic awareness as both a predictor (Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977; Stanovich, 1986, 1994) and causal factor (Adams, 1990) in reading readiness. Students need to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds of the language before (or while) learning to read. Although some researchers still posit the notion that complete phonemic awareness is a by-product of reading, most reading researchers and teachers now see phonemic awareness as a teachable prerequisite to reading (Smith, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1998).

If phonemic awareness is critically important to reading and it can be taught, we should do so both as pre-school to second grade beginning reading instruction and as third grade to adult reading remediation.

Some encouraging research indicates that remedial readers can learn phonemic awareness with the right teaching strategies. Bhat, Griffin, and Sindelar (2003) reported that middle school remedial readers do benefit from phonemic awareness training, although, unfortunately, not as much as do younger learners.

Additionally, although specific speech sounds (phonemes) do differ among languages, making phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition more challenging for English-language Learners (ELs), these students are certainly able to transfer their phonemic awareness skills from their primary languages to English, and research supports the benefits of phonemic awareness training for second language learners (Abbot, Quiroga, Lernos-Britton, Mostafapour, and Berninger, 2002). In fact, some primary languages, such as Spanish, share more phonemes with English than not.

Moreover, because phonemic awareness is an auditory skill, speech therapists will emphasize the importance of teaching and practicing phoneme manipulation to special education students, many of whom are diagnosed with auditory learning challenges.

So how should we teach phonemic awareness to beginning, remedial, EL/ELD, and special education students? Assessment-based instruction.

1. Efficient, comprehensive, and accurate whole class (or at least small group) phonemic awareness assessments to determine what beginning and remedial readers know and don’t know. With these tests, teachers can feel confident that “if they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.” Not all students will have mastered the same components of phonemic awareness. No more time-consuming individual phonemic awareness assessments? Yeah! Download the six assessments below for free.

2. Assessment-based phonemic awareness activities designed to teach the phonemic awareness deficits indicated by the assessments. Why teach the same phonemic awareness activity whole class to, say a kindergarten or an intermediate or middle school reading intervention class, when not all students need to remediate the same phonemic awareness skill? Instead, use the assessment-data to determine instructional decisions. Perfect for whole class (if the assessments so indicate the need), small ability groups (think learning stations and cooperative groups), and individualized instruction. Download the sample phonemic awareness activities below for free.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Here are the six phonemic awareness assessments. By the way, reading specialists suggest remediating these skills in the order listed here:

  • Rhyming Awareness
  • Alphabetic Awareness (Make sure to check out the Mp3 “New Alphabet Song” found in the phonemic awareness activities packet.)
  • Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation
  • Phonemic Isolation
  • Phonemic Blending
  • Phonemic Segmentation

Each of the assessments has a teacher and student page (for recording… remember that phonemic awareness is an auditory skill). Download and print these files: Phonemic Awareness and Alphabetic Awareness

Plus, five of the six (not the alphabetic awareness assessment) include audio files. Woohoo!

Phonemic Awareness Audio Files

Syllable Awareness Assessment (5:48)

Syllable Awareness Assessment

Syllable Rhyming Assessment (5:38)

Syllable Rhyming Assessment

Phonemic Isolation Assessment (5:54)

Phonemic Isolation Assessment

Phonemic Blending Assessment (5:53)

Phonemic Blending Assessment

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment (5:21)

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment

Reading Assessment Matrix

You’ll love this one-page assessment matrix for student data and simple progress monitoring: Reading Assessments Recording Matrix

But what about the resources to teach what the phonemic awareness assessments indicate to be unmastered skills? Got you covered! Check out some of the phonemic awareness activities used in the author’s reading intervention program linked at the end of this related articleYou, the teacher, need to have the instructional resources and training to teach to the specific assessment data. 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 get each of these assessments plus 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.

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Phonics Test: Free Diagnostic Decoding Assessment

As an elementary, middle school, and high school reading specialist (Yes, I’ve also taught remedial reading courses at the community college level), I’ve found more and more teachers feeling that obligatory reading assessments were a waste of time… Things that had to be done because the district, principal, site reading specialist, Response to Intervention Coordinator, or grade level team members said to do so.

I have a bit of advice: Only administer, correct, record, and monitor reading assessments if they are quick, comprehensive and teachable and if you, the teacher, are given the instructional resources and training to teach to the specific assessment data. These are reasonable requests/demands/expectations. Let’s explore these conditions just a bit and get you the FREE phonics test that you googled.

Why Teachers Don’t Value Reading Assessments

1. We are here to teach and not spend all of our time testing. Test administration, correction, recording, progress monitoring, re-testing takes away from instructional time. Why, for example, should we administer a two-minute reading fluency assessment if last year’s teacher already tested the child at above grade level? Why should we give a decoding test again and again (with most RtI models) when the diagnostic phonics test indicated complete mastery of all vowel and consonant sound-spellings?

31 Flavor Ice Cream

Students are 31 flavors.

2. Reading Assessments are random samples. If you had limited experience in eating ice cream, and you were taken to Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors to see if you liked ice cream, tasting a half-dozen random flavor samples would probably let you answer “Yes” or “No.” However, there are 25 other flavors that you did not taste. You could hate every one, love every one, or more probably prefer some more than others. You don’t really know until you try all 31 flavors. The same is true with, say a phonics test.

The DIBELS Next, Aimsweb, and K12 Reading Placement Tests (some of the most widely used phonics tests) all provide interesting data; however, their phonics tests do not assess all 31 flavors. Now the test creators would be quick to ask if I’ve had an educational statistics class (Yes, got an A) and understand experimental design. They might argue that if you tasted chocolate and liked it, you would not have to taste mocha almond fudge, rocky road, etc. to predict that you would also like these similar flavors. Similarly, they would suggest that if your phonics assessment tests the “au_” sound-spelling, it would not be necessary to assess the “aw,” “ou_,” “augh,” “a(l),” and “a(ll)” sound-spellings. I disagree; I love chocolate, but can’t stand mocha almond fudge and rocky road. Poor Raphael may know that “au_” sound-spelling on the phonics test, but not know any of those other sound-spellings unless each is tested.

3. Reading Assessments provide non-teachable data. Knowing that a child is below reading grade level doesn’t tell us why, nor show us what to do to address the deficit.

For example, an individual reading inventory (I’ve done hundreds) might indicate the following for Amy, a sixth grade Vietnamese child, who came to the United States three years ago:

Amy was tested on the Insert Normed Reading Comprehension Test of Your Choice at 2.5 grade level. She had frequent ear infections as a child. Amy has mastered some, but not all, of her phonemic awareness and phonics skills. She scored at grade level 3.1 on the San Diego Quick Assessment. Her fluency on the grade 6 passage was 65 with 82% accuracy. She scored below the syllable juncture stage on the qualitative spelling inventory. She knew 182 of 300 on the Dolch list. She does not like to read.

That data might be enough to ship Amy off to an ELD class or get her tested for special education; but the data provide nothing that is concrete, specific, and teachable.

What Types of Reading Assessments Teachers Would Like to Use

1. Whole class assessments that are quick and easy to administer (How about audio files?), simple to correct and record, with easy-entry progress monitoring charts.

2. Comprehensive reading assessments that assess everything the student does and does not know. No random sampling.

3. Teachable data with student test errors which indicate specific reading deficits that are discrete and generalizable. Tests that inform the teacher exactly what needs teaching and what does not need teaching for the individual student, flexible ability groups, and the class as a whole.

Like most teachers, you would be excited to use a phonics test that is quick, comprehensive and teachable. Here are two phonics assessments (vowels and consonants) with answers and audio files, and a simple one-page recording matrix for progress monitoring: 

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Use this comprehensive 52 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of short vowels, long vowels, silent final e, vowel digraphs, vowel diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any vowel sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (10:42) *

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

Use this comprehensive 50 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of consonant digraphs, beginning consonant blends, and ending consonant blends. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any consonant sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment (12:07) *

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

Reading Assessment Matrix

You’ll love this one-page assessment matrix for student data and simple progress monitoring: Reading Assessments Recording Matrix

But don’t forget the second of your requests/demands/expectations. You, the teacher, need to have the instructional resources and training to teach to the specific assessment data.

Why not get each of these assessments plus 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.

Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,