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Grammar | Teaching in the Social Context

Language Conventions Literacy Centers

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

If we consider the traditional four communicative contexts of English-language arts (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) and add on a fifth, the visual context, thanks to the interesting research of Kress and van Leeuwen, we find that language never takes place in isolation. Even when my wife talks to herself, she does have an audience (and I’m rarely included).

A few examples (with good instructional links and the related Common Core Standards) will remind us of how we teach the language interactively:

We teach students to actively listen to a speaker by asking relevant questions.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1.C
“Pose and respond to specific questions with elaboration and detail by making comments that contribute to the topic, text, or issue under discussion.”

We teach students to speak to their audience, using specific techniques to interest our listeners.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.4
“Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.”

We teach students to engage their audience in writing assignments.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.3.A
Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.

We teach students to maintain a dialog with the author when reading.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.5.4.A
Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.

We teach students to analyze media and consider the choices in terms of content, editing, and production made by, say, a filmmaker, videographer, or graphic artist.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.7
Compare and contrast a text to an audio, video, or multimedia version of the text, analyzing each medium’s portrayal of the subject (e.g., how the delivery of a speech affects the impact of the words).

So, why are teachers so reticent to abandon teaching grammar in isolation?

Now, most of you are thinking that I’m referring to teaching grammar in isolation via drill and kill worksheets, divorced from listening, speaking, writing, and reading. I’m not. As an aside, while I certainly try to apply my grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction to the instructional subject, I (like all teachers I work with at my school) find that some grammatical instruction is most efficiently accomplished in isolation. For example, when I teach sentence variety through modeled grammatical sentence openers in the context of revising process paper drafts, I always find that some re-teaching is necessary for some students. If half of my students still don’t know the definition of an adverb, its function, proper adverbial order, and some examples, they won’t be able to use a few of my grammatical sentence openers revisions to improve their process papers.  I see no reason not to bust out a down and dirty adverbs worksheet for those seventh grade students who need it.

What I mean by teaching grammar in isolation is didactic direct instruction (teacher talks to the class) or individual students complete a grammar worksheet and turn it in to the teacher to grade instruction.

Instead of those types of isolated learning experiences, I contend that grammar is best learned, interactively, in a social context.

Not to get to hung up on definitions, but let’s cite one:

“A grammar is the rules and constraints on what can be represented. A grammar is a social resource of a particular group” (Kress and van Leeuwen).

If grammar provides the tools (“the rules and constraints”) for communication, it makes sense that these tools would best be defined, identified, practiced, and applied in the context of collaborative communication (the “social resource of a particular group”). The classroom teacher certainly provides one important source of communication, but students themselves are often an untapped source of learning. Students can learn grammar from each other.

Academic Literacy Centers for Grammar and Mechanics

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

Literacy centers provide an ideal social context for cooperative learning about grammar: parts of speech, syntax and sentence structure, standard and non-standard usage, word choice, dialect, punctuation, capitalization, etc. Now, of course your students need the right tools. We can’t have the blind leading the blind.

How about a few interactive grammar lessons to test-drive with your students in a cooperative group or literacy center? Your download includes four grammar and mechanics lessons, the unit test (with answers), directions, and literacy center leadership roles.

Get the Four Language Conventions Academic Literacy Center Lessons and Test FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Interactive Grammar

If I’m going to entice you to read this article by offering some how-to’s and free resources to teach grammar interactively, we had best get on the same page about what we both mean by grammar.

I like to think of grammar as a community’s language tools.

The tools of grammar are usually known as language conventions. A convention means “a general agreement about basic principles or procedures; also : a principle or procedure accepted as true or correct by convention the conventions of grammar” (Merriam-Webster). The Common Core authors use “Conventions of Language” for the first two Language Strand Standards:

L.1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

L.2: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Two other points will keep us on that same page:

  1. Teachers usually separate usage from grammar as in standard and non-standard usage, or word choice, or figures of speech, etc.
  2. Teachers usually separate mechanics from grammar and usage. By mechanics, teachers mean punctuation and capitalization. Some would also throw in spelling under this category.

Since our language conventions tools are always applied in a social context, it makes sense to teach and learn grammar how we use grammar: in the social context. Specifically, I find literacy centers to be ideal collaborative settings in which students will actually use their language skills to learn what the tool is and its purpose, be able to identify it, know how to use it, and use it a bit to see its value and, hopefully, remember it.

Academic Literacy Centers for Grammar and Mechanics

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

For grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, I’ve developed twice-per-week, twenty-minute Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers to teach the Common Core language conventions standards

Instructional Format for Interactive Learning: The How To’s

The Language Conventions Academic Literacy Center provides 56 lessons. Grades 4–8 alignment documents follow the lessons. Each Language Conventions lesson consists of four pages and takes 20 minutes to complete. Students work collaboratively to learn two tools per twenty-minute lesson: a mechanics skill and a grammar or usage concept, rule, or skill.

The first page is in Cornell Notes format and provides the content and skills in the Mechanics Notes and Grammar and Usage Notes sections. The Links and Response sections provide online resources for additional grade-level practice. Space is provided in this section for students to list key ideas, comment, make connections, and write questions. Additional space is provided at the bottom of the lesson for students to summarize the key mechanics and grammar content or skills.

The second page duplicates the lesson text of the first page, but adds examples for the students to copy in the spaces provided on the first page. The Links and Resources sections provide online resources for extended learning (acceleration) and additional practice (remediation).

The third page provides students with practice for both the mechanics and grammar content and skills. Students individually apply the lessons with identification, error analysis, sentence revisions, and sentence combining in the writing context.

The fourth page consists of the practice answers. Students self-correct as a group to learn from their mistakes.

The program provides biweekly unit tests in which students must define, identify, and apply the tools they have learned. Students use their lessons on the test. Teachers may elect to have students take the test individually or as a group.

The FREE Resources

How about a few interactive grammar lessons to test-drive with your students? Your download includes four grammar and mechanics lessons, the unit test (with answers), directions, and literacy center leadership roles.

Get the Four Language Conventions Academic Literacy Center Lessons and Test FREE Resource:

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W Vowels and Y, L, H, M, R, and N While We’re At It

The W is a Vowel Sometimes

Save the W!

Save the w! (As a vowel, that is)

 
Wow, it’s rare for me to disagree with Grammar Girl… As a reading specialist, we love rules. If a word doesn’t fit, we figure a way to make it do so:) My speech therapist colleagues will back me up on this generalization.
 
In a related article, Grammar Girl reminds us that a vowel is a sound, not a letter. Nicely done! We form these sounds into two ways. 1. Some vowel sounds are made with the mouth in one position and with one sound. These vowel sounds are called monophthongs. Examples: got, go, know 2. Other vowel sounds start with the mouth in one formation as one vowel sound and slide into another formation as two vowel sounds. These vowel sounds are called diphthongs. Examples: coin, joy, out, and cow.
 
Grammar Girl states that “you could argue that W does indeed represent a vowel.” She cites the diphthong /ow/ as her example. But then she continues, “maybe to you the word ‘cow’ sounds like it ends with the consonant ‘wuh’ instead of the vowel ‘oo.’” Just as with the diphthong ‘oy,’ phoneticians disagree.”
 
Yikes! Houston, we’ve got a problem. In fact, we have a few. To be picky, it’s not the consonant, “wuh.” All consonants have clipped sounds. When we teach students, we blend /w/ /e/ /s/ /t/ (four sounds), not “wuh” est. Also, the vowel “oo” does not have the /ow/ sound, it has the /oo/ as in rooster or /oo/ as in foot sound.
 
Now the to meat of the matter regarding the w vowel sound. Okay, vegetables for my vegan friends.
 
To say that “…phoneticians disagree that the w is not a vowel, but may indeed be a consonant” is news to me. If so, these phoneticians are certainly making exceptions to our cherished rules. In fact, they have now added a new sound-spelling for the /ow/ sound: the _o or o_ as in /c/ /o/ /w/. They also have violated our CVC syllable rule, because their new /o/ is certainly not a short vowel sound.
 
Furthermore, Grammar Girls offers this solution to the problem of identifying a w as a vowel at the end of the diphthong: “So my recommendation is just to say that the combination O-W represents the diphthong “ow,” and stop there, just like we did for the O-Y and the diphthong ‘oy.’”
 
This solution seems an “easy out” to the argument as to whether or not the w can serve as a vowel, but in the real world of teaching students to read, this solution is counterproductive.
 
Somehow, Grammar Girl took us back to letters, not sounds, for vowels. Grammar Girl recommends saying, “The O-W represents the dipthong ‘ow’ …the O-Y… the diphthong ‘oy.'” No. We’ve already established that vowels are sounds and that the diphthong /ow/ has two distinct sounds. It really does matter that the w is a vowel.
 
Practically speaking, beginning readers, remedial readers, students with auditory processing challenges, and ESL, EL, and ELD students need to learn not only the a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y monophthongs, but also the diphthongs as well. Again, a vowel sound may actually have two sounds and students have to practice their mouth formations, sounds, and the sound-spelling options.
 
When students read cow, we want to hear three separate sounds: one consonant /c/ and two vowel sounds distinctly pronounced as /ow/. Without all the mumbo-jumbo, we teach students that cow has two vowel sounds spelled as a vowel team.
 
Now that we’ve saved the w as a vowel sound, let’s stir stir up the pot a bit more. Other letters (in addition to our cherished w) may also serve as vowels. Examples: h and y as in rhy/thm, l as in bu/gle, r as in mur/der, ar/mor, mir/ror, m as in bottom, and n as in mutton.
Linda Farrell has a nice article on the difference between digraphs and diphthongs with plenty of examples HERE.
 *****

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the Teaching Reading Strategies intervention program and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Get the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, Diagnostic Assessments, and Running Records FREE Resource:

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

 

 

 

 

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The Serial (Oxford) Comma | For the Want of a Nail

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

For the want of a rider the battle was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

–Benjamin Franklin

Okay, let’s keep things in perspective, shall we? Comma rules are not the most important components of human communication, right? However, the simple comma does impact the specific meaning of a sentence, as well as how the sentence is interpreted.

For the want of a comma…

Comma Rules

22 Comma Rules

–A man’s civil rights were lost. The Louisiana Supreme ruled that accused and self-confessed rapist, Warren Demesme, was not asserting his right to counsel when he stated, “This is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog ’cause this is not what’s up.”

The Orleans Parish district attorneys argued that the lack of the comma between “lawyer” and “dog” meant that the accused was asking for a “lawyer dog,” not a “lawyer, dawg.” Now, no one would defend the self-confessed actions of the accused, but Americans do uphold the Constitutional right of the accused to an attorney and the right “to remain silent.” The comma (or lack thereof) certainly has significance in this case.

For the want of a comma…

–Your grandfather was cannibalized. “Let’s eat Grandpa.” The comma (or lack thereof) would certainly matter to your grandfather.

Now to be clear, the above examples are issues of commas placed before nouns of direct address. No one argues that this comma rule is superfluous. However, Americans are divided in their views on the serial comma rule (also known as the Oxford or Harvard comma rule). For a refresher, the serial comma is a comma placed before the coordinating conjunctions and or or when listing three or more items. The use, misuse, or non-use of the serial comma has its own consequences:

For the want of a serial comma…

–$10,000,000 was lost in a Maine court judgment. In a class action lawsuit against a dairy company regarding overtime pay for its truck drivers, the workers prevailed because the state laws on overtime regulations did not include a serial comma. (See Daniel Victor’s March 16, 2017 article in the Washington Post for the details.)

In sum, punctuation, including the serial comma, does affect meaning. 

To include or not include the serial comma…

Now, I’m sure that most of you already have made up your minds regarding whether we should or should not use the serial comma. Those who don’t care have stopped reading by now or never looked at this article.

My take is that your views have been chiefly influenced by one or both of two factors: 1. What you read 2. Your most influential English teacher

  1. If you read online news, blogs, posts, texts, and emails as your primary daily reading, you are exposed to a high percentage of text without the serial comma. If you read novels or technical materials, manuals, and reports as your primary daily reading, you are exposed to a high percentage of text with the serial comma. English teachers used to characterize these distinctions as informal and formal reading, but these lines have become blurred in the digital age.
  2. We tend to dig in and defend what we have been taught. Our English teachers taught us one way and marked us wrong if we used the other way. As an English teacher at the middle school, high school, and college levels and author of numerous grammar books and a writing style manual, I’ll let you in on a little secret: We English teachers don’t know the comma rules better than the average educated American. We never had a graduate level class on writing mechanics. 

My take? I value the use of the serial comma for three reasons: clarity, consistency, and conformity. However, its usage should be dictated by the writing genre.

How to Use Serial Commas

Serial Commas

Clarity

Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford, 2009) nicely clarifies the issue of clarity with or without the serial comma:

“Whether to include the serial comma has sparked many arguments. But it’s easily answered in favor of inclusion because omitting the final comma may cause ambiguities whereas including it never will” (Garner 676).

A few specific examples demonstrate why the serial comma provides clarity and avoids ambiguity.

The serial comma permits the use of compound subjects or objects in lists. (Remember, compound means two or more.)

Example without the Serial Comma: For lunch I enjoy hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly and fish. In this example, “peanut butter and jelly” is a compound object. A serial comma following would add clarity and prevent a truly gross sandwich.

Additionally, I’m not comma crazy, but I would also use a comma when listing only two items in a list if the and or or coordinating conjunction joins a compound subject or object. Example without the Serial Comma: On our summer trip to Britain, we want to visit the Fox and Hound and Stratford upon Avon. Most would agree that a comma following “Hound” would clear things up quite a bit for the reader.

Failing to use the serial comma can produce problems with appositives. Remember that an appositive identifies, describes, defines, or explains what comes before or after a part of speech (usually a noun or a pronoun). Most of the funny examples that you see posted to argue in favor of the serial comma involve confusing appositives.

Example without the Serial Comma: I just finished mailing letters to my children, Santa Claus and Jimmy Fallon; At the banquet we dined with good old friends, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton; At the Halloween party I danced with Mrs. Peabody’s two ex-husbands, Wonder Woman and Cleopatra.

Notice that in the above examples, appositives become confusing when the first item listed in a series is a common noun (an uncapitalized idea, person, place, or thing), followed by two or more proper nouns (a capitalized person, place, or thing).

Now, articles which purport to be objective regarding the serial comma usually trot out confusing appositives to argue why serial commas can be just as ambiguous as the lack thereof.

Example with the Serial Comma: We ate dinner with Kim Kardashian, the reality television star, and the delightful Taylor Swift.

Those using this sentence example (serial killers? No, too harsh) suggest that three women may be inferred here. However, their argument sets up a straw dog to prove their point. The sentence is not an example of an ambiguous serial comma at all; it is a mistake in syntax (the order of words in a sentence). A good English teacher would suggest either of these two revisions: 1. We ate dinner with Kim Kardashian (the reality television star) and the delightful Taylor Swift. 2. We ate dinner with Kim Kardashian, who is a reality television star, and the delightful Taylor Swift. The first sentence uses a parenthetical insertion and the second uses a non-restrictive relative clause.

Consistency

In addition to providing clarity, the serial comma rule is also consistent with other Standard American English punctuation. Specifically, the serial comma rule is consistent with other punctuation rules regarding the separation of items in a list.

For example, semicolons may be used to separate long phrases or clauses in a list. No anti-serial comma journalist would ever abandon the last semicolon in the following list:

Semicolon Example: The Martin landed on Earth; the Venetian attempted to communicate; and the Air Force Captain asserted her belief that extraterrestrials did, indeed, exist.

Moreover, the use of the serial comma appeals to our sense of parallelism. Parallel ideas, grammatical structures, and punctuation are characteristics of consistent, predictable, memorable, reader-friendly writing. As Mary Norris, writing in The New Yorker, states, “If a sentence were a picket fence, the serial commas would be posts at regular intervals.”

Example: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Lincoln’s example shows the impact of parallel ideas, grammatical structures, and punctuation. Without the serial comma in the sentence above, the cadence of the writing and speech would be altered and inconsistent with the other parallel forms in The Gettysburg Address.

Those proposing the elimination of the serial comma always seem to add the following caveat to their position: Drop the serial comma unless its elimination would be confusing to the reader. Inconsistency is built into their rule; such is not the case for the serial comma rule. Such is the stated position of the only major style guide which supports the elimination of the serial comma.

Conformity

Only the Associated Press (AP) stylebook supports dropping the serial comma “unless deemed absolutely necessary.” Admittedly, the AP position has wielded tremendous influence. Following AP style, newspapers uniformly omit the serial comma. Both prestigious papers, such as The New York Times and tabloids, such as The National Enquirer, avoid the comma. Some magazines, such as People and Variety, do so as well. Furthermore, the lack of the serial comma is also firmly entrenched in digital media, largely due to the AP influence. Because of the pervasiveness of such digital news, the serial comma’s days may be numbered.

However, the use of the serial comma is supported in the overwhelming majority of academic style guides: Chicago, Turabian, Modern Language Association, American Psychological Association, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual 8.27, 8.28. Also, contrary to much of what you may have heard, the serial comma has not been abandoned in all periodicals. For example,  The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Harper’s Magazine adhere to its usage.

Additionally, the respected Online Writing Lab of Purdue University (a favorite go-to guide for teachers and students) supports the serial comma rule.

Clearly we have a divergence of authoritative opinion and common usage regarding the serial comma. Despite the clear advantages of the serial comma in terms of clarity and consistency, conformity to the dictates of the writing genre (and the editor or teacher’s demands) makes the most practical sense. I’ll close with a few pragmatic applications:

  1. When writing a newspaper article, omit the serial comma.
  2. When writing an article for a blog or magazine, ask the editor whether or not to use the serial comma. Conform to whomever is paying the bills.
  3. When writing informally on the web, in letters, cards, emails, texts, posts,flyers, bulletins, etc., pick your poison, but be consistent as possible. Try not to judge others’ usage too harshly in this transitional “no-man’s land.”
  4. When writing reports, essays, narratives, novels, and documents, use the serial comma.
  5. Teachers should teach the serial comma and expect its usage in formal academic writing. However, the discussion of its use in different writing genre and in the evolution of our language is also productive. Using the serial comma to explain the purpose of punctuation and how it affects meaning is valuable.

I’m Mark Pennington, English-language arts teacher and reading specialist. More to the point, I am the author of the comprehensive grades 4–high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs and the Pennington Manual of Style, a useful reference and teaching tool. Click HERE for a complete list of the 22 comma rules with clear examples.

The Pennington Manual of Style

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

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Literacy Center Resources Grades 4-8

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Upper elementary and middle school literacy centers are qualitatively different than primary literacy centers. Recognizing this fact can mean the difference between success and failure of your literacy centers. Since literacy centers have long been the staples of self-contained primary classrooms, much of the available curriculum, articles, videos, and pins focuses on what works for a cute group of teacher-pleasing, eager-to-learn, well-behaved second graders. Those are not your kids, right? If you are a grades 4-8 teacher and you are interested in starting, adding to, or revising literacy centers in your classroom, this growing list of articles and resources is just for you.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding why to use and how to set up literacy centers from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

How to Start Literacy Centers | Upper Elementary and Middle School

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-teach-essay-strategies/

A quick overview of relevant definitions and research regarding literacy centers and  12 solid tips about setting up or revising your grades 4-8 literacy centers to make them achieve your instructional goals.

Literacy Center Teacher Roles

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/literacy-center-teacher-roles/  

To provide options and some flexibility to teacher roles during literacy centers, I’ve categorized these roles for the purposes of discussion. Broadly speaking, a teacher may serve as a supervisor, mini-conferencer, or a specific literacy center facilitator. Of course a combination of roles is certainly another option.

Literacy Center Groupings

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/uncategorized/literacy-center-groupings/

Check out the advantages and disadvantages of homogeneous and heterogeneous groupings and learn how to form effective groups for literacy centers.

Literacy Center Research: 5 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/literacy-center-research-5-reasons-to-use-literacy-centers/

5 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers: 1. Rigor 2. Assessment-based individualized instruction 3. Function over fun or cute 4. Coaching 5. Independence

10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/10-reasons-not-to-use-literacy-centers/

I do love literacy centers, but not the ill-conceived and poorly implemented literacy centers I see in so many elementary and middle school classrooms. Check out the legitimate reasons not to use literacy centers and some possible work-a-rounds to solve these problems.

Academic Literacy Centers

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/academic-literacy-centers/

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centers. Academic 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.

Remedial |Differentiated Literacy Centers

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/remedial-differentiated-literacy-centers/

Many teachers begin using literacy centers (stations) to give their students something meaningful to do while the teacher leads a guided reading group. For most teachers, their only differentiated or individualized instruction takes place in the guided reading group. While an excellent start to differentiating or individualizing instruction, reading isn’t the only subject area in which your students have a range of abilities and deficits.

While differentiated or individualized instruction is certainly a worthy goal, how that goal is accomplished does matter. My take is that a mixture of homogeneous ability-level groups and heterogeneous mixed-level groups makes the most sense, rather than the multiple-level lessons and activities in each literacy center approach. Check out Remedial Literacy Centers. Designed for grades 4-8 students with below grade-level literacy skills, these four literacy centers work nicely with my own grade-level Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE or mix and match with your own. Get all the signs, answers, lessons, task cards, posters, rotation charts, and diagnostic assessments… everything you need to properly place students and run effective 20-minute remedial centers. Differentiate and individualize instruction with our assessment-based Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and Guided Reading Literacy Center with 54 illustrated take-home phonics books, designed for older readers.

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Remedial | Differentiated Instruction Literacy Centers

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

Many teachers begin using literacy centers (stations) to give their students something meaningful to do while the teacher leads a guided reading group. For most teachers, their only differentiated or individualized instruction takes place in the guided reading group. While an excellent start to differentiating or individualizing instruction, reading isn’t the only subject area in which your students have a range of abilities and deficits.

While differentiated or individualized instruction is certainly a worthy goal, how that goal is accomplished does matter. My take is that a mixture of homogeneous ability-level groups and heterogeneous mixed-level groups makes the most sense, rather than the multiple-level lessons and activities in each literacy center approach.

Problems with Multiple-level Lessons and Activities in Literacy Centers

When teachers try to create multiple-level learning activities in their other literacy centers, they typically find significant challenges and drawbacks to this approach. Most abandon the multiple-level lessons and activities approach soon after implementation and often (unfortunately) abandon differentiated or individualized instruction, other than guided reading, as a result. Here’s a list of why this is often the case:

  • Multiple-level centers are all the rage in literacy center books and from the lips of university professors. It’s nice to have an idealistic goal, but more effective to have a realistic approach that will work in your classroom.
  • Creating remedial, grade-level, and accelerated Standards-based lessons or activities for every literacy station that will work for your students is a guarantee for teacher burn-out. At some point, we all need to expend our available work-related energies in what will give our students the best bang for our buck. Plus, we do/should have lives outside of our classrooms.
  • Literacy centers are designed as primarily independent work stations. The more activities and more sets of directions, the more teacher interruptions. It’s a proven corollary.
  • Multiple-level stations are simply too complicated to design and run KISS (Keep it simple, stupid). Plus, they confuse your students.
  • Literacy centers are designed as collaborative, social instructional experiences. Kids can’t work together toward a common objective if they are completing different lessons or activities. Plus, the benefits of peer tutoring are short-circuited.
  • Multiple-level centers are a teacher-correction nightmare.
  • All the multiple-level lesson materials create an organizational challenge for the students and teacher.

A Workable Alternative: Grade-Level and Remedial Literacy Centers 

Rather than abandoning the goal of differentiated or individualized instruction, try a mix of these two student groupings: #1 Grade-level and accelerated Standards-based centers with heterogeneously grouped students and #2 Remedial centers with  homogeneously grouped students. The advantages?

  • Grade-level content or process literacy centers are relatively easy to create and can accommodate open-ended, free or guided choice alternatives for accelerated learners.
  • Remedial content or process literacy centers can be designed according to assessment-based data and students grouped accordingly in ability groups.
  • Remedial centers are task-oriented, fluid, and flexible. When a student has masted the center content or skills, that student transitions out of the remedial center. Remedial centers are flexibly established to meet students’ needs, not as permanent classroom centers.
  • Students, parents, and administrators can see measurable progress in the specific areas of literacy deficits.
  • Remedial literacy centers permit teacher-led centers. Just as with guided reading, teachers can rotate through a variety of remedial groups, teaching the whole time or splitting time between groups (a very effective approach) in which the teacher gets a group started with brief instruction, then rotates to another group to do the same.
  • Rather than students working at the remedial lessons or activities in a multiple-level literacy center individually, students work with their peers cooperatively, and not have to rely on a high-low peer tutoring approach in which the advanced student does the work for the student requiring remediation.
  • Remedial literacy centers can reduce behavioral problems. Rather than assigning Johnny, who reads at the first grade level, to a multiple-level literacy group to supposedly work on his own, and instead create havoc because he can’t read the directions and is bored, eliminate the issue by providing appropriate ability-level work and give him a chance to learn. Veteran teachers recognize that behavioral problems are usually learning problems. Plus, strategically it is much easier to manage a group of behaviorally-challenged students than when they are dispersed at every corner of a literacy center classroom. Let’s face it, the teacher cannot be everywhere at once.
  • Specifically-designed remedial literacy centers are available for purchase… no need to invent the wheel. Of course these are harder to create than your own grade-level centers.

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Academic Literacy Centers and four grades 4-8 Remedial Literacy Centers.

In a nutshell, the four Remedial Literacy Centers have been designed with assessment-based lessons and activities to help your students catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. Each comprehensive year-long (if needed) center will minimize preparation, correction, behavioral problems, and clean-up time and to maximize flexible, on-task learning. These are the four Remedial Literacy Centers, designed specifically for your grades 4-8 students to teach them what they missed in the shortest possible timePhonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and Guided Reading Literacy Center with 54 illustrated take-home phonics books, designed for older readers. Make sure to click PREVIEW THIS BOOK to get a nice sample of the contents, diagnostic assessments, literacy lessons and activities, and supplies for each literacy center. Not sure if your students need any or all of these Remedial Literacy Centers? Why not give the whole-class Diagnostic Grammar Assessment, Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment, Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment, and Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment to let the data drive your decision-making. Click HERE to get these assessments absolutely FREE. 

FAQs

  • Are there diagnostic assessments for proper group placement? Absolutely. Plus, recording matrices are provided for quick and easy progress monitoring.
  • Are there directions for each lesson and activity? There are longer teacher directions and shorter student directions on the literacy center task card (provided in both color and black and white).
  • Who corrects the work? Your students will do all the correcting of the practice exercises in their literacy group. Answers are provided with each task. Students learn from their own mistakes. The teacher grades only the short formative assessment during mini-conferences with individual students.
  • Will these remedial literacy centers work with the six grade-level (4, 5, 6, 7, 8) Academic Literacy Centers? Yes, they fit nicely into rotations with these grade-level centers, your own centers, and/or guided reading.
  • Do students complete all of the center activities? No, these are flexible ability groups. Students complete only the center activities they need, according the results of the diagnostic assessments. Student will move in and out of these Remedial Literacy Centers per individual need.
  • Can I set up, tear down, and move these centers quickly? Set up and tear down only take a few minutes. Perfect if you share a classroom or move to another classroom.
  • What supplies do I need to provide? Only the paper copies. These are not art centers.
  • Are the usual literacy kit supplies included in each program? Yes. The program provides group norms, leadership roles, seven  possible group rotations, task card directions, and answer sheets for each lesson or activity and both pocket chart and larger center signs. Each Remedial Literacy Center, as well as the grade-level Academic Literacy Center BUNDLE is complete and ready to use.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.

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Start Literacy Centers | Upper Elementary and Middle School

Upper elementary and middle school literacy centers are qualitatively different than primary literacy centers. Recognizing this fact can mean the difference between success and failure of your literacy centers. Since literacy centers have long been the staples of self-contained primary classrooms, much of the available curriculum, articles, videos, and pins focuses on what works for a cute group of teacher-pleasing, eager-to-learn, well-behaved second graders. Those are not your kids, right?

Following are some of the relevant definitions and research regarding literacy centers and 12 solid tips about setting up or revising your grades 4-8 literacy centers to make them achieve your instructional goals. And, yes, a disclaimer is in order. Note my sales pitch at the end of the article.

Definitions and Research

According to the Reading Rockets site authors: A literacy center is a physical area (or station) designated for specific learning purposes. It is designed to provide appropriate materials to help students work independently or collaboratively (with partners or in small groups) to meet literacy goals. A literacy center can be portable, temporary or permanent.

The integration of literacy centers can support improvement in reading comprehension, language, social, and writing development (Fountas & Pinell, 1996; 2000; Morrow, 1997; 2003). Literacy centers facilitate problem-solving because students are able to explore, invent, discover, and create alone or with others at centers (Stone, 1996).

Effective literacy centers allow for student choice, have explicit and ongoing routines. Literacy centers promote student collaboration, facilitate student motivation, and provide targeted practice for students (Daniels & Bizar, 1998).

The integration of literacy centers can support improvement in reading comprehension, language, social, and writing development (Fountas & Pinell, 1996; 2000; Morrow, 1997; 2003). Literacy centers facilitate problem-solving because students are able to explore, invent, discover, and create alone or with others at centers (Stone, 1996).

Students are more engaged, motivated, and successful when they have choice. The ability to choose empowers them and helps to create self-motivated learners” (Boushey & Moser, 2014).

Multilevel center activities are strategy-based tasks designed at three levels of challenge: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. By using these tiered center activities, teachers enable students with different learning needs to apply the same key skills and strategies but at varying levels of complexity and open-endedness (Tomlinson, 1999).

The literacy center can become “… a common gathering space establishes a tone for respectful learning, trust, cooperation, problem solving, and a sense of community in the classroom” (Kriete & Bechtel, 2002).

However, these authors and researchers have not cornered the market on what literacy centers should look like in your classroom. A few of my comments regarding these definitions and research: Any instructional methodology must be adapted to teacher and student needs. Square pegs don’t fit round holes. Students don’t have to love literacy centers. Learning can be fun, but it also can be plain old demanding work. I have found that the “explore, invent, discover, and create” goals of the ideal literacy centers are highly overrated. These terms usually are euphemisms for goofing around and doing little, or no work. Regarding student choice… Obviously some degree of learning choices empowers students, but they are kids. They will choose candy over vegetables every time. I favor guided choices for literacy centers. “Yes, you do have to do that activity in that literacy center, Jamie, but you can also choose this or that.” I prefer multi-level lessons or activities in different literacy centers for curriculum creation and management purposes. Every literacy center does not have to have differentiated instruction within each center. I favor a mix of grade-level (or accelerated) centers and remedial centers with both heterogeneous and homogeneous groupings.

Clarify why you are doing (or thinking about doing) literacy centers:

  1. Start with your students. We often say that we teach Name Any Content or Skill or the Common Core State Standards or Name of School District or State Benchmarks or to the PAARC or Smarter Balanced Tests. But it’s not really true. We teach kids. An important distinction. Of course we teach content, concepts, and skills to standards criteria, but we’ve got to do so through the lense of the teacher-student relationship. We’ve got to know our students and adapt instruction to what will work for them. Stop at this point and ask yourself if literacy centers are the best instructional methodology for you and your students.
  2. Start with you. You aren’t the teacher next door. You have your own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. You have your own temperament and your own levels of risk tolerance. Are you primarily interested in maintaining the status quo: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (nothing wrong with that by the way) or do you want to experiment at this point of your teaching career? If things are crazy in your life at this point, you may want to tweak or totally re-vamp your teaching style. Are you primarily interested in cute? If the visual appeal of artful literacy centers appeals to you, impresses other teachers or parents, or is motivational for your kids, fine. If not, fine as well. In sum, be yourself.
  3. Start with this year’s situation. As much as you’d like to be in control, you can’t control everything. If your administrator is not going to be comfortable with your literacy center approach to instruction, count the costs. If you’ve got an especially behaviorally-challenged class, literacy centers may not be practical. However, many literacy center hacks can work to minimize the negative behavioral affects if you are not a literacy center purist and understand that what works for the majority of the class will never work for Bobby, Juan, and Thieu.
  4. Start with the purpose(s) for your grades 4-8 literacy centers and keep this/these foremost in your planning. Are you primarily interested in giving students good stuff to keep ’em busy while you work with a small group? Are you interested in using literacy centers to teach grade-level standards? Are you interested in using literacy centers to differentiate/individual instruction? Are you mainly interested in giving students a social context in which to learn? Are you chiefly interested in centers as a way to create a less-boring instructional approach for some of the school day?
  5. Start with your role as teacher. Will you be a floating supervisor, a mini-conferencer, a specific literacy center facilitator, or a little of each?

Follow these 12 steps to give your literacy centers the best chance at success:

  1. Start small. Just because one of your teachers runs 16 centers, you don’t have to do so.
  2. Be realistic. Time is a factor as well as the number of students you have. Again, don’t rely too heavily on primary teacher literacy center resources or advice. You can’t do literacy centers with 36 students the same way that the second-grade teacher can run literacy centers with her 18 students.
  3. Minimize set-up and tear-down times. Teachers frequently abandon literacy centers because it gets extremely old moving desks, putting out signs, changing rotations, etc.
  4. Teach group norms and refer to them repeatedly. I’ve developed the HEROIC acronym to make these memorable.
    Leadership Roles for Literacy Centers

    Literacy Center Leadership Roles

    HEROIC Leadership Roles

  5. Assign and teacher LEADERSHIP ROLES. Small groups fail when everyone is in charge of everything. Develop a rotation for these roles, but again, don’t be a purist. Don’t assign Tami as the Reader, if she can’t read well. Don’t let Brenda serve as the People Manager when she will snitch on every kid in her group for everything. Don’t make Pedro the Task Manager when he can’t tell time. Don’t let Sam be the Clarifier if he is too lazy to get up and ask the teacher a question. You get the idea. We want to develop leadership and social skills of working together, but the learning should be our chief goal, rather than solely the learning process.
  6. Make sure that your rotations between centers will work. Click to see seven workable rotations HERE. Practice these rotations before you begin instruction. Time students and reward effective transitions. “Literacy centers will have a high degree of success when the center routines and rotations are well-modeled, rehearsed, and reinforced. Researchers Harman and Nelson” (2015).
  7. Before you run your centers, model any new centers by teaching the key center activity whole-class. Be flexible. If a literacy center is not working, dump it. Add on literacy centers as you go.
  8. Have students evaluate their own work. In other words, have students do the bulk of self-correcting to learn from their own mistakes and save you grading time.
  9. Decide on whether to put together weekly literacy center packets for each student or provide the instructional materials in each
    Rotations for Literacy Centers

    Literacy Center Rotations

    center.

  10. Limit the fun. Grades 4-8 literacy centers work best with rigorous work, specifically designed for collaborative learning. Plus, I highly recommend keeping things simple; limit the number of center activities or lessons and keep the directions predictably the same. KISS (Keep it simple, stupid!) You don’t want to be pestered with questions about complicated literacy center directions.
  11. Limit independent literacy centers. Many teachers will disagree, but I prefer independent reading as homework with specific accountability. Keep most of your literacy centers as interactive, cooperative groups. With grades 4-8 students the centers are going to devolve to this format anyhow. Unless you are relentlessly supervising independent work in an independent work center, they just won’t get it done. And “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Rely on you group norms and leadership roles, along with challenging and accountable center lessons and activities, rather than on independent work.
  12. By all means, get some help. Fairly priced, quality literacy curriculum that is classroom-tested will be a lifesaver. Check out the following grades 4-8 grade level specific and remedial literacy center kits with everything you need to set up effective literacy centers. Mix and match and add to your own centers.

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.

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Literacy Center Teacher Roles

Roles for Teachers in Literacy Center

Literacy Center Teacher Roles

Let’s first admit that no one has the corner on the literacy center (or stations) market. Teachers can certainly run their literacy centers the way they want to run them. Furthermore, there is no research suggesting that one teacher role is superior to another. What a teacher is supposed to do or not do during literacy centers depends upon many factors: Are the centers designed to be purely independent work stations? Are the centers teacher-led? Are the centers focused on grade-level work or remedial work? What are the behavioral challenges of the students? Are the centers designed with homogeneous or heterogeneous groups? (See this article regarding group composition.) What are the rotations and time factors? (See this article regarding time management and get seven rotation example charts.)

To provide options and some flexibility to teacher roles during literacy centers, I’ve categorized these roles for the purposes of discussion. Broadly speaking, a teacher may serve as a supervisor, mini-conferencer, or a specific literacy center facilitator. Of course a combination of roles is certainly another option.

For teachers trying out literacy centers for the first time, I recommend the supervisor role  As supervisor, the teacher is available to answer questions, walk the room, and help students fulfill their leadership roles. For example, “Who is the People Manager in this group? Sophie? Sophie, would you like me to help you maintain quiet voices in your group?”

If one of the goals of literacy centers is to encourage team collaboration, the teacher needs to teach students how to positively collaborate. This requires constant reinforcement and the supervisor role helps facilitate this reinforcement. Up front and ongoing training in group norms and leadership roles is essential for success.

Teachers serving in the supervisor role may be tempted to micro-manage and control the collaborative problem-solving of the group. One of the most beneficial outcomes of literacy centers is independent learning. Teacher-dependence can be exacerbated by choosing this role.

Academic Literacy Centers

Collaborative Academic Literacy Centers

The mini-conferencer role works well when formative assessments are key components of the literacy center. Rather than grading work during prep period (or worse yet at home), the teacher provides immediate feedback on the group or individual’s work accomplished in the literacy center. In this role the teacher may pull entire groups or individual students. The teacher may visit the literacy center or set up shop at the teacher’s desk or in the center of the classroom to monitor. The mini-conferencer role works nicely in conjunction with the supervisor role.

Additionally, the mini-conferencer role is ideal for running writers or readers workshop mini-conferences and status of the class check-ins if writers workshop or readers workshop are included in center rotations.

Save the grade-level instruction for the supervisor role or for whole-class direct instruction. The mini-conferencer role is not an efficient means of repetitively teaching a grade-level Standard to each group.

The facilitator role works with a class with few behavioral concerns. Note that well-designed, task-oriented literacy centers with thorough up-front modeling and training in leadership roles and group norms will help minimize class management issues; however, veteran teachers (and some administrators) understand that there is just so much that a teacher can do. The students, themselves, determine which instructional role the teacher must take sometimes. If instructional aides or well-trained parent volunteers are available to serve as the supervisor or mini-conferencer, the facilitator role is always a good option for the teacher during literacy centers.

Many elementary and some secondary teachers use the facilitator role for guided reading. Like literacy centers, there is not only one way to do guided reading. Many approaches will work just fine for literacy centers. Teachers can also facilitate remedial intervention.

The choice of group rotations is more important with the facilitator role than with the supervisor or mini-conferencer roles. A teacher is not omnipresent: he or she cannot be physically present to run every center. In addition to a teacher-led group taking up the full time allotted to a literacy center before the transition to the next center, a teacher can also split the teacher-led literacy center time. For example, a teacher could spend five minutes getting a group started and then dismiss the students to independent work. A teacher could build into the centers rotation a 10-minute guided reading time (Yes, it can be done effectively) and then a 10-minute remedial group (or another guided reading group). See my remedial intervention centers below.

The keys to success in literacy groups are experimentation and flexibility. These keys are especially essential regarding teacher roles.

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.

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,