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Prescriptivism and Descriptivism

Grammar Descriptivism and Prescriptivism

Descriptivism and Prescriptivism

As an English teacher, one of my go-to resources has always been Richard Nordquist’s prolific posts on the ThoughtCo site. As I write articles to explore my understanding of our language and how to teach the grammar, usage, and mechanics thereof, I can’t tell you how many times I dig into writing on a subject only to find that Nordquist has already done so. The same has been the case regarding the topics of this article; however, I do bring some originality to the discussion of prescriptivism and descriptivism. And, of course, I have ulterior motives (Don’t we all?) to promote my grammar, usage, and mechanics programs for grades 4–high school ELA teachers. Disclaimer up-front.

Let’s start with the definitions of prescriptivism and descriptivism, so I can stop using the italics thereafter. This is the best summary of each approach I’ve found from Stan Carey:

Prescriptivism and descriptivism are contrasting approaches to grammar and usage, particularly to how they are taught. Both are concerned with the state of a language — descriptivism with how it’s used, prescriptivism with how it should be used.

For English teachers, who teach with a prescriptive approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics, the notion of right and wrong guide their instruction. They believe in the difference between Standard and Non-Standard English. They reference style manuals and consult authorities, such as the Purdue Online Writing Lab. They favor direction instruction and practice of the rules of the language. These language traditionalists would teach a lesson on pronoun antecedents, one on avoiding double negatives, and one on the proper use of the semicolon and expect to see the fruits of their labor on the next assigned essay. They are inductive (part to whole) practitioners and use explicit instructional techniques.

For English teachers, who teach with a descriptive approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics, they focus more on the use of the language as it is and as it is evolving. They make fewer judgments upon correctness and emphasize communicative clarity over conformity to an arbitrary set of rules. They favor instruction in the tools of language on an ad hoc basis, such as a mini-lesson on mixing verb tense, prepositional idiomatic expressions, or comma usage on an as needed basis in the context of authentic writing or speaking. They are deductive (whole to part) practitioners and prefer to teach implicitly from reading and writing, rather than explicitly through contrived, outside sources.

What does the research say about these approaches? Having served as a teacher when both prescriptivism and descriptivism were en vogue, and research studies purported to advocate what was in and debunk what was out, I would simply say that any quick survey of this field of educational research would lead most teachers to voice, “Yeah, but…” for each and every study. With respect to grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction, the variables of instructional approaches, prior knowledge, language ability, etc. preclude any hard and fast This is the right way to teach conclusions. It’s easy to knock one approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction by examining null hypotheses which have been confirmed; for example, “These studies indicate no statistically significant difference between direct instruction of capitalization rules and no such instruction”; however, where does that get us? No closer to guidance on how to teach capitalization. And most all, except the most ardent and consistent descriptivists, would rail against presidential Tweets in which every other word was capitalized. See my Word Crimes (Revisited) video, for a laugh.

So, where has the pendulum swung between these two instructional philosophies?

At this point in time, it appears that die-hard descriptivists have been benched. Prescriptivism is the predominant influence upon English teachers in most American classes. Teachers who never taught a lick of grammar ten years ago, or those who relegated grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction to writing openers, a la Daily Oral Language, are busting our Cornell Note lectures and assigning worksheets again. ESL and ELD teachers have been key advocates of this approach to language-learning.

Much credit for this pendulum swing to traditional grammar instruction must be assigned to the authors of the Common Core State Standards, especially with respect to the Language Strand.

These authors note:

To build a foundation for college and career readiness in language, students must gain control over many conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics as well as learn other ways to use language to convey meaning effectively… The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts (http://www.corestandards.org).

Teachers reading the introduction to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies,
Science, and Technical Subjects will note the oft-repeated “correct,” “correctness,” and “standard” references and these words are used throughout the Language Strand as well. A few examples from the Common Core Language Strand will suffice:

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Correctness

  • Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive). L.6.1.
  • Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., It was a fascinating, enjoyable movie but not He wore an old[,] green shirt). L.7.2.
  • Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood. L.8.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School Programs

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, and the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

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

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment.

Check out the brief introductory video and enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716 at check-out for 10% off this value-priced program. We do sell print versions of the teacher’s guide and student workbooks. Yes, we accept purchase orders. Contact mark@penningtonpublishing.com for pricing. Read what teachers are saying about this comprehensive program:

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. I’m teaching all of the grade-level standards and remediating previous grade-level standards. The no-prep and minimal correction design of this program really respects a teacher’s time. At last, I’m teaching an integrated program–not a hodge-podge collection of DOL grammar, spelling and vocabulary lists, and assorted worksheets. I see measurable progress with both my grade-level and intervention students. BTW… I love the scripted lessons!

─Julie Villenueve

Get the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

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English-language Arts Standards

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

Standards-based education is now the norm in public and most parochial schools. Having largely captured the focus of the educational reform movement over the last 25 years, standards-based instruction is now the instructional mandate in all 50 states. Although some states have rescinded their adoption of the Common Core State Standards and some, like Texas, never did adopt the Standards, each state has adopted its own set of standards and some have developed their own state assessment systems. Teachers and district administrators continue to align curriculum to the instructional demands of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.

Although the authors of the Common Core State Standards assert that literacy instruction must be a shared responsibility within the school, the largest burden still falls on the shoulders of ELA teachers. Of the four Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language Strands, the Language Strand presents the greatest challenge for many teachers. Most ELA teachers simply have not had the undergraduate or graduate coursework to prepare them to teach the L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 Standards in grammar and usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary.

This author, Mark Pennington, has written articles and developed free teaching resources on the Common Core ELA Standards and included these in his Pennington Publishing Blog to support fellow ELA teachers and reading intervention specialists. Mark’s assessment-based teaching resources are available at Pennington Publishing.

This article and resource compilation is jam-packed with FREE resources, lesson plans, and samples from grades 4–high school ELA and reading intervention programs, developed by teacher and author, Mark Pennington. Each of the following 25+ articles has multiple links to research, related articles, and free or paid resources:

Common Core Literalism

The Common Core State Standards were never written to be the Bible for ELA and reading intervention teachers. Read what the Common Core authors have to say and see how a common sense approach to teaching to the Standards can benefit both students and teachers.

FREE Instructional Resources: Syllable Awareness Assessment, 20 Advanced Syllable Rules, 10 English Accent Rules

Response to Intervention and the Common Core

Many teachers have never read the entire Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Sure, they’ve read their own district or state summaries of the Standards, but not the documents themselves. To understand the instructional role of the Standards, teachers must read the  appendices, which discuss important reflections and research regarding, for instance, reading intervention.

Grammar and the Common Core

More than any other Strand within the Common Core State Standards, the Language Strand with its focus on direct grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary instruction has been whole-heartedly embraced or intentionally ignored by teachers.

Common Core Instructional Minutes

With all the CCSS mandates, how can an ELA teacher allocate instructional time to be faithful to the Standards, while maintaining some sense of one’s own priorities? This article gets down to the minute-by-minute.

Common Core Academic Language Words

Of course, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Greek and Latinates

The bulk of Vocabulary Standards are included in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Greek and Latin affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and roots are key components of five of the grade level Standards: Grades 4−8. Which Greek and Latin affixes and roots should we teach? How many should we teach? How should we teach them?

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) is part of a comprehensive Grades 4−12 language program, designed to address each Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards in 60−90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year curriculum provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. The program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Appendices have extensive instructional resources, including the Pennington Manual of Style and downloadable essay-comments. A student workbook accompanies this program.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our “content” area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (called strands) with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language has its own seat at the table.

Common Core Grammar Standards

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.

Of course, the writers of the Common Core use the ambiguous label, Language, to refer to what teachers and parents casually label as grammar and mechanics or conventions. To analyze content and educational philosophy of  the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, it may be helpful to examine What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? as well as What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? chiefly from the words of the document itself.

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. So what instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? Following is a weekly instructional plan to teach the L.4, 5, and 6 Vocabulary Standards.

CCSS Language Progressive Skills

The Language Strand has been one of the most controversial components of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. The Language Progressive Skills document emphasizes the essential grammar, usage, and mechanics skills, which need to be reviewed and reinforced year after year..

Common Core Curricular Crossover

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) produces some interesting curricular crossover. The traditional English-language arts divisions of reading, writing, listening, and speaking have been replaced with four new strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. The six Standards of the Language Strand borrow a bit from each of the traditional divisions. The inclusion of the Language Strand as its own set of Standards has created some concern in the ELA community.

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

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

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

I propose using the CCSS language of instruction for the key writing terms across all subject disciplines in elementary, middle school, and high school. Some of us will have to come down out of our castles and give up pet writing terms that we’ve used for years, and ones that, indeed, may be more accurate than those of the CCSS. But for the sake of collaboration and service to our students, this pedagogical sacrifice is a must.

Common Core Content Area Reading and Writing

Nothing in the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has worried English-language arts teachers more than “The Great Shift.” This shift changes the emphasis of reading and writing in K-12 English-language arts (ELA) classrooms from the literature and narrative to the informational (to explain) and argumentative (to persuade) genres.

Common Core Language Standards

Teachers are generally quite familiar with the CCSS Reading and Writing Standards, not so with the Language Strand Standards. The Language Strand includes the grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary Standards.

Standards and Accountability

Sometimes we teachers can be our own worst enemies. Check out this article, published in the Answer Sheet of The Washington Post.

Turning Dependent into Independent Readers

The Common Core State Standards for English-language Arts makes a compelling case for not doing business as usual in our ELA classrooms. That business consists of the traditional “sage on the stage” methodology of reading an entire novel or play out loud and parsing paragraphs one at a time. Our new business? Scaffolding just enough reading strategies and content as we act as “guides on the side” to facilitate independent reading. In other words, the days of  spoon-feeding have got to go.

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

A growing body of research presents a challenge to current K-12 reading/English-language Arts instruction. In essence, we need to “up” the level of text complexity and provide greater opportunities for independent reading. The Common Core State English-language Arts Standards provides a convincing three-reason argument in support of these changes in instructional practice. Following this rationale, I will share ten instructional implications and address a few possible objections.

Common Core State Writing Standards

The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing.  The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards.

How to Teach the English-language Arts Standards

Every English-language arts teacher shares the same problem—too much to teach and not enough time to teach it. So, where are the magic beans that will allow us to teach all of the have-to’s (think ELA Standards) and still have a bit of time to teach the want-tos? Following are a few suggestions to help the clever ELA teacher have her cake and eat it, too.

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

The excesses of the standards-based movement frequently run contrary to the need to differentiate instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of children.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #6

Ah… the final episode of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts. Will they or won’t they kill off the hero? Of course, in the movies or on television, a final episode may or may not be the last. With the plethora of reunion shows (Roseanne last year and Murphy Brown this year) we all take the word final with a grain of salt. If you’ve missed one of the following got-to-see episodes, check it out after you watch this one.

In case you were up in the lobby for part or all of the previous five episodes, we’ve previously covered the following assessment topics in Episodes 1–20:

Episode 1

  • Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples. 
  • DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. 
  • DO use diagnostic assessments. 
  • DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” 

Episode 2

  • DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses). 
  • DON’T assess what you can’t teach. 
  • DO steal from others. 
  • DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).

Episode 3

  • DO analyze data both data deficits and mastery.
  • DON’T assess what you haven’t taught.
  • DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments.
  • DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.

Episode 4

  • DO let diagnostic data do the talking. 
  • DON’T assume what students do and do not know. 
  • DO use objective data. 
  • DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

Episode 5

  • DO think of assessment  as instruction. 
  • DON’T trust all assessment results. 
  • DO make students and parents your assessment partners. 
  • Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

*****

ELA and Reading Assessments

Do’s and Don’ts: Assessments

Today’s topics include the following: DO use both diagnostic and formative assessments. DON’T assess to determine a generic problem. DO review mastered material often. DON’T solely assess grade-level Standards.

Let’s kick your feet up (if you’re in one of those new theaters) and grab a handful of popcorn to read further. And make sure to stay until the end to download our FREE reading fluency assessment with recording matrix.

DO use both diagnostic and formative assessments.

Good teaching begins with finding out what students know and don’t know about the concept or skill before instruction begins. So often we assume that student do not know what we plan to teach. We start at the beginning, when a brief diagnostic assessment might better inform our instruction. You wouldn’t hire a contractor to remodel a bathroom without seeing the existing bathroom. Nor would you think much of a contractor who insisted on building a new foundation when the existing foundation was fine and ready to build upon.

When teachers complete a diagnostic assessment and find that 1/3 of their class lacks a certain skill, say commas after nouns of direct address, they have three options: 1. Skip the comma lesson because “most (2/3) have mastered the skill.” 2. Teach the whole class the comma lesson because “some (1/3) don’t know it and it won’t kill the rest of the kids (2/3) to review.” 3. Provide individualized or small group instruction “only for the kids (1/3) who need to master the skill” while the ones who have achieved mastery work on something else. As a fan of assessment-based instruction, I support #3.

However, if we just use diagnostic assessments, we miss out on an essential instructional component: formative assessment. Formative assessment checks on students’ understanding of the concept or skill with the context of instruction. Following instructional input and guided practice, brief formative assessment informs the teacher’s next step in instruction: Move on because they’ve got it. Re-teach to the entire class. Re-teach to those to have not mastered the concept or skill.

Need an example of an effective formative assessment?

Write three sentences: one with a noun of direct address at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end of a sentence.

DON’T assess to determine a generic problem.

Let me step on a few toes to illustrate a frequent problem with teacher assessments. Most elementary school teachers administer reading fluency assessments at the beginning of the year. Yes, middle and high school ELA teachers should be doing the same, albeit with silent reading fluencies. However, teachers select (or their district provides) a grade-level passage to read. Teachers dutifully compare student data to research-based grade level norms. Some teachers will re-assess throughout the year with similar grade-level passages and chart growth. All well and good; however, what does this common assessment procedure really tell us and how does it inform our reading instruction? Answer: The fluency assessments only tell us generically that Brenda reads below, Juan reads at, and Cheyenne reads above grade-level fluency norms on a grade-level passage. 

All we really know is that Brenda has a generic problem in reading grade-level passages. What we don’t know (but would like to know to inform our instruction) are the following specific data: Brenda has a frustrational reading level with grade 5 passages, but is instructional at grade 4 and independent at grade 3. Brenda. That specific data would inform our instruction and pinpoint appropriate reading resources for Brenda’s practice (as well as for Juan and Cheyenne).

Of course, you could follow the initial assessment with other grade level assessments to get the specificity, but why would you if an initial assessment would give you not only grade-level data, but also instructional level data? You’ll love our FREE download!

In other words, if you’re going to assess, you might as well assess efficiently and specifically. Knowing that a student has a problem  is okay; knowing exactly what the student problem is is much more useful.

DO review mastered material often.

The Common Core State Standard authors speak often in Appendix A about the cyclical nature of learning. Beyond the normal forgetting cycle, students often require re-teaching. Once mastered, always mastered is not a truism.

Additionally, Summer Brain Drain is all-too-often a reality teachers face with a new set of students each year. Frequently, last year’s assessment data provided by last year’s teacher may seem to indicate starting points higher that what the students indicate on even the same assessments given on Day One. Sometimes the new teacher may assume padded results from the previous year’s teacher to impress parents and administrators. However, who loop with their students are often surprised by how much re-teaching must be done to get students up to where they were.

The Test-Teach-Test-Teach-Test model is what assessment-based instruction is all about.

DON’T solely assess grade-level Standards.

I once taught next door to an eighth grade teacher whom the kids adored. He was funny, bright, and cared about his students. He was also glued to the Standards. So much so, that he only taught grade-level Standards. Irrespective of whether students were ready for the individual Standard; irrespective of whether students were deficit in much more important concepts or skills (such as being able to read); and irrespective of whether students already knew the Standards.

His philosophy was “if every teacher taught the grade-level Standards, no remediation would be required.” He said, “I’m an eighth-grade teacher and I teach the eighth-grade Standards, nothing more and nothing less.”

One day I got up the nerve to ask him, “Wouldn’t it make more sense if your philosophy was “if every student learned the grade-level Standards, no remediation would be required”?

His middle and upper kids did fine, although I suspect they had some significant learning gaps. The lower kids floundered or were transferred into my classes.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

*****THE FREE READING FLUENCY ASSESSMENT*****

The “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage permits the teacher to assess two-minute reading fluencies (a much better measurement than a one-minute timing).

Get the The Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

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

English Time Idioms

Idiomatic Expressions for Time

Time Idioms

Every language has its own idioms. Idioms are non-literal expressions used by a certain language group. Idioms can be words, phrases, or clauses.

When I was working toward my degree at the University of Southern California, I took a semester off to study at the National University of Mexico in Mexico City. I stayed in a dormitory close to campus with two Mexican roommates. Spanish immersion was my goal.

Despite having six years of middle school and high school Spanish and two college courses, I was shocked that I only understood about half of what my roommates said. I tended to understand my college professors more. Both roommates and professors seemed to understand most of what I was saying. What was going on, I wondered?

It took me a while to figure things out. Almost half of my roommates’ informal speech consisted of informal idiomatic expressions. My professors used more formal academic language with plenty of Greek and Latin morphemes (meaning-based prefixes, roots, and suffixes) and fewer idioms. Of course we learned formal Spanish and very few idioms back in middle school, high school, and college.

Most of my language acquisition that semester was learning Spanish idioms. Of course, native Spanish speakers have the same trouble with idioms when learning English.

In English, we use two forms of idioms: figurative and prepositional. A figurative idiom (or idiomatic expression) uses words or ideas which mean something different than their usual literal meanings.

The figurative idiom has a hidden meaning, known only to English speakers. For example, both British and American English uses the idiomatic expression, let the cat out of the bag, to indicate sharing a secret.

The prepositional idiom is a preposition that is not usually used in relation to its object. For example, both British and American English uses the idiomatic expression, through the door, to indicate opening a door and walking in or out of a room.

Time Idioms

For some time, idiomatic expressions involving time have fascinated me. Following is a song, packed with time idioms and their definitions. Seeing how these time idioms are used in context and in relationship to one another helps the reader (and listener) understand each idiom more so than a simple definition or sentence example.

Time © 2010 Mark Pennington All Rights Reserved

1. Time‒time is on your side. You have enough time to accomplish what you wish to do. 

Time can be your friend Waiting may be to your advantage.

sometimes. In some instances, but not always.

But time‒time is money. Time is valuable and costly.

Time can slip away

or fly. Time can be wasted or misused.

Chorus

Time

Make the most of what you have today.

Time‒it’s a matter of time. Given enough time, people will understand.

2. Time‒Time will heal all wounds. People will feel better after a certain amount of time.

You get over anything

in time. People will forgive after a certain period of time.

Time‒time waits for no one. No one has more time than another.

Time will tell

the truth or lie. Truth or lies will be made clear over a period of time.

Bridge

Don’t let time control you

or limit what you do. Don’t let age or circumstance keep you from your goals.

Don’t let it steal your plans

Your time is in God’s hands. God controls the past, present, and future.

3. Time‒Time is precious. Time is of limited supply.

You can run out

of time. Not all can be accomplished within given times.

Time‒time is fleeting. Time can seem to pass by quickly.

The clock keeps ticking Time does not slow down.

time after time. Time is consistent.

Play the song as you read the lyrics. 

 

*****

Pennington Publishing’s Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit includes 56 worksheets, along with vocabulary study guides, and biweekly unit tests to help your students collaboratively practice and master these Common Core Standards:

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

Here’s how your students will master these standards in the Vocabulary Worksheets:

Multiple Meaning Words

Students practice grade-level homonyms (same spelling and sound) in context clue sentences which show the different meanings and function (part of speech) for each word.

Greek and Latin Word Parts

Three criteria were applied to choose the grade-level prefixes, roots, and suffixes:

1. Frequency research 2. Utility for grade-level Tier 2 words 3. Pairing

Each odd-numbered vocabulary worksheet pairs a Greek or Latin prefix-root or root-suffix combination to enhance memorization and to demonstrate utility of the Greek and Latin word parts. For example, pre (before) is paired with view (to see). Students use these combinations to make educated guesses about the meaning of the whole word. This word analysis is critical to teaching students how to problem-solve the meanings of unknown words.

Language Resources

Students look up the Greek and Latin whole word in a dictionary (print or online) to compare and contrast their educated guesses to the denotative definition of the word. Students divide the vocabulary word into syl/la/bles, mark its primary áccent, list its part of speech, and write its primary definition.

Additionally, students write synonyms, antonyms, or inflected forms of the word, using either the dictionary or thesaurus (print or online). This activity helps students develop a more precise understanding of the word.

Figures of Speech

Students learn a variety of figures of speech (non-literal expression used by a certain group of people). The Standards assign specific types of figures of speech to each grade level. Students must interpret sentences which use the figures of speech on the biweekly unit tests.

Word Relationships

Students use context clue strategies to figure out the different meanings of homonyms in our Multiple Meaning Words section. In the Word Relationships section, students must apply context clues strategies to show the different meanings of word pairs. The program’s S.A.L.E. Context Clues Strategies will help students problem-solve the meanings of unknown words in their reading.

Students practice these context clue strategies by learning the categories of word relationships. For example, the vocabulary words, infection to diagnosis, indicate a problem to solution word relationship category.

Connotations: Shades of Meaning

Students learn two new grade-level vocabulary words which have similar denotativemeanings, but different connotative meanings. From the provided definitions, students write these new words on a semantic spectrum to fit in with two similar words, which most of your students will already know. For example, the two new words, abundant and scarce would fit in with the already known words, plentiful and rare in this semantic order: abundant–plentiful–scarce–rare.

Academic Language

The Common Core authors state that Tier 2 words (academic vocabulary) should be the focus of vocabulary instruction. Many of these words will be discovered and learned implicitly or explicitly in the context of challenging reading, using appropriately leveled independent reading, such as grade-level class novels, and learning specific reading strategies, such as close reading with shorter, focused text.

However, direct instruction of high utility and high frequency academic vocabulary is certainly worthwhile. The Academic Language section of the vocabulary worksheets provides two grade-level words from the research-based Academic Word List. Students use the Frayer model four square (definition, synonym, antonym, and example-characteristic-picture) method to learn these words. The Common Core authors and reading specialists (like me) refer to this process as learning vocabulary with depth of instruction.

Vocabulary Study Guides

Vocabulary study guides are provided for each of the weekly paired lessons for whole-class review, vocabulary games, and individual practice. Print back-to-back and have students fold to study.

Vocabulary Tests

Bi-weekly Vocabulary Tests assess both memorization and application. The first section of each test is simple matching. The second section of each test requires students to apply the vocabulary in the writing context. Answers follow.

Syllable Blending, Syllable Worksheets, and Derivatives Worksheets

Whole class syllable blending “openers” will help your students learn the rules of structural analysis, including proper pronunciation, syllable division, accent placement, and derivatives. Each “opener” includes a Syllable Worksheet and a Derivatives Worksheet for individual practice. Answers follow.

Context Clues Strategies

Students learn the FP’S BAG SALE approach to learning the meanings of unknown words through surrounding context clues. Context clue worksheets will help students master the SALE Context Clue Strategies.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use Resources

Greek and Latin word parts lists, vocabulary review games, vocabulary steps, and semantic spectrums provide additional vocabulary instructional resources.

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits

Students who complete each of the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grades 4–8 grade-level programs will have practiced and learned much of the Academic Word Corpus and all of the skills of vocabulary acquisition. These students will have gained a comprehensive understanding of academic language and will be well-equipped to apply the skills of context clues strategies and structural analysis to read well and write with precision.

Each of the grade 4-8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit programs will help you coordinate seamless, Standards-based vocabulary instruction at your school. Check out the comprehensive CCSS Grades 4−8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

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

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #5

Do's and Don'ts of ELA and Reading AssessmentsNotice how movie theaters have jumped on the rewards bandwagon? Yes, we earn points of our rewards card toward a free popcorn or soda. I’m all about the rewards, but we now have a desk drawer full cards.

However, for my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series, you “don’t need no stinkin’ card” (Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles) to get our FREE assessments, audio files, progress monitoring matrices, and lessons.

If you’ve missed one of the following got-to-see episodes, check it out after you watch this one.

  1. Episode 1
  • Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples. 
  • DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. 
  • DO use diagnostic assessments. 
  • DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” 
  1. Episode 2
  • DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses). 
  • DON’T assess what you can’t teach. 
  • DO steal from others. 
  • DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).
  1. Episode 3
  • DO analyze data both data deficits and mastery.
  • DON’T assess what you haven’t taught.
  • DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments.
  • DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.
  1. Episode 4
  • DO let diagnostic data do the talking. 
  • DON’T assume what students do and do not know. 
  • DO use objective data. 
  • DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

Now, sit back in your plushy seat and enjoy the flick. In Episode 5 we are taking a look at the following:

DO think of assessment  as instruction. DON’T trust all assessment results. DO make students and parents your assessment partners. Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

Wait ’til you download the featured assessment and matrix. It’s worth the wait.

DO think of assessment  as instruction. 

So often teachers view assessments as extraneous got-to’s, not as integral instructional components. I’ve heard, “I got into teaching to teach, not to assess” more times than I can count.

I kindly suggest that we should re-orient our thinking. No teacher would want to use an instructional resource that provided inaccurate information. No teacher would want to hand out a worksheet that her students had already completed. No teacher would want to waste time teaching something that her students already had mastered. Yet, teachers do so all the time when they have not assessed what students know and what they don’t know.

Diagnostic and formative assessments inform our instruction. No one would trust a doctor who would write a prescription without a diagnosis. Diagnosis is part of the exam. The same is true for teaching. Assessment is an integral component of instruction.

If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t they won’t. So don’t blow it; make ’em show it.

DON’T trust all assessment results. 

Even the best of doctors will suggest a second opinion. This is sound advice for teacher diagnosticians as well. Sometimes it makes sense to use an alternative assessment to double-check what students know and what they don’t know, especially when the results seem inconsistent with other data.

When I was in fifth grade, I was pulled out of class to be tested for the gifted program. The assessment consisted of a timed test of orally delivered questions. After the second or third question, I hit upon a strategy to give me more think time. After each oral question, I asked, “What?” I got the question again and had twice as long to answer the question. I don’t remember if I qualified for the program, but I do remember being referred to the audiologist for hearing loss.

When in doubt, double-check with a different assessment.

DO make students and parents your assessment partners. 

Test data shouldn’t be secret. Both students and parents need to know what is already known and what needs to be known. Most elementary teachers share some form of data at student-parent-teacher conferences, but secondary teachers rarely do so.

My suggestion is to share both diagnostic and formative assessment data on a regular basis with students and parents. Both are encouraged and motivated by progress. Share progress monitoring matrices with your partners.

Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

Good assessments are limited assessments. They test specific concepts and skills, not general ones. Teachers over-reach when they try to make assessments walk on all fours. In other words, when teachers make assessments prescribe generalizations or treatments beyond the scopes of their applications.

For example, a student who fails to correctly punctuate an MLA citation on a unit test, may not need further instruction in what and what not to cite. Or a student who does not know when and when not to drop the final silent when adding on a suffix, may not need to practice reading silent final sound-spellings (the former is a spelling skills; the latter is a phonics skill).

Effective assessment-based instruction sticks to the limits of the assessment and does not generalize.

Glad you dropped by to watch Episode 5? Before you re-fill that unlimited re-fills popcorn on your way out, better grab your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 6. This once could sell out! Also get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview:

  1. DO use both diagnostic and formative assessments.
  2. DON’T assess to determine a generic problem.
  3. DO review mastered material often.
  4. DON’T solely assess grade-level Standards.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Audio File, and Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #4

ELA and Reading Assessment Do's and Don'ts

Assessment Do’s and Don’ts

I’ve been using a silly movie theme to weave together a series of articles for my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series. So far I’ve offered these suggestions over the trailer and first three episodes:

    1. Episode 1
  • Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples. 
  • DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. 
  • DO use diagnostic assessments. 
  • DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” 
    1. Episode 2
  • DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses). 
  • DON’T assess what you can’t teach. 
  • DO steal from others. 
  • DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).
    1. Episode 3
  • DO analyze data both data deficits and mastery.
  • DON’T assess what you haven’t taught.
  • DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments.
  • DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.

Permit me to tell a brief anecdote. As a junior in high school, I got my license on my sixteenth birthday. At last, I could take my girlfriend out on a real date! Where to go? The movies, of course. Just one problem.

Friday night was guys’ night. My group of buddies and I always got together on Friday night. When Richard called me up after school to tell me that he would pick me up at 7:00, I quickly lied and told him that I was sick. Of course, I had already called my girlfriend to ask her to go to the movies.

We were munching on popcorn, half-way through the movie, when an obnoxiously loud group of guys entered the theater. Yes… my friends. I slumped down in my seat and told my girlfriend that I needed to see all the credits before leaving. When I assumed my friends had left the theater for their next Friday night adventure, my girlfriend and I slowly made our way up to the lobby.

Richard was the first friend to greet me. Let’s just say I paid dearly for that lie.

This article’s focus?

DO let diagnostic data do the talking. DON’T assume what students do and do not know. DO use objective data. DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

The FREE assessment download at the end of this article includes a recording matrix and two great lessons… all to convince you to check out my assessment-based ELA and reading program resources at Pennington Publishing.

DO let diagnostic data do the talking.

One of the first lessons new teachers learn is how to answer this student or parent question: “Why did you give me (him or her) a ___ on this essay, test, project, etc.?”

Of course, every veteran teacher knows the proper response (with italics for speech emphasis): “I didn’t give you (him or her) anything. You (he or she) earned it.

A less snotty and more effective response is to reference the data. Data is objective. Changing the subjective nature of the question into an objective answer is a good teacher self-defense mechanism and gets to the heart of the issue.

Diagnostic data is especially helpful in answering why students are having difficulties in a class. Additionally, the data in and of itself offers a prescription for treatment. Going home from the doctor with a “This should go away by itself in a few weeks” or a “Just not sure what the problem is, but it doesn’t seem too serious” is frustrating. Patients want a prescription to fix the issue. Parents and students can get that prescription with assessment-based instructional resources.

One other application for both new and veteran teachers to note: A teacher approaches her principal with this request: “I need $$$$ to purchase Pennington Publishing’s Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLE. Our program adoption does not provide the resources I need to teach the CCSS standards.”

Answer: “Not at this time.”

Instead, let diagnostic data do the talking.

“Look at the diagnostic data on this matrix for my students. They need the resources to teach to these deficits.”

Answer: “Yes (or Maybe)”

DON’T assume what students do and do not know. 

We teachers are certainly not free of presuppositions and bias. As a result, we assume what has yet to be proven. In other words, we beg the question regarding what our students know and don’t know.

He must be smart, but just lazy. His older sister was one of my best students. They’re in an honors class; of course they know their parts of speech. I have to teach everything as if none of my students knows anything; I assume they are all tabula rasa (blank slates). You all had Ms. Peters last year, so we don’t have to teach you the structure of an argumentative essay.

Effective diagnostic assessments eliminates the assumptions. Regarding diagnostic assessments, I always advise teachers: “If they know it, they can show it; if they don’t, they won’t.”

DO use objective data.

Not all diagnostic assessments are created equally. By design, a random sample assessment is subjective, no matter the form of sampling. Those of you who remember your college statistics class will agree.

Teachers need objective data, not data which suggests problem areas. Teachers need to know the specifics to be able to inform their instruction. For this application, objective means comprehensive.

The “objective” PAARC, SWBAC, or state-constructed CCSS tests may indicate relative student weaknesses in mechanics; however, teachers want to know exactly which comma rules have and have not been mastered. Teachers need that form of objective data.

DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

After years of teaching, veteran teachers learn to rely on their judgment (as they should). After a few more years of teaching, good teachers learn to distrust their own judgment at points. Experienced teachers look for the counter-intuitive in these complex subjects of study that we call students. What makes them tick? Kids keep our business interesting.

Diagnostic and formative assessments bring out our own errors in judgment and help us experiment to find solutions for what our students need to succeed. Assessments point out discrepancies and point to alternative means of instruction.

For example, a student may score high in reading comprehension on an un-timed standards-based assessment. Also, she was in Ms. McGuire’s highest reading group last year. Most teachers would assume that she has no reading problems and should be assigned to an advanced literacy group.

Yet, her diagnostic spelling assessment demonstrates plenty of gaps in spelling patterns. A wise teacher would suspend her initial judgment and do a bit more digging. If that teacher gave the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (our FREE download at the end of this article), the student might demonstrate some relative weaknesses. She may be an excellent sight-word reader, who does fine with stories, but one whom will fall apart reading an expository article or her science textbook.

Like my dad always told me… Measure twice and cut once.

Thanks for watching Episode 4. Make sure to buy your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 5 before you sneak out of the theater with your girlfriend or boyfriend. Also get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 94% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview: DO treat assessment  as instruction. DON’T trust all assessment results. DO make students and parents your assessment partners. Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment with Audio File and Matrix FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #3

ELA and Reading Assessments Do's and Don'ts

Do’s and Don’ts: ELA and Reading Assessments

The thing about movie sequels is that we feel a compulsive necessity to see the next and the next because we’ve seen the first. I’d be interested to know what percentage of movie-goers, who saw all three Lord of the Rings movies, watched both Hobbit prequels. My guess would be a rather high percentage.

If my theory is correct, I’d also hazard to guess that the critic reviews would not substantially alter that percentage.

Of course my hope is that I’ve hooked you on this article series and the FREE downloads 🙂 of assessments, recording matrices, audio files, and activities in order to entice you to check out my corresponding assessment-based products at Pennington Publishing.

In my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series, I’ve offered these bits of advice so far:

    1. Episode 1
  • Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples. 
  • DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. 
  • DO use diagnostic assessments. 
  • DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” 
    1. Episode 2
  • DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses). 
  • DON’T assess what you can’t teach. 
  • DO steal from others. 
  • DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).

DO analyze data both data deficits and mastery.

Students are like fixer-upper houses.

Kids are fixer-uppers, waiting to be fixed and flipped.

Teachers are fixers. In some sense we view our students as “as is” houses or fixer-uppers, waiting for us to determine what needs repair and updating so that we can flip them in market-ready condition to the next teacher.

Teachers should use diagnostic assessments in this way. Most all students need to catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

However, we miss some of the value of diagnostic assessments when we don’t analyze data to build upon the strengths of individual students. For example, teachers are frequently concerned about the student who has high reading fluency rates, but poor comprehension. Yes, some students are able to read quickly with minimal miscues, but understand and retain little of what they have read. Just weird, right?

Looking only at the diagnostic deficit (lack of comprehension) might lead the teacher to assume that the student is a sight word reader in need of extensive decoding practice to shore up this reading foundation. However, if we look at the relative strength (fluency), we might prescribe a different treatment to build upon that strength. It may certainly be true that the student might have some decoding deficits, but if the student is able to recognize the words, it makes sense to use that ability to teach the student how to internally monitor text with self-questioning strategies.

Both relative strengths and weaknesses matter when analyzing student assessment data.

DON’T assess what you haven’t taught.

Teachers love to see progress in their students. Our profession enables us to see a student go from A to B throughout the year with us as the relevant variable. Assessment data does provide us with extrinsic rewards and a self-pat-on-the-back. I love our profession!

But we have to use real data to achieve that self-satisfaction. Otherwise, we are only fooling ourselves. As the new school year begins, countless teachers will administer entry baseline assessments, designed to demonstrate student ignorance. These assessments test what students should know by the end of the year, not what they are expected to know at the beginning of the year. Often the same assessment is administered at the end of the year to determine summative progress and assess a teacher’s program effectiveness.

Resist the temptation to artificially produce a feel-good assessment program such as that. Such a baseline test affords no diagnostic data; it does not inform your instruction. It makes students feel stupid and wastes class time. The year-end summative assessment is too far removed from the baseline to measure the effects of the the variables (teacher and program) upon achievement with any degree of accuracy.

Test only what has been taught to see what they’ve retained and forgotten.

DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments.

In my work as an ELA teacher and reading specialist at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels, I’ve found that most teachers use three types of assessments: 1. They give a few entry-level assessments, but do little if any thing with the data. 2. They give unit tests once a month, but do not re-teach or re-test. 3. They give some form of end-of-year or term summative test (the final) with little or no review or re-teaching of the test results.

As you, no doubt, can tell, I don’t see the value in any of the above approaches to assessment. It’s not that these tests are useless; it’s that they tend to be reductive. Teachers give these instead of the tests they should be using to inform their instruction. Diagnostic assessments (as detailed in the previous section) are essential to plan and inform instruction. Also, what’s missing in their assessment plan? Formative assessments.

My take is that the best method of on-going formative assessment is with embedded assessments. I use embedded assessments to mean quick checks for understanding that are included in each lesson. Both the teacher and student need to know whether the skill or concept is understood following instruction, guided practice, and independent practice. For example, in the FREE diagnostic assessment (with audio file), recording matrix, and lessons download at the end of this article, the lesson samples from my Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs are spelling pattern worksheets. These are remedial worksheets which students would complete if the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment indicated specific spelling pattern deficits. Each worksheet includes a writing application at the end of the worksheet, which demonstrates whether the student has or has not mastered the practiced spelling pattern. These are embedded assessments, which the teacher can use to determine if additional instruction is unnecessary or required.

Use instructional materials which teach and test.

DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.

The converse of the previous section is also important to bullet point. To put things simply: Why would a teacher choose to use an instructional resource (a worksheet, a game, software, a lecture, a class discussion, an article, anything) which is not testable in some way? Of course, the assessment need not include pencil and paper; informed teacher observation can certainly include assessment of learning.

Let’s use one example to demonstrate an instructional resource which does not teach to data and how that same resource can teach to data: independent reading. This one will step on a few toes.

Instructional Resource: “Everyone take out your independent reading books for Sustained Silent Reading (SSR).” Okay, you may do Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) or Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) or…

Practice:  20 minutes of silent reading

Assessment: None

The instructional resource may or may not be teaching. We don’t know. If the student is reading well at appropriate challenge level, the student is certainly benefiting from vocabulary acquisition. If the student is daydreaming or pretending to read, SSR is producing no instruction benefit. Following is an alternative use of this instructional resource:

Instructional Resource: “Everyone take out your challenge level independent reading books for Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), your

SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks

SCRIP Comprehension Strategy Bookmarks

SCRIP Comprehension Strategies Bookmarks, and your pencil for annotations (margin notes).”

Practice with Assessment:  Read for 10 minutes, annotating the text. Then do a re-tell with your assigned partner for 1 minute, using the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies Bookmarks as self-questioning prompts. Partners are to complete the re-tell checklist. Repeat after 10 more minutes. Teacher randomly calls on a few readers to repeat their re-tells to the entire class and their partners’ additions. If the checklists and teacher observation of the oral re-tells indicate that the students are missing, say, causes-effect relationships in their reading, the teacher should prepare and present a think-aloud lesson, emphasizing this reading strategy with practice. This practice uses data and informs the teacher’s instruction. Plus, it provides students with a purpose for instruction and holds them accountable for learning.

Thanks for watching Episode 3. Make sure to purchase your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 4 before you walk out of the theater. This episode will sell-out fast! Also get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview: DO let diagnostic data do the talking. DON’T assume what students do and do not know. DO use objective data. DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #2

English and Reading Assessments

ELA and Reading Assessments

You know how it is with movie sequels; the sequel rarely lives up to the promise of the original movie. However, there are exceptions and you’re reading one 🙂

In my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series, I began with a trailer to introduce the articles, in which I argued, “Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples.” I followed with the first episode, in which I elaborate on the following: “DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. DO use diagnostic assessments. DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” Both the trailer and first episode provide some of my 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. Take a look at these later, but you’ve got to read this article first and grab the FREE download.

As an ELA teacher and reading specialist, I believe in the power of ELA and reading assessments. However, as with many educational practices, appropriate use is often coupled with misuse (or even abuse); hence, the Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments.

DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses).

We teachers love our independence, but it sometimes comes with a cost to our students.

My eighth-grade ELA colleague in the classroom next door has the reputation of being a fine teacher. She serves as our department chair and we’ve taught together for a dozen years. I can tell you all about her two kids and husband. Of course, I spell her once in a while for a bathroom break, but I’ve never seen her teach; nor has she seen me teach. I’ve found this scenario to be quite typical. Our classrooms are our castles. We let down the drawbridges a few times a year for administrative walk-throughs or evaluations, but rarely more than that.

Our department meetings are all business: budget, supply status, pleas to keep the workroom clean, schedules, and novel rotations. We also meet twice-per-month for grade-level team meanings. Again, more business with some curricular planning and the usual complaint-sharing about students, parents, the district, and administrators. Administrators want us to have common assessments, mainly to ensure consistent instruction. We do, but get around that requirement by adding on our own assessments and make these the ones that matter. We never analyze student data, except the Common Core annual assessment (and that data is aggregated by grade-level subject, not by individual teacher). Of course, that data is out-of-date (months ago) and so general as to be of minimal use.

At the beginning of the school year I sing the same old song: “Can’t we set aside time at each meeting to look at each others’ student work and learn from each other?” I mean assignments, essays, and unit tests… the stuff that we are now teaching. Everyone agrees we should, but we never have enough time. Why not?

We’re afraid.

What if she finds out that I’m just a mediocre teacher? What if he finds out that I have no clue about how to teach grammar? What if they discover that I really don’t differentiate instruction, though I have a reputation for doing so? Would I be able to or willing to change how I teach? My colleagues aren’t my bosses.

It’s time we take some risks and let the assessment data do the talking. None of us is as good or bad as we think. Everyone has something to contribute and something to learn. We need different perspectives on analyzing data; looking solely at your own data without comparison to others’ data may lead to inaccurate judgments and faulty instruction.

Let’s drop our defenses and let our colleagues into our professional lives. Data analysis as a community of professional educators can produce satisfying results and helps us grow as professionals.

DON’T assess what you can’t teach.

When teachers sit down and brainstorm what baseline assessments to give at the start of the school year, someone invariably suggests a reading comprehension test and a writing sample. I chime in with a mechanics test. Here’s why my suggestion makes sense and my colleague’s does not.

A mechanics test is teachable: 9 comma rules, 7 capitalization rules, and 16 italics, underlining, quotation marks, etc. rules. A reading comprehension test and a writing sample are not. Check out my article, Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension when you have time. Suffice it to say that the latter two tests will not yield the same kind of specific data as, say, that mechanics test. Want to download that mechanics test and progress monitoring matrix? The FREE download is at the end of the article; you can teach to this assessment.

Bottom line? You don’t have time to assess for the sake of assessing. Refuse to assess what will not yield teachable data.

DO steal from others.

Teacher constructed assessments provide the best tools. Work with colleagues to create diagnostic and formative assessments to measure student achievement and quick follow-up assessments designed to re-assess, once you re-teach what individual students did not master the first time.

Steal exercises, activities, and worksheets from colleagues that will re-teach. No better compliment can be paid to a fellow teacher than “Would you mind making me a copy of that?”

DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).

I would add an important cautionary note to sharing assessment data. First, students do have a right to privacy. Be careful to keep data analysis in-house. On my recording matrices I suggest using student identification numbers when posting results in the classroom. Second, ill-informed parents and administrators will sometimes misuse data to make judgments about the teacher rather than the student. Lack of mastered concepts and skills could be used to accuse previous or present teachers of educational malpractice. Some administrators will cite quantitative data on evaluations to comment on lack of progress.

Teachers should be judicious and careful in publicizing data. Most parents and administrators will welcome the information, understand it in its proper context, and recognize the level of your professionalism. Set some department or team-level guidelines for data sharing and test the waters before sharing everything.

To clarify, it’s not the data that is dangerous; it’s the misuse that needs to be avoided.

That’s it for now. Some of you will jump up into the aisle to head to the lobby upon seeing “The End.” Others will relax and let the theater clear out before walking out. Make sure to purchase your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 2 and get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 87% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview: DO analyze both data deficits and mastery. DON’T assess what you haven’t taught. DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments. DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.

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I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

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