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Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Before my reading specialist colleagues and fellow English-language arts teachers jump down my throat, I do want to mention a few things at the outset:

  • I think close reading has its place in both elementary and secondary classrooms.
  • I’m still a fan of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading, as the document describes… not necessarily as some publishers and pundits have interpreted or applied these Standards.
  • I’ve been teaching for a quite awhile in both the reading and English fields (elementary reading specialist, middle school and high school ELA teacher, and community college reading professor), so I’ve seen a few of the “educational cycles” regarding both teaching reading and literary analysis. Solomon was right: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
  • Disclaimer: I am a teacher publisher and sell a terrific reading intervention program. Think biases.
Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

But the problem that I have is that…

Some educators are making close reading and text dependent questions their only means of teaching reading comprehension and literary analysis. Over the last decade, close reading has just gotten “too big for its britches.”

A few definitions…

Although somewhat a false dichotomy because they really are two sides of the same coin, most educators use reading comprehension to mean “learning to read” and literary analysis to mean “reading to learn.” The former is seen as the stuff of elementary school and latter is practiced in secondary and post secondary.

In a nutshell, close reading means reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.  The strategy is, despite permutations, utilizes text dependent questioning to complete three reading tasks: In the first read, students focus on the most important textual elements (key ideas and details). During the second read, students focus on how the text works (craft and structure). For the third reading, students focus on what the text means to the reader and how it connects to other experiences (integration of knowledge and ideas).

Historical Perspective

 

I do feel a bit of historical context may help explain where the close reading strategy came from and why we shouldn’t go overboard by using this strategy as our primary means of teaching reading comprehension and literary analysis.

Reader Response Theory

 

The reader response theorists emphasized the interaction of the reader and the text. Perhaps the greatest contributor to this field would be Louise Rosenblatt with her transactional reader-response theory, developed through many influential works beginning in the 1930s until her death in 2005.

Rosenblatt argued that a reader’s life and literary experiences and emotions influence the meaning derived from the text. The meaning of a text is shaped by what the reader brings to the text, what the author writes, and the context in which it is read. Thus, what the text says is both subjective and objective. Some in the reader response camp would go so far as to argue that text only has meaning when involving the reader.

The New Criticism Movement

 

In contrast to reader response advocates, the New Critics of the late 1960s, such as I. A. Richards, argued that a literary work should be read as is and apart from the outside influence of the reader and the historical, sociological, and psychological influences of a given text. Those in the New Criticism movement argued that the task of the reader is to discover the objective meaning of the text (what the text says in-it-of-itself) in its own context. The New Critics first coined the term close reading to describe this process of text dependent literary analysis. Those in this camp would believe that to properly understand the meaning of a text, readers need to put aside their own perspectives and biases. Some would go so far as to suggest that the author’s intended meaning should not be considered; only what the text says itself should be discussed and analyzed.

Many reading and English teachers leaned upon the instructional strategies of popular philosopher and educator, Mortimer Adler, to apply the tenets of New Criticism to focus on the meaning of the text itself.

Text Complexity

Mortimer Adler

 

Pre-dating the New Critics, Mortimer Adler (along with co-author  Charles Van Doren) popularized the essential techniques of what later became known as close reading with his influential How to Read a Book: The classic guide to Intelligent Reading in 1940. Check out an interesting discussion between Adler and Van Doren HERE

Adler, especially, was concerned about the populace’s preference for easy-reading literature instead of the more challenging classics. Adler advocated reading the Great Books, especially those which inculcated the ideas of Western Civilization. As I write, I’m looking at my set of Harvard Classics on the bookshelves.

Adler developed the rudiments of the close reading strategy to help readers tackle the textual complexity of these challenging books. His belief that everyone could understand any literary work, given the right instructional tools, was highly influential in the 1950s and 1960s. Many educators in private and some public schools developed Great Books programs to implement Adler’s ideals.

Like Adler, the authors of the Common Core State Standards believed that students were not being exposed to complex texts. The authors relied heavily on the 2006 ACT report, Reading Between the Lines, to argue that K–12 reading texts had been “dumb-downed” over the last 50 years and that teachers need to increase the levels of text complexity to better prepare students for college and careers, which will demand better readers. In Appendix A the authors summarize the relevant reading research:

Jeanne Chall and her colleagues (Chall, Conard, & Harris, 1977) found a thirteen year decrease from 1963 to 1975 in the difficulty of grade 1, grade 6, and (especially) grade 11 texts. Extending the period to 1991, Hayes, Wolfer, and Wolfe (1996) found precipitous declines (relative to the period from 1946 to 1962) in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks for a variety of grades… Carrying the research closer to the present day, Gary L. Williamson (2006) found a 350L (Lexile) gap between the difficulty of end-of-high school and college texts—a gap equivalent to 1.5 standard deviations and more than the Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Unlike Adler, the Common Core authors did not advocate a return to the Great Books to increase text complexity. Instead, they legislated a move to informational/expository texts, such as technical documents, non-fiction novels, and articles. However, the authors adopted and expanded upon Adler’s close reading strategies to access these complex texts.

Text Dependency

 

One hallmark of close reading is its dependence upon the text to inform the reader. Two of the primary Common Core authors, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, have argued against the reader-centered approach to reading comprehension, in which what the reader brought to the reading (prior knowledge) and what the reader took out of the reading (in light of the reader’s own experience and needs) were primary emphases.  Instead, in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards these authors have championed the idea that to develop reading comprehension and understanding of complex texts, the questions which teachers use to prompt student engagement with the text need to be text dependent, not reader dependent.

Classroom Application

 

Close reading in one good reading strategy to promote reading comprehension and discuss the author’s ideas and information. However, there are pitfalls to avoid.

1. As Alex Reid says, “Arguing ‘against close reading’ … is not an argument to say that we should stop paying close attention to texts.” In fact, other reading strategies are just as effective as the close reading strategy. Check out “How to Teach Reading Comprehension” for ideas.

2. The close reading technique necessitates reading brief passages, documents, short articles, etc. The breadth of longer text and the author’s flow of ideas, development of theme and character, etc. are not possible. Yes, teachers need to move away from exclusively teaching novels, but reading longer text produces stamina and joy. Too much close reading does not foster a love for reading.

3. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Any instructional time is reductive, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some advice from Timothy Shanahan, reading researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

Of course, not every text deserves a close read. Sometimes it’s okay to be interested only in the story—considerations of craft and structure and deeper implications are beside the point. And classroom reads don’t always have to emphasize close reading; the key is to incorporate close reading into your instruction, not use it exclusively. No one knows how many teacher-led close reads would be a good idea, but don’t overdo it; one or two close reads every couple of weeks (some taking place over multiple days) seems like the right dosage.

4. Close reading tends to produce teacher-dependence, rather than equipping students to become skillful independent readers. True that close reading and accompanying text dependent questions can teach students the tools to unlock the meaning of complex text; however, the value of independent reading at accessible independent levels of word recognition produces the same results by exposing students to the vast array of ideas, text genre, and vocabulary development. See this collection of articles advocating the value of independent reading, especially as homework HERE.

Additionally, teachers need to help students monitor their own reading with self-generated questions. The five SCRIP Comprehension Strategies reading comprehension strategies work for both narrative and expository text and provide a language of instruction for literary analysis and discussion: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

5. Publishers and school district personnel have produced ready-to-use close readings, many of which only focus on factual or literal text dependent questions. Teachers need to ignore these or supplement with pre-reading and reader-response activities, and add on higher order inferential and application questions. David Pearson, Professor Emeritus at U.C. Berkeley has concerns about the Common Core authors’ narrow and restrictive views about text dependent questions. Pearson fears that “We will operationally define text dependent (questions) as literal, factual questions, forgetting that LOTS of other questions/tasks are also text-reliant.” For example, comparison and contrast questions both use the text and go beyond the text.

6. Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into of reading), even with close reading. Accessing prior knowledge and gap-filling are still essential vehicles to promote the reader’s understanding of complex text. The role of the reader still has a place in understanding text. Reading remains a two-way street. Yes, we teachers may have gone overboard with reader response in the past. The KWL (Already Know, Want to Know, What I Learned) reading strategy and its variations come into mind. Because the first two components are reader-centered, there are significant limitations. Students don’t know what they don’t know and they similarly don’t know what they Want to know. Or, they may Want to know what is inconsequential, trivial, or not available in the reading or available resources. More HERE.

Grant Wiggins, educator and author of the influential Understanding by Design, argues for a balanced approach in close reading in his article, Authentic Education:

As I noted in my previous post, this does not mean, however, that we should ignore or try to bypass the reader’s responses, prior knowledge, or interests. On the contrary, reading cannot help but involve an inter-mingling of our experience and what the author says and perhaps means. But it does not follow from this fact that instruction should give equal weight to personal reactions to a text when the goal is close reading. On the contrary: we must constantly be alert to how and where our own prejudices (literally, pre-judging) may be interfering with meaning-making of the text.

I’ll leave U.C. Berkeley reading researcher, David Pearson, with these last words about close reading and text dependent questioning: “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind… (making) sure that it applies to several purposes for reading (and will) encompass literal, interpretive, and critical reading tasks.”
Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice,

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

 

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Reading Fluency Homework

What’s the best homework? Reading!

Now… independent reading is valuable for so many purposes: vocabulary acquisition, reading comprehension development, self-discipline, stamina, building concentration, nurturing imagination, learning culture, and FUN!

However, many parents want and are equipped to give even more to their children. One area of reading development where parents can do an even better job than the classroom teacher is reading fluency.

Just exactly what reading fluency is gets mixed up with the instructional procedures and practice to achieve it. For example, reading fluency is not repeated reading; although that practice can certainly help improve reading fluency. A helpful way to understand the purpose of developing reading fluency is to think of it as language dexterity.

Merriam-Webster defines dexterity as “mental skill or quickness; readiness and grace in physical activity-especially skill and ease in using the hands.” I like this working definition, because when we think of dexterity in other contexts, such as physical dexterity, we think of it as a process and a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

For example, with the focus on reading speed (one goal of reading fluency), most teachers have had students who meet or exceed grade level fluency standards, in terms of both accuracy and words per minute, but don’t comprehend or retain anything that they’ve read. Reading fluency positively correlates with reading comprehension because the whole purpose of language dexterity is understanding (See this scholarly article for more.) In other words, we want to improve reading fluency in order to improve reading comprehension.

So how can parents build language dexterity in their children and practice reading fluency at home?

Select the Right Book for Fluency Practice

Parents can’t be bothered with complicated Lexile levels or other criteria. Be practical! Here’s a better alternative that all parents can do. CLICK!

Modeled Readings

I read a sentence/paragraph; you read a sentence/paragraph, mimicking my pronunciation, inflection, pacing, and attention to punctuation.

Choral Readings

Parents and children both read a section at the child’s “challenge pace.” The challenge pace should be about 15-20% faster than the child’s independent fluency level.

Repeated Readings

Parents can get their children to repeat large sections, for example, chapters, within the same reading session. A few options: 1. Read it out loud; then read it silently. 2. I read a page; you read a page. 3. We listen to an audio book chapter; you read the same chapter.

Fluency Assessment

Assessment is teaching and practice. Parents can do pre and post fluency assessments on simple timing charts. Teach parents how to quickly determine words per page (the average grades 3-5 chapter book has 200 words per page; grades 6-8 has 275). Parents can assess words per minute or pages read in 5 minutes. Click HERE for 13 free reading assessments, including a simple multi-level reading fluency assessment (The Pets Fluency Assessment) to serve as a baseline.

Other Reading Fluency Homework Options

Word Fluency

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

With the correct instructional materials, parent can help their children practice decodable and sight word fluency. The author’s guided reading  books, Sam and Friends Phonics Books, provide optimal practice for developing what we reading specialists call automaticity. These 54 take-home books are designed for remedial/reluctant readers and provide teenage characters and plots with fantastic non-juvenile cartoons. Five comprehension questions are embedded in each story. Plus, each back page includes word fluency practice to rehearse and assess (in a 30-second assessment) the focus phonics (sound-spellings) and sight words of the lesson with built-in book to book review. Teachers are licensed to print these take-home books and distribute to parents.

Multi-Speed YouTube Modeled Readings

Parents can use phones, tablets, or desktops to access the author’s Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit fluency and comprehension

The Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

development animal articles. The teacher prints the article (with three vocabulary and five comprehension questions using the SCRIP independent reading comprehension questions) back-to-back, the progress monitoring matrix, and provides the URL.

Students complete a “cold” (unpracticed) fluency timing and record on the provided matrix.

Students practice choral reading at one of three reading speeds (selected by the teacher and/or parent) with the audio recording, following along with the reading text on the screen. Parents may elect to have their children re-read at the faster reading speed.

Students then complete a “hot” (practiced) fluency timing and record on the matrix.

These animal articles are designed in a three-tiered format: the first two paragraphs at the third grade level; the next two at the fifth grade level; and the last two at the seventh grade level. The design helps remedial readers “push through” more difficult text after having built context and confidence in the preceding text.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

The author, Mark Pennington, is an MA reading specialist who writes curriculum targeted at grades 4-8. His comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies and the Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE includes both fluency resources described in this article.

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Academic Language: What Not to Teach and What to Teach

What Not to Teach and What to Teach with Academic Language

Academic Language

Since the adoption of the Common Core State Standards way back in 2009… Has it been that long ago? the term Academic Language has remained as one of the longest-lasting educational buzzwords. As educators and publishers have unpacked that term in the years since, it has taken on various meanings; however, its original intent was to assert that the types of words that we teach do matter. Specifically, teaching Tier 2 words which have utility across subject areas makes a lot of sense. For plenty of examples and the research-based Academic Word List, I’d refer teachers HERE.

The ability of these Tier 2 (Beck, McKeown, Kucan) words to transfer across subject areas and reading genre helps developing readers access more complex text. This is why teaching academic language matters. The Tier 2 academic vocabulary words are not ends in themselves; they are gateways to more sophisticated reading. Academic language is all about access to text complexity.

As detailed in Appendix A of the Common Core document and the research described in the 2006 ACT, Inc., report titled Reading Between the Lines, reading comprehension scores have dropped over the last 20 years. Two reasons were cited for this decline: 1. decreasing text complexity and 2. lack of independent reading. We educators have got to make our word study more rigorous and require more challenging independent reading to enhance the academic language of our students.

How Not to Teach Academic Language

  1. Don’t spend excessive amounts of time reading entire novels out loud to your class. I agree with those who have argued against teachers reading complete novels out loud as spoon-feeding. Of course, reading out loud does have some benefits and re-reading a passage or portion of an article as a close reading does have merit, but not as the primary means of developing academic language and increasing reading comprehension.
  2. I also concur with those who have also argued against independent reading in the classroom as a “waste of instructional time.” Spending oodles of class time with free-choice independent reading does not build academic language. Independent reading is vitally important… but as homework. By the way, Accelerated Reader is not an academic vocabulary program. Teachers are clever enough to incentivize and hold students accountable for independent reading without an outside program.
  3. Don’t have students memorize long lists of academic language words. While memorization is certainly a part of effective word study, students retain more at the end of the year with a quality, not quantity approach to vocabulary study. Some in-depth vocabulary instruction is certainly valuable.
  4. Avoid spending excessive amounts of vocabulary instructional time on learning words in the context of teaching a short story, article, or novel. Pre-teaching a few essential words is unavoidable, but don’t let the reading drive your vocabulary instruction. The tail shouldn’t wag the dog.

How to Teach Academic Language

  1. Increase the amount of independent reading homework with proper incentives and accountability. But do teach students how to read independently and require students to read complex material at their individual instructional levels. Lexiles are a useful tool, but a much simpler and flexible approach to determine reading levels is word recognition. Assign limited choices for independent reading. Students don’t naturally gravitate toward text complexity. Like adults, students look for the easy reads. Don’t worry about taking away a students love of reading. Teachers won’t damage children for life by assigning challenging reading homework. Certainly, informed educators know what’s best for students.
  2. Teach a balanced approach to vocabulary development, using the Common Core Vocabulary Standards detailed in the Language Strand. Teach academic language in isolation and in the reading context. Don’t be a purist. Students may have to read a 1000 novels before being exposed to, say, an important figures of speech. Vocabulary acquisition is not a completely natural process. The Standards focus on teaching a balance of vocabulary skills: multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0). Check out How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards.
  3. Plan. Insist upon grade level and department articulation to coordinate a year-to-year academic language instructional scope and sequence. We all too often wind up teaching, say, the same list of Greek and Latin prefixes year after year. We need a plan to move students from A to Z. Here’s a helpful instructional scope and sequence for grades 4-8 academic language. Yes, a multi-grade vocabulary program does make sense to unify instruction.
Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Standards

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Mark Pennington, an MA reading specialist, is the author of the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits–slices of the comprehensive Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling and Vocabulary programs.

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Assessment-based Individualized Learning

Every educational movement needs a catchy new acronym. ABIL will have to do: Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Simply put, it’s the supplemental instruction students need to catch up  while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

What It’s Not

  • ABIL is nothing new. Teachers have been doing it forever.
  • It’s not about creating individual educational plans for every student.
  • It’s not a replacement for rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • It’s not funky differentiated instruction.
  • It’s not one teaching methodology: small groups, lit circles, writers workshop, learning centers, etc.
  • Impossible or unmanageable.

What It Is

  • Foundational content, concepts, and skills that every student needs to access rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • Reliable and valid diagnostic assessments to determine individual student mastery and deficits in those prerequisites. Assessments which are comprehensive and teachable–not random samples. For example, what reading and English-language arts teacher cares about learning that Johnny has some sight word deficits? Good teachers want to know precisely which sight words Johnny kn0ws and does not know to be able to efficiently teach to Johnny’s specific needs.
  • Reading assessments: upper and lower case alphabet, syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, sight syllables, word recognition level, short vowel sound-spellings, long vowel sound-spellings, vowel digraph sound-spellings, vowel diphthong sound-spellings, silent final e, consonant sound-spellings, consonant blend sound-spellings, consonant digraph sound-spellings. Reading fluency level, word recognition level, instructional reading level.
  • Previous grade-level spelling assessment: Every spelling pattern and conventional spelling rule.
  • Previous grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments.
  • Curriculum which directly corresponds to each assessment item with progress monitoring matrices to ensure student mastery and is conducive to concurrent instruction in grade-level Standards.
  • The key ingredient of RtI (Response to Intervention) besides quality, accessible grade-level instruction.
  • What special ed and ELD students need most.
  • How you would want your own child taught with rigorous grade-level instruction and individualized learning to remediate any relative weaknesses.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, provides assessments and curricular resources to implement Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Want to check out the curriculum? Click here. Want to download the assessments, answers, and recording matrices described above for your students?

ELA/Reading Assessments

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Quick Reading Assessments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not check out the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies Introductory Video (15:08)?

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The W.C. Wayside Chapel Joke

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

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

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

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

Ms. Smith,

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Pastor Kurt Meier

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Pennington Publishing Pinterest Boards

Check out my ELA and reading intervention Pinterest boards with tons of free resources:

Syllable Worksheets: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/syllable-worksheets/
How to Grade Essays: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/how-to-grade-essays/

Sam and Friends Decodable Take Home Readers

Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Reduce the amount of "to be" verbs and replace with vivid verbs.

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

Verbing changes nouns into verbs

Verbing: Changing Nouns into Verbs

How to Teach Spelling Rules: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/how-to-teach-spelling-rules/
Eliminate “To Be” Verbs: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/eliminate-to-be-verbs/
Reading Comprehension: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/reading-comprehension/
Academic Language: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/academic-language/
Parts of Speech: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/parts-of-speech/
Phonics for Older Readers: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/phonics-for-older-readers/
Food, Light, Kids, and Color: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/food-light-kids-and-color/
Decodable Readers for Older Readers: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/decodable-readers-for-older-readers/

Reading Comprehension Strategies

SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

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

How to Teach English Accent Rules

There no doubt will be yuge and bigly changes in Ginah under President Trump. And let’s just say that Alec Baldwin will have job security impersonating him if he so chooses. Of course, Donald is not the only one who mispronounces words. In fact, I gathered a list of them for my article titled Top 40 Pronunciation Peeves. You no doubt have your own mispronunciations. I, myself, know it’s “pro-bab-ly,” but I can’t stop saying “prob-ly.”

Teaching students the syllable and accent rules through effective practice will noticeably improve their word attack and spelling skills. The accent rules and teaching procedure work well for both primary English speakers and English language-learners at all grade levels.

How to Teach English Accent Rules

  1. Teach students that every syllable has one vowel sound.
  2. Teach students the syllable patterns. Teaching inductively from examples to rules works much better than the converse strategy. My nonsense syllable transformers are ideal for teaching the basic syllable patterns. Check out Teaching Reading Strategies.
  3. Show students how accented syllables are louder than others in the same word. Stand in front of students with one hand at your side. State your title (Mr. Miss, Ms. or Mrs.) or your first name as a verbal cue and then snap and clap the syllables of your last name slowly. A snap indicates the unaccented syllable and a clap indicates the accented syllable. Don’t clap more than once in your last name even if there is a secondary accent. Save this instruction for high school. Note: For primary students, you may wish to substitute a thigh tap for the snap. Tell older students to fake the snap if they can’t do it. If your last name is only one syllable, e.g. Smith, adopt a pseudonym.

Ask students do the same, cueing them with your title. Repeat a bit faster and then once more quite quickly so that students are blending your last name. Ask for a few student volunteers to demonstrate with their last names. The teacher should cue with their first names.

    1. Show students how accented syllables are higher than others in the same word. Stand in front of students with one hand at your side. State your title (Mr. Miss, Ms. or Mrs.) or your first name as a verbal cue and then swipe and hold your hand away from your body to indicate the pitch of each syllable as you pronounce your last name. For example, Say, “Mister…” (hand at side) “Pen” (high pitch; hand swiping to and held at a ninety degree angle) “ning” (low pitch; hand swiping lower and held at forty-five degree angle) “ton” (low pitch; hand swiping again and held at same forty-five degree angle). “Pen-ning-ton. Pennington.” Ask students to stand and do the same, cueing them with your title. Repeat a bit faster and then once more quite quickly so that students are blending your last name. Ask for a few student volunteers to demonstrate with their last names. The teacher should cue with their first names.
    2. Practice the louder and higher syllable accenting with the 10 Accent Rules. Download this great resource!

Get the Accent Rules FREE Resource:

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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Teaching the Class and Individuals

Perhaps the greatest guilt-inducers for any veteran teacher are these two questions:

1. Do you know the individual needs of your students? 2. Are you teaching to the individual needs of your students?

For those of you still reading, let’s provide a bit of context to those questions:

Teaching the class is important and takes an enormous amount of energy and skill. Doing it well takes years of trial and error, professional development, and probably some natural ability that just can’t be learned or taught. It’s both an art and a science.

By and large, teachers do a great job at whole class direct instruction. Teachers know their subject areas. They know how to plan instructional units, how to prepare standards-based lessons, how to teach comprehensible lessons, how to provide their students with appropriate practice, and how to assess whether their students have mastered the unit and lesson objectives. Teachers have also learned the classroom management skills to enable most students to make significant academic progress. They know how to teach the class.

However, teaching the individual is quite another skill set.

Teaching the individual student is far more challenging and satisfying than teaching the class as a whole.

When people asked me what a do for a living, I tell them I’m a seventh grade teacher. Of course they ask, “What class do you teach?”

I repeat, “Seventh graders.”

Now, I realize they want to know that I teach English-language arts and reading intervention classes, so I’ll stop being snotty and tell them what they want to hear to satisfy their curiosity. However, I try and get across the message that I’m really teaching students, not a particular class. You elementary teachers have it easier… people don’t expect you to be subject-specific.

Now I like English-language arts as a subject area: the reading, writing, speaking, and listening. And I do enjoy planning instruction for my classes. But I like the seventh graders much more, because they are far more interesting to me than my teaching Walk Two Moons or The Giver for the thirtieth time. Seventh graders are more interesting because they are all individuals.

If you’re ready to take the step to individualize instruction, check out these resources: FREE ELA and Reading Diagnostic Assessments and the 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets. The free assessments provide the data you need to know the individual reading, spelling, grammar, and mechanics needs of your students. The worksheets include the skills, practice, and formative assessments you need to teach to the individual needs of your students.

Here’s what you get in the 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets…

1000 ELA/Reading Worksheets

1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets

• 77 Grammar and Mechanics Worksheets (L. 1, 2)
• 145 Language Application Worksheets (L. 3)
• 21 Phonics Worksheets (R.F.S.S. 3)
• 14 Syllabication Worksheets (R.F.S.S. 3)
• 43 Comprehension Worksheets (R.I.T.S. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8)
• 73 Spelling Sort Worksheets (L. 2)
• 102 Spelling Pattern Worksheets (L. 2) All K−8 sound-spelling patterns
• 56 Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Write Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
• 42 Essay Strategy Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 4, 9)
• 35 Writing Skill Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
• 40 Study Skills Worksheets
• 64 Critical Thinking Worksheets
• Answer Booklet
-Perfect for new and veteran teachers alike.
-Great for “Oh no! They finished early.”
-The substitute teacher’s best tool.
-Independent homework
-Quality individualized instruction in the writing and reading contexts.
-Study skills/advisory/lifeskills/ELD/special education classes
-Both remedial as well as gifted and talented worksheets

You will love these resources!

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

Reading Intervention

As a reading specialist, I have seen reading intervention programs come and go. The one thing I have learned is that no matter how good the program, the program will not be successful if teachers will not teach it. Rarely do teachers teach only a reading intervention program. Elementary teachers are responsible for teaching every other academic subject; secondary teachers are teaching subject area classes with multiple preps. A successful reading intervention program must be both “user-friendly” for teachers and address the needs of diverse learners.

Serving as a district reading specialist, I worked with dozens of teachers and their students over the years to design a program that really works for you and your students. We have no cookie-cutter students and a cookie-cutter instructional approach just doesn’t work.

Teaching Reading Strategies provides a comprehensive reading intervention program which will both meet the meets of a diverse group of students with diverse reading needs. The 13 whole class reading and spelling diagnostic assessments will help you tailor the program to what your students need to learn, not what a canned reading program wants you to teach.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading StrategiesThis program emphasizes assessment-based instruction and is extremely flexible. You could spend thousands on Read 180, Language Live, etc. each year and not get the results that you will get by using these Teaching Reading Strategies resources.

New reading teachers will love the scripted day to day plans to teach reading A-Z in a half-year intensive or full-year program.

Experienced teachers will pick and choose from the myriad of resources.

The mix of great direct instruction, small group phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight word workshops, and individualized instruction (including fluency practice with modeled readings at three different speeds, sound-spelling, syllabication, comprehension, and phonics worksheets) will help you cater instruction to the needs of each student. Plus, the only computer-assisted component in this program consists of the online modeled readings. Even this reading fluency practice has an effective work-around instructional approach that does not require computers. No technology nightmares! No unsupervised instruction. Less expense, too.

AND THIS PROGRAM IS EASY TO TEACH WITH VERY LITTLE PREP!

I also highly recommend the Sam and Friends Phonics Books to get your non-readers reading right away at Book 1, while more advanced students will begin reading at higher levels. The perfect take-home books for guided reading and homework! Each book includes five reading comprehension questions and a 30 second fluency practice/assessment.

Finally, the FUN part of this program is the Reading and Spelling Game Cards with tons of engaging games that both beginning readers and more advanced readers can play. The cards are included in the Teaching Reading Strategies digital download from TpT.

Check out the introductory video and see if Teaching Reading Strategies makes sense for you and your students.

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Context Clues in Reading and Writing

We teachers love a bargain. Especially a “two-for one” bargain. the two for one skill which can be used in more than one context. We are all about efficiency! Context clues strategies provide that skill which can be used both to improve reading comprehension and writing clarity and coherence.

Reading and writing do have a reciprocal relationship. Check out my Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection on the Pennington Publishing Blog when you have time. Learning context clues strategies helps students not only understand and apply new words, but also helps students apply more precise vocabulary in their writing to improve clarity and coherence.

So, how can you get students to use context clues in their reading and writing? Teach the memorable FP’S BAG SALE strategy. Click on this Context Clues Worksheets Resource to download the strategy (see below) and two accompanying worksheets (with answers).

Get the Context Clues Worksheets FREE Resource:

But wouldn’t it be better to teach Tier II (academic) and III (domain specific) reading and writing vocabulary by using the dictionary?

No. The dictionary is a fine tool and should be used to look up words that are critical to the comprehension of any reading and for precise usage in writing. However, the dictionary is not a practical tool for most reading and writing.

So, learning and practicing context clue strategies makes sense. Context clue strategies can be mastered with sufficient practice and can be flexibly applied both to figure out the meaning of many unknown words in reading and to support the use of technical language in writing. Teach students to use the whole FP’S BAG SALE strategy for reading and the last part, i.e., the SALE strategy for writing.

FP’S BAG SALE

  • Finish the sentence. See how the word fits into the whole sentence.
  • Pronounce the word out loud. Sometimes hearing the word will give you a clue to meaning.
  • Syllables–Examine each word part. Word parts can be helpful clues to meaning.
  • Before–Read the sentence before the unknown word. The sentence before can hint at what the word means.
  • After–Read the sentence after the unknown word. The sentence after can define, explain, or provide an example of the word.
  • Grammar–Determine the part of speech. Pay attention to where the word is placed in the sentence, the ending of the word, and its grammatical relationship to other known words for clues to meaning.
  • Synonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of a synonym. Synonyms appear in apposition, in which case commas, dashes, or parentheses are used. Example: The wardrobe, or closet, opened the door to a brand new world.
  • Antonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of an antonym. Antonym clues will often use Signal Words such as however, not, but, in contrast Example: He promised innovation, not keeping things the way they are.
  • Logic–Your own knowledge about the content and text structure may provide clues to meaning. Logic clues can lead to a logical guess as to the meaning of an unknown word. Example: He petted the canine, and then made her sit up and beg for a bone.
  • Example–When part of a list of examples or if the unknown word itself provides an example, either provides good clues to meaning. Example clues will often use Signal Words such as for example, like, such as Example: Adventurous, rowdy, and crazy pioneers all found their way out West.

When shouldn’t we encourage students to use context clues?

Using context clues to guess the pronunciation and meanings of Tier I words (conversational, not academic English) is not efficient. Teaching students to use the alphabetic code (phonics) to sound out words and syllabication skills plus the conventional spelling rules (encoding) to write these words is essential. Context clues strategies are not useful for the “psycholinguistic guessing games (Goodman)” whole language method of developing word identification and word recognition.

Kylene Beers, in her book When Kids Can’t Read, summarizes the problem of using context clues strategies for word identification: “. . . Discerning the meaning of unknown words using context clues requires a sophisticated interaction with the text that dependent readers have not yet achieved.”

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

The program is also useful for grade-level syllabication skill worksheets, reading fluency practice, and reading comprehension development. With the tiered grade-level design of the fluency and comprehension worksheets, students will develop confidence reading at increasingly more challenging levels. Perfect scaffolded instruction for a classroom of diverse learners.

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Teaching Reading Comprehension

As more teachers are teaching reading strategies (all helpful) to help students access, understand, and analyze text independently, let’s not overlook the obvious: How to Improve Reading Comprehension.

As a reading specialist, I am constantly surprised by teachers who tell me that they have never learned how to teach reading comprehension or think that reading strategies alone will do the job. If you’ve never learned how to teach reading comprehension, the following advice and FREE Resources are just what the doctor ordered.

Despite what many believe, reading is not a natural process; it needs to be taught, and not just caught.

A reader’s comprehension of any text (narrative or expository) depends upon the quality of the internal dialogue between the reader and author. “Talking to the text” significantly increases reader comprehension and promotes retention as well. Tons of reading research on this. Check out my Pennington Publishing Blog for dozens of articles on this. However, reader-author dialogue is not a skill acquired by osmosis. It requires instruction and practice. Doesn’t everything?

The most effective approach to helping students learn to interact with the text is to teach students how to begin and carry on the conversation with the author. Specific cueing strategies prompt the reader to talk to the text and the author. These cueing strategies assign readers a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain interactive dialogue with the text.

I’ve developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with narrative and expository text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Teaching students to question the text they read by prompting themselves with the SCRIP strategies will help them understand and better remember what they read. Click here to get three great resources absolutely FREE: 1. SCRIP classroom posters 2. Five one-page fairy tales to teach each of the SCRIP strategies 3. SCRIP bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Here’s how to use those resources: Do a Think-Aloud to teach students how you carry on the conversation with an author. Start with the each of the five fairy tales to focus on one SCRIP strategy per lesson.

  1. Tell students that you are going to demonstrate what good readers do as they silently read.

    1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets for Grades 4-8 Teachers

    Every teacher needs back-up!

  2. Read a few lines out loud and then alter your voice (raise the pitch, lower the volume, or use an accent) to model what you are thinking. Stop and explain what the voice altering meant and keep this voice altering consistent throughout the Think-Aloud.
  3. Prompt your dialogue with the focus SCRIP strategy. Use this specific language of instruction.
  4. Don’t over-do the amount of your Think-Aloud thoughts. Once or twice per every paragraph is about right. Don’t interrupt the flow of the reading.
  5. Have students read the same fairy tale as a “pair share.” One student reads a paragraph out loud and does a Think-Aloud, referencing their SCRIP bookmark to prompt their dialogue with the author. Then the next reads a paragraph, etc.
  6. De-brief. Ask students if they think they understood the text better because of your verbalized thoughts (and theirs) rather than just by passively reading without talking to the text.
  7. Select your own reading and do a Think-Aloud, using all five of the SCRIP strategies

Mark Pennington provides teacher-created and kid-tested assessment-based curriculum to help students “catch up while they keep up” with grade level instruction.

Reading , , , , , , , , ,

Critical Thinking Bell Ringers

Get your students thinking. We teach in a product-driven age of Standards, behavioral objectives, and progress monitoring. As we head back to school, why not achieve some sort of balance with a 10-minute process-driven bell ringer twice per week? Just display this warm-up activity while taking roll and listen to the happy sounds of brains engaging with some of the greatest brains of human history: from Plato to Shakespeare to Franklin to Rowling.

A brief literary quotation to drive the conversation; a specific directive for observation; a guide to interpretation; a prompt to application in the reading, writing, listening, or speaking context; and a revision task to think out of the box or from a different point of view. Wrap things up in 10 minutes, even though often you’ll hear the “We’re not dones.” Leave them thinking; yes, they are not done.

As much as we try to embed critical thinking, depth of knowledge, Costa’s levels of thinking, or Bloom’s taxonomy into our daily lessons, a specific allocation of time and a concise curricular resource moves us from well-intentioned to committed implementation. If we put it in our planners and don’t have to re-invent the wheel, we’ll get it done. Plus, your students will pester you. They like having their brains stretched. Here’s a sample of a Critical Thinking Bell Ringer that my students love to discuss:

Literary Quotation

“I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them.”

Jane Austen (1775 – 1817)

Definition/Explanation/Reflection: Good friendships take time and effort.

Observation: What do you see? What do you feel? What seem to be the key words?

Interpretation: How would you put this into your own words? What does this mean? What doesn’t this mean? What does this suggest? Why does the author say this?

Application: How can this be used? How could this thought affect something else? What conclusions can be drawn from this? Do you agree with this? How does this apply to you?

Revision: How else could this have been written? Revise this to reflect your point of view or ideas. Create something new to say about this subject.

Student Response:

Wouldn’t it be great to try out four complete Critical Thinking Opener Toolkit lessons?

Get the Critical Thinking Openers Toolkit FREE Resource:

To purchase the Critical Thinking Openers Toolkit with a full year of 64 bell ringers, visit our product page at Pennington Publishing.

“Marvelous tool in helping me to provoke more critical thinking in my students.”

Marsha Lewis

“Critical Thinking Openers is an excellent product. Provides additional writing practice and is thought provoking.”

Lisa Moore

Reading, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , ,

10 Reasons to Use Interactive Notebooks

Interactive notebooks (INBs) have become increasingly popular in all subject areas: reading, science, math, history/social studies, language arts, art, and foreign language study. Homeschooling advocates have long favored learning portfolios and have been particularly engaged in the INB movement. Additionally, the exponential influence and use of Pinterest in education has propelled publication of many INBs on sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers. Whether you are an INB inquirer or practitioner, it’s it’s useful to analyze the pros and cons as to whether INBs should be used in your home or classroom. To provide fodder for a balanced discussion, I have written 10 Reasons Not to Use Interactive Notebooks.

My own experience with INBs? I used INBs in middle school ELA for years before developing and using a more traditional grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling and vocabulary program (See product promotion at end of article). I also taught with the Teachers’ Curriculum Institute (TCI) Interactive Student Notebooks in their History Alive! series. Moreover, I just completed a Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook series. Click HERE to check it out. If you do, I’m sure you will see why this classroom-tested INB is the best one available for your students.

Although teachers have valid reasons not to use INBs (1. Excessive class time 2. Too much prep 3. Too much correcting 4. Too messy 5. Not enough rigor and little critical thinking 6. Too teacher-centered and little focus on individual student needs 7. Not assessment-based instruction 8. Too supplemental and reductive (little focus on reading and writing) 9. Not real-world, career-based instruction  10. Some students dislike INBs), many teachers do see value in using interactive notebooks. To get past my own biases, I studied dozens of INBs and INB templates (most INBs use 3D graphic organizers such as pop-outs, flip pages, and foldables) in quite a few subject areas. I examined individual lessons found on Pinterest, teacher blogs, and Facebook. I also looked at partial and full-year published INB programs. In fact, I purchased the two best-selling INB programs: Erin Cobb’s Interactive Grammar Notebook for Common Core Grades 4-8 (over 30,000 sold with over 6,000 product reviews) and Nicole Shelby’s grades 2-5 Interactive Language Notebooks (14,531 product reviews at the time of this writing). Of course, it’s always good for writers to check out the best of the competition when developing their own alternative products 🙂 Both are great programs and certainly worth every penny.Product Review Quotes 1A

So, here’s the list of reasons to consider using INBs. But don’t take my word on it, check out the teacher comments as well.

10 Reasons to Use Interactive Notebooks

1. Interactive notebooks personalize learning. Teachers know that relevance matters. When students perceive content and skills as important to their “now and then” (immediate and future needs), they are more willing and capable of engaging in learning new content and skills. Education is a two-way process. Certainly students need input, but they also filter that input through prior knowledge and experiences and make personal meaning out of that input. INBs provide students with the connections they need between the outer world of ideas and their inner worlds of how they make sense of those ideas. When students own their interactive notebook lessons with learning goals, “I Can” statements, comments, opinions, and questions, they learn content and skills at a deeper level and retain more knowledge.

2. Interactive notebooks balance input, processing, and output. Teachers know the importance of direct instruction. Whether teachers initiate the learning as in a traditional classroom, or guide the learning as in a flipped classroom, we do serve as the “keepers of the keys” to learning. We know the Standards; we know what students know and don’t yet know; we know how students learn best. However, we don’t always provide the time or teach the process of learning. INBs provide the mechanisms teachers and students need to process new content and skills. To borrow Stephen Krashen’s expression: comprehensible input. After all, it’s all about learning, not teaching. When students add to or highlight key ideas in lecture notes, take marginal annotations on short INB articles, and summarize learning in 3D graphic organizers, they are processing information. We all know how much learning is lost when it is not immediately reinforced. Practice using the content and skills in the INB immediately after the lecture provides that reinforcement. The INBs stop the forgetting cycle and imprint learning into long-term memories.

3. Interactive notebooks help students learn and study at the same time. One real benefit of the INB is the focus on “killing two birds with one stone.” A key feature of INBs is test preparation. When a student cuts out a matchbook style foldable of M. A.I.N. (the main causes of World War I–Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism, and Nationalism), they are not only synthesizing information from lecture notes; they are also creating a study guide or essay pre-write for the upcoming unit test. Many teachers permit students to use their INBs on quizzes and tests to motivate proper notebook preparation and completion. Other teachers value the INB as a learning end in of itself as a performance-based assessment.

4. Interactive notebooks are a cross-curricular approach to instruction and learning. More and more schools have adopted INBs as the learning approach in all content-based and skill-based subject areas or classes: reading, science, math, history/social studies, language arts, art, and foreign language study. The authors of the Common Core emphasize the important of cross-curricular, interdependent instruction in the College and Career Readiness and Anchor Standards. Secondary schools in particular have embraced schoolwide AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) strategies such as Cornell Notes in their INB classrooms. INBs truly can serve the purpose of providing a similar user-friendly language of instruction, organization, and philosophy of learning. BTW, my recently completed INB provides both student and teacher lessons in Cornell Notes format.

Product Review Quotes 2A5. Interactive notebooks make sense of lecture and note-taking. The Common Core State Standards are indeed rigorous and require more, not less, input. The world knowledge base is compounding. Well-planned lectures still are viable and significant means of instructional delivery for both elementary and secondary classrooms. Rather than slowing the pace of instruction and causing day-dream boredom with elongated “interactive lectures,” INBs provide the interactivity within the notebooks themselves. Gone are the days of fifty minute didactic lecture-speeches with only a few question-answer interruptions. Teachers find that shorter 20 minute lectures with connected INB activities for the remaining 30 minutes get better results.

6. Interactive notebooks de-emphasize isolated practice. All too often in many classrooms, practice has been unrelated to instruction or student needs. INB teachers find that connected practice in the notebook serves students better than isolated drill and kill worksheets. Of course, targeted worksheets tied to an INB lecture or activity can certainly be added into the notebook itself. Glue is not for foldables alone.

7. Interactive notebooks provide “published” learning portfolios. In many respects, INBs have mimicked the writing process. Years ago, teachers began seeing the value of a step-by-step writing process in which the ultimate goal of publication for an authentic audience (not just the teacher-grader) was the end goal. Publication increases motivation and accountability, as well as the quality of work. In the case of the INB, the publication includes peer and parent review or presentation in class, parent-student-teacher-counselor conferences, and at Open House. Many teachers pass along INBs to the next grade level teacher as portfolios of student work for review or to continue the notebook. Publication provides concrete evidence of students’ learning. If they know it, they will show it becomes the mantra of an INB instructional approach.

8. Interactive notebooks teach the values of organization, neatness, and pride of work. “Since when did neatness and coloring become Standards?” complains one teacher. It’s true that some teachers go over the top in terms of time expended upon or concentration on neatness and appearance of the notebooks. Most INB teachers strike a workable balance between achievement and effort. Rafael will never produce the same level of artistic accomplishment as Janie. His lack of fine motor skills and her cool sets of high quality pastels and colored markers ensure their respective outcomes. However, it is certainly reasonable to expect Rafael to adhere to the organizational demands of the notebook and use the color coding to properly categorize the kingdoms and phyla for his science INB. Plus, his table of contents, numbered pages, and right-left orientation have to be accurate. Additionally, Janie’s INB has to have accurate content, insightful reflection, and properly annotated margin notes on her close readings and not just a Da Vinci quality INB. A little bit of peer pressure certainly does not hurt, nor does teacher affirmation of everyone showing pride of work and doing the best they can.Product Review Quotes 3A

9. Interactive notebooks provide a classroom management system for effective learning. One of the tenets of P.B.S. (Positive Behavior Support) is that an active and productive class setting with clear behavioral and academic expectations helps behaviorally challenged students stay engaged in the learning activities. Students are far less likely to cause class disruptions when they are invested in “hands-on” doing-style learning. Additionally, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Bored students create problems. The INB keeps students focused on the learning task, even when a social environment is permitted.

10. Many students love interactive notebooks. Students prefer INB over tradition instruction because the notebooks are personalized and interactive. Students enjoy the social nature of the INB process. The learn by doing philosophy has been a particularly American approach to learning ever since John Dewey advocated this practice over a century ago. Students rarely describe INB classes as “boring.” And let’s face it; almost everyone loves to color:)

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

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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

Or check out the traditional style Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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

10 Reasons Not to Use Interactive Notebooks

Interactive notebooks are riding a crest of popularity in both elementary and secondary schools. A brief Google search finds 6,850,000 results for “interactive notebooks” (INBs) in all subject areas: math, science, reading, language arts, social studies/history, foreign language study, and art. Some schools are now completely cross-curricular INB instruction in all subject areas and homeschool education has especially latched onto this educational approach. Whether you are an INB aficionado or skeptic, veteran or noob, it’s helpful to take a step back to analyze the pros and cons as to whether INBs should have a place in your classroom. Let’s start with the cons and examine 10 Reasons Not to Use Interactive Notebooks. My article, 10 Reasons to Use Interactive Notebooks, will strike the pro and con balance. I’ve also compiled a helpful checklist of essential selection criteria for teachers and schools considering purchase of INB programs.

I certainly have no ax to grind regarding INBs. I sell my own Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4-8 HERE. I also sell a more traditional grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling and vocabulary program (See product information at end of article). So, I am well-acquainted with the pros and cons of INBs in the ELA subject area. I have also used the Teachers’ Curriculum Institute (TCI) Interactive Student Notebooks to teach history/social studies and loved this instructional approach. However, INBs are not for everyone.

To get beyond my own biases, I checked out dozens of INBs and INB templates (most INBs use foldable, pop-out, 3D graphic organizers) in all subject areas: both products for sale and sharable lessons found on teacher blogs, Pinterest, and Facebook. I focused on reader comments to produce the following 10 Reasons Not to Use Interactive Notebooks list. On Teachers Pay Teachers I read over 5,000 individual comments on the INB products and purchased the two most popular (and wonderful) products for thorough review: Erin Cobb’s Interactive Grammar Notebook for Common Core Grades 4-8 (over 30,000 sold with more than 6,000 product reviews at the time of this writing) and Nicole Shelby’s grades 2-5 Interactive Language Notebooks (14,531 product reviews). About 98% of the product reviews for these two products were positive; however, because Teachers Pay Teachers offers incentives for reviews, the vast majority of the reviews are completed upon first glance at the materials and not after using the materials in the classroom. Most reviews are extremely brief, such as “Great!” “Thanks for sharing,” etc. For the following list of 10 con reasons, I’ve included actual comments from all INB product reviews, staff room, conference workshops/webinars, and a few of my own. I’ve intentionally decided not to cite names or products referred to in the reviews. My goal is not to offend, but to inform.

After posting this article last year, I’ve updated it (in blue text) to show how I addressed the following concerns as I field-tested my new Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4, 5, 6.

10 Reasons Not to Use Interactive NotebooksInteractive Notebooks

1. Interactive notebooks waste too much class time. Because INBs involve copying, coloring, writing, cutting and pasting graphic organizers (plus many other activities), many teachers find that this instructional approach takes up too many classroom minutes. Plus, some students just take much more time than others. INBs may be more conducive to elementary teachers or secondary teachers on a block schedule, rather than to secondary teachers on a traditional five or six period per day schedule. BTW… through field-testing in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade classes, I was able to get my INB lessons down to 40 minutes per lesson, twice a week… primarily by cutting out wasted student copying time and printing the front side text of the graphic organizers. Students focus on writing the examples, annotating the Cornell Notes lesson text, and writing on the back of their 3D graphic organizers. More time learning and less wasted class time. I also designed the lessons so that teachers can choose to teach all or part of the lesson and use all, some, or none of the online links and resources and still cover the focus standards and allow students to succeed on the biweekly unit tests.

2. Interactive notebooks require too much prep time. Creating both teacher input and student response activities is extremely time-consuming. Many teachers have purchased published INBs to save time, only to find that the advanced preparation required to complete complicated INB activities is much more than expected. Most INBs require voluminous copying (and copy expense), pre-cutting (to save paper costs), sorting, and distribution of the copies, markers, glue, scissors, and the notebooks themselves. Plus, most INB publisher programs require teachers to create their own notebooks as models and as reference for absent student make-ups. For my INB, I opted to create a completely no-prep design to enable teachers to “teach on the fly.” Perfect for new teachers, veteran grammarians, and even substitutes! I created the teacher pages to provide a completed INB with all examples, answers, and notes so that absent students will be able to use these resources to catch up upon their return to class. Simple, but effective.

3. Interactive notebooks require too much correcting time. Every Friday afternoon, I help one of my favorite seventh grade history teachers out to the parking lot with her two folding crate carts full of 115 INBs. She actually has 230 students, so she staggers the bi-weekly grading (She sees each class every other day). Yes, she uses peer grading, some self-grading, and only grades selective work, but even with these work smarter, not harder techniques, it takes her all Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I experimented for an entire year on this. I found that students can accurately self-correct and self-edit the practice exercises, sentence dictation formative assessments, grammar cartoon responses, and writing applications from the display of the teacher pages. Students earn a maximum of 10 points per lesson (6 for the practice exercise; 2 for the sentence dictations; 1 for the grammar cartoon response; and 1 for the writing application (plus 1 point if the student shares his or her writing application with the class). Students learn best from correcting their own mistakes. I collect the INBs after 8 lessons (monthly) and skim grade for completeness, grading accuracy, and neatness. It takes about a minute per student and I award 50 points. Problem solved! Spend more time teaching and less time correcting.

4. Interactive notebooks are a mess. It doesn’t take a neat freak to abandon the INB instructional approach. You may be a great housekeeper at home and in your classroom, but even well-trained students do no always share your values. Despite the best classroom management skills, glue spills, tiny paper scraps, ruined INB covers (or lost INBs) will be headaches for any teacher using INBs and for every custodian. At my school custodians vacuum only once per week. The last period of the day gets clean-up duty, but it’s not perfect. Plus, INB clean-up takes up more class and prep time. I’m not going to lie; even my INB can be messy; however, I learned from field testing with the more artsy, complicated foldables in the two products mentioned above, that students prefer simpler 3D graphic organizers with less complicated cutting, coloring, and folding. They use the 3D graphic organizer templates from Tangstar (the best on the web) much more as study aids than the other art project foldables. The also focus more on the classification and matching by color that make the graphic organizers essential components of the INB. You can overdo a good thing. Many teachers give up on the INB because of the wasted class time and mess. Less complicated graphic organizers with fewer intricate cuts, folds, and gluing means the same consistent directions each time. So less confusion, less problems for students with poor hand-eye coordination, less tears, and less wasted class time. You can still be cute and stylish without being a complete mess.

5. Interactive notebooks can dumb-down content instruction. The Common Core State Standards have “upped the rigor” for most Interactive Notebookssubject areas. The high stakes PAARC and Smarter Balanced tests do not assess the way that most INB programs approach teaching and learning. The simple fact is that many times content and practice is limited to what will fit in the “cool flower petal” foldable. The graphics lend themselves to Depth of Knowledge, or Costa’s Levels, or Bloom’s Taxonomy lowest levels. The “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” (math order of operations), “King Henry Doesn’t Usually Drink Chocolate Milk (science metric units), or F.A.N.B.O.Y.S. (ELA coordinating conjunctions) work great for 3D graphics, but not so great for higher level thinking skills. I chose to include analytical and inferential responses to the grammar cartoons and provide a writing application for each grammar lesson. Nothing is wrong with defining and identifying; however, higher order application is also important. Each unit test requires these skills for every lesson component.

6. Interactive notebooks focus on teacher-centered instruction. The design of INBs is centered on teacher input (traditionally the right side of the page, but others go left) and student response (on the opposite page). The rudder steers the boat; the boat does not steer the rudder. Although some teachers in flipped or inquiry-based classrooms still use INBs, this is uncommon. Yes, students can personalize their responses and extend their learning with INBs, but time and resources are limitations. Additionally, INBs focus on grade-level instruction; the focus is on the content or skills (the Standards), not the individual student’s needs. None of the INBs I have seen do a decent job of individualizing instruction or helping students (remedial, EL, special ed) catch up while they keep up with grade level instruction. However, my INB is different. I’ve included over 100 online resources, including remedial worksheets for dozens of key spelling, mechanics, and grammar content and skills. Each has a formative assessment to determine student mastery. Teachers can individualize instruction without tearing their hair out. These printable resources are perfect for learning centers, writers workshop mini-lessons, homework, or classwork.

7. Interactive notebooks do a poor job of assessment-based instruction or learning. Rarely do INBs include formative assessments of the focus Standards or teacher’s behavioral objectives. Some would argue that INBs use embedded assessments in the application and response to teacher input found on the foldables; however, most of this is copying or done in pairs or small groups. Students get no immediate feedback and teachers don’t usually adjust instruction or re-teach according to the student work. I have not seen formative assessments incorporated into INB programs. Therefore, individualized or differentiated instruction is precluded without access to student performance data. Most teachers do allow students to use INBs on unit tests. The latter is a good idea. My INB has one mechanics and one grammar sentence dictation for each lesson. Students use the lesson content to write or revise a sentence dictated by their teacher.

Mechanics Dictation Example: “John and Carla loaded green beans, salad, and fruit on their plates.” Serial Comma Standard

Grammar Dictation Example: Revise the following sentence, placing the adverbial clause at the beginning of the sentence– “The girl stops playing, whenever I ask her, and listens to me. Answer for Students to Self-Correct and Self-edit: “Whenever I ask her, the girl stops playing and listens to me.” Adverbial (Subordinating) Clause Standard

The teacher uses the sense of the class to formatively assess whether additional individualized practice is needed (see #6 above for resources) or re-teaching. Learning is the goal in my INB, not teaching.

8. Interactive notebooks instruction is supplemental and reductive. Most teachers and publishers use INBs as supplemental anchor Standards instruction. This is particularly true with Standards-based INB programs. For example, many of the ELA language (grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary) programs restrict instruction to the listed Language Standards, ignoring the grade to grade Progressive Skills Review and other key content and skills in the subject matter which is foundational for instruction (and assumed by the Common Core authors). Any supplemental (or core) program is reductive. Time and energy focused on one instructional or learning task takes away time from another. (As an author aside, for years I have railed against spending valuable class time babysitting students while they do sustained-silent reading for this very reason. Click to read). As an example of the reductive nature of INBs, the inordinate amount of time and energy expended with these notebooks on some Standards takes away from the purported purpose of the INBs: to prepare students for reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Plenty of preparation, but little practice. It’s like appetizers without the main course. Teachers certainly do modify INB instruction by picking and choosing which lessons to do or not do, but this tends to foster hodgepodge instruction with little fidelity to a published program. My INB is designed for core content instruction. The twice-per-week lessons take 40 minutes per. I do offer separate grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 spelling and vocabulary programs. Each is designed to not take up excessive class time.

Interactive Notebooks

What Teachers Have to Say About Interactive Notebooks

9. Interactive notebooks are not “real world” instruction. Most of our students will not attend universities in which professors will use INB instruction. Most of our students will not wind up in workplaces in which they create learning or product portfolios (Certainly there will be exceptions). Additionally, though some teachers and publishers have integrated online resources into INB instruction, the focus is paper. I am intrigued with notion of a digital INB and am in the process of integrating that learning platform into the traditional INB I am working on… you can cut, past, color, and copy on computers 🙂 Over 100 links and resources, including the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) resources are a click away in my INB. And all have express permission from the publishers, unlike many other INBs with unauthorized YouTube videos or songs.

10. Many students hate interactive notebooks. My mom worked as a “soda jerk” during her high school years in a small Texas town drugstore. After her shift she was allowed to make herself one treat. Her favorite treat was a pineapple sundae. After two weeks of pineapple sundaes, my mom never ate one again. Due to the trending popularity of INBs, your students have “been there and done that.” They are tired of the same pineapple sundae, even if you are not. It is certainly not true that every upper elementary, and especially every middle school student, loves to copy, color, cut, and paste. Some students, like my youngest son, are not artsy fartsy, even if their teacher spends hours on Pinterest daily. Instead of building a medieval castle, we begged his seventh grade teacher to let him write a report of medieval castles. Instead of coloring everything in the INB, we begged his eighth grade teacher to let him produce a collage of computer images. Some students just learn differently and prefer other means of acquiring and processing knowledge. The most useful revisions in terms of format, style, grading, and lesson components for my INB came from students in the classroom. They are ruthless editors and demanding consumers, but they are our learners. The success of my INB will largely be credited to kids from my classrooms and from those of my colleagues. Thank you.

To order my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4-8, click HERE and enter discount code 3716 to receive 10% off the lowest price on the web.

Interactive notebooks are not for everyone. For a more systematic and comprehensive language curriculum, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

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

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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

Verbing: Making Nouns into Verbs

Donald Trump does it all the time. Twitter has taught the more verbose of us how to keep it short. In fact, all social media has made us more concise. Of course, verbing (changing nouns into verbs) didn’t start with the Internet. It’s been done for years. However, since Facebook changed friend (the noun) into friend (the verb), verbing has becoming more and more accepted. For more details on verbing, check out Richard Nordquist article on Verbing.

By the way, the converse process in which verbs (or other parts of speech) are turned into nouns is called nominalization. Ah! Facebook strikes again by changing the verb like into the noun a like. Check out the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) article on Nominalizations.

I started thinking about how many things label our physical appearance and how many have suffered the casualities of verbing. Check out David Rickert’s cartoon with my own verbing captions. Wow! We do love verbing.

Verbing changes nouns into verbs

Verbing: Changing Nouns into Verbs

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

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

The author’s Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Also, check out the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the program.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated by both older readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Teachers print their own copies :).

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

New Teacher Resources: 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets

Veteran ELA and reading teachers learn to expect the unexpected. After all, things don’t always go as planned in the classroom. But, if you’re new to the profession, it may be helpful to remember the Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared.”

For example, a seventh grade ELA colleague ran into our staff workroom a few months back, screaming “Oh s___! They’re done.” Believe me. It will happen to you.

Students do finish early or take more time than planned. Sometimes students need more practice, while others do not.

Also, stuff happens. The projector bulb burned out and no one ordered any. It wasn’t supposed to rain today. I just can’t teach with this headache, and there’s no one to cover for me. “Ring, ring. Sorry to interrupt, but Johnny’s mother called and he will be on vacation for two weeks. She wants to pick up his work in an hour.” “Yvette needs more challenging work. Do you have something we could do to support her at home?”

All teachers need back-up. Wouldn’t it be great to have something ready to go just in case? And something good−not drill and kill like “Circle the 400 nouns in this story”; not lame busy work like a word search or crossword.

1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets for Grades 4-8 Teachers

Every teacher needs back-up!

How about 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets? Independent content and skill worksheets for grades 4−8 with easy to follow directions, clear definitions and examples, concise practice sections, writing applications, and answers for students to self-correct. Plus a short formative assessment for you to evaluate whether the student has mastered the content or skill in a mini-conference when things get back to normal. Standards-based, quality instruction in grammar, usage, mechanics, reading skills, spelling patterns, writing skills, study skills, and critical thinking. No prep and no correction. Perfect for both veteran and new teachers. Use the free assessments on our website and assign these worksheets to individualize assessment-based instruction.

Also, new teachers need answers to their questions. And you will have questions! However, at this point, you may not know what you don’t know. Student teaching helps, but every class and teaching situation is new. Talk to any veteran teacher. We all have butterflies about the first day of school. Many of us have a few nightmares as well. Here are a few things you might think of… Don’t get overwhelmed, but it’s good to know new teachers and veteran teachers are in the same boat. Just don’t be up a creek without a paddle. Get those worksheetsJ.

Matt Davis has put together a great set of new teacher resources on Edutopia:
New (Middle School) Teacher 911 From MiddleWeb
: Great for middle school teachers. I’m one of them!
National Education Association’s New Teacher Resources: Great collection from our collective teacher voice.
Scholastic’s New Teacher Survival Guides: Something new teachers need for every month of your first year, Check outand the The New Teacher’s Guide to Creating Lesson Plans.
Teaching Channel’s New Teacher Survival Guide: Plenty of advice and discussion here for new teachers.

What makes these 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets so special? Each worksheet has been designed for individualized instruction with formative assessments and most include answers for students to self-correct in order to learn from their own mistakes. Each worksheet has been field-tested in grades 4−8 teacher classrooms as part of the author’s comprehensive programs: Teaching the Language Strand, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Teaching Essay Strategies, Teaching Reading Strategies, Essential Study Skills, and Critical Thinking Openers Toolkit. But don’t my word for it. Check out the previews for yourself and what other teachers have to say.

Written by a teacher for teachers and their students. It shows. You write like I teach.

Jeanne Alread

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. The worksheets are fantastic. I’m teaching each Standard in the Language Strand and remediating previous grade level Standards.

Julie Villenueve

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

How to Individualize Instruction

Chances are that you are the type of ELA or reading teacher who wants to get better at what you do.

Good teachers refine their units and lesson plans to provide quality direct instruction to the whole class. Great teachers, and frankly some never take this step, figure out how to address the individual learning needs of their students.

Now I’m not talking about revamping your class(es) into some crazy differentiated instruction-learning centers-reading writing workshop-personalized learning circus in which you create individual lessons for every student every day. Some teachers try that… for a year or two. What I am talking about is a sensible, few minutes each day plan to help your students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction. I call this Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI).  Simply defined, Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI) is a commitment to students to help them catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

Here’s how to implement ABI: In the first two weeks of school, administer  some of these free whole class diagnostic assessments: Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Syllable Awareness, Syllable Rhyming, Phonemic Isolation, Phonemic Blending, Phonemic Segmenting, Alphabetic Upper and Lower Case Letter Match and Alphabetic Sequencing, Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment, Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Outlaw Words Assessment, Rimes Assessment, Sight Syllables Assessment, Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, and an Individual Fluency Assessment. Each assessment includes recording matrices for progress monitoring. Plus, most include audio files for easy administration and make-ups.

Next, find targeted worksheets and activities which perfectly correspond to each item in the diagnostic assessments you choose to administer. You could create these resources, but why reinvent the wheel?

For a few minutes each day (as classwork or homework), students complete the worksheets and activities for each item missed on their diagnostic assessments. After completing an assignment, students self-correct and edit from answer booklets to learn from their own mistakes. Print up several booklets so that more than one student can correct at the same time. Finally, students complete a short formative assessment and mini-conference with the teacher to determine if mastery has been achieved. No extra prep, no extra correcting, no classroom circus. You may wish to check out my related articles: 8 Keys to Classroom Management with Assessment-Based Instruction and Using Student Data to Inform Instruction for detailed instructions.

That’s assessment-based learning which targets the individual needs of your students. That’s what great teachers do.

The author of this article includes targeted worksheets and activities with formative assessments in each of his ELA and reading intervention programs to help students “catch up” to grade-level instruction. Each Pennington Publishing program provides Standards-based whole class and individualized instruction.

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

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

Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Also, check out the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the program.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated byboth older readers. The teenage chpositive values and character development. Teachers print their own copies 🙂

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

Using Student Data to Inform Instruction

In my last article, Assessment-Based Instruction, I discussed the importance of whole class diagnostic assessments for ELA and reading intervention teachers. I also provided a link to free diagnostic assessments (including answers and recording matrices).

ABI is a commitment to students to help them catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction. The dual focus is important. Direct whole class instruction is an essential means of delivering Standards-based grade-level instruction; however, the diversity of our learners demands that we concurrently teach to the needs of individual students.

In this article I will provide the research base (from the federal government What Works Clearinghouse) and practical tips regarding the use of formative assessments for ELA and reading intervention teachers. Specifically, we will discuss how quick formative assessments can be used on targeted worksheets and activities to address diagnostically assess determined ELA and reading skill deficits to help students “catch up” to grade level instruction. In other words, this article will not discuss how the teacher can use formative assessments, such as “thumbs up, show me your answer” techniques or embedded assessments, in whole class direct instruction to help students “keep up” with grade level Standards.

The What Works Clearinghouse report, “Using Student Data to Inform Instruction,” applies the most relevant educational research on both uses of formative assessments. Regarding the use of formative assessments to cater instruction to the demonstrated needs of individual students, the report concludes:

“Armed with data and the means to harness the information data can provide, educators can make instructional changes aimed at improving student achievement, such as: prioritizing instructional time; targeting additional individual instruction for students who are struggling with particular topics; more easily identifying individual students’ strengths and instructional interventions that can help students continue to progress…”

The report has recommendations for both teachers and students:

  1. “Make data part of an ongoing cycle of instructional improvement. Collect and prepare a variety of data about student learning. Interpret data and develop hypotheses about how to improve student learning.
  2. Teach students to examine their own data and set learning goals. Teachers should provide students with explicit instruction on using achievement data regularly to monitor their own performance and establish their own goals for learning. This data analysis process—similar to the data use cycle for teachers described in recommendation 1—can motivate both elementary and secondary students by mapping out accomplishments that are attainable, revealing actual achievement gains and providing students with a sense of control over their own outcomes. Teachers can then use these goals to better understand factors that may motivate student performance and adjust their instructional practices accordingly. Students are best prepared to learn from their own achievement data when they understand the learning objectives and when they receive data in a user-friendly format.”

Here’s how to follow these What Works Clearinghouse recommendations:

1. After administering content and skill-based ELA and reading assessments, teachers chart the student results data as relative strengths and weaknesses on progress monitoring matrices.

2. Teachers share this data with students and explain how to interpret the information on the matrices. I suggest a simple system of a numbered list of boxes, corresponding to the diagnostic assessments, in which a blank box indicates mastery of the skill or content and a slash (“/”) indicates a skill or content that needs to be mastered.

3. The teacher helps students and their parents set individual goals to “catch up” to grade level instruction by mastering each deficit.

4. Teachers purchase or create diagnostically-based ELA and reading worksheets and activities to address each numbered skill or content focus.

In a 2016 article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” for the American Psychological Association, researchers recommend the following guidelines for deliberate practice (re-ordered and edited). My comments follow. These are necessary components for well-designed targeted worksheets or activities:

  • “Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Directions must facilitate independent practice and be consistent across all worksheets and activities. If a teacher is assigning different learning activities to different students, students must be able to work on their own to free teachers up to monitor the class as a whole.
  • Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. Students need both clear definitions and specific examples to learn unmastered content and skills.
  • Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Students need just enough, but not too much practice on any content or skill. Additionally, students need immediate feedback on their practice. Rather than having students turn work for teacher grading, I suggest providing answer booklets to permit students to grade and self-edit their own work. Students learn best when correcting their own errors. The teacher requires student to use different color pens or pencils for corrections and assures student that they will not be penalized for wrong answers to discourage cheating. This process affords the students with immediate feedback and re-teaching.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. After self-correcting their practice, students complete a quick formative assessment to master the content or skill. I recommend a writing application.

Following are examples of quick writing application formative assessments for remedial ELA and reading worksheets:

  • Spelling−Write an original sentence including each example of the i before e spelling rule, not using any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Grammar−Write an original sentence including the past progressive verb tense, not using any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Mechanics−Write an original sentence including proper use of commas with three items in a list, not using any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Writing−Write an original paragraph without using any “to be” verbs. Don’t use any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Reading−Write an original sentence in which you infer what the author means in this sentence.
  • Vocabulary−Write an original sentence, using context clues to show the meaning of hyperbole.

5. After completing the formative assessment, a student brings the self-graded worksheet or activity up to the teacher for review in a mini-conference. The teacher discusses the writing application with the student and determines whether mastery has or has not been achieved. If mastered, the student is instructed to change the slash (/) into an “X” on the recording matrix. I recommend posting the class matrices on the wall with either student names or i.d. numbers; however, other teachers have students keep their own writing folders with individual matrices. If the formative assessment has not been mastered, the teacher may elect to have students re-do the sentence or complete additional remedial work on the content or skill with formative assessment.

The author of this article includes targeted worksheets and formative assessments in each of his ELA and reading intervention programs to help students “catch up” to grade-level instruction. Mark Pennington’s programs also provide Standards-based instruction, which use formative assessments to inform teacher instruction of the grade-level Standards.

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

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

Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Also, check out the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the program.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated by both older readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Teachers print their own copies :).

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

8 Keys to Classroom Management with Assessment-Based Instruction

Most ELA and reading teachers are certainly willing to experiment with both classroom management and instructional delivery models. A few colleagues are “stuck in the mud,” but most will try something new to add to their bag of tricks or conclude that “This didn’t work for me.” Of course, a few zealots will proselytize their particular approach with the attitude that “every teacher should be doing this,” but most teachers eventually adopt a “live and let live” model in which they accept the fact that “what works for you and your students may not work for me.” Good administrators draw the same conclusions. Now, I’m not saying that all approaches to classroom management and instructional delivery are equally effective. What I am saying is that teachers want to be good at what they do and so seek a workable balance between what is best for their students and what is best for their individual teacher comfort zones.

While educators readily agree to the fact that each student is different, less often do we admit that teachers are different, too. The same approach to classroom management and instructional delivery won’t work for every teacher. The following 10 keys to classroom management are designed for teachers who want to help their students “catch up,” while they “keep up” with grade-level instruction BUT in an instructional delivery model which facilitates an orderly, on-task, relatively quiet, and time-managed learning environment in which the teacher delegates some, but not all, control and responsibility of the learning to students. I call this instructional approach Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI). Simply defined, Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI) is a commitment to students to help them catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

In a nutshell, ABI affirms the role of whole-class direct instruction and other instructional delivery models (Socratic Seminars, Inquiry-Based Learning, Literacy Circles, Writers Workshop, etc.) for grade-level instruction (the “keep up,”) but also uses the results of whole class diagnostic assessments of previous grade-level Standards to cater instruction according to individual student needs (the “catch up”) for remediation. The 8 keys to classroom management for Assessment-Based Instruction help teachers implement the instructional “catch up,” to keep students engaged in learning while maintaining teacher sanity.

The 8 Keys

  1. Create, find, or purchase targeted remedial worksheets and independent activities which specifically address items tested in whole class diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, reading, and writing assessments. Directions must be concisely and clearly written so that students can complete the worksheets and activities independently. Each must provide samples (examples) of each instructional application of the focus concept or skill. Each must include a practice section that is not too long, and not too short. Each must have a formative assessment (a brief written application of the concept or skill) to determine mastery. Number each worksheet or activity and print copies according to how many students failed to master each assessment item. File the worksheets or activities according to the numbers in boxes or cabinets that are easily accessible by students.
  2. Post the results of the diagnostic assessments (by name or student i.d.) or pass out to each student. Simple recording matrices work best. Record an unmastered “/” below the numbered item indicates a corresponding worksheet or activity that must be completed, corrected, and presented to the teacher to determine whether mastery has been achieved.
  3. Teach students not to complete the formative assessment until they have self-corrected the rest of the worksheet from answer booklets. Post several answer booklets around the room. Allowing students to self-correct helps them learn from their mistakes before completing the formative assessment.
  4. Instruct students to bring the worksheet or activity up to the teacher to mini-conference with you for thirty seconds to review the worksheet. Many teachers like to place themselves in the center of their classroom. A mini-conference focuses on the formative assessment, not the practice.
  5. If a student has mastered the formative assessment, the teacher directs the student to change the slash (/) into an “X” for mastery on the appropriate box on the recording matrix. The teacher assigns a reward for mastery: a grade, points, peer and parent recognition, etc.
  6. If the student id not master the rule, skill, or concept on the formative assessment, re-teach during the mini-conference. Then direct the student to re-do the formative assessment and return for re-correction.
  7. Limit the waiting line for mini-conferences to three students at one time. Teach students to continue working on new worksheets or activities while waiting for the mini-conference. Many teachers use a pick a number system or a write a name on the board system.
  8. Help students set their own goals for their own progress. Include parents in the goal-setting and progress monitoring
Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

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

The author’s Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Also, check out the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the program.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated by both older readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Teachers print their own copies :).

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

Assessment-Based Instruction

As a reading specialist teaching seventh grade English-language arts and reading intervention classes at a lower-performing urban middle school, I start off the school year administering reading, spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics diagnostic assessments to my students. Most of you won’t be surprised to learn that the diagnostic data indicate that some students have severe instructional gaps.

I’ve especially noticed a decline in these basic skill areas over the last five years as teachers have been largely expected to re-invent the wheel and create Common Core aligned units and lesson plans. Last year, the ten members of our ELA department never even checked the district adopted ELA textbooks out of our library. Everything now being Common Core-ized. Now, I’m not blaming the Common Core State Standards for the decline in basic ELA and reading skills. Having taught a number of years, I know that major educational transitions always coincide with some decline until teachers get up to speed with the new Standards, educational approach to instruction, curriculum, administration, economic downturn. Teachers do have a way of making lemonade out of lemons, but many of our students do have ELA and reading skill deficits.

So, what should teachers do to address these academic deficits? Answer: Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI).

Oh great… another acronym, another educational approach, another district “bold goal” to direct district-trainings and faculty meetings, another instructional movement to provide conference speakers the subject of keynote addresses, fodder for a new book for Heinemann, oh… a grant from the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation. No. The last thing teachers need is something new. It’s time for something old that has stood the test of time. Something that steals from the best. Something that will last beyond the three-year life cycle of most educational approaches. Something that can be explained in one sentence–simple, but not simplistic.

Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI): Defined

Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI) is a commitment to students to help them catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

Rationale

“We teach children, not Standards.” Most of the states are still hanging on to the Common Core State Standards. Some have dropped them and have been developing their own versions; however, the standards-based movement is still alive and well. In the midst of this movement, educators have to remember why we got into the education business: to teach students, to teach subject material, and to have summers off :). I would hazard to guess that none of us wrote “My passion is to teach the ELA or reading Standards” on our teacher credential program application letters.

So much of our teaching involves training students to be good people. Good citizens. Kind and respectful. Well-balanced. Healthy and happy. We know that children are snowflakes. Each is different and requires different approaches to get the results we want. Teachers know that Roberto has different instructional needs (catch up) than does Luis (gifted and talented designation), than does Pedro (auditory deficits), than does Ivan (English-language learner), etc. Yes, all of them need access to and instruction in the grade-level Standards (keep up). Again, teaching different children (ages 4-18) necessitates a catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instructional approach.

“Learning is recursive.” When the Common Core State Standards first came out, I was relieved to see the inclusion of Appendix A. Appendix A provides so much validation of what teachers already know and do. The Common Core authors affirm the facts that learning is recursive and instruction must be cyclical as well as linear. In fact, anyone who has taught the basic parts of speech to freshman in high school won’t be surprised to learn that excellent teachers from elementary school and middle school taught the same parts of speech every year.

Because learning does not always pursue a linear path, the Common Core authors included numerous documents such as the Progressive Skills Review in the Language Strand to identify key grammar, usage, and mechanics re-teaching at every K-12 grade level. As teachers who believe in recursive instruction, we have to use such documents as ammunition when called upon to focus, focus, focus on grade-level Standards, especially for the PAARC and SBAT tests. We need to be equipped to counter the thoughts of some, like my former principal, who told me, “We can’t teach basic reading skills at middle school. That was the job of elementary teachers. If students can’t read, our elementary teachers are the ones to blame. That’s not our job.” Or a district language coach who asked me, “Why are you teaching that? It’s a fourth grade Standard.” Because they don’t know it!

“If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.”

If teachers believe that students need to catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction, it simply makes sense to find out what students know and what they don’t know. Only reliable diagnostic assessments can answer this question. Since my focus is on ELA and reading, I’ve developed whole class, internally and externally valid assessments in reading, spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics to help students show what they know and don’t know. Check out these free, quick and easy-to-grade diagnostic assessments: Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Syllable Awareness, Syllable Rhyming, Phonemic Isolation, Phonemic Blending, Phonemic Segmenting, Alphabetic Upper and Lower Case Letter Match and Alphabetic Sequencing, Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment, Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Outlaw Words Assessment,Rimes Assessment, Sight Syllables Assessment, Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, and an Individual Fluency Assessment. Each includes recording matrices for progress monitoring and most have audio files. What’s the catch? If you use ’em, you’re gonna want to teach to ’em. Our Pennington Publishing program resources are all assessment-based, teacher-created resources; and they perfectly correspond to the items in the comprehensive diagnostic assessments. For example, if Annie misses the items on vowel digraphs, there are worksheets and activities for that. If Andre misses the commas in a list test item, there are worksheets and activities for that. Every resource has a formative assessment to check mastery. Oh, and answers as well. You could create these, but why reinvent the wheel?

Our next article really deals with where the rubber meets the road. How does Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI) handle the management issue? How can teachers help their students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction without the usual nightmares of any instructional approach other than whole-class direct instruction? Think differentiated instruction, individualized instruction, personalized instruction, learning centers, readers and writers workshops, cooperative groups, learning style groups, etc. for examples of “been there, done that, won’t do that again” instructional approaches. Let’s invest in an approach to instruction that makes sense.

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

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

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language componeGrammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Program.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Also, check out the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the program.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated by both older readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Teachers print their own copies :).

 

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

10 Reasons Differentiated Instruction Died

At the height of the free-wheeling differentiated instruction movement, I and a number of educators interested in teaching to individual student needs tried with only minimal success to co-opt the movement into something that teachers would actually implement in their classrooms. Teachers heard a lot of idealistic approaches at conferences and in university classrooms, and some testimonials from superstar teachers, but differentiated instruction never gained traction in the typical teacher’s classroom. The same has turned out to be the case with both individualized instruction, and personalized instruction. Brothers of another mother (no matter what the few remaining practitioners claim).

Now the only time I hear differentiated instruction, it seems to be in the context of some snide teacher remark about false expectations or administrative cop-out remarks on teacher evaluations. Sad, but true. Additionally, some elements of some differentiated instruction have fallen into disfavor, such as learning styles and free choice learning.

But back in the day… As a district reading specialist, I learned plenty of practical ideas about differentiating, individualizing, and personalizing instruction−some well worth trying. I would demonstrate an instructional technique or approach with some degree of success in a teachers’ classroom to a rapt audience of 30 fifth-graders or 38 seventh-graders. Of course, the teachers had bribed her class with extra recess time or no homework passes if they behaved perfectly and threatened death and dismemberment if they did not.

I got plenty of compliments about my lessons and consensus that we all have to teach to individual needs, but the teachers never adopted differentiated instruction, individualized instruction, nor personalized instruction in their classrooms.

Why Not?

  1. Behavior Management−Teachers frequently hear conference speakers or university professors trivialize the challenge of any teaching approach other than whole-class direct instruction. I know what teachers think: “He or she does not know my classroom. That might work in an ideal situation, but not where I teach with the constraints that I have.” Behavior management was the first nail in the coffin of differentiated instruction. Simply put, whole-class direct instruction provides teachers with the most control to maintain discipline and structure.
  1. Administrative Gate-Keeping−Administrators like to see students in their seats, quiet, attentive, and on-task. No matter what they say in faculty meetings. To quote from 12 Reasons Why Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction, “Administrator-teacher relationships are optimally viewed as professional and collegial with differences simply being ones of roles and tasks. Practically, administrator-teacher are management and worker relationships. The fact that administrators wield the one-sided powers of evaluation and teacher grade-subject-or schedule assignment make teachers conform to some degree to the wishes and tone of the administration in any school. Teachers who don’t play the game to a certain degree may find their input marginalized or their services outsourced to another site.” The safe choice for any teacher is whole-class direct instruction, not the freedom of choice learning centers, rotating cooperative groups, reading and writing workshops, etc.
  1. Not Enough Prep Time−Any form of individualized instruction requires considerable amounts of lesson preparation, assessment, visits to the copier, and more paper correction. Differentiated instruction meant more work for teachers at home, on weekends, during summer.
  1. Not Enough Class Time−More and more class time is being eaten up by broadening the scope of teaching and adding on subject requirements. With the new PAARC and SBAT assessments in most states, more class time is allocated to test prep and the tests themselves. More state and district mandates steal more class time. Extending the number of instructional days is simply cost-prohibitive. Something’s got to give. Time is reductive. If time were allocated to teaching to the needs of individual students, instructional time would be reduced in other academic areas. A typical teacher legitimate excuse: “I would like to differentiate, but who has the time? There are so many Standards to get to and testing takes up so much time, as well.”
  1. Standards-based instruction−Common Core and the standards movement has made many teachers abandon differentiated instruction. Comprehensive standards and emphasis on teaching to standards-based tests have re-focused many teachers on the what of teaching at the expense of the how and why of teaching. For many teachers, teaching the “power standards,” that is the standards most often tested on the yearly test, are more important than teaching to the needs of individual students. As one colleague once told me, “My job is to teach the grade-level standards, if students have not yet mastered the previous years’ standards, that is the fault of their teachers. I have to do my job, not theirs.”
  1. A Teacher Is Not Omnipresent−Key to individualized instruction is the focus on the individual. Duh! A middle school teacher may have 38 individuals. A teacher can’t be everywhere at once.
  1. Academic Rigor−The emphasis on rigor with high standards has led many teachers to abandon instructed catered to the needs of individual students. The thought is that students need to rise to the level of expectations (without any scaffolded means to do so). Also, the Depth of Knowledge (D.O.K.) Levels movement has made many teachers I know feel that unless their students are involved in instruction at Level 3, they’re not really teaching. Most teachers I know would like to help students “catch up” through scaffolded instruction, while the students concurrently “keep up” with rigorous grade-level instruction. However, teachers often feel the pressure to do the latter at the expense of the former.
  1. Curricular Materials−We tend to use only district adopted instructional materials or the curriculum and class novels that our colleagues use. We may “cut and paste” with a few purchases from Teachers Pay Teachers, but most materials focus on whole-class direct instruction. Districts are always financially strapped. When new English-language arts and reading program adoptions are finally purchased, the ancillary materials e.g. ELD, lower reading level, additional practice, differentiated instruction workbooks, CDs, software are often jettisoned. Teachers are left to create on their own, and they frequently don’t.
  1. Tradition−We tend to teach the way that we learned. “If it was good enough for me, it should be good enough for my students.” Most of us learned through whole-class, non-differentiated instruction.

So the 10 Reasons Differentiated Instruction Died got me wondering… What would teachers not only agree to, but also actually implement in their classrooms to attend to the individual needs of their students? Check out my article on Assessment-Based Instruction for some answers.

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

Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

According the the authors of the Common Core State Standards…

“The importance of students acquiring a rich and varied vocabulary cannot be overstated. Vocabulary has been empirically connected to reading comprehension since at least 1925 (Whipple, 1925) and had its importance to comprehension confirmed in recent years (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). It is widely accepted among researchers that the difference in students’ vocabulary levels is a key factor in disparities in academic achievement (Baumann & Kameenui, 1991; Becker, 1977; Stanovich, 1986) but that vocabulary instruction has been neither frequent nor systematic in most schools (Biemiller, 2001; Durkin, 1978; Lesaux, Kieffer, Faller, & Kelley, 2010; Scott & Nagy, 1997).” Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

Words are important. Of course, every teacher would agree. But which words should we teach? And in what instructional order?

Here’s what the authors have to say about which words

Tier Two words (what the Standards refer to as general academic words) are far more likely to appear in written texts than in speech. They appear in all sorts of texts: informational texts (words such as relative, vary, formulate, specificity, and accumulate), technical texts (calibrate, itemize, periphery), and literary texts (misfortune, dignified, faltered, unabashedly). Tier Two words often represent subtle or precise ways to say relatively simple things—saunter instead of walk, for example. Because Tier Two words are found across many types of texts, they are highly generalizable. Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

Tier Three words (what the Standards refer to as domain-specific words) are specific to a domain or field of study (lava, carburetor, legislature, circumference, aorta) and key to understanding a new concept within a text. Because of their specificity and close ties to content knowledge, Tier Three words are far more common in informational texts than in literature. Recognized as new and “hard” words for most readers (particularly student readers), they are often explicitly defined by the author of a text, repeatedly used, and otherwise heavily scaffolded (e.g., made a part of a glossary). Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

So, every teacher should be focusing on Tier Two words because they are generalizable and they are most frequently used in complex text. For example, the following Standards would be applicable for teaching Tier Two words in ELA classes:

The Language Strand: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, and 6) 

The Standards focus on these kinds of words: multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0). CCSS Language Strand

Tier Three words should be introduced in the context of content study. For example, the following Standard would be applicable for teaching Tier Three words in ELA classes:

The Reading Strand: Literature (Standard 4) Craft and Structure

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama. CCSS Reading: Literature Strand
 *****
Is there any research about the instructional order of Tier Two words

Yes. Dr. Averil Coxhead, senior lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies developed and evaluated The Academic Word List (AWL) for her MA thesis. The list has 570 word families which were selected according to certain criteria:

  • The word families must occur in over half of the 28 academic subject areas. “Just over 94% of the words in the AWL occur in 20 or more subject areas. This principle ensures that the words in the AWL are useful for all learners, no matter what their area of study or what combination of subjects they take at tertiary level.”
  • “The AWL families had to occur over 100 times in the 3,500,000 word Academic Corpus in order to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the words will be met a reasonable number of times in academic texts.” The academic corpus refers to a computer-generated list of most-frequently occurring academic words.
  • “The AWL families had to occur a minimum of 10 times in each faculty of the Academic Corpus to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the vocabulary is useful for all learners.”

Words Excluded From the Academic Word List

  • “Words occurring in the first 2,000 words of English.”
  • “Narrow range words. Words which occurred in fewer than 4 faculty sections of the Academic Corpus or which occurred in fewer than 15 of the 28 subject areas of the Academic Corpus were excluded because they had narrow range. Technical or specialist words often have narrow range and were excluded on this basis.”
  • “Proper nouns. The names of places, people, countries, for example, New Zealand, Jim Bolger and Wellington were excluded from the list.”
  • “Latin forms. Some of the most common Latin forms in the Academic Corpus were et al, etc, ie, and ibid.” http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/resources/academicwordlist/information

Furthermore, computer generated word frequencies have determined the frequency of Greek and Latin word parts. 

  • Over 60% of the words students will encounter in school textbooks have recognizable word parts; and many of these Latin and Greek roots (Nagy, Anderson,Schommer, Scott, & Stallman, 1989).
  • Latin and Greek prefixes, roots, and suffixes have predictable spelling patterns.(Rasinski & Padak, 2001; Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston, 2000).
  • Content area vocabulary is largely Greek and Latin-based and research supports this instruction, especially for struggling readers (Harmon, Hedrick & Wood, 2005).
  • Many words from Greek and Latin word parts are included in “Tier Two” and “Tier Three” words that Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002) have found to be essential to vocabulary word study.
  • Knowing Greek and Latin word parts helps students recognize and gain clues to understanding of other words that use known affixes and roots(Nagy & Scott, 2000).
  • “One Latin or Greek root or affix (word pattern) aids understanding (as well as decoding and encoding) of 20 or more English words.” 
  • “Since Spanish is also a Latin-based language, Latin (and Greek) can be used as a bridge to help Spanish speaking students use knowledge of their native language to learn English.” 

A Model Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Preview the Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. The grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 vocabulary instructional scope and sequence appears at the end of the document and include multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0). Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Mechanics Scope and Sequence, and Spelling Scope and Sequence.

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

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

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.


Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

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Drill and Kill Worksheets

Teachers are no different than most people. They say one thing, but often do another. Most teachers (I certainly will include myself) have at one point in their teaching careers derided the use of drill and kill worksheets as a waste of valuable instructional time. We have slandered rote memorization and isolated skills instruction. We have rolled our eyes and whispered derogatory comments in the staff room about lazy and uncreative Mr. Worksheet. Isn’t it time for him to retire?

However, if you google “grammar worksheets,” you get 2,970,000 hits; if you google “vocabulary worksheets,” you get 8,250,000. Clearly more teachers other than Mr. Worksheet like their worksheets and see the value of deliberate, targeted, independent practice. Thought I’d dig into the educational research a bit to see whether what teachers say or what teachers do makes more sense.

In a 2016 article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” for the American Psychological Association, researchers present the case for deliberate practice: “It doesn’t matter what subject you teach, differences in students performance are affected by how much they engage in deliberate practice… Deliberate practice is not the same as rote repetition. Rote repetition — simply repeating a task — will not by itself improve performance. Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills. Although other factors such as intelligence and motivation affect performance, practice is necessary if not sufficient for acquiring expertise (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

Although deliberate practice is not solely reserved for worksheets, it would certainly seem that targeted, independent worksheets can certainly provide deliberate practice that involves “attention, rehearsal, and repetition” and need not succumb to rote repetition. Worksheets can also introduce and help students practice “new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills.”

Math teacher, Robert Evan Foster, discusses the difference between deliberate practice and rote repetition on math worksheets in an interesting article: “There is a paradoxical problem in teaching math. Students need to know certain mundane facts so they can move on to problem solving. A student who has to look up every multiplication fact on a cheat sheet lengthens their homework algebraically. On one hand, a teacher needs to make sure the students know their math facts. On the other hand, the teacher risks mind numbing boredom on the part of the students doing the homework.”

“I think that the root of the dilemma is found in the length of the worksheets. I was asked the question, ‘If a student can demonstrate that they know how to divide a three-digit number, by a two-digit number 100% of the time with five problems, why do they have to do an additional 45?’ Teachers don’t have to assign more problems than necessary for the student to demonstrate mastery of the math skill. Five problems will do just as well as 50. You have students who are learning their basic math facts. In turn, they aren’t wilting in the field out of boredom doing the last 45 problems.”

So, besides deliberate, targeted practice (avoiding rote memorization) of new knowledge or skills, what do the American Psychological Association researchers suggest? I’ve weeded out a few of their suggestions and focused in these key ones. See the article for the entire list.

Research (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993) suggests several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance. Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction:

  • Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems.
  • Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedback.
  • Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it.
  • Distribute practice over extended periods of time.
  • Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria.
  • Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently.
  • Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies.
  • Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills.

Considering these research suggestions, it certainly seems to me that targeted, independent worksheets can provide effective practice if they are “carefully designed” to apply the educational researchSo maybe what teachers do for their students (using worksheets) actually does make sense.

The author of this article has written English-language arts and reading programs for grades 4-8 teachers and their students which include assessment-based worksheets, designed according to the above research-based suggestions. For examples of worksheets providing deliberate practice according to research suggestions, check out Research-Based Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets, as well as Check out the Research-Based Spelling Patterns Worksheets and the Research-Based Vocabulary Worksheets for examples. Visit the author’s website for product information.

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What to Teach in Reading Intervention

Key instructional components are needed in any successful Tier II and III reading intervention programs. A balanced approach of decoding, encoding, syllabication, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency development will achieve significant results in minimal time.

All too often, teachers will purchase piecemeal programs, such as Read Naturally® or Accelerated Reader™ and expect such programs to suffice as comprehensive reading intervention programs. Clearly, they are not.

Which specific instructional components belong in a balanced reading intervention program?

Program Components

Diagnostic Reading Assessments

  • Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42 audio file and consonants: 12:07 audio file) PLACEMENT ASSESSMENT
  • Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38 audio file) PLACEMENT ASSESSMENT
  • Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minute individual assessment) PLACEMENT ASSESSMENT
  • Alphabetic Awareness
  • Syllable Awareness (5:48 audio file)
  • Syllable Rhyming (5:38 audio file)
  • Phonemic Isolation (5:54 audio file)
  • Phonemic Blending (5:53 audio file)
  • Phonemic Segmenting (5:2 audio file)
  • Outlaw Words (whole class untimed assessment)
  • Rimes (whole class untimed assessment)
  • Sight Syllables (whole class untimed assessment)
  • Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minutes)

Whole Class Instruction (18−23 minutes per day)

  • Sound-Spelling Cards (name, sound, spellings)
  • Sound−by−Sound Spelling Blending
  • Vowel Transformers (syllable rules)
  • Syllable Blending and Syllable Division Worksheets

Small Group Reading Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

Phonemic Awareness (individualized Tier III or small group Tier II instruction as determined by diagnostic assessments)

  • Alphabetic Awareness Workshops
  • Rhyming Awareness Workshops
  • Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation Workshops
  • Phonemic Isolation Workshops
  • Phonemic Blending Workshops
  • Phonemic Segmenting Workshops

Phonics (individualized Tier III or small group Tier II instruction as determined by diagnostic assessments)

  • Short Vowels
  • Silent Final e
  • Consonant Digraphs
  • Consonant Blends
  • Long Vowels and Vowel Digraphs
  • Vowel Diphthongs
  • r and l−controlled Vowels

Fluency (modeled readings and practice determined by diagnostic assessment as individualized Tier III or small group Tier II instruction)

  • Online Modeled Expository Readings (each recorded at three different reading speeds)
  • Fluency Group Practice
  • Timing Charts to Measure Growth

Individualized Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

  • Spelling Pattern Worksheets
  • Reading and Spelling Game Cards Games
  • Context Clues Vocabulary Strategies and Practice
  • Comprehension Worksheets

Training Modules/Publisher Support

Both new and veteran teachers need training and support in any reading intervention curriculum.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated by both older readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Teachers print copies from their own digital masters.

Training videos are provided for each instructional component.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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Student-Centered Reading Intervention

As a reading specialist and author of a reading intervention program, I am often asked the same question in a variety of ways: “What are the essentials of an effective reading intervention program?” “What do students need most in a successful reading intervention program?” “What are the instructional priorities in a good reading intervention program?” “We only have 30 minutes a day (or any amount) to teach our lowest readers’ what do we need to teach in that amount of time?”

This question is a real-world question, not the “In a perfect world with unlimited resources of time, money, and instructional personnel, what would be the ideal reading intervention program?”

Districts and schools wisely begin at the ideal and then adjust to realities. With apologies to my Reading Recovery colleagues, one on one reading instruction is just not practical in most settings. Too many kids, too few teachers, too little time, too little money.

So many teachers look at the Response to Intervention literature and try to apply Tier I, II, and III models to their own instructional settings. Square pegs in round holes more often than not lead to frustration and failure. While reading specialists certainly support the concept of tiered interventions, the non-purists know that implementation of any site-based reading intervention is going to need to adapt to any given number of constraints.

Instead of beginning with top-down program structure, I suggest looking bottom-up. Starting at the instructional needs of below grade level readers and establishing instructional priorities should determine the essentials of any reading intervention program. In other words, an effective site reading intervention program begins with your students. The reading intervention program at your school should probably look substantially different than that of a cross town school. A successful reading intervention program is based upon the needs of your students in your instructional setting.

An effective problem-solving approach to designing a site-based reading intervention program would include the following: 1. Identify the instructional needs. 2. Prioritize those needs. 3. Evaluate and allocate site resources. 4. Identify instructional strategies and components which can match the needs and resources. 5. Develop or purchase program materials to efficiently teach to those prioritized instructional needs. That’s student-centered reading intervention.

This student-centered approach has many benefits.

It is realistic. Many districts and schools purchase time-consuming (and expensive) reading intervention programs such as Language!® Live and READ 180 Next Generation with the best intentions and the firmest commitments to teach these programs with fidelity. However, the site resources in terms of time, personnel, and on-going staff development do not match the program requisites. The life span of most reading intervention curricula is quite short. Schools wind up dropping the programs, carving up the programs, adapting the programs, or using parts of the programs over the years. Most every elementary and middle school site has at least a few reading programs collecting dust on the shelves. The point is that school resources change more often than student needs.

It is flexible. The instructional needs of students do change over time. School populations shift, different instructional trends in, say primary grades, do affect what older students know and don’t know, and school resources are always in flux. Teachers transfer in and out of grade level assignments and schools. Assessment-based program design can adapt to change.

It is results-based. One important given of the Response to Intervention movement is a pragmatic approach to reading intervention. “If it ain’t workin’, try something else.” A student-centered response to intervention program design is not locked in to an established program. If progress monitoring indicates that only minimal gains are being made in any given instructional priority, the instructional strategy and/or delivery needs to change.

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies program provides student-centered Tier 2 and Tier 3 reading intervention to struggling readers in

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

a half-year intensive program (70 minutes per day, 5 days per week) or full-year program (55 minutes per day, 5 days per week). Students receive whole class direct instruction, as well as small group and individualized instruction based upon assessment-based needs. The Teaching Reading Strategies 13 diagnostic assessments (audio files) are administered during the first two weeks of instruction: fluency, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, spelling patterns, syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, and sight syllables and inform teachers as to the instructional priorities of their students. The formative assessments in each instructional activity, workshop, and worksheet help teachers monitor progress and adjust instructional accordingly. Complete training videos and the no-prep design make this reading intervention program a teacher favorite. Check out the Teaching Reading Strategies Introductory Video (15:08) to learn more.

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Teaching Reading Strategies and RtI

To understand how the Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program aligns with the Response to Intervention (RtI) model, a brief orientation to the educational alphabetic jargon may be helpful. Increasingly, both educational literature as well as school district and site implementation are combining RtI and PRIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support) into a comprehensive (MTSS) Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Now RtI is generally used to reference the academic piece of the intervention puzzle.

According to the well-respected RtI Action Network, “Response to Intervention (RtI) is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs. The RtI process begins with high-quality instruction and universal screening of all children in the general education classroom. Struggling learners are provided with interventions at increasing levels of intensity to accelerate their rate of learning. These services may be provided by a variety of personnel, including general education teachers, special educators, and specialists. Progress is closely monitored to assess both the learning rate and level of performance of individual students. Educational decisions about the intensity and duration of interventions are based on individual student response to instruction. RtI is designed for use when making decisions in both general education and special education, creating a well-integrated system of instruction and intervention guided by child outcome data.” http://www.rtinetwork.org/learn/what/whatisrti

In the three-tiered RtI model, Tier 1 targets a whole class and focuses on differentiating instruction to teach the core curriculum; Tier 2 targets small groups (5−8 students) to teach to assessment-based deficits; and Tier 3 targets individuals to teach to assessment-based deficits.

The Teaching Reading Strategies program provides both Tier 2 and Tier 3 reading intervention to struggling readers in a half-year intensive program (70 minutes per day, 5 days per week) or full-year program (55 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Students receive whole class direct instruction, as well as small group and individualized instruction based upon assessment-based needs. The Teaching Reading Strategies delivery model is teacher-based, not computer-based (except for the online modeled fluency readings).

The Teaching Reading Strategies program uses 3 assessments for program placement:

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42 audio file and consonants: 12:07 audio file)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38 audio file)
  3. Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minute individual assessment). The placement tests provide assessment-based instructional data to inform the teacher’s selection of Tier 2 (small group of 5−8 students) and Tier 3 (individualized) instruction for each student. A built-in management system provides the instructional resources which allow the teacher to simultaneously supervise small group and individualized instruction.

Nine additional diagnostic assessments (audio files) are administered during the first two weeks of instruction: syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, and sight syllables. Flexible Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction is assigned according to the assessment data. All diagnostic data is recorded on a one page recording matrix. The matrix facilitates assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrix also serves as the progress monitoring source.

Program Components

Whole Class Instruction (18−23 minutes per day)

  • Animal Sound-Spelling Cards
  • Sound−by−Sound Spelling Blending
  • Vowel Transformers
  • Syllable Blending and Syllable Division Worksheets

Small Group Reading Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

Phonemic Awareness

  • Alphabetic Awareness Workshops
  • Rhyming Awareness Workshops
  • Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation Workshops
  • Phonemic Isolation Workshops
  • Phonemic Blending Workshops
  • Phonemic Segmenting Workshops

Phonics

  • Short Vowels
  • Silent Final e
  • Consonant Digraphs
  • Consonant Blends
  • Long Vowels and Vowel Digraphs
  • Vowel Diphthongs
  • r and l−controlled Vowels

Fluency

  • 43 Animal Fluency Online Modeled Readings (each recorded at three different reading speeds)
  • Fluency Grouped Practice
  • 43 Fluency Articles and Timing Charts

Individualized Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

  • Spelling Pattern Worksheets
  • Reading and Spelling Game Cards Games
  • Context Clues Vocabulary Strategies and Practice
  • SCRIP Comprehension Worksheets

Training Modules

Both new and veteran teachers will appreciate the extensive video training resources of the Teaching Reading Strategies program. Videos are provided for each instructional component.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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Schoolwide Independent Reading Program

As an MA reading specialist, author, and frequent blogger on independent reading, I am constantly receiving posts and emails regarding the Accelerated Reading™ program. I frequently joke that I wish I had had the foresight to develop an AR-style program years ago. I’d be living in my castle in the Loire Valley fending off critics when not visiting my offshore tax haven in the Cayman Islands. But I’d feel a bit guilty knowing that schools could implement their own independent reading program for free (relatively speaking).

However, I’m pretty sure that the effectiveness of my AR-style program would not have been judged as following:

“Accelerated Reader was found to have no discernible effects on reading fluency, mixed effects on comprehension, and potentially positive effects on general reading achievement.” What Works Clearinghouse

or

“A hypothetical example may help us understand whether AR should be used or not. Drug A and Drug B are both designed to cure a specific disease. A is known to be effective with highly beneficial long-term effects. There is little evidence for or against B, but suggestive evidence that it may be harmful in the long run. A drug company produces AB, more expensive than A alone, and justifies it by providing studies showing that AB tends to be effective. A scientist reviewing the research shows that no study has compared AB to A alone. Clearly such studies are called for before the medical establishment endorses or even approves AB. A is providing access and time to read. B is tests and rewards. Accelerated Reader is AB.” Dr. Stephen Krashen

So here’s a recent post to my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article and my response including a free alternative for an effective schoolwide independent reading program:

“I am a new principal of an elementary school that uses AR and honestly am not a fan however my teachers “love” it.  I’m really puzzled by what they “love” about it.  Our school spends over 5K for this program a year which in my opinion could be better used purchasing more books for the library or assisting teachers with classroom libraries.  How do I get my teachers/staff as well as parents to see this?”

Yes, many teachers and parents love the AR program. Why so?

  1. It’s well-organized.
  2. It requires no prep–just place and use.
  3. It’s motivational and competitive.
  4. It gets kids to read.
  5. It works with so many books at so many reading levels.
  6. The school has been using it for years. If you stopped using it now, all the previous money spent would be “wasted.”
  7. Many other schools use it.
  8. Teachers, administrators, and parents know of no other schoolwide independent reading programs.

Of course, many teachers and parents (add in students, administrators, and reading specialists) do not love the AR program (Check out the comments on my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article for plenty of examples.

And, yes, I completely agree that the 5K per year could be better used purchasing more books for the library or assisting teachers with classroom libraries.” So here’s my answer to your final question: “How do I get my teachers/staff as well as parents to see this?”

By offering a more enticing alternative.

How to Implement a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP)

(Apparently every schoolwide independent reading program must have an acronym (AR, SSR, DEAR, etc.) Were I smart, it would be named the PIRP (Pennington Independent Reading Program).

  1. Buy tons of good books.
  2. Teach students and parents how to select appropriate reading level books.
  3. Teach students, parents, and teachers where and when to read books.
  4. Teach students and parents how to read and discuss books.
  5. Teach parents, teachers, librarians, and administrators how to motivate independent reading. 

1. Buy tons of good books. A good school librarian is an indispensable asset. Good librarians and teachers read what their students read and pay attention to what their students are and should be reading. They are “in the know.” What works for their school culture is not the same as what works for other schools. They pay attention to publisher marketing, but they exercise solid judgment. Librarians and teachers are patient and crafty. They know that good school and classroom libraries aren’t “built in a day.” They know when and where to shop for bargains. They know how to solicit parent and community donations. They know how to lobby administrators and district personnel for book money. They buy a wide variety of books to appeal to the interests and needs of their readers. For example, a shameless publisher plug: they buy low level, high interest decodable books for older remedial readers, such as the author’s Sam and Friends Phonics Books.

2. Teach students and parents how to select the right books. We really need to take the mystery out of book selection. There is no such thing as a sixth grade reading level. Lexile levels do not provide adequate criteria for book selection. Same for the Degrees of Reading Power (DRP), Fleish-Kincaid Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Book List, Accelerated Reader ATOS, Reading Recovery Levels, Fry’s Readability, John’s Basic Reading Inventory, standardized test data, etc.

The two key criteria for effective book selection are reader interest and word recognition level. Reader Interest: If the student is not interested in the genre, subject matter, author, book title, or book jacket, it’s the wrong book. Students have their own literary tastes, but also like what their peers like. Adults can expose students to new tastes, but cannot make a seventh grader like Pride and Prejudice. Choice is important, but within certain common sense limitations: Word Recognition Level: On the technical side, books are made up of words. Readers have to understand words to understand sentences and ideas. Glad to clear that one up for you:)  Students need to understand about 95% of the words to comprehend and enjoy what they are reading. The 5% unknown words are just the right amount for vocabulary acquisition through application of context clue strategies. For how to select books using this criteria, click here; for why the 5% is the optimal percentage, click here. So simple, but effective. And, most importantly, both parents and students can apply this criteria to help select appropriate books. No rocket science required.

3. Teach students, parents, and teachers where and when to read books. I’ll step on a few toes with my recommendations here. An effective schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP) does not have to involve independent reading at school. I’m not a fan of wasting instructional time with what can best be done at home: independent reading and discussion of that reading. For my lively debate on the merits of reading at home with Dr. Stephen Krashen (Free Voluntary Reading) and Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer), click here. Teachers just have too much to teach and too little time to do so. With the proper student and parent training, independent reading is the perfect homework.

4. Teach students and parents how to read and discuss books. Without proper training, a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP) will fail. Parents are the best resources we have to monitor and engage students with their independent reading. Reading at the 5% unknown word level will help students increase vocabulary, but we also need to increase reading comprehension. Teachers need to teach independent reading comprehension strategies and practice these in the classroom; however, the extensive practice needs to take place at home with daily student-parent discussions of what the child has read that day during independent reading homework. I recommend a 3-minute student-led book discussion with the parent following 20 minutes of independent or guided reading for primary children and 30 minutes for older readers, four or five days per week. To guide independent reading and the book discussion, I recommend using the SCRIP Bookmarks. Yes, you have permission to print, share, and distribute these.

The SCRIP acronym refers to the five reading comprehension cueing strategies which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Good readers learn how to carry on an internal dialog while they read. To train students and parents how to self-monitor and increase reading comprehension, click here for five lessons from the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. These SCRIP strategies provide teachers with the language of instruction to teach and model reading comprehension. Librarians can use these to do effective book talks.

5. Teach parents, teachers, librarians, and administrators how to motivate independent reading. 

Yes, I recommend accountability for independent reading homework. I have parents award points for the quality of the student-led book discussion. I also “require” the same amount of reading and discussions over vacations and summer recess. Call me a fascist.

I take a balanced approach and recommend such in the development of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). On the one hand, we want our students to become lifelong readers. We want them to intrinsically enjoy reading and choose to read on their own. See Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards for the pitfalls of reading incentives. Also take a look at the heart-breaking teacher, parent, and student comments as to how AR tests, grades for books read, and reading motivational ploys have destroyed students’ love of reading following my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article.

I do see the value in some marketing and promotion of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). Students work well when pursuing goals and everyone likes rewards. Students also like competition. I would offer these guidelines from years of experience “running” IRPs as a a school reading specialist: If you’re going to reward based upon quantitative data, do so by page numbers read, not by books read. Emphasize class competitions, not individual competitions. Reward with literacy-related incentives, e.g. books, bookmarks, posters, not toys or candy. Get your students to review books in class, on schoolwide posters and in newsletters, and especially in the library. Keep schoolwide competitions limited in time: Several two-month competitions or challenges work much better than one year-long competition or challenge.

Would love to see your thoughts.

 

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High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

Quite often I get emails from both parents and teachers regarding what to do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension. As a reading specialist, I have had the opportunity to serve students and teachers in assignments at the K-6, middle school, high school, and community college levels. I, too, have struggled with students in the same predicament at each level. Following is a nice representative sample of parent comments on my blog and teacher comments on another popular blog with some solutions to the problem:

Hello, I was hoping you could give me some advice.  I have an 8 year old daughter who can read orally very well.  She also aces all her spelling tests.  When someone reads aloud to her, she can summarize what was read very well.  But when she reads silently to herself, she doesn’t seem to absorb much at all.  I will have her read a short, at or below grade level paragraph in head her, sometimes 2 or 3 times, and she often can’t answer simple questions about it.  I’ve stressed making sure that she is going slowly, and actually READING each word and not just SEEING it.  I gather this means her comprehension must be rather low, and I was wondering if you have any advice for how to support growth in this area?  Her grades are average or above average in most areas in school, but as she gets older and is transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” she is really struggling, and I would like to know how to support her.  Thank you!

Jessi

On the “A-Z Teacher Stuff” blog, the question is explored by both primary and elementary teachers:

I have a student that scored at a mid-4th grade level in reading fluency and yet her comprehension is at a high 1st grade level.
She loves to read but has a very hard time with even simple recall.
Could this be an indicator of a disability? What can I do to help her?

Not necessarily an indicator of a disability…I can fluently read a medical text or legal documents or ‘Le Petit Prince’ in French (or the more than 2000 page healthcare bill)…doesn’t mean I comprehend all of it…
Your student should be reading books that s/he can read fluently and with good comprehension…reading IS meaning…anything else is ‘word calling’…

I have a student who is very similar. He can read challenging texts fluently and with good accuracy, but when I ask him to retell or even orally answer basic questions from the story he has difficulty. Now this same child can do written comprehension tasks wonderfully when he is given the opportunity to go back to the text. He then demonstrates higher level thinking skills and a deep understanding of the books we read, just not immediately after an initial read.

In his reading group I have been spending a lot of time talking about how readers need to think about what they are reading as they read rather than JUST saying the words correctly and sounding smooth. I would suggest breaking down stories into smaller chunks, such as reading one paragraph/page at a time then checking for understanding by retelling or questioning.

Some five years ago I wrote an article about the same issue, but focused on the the over-use and over-dependence upon fluency practice in reading instruction. My related article regarding the a popular fluency program stirred up quite a fuss. I was forced to delete after a threatening letter promising legal action from that company.  However, the article did not focus attention on what parents and teachers need to do to address the problem.

First of all, a few important caveats… 

Reading is thinking. Cognitive challenges certainly limit comprehension. A student with an IQ of 85 is not going to have to same capacity for understanding text as a student with an IQ of 135. Sad, but true. English language learners have three challenges to comprehension: academic vocabulary, knowledge of American idioms, and knowledge of English grammar. Special education students may have auditory or visual processing disorders which require work-arounds to comprehension. Children with physical impairments, such as chronic inner ear infections, tend to have reading challenges. Finally, socio-enonomic status definitely can inhibit comprehension if a child has minimal access to books and limited conversations with literate adults.

Reading is a skill. We know a lot more about the connection between the alphabetic code and reading comprehension than we used to; however, we still have a long way to go. What we do know is that there is a statistically significant correlation between good decoders and good “comprehenders.” Children without phonemic awareness do not make the connection between the alphabetic code and words. Children without a sophisticated knowledge of the alphabetic code (phonics) struggle with a “sight words only” band-aid to reading approach when they transition from simple K-2 narrative to grades 3-adult multi-syllabic expository reading. By hook or by crook, every child needs to develop decoding skills. Lastly, the transition from reading out loud to silent reading does not magically occur for every child at the beginning of third grade as we have traditionally believed. Let’s spend a bit of time exploring this…

In an article published on April 21, 2016, Kristin Coyne, discusses the little-understood transition from oral to silent reading.

“Researchers at the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) at Florida State University will tackle that paradox over the next four years. Funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, a team headed by FCRR researcher Young-Suk Kim will examine a poorly understood area of literacy: the relationship between oral and silent reading, and how those skills, in turn, relate to reading comprehension.”

We do know that most children seem to transition from out loud reading to silent reading by subvocalization. In other words, they say the words “in their heads.”

“’What we ultimately want is instantaneous recognition without subvocalization because that’s faster,” Kim said. “But we don’t know how that process happens.’

Until recently, measuring silent reading was difficult: After all, you can’t hear the child’s progress. But researchers can now see this progress, with the help of advanced eye-tracking technologies that follow students’ eye movements as they read text on a computer screen.

‘It’s very fascinating how precisely we can measure this,’ Kim said. ‘We can even determine exactly which letter a student is focusing on.'”

Notice that our amazing brains do process at the individual letter level and not at the whole word or sentence level as some of the “whole language” advocates used to argue.

Having addressed the important caveats, we can get the crux of the issue: What can we, as parents and teachers, do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension?

1. Diagnose and eliminate subvocalization . As a parent or teacher, do give a diagnostic fluency assessment. Although I mentioned above the problem of over-dependence upon fluency practice, some fluency practice is certainly important at all grade levels. During the fluency assessment, in addition to recording miscues, words read accurately, and total number of words read in a two-minute timing, observe the child’s mouth. If the child is mumbling or moving lips, he or she is subvocalizing. THE FIX: Tell the child (and parent) that he or she is doing so and that good silent readers avoid this “bad habit.” Suggest reading with a pencil between the teeth or lightly clenching teeth until the habit is broken. Most children only need a few reading sessions with this simple “therapy” to fix the problem.

2. Diagnose and eliminate multiple eye movements. During the fluency assessment notice what the child is doing with his or her eye movements. If the child is moving eyes noticeably from left to right, it may indicate a tracking problem. Good readers look at the center of the page and use their peripheral vision to attend to letter correspondences from left to right. Poor readers have multiple eye fixations per line. Again, researchers have found statistically significant correlations between readers with minimal eye fixations per line and good “comprehenders.” THE FIX: Tell the child (and parent) that he or she has too much eye movement per line and should focus on the center and “look out to the left and to the right” as he or she reads. Demonstrate how easy it is to “see things to the left and right by looking at the center” by having the child touch hands and slowly move them apart to test peripheral vision. Teach the child to place the hand (not a finger) in the center, underneath the line being read and drop down as the text is being read. *Note: Never have the child point at each individual word. If the center of the line hand tracking does not work, a referral to a certified vision trainer (optometrist or opthamologist) may be required. Be careful on this one. Vision therapy can be helpful, but should not be a “once per week for three years commitment.” Buyer beware.

3. Talk to the child about what reading means. Often, children are so focused on the skill that they don’t focus on the thinking. Simple, but true. Good decoding skills are not an end in themselves, but should make reading for meaning effortless. Automaticity is the goals of phonics instruction. THE FIX: Tell the child, “When you are reading, concentrate on what the person is saying to you.” Teach the child to pause after each sentence to ask and answer that question. Transition to the paragraph.

4. Teach students to make a movie in their heads as they read. Visualization is a powerful aid to reading comprehension for both narrative and expository text. THE FIX: Read my article: Interactive Reading: Making a Movie in Your Head.

5. Many children fail to comprehend text because they daydream as they read. In other words, they lose attention to the text. Students who use self-questioning strategies develop a greater understanding of the text than passive readers. THE FIX: Teach the child how to use the SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies. Each strategy emphasizes internal self-monitoring of text and the article has some great free bookmarks to download.

6. Poor readers often just don’t know what good readers do as they silently read. THE FIX: Show the child  what a good reader does by using Think-Alouds in which the parent or teach reads silently out loud. In other words, you read the words of the text and employ #s 3, 4, and 5 above to interrupt the text to capture its meaning. Have the child do the “think aloud” for you and other children. Emphasize how quickly the brain makes these applications so that reading continuity is not compromised.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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30 Spelling Questions, Answers and Resources

In the midst of the 1980s whole language movement, California State Superintendent of Schools Bill Honig strongly encouraged principals to confiscate spelling workbooks from their teachers. Even today, spelling instruction remains a contentious topic. No other literacy skill seems to run the complete gamut of instructional implementation from emphasis to de-emphasis. Following are the 30 spelling questions, answers, and resources to help teachers get a handle on what does and what does not work in spelling instruction.

Now, with my ambitious goal of providing 30 questions, answers, and resources, I’ve got to be concise. I won’t be going deep into orthographic research (much of which is contradictory and incomplete) or into detailed instructional strategies. Also, a disclaimer is certainly needed: I am a teacher-author of several spelling programs, some of which I will shamelessly promote at the end of the article. But, to be fair, I do have some relevant expertise and experience in spelling to share. I have my masters degree as a reading specialist (in fact I did my masters thesis on the instructional spelling and reading strategies used in the the 19th Century McGuffey Readers). More importantly, I have served as an elementary and secondary reading specialist and have taught spelling at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels. So, enough for the credibility portion of the article and onto why you are reading and what you hope to learn, validate, invalidate, and apply in your classroom.

Why Teach Spelling?

1. Why is spelling such a big deal? If Einstein couldn’t spell, why does it matter? Won’t spell check the best way to solve spelling problems? Whether justified or not, others will judge our students by their spelling ability. Spelling accuracy is perceived as a key indicator of literacy. And spelling problems can inhibit writing coherency and reading facility. Spell check programs do not solve spelling issues. They  just takes too long to correct frequent misspellings and cannot account for homographs.

2. Can you teach spelling? Aren’t some people naturally good or bad spellers? Isn’t it learned through extensive reading and writing? Yes, poor spellers and good spellers can be taught to improve their spelling abilities. No brain research has demonstrated a genetic predisposition for good or bad spelling. There is no spelling gene. No, spelling isn’t learned through reading and writing, but there are positive correlations among the disciplines. They are each separate skills and thinking processes and need specific instruction and practice accordingly.

Whose Job Is It to Teach Spelling and to Whom Should We Teach It?

3. Isn’t spelling the job of primary teachers? Please, God, let this be so. Yes and no. Primary teachers are responsible for much of the decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) foundations, but intermediate/upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers have plenty of morphological (word parts), etymological (silent letters, accent placements, schwa spellings, added and dropped connectives), and derivational (Greek, Latin, French, British, Spanish, Italian, German language influences) spelling patterns to justify teaching spelling patterns at their respective grade levels.

4. Should content teachers teach spelling? Yes. The Common Core State Standards emphasize cross-curricular literacy instruction. Upper elementary teachers in departmentalized structures, middle school, and high school teachers should certainly come to consensus regarding spelling instruction and expectations.

5. Should we teach spelling to special education students? Yes, even though spelling is primarily an auditory skill and many special educations have auditory processing challenges. These students require more practice, not less. Gone are the days when special education teachers said Johnny or Susie can’t learn spelling. however, some visual study strategies do make sense.

6. Should we teach spelling to English-language learners? Yes. We cripple our English-language learners when we solely focus on reading skills and vocabulary acquisition. Besides, Spanish has remarkably similar orthographic patterns as English.

How Does Spelling Connect to Other Literacy Skills?

7. How are spelling and phonemic awareness related? The National Reading Panel stressed the statistically significant correlation. Spelling is an auditory, not a visual skill, and so the connection between phonemic awareness, which is the ability to recognize and manipulate speech sounds is clear. Check out the author’s free phonemic awareness assessments.

8. How are spelling and reading related? Spelling (encoding) and reading (decoding) are both sides of the same coin. So many of our syllable pronunciations depend upon spelling rules. Check out this relationship in these teachable resources: Ten English Accent Rules, Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules, and How to Teach Syllabication: The Syllable Rules.

9. How are spelling and vocabulary related? Spelling is highly influenced by morphemes (meaning-based syllables) and language derivations. Read this article on How to Differentiate Spelling and Vocabulary Instruction for more.

How Should We Teach Spelling?

10. How much of a priority should spelling instruction take in terms of instructional minutes? I suggest 5 minutes for the spelling pretest (record on your phone to maintain an efficient pace and to use for make-ups); 5 minutes to create a personal spelling list; 10 minutes to complete and correct a spelling pattern sort; 10 minutes of spelling word study (perfect for homework); and 5 minutes for the spelling posttest (every other week for secondary students).

11. Should we teach spelling rules? Absolutely. Just because the English sound-spelling system works in only about 50% of spellings does not mean that there are not predictable spelling patterns to increase that percentage of spelling predictability and accuracy. Although the sound-spelling patterns are the first line of defense, the conventional spelling rules that work most all of the time are a necessary back-up. Check out the free Eight Great Spelling Rules, each with memorable mp3 songs and raps to help you and your students master the conventional spelling rules.

12. What about teaching “No Excuse” spelling words and using Word Walls? These can supplement, but not replace, a spelling patterns program. Teaching and posting the there-their-they’re words directly and emphasizing these common misspellings makes sense.

13. What about outlaw (non-decodable) spelling words? Using these words as a resource to supplement unknown words on the weekly spelling pretest is highly effective. I suggest you “kill two birds with one stone” by giving this multiple choice Outlaws Word Assessment for reading diagnosis and then the same list for spelling diagnosis.

14. What about using high frequency words to teach spelling? As a supplementary resource to the personal spelling list unknown high frequency words, such as the Dolch List, can certainly be included. But using high frequency words as weekly spelling lists involves learning in isolation. Plus these lists include both decodable and non-decodable words. Parents can certainly assess their own children and provide results to the teacher.

15. What about using commonly confused words (homonyms) to teach spelling? Some words look the same or nearly the same (homographs) or sound the same or nearly the same (homonyms) and so are easily confused by developing spellers and adult spellers alike. Check about this great list of Easily Confused or Misused Words.

16. What about teaching spelling through a Spelling Pattern Sort? Extremely valuable and a necessary instructional activity for any spelling patterns program. Closed spelling sorts based upon spelling patterns are certainly more effective than open sorts.

“Students can… spell words that they don’t think they know how to spell by comparing words through sorts. Knowing how to spell familiar words gives the students reference points for knowing how to begin spelling new words. Here are just a few of the sorts that students can experience:

  • Sort beginning sounds
  • Sort Digraphs from Blends
  • Sort long vowels from short vowels
  • Sort words with closed syllables from words with open syllables
  • Sort words that double the ending consonant before adding –ing with those that do not
  • Sort prefixes and suffixes
  • Sort base words and root words

Teachers can even combine a sound sort with a letter pattern sort. The list goes on and on.” Sandy Hoffman

17. How should learning styles inform spelling instruction? Good teachers always use multiple modalities instruction. But, the research and practical application of VAKT is dubious at best and has no application to spelling. Teachers gave up teaching students to trace letters years ago. Spelling is primarily an auditory skill, so if there are auditory processing challenges, special attention and additional practice will be necessary. Check out this article titled Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences for more.

18.Why aren’t the Common Core Standards more specific about spelling instruction? When establishing instructional priorities to address these spelling Standards, many teachers have placed spelling (Standard L. 2) on the back-burner. To wit, the intermediate elementary Standards: (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e) “Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.”) and middle school Standards: (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b “Spell correctly.”) However, the primary Standards are much more specific and the authors make a solid case in Appendix A for the importance of spelling instruction.

19. Is spelling a good subject for homework? Yes. Parents can certainly supervise spelling sorts practice, creation of the personal spelling list, and even assist the teacher with diagnostic spelling tests of supplementary spelling word lists.

What about Individualizing Spelling Instruction?

20. What about qualitative spelling inventories? Qualitative spelling inventories accurately reflect and diagnose developmental spelling stages or indicate broad spelling strengths and weaknesses; however, their lack of assessing specific sound-spelling patterns make specific teaching applications problematic.

21. Is there a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment? Check out the author’s free diagnostic spelling assessment. This 64 word assessment with recording matrix is comprehensive and based upon the sound-spelling patterns to be mastered in K-3rd grade.

22. How should teachers individualize spelling instruction? Give a spelling patterns diagnostic assessment. Teach to the indicated individual unmastered spelling patterns. Targeted Spelling Pattern Worksheets with formative assessments help focus instruction on diagnostically determined spelling deficits for each student. Students catch up while they keep up with grade level spelling patterns. Having students create personal spelling lists from the weekly spelling pretest is also excellent individualized instruction. Check out the author’s eighth grade Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Matrix. Now, if you just had the corresponding spelling pattern worksheets to teach to these deficits…

When Should We Teach What Spelling?

23. Can spelling instruction be defined by grade levels? Grade levels may not be easily divisible by grade levels, but we do need an instructional scope and sequence for spelling instruction. Here’s a For those grades 4−8 teachers who don’t wish to re-invent the wheel, here is the comprehensive TLS Instructional Scope and Sequence Grades 4-8 of the entire Language Strand (grammar and usage, mechanics, knowledge of use, spelling, and vocabulary)., which includes spelling patterns for grades 4-8

What is the Best Way to Study Spelling?

24. What spelling review games are most effective and fun? Check out these Spelling Review Games based upon spelling patterns.

25. What about writing spelling words over and over again? No. No. No.

Does the Weekly Spelling Test Make Sense?

26. Does the weekly spelling test help students learn spelling words? Yes. The research is clear on this one: the test-study-test instructional approach results in spelling achievement. But, the weekly posttest is probably not efficient for upper elementary and older students. Biweekly posttests work well, but only if the teacher adopts a personal spelling list approach based upon weekly diagnostic assessments.

27. What kinds of spelling tests make the most sense? A Weekly Spelling Test based upon a focused spelling pattern allows the teacher to teach the spelling pattern and provide practice opportunities to their students to apply these patterns in spelling sorts.

28. Can the weekly spelling pretest be used as a diagnostic assessment to differentiate instruction? Yes. Dictate 15-20 spelling pattern words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students. After the dictations, have students self-correct from teacher dictation (primary) or display (older students) of the correct spellings.

Students create personal spelling list in this priority order.

  • Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students add on up to five spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on up to five teacher-corrected spelling errors found in student writing.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select and use words from other resources linked in this article.

What Criteria Should Teachers Use to Pick a Good Spelling Program?

29. Here’s a nice set of criteria based upon “A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM” and “A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM.”

30. Give me an example of a good one!

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core

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

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

DSI-C

Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

As slices of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs, Differentiated Spelling Instruction provides quality spelling programs for grades 4-8.

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