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Reading Fluency Norms

New Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms

As we all know, reading fluency is highly correlated with reading comprehension. Of course it makes so much sense that if readers can read quickly with expression, accuracy, and attention to punctuation, they will more likely understand what they read than if they don’t have these skill sets. Now it is certainly true that veteran teachers and reading specialists will no doubt have run across an exception or two in their careers. I have tested children and adults with brilliant reading fluency, but poor comprehension. Conversely, I have run across slow, stumbling, readers with monotone expression who seem to understand and remember every single detail.

This being said, reading fluency assessments are universally recognized as important initial looks into how a reader processes text. Unlike other measures, such as comprehension and vocabulary assessments, reading fluency assessments give the classroom teacher and diagnostician not only qualitative, but also quantitative data. We love numbers!

As an elementary reading specialist in a large school district in Northern California, I learned (with my colleagues) the value of comparing student fluency scores in grade-level text to grade-level norms. We had two research studies on group norms for Words Read per Minute (WRPM) to rely upon: those by University of Oregon researchers, Hasbrouck and Tindal (1992, 2006). However, these studies provided data for students from grades 2–5.

When I moved into the middle school setting as an ELA and reading intervention teacher, I (and others) was tough out of luck. No group norms for grades 6–8. Of course, I still designed reading fluency assessments and helped students practice reading fluency, but I was flying blind. Until 2006 when the same two researchers added on grades 6–8 reading fluency norms. Woo hoo!

The same two researchers, Hasbrouck and Tindal, have now (2017) have replicated their initial study for grades 1–6. Following is the latest data, i.e. 2017 for grades 1–6 and 2006 for 6–8. Afterwards, read the concise explanation of the tables by Jan Hasbrouck. Note the “middle school slump” in the second chart.

Grades 1-6 Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms Grades 1-6

Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies Comprehensive Reading Intervention Program

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grades 7-8 Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms Grades 7-8

 

 

 

 

 

“Oral reading fluency norms identify performance benchmarks at the beginning (fall), middle (winter), and end (spring) of the year. An individual student’s WCPM score can be compared to these benchmarks and determined to be either significantly above benchmark, above benchmark, at the expected benchmark, below benchmark, or significantly below benchmark. Those students below or significantly below benchmark are at possible risk of reading difficulties. They are good candidates for further diagnostic assessments to help teachers determine their skill strengths or weaknesses, and plan appropriately targeted instruction and intervention” (Hasbrouck, 2010). http://www.brtprojects.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/TechRpt_1702ORFNorms_Fini.pdf

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Books for Struggling Readers

Phonics Books for Struggling Readers

Books for Struggling Readers

As a reading specialist, I’ve had the opportunity to work with students at the full spectrum of age groups from preK to adult ed. My passion has always been to help struggling readers, especially older readers. You find these students in reading intervention classes, ESL/ELD/ELL programs, special education classes, and learning centers.

Ask any reading teacher, who’s been there and done that, what is the key correlate to reading improvement for older struggling readers and you’ll hear the word, motivation, more often than not.

Long ago I learned the power of motivation upon student achievement. It took me awhile. In my sixth year of teaching I made a study of two teachers teaching my same subject, who were getting better results than I. I sat in their classes during my prep. Initially, I was confused.

“I’m at least as good as Mr. S,” I thought, “and I’m much better than Mr. B.”

I’ve never been diagnosed as “self-esteem deficient.”

However, I cornered some of Mr. S’s and Mr. B’s kids during passing periods and asked them, “What makes you succeed in his class?”

It was motivation. Mr. S loved kids and they knew it. He had the relationships in and out of class that made his students want to learn. Mr. B had a different approach: the behavioral approach of carrot and stick. Rewards and fear made his students have to learn.

I couldn’t be either teacher; Lame as it sounds: I had to be me. It took me years of experimenting and quite a few humbling make-overs to begin motivating some of my students.

My secret? What works for me is a constant self-reminder that I am teaching students, not reading. To really teach struggling readers how to improve their reading, teachers need to know what makes them tick and adapt instruction and teaching resources accordingly. For your struggling readers, you need the books that will motivate these older kids to read.

Even though I mentioned that I am not “self-esteem deficient,” my struggling readers certainly are. Despite the apathetic “I don’t care” self-defense mechanisms of most struggling readers, they really do care that they aren’t like the rest of their peers. No one want to stand out as a poor reader. I’ve never heard the most unreachable fourth grader, middle schooler, high schooler, or community college adult (and I’ve taught them all) say, “I’m a poor reader and proud of it.”

My main point in this article is to get reading teachers to be hypersensitive to the effects of motivation on learning to read. Specifically, we have got to stop unintentionally tearing away at the self-esteem of our struggling readers.

Take a moment to look at your teaching resources. Do they match the age of your students?

I just finished a comment on a teacher’s post asking for feedback on her self-authored ESL teaching resources and chapter books. I was struck by the beautiful cover illustrations. I previewed the book internal pages and the graphics and pictures were so professional. However, the images were perfectly appropriate for beginning readers, not her target grades 4‒8 age group. Struggling readers certainly do judge a book by its cover. Hopefully, my comments maintained a complimentary/constructive balance. Her self-esteem matters, as well!

ESL/ELD/ELL, special education, reading intervention, and adult ed learners need reading resources and books that motivate them to learn, not humiliate them into shutting down or acting out in the classroom.

Yes, these materials are hard to find.

I sell two products, Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books and the Teaching Reading Strategies comprehensive reading intervention program that have been designed to motivate struggling readers.

The former product (54 eight-page booklets) uses teenage (non big-head) cartoons and plots. The illustrator, David Rickert, is a high school ELA teacher and we were both sensitive to ensuring that our visuals matched the maturity of our focus age group.

The latter product includes sound-spelling cards like most other reading programs. However, I selected animals as an ageless theme and photographs, not illustrations, to appeal to older kids.

Teaching Reading Strategies Reading Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

 

Literacy Centers, Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Assessment-based Re-teaching

Re-teach with Assessment-based Curriculum

There’s Still Time to Re-teach

Sometimes the simplest things stop teachers in their tracks. A number of years ago a conference speaker (can’t remember whom) said,

Good teachers care more about learning than teaching.

I heard more than one audible gulp from the audience and, although mine was silent, it was just as loud for me. It just hit me. I cared more about the quality of what I taught and how I taught it, than what the students needed to learn and if the students learned it. The focus isn’t a distinction without a difference. It’s a game-changer.

I was in the middle of a reading specialist masters degree program, and the conference insight really changed my perspective as an educator.

At the time, I was teaching high school ELA for three periods and two periods of freshman reading intervention classes. I started thinking about my unit tests in both classes and my pride at achieving perfect bell curve scores from these summative assessments. Maybe 20% failing to achieve my objectives and 60% achieving at a below mastery rate of 80% was not as good as I thought.

I decided to experiment (probably to complete a project for one of my masters classes) and I re-taught the unit. Not to the students who had achieved mastery (80% or better); they did independent projects over the next two weeks. I analyzed my test data and found I didn’t need to re-teach everything… just some things. So I re-taught the some things, trying different instructional methodologies and did quick formative assessments to see if they were achieving mastery. That worked… for the mid 60%, but not for the bottom scoring 20%. I pulled this group aside in class and even worked out deals with them (full credit on the test re-take) if they would come in at a few lunches for extra remediation. Finally, that worked… I’d like to say all 80% achieved 80% mastery on the test re-take, but I would be lying. The results were, however, impressive.

I learned that if I really cared more about student learning than my own teaching, I would have to commit to assessment-based re-teaching. Over the years I got more efficient, pre-testing with diagnostic assessments, and using embedded formative assessments as I taught the first time around. However, I will have to admit that I’ve never covered the same amount of Common Core content standards as my colleagues. I don’t feel too bad about that by now.

If you are willing to re-teach what you’ve already taught (and not yet taught) this year, check out my 14 FREE diagnostic ELA and reading assessments with recording matrices. These quick, comprehensive, whole-class tests will give you teachable data to re-teach students what they need.

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

Why do I provide these assessments free of charge? First of all, I care about teachers focusing on student learning. Secondly, my Pennington Publishing products just so happen to provide the assessment-based resources to help teachers help their students catch up while they keep up with grade-level standards.

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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

Reading Intervention Program Politics 101

All Politics Is Local in Education

All Politics Is Local: Especially in Schools

Let’s face it. Education is politics. More specifically, “All politics is [sic] local,” said Tip O’Neill, the longtime Speaker of the House of Representatives. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can realize our collective calling as teachers: to make a difference in the lives of our students. 

We teachers love to whine. It’s a staff room staple and a good coping mechanism. However, when we turn simple whining into a political action plan it becomes productive whining. 

I’m a secondary ELA and reading intervention teacher turned publisher. I have also served as a district reading specialist in Elk Grove Unified School District in the Central Valley of California. Over the years I was assigned to quite a few elementary schools and learned a fair amount about leadership skills. Through plenty of failures and a few successes, I learned that to have an impact in and beyond the classroom, I had to learn a political skill-set.

My passion has been to serve the needs of struggling readers: in particular, those grades 4 through community college. I’ve been fortunate to be able to implement that passion in elementary, middle, high school, and freshman college settings. I’ve had a hand in creating plenty of reading intervention programs. None has been perfect, but I’ve learned to get more of what my students and/or teachers need by learning Reading Intervention Program Politics 101.

The End Results

I’ve learned to take a friendly, but assertive stance with administrators regarding reading intervention: No collaboration or prep time? Can’t teach it. Not enough consistent instructional time? Won’t teach it. No money for resources, printing materials? Nothing to teach. No training in teaching resources/programs? Don’t know how to teach it. Excessive paperwork, documentation, meetings, completing assessments that won’t inform instruction? Not going to happen. Assigning reading intervention to new, inexperienced teachers because they can’t say, “No?” Not if I can’t help it.

Now that’s some tough talk, and many teachers would say, “I couldn’t say that to my principal or district curriculum specialist.” Or “You clearly do not know my supervising admin!” Or “The my way or the highway approach won’t work in my district. I’d be out on the highway.”

Fair enough. But I do believe we teachers need to be more assertive on behalf of our neediest kids. We have to learn to work smarter, not harder. Following are three (of many) ideas as to how to take a friendly, but tough stance with administrators to meet the needs of struggling readers. Would love to hear more ideas!

The Political Process

1. Let the data argue your case. Distance yourself from your demands. Teachers learn early on in their careers to answer this parent question: “Why did YOU give my son a D grade?” with “Your SON earned the D grade” or “The ASSIGNMENTS AND TESTS gave him that grade.” We need to do the same when advocating for our struggling readers. It’s hard for some administrators and teachers to put the horse (the students) before the cart (the program); they always want to put the cart before the horse. However, starting with program design, funding, resource and personnel allocations will always produce untenable and frustrating results.

My political advice? Start with the needs of the students and design instructional structures to address some of those needs.

A caveat is in order… Successful reading intervention depends upon the specificity of diagnostic assessments. You can certainly pre-screen with the BIG tests and teacher recommendations, but these can’t be used for reading intervention design. Ideally, you want to use diagnostic assessments that will design the program, place students, and provide teachable data. As a publisher, I can’t resist failing to mention the 13 whole-class reading assessments that will do these jobs. Download them for FREE after the article.

2. Be a political animal. Your administrators and district personnel certainly are, and you need to grow into one for the sake of your students. Of course, this comes much more naturally to some teachers, than to others.

Learn the pressure points and how to apply them without damaging relationships. You can learn to be assertive and nice at the same time. For example, when data has been secured which indicate unmastered reading skills for students, the students and their parents have a right to know what those deficits are and what it will take to meet those needs. Students and their parents can be your squeaky wheels to advocate for the resources and program structures that will make sense.

And to expand just a bit… Politicians and administrators learn how to isolate special interests and divide in order to conquer. Teachers need to employ political countermeasures to these political techniques. To our point: The test data and identified learning needs are perfect commonalities to bind together a student and parent advocacy (let’s call it support) group. Why share the test data individually with students or with parents via email or phone, when a group meeting would be more efficient and supportive. Both struggling readers and parents prefer to know that they are not in this alone. Confidentialilty and privacy concerns can often lead to isolation and the divide and conquer results and prevent concerted action. Clever teachers can share data communally while protecting individuals.

Teachers who want to improve their effectiveness in “education politics” should study those parents, teachers, and administrators who influence decision-making. You don’t have to be just like so-and-so, but you can certainly learn secrets to their successes and apply them to your own comfort level. Don’t forget the power of the group. Find allies for the sake of your students.

3. Choose your battles. Although my opening The End Results seem rigid, they really aren’t. The criteria still allow the creation of imperfect structures for teaching reading intervention along with maintaining student access to the core curriculum. Be assured that teachers who hold out for the optimal instructional situation will never have an opportunity to impact the lives of kids who desperately need their help. After all, some is better than none; but only if the some is really, really good and has the prioritized support of the whole school and/or district. Politics is the art of compromise.

For example, let’s say that your diagnostic assessments given to a screened set of sixth-graders indicate that 28 of these students have not mastered the alphabetic code (phonics). Additionally, their teachers report that these same students have comprehension deficits (no wonder), low and inaccurate reading fluency, poor vocabulary, and they don’t know their multiplication tables!x%#0@. You, your principal, students, parents, and teacher allies agree that something must be done.

The principal only has funding for one teacher to teach a three-week summer session. The principal and parents want the teacher to fix all of these problems. The

Phonics Review Unite

Phonics Boot Camp

political teacher’s answer is “No, but.” Let’s see what is possible with measurable results. Hmmm… Multiplication is out, because this is reading-only funding. Comprehension is out because we don’t have the testing tools to measure results. Reading fluency can be measured, but three weeks is not enough time to impact fluency deficits. How about phonics? We do have a three-week phonics review unit which can produce measurable results. Bingo. The point is to cater your available resources and your instructional constraints to the student testing data. Things have to match. You can’t fit square pegs into round holes.

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Digraphs and Diphthongs | Academic Language for Reading Instruction

In a recent forum on reading instruction, a teacher asked the following question:

Phonics Question
Hi guys. Would you consider ow and igh vowel teams? If not, how would you classify them? I’ve recently created a silent e resource and would like to create another resource that addresses the other long vowel spelling patterns but am not sure how to title it. Thanks in advance for your help.

The responses concurred that vowel teams was an appropriate “title.” Now, that got me thinking: Are the titles, terms, or classifications really that important? Does it make sense to use kid friendly terminology?

I read a few comments, but stopped at this one:

Ow is a digraph and igh is a trigraph but I doubt the name matters that much as long as the student understands what sounds the letters make when they show up together in a word.

Now, that got me writing: Here’s how I responded…

You are absolutely right that “ow” and “_igh” are a digraph and a trigraph, respectively.

However, I do think our language of instruction matters, and you prove the point. From the initial question in the post, we assume that the teacher is talking about the

"ow" Spellings

Digraph and Diphthong “ow” Spellings

“ow” spelling (after all, the “igh” certainly is a spelling); however, the “ow” spelling can reflect both a digraph sound (1) (“ow” as in okapi) or diphthong sounds (2) (“ow” as in cow). To get technical, the “ow” is a long /o/ spelling and may appear anywhere in a syllable, but the “ow” is a /ow/ diphthong spelling only at the end of a syllable (hence the space before the “_ow” spelling).

I, like most teachers, am always looking for a way to simplify our language of instruction for our students. However, in a recent revision of my Animal Sound-Spelling Cards, I’ve decided to drop the “vowel teams” and classify as the more precise “vowel digraphs” and “diphthongs.” I know… I hate those term names, too. But…

When we simplify instruction, we create confusion for students later on. After all, phonics is all about sound-spellings. To be able to properly blend sounds and words, readers have to be able to hear, break apart, and write the sounds. And students have to know that the “ow” spelling reflects different sound options. How cool is it, when a teacher writes “ow” on the board and a precocious (or well-taught) kiddo asks, “Which one, Ms. Gomez, ‘a red card or a purple card’?’ Or even better, “Is it the ‘okapi or cow’?” Or even better, “Is it a ‘digraph or diphthong.’?” Or be still my beating hear… “Does that ‘ow’ have a space after it? Where does it appear in the syllable?”

These insightful questions and problem-solving can only take place when the proper academic language is learned. Teaching the term, “vowel teams” would probably not elicit those same questions. We’re not talking about distinctions without differences here; the academic language matters.

BTW, I see the same issue in grammar instruction. When we try to use kid-friendly terms in place of academic language, we create more problems than we solve. For example, I used to struggle with using the term, modify. I used “talk about” for my fourth-graders or “describe or explain” for my seventh-graders. However, these terms certainly did not mesh with the other language of instruction I used for modifiers: Adjectives (How Many? Which One? or What Kind?) or Adverbs (How? When? Where? or What Degree?). In other words, scaffolding the meaning of the term, modifier, is much easier (and more accurate) in the long run, than using “kid-friendly” terms.

So, with respect to the good question of this post, I would not go with “vowel teams.” My two cents (or really four cents… this was a long response, sorry!). I suggest using the BIG WORDS and layering in meaning as needed.

Get the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

 

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , ,

FREE Phonics Practice!

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards for Phonics

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

FREE Animal Sound-Spelling Cards and Practice Video for Beginning Reading Instruction and RtI

Introduce and practice the animal names on each Animal Sound-Spelling Card (Get the FREE Download Below). Practice the names until students can rapidly identify each animal on the cards. Unlike many phonics programs, the beginning sound of the animal name perfectly matches the sound listed on each card. For example, the bear card represents the /b/.

Once the animal card names have been mastered, introduce and practice the sounds represented by the cards. Point to each card and say, “Name? Sound?”

After the animal card names and sounds have been mastered, introduce and practice the spellings listed on the cards. Point to each card and say, “Name? Sound? Spellings?” Practice along with the Names, Sounds, and Spelling Chant to develop automaticity.

Also practice along with the Names, Sounds, and Spelling YouTube video.

Get the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pre-teach before Assessment

Teachers Pre-teach before Assessment

Pre-teach before Assessment

For whatever reason or reasons, some children who learned how to ride a bike last summer may have forgotten how to ride by the first day of spring. A wise parent would not  strap back on the training wheels, or worse yet, take out the old balance bike (no pedals). Instead, the parent would do a quick review with her child about what the child had already learned, hold the bike’s handle bars for a quick confidence-builder (I prefer holding the child’s collar… my free tip :), and get the child re-acclimated with intense, quick practice. Somehow prior knowledge, muscle memory, or something kicks in, and most kids are riding their bikes just as well as they did last summer by the end of the day.

The Forgetting Problem

Call it what you wish: summer brain-drain, poor retention, a learning disability, problem with learning styles, developmental delay, or lack of motivation or practice… some students just seem to forget what they have learned before.

The Solution

Quick re-teach. Connecting to students’ prior knowledge can short-circuit the forgetting cycle and produce more reliable assessment results. Before leaping into a battery of diagnostic assessments, it makes sense to pre-teach before we assess. If teachers plan on using assessment-based instruction (a good thing!), the assessment data must be externally valid, that is reliable.

I often share my maxim regarding the efficacy of well-designed assessments: “If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.” However, the caveat is that students may actually know the content, concepts, or skills, but not be able to retrieve that knowledge on assessments.

Good assessments catch students at their best. That’s why it makes sense to pre-teach before teachers assess to help students retrieve prior knowledge and get the assessment results that will help us design efficient instruction.

When we don’t catch students at their best, we get inaccurate assessment data. Teachers who assign assessment-based individualized (or differentiated) instruction often wind up methodically re-teaching what individual students have already learned. Students can’t move ahead, because they are constantly rehearsing what is behind. Or teachers look at class data and sigh, “I have to re-teach everything to this class from start to finish. They don’t know anything. What was Ms. McGuire teaching last year, anyways?”

Despite decades of research studies which demonstrate the effectiveness of pre-teaching students with instructional deficits prior to intensive instruction, little has been examined regarding the effects of pre-teaching upon assessment results.

Intuitively, the popularity of test prep classes for the SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, and MCAT would suggest a positive impact of pre-teaching on high-stakes test scores. Or the often-repeated admonition, “Don’t teach to the test” (except the month before the test administration or all-year if your salary is test-score-incentivized).

A cautionary note: Pre-teaching before assessment should be hurried instruction. Don’t set out the yellow cones and require a week’s worth of drill and review before you let your kids ride their bikes on their own (even if they fall once or twice). Quick and intensive review will produce the most accurate assessment results.

The writer of this article, Mark Pennington, is an M.A. reading specialist and author of Phonics Boot Camp | Phonics Review Unit (a slice of the

Phonics Review Unite

Phonics Boot Camp

comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.

This three-week phonics boot camp proves a worthwhile expenditure of class time in third and fourth grades. The intensive phonics review also works at the beginning of a reading intervention class to weed out those students who need only the quick review and not a half or full-year class. The quick re-teach is a perfect fit for short elective classes or as a summer school session. Special education and English-language development teachers find this program helpful. In addition to the instructional resources, the program provides three culminating reading placement tests. These whole-class tests provide the diagnostic data to inform reading intervention instruction.

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Long Vowels for Big Kids

FREE Long Vowel Lessons

Long Vowel Lessons with Formative Assessment and Phonics Cards

When we are talking about long vowels we often say what we don’t mean. The problem is that when we say that English has five main vowels: a, e, i, o, and u, we are often referring to the alphabetic symbols, not the sounds which they represent. We do the same with consonants, by the way.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines vowel in this way:  “A speech sound produced by humans when the breath flows out through the mouth without being blocked by the teeth, tongue, or lips.” The secondary definition of vowel is a letter which symbolizes the sound.

By the way, I checked four other dictionaries and they say the same thing. The key phrase for the primary definition is “speech sound.” We reading specialists and speech therapists refer to speech sounds as phonemes. Experts disagree on the number of phonemes, but 43 is a decent number. Yes, the other dictionaries refer to vowels as letters in their secondary definitions.

Here’s the problem. We confuse beginning and remedial readers by using the primary (speech sounds) and secondary (letters) definitions interchangeably. Listen to some of our students’ justifiable confusions (Okay, I added on a bit to make the points):

“You said, ‘Every syllable has only one vowel sound, but now you’re telling us that /ow/ as in cow has two sounds. How many syllables is downtown? Or what about poison? Are you just making this up as you go along?

“Is this silent final thing a vowel? So does the word breathe have three vowels? If a vowel has a sound, how can a vowel not have a sound? Are we in some parallel universe and I didn’t notice?”

“You said that ‘a long vowel says its name.’ What about the word tune or duty? Don’t those vowels say /oo/? And you said that can be a long vowel. But it doesn’t say it’s name in dying or baby. Did you go to school for this?

“You told us that ‘When two vowels go walking, the first one usually does the talking. If is a vowel and is a vowel, then shouldn’t I be putting peanut butter on my br/ē/d? Of is that another one of your ‘Outlaw Words’? Or how bread and bead are one syllable, but cre/ate are two? What have you been smokin’?”

“Didn’t you say that the blank after the consonant digraph /wh/ means that a vowel has to go in there? What about the color white? Is a vowel? Is a vowel? Why is “i_e” called a vowel sound-spelling, when it’s got two vowels. This phonics stuff is whacked.”

“Now that we’ve learned that a, e, i, o, and are vowels, you brought up the ‘sometimes y’… Are there any other consonants that can also be vowels?… What? ‘W Vowels and Y, L, H, M, R, and N While We’re At It‘? Can’t we just go back to memorizing everything as sight words? Next thing you’re going to tell me is that my peanut butter can be jelly and my jelly can be peanut butter on my sandwich, or that we can never starve in the desert because of all the sand-which-es there.” There’s always a jokester in a response to intervention class, I’ve found.

How can we avoid this confusion? Let’s try to be consistent in using just the primary definition of a vowel, i.e. the speech sound. Teach students that the alphabetic code is a bunch of symbols which we call letters. The letters represent sounds, just like the different stars on our flag represent the 50 different states. The stars are symbols… not the real things. We wouldn’t say the stars are the states. That would be dumb. We also wouldn’t say that the alphabet letters are the sounds. That would be dumb. The different letters represent, or mean, the different sounds.

With this understanding, students can readily accept that a combination of alphabetic letters (digraphs, diphthongs, and blends) represent one or more speech sounds. For example, I suggest saying, “The word bead has a vowel digraph… one vowel sound spelled with two letters,” not bead has two vowels. Similarly say, “The word point has a diphthong… two connected vowel sounds.” Don’t shy away from using the academic language. Your kids can handle it and it makes you look smart. By the way, I try and stay away from the general term vowel teams because we teach students that a team is singular as a collective noun, but use what works for you and your students.

The Long Vowels

The Long Vowels

Long Vowels

How to Teach Long Vowels

Introductory Definition: Like the five short vowels, the five long vowels are different sounds. Mostly, their sounds are the same as the names of the alphabet letters a, e, i, o, and u.

On our animal sound-spelling cards, the names of each card: ape, eagle, ibex, okapi, and mule each use these different sounds. The long vowel sounds are written in red on the cards with slashes (/) before and after to remind us that the long vowel is a sound, not a letter.

Unlike the short vowels, each of the long vowels has more than one spelling. The most common spellings are listed below the names of the cards. A blank means that a consonant must go in there. A consonant is a different sound than a vowel and can be spelled with one or more letters.

Teaching Tips

To teach phonics to big kids and adults, we have to teach differently than when we teach phonics to beginning readers. Your big kids and adults are smarter and have more life experience than pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. Intervention students have “heard it all before.” They just haven’t learned all of it.

I suggest a four-pronged approach to teaching long vowels to your reading intervention students:

1. Use the animal sound-spelling cards (provided for you in a FREE five-lesson long vowels download at the end of this article) to teach the names, sounds, and spellings in isolation.

2. Teach whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending for all of the long vowel spellings. Use a hurried pace, but blend every day until each has been mastered. Reinforce with games, using the long vowel cards to blend with the consonant and consonant blend cards.

3. Diagnose and gap-fill. As an MA reading specialist with experience teaching grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and community college remedial reading classes, the one thing I’ve learned is that with intervention students, you’ve got to approach instruction from different angles. As an aside, although this article is all about explicit, systematic phonics instruction, my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention also provides resources for instruction using rimes (word families), sight words, sight syllables, syllabication… anything that works. The different phonics angle is assessment-based instruction. Older students are motivated to learn what they don’t know. If we use effective, comprehensive diagnostic assessments to determine what students know and don’t know and target instruction accordingly, students will much more likely buy-in to this individualized instruction (even when you use groups). Want my FREE 13 reading assessments, used by hundreds (or more) teachers to teach assessment-based gap-filling? BTW… the two phonics tests have audio files dictated by Yours Truly!

4. Use targeted practice to do the gap-filling and make sure your students have mastered the long vowels through formative assessment. The FREE five-lesson download includes a short formative assessment. Be willing and able to re-teach if they don’t get it. After all, reading intervention is all about learning, not teaching.

Get the Long Vowel Phonics Lessons and Phonics Cards FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

 

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