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Prescriptivism and Descriptivism

Grammar Descriptivism and Prescriptivism

Descriptivism and Prescriptivism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These authors note:

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

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

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Correctness

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

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

─Julie Villenueve

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

Get the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading is Like Driving

Good Drivers Multi-task

Driving is Like Reading

Reading is a lot like driving. Let’s stick with a car for the purposes of our comparison.

Everyone knows that driving a car is a complicated process. No one jumps into the driver’s seat and begins driving without some sort of instruction. Driving is especially challenging because it involves multi-tasking. To be able to drive, the driver must understand how the car works, know how to use the machine, remember and apply the traffic rules, and interact safely with their driving environment all at the same time!

Good drivers understand each of these four components and remember to apply each of these tasks simultaneously and automatically. Bad drivers don’t understand or don’t remember to apply some or all of them. However, the good news is that even bad drivers can learn the concepts and skills to improve their driving with good teaching and practice.

Unfortunately, good drivers often develop bad habits over the years. Of the four components, the most frequent bad habit involves how drivers interact with their

Distracted Driving with Phones

Distracted Driving

environment. Let’s face it, sometimes we choose to add a multitude of distractions to our driving environment, even though we know we shouldn’t. Other times, we unintentionally fail to interact with our surroundings.

For example, most of us who have been driving for years have had a similar experience: We get on a familiar road to a familiar destination and our minds begin to wander. We arrive with the realization that we have absolutely no memory of driving to that place. We were truly on autopilot.

Of course, we must have had some degree of environmental awareness in order to arrive safely at our destination; however, most of us would agree that the interaction with our environment must have been less than optimal and the lack of any driving memory is certainly troubling.

So, let’s see how the driving process compares to the reading process.

Like driving, reading is a complicated process—more so than many of us realize. Decades of reading research have refuted the popular notion that reading is a natural, developmental process akin to oral language development (Gough & Hillinger, 1980; Lyon, 1998; Wren, 2002; Moats, L, & Tolman, C 2009). Simply put, children do not learn to read as they learn to speak, through natural exposure to a literate environment.

We now know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that reading is taught, not caught. No child, nor adult picks up a book, article, newspaper, or poem and reads without having had some form of instruction. Now, of course the quantity and quality of instruction varies, and many adults will not remember how they first learned to read, but they certainly were taught to do so.

Now, let’s return to our two-fold definition of reading, which we developed in our first two lectures: Reading is reading comprehension and reading comprehension is understanding and remembering what we read.

Good Readers are like Good Drivers.

Reading is Like Driving

To be able to understand and remember what is read, the reader must know how reading works, apply the phonetic tools, understand the meaning and order of words, and monitor the reader-author relationship. And, yes, like good drivers, they can multi-task.

Good readers apply these four components simultaneously and automatically. Struggling readers don’t understand or don’t remember to apply some or all of them. The good news is that both weak and strong readers can learn and practice the concepts and skills to improve their reading comprehension and retention.

However, like good drivers, good readers often develop bad habits over the years. Of the four components, the usual culprit is how readers interact with their reading environment and author’s text.

For example, most of us, like the distracted driver I spoke of, have had this experience infrequently or frequently while reading: We turn the page in a book or scroll down on our phones and our minds begin to wander as we read. We finish reading and come to the realization that we haven’t the foggiest idea about what we just read. We did read the words, but we did not understand them, nor remember any of the information or ideas. Some of us would swear to having read, say Beowulf, in the same manner when we were high school seniors.

Now you may have noticed that I used italics for the words reading and read, because although we pronounced the words, we really didn’t read them, using our definition of reading comprehension. If we don’t understand or retain what we have read, we really haven’t read.

*****

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?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , ,

English-language Arts Standards

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

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

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

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

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

Common Core Literalism

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

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

Response to Intervention and the Common Core

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

Grammar and the Common Core

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

Common Core Instructional Minutes

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

Common Core Academic Language Words

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

Common Core Greek and Latinates

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

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

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

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

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

Common Core Grammar Standards

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

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

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

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

CCSS Language Progressive Skills

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

Common Core Curricular Crossover

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

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

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

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

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

Common Core Content Area Reading and Writing

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

Common Core Language Standards

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

Standards and Accountability

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

Turning Dependent into Independent Readers

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

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

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

Common Core State Writing Standards

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

How to Teach the English-language Arts Standards

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

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

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

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

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

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

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

Academic Word List

Not too many teachers would argue that vocabulary acquisition is unimportant.

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)

As cited in the Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

However, the average ELA teacher spends little instructional time on vocabulary development.

Vocabulary instruction has been neither frequent nor systematic in most schools (Biemiller, 2001; Durkin, 1978; Lesaux, Kieffer, Faller, & Kelley, 2010; Scott & Nagy, 1997).

As cited in the Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

Vocabulary Instruction

Depth and Breadth

The Common Core authors and reading specialists advocate a two-fold approach to vocabulary instruction: 1. Explicit and multi-faceted vocabulary instruction and 2.  implicit vocabulary acquisition through independent reading and listening. Depth and breadth.

What does in-depth explicit vocabulary instruction look like?

The Common Core authors provide the most detailed vocabulary Standards in The Language Strand: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, and 6):

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

Most ELA and reading teachers are familiar with #s 1–6, but are confused about #7: Academic Language Words (L.6.0). By now, most teachers know that Academic Language Words are the Tier 2 words, which reading specialists and the Common Core authors tell us to teach because they are the most generalizable across all text genre. As a reminder, Tier 1 words are those used in everyday speech and Tier 3 words are domain-specific words used in content area instruction. However, what many teachers don’t know is that we have a research-based list of high frequency Tier 2 words.

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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

What’s the best way to teach the Academic Word List? The author’s grades 4, 5, 6,7 and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits  use the Frayer model four

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

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits

square (definition, synonym, antonym, and example-characteristic-picture) method to learn these words in-depth.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had an instructional scope and sequence of the Academic Word List by grade level? In other words, a 4th Grade Academic Word List, a 4th Grade Academic Word List, a 4th Grade Academic Word List. a 4th Grade Academic Word List, and a 4th Grade Academic Word List? We’ve got it and it’s your FREE download! the Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Would you like to check out our CCSS-aligned vocabulary worksheets from the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits ?

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:

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

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

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

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

Episode 1

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

Episode 2

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

Episode 3

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

Episode 4

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

Episode 5

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

*****

ELA and Reading Assessments

Do’s and Don’ts: Assessments

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

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

DO use both diagnostic and formative assessments.

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

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

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

Need an example of an effective formative assessment?

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

DON’T assess to determine a generic problem.

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

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

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

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

DO review mastered material often.

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

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

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

DON’T solely assess grade-level Standards.

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

Get the The Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

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

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts

As an ELA and reading intervention teacher at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels (I know… the grass

Do's and Don'ts of ELA and Reading Assessment

Do’s and Don’ts of Assessment: The Trailer

is always greener :)), I’ve had the opportunity to learn the value of assessment-based instruction. So when a fellow teacher challenged me at a recent professional development workshop on assessment with the following rhetorical question, I answered quickly and moved on to the rest of my presentation.

She asked/stated, “Don’t you think it makes more sense to spend valuable class time teaching, rather than assessing?”

Later, I sat down at the computer to provide a more comprehensive answer. Happens to me all the time. I think of the really good answer, quip, or comeback later when the moment has passed. I came up with 52 solid reasons to support assessment-based instruction.

Now, I doubt if the teacher wanted to hear even my quick answer, let alone my 52-part answer. Don’t worry, you’ll only get the one reason in this article, but the rest will follow.

I’ve opted for a Do’s and Don’ts approach to clearly explain what does and does not “make sense” for ELA and reading assessments, but in classic movie sequel promotion, I’ll provide a cliffhanger to entice viewers to check out the next article. More Do’s and Don’ts probably won’t bring everyone back into the theater and sell more popcorn (Yes, my ELA and reading intervention resources are for sale in the lobby at https:\\www.penningtonpublishing.com); however, my 15 free ELA and reading assessments, with corresponding matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons just might do the trick. Tell you what… I’ll kick start this first episode with two assessment freebies. So, dim the lights because the “coming to a theater or drive-in near you” trailers are over and the feature now begins. Please silence your cell phone.

Do’s and Don’t of ELA and Reading Assessments 

1. DO use comprehensive assessments, not random samples.

As an ELA teacher and reading specialist, I certainly value random sample normed assessments. In fact one downside of the Common Core State Standards was the replacement of nationally normed assessments. The new PAARC, SWBAC, and other state iterations are criterion referenced (the Standards) achievement tests, not statistically normed tests. For example, we used to be able to state the reading comprehension and vocabulary grade levels percentiles for individual students, but no longer.

However, to be honest, the normed assessment data did not inform instruction (and frankly, the CCSS assessments do only marginally better). What both the normed and Standards-based tests provide are random samples of ability or achievement, respectively. In other words, they can accurately state, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

However, knowing that there is a problem is of limited value. Back in 1970 the NASA team in Houston worked round the clock to test what would and what would not work to help the three Apollo 13 astronauts survive and make the re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Their specific data were informative and applicable to the astronauts. They made it home alive! (if you haven’t seen the movie).

Identifying the fact that a student has a problem is not helpful data. What teachers want are comprehensive assessments which specifically determine “What my kids know and what do they not know.” The Standards-based tests may permit some ability grouping or class placements, but the data do not target instruction. Following are two quick, but comprehensive small group or whole class assessments with recording matrices, which provide specific data that will provide exactly what each individual student has an has not yet mastered. I’ve included one for Pre-K, grades 1, 2, 3 and reading intervention, English-language development, and special education teachers, and one example for grades 4 through adult learners.

Assessment #1: The Alphabet

It may come as a shock to secondary teachers that many older students do not yet know the alphabet. Of course, this comes as no surprise to those who work with struggling English readers. One of the most popular reading intervention programs, Read 180, includes the normed Foundational Reading Assessment. The test provides 10 items designed to measure students’ knowledge of uppercase and lowercase letter names.

Last I checked, the English alphabet has 26 letters. Teachers want to know precisely which upper and lower case letters students can name, identify, match, and sequence and which ones they cannot. A comprehensive alphabetic assessment provides these data. Download it below.

Assessment #2: Sight Syllables 

The Standards-based assessments may be able to accurately summarize that a student has not yet mastered sight syllable recognition of the common affixes through random sample test problems. However, from the test results we can’t learn exactly which of the common Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes a student has and has not yet mastered in terms of syllable recognition. The former doesn’t help the teacher; the latter could transform a teacher’s instruction and student learning. A comprehensive assessment on the research-based, high frequency Greek and Latin prefixes and roots provides these data. Download it below.

COMING ATTRACTIONS!

Enough for now. But, get your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 1 and get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview.

2. DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal.

3. DO use diagnostic assessments.

4. DON’T assess what you won’t teach.

*****

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

Get the Alphabet Assessment, Matrix, Activity, and Game Cards FREE Resource:

Get the Sight Syllable Greek and Latin Assessment, Matrix, Activity, and Game Cards FREE Resource:

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

Reading Flashcards and Games

644 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards and 60 Games

Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards and Games

644 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards (Digital Files) and 60 games for only $7.99. You print, cut, and play! The perfect summer resource to get your kids ready for school in the fall. You will use these over and over again! Ideal for all kids ages 4-12. Designed by a reading specialist. Buy them HERE.

These 644 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards and 60 Games have been designed to support explicit and systematic phonics-based reading, vocabulary, and spelling instruction. The cards are included in Mark Pennington’s Teaching Reading Strategies and accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, but the flashcards can also supplement any reading or spelling program.

The cards use animal photographs for the sound-spelling flashcards, not juvenile cartoonish characters. Perfect for beginning readers. Ideal for older readers: Tier 1 and 2 intervention, special education students with auditory processing challenges, English-language learners. Fantastic for family vacations or waiting in the doctor’s office with your own kid!

You get two digital versions of these flashcards with your purchase.

  1. Print and Cut for Games

Print on heavy duty colored cardstock and cut. The cards are formatted for business card size, so they are ideal for spreading out on small surface areas (such as student desks) to play blending and spelling games. Print back-to-back or single-sided. You need the printed cards to play most of the games. Note: Or why not take them to your favorite office supply store. They can print them in full color and cut them on their business card cutting machines. Easy and cheap!

  1. Digital Device Display

Two download formats (phones and tablets) are provided. Of course, you need a zip file app to download on your devices. See Google Play or Apple Store. Note: Device formats differ, but the PDF formatting fits most devices nicely. Note that these files do not automatically adjust to display like epub, iBook, Kindle, etc. The program directions share how to further edit the PDF, should you wish to further refine. Be assured that I’ve tried them out on iPhones, Androids, iPads, etc. and they work great!

Each flashcard set includes the following:

Reading (Phonics and Sight Words)

*Alphabet cards (including upper and lower case with font variations)

*Animal sound-spelling vowel, vowel team, and consonant cards

*Consonant blend cards

*Sight-spelling “outlaw” word cards with word rhymes

*Rime (word family) cards with example words

Spelling

*Vowel spelling cards with example words

*Vowel team spelling cards with example words

*Consonant spelling cards with example words

*Consonant blend spelling cards with example words

*Most-often misspelled challenge word cards with example sentences

Vocabulary

*High frequency Greek and Latin prefix and suffix cards with definitions and example words

*Commonly confused homonyms with context clue sentences

60 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Card Games

These Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards have been designed for games! Get 60 easy-to-play games with clear directions to help your students master reading, spelling, and vocabulary. Simple to set up and easy to play. You and your students will love these card games!

Convinced your kids need these 644 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards (Digital Files) and 60 games for only $7.99? Buy them HERE.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Looking for a comprehensive reading intervention program, which includes these flashcards? The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies program includes diagnostic phonics and spelling assessments (audio files) to determine which gaps need filling and all the phonics and spelling resources to do just that. Plus, this full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides phonemic awareness and sight word assessments and corresponding activities, sound-spelling blending and syllabication practice, reading fluency (with YouTube modeled readings) articles with word counts and timing sheets, and expository comprehension worksheets with embedded vocabulary. Your students will love the animal sound-spelling card games! Video training modules make this a user-friendly program for both new and veteran teachers.

Or why not get the Teaching Reading Strategies and Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE for the complete reading intervention program? The 54 Sam and Friends decodable books perfectly complement the instructional sequence of Teaching Reading Strategies. These eight-page phonics books have been specifically designed for your older readers with teenage cartoon characters with complex plots. Each book includes higher level comprehension questions and 30-second word fluencies. Your students can catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

School Absence Excuses

Funny School Absent Excuses

School Absent Excuses

No doubt you’ve heard a few of these. Following are my favorites from BuzzFeed’s collection, which has been gathered from school attendance clerks over the years. But, read past and I’ll provide one of my own that I think you will enjoy. Ah… truth is stranger than fiction.

I once told a teacher two weeks before a school concert that I wouldn’t be able to go because I would be sick. She just asked “you’ll be sick?” and when I nodded she just dropped it. She either believed in my ability to see into the future or thought my stupidity was just too much to even question.

Emmy Bloomberg, Facebook

Once during my high school spirit week, it was “superhero” Thursday. I didn’t have a costume and didn’t have time to buy/ make one… I had a genius idea… I skipped school that day, and then on Friday, everyone was demanding a reason why I wasn’t at school, and my excuse was, “I was here, I just came as the Invisible Woman.”

Submitted by mydnytestorme13

I used the excuse that I missed the bus for months, until the school caught on that I lived across the street. I could see my high school from my porch.

Submitted by carleighg

Jimmy Gordon’s Excuse

I’ve told quite a few people over the years about my student, Jimmy Gordon, and his excuse for cutting school. I’ve never put it into print until now. No, the name has not been changed to protect the innocent… because he certainly was not. Call this post “Teacher Payback.”

My first teaching job was at a grades 4-8 school in Sutter Creek, California. This beautiful Gold Rush town was split in two halves by Sutter Creek (hence the name). Good fishing, swimming, and gold panning in that creek!

In the spring of 1986, Jimmy Gordon transferred to our school from out of the area. Jimmy was an eighth-grader and I was his history teacher. Jimmy seemed like a nice kid and he made a few friends right away–something teachers (and parents) are always concerned about with a mid-year transfer.

A week before Open House, the principal called an emergency staff meeting to inform us that Jimmy Gordon’s dad had died suddenly. Jimmy had come in that morning, sobbing about his dad’s passing and telling us that the funeral was planned for the following week when relatives would arrive. Jimmy went home to console his mom.

The staff felt horrible and we quickly allocated money from our “Sunshine Fund” to send a bouquet of flowers and a card to Jimmy and his mom.

After Open House, the seventh and eighth grade teachers walked down to the local watering hole, “Berlotti’s” to unwind, per our custom. I sat down toward the end of the bar, next to a man a few years older than I. He was an outgoing sort and soon leaned over to me and said, “You all sound like teachers.”

I told him, “Yes, we just finished our Open House at Sutter Creek Elementary.”

“Oh really,” he replied, “My son just started school there a few week’s back.”

“What’s his name?” I stammered.

“Jimmy Gordon.”

+++++

Jimmy had been ditching school for a week, fishing in Sutter Creek.

Now, that’s a funny school absence excuse. When Jimmy returned to my class the next day, he didn’t say much. But I asked him anyway, “Were they biting? Jimmy just turned red and put his head down for the rest of the day.

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