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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 , ,

Teacher Hygge

5 Strategies to Teacher Hygee

Teacher Hygge

Everyone could use a little more hygge, especially teachers. You’ve heard about it and searched how to spell it, but what is it?

Essentially, hygge is the Danish (and some claim Norwegian) term for that moment in life when you sigh, smile, and say, “Life is good.” It’s the cozy, comfortable, and fun lifestyle. Some say that it derives from hugge, the old Norse word for hug. Hygge is not solely introspective; it is also other-focused. Hygge is about the individual fitting into the community. That’s my version of mindfulness. I call it “Summer Teacher Mindfulness.”

To achieve hygge, teachers need to recognize and take advantage of the rhythms of our teaching lives. Summer is the perfect time to play (not work) toward this goal with the five strategies of “Summer Teacher Mindfulness.” Now, put aside all the stuff you’ve heard about mindfulness training. No one has the copyright or monopoly on this term. It need not have a religious connotation, but it can and does so in a variety of religious practices: some Eastern and some Western. My concept of mindfulness is simple: Take time to decompress and restore a proper work-life balance. Take time to enjoy our profession and be re-encouraged about the importance of our career paths.

My five “Summer Teacher Mindfulness” strategies are simple to understand and implement: Relax, Re-group, Re-connect, Re-commit, and Re-train. No, I’m not writing a self-help book on these strategies; I’m no expert. These strategies are nothing new. Take them as reminders of what you already know to be true as a teacher. Notice, I don’t claim that these will work for every profession; I only know what I know as a teacher. Check out the article detailing these strategies here.

Summer Teacher Mindfulness and Hygge

Summer Teacher Mindfulness

Note that the sequence is important. It moves from an inward focus to an outward goal, taking care of yourself so that you can do so for others. Teaching is a sacrificial profession: we do give up some personal prerogatives for the benefit of our students. No need to list them here. But, learn the wisdom from Jesus’ words: “Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39 New International Version). You can only sacrifice what you have to offer.

So let’s get practical here and talk about what teachers do during summer vacation. Yes, I know the term is an oxymoron. No teacher I know has the summer off. Some of us have other jobs to pay the bills. Most teachers spend some (or a lot) of their summer taking graduate coursework to expand their knowledge base (and improve their position on the salary schedule), or they attend professional development training. Most teachers also use the summer months for grade-level team or individual planning. Think curricular maps and lesson plans. My experience is that this process involves the latter three strategies: Re-connect, Re-commit, and Re-train. It’s the cart before the horse. How much better to learn and plan after the first two strategies: Relax and Re-group?

Beginning the summer in the right place makes the rest of our “vacation” go so much better. We re-connect with our friends, families, and colleagues in a relaxed state of mind with an openness to new ideas and fresh, out-of-the-box approaches. We are in the proper mental state to re-commit to the love of our lives: teaching and our students, and we can prepare for the newness of our fresh start to the school year by re-training with new things to try. Following the process is simply rejuvenating. That’s the feeling of teacher hygge.

After relaxing and re-grouping, want to re-connect, re-commit, and re-train without re-inventing the wheel? Check out these grade-level English-language arts curricular maps for you summer team and individual planning.

Curricular Maps for Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Summer Plannin’ for Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Summer plannin’ made easy! Day by day grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary plans for next year! A FREE curricular map completely aligned to the CCSS and ready to write in your planner. Want the grade-level CCSS alignment documents? They’re in there!

No need to re-invent the wheel this summer by applying the Common Core State Standards to your grade-level curricular mapping. For those “other than reading and writing” subjects we all need to teach (think grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary), check out these twice-per week curricular listings:

PREVIEW and DOWNLOAD the GRADE 4  CURRICULAR MAP HERE.

PREVIEW and DOWNLOAD the GRADE 5  CURRICULAR MAP HERE.

PREVIEW and DOWNLOAD the GRADE 6  CURRICULAR MAP HERE.

PREVIEW and DOWNLOAD the GRADE 7  CURRICULAR MAP HERE.

PREVIEW and DOWNLOAD the GRADE 8  CURRICULAR MAP HERE.

Following each curricular map are sample lessons from my own program (designed to teach each lesson in the curricular map), followed by the CCSS alignment documents.

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

Summer Teacher Mindfulness

Re-charge Batteries with Summer Teacher Mindfulness

Summer Teacher Mindfulness

It sometimes seemed as if it never would arrive, and then it showed up so surprisingly soon: summer! Built into every teacher is a certain life cycle, even if the teacher is teaching year-round, or (God-forbid) summer school. The anticipation of the weekends, holidays, breaks, and summer vacation is often more rewarding than the thing in-it-of-itself. This summer, let’s make the thing better than the lead-up.

I’m Mark Pennington, a teacher publisher and ELA teacher/reading specialist. Of course I want to sell you books, but I also care about my profession. Teaching is the love of my life, as it is for many of you. However, the research (with which I will not bore you) shows that more and more teachers are entering the profession with idealistic high hopes of truly making a difference in others’ lives, but crashing and burning within a few years. Even for veteran teachers, a 7, 17, or 27 year itch or even PTSD can threaten a meaningful career.

I’m not self-help guru, but I recently read an article in the Washington Post by Megan McDonough in which she highlights some of the thoughts of Finnish author, Miska Rantanen in his book, Pantsdrunk. Read that title again; you can’t make this stuff up.

I like people from Finland because one of my lifelong friends was a Finnish foreign exchange student back in high school and because everyone has heard that the Finnish educational system is the best in the world. My friend, Mika, says it isn’t, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, I saw the Finnish name, Miska, and decided to read the article. It’s about different cultural approaches to the latest American pop craze: mindfulness. The article confirms a few practices which I and some of my happiest colleagues have been doing during the summer to re-energize and re-charge.

All foreign language terms come from the Washington Post article.

One of the points of the article is that mindfulness means different things to different cultures. It’s purposes and practices can be completely different. It can also be religious or purely secular. If you are studying Zen Buddhism or the early Christian meditation practices, you will get different approaches and purposes. (The former’s goal is emptiness, while the latter’s goal is filling.) If you are a secular type, you may beg, borrow, and steal from either, any, or none. (My wife and teaching colleagues would agree that I’m an equal opportunity annoyer.) Anyway, the author’s purpose and mine is not to harmonize these different ideas of mindfulness and pretend that they are all the same. My purpose is to describe a few practices that seem to work for me and other teachers.

Since anyone with access to the Internet and a blog can coin a term these days, I’ll call it “Summer Teacher Mindfulness.” Since “Summer Teacher Mindfulness” is my own term, I get to make up my own ideas and practice. Join in if it makes sense to you. Teachers only. This is an exclusive club 🙂 like the staff-only bathroom.

Please feel free to add on your own ideas for each of these five steps in the comments section.

Summer Teacher Mindfulness? My take is that teachers need summer to Relax, Re-group, Re-connect, Re-commit, and Re-train.

Relax

It’s been a long year and you’ve worked hard. Perhaps no other profession is as emotionally draining. Non-teachers don’t understand how much students, colleagues, administrators, and parents take from you. Just like your phone, you have to re-charge your batteries. I say it’s okay to focus on yourself a bit. Didn’t Jesus say, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 New International Version)? We focus on the first part, but can only do that well if we take care of the last part.

The Danes call their approach to a relaxed lifestyle, hygge (HOO-ga). They emphasize simple, cozy, comfortable living. Check out my related article, “Teacher Hygge” and learn how to take concrete steps toward living the good life. Nothing you don’t already know, but an encouragement to restore FUN in your life. Also, download my free grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary curriculum maps in that same article to make your summer plannin’ easy.

Re-group

Relaxing allows us to take stock of our lives, to put things in perspective, and to see ourselves as we really are (warts and all). I’m a reading specialist and so I think about a technique to improve comprehension called metacognition. Essentially, metacognition means to think about thinking. That’s re-grouping. It’s deliberate and may take a portion of your summer, but my view is that we often skip this step and move from a week’s vacation (Relax) to re-connect to0 quickly with others and our profession. If you’re doing lesson planning on your Hawaiian vacation, you are are not relaxing nor re-grouping.

For me, two practical steps of re-grouping are walking and reading. I jump full-throttle into these summer disciplines as soon as I’ve relaxed a bit. These recreational

Teachers and Ikigai

Ikigai for Teachers

disciplines do just that: they re-create. The Japanese re-group with nature through movement. They call it ikigai (Ee-KEY-guy), or “reason for being.” The Norewegians re-group by embracing nature and use the term, friluftsliv (FREE-loofts-liv), to describe open-air living. I imagine Norwegians really have to make use of their summers for this practice, given the gloom they live in for much of the year. As soon as I’m done with this article, I’m going on a short hike.

Re-connect

We can’t lead self-focused lives forever, nor should we. We are teachers. Our focus in the teaching profession is giving the who and what plus how. We give of ourselves to students. If you haven’t figured this out yet, you won’t last long in our profession. Teaching is all about relationships. But in the summer we need to practice building (and re-building) relationships. A teacher’s positive relationships with family, friends, and community statistically correlates with positive professional relationships. So call your mom; hang with friends; get to know an unknown neighbor and do some volunteer work.

The Dutch practice these social re-connections and term it gezellig (Heh-SELL-ick). I don’t think the Dutch have Facebook or Instagram in mind. It’s all about re-connecting in person.

Of course we do have to (let’s go with “get to”) re-connect with what we teach and how we teach it.

Re-commit

Before you re-connect with work planning, take time to re-commit. I’m serious. Every teacher needs a solemn ceremony (it may need only last until you finish reading this article) to re-affirm our contract. It’s like reciting wedding vows in a re-commitment ceremony.

Recently, I attended my niece’s graduation from nursing school. The graduation involves a group recital of the The Nightingale Pledge, named in honor of Florence Nightingale. It’s a modified version of the Hippocratic Oath. The recitation is followed by a pinning ceremony in which registered nurses receive a specially designed pin bearing the name of their nursing school. It’s a tangible reminder of their professional commitment.

My summer re-commitment involves taking out and contemplating a simple framed pencil drawing, completed long ago by a friend upon receiving my teaching credential from U.C.L.A. It’s a simple drawing of a classroom scene in which I’m sitting among my students. You have your own re-commitment ceremony, but do it. Remind yourself of the privilege it is to teach and your idealist commitment to do so when you first began your teaching career. You didn’t get into this profession for the money; although, the vacations are not too bad 🙂

Part of a teacher’s re-commitment should include a commitment to a balanced work and home life. The Swedish practice this balance, “not too much and not too little” in their cultural philosophy called lagom (lah-GOM). One practice of lagom, which I plan to incorporate in my “Summer Teacher Mindfulness” is a daily break involving either a hot beverage or a treat. Yes to both.

Re-train

My strong advice is to do something new. Intentionally abandon some of what has proven to work for you and your students and try something different. For me, I’ve loved the flexibility of change within our profession. I’ve changed subject areas (history to reading to ELA), grade levels (I’ve taught elementary, middle school, high school, and community college), and schools. In the last few years I’ve tried literacy centers, interactive notebooks, Socratic seminars, and more. I’ve taken on new committee assignments and served on different district task forces. You get the idea. Change is good. We teachers love to learn and so re-training fills that need.

I will make one suggestion for re-training. Consider re-training your mindset from teaching to learning. Be about what and how students learn, not only about what and how you teach. There is not a distinction without a difference.

One way to focus on learning is to shift from a class to an individual student mindset. Here we go back to the relational component of our profession which I’ve already discussed. The best way to re-focus on the individual student’s needs? Assessment-based individualized instruction. That’s what my Pennington Publishing ELA and reading intervention resources are all about. Of course, we also teach grade-level Standards, but quick, accurate, whole-class assessments can determine what and how you teach to individual students. Want the assessments (absolutely free) that I use? Grammar and Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Sight Words and Syllables, Reading Fluency. Click below and I’ll send the assessment downloads with recording matrices to your email address. What a great way to re-train this summer!

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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

Don’t Teach Grammar Mini-Lessons

Grammar Mini-Lessons

Don’t Teach Grammar Mini-Lessons

Don’t teach grammar mini-lessons for two reasons: this instructional methodology is implicit and ineffective.

Currently, the top Google search for “new research on teaching grammar” brings up this article from The Atlantic, written by Professor Michelle Navarre Cleary:

The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar

A century of research shows that traditional grammar lessons—those hours spent diagramming sentences and memorizing parts of speech—don’t help and may even hinder students’ efforts to become better writers. Yes, they need to learn grammar, but the old-fashioned way does not work.

Case settled? Not exactly. In educational research it is much easier to disprove than to prove. Educational researchers frequently employ the null hypothesis in their experimental design. In a nutshell, a grammar program research study might have the following hypothesis: “There is no statistical significance between the achievement of grade 8 students taught with such and such grammar program and those not taught with said grammar program as measured by such and such assessment over such and such a period of time.”

By design, any findings would have to be extremely limited and the control group, unless unexposed to any literacy activities in hermetically-sealed isolation chambers, would have so many variables that any findings would be questionable. Such has been the case with the century of research on grammar and usage acquisition and its transfer to writing. Two separate issues, by the way.

What the good professor is advocating is learning grammar implicitly from reading and writing, especially the latter. She suggests mini-lessons in the context of writing as a superior method of writing instruction (Notice: not grammar instruction).

We know that grammar instruction that works includes teaching students strategies for revising and editing, providing targeted lessons on problems that students immediately apply to their own writing, and having students play with sentences like Legos, combining basic sentences into more complex ones. Often, surprisingly little formal grammar instruction is needed. Researcher Marcia Hurlow has shown that many errors “disappear” from student writing when students focus on their ideas and stop “trying to ‘sound correct.’”

These grammar mini-lessons are part and parcel of the implicit instructional approach: “If you do something over and over again, you’ll eventually stop making mistakes and get gooder at the task.” It’s akin to playing Monopoly for the first time without reading the rules. No, you don’t eventually learn to play by playing and being interrupted by occasional mini-lessons on what to do when passing “Go.”

What’s Wrong with the Implicit Approach in Mini-Lessons?

  1. It is simply inefficient. Waiting to teach a mini-lesson as students need the grammatical tool always comes with this advice: “When you notice that some of your students are having capitalization issues regarding article titles, pull a group of students needing the instruction and teach the relevant rules.” Of course, other students may need that same instruction, but have not yet evidenced the problems in writer mini-conferences with the teacher. Furthermore, why not teach the capitalization rules for all proper nouns. You know you are going to have to teach another mini-lesson next week on the capitalization of song and poem titles. Lastly, the beauty of the Common Core State Standards is the grade-level expectations and the mastery approach to learning. The CCSS Language Strand has quite explicit grammar, usage, and mechanics grade-level Standards.
  2. It is haphazard and disjointed. A traditional grammar approach provides explicit, planned instruction. An isolated mini-lesson on combining sentences by starting with a prepositional phrase will not make sense unless students have a solid foundation of subjects, predicates (a prepositional phrase never includes the subject or predicate), the characteristics of a phrase and a complete sentence, the role of commas with introductory phrases, etc. All other academic disciplines build upon foundations: no math teacher would do a mini-lesson on long division before teaching the multiplication tables.
  3. It does not connect to other  language instruction. An isolated mini-lesson on semi-colons does not connect to related lessons on comma-conjunction rules, independent and dependent clauses, the use of phrases in lists, etc. The amount of scaffolding required to teach a mini-lesson on mis-use of the semi-colon is significant. Interestingly, the most popular approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction, Daily Oral Language, is at the forefront of criticism by those favoring the mini-lesson approach for not connecting to other language instruction. See my article “Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work” for more.
  4. It falsely teaches students that grammar is an editing skill alone. Aside from the sentence combining practice, advocates of the mini-lesson approach teaches students that grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction is all about mistakes, rather than about tools to enrich speaking and writing.

Why Are Grammar Mini-Lessons So Ineffective?

  1. There is no corroborating research. Those advocating the relegation of grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction to mini-lessons have zero research studies to confirm a positive correlation with this approach on either grammar or writing assessments. It’s easy to throw stones at traditional grammar approaches, but it does not follow that mini-lessons are the best and only alternatives. The professor in The Atlantic article only cites anecdotal evidence that learning grammar from writing does, indeed, work.
  2. We’ve been there and done that. Decades of ignoring explicit grammar instruction have not seen increased reading or writing ability in our students. The Common Core authors in Appendix A crush the notion that implicit instructional approaches produce better results than explicit ones. Hence, the unpopular (among grammar mini-lesson fans) inclusion of a separate Language Strand. Even the most recent National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement in the NCTE Guideline now stresses the importance of direct instruction in these areas (even including parts of speech and sentence diagramming) with the caveat that instruction must be connected to reading, writing, and speaking. Regarding instructional approaches, the NCTE position might surprise some die-hard anti-grammar fanatics.
  3. There is less grammar teaching in mini-center classrooms. It’s just true. Those who use mini-lessons devalue the important contributions that grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction bring to developing readers and writers. Or, as is often the case, teachers did not learn grammar as students and did not learn how to teach grammar, usage, and mechanics in teacher preparation classes. Grammar can be scary and teachers seek their own instructional comfort levels.
  4. This instructional philosophy trickles into other language instruction. The implicit instruction of grammar mini-lessons bleeds into other areas of language instruction. Typically, those who teach grammar mini-lessons follow suit in vocabulary instruction. Again, the days of teaching only vocabulary in context and assorted mini-lessons on context clues has not done the job. The Common Core State Standards require a variety of direct vocabulary instruction at each grade level to improve the academic language of our students. See an example of the Vocabulary Acquisition and Use Standards, again found in the Language Strand to see if these Standards are conducive to a mini-lesson approach (They are not). In reading instruction we abandoned the “whole to part” strategy years ago following the 1985 National Reading Panel Report with its reading research consistently supporting the explicit, systematic approach to reading development. Interestingly, many teachers who now teach direct vocabulary and reading instruction have hung on to the implicit approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction.

Of course, teachers want to know how best to teach grammar, if mini-lessons do not work. No, there are other alternatives beyond simply passing out drill and kill worksheets or DOL. Check out my article, “Grammar and the Common Core” and my grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

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

Should We Teach Reading Strategies?

As an educational publisher, I’ve made a few mistakes over the years… especially with titles. My grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling

Spelling Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Instruction is a case in point: a terrific program series, which helps students catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. I chose the word, Differentiated, to indicate individualized, assessment-based instruction. However, to others in the Differentiated Instruction movement, this term meant student-choice, multi-modality learning styles. Not what I meant at all, but I’m stuck with the title.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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

Another colossal title failure was my grades 4-8 Teaching the Language Strand series. Shortly after the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, I assumed that everyone would begin referring to Common Core organizational  verbiage, including the key terms: strands. Wrong assumption. I had to rename my program as Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand). Obviously, a horrifically long title (even for a BUNDLED program).

However, by far, my greatest title failure has been for my flagship product, Teaching Reading StrategiesI thought that

Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies Comprehensive Reading Intervention Program

this program, designed for reading intervention was aptly named for the assessment-based skill-building strategies to help students acquire phonemic awareness, phonics, syllabication, fluency, and comprehension. Wrong again. Teachers assumed that the strategies referred to the other types of reading strategies, and I still get questions such as “Where are the lessons on identifying elements of plot or differentiating between fact and opinion?”

I’ve spent time discussing the meanings we pour into educational terminology (in this case my own program titles), because we teachers often assume that we are all talking about the same instructional approaches and their applications when we really are not. This is especially true with reading strategies.

Let’s prove the point with an example: Word identification reading strategies are qualitatively different than, say, identification of main idea reading strategies. Let’s see why these differences matter.

Word identification is the process of determining the pronunciation and
some meaning of a word encountered in print (Gentry, 2006; Harris & Hodges,
1995). Readers employ a variety of strategies to accomplish this. Ehri (2004,
2005) identified four of them: decoding, analogizing, predicting, and recognizing
whole words by sight (https://us.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/40373_3.pdf).

Thus, word identification strategies (I would differentiate a bit between identification and recognition, but that is beside the point) are the skills of reading, not reading as a meaning-making thinking activity.

Main idea is the gist of a passage; central thought; the chief topic of a passage expressed or implied in a word or phrase; the topic sentence of a paragraph; a statement that gives the explicit or implied major topic of a passage and the specific way in which the passage is limited in content or reference (csmpx.ucop.edu/crlp/resources/glossary.html).

Should We Teach Reading Strategies?

Don’t Teach Reading Strategies???

Thus, main idea is not a reading strategy, such as “decoding, analogizing, predicting, and recognizing whole words by sight”; instead, identifying main idea strategies are meaning-making thinking activities that assist reader comprehension.

Reading research over the last 30 years has confirmed the former reading strategy (word identification) as a statistically significant positive correlate to good reading comprehension; however, the research has not established the same level of correlation for the latter specific reading strategy (identifying main idea) or the other meaning-making thinking activities. These latter types of instructional strategies are often referred to as reading comprehension strategies:

activation of prior knowledge, cause and effect, compare and contrast, fact and opinion, author’s purpose, classify and categorize, drawing conclusions, figurative language, elements of plot, story structure, theme, context clues, point of view, inferences, text structure, characterization, and others.

So Should We Teach Reading Strategies? Daniel Willingham, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Virginia, stirred up quite a pot in reading circles with his Washington Post article, in which he labels these reading strategies as “tricks,” and not “skill-builders” to improve reading comprehension. The Post published five successive articles in the “Answer Sheet” from Willingham’s  book, “Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do.

According to the professor,

Can reading comprehension be taught? In this blog post, I’ll suggest that the most straightforward answer is “no.” Reading comprehension strategies (1) don’t boost comprehension per se; (2) do indirectly help comprehension but; (3) don’t need to be practiced.

Essentially, Willingham acknowledges that

… children who receive instruction in …reading comprehension strategies (RCSs)… are better able to understand texts than they were before the instruction (e.g., Suggate, 2010). Why?

I suggest that RCSs are better thought of as tricks than as skill-builders. They work because they make plain to readers that it’s a good idea to monitor whether you understand.

In other words, teaching how to identify the main idea of a reading passage is not a transferable reading skill which once learned and practiced can be applied to another reading passage by a developing reader. However, the analysis of the text does teach the reader that understanding the meaning of the text is what reading is all about i.e., comprehension.

So, should we teach these reading comprehension strategies?

Gail Lovette and I (2014) found three quantitative reviews of RCS instruction in typically developing children and five reviews of studies of at-risk children or those with reading disabilities. All eight reviews reported that RCS instruction boosted reading comprehension, but NONE reported that practice of such instruction yielded further benefit. The outcome of 10 sessions was the same as the outcome of 50.

How much instructional time is devoted to RCSs in American schools? It’s hard to say, but research indicates that more than “just a little” is time that could be better spent on other things, especially (as noted yesterday) to building content knowledge.

My take-away? With beginning and struggling readers, spend more time on the reading strategies, such as word identification, that are truly skill-builders and worthy of ample instructional time and practice. My Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program focuses on these reading skills. In a related article I discuss why we shouldn’t teach reading comprehension. With all these “don’ts,” what should we “do?”

With all readers, spend more time on content knowledge, vocabulary, and independent reading. Do teach the reading comprehension “tricks,” but limit instructional time and practice. Focus practice more on the internal monitoring of text, such as with my five SCRIP reading comprehension strategies that teach readers how to independently interact with and understand both narrative and expository text to improve reading comprehension. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies 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?

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 , , , , , ,

Teacher Talk Top 60

What Teachers Say

Teacher Talk

We’ve all heard them; most of us have all said them. Every profession has its share of cringeworthy and overused chatter: snarky comments, self-promoting babble, passive-aggressive suggestions, unwanted offers of support, gossipy grumblings, better-than-thou judgments, guilt-you-into observations, and shift the blame remarks. For teachers it’s in the staff room, in the work room, in the pod, in 504 meetings, in parent conferences, in admin evaluation meetings. Following are my Top 60. Would love to hear more of your favorites.

  1. “I’m counting the days.”
  2. “Why can’t they go to the bathroom during their preps?”
  3. “It sounds like your kids are having a lot of fun today in your class; I can hear it in my room.”
  4. “There is no in team.”
  5. “I don’t teach to the test.”
  6. “Did anyone borrow some of my soda in the fridge?”
  7. “Do you have a lot of copies to make?”
  8. “I wish I could pull-off wearing that outfit of yours.”
  9. “I just cleaned out the microwave last week.”
  10. “We tried that years ago.”
  11. “Would you watch my class for a minute?”
  12. “It’s a research-based strategy.”
  13. “I’ve got to get a real job.”
  14. “That sub did not follow my lesson plan.”
  15. “I know you must have taught ___________ last year, but the kids don’t know it.”
  16. “Back in the day…”
  17. “That’s funny; he behaves just fine for me.”
  18. “I never use drill and kill worksheets.”
  19. “You can do it during your prep.”
  20. “You need to differentiate instruction.”
  21. “The district says that…”
  22. “Can I sneak in to make just one copy?”
  23. “Have you met his parents? Now wonder that kid is messed up.”
  24. “It looks like you could use some help.”
  25. “I graded essays all weekend.”
  26. “You look tired today.”
  27. “Let’s review our group norms.”
  28. “I teach the whole child.”
  29. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
  30. You need to handle these accommodations.”
  31. “You’re so smart giving a multiple-choice test for your final; I’m stuck grading all of these essays.”
  32. “We support you 100%.”
  33. “I teach to the Standards.”
  34. “We’re role models.”
  35. “Those who can’t do, teach; those who can’t teach, teach P.E.”
  36. “Does anyone have anything to teach this afternoon?”
  37. “They want us to carry guns, but they won’t trust us to control our own thermostats.”
  38. “Thank you in advance for your help.”
  39. “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.”
  40. “I’ll be done in just a minute.”
  41. “I’ve just got too much on my plate.”
  42. “Is it ___________ Break yet?” Thanksgiving, Winter, Spring, Summer
  43. “I use group work all the time.”
  44. “I run 12 literacy centers every day.”
  45. “Does anyone have an agenda for this meeting?”
  46. “I have to leave a bit early today. My kids…”
  47. “Hmmm… What Standards are you teaching to?
  48. “Could I pick your brain on this?”
  49. “It’s all about the kids.”
  50. “You need to work smarter, not harder.”
  51. “I wish I knew how to spend less time grading like you do.”
  52. “We have to learn to do more with less.”
  53. “They cut down our custodial time again?”
  54. “The problem is I care too much.”
  55. “She’s not working up to her potential.”
  56. “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”
  57. “This class is really bad (low) this year.”
  58. “Can you believe what admin wants us to do now?”
  59. “I follow best practices in my teaching.”
  60. “That’s the way we’ve (I’ve) always done it.

Mark Pennington is the author of assessment-based ELA and reading intervention curriculum for grades 4-high school students. Check out Pennington Publishing for the finest in teacher-created curriculum, over 600 useful articles with FREE resources, and FREE assessments. Don’t forget to enter discount code 3716 at check-out for 10% off your entire purchase.

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