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Literacy Center Research: 5 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers

Read the 10 Reasons Not to Teach Literacy Centers

10 Reasons Not to Teach Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Research

5 Research-based Reasons to Use Teach Literacy Centers

Although I’ve used, helped to organize, and supervised literacy centers in one form or another for years in the elementary and middle school classrooms in my capacity as an ELA teacher and  district reading specialist, I have yet to write why I find literacy centers (also known as literacy stations or learning centers) to be a valuable means of learning. As a publisher of grades 4- adult ELA and reading curriculum, I’ve recently grouped together instructional resources into subject and skill-specific literacy centers (promotional section and FREE one-month unit follows article); hence a series of articles to both inform and plug my products. Now that my disclaimer and impetus for writing this article is out of the way…

My first article was on 10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers. I figured that I had best cover the objections (many of them certainly legitimate) that teachers have regarding the idea of implementation of literacy centers. Most of the objections, but not all, focus not on the idea, but rather on the implementation of literacy centers. Literacy centers are not for everyone, and let me get this out of the way before I present the 10 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers: You can be an effective teacher without using literacy centers.

However, for the literacy center neophytes or for those veteran teachers who have been there and done that but want to give literacy centers another chance in their classrooms, let’s dig into the benefits and characteristics of effective literacy centers. And, yes, I think that these 5 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers outweigh the 10 reasons not to do so. Thank you to Dr. Jill Buchan for the following research citations.

5 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers

1. Literacy centers can be a superior instructional format. Some learning is best facilitated by direct instruction (didactic telling and explanation, showing, and modeling). For example, there is no instructional technique better for teaching the separation of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. It requires telling and explanation. It also necessitates showing; you have to draw the tree trunk labeled “Government” and the three branches. It must involve modeling through concrete examples of how these abstract concepts work out in life. Other learning is best facilitated by independent practice. As a reading specialist, I can assure you that the best reading instruction is reading. Wait a minute… still buy all of my reading strategy and reading intervention products… they are important and terrific. However, sitting down and reading a book at one’s instructional level produces the greatest vocabulary development, fluency and comprehension practice, etc.

But literacy centers help students learn some things better than direct instruction and independent learning. For example, I learned long ago that the art and science of writing revision was learned best not through whole class direct instruction via mini lessons. Despite my wonderful PowerPoint presentations, incredible graphic organizers, and writing along with my students and sharing my work, the students could not replicate and apply my direct instruction to their own writing. Nor did independent practice work. Students don’t know what they don’t know. In other words, writers don’t intentionally write something incoherent that needs fixin’; they write their best. Writers don’t intentionally misspell words or misuse grammar and punctuation. Only when others provide perspective and feedback on the writing can a writer revise and edit effectively. And, no, the teacher red marks after the fact never provided near the amount of learning that small student response groups achieve. Literacy centers provide the best learning context for some content and skills.

My advice? Use literacy centers for what they teach best. Don’t make literacy centers into square pegs which don’t fit into round holes. Begin with the Standard; create a behavioral objective (Students will demonstrate the ability to…); and decide upon the best instructional method. It may be literacy centers, but it may be direct instruction or independent practice.

2. Literacy centers can be used for rigorous, Standards-based instruction. The rigor of Standards-based content and skills can adapt perfectly to the small group format of a literacy center. Generally speaking, the more rigor, the less goofing around. Plus, whoever concocted the idea that literacy centers had to be fun never achieved the kind of learning results that teachers, parents, administrators, and students want and need. Forget the fun. Challenging work and practice, even when seemingly boring or repetitive, can produce the best results. Students don’t have to like a literacy center to be engaged and learning the rigorous Standards.

My advice? Chuck the silly board games and art projects designed to make learning fun in literacy centers. Your job is not to be liked or to be the fun teacher. Don’t worry about the enjoyment factor; students will appreciate the results and feel good about what they have learned because of your rigorous expectations and challenging literacy center activities or lessons. So will you, their parents, and your principal. By the way, I titled my six grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 product: Academic Literacy Centers. No fluff in my program, although I think (and so do my students and teachers who have field tested) that some of it is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Plus, literacy centers don’t have to be cute works of art to engage students and help them learn. Primarily, literacy centers should be functional. Of course how one’s classroom looks and the environment and feeling tone that is created is important to many teachers. However, it’s the learning, not the looks, that matters, despite the fact that other teachers, parents, and administrators all-too-often judge the book by its cover.

3. Literacy centers can facilitate assessment-based instruction. Many teachers begin to use literacy centers in order to run guided reading groups. Teachers have traditionally accepted the fact that reading instruction needs to be adapted to the ability of reader. However, reading is not the only content or skill in which students differ widely in their experience and degree of mastery. Students have different instructional needs in writing, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary to name but a few that can also be taught in ability groups through literacy centers.

When properly assessed, students can be placed into literacy centers which target individual academic deficits. For example, if a group of five of your students do not know their diphthongs, a phonics literacy center can group these students with teacher-led instruction, targeted practice, and formative assessments to teach these sound-spellings. Check out my remedial Phonics Literacy Center HERE. as an example of a well-designed literacy center focusing on assessment-based remedial instruction. Want to download these ELA and reading assessments for free? Certainly. Just click HERE.

Literacy centers can involve both homogeneous ability groups as detailed above for remedial and accelerated instruction and heterogeneous groups for the grade-level content or skills best learned with that group composition. Researchers and teachers have long noted the sociological, academic, and linguistic values of peer tutoring and collaborative learning. Students helping one another out is never a waste of time. However, be careful to limit the peer teaching to common sense amounts and have the group share the instructional load. Furthermore, using the academic language of a content rich literacy center promotes vocabulary acquisition. Essential for English development!

In summary, students can catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction through mixed group compositions in well-designed literacy centers.

My advice? Plan a rotation of 7 to 10 literacy centers: 6 grade-level heterogeneously grouped and the balance homogeneously and flexibly grouped by ability, in other words by assessment-based literacy needs.

4. Literacy centers can help teachers get out of their traditional roles and serve as coaches instead. Years ago a veteran teacher asked me, “Why are you a teacher?” I immediately responded, “To teach my students content and Standards.” The questioner said, “You will begin to accomplish that when you change your answer to “To help my students learn content and Standards.” Gulp. A real wake up call for me.

Our job is to facilitate learning. Now there is nothing wrong with being the “sage on the stage” for much of what we do as teachers. After all, we have “the goods they needs to gets” as students. But for other aspects of our jobs, being the “guide on side” will be a much more successful means to accomplish our goals. According to research completed by Fisher and Frey (2010), adopting the role of facilitator or guide allows the students to become self-directed learners.

When designed and implemented well, literacy centers can place teachers in the coaching role as students collaboratively complete center work.

My advice? Have students talk at least as much as you do in the classroom.

5. Literacy centers can promote independence. Much of our tasks as teachers should be to “work our way out of our jobs.” According to Boushey & Moser, 2014; Harvey & Goudis,2000, this observation “highlights the importance of trusting students as they practice and demonstrate autonomy. To teach students to become independent learners, strategies need to be presented, modeled, and practiced.”

Pearson and Gallagher (1983) introduced the term, gradual release of responsibility to “… promote independence. Using this mode of instruction, teachers gradually release the responsibility for a task to students through four components: demonstration, shared demonstration, guided practice, and independent practice” (Fisher & Frey, 2008).

Trusting students to independent work means giving them enough rope to help themselves or enough rope to hang themselves. Literacy centers help students develop an independent work ethic within an accountable peer structure. Teachers can help inculcate the virtues of hard work, personal engagement in a task, individual responsibility, organization, initiative, and positive collaboration, but students have to practice these values independently. However, not quite independently. Using appropriate peer pressure and accountability within well-defined, modeled, and practiced group norms and leadership roles nurtures work ethic. The literacy center can become “… a common gathering space establishes a tone for respectful learning, trust, cooperation, problem solving, and a sense of community in the classroom” (Kriete & Bechtel, 2002). True, students will sometimes take one step backwards for every two steps forward when left to fly on their own.

Literacy centers will have a high degree of success when the center routines and rotations are well-modeled, rehearsed, and reinforced. Researchers Harman and Nelson (2015) write, “Keep the same procedures: The ability to do things without having to consciously think about the task is known as automaticity. Automaticity can be achieved through simple repetition and practice. Students who engage in ongoing repetition of tasks are able to more effectively establish automatic response patterns. Ultimately, when students achieve automaticity, they are able to use the saved brainpower to do more, resulting in the ability to further build on their automatic skills.”

Academic Literacy Centers

Collaborative Academic Literacy Centers

Literacy centers are well-chosen instructional formats to develop leadership skills. Assigning group roles and holding students accountable for exercising these roles on a rotational basis is not only effective for center procedures, but also to control behavior. Many teachers have abandoned any form of small group learning or literacy centers because they can become classroom management nightmares. While this is a legitimate concern, the value of teaching students to work on their own is important in-it-of-itself.

Providing some measure of choice does promote effective independent work in literacy centers. “Boushey and Moser believe that children are more engaged, motivated, and successful when they have choice. The ability to choose empowers them and helps to create self-motivated learners” (Boushey & Moser, 2014).

My advice? I would argue that guided choices are more effective. Students will make wrong choices. But the design of rigorous literacy centers with sufficient modeling and well-established routines will limit the setbacks of wrong choices and motivate students into choosing what is best for them. I see nothing wrong in manipulating student choices. We are the adults. Of course students would rather choose to play a video word game, rather than complete a vocabulary worksheet in a vocabulary literacy center. They would rather eat candy than vegetables every day. We can limit their choices and still derive the benefits of student decision-making if we are clever. And we are if we use the right resources.

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

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

10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers

Don't Use Literacy Centers

10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers

Literacy Centers have been used by some teachers for years, but have become increasingly popular since the advent of Pinterest and the Teachers Pay Teachers “Culture of Cute.” Before getting into my 10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers, a huge disclaimer is in order. I love literacy centers, and as a reading specialist and author of a reading intervention program, which offers a centers-based approach to assessment-based instruction, I find them to be invaluable instructional tools. Plus, I also sell grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Academic Literacy Centers. However, I don’t love the ill-conceived and poorly implemented literacy centers I see struggling in so many elementary and middle school classrooms. Hence, the 10 Reasons Not to Use These Kinds of Literacy Centers.

So, here’s the list of reasons I’ve compiled not to use literacy centers. But don’t take my word on it, check out the teacher comments as well.

Questions about Literacy

Literacy Center Questions

1. TIME: Literacy centers take too much time to create, to set-up, and to clean up. Time management may be the most important factor in a teacher’s success or burn-

out. All time is reductive: You add this and that has got to go. Plus, centers can take an inordinate amount of class time. Some teachers have abandoned direct literacy instruction altogether and do two-hour literacy centers. As a reading specialist, I can assure you that guided reading is not the only effective form of reading instruction. Plus, those literacy center learning packets, “I Can” statements, recording sheets, etc. take way too much time to correct and record.

2. ORGANIZATON: Literacy centers are an organizational nightmare. Bins, bags, folders, cubbies? Office supply stores love literacy centers. Artsy-fartsy project-centered activities in literacy centers cost teachers money they just do not have, and the MESS. Students cleaning up? Let’s face it; it’s not their skill set. And by the way, elementary teachers… middle schoolers are worse at cleaning up by far. Custodians hate literacy centers… not only because of the chair or table positioning, but because of the continual mess, wear and tear on classroom furniture and flooring.

3. FUN: So many of the literacy centers I see selling on teacher sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers focus on creating activities, which students will like. Of course, students would rather play a literacy board game rather than practice reading fluency. Wouldn’t you? However, we teachers are not in the amusement business; we are in the learning business. Whether students enjoy the activity or not is not the end goal. Wouldn’t you rather have a former student bumping into you at a restaurant ten years later tell you, “I learned so much in your class,” rather than “I had so much fun in your glass.”? A focus on fun and a focus on learning are mutually exclusive in my experience. The productive kind of fun comes from peer and student-teacher relationships and the self-fulfillment of actually learning something.

4. CHOICE: Here I tend to blame the academics, especially the university education professors who hold such an influence over

Questions about Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Questions

teachers-in-training and teachers taking staff development for salary advancement. I have yet to read any convincing research in my field as a reading specialist that indicates that student choice in selecting learning activities has a statistically positive correlation with reading improvement. Most veteran teachers have learned that guided choice would be a much better approach to literacy center activities. For example, teachers know that allowing students some autonomy in choosing the types of books

makes sense (motivation and learning theory so affirm); however, allowing students to self-select books irrespective of reading level seems to be teacher malpractice to me. My experience in the classroom finds that some students will self-select challenging books at appropriate word recognition levels, but many will not. No research that choice presents higher gains. Literacy center choice? We are the adults, here. We know the Common Core Standards and what is best for our students. We guide them toward vegetables, not candy. And if we’re good at it, we can make them think that they do have some choice, say in when to practice that reading fluency passage, where to practice it, and how to practice it. These choices make sense, but not these kinds of literacy choices: board game or reading fluency, art station or reading fluency, etc.

5. CUTE: Other teachers and culture often unduly influence impact a teacher’s instructional decision-making. I know many teachers who have been peer-pressured into adopting and/or continuing literacy centers as their primary means of literacy instruction. The “Culture of Cute” promulgated by many teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers and influenced by Pinterest has had an enormous impact on elementary, and some middle school, literacy teachers. A teacher’s artsy-fartsy, cute-looking literacy centers may, indeed, impress the teacher next door, the walk-through principal-specialist-district personnel, and the parent community. However, cute alone never gets a student to score high on the Smarter Balanced or PAARC tests, let alone the SAT or ACT in years to come.

6. INDEPENDENCE: Literacy centers focus on independence and de-value teacher-dependence. “Gradual release of responsibility” does not mean let the blind lead the blind. Poor literacy centers allow students the independence to do what students want to do by themselves; better literacy centers involve students completing work independently without pestering the teach or being spoon-fed to do by themselves what the teacher wants them to do. The best independent work is solidly teacher-dependent.

7. BEHAVIOR: Literacy centers create behavioral management problems. Even the best classroom management training won’t

Questions about Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Questions

overcome poorly designed centers or deal with Jonathan or Amanda, who can’t be left alone for more than 10 seconds. Students cannot learn in a learning structure which promotes constant behavioral issues. Plus, fair to say that all teachers are not wired the same way. For example, some can tolerate more noise than others. That doesn’t mean that the less tolerant teacher is less kid-centered, or needs additional classroom management staff development, or is misplaced at a particular grade level.

8. COLLABORATION: Most literacy centers don’t accomplish their purported purpose: using cooperative collaboration to learn. Much of the 1980s research on cooperative groups has been discarded in the literacy center movement. Groups are treated as merely collections of students working individually to complete self-choice learning tasks. Groups are primarily a necessary evil for a teacher “to put up with” in order to “free up” the teacher to do, say guided reading, with a small group (where the only real learning takes place). Floating around most literacy centers, observers would see minimal collaboration, no shared leadership or defined leadership roles, and a whole lot of Bella, the smart or responsible student, doing the work for her wanna-be-best-friend Samantha, the lazy or manipulative student. No accountability. No benefit of working together.

9. TRACKING: Literacy centers promote tracking. Because guided reading has become such a dominant feature of literacy groups, and most all guided reading groups involve homogeneous compositions, say by reading levels, the rest of the literacy groups tends to be cemented into same ability groups. Heterogeneous groupings can be incorporated into literacy centers, but most teachers chose not to follow this organization and management challenge. I, personally, favor a mixed approach of flexible homogeneous and heterogeneous groups, but literacy centers rarely reflect this mix.

10. DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION: Literacy centers have been used to prop up many of the discredited features of differentiated instruction–an instructional approach of the late 1990s and early 2000s which tended to feature student choice based upon multiple intelligences, brain theory, and learning styles. Although I constantly tried to co-opt the movement to suit my own views that we should teach different stuff to different students based upon the results of diagnostic assessments, teachers and popular authors favored the idea that we should teach different ways to different students based upon a myriad of other factors. For example, I see many literacy centers on sale on Teachers Pay Teachers which favor learning styles as determinants for independent student choices of learning activities. This, despite the fact that there is no empirical evidence to prove the existence or efficacious impact using learning styles to promote academic achievement. Truly, old theories take a generation to die out. Click HERE to learn more.

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

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

Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Collaborative Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers are separate grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs, designed to teach the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards in writing, reading, and language. The literacy centers maximize learning through collaborative tasks, each taking from 15–20 minutes to complete. These six independent centers free-up the teacher to conduct mini-conferences with individual students, teach a guided reading group, or walk the classroom to supervise. A variety of rotation options provides flexibility and the addition of other centers as the teacher sees fit.

I chose to include academic in the program title to reflect the rigorous lessons included in the Academic Literacy Centers. Unlike other literacy centers, which focus on hands-on activities, games, art, exploration, and creativity (all good things), these centers focus on learning the Standards. Students take biweekly unit tests (included) to measure their mastery of the key Standards.

Now, this is not to say that students won’t enjoy any of the activities (they will), but I would rather have students learn content and skills than just have fun. If you were expecting a carnival of cute games and manipulatives, select another product. This is solid grade-level work and you, your parents, your principal, and most importantly, your students, will see measurable progress in mastering the grade-level ELA Standards.

These six Academic Literacy Centers have been designed to minimize or eliminate preparation, correction, behavioral problems, and clean-up time and to maximize flexible, on-task learning:

Academic Literacy Centers

Reading: Eight expository reading fluencies and corresponding comprehension worksheets

Writing: Eight sentence revisions lessons, which include revising sentence structure, grammar application, and writing style and eight literary response activities, which include literary quotation mentor texts and writer response tasks with different rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form)

Language Conventions: Eight grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons including online links for both grammar and mechanics content and/or skills

Vocabulary: Eight vocabulary worksheets including Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues; Greek and Latin Word Parts; Language Resources; Figures of Speech; Word Relationships; Connotations; and Academic Language Words

Spelling and Syllabication: Four spelling sorts based upon conventional spelling rules and four syllable worksheets

Study Skills: Eight reading and writing, listening, test-taking, memorization, and goal-setting lessons

 FAQs

Can I set up, tear down, and move these centers quickly? Yes. Set up and tear down only take a few minutes. Perfect if you share a classroom or move to another classroom.

Are there directions for each lesson and activity? Yes. There are longer teacher directions and shorter student directions on the literacy center task cards (provided in both color and black and white).

Do the literacy centers have the same instructional procedures for each lesson and activity? Yes. Read the directions and model the first activity or lesson for each literacy center once and your students will be able to work independently thereafter.

How much correction is there? Plenty, but your students will do all the correcting. Answers are provided with each task. Students learn from their own mistakes.

Are there unit tests? Yes, biweekly tests are provided on the grammar, usage, mechanics, vocabulary, and spelling content and skills. Answers, of course.Academic Literacy Centers Grade 4

Academic Literacy Centers Grades 4-8

Academic Literacy Centers

What exactly is Common Core State Standard grade-level specific and what is not? The sentence revisions (Writing Center), vocabulary worksheets (Vocabulary Center), spelling sorts (Spelling Sorts and Syllabication Center) each have separate grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 lessons and activities. Other lessons and activities cover the breadth of the grades 4–8 Standards. The reading fluencies and comprehension worksheets are leveled at third, fifth, and seventh grade levels.

Can I add my own centers? Yes, and I have six additional remedial literacy centers (sold separately) each include diagnostic assessments and focus on assessment-based instruction: Reading Fluency with Modeled Readings, Phonics and Sound-Spelling Card Games, Phonemic Awareness and Sight Words, Vowel Transformers and Spelling

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

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

Interactive Notebooks Assessment-based Individualized Instruction

Assessment-based Individualized Instruction INB

INB Assessment-based Individualized Instruction

Many teachers have found Interactive Notebooks (INBs) to be an excellent addition to their instructional repertoire to teach grade level Common Core Standards. Some teachers have gone “whole hog” with reading, vocabulary, history, science, and math INBs, while others have waded into the water with only one content area. Still others may or may not have dipped their toes into the INB pool and decided that a more traditional approach to content instruction works for them (without the mess and additional time of the INB) To each his or her own…

A number of years ago I decided to experiment with teaching interactive grammar notebooks to my seventh grade ELA students. Like many secondary ELA teachers, I, was skeptical about INBs simply being artsy-fartsy, “cute” projects to prop up teacher egos at Open House. Wrong!

As an author of quite a few grades 4 to high school grammar programs, I began to convert the program content to an INB format used by AVID: Cornell Notes. Cornell Notes is a natural fit in that is designed to be interactive: Students take notes and respond to the content. After the lesson students synthesize the learning.

My personal philosophy is to teach traditional grammar, usage, and mechanics in the reading and writing contexts, so I added on the grammar cartoons of my favorite illustrator, David Rickert with content related questions that required analysis and writing application. I added on simple sentence diagrams to help students practice the grammatical concepts in the context of sentence structure and created practice sentences. After all, practice makes perfect. I used the best foldables on the web (thanks Tangstar) and worked to create graphic organizers that would be less mess and less time-consuming. The foldables were designed to rehearse and synthesize the lesson components with some freedom of choice. I also created bi-weekly unit tests for all 56 lessons, which require students to define terms, identify concepts or skills, and apply their knowledge in original sentences. Done! A great grades 4-8 Common Core State Standards-aligned INB (if I do say so myself). But…

Something was missing: formative assessments for each lesson. How did I know and how would teachers know who would buy my Grades 4-8 Teaching Interactive Grammar Notebook if their students understood each lesson before they took the unit test? How would we know if we needed to go back and re-teach a certain aspect of the lesson? What if some students got it, and some did not? Rather than just move on to the next lesson, we had to know. After all, it’s really not about teaching… it’s about learning.

Like my traditional grammar programs, I added on two short mechanics and grammar formative assessments to each lesson. Now I knew if they got it or not, and who got it and who did not. Done! But…

Something was still missing: assessment-based individualized instruction. I’m always preaching, “Don’t assess if you don’t plan to teach to the assessment” to my ELA and reading intervention colleagues. Time to practice what I preach with my INB. Just like I have in my traditional grammar programs, I added on individualized instructional resources to my Grades 4-8 Teaching Interactive Grammar Notebook: worksheets (each with their own formative assessments), songs, posters, hand-outs, videos, you name it! Problem…

This INB was now a veritable tree-eating monster! With the additional hundreds of pages of resources to individualize instruction–many of which teachers would never use…

I figured it out. I created a section on the Cornell Notes for online links and resources.  Now INBs can help teachers individualize instruction so students can “catch up” while they “keep up” with grade level instruction. You’ll love it!

Grades 4-8 Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4-8

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

Or check out the traditional style Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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

and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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

Academic Language: What Not to Teach and What to Teach

What Not to Teach and What to Teach with Academic Language

Academic Language

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

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

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

How Not to Teach Academic Language

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

How to Teach Academic Language

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

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

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

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

Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames

I teach a seventh grade ELA class and we’ve just finished reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. In fact, we’ve already written our argumentative essays on “whether Phoebe was a good friend to Sal.” Of course the writing prompt is a bit more complex. It’s my students first attempt at writing the argumentative essay. They are struggling with the counterclaim (counterargument) and refutation (rebuttal) as these are new Standards for seventh graders. The Common Core State Standards  for grades 7-12 include the counterclaim in the argumentative essay (W. 1.0).

Although writers use plenty of other options, I’m teaching the counterclaim and refutation in the final body paragraph.

The following sentence frames helped out my students considerably:

First Contrasting Transition + Name the Opposition + Strong Verb + Opposing Point of View + Evidence + Analysis + Second Contrasting Transition + Reference the Opposing Point of View + Turn

First Contrasting Transition +

However, But, Admittedly, Although, Alternatively

Name the Opposition +

others, some

Strong Verbs + Denial/Assertion or Assertion

Denial: reject, oppose,  disagree, question, doubt this view and Assertion: argue that, reason that, claim that, support, conclude that

Opposing Point of View +

State the opposing point of view.

Evidence +

Pick the best evidence to support the opposing point of view. Don’t pick a “straw man.” In other words, don’t pick a weak opposing argument that is too easy to refute.

Analysis +

Explanation, insight, example, logic to support the counterclaim evidence

Second Contrasting Transition +

Still, However, But, Nevertheless, Yet, Despite, Although, Even though

Reference the Opposing Point of View +

this argument, this position, this reasoning, this evidence, this view

Turn

Now you turn the opposing point of view, evidence, and analysis back to support your thesis statement. Various options can be effective:

1. Accept the criticism of the counterclaim. Tell why all or part of the opposing point of view may be reasonable, plausible, or valid, but minimize the opposing position. For example, This evidence may be true; however, the objection does not change the fact that…

2. Reject the counterclaim. For example, This view ignores the conclusive evidence that… This position is mistaken because…

3. Criticize the evidence and analysis of the counterclaim as being unimportant, irrelevant, or a misinterpretation. For example, this argument misses the key point that…

4. Criticize the reasoning of the counterclaim as being flawed, illogical, or biased. 

Some of the above points adapted from the Harvard Writing Center. In addition to using Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, and What is the Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

“Great step by step worksheets that help students build or reinforce essay writing skills.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

“A thoroughly comprehensive format to teach writing. Just what I needed.”

Tim Walker

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Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Why use an essay counterclaim? Aren’t we always taught never to argue against our own thesis? Why give the enemy (the opposite point of view) ammunition (acknowledgement and evidence)?

The counterclaim can be defined as the opposing point of view to one’s thesis. It is also commonly known as the counterargument. A counterclaim is always followed by a refutation, which is often referred to as a rebuttal. The Common Core State Standards  for grades 7-12 include the counterclaim in the argumentative essay (W. 1.0).

It’s all about scholarship and tactics: intellectual honesty and manipulation.

In argumentative essays the writer must prove his or her thesis according to the rules of the game, but the writer needs to know the rules so thoroughly that these rules can be used to work in the writer’s favor. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was a senior at the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!).

As a senior I took a seminar on independent research. At the suggestion of a professor, I dug into the Halévy Thesis: the thesis that the rise of religious revivals in Eighteenth Century England helped prevent a French-style revolution. I know. Pretty obscure. But for some reason the project really got me going: The thrill of academic discovery, the smell of the musty old book stacks, the cute library helper, etc.

Anyways, I became convinced that the Halévy Thesis was true. As a twenty-one year old I had discovered absolute truth. Not only did religious revival prevent violent revolution in England, it could also save our society today, cure the common cold, and solve the Middle East problem.

An effective counterclaim can…

  1. show how a different conclusion can be drawn from facts.
  2. show how an assumption many be unwarranted.
  3. show how a key term has been misused.
  4. show how evidence has been ignored or downplayed.
  5. show how an alternative explanation might make more sense.
  6. test your argument.
  7. anticipate objections to your thesis.
  8. help the writer weigh alternatives.
  9. show how informed you the writer are about opposing arguments.
  10. make the writer’s argument stronger.
  11. show that the writer is reasonable and respectful of opposing views.

Some of the above points adapted from the Harvard Writing Center. In addition to Why Use an Essay Counterclaim, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, and What is the Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

“Great step by step worksheets that help students build or reinforce essay writing skills.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

“A thoroughly comprehensive format to teach writing. Just what I needed.”

Tim Walker

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

Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim

Where is the best place to put the essay counterclaim? The short and sweet answer? David Oldham, professor at Shoreline Community College, states, “The short answer is a counter-argument (counterclaim) can go anywhere except the conclusion. This is because there has to be a rebuttal paragraph after the counter-argument, so if the counter-argument is in the conclusion, something has been left out.”

The counterclaim is the opposing point of view to one’s thesis and is also known as the counterargument. The counterclaim is always accompanied by a refutation, sometimes referred to as a rebuttal. The Common Core State Standards include the counterclaim in Writing Standards 1.0 for grades 7-12. These Standards reference the organization of the counterclaim in terms of clear relationships and logical sequencing. See the boldface phrases in the following grades 7-12 Standards.

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

 

Seventh Grade: Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

Eighth Grade: Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

Ninth and Tenth Grade: Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Eleventh and Twelfth Grade: Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Placement Options

1. Writers can place a separate counterclaim paragraph with refutation as the last body paragraph prior to the conclusion paragraph.

Separate Paragraph Example #1 

COUNTERCLAIM Opponents argue that after school sports can increase the likelihood of sports-related injuries. Specifically, health professionals suggest that life-threatening concussions occur at frightening rates for student athletes participating in such popular after school sports as football, soccer, basketball, and wrestling (Bancroft 22, 23). Even minor injuries sustained from participation in after school sports increase absent rates and the expense of creating injury reports for students (Sizemore 3). REFUTATION Although students do suffer both serious and minor injuries in after school sports, these injuries are quite rare. The organization, supervision, and safety measures of school-sponsored sports are superior to those of alternative fee-based community-sponsored recreational leagues or even privately sponsored sports organizations (Kinney 2). Additionally, without free after school sports programs, many students would still play sports without adult supervision and even more injuries would result.

2. Writers can place a separate counterclaim paragraph without refutation as the first body paragraph following the thesis statement to anticipate objections prior to providing evidence to prove the claim of the thesis statement.

Separate Paragraph Example #2 

COUNTERCLAIM Those who favor eliminating after school sports argue that after school sports can increase the likelihood of sports-related injuries. Specifically, health professionals suggest that life-threatening concussions occur at frightening rates for student athletes participating in such popular after school sports as football, soccer, basketball, and wrestling (Bancroft 22, 23). Even minor injuries sustained from participation in after school sports increase absent rates and the expense of creating injury reports for students (Sizemore 3). Additionally, youth and adolescents are not developmentally ready to play contact sports. Key components of the brain and skeletal structure have not yet formed (Mays 14), and injuries can have lasting damage to young people.

3. Writers can embed a counterclaim and refutation within a body paragraph.

Embedded within Paragraph Example

After school sports provide safe and free programs for students who might otherwise not be able to participate in individual or team sports. The organization, supervision, and safety measures of school-sponsored sports are superior to those of alternative fee-based community-sponsored recreational leagues or even privately sponsored sports organizations (Kinney 2). Additionally, without free after school sports programs, many students would still play sports without adult supervision and even more injuries would result. COUNTERCLAIM However, some people would argue that after school sports can increase the likelihood of sports-related injuries and resulting absences with the added expenses of creating injury reports for students (Sizemore 3). REFUTATION Although students do suffer both serious and minor injuries in after school sports and there are resulting absences and injury reports, without school-sponsored sports the likelihood of more injuries from less supervised recreational leagues or privately sponsored leagues with fewer safety regulations would, no doubt, be much worse.

4. Writers can embed a counterclaim and refutation within a sentence or sentences found in a body paragraph.

Embedded within Sentences Example

After school sports provide safe and free programs for students who might otherwise not be able to participate in individual or team sports. COUNTERCLAIM Even so, some would question the safety of these programs, citing the numbers of life-threatening concussions from after school sports such as football, REFUTATION but these statistics are misleading. According to the highly respected Youth in Sports report, fewer serious injuries occur to students playing after school sports as compared to students not playing after school sports (Green 22).

5. Writers can embed a counterclaim within the introductory paragraph and use the thesis statement as refutation.

Introductory Paragraph Example

After school sports are extra-curricular activities included in most elementary, middle school, and high schools throughout the world. COUNTERCLAIM Some would argue that schools can no longer afford these programs and the expenses of lawsuits resulting from sports-related injuries. REFUTATION AS THESIS STATEMENT On the contrary, schools can and should invest in well-supervised after school sports to promote health and minimize sports-related injuries.

Each of these counterclaim placements has merit, depending upon the nature of the argumentative essay. Help students develop the writing flexibility and dexterity they need by applying each of these strategies in the draft and revision stages. As always, show models of counterclaims and refutations, teach a variety of types of evidence, and help students avoid the pitfalls of fallacious reasoning.

In addition to Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, What is the Essay Counterclaim?, and Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

“Great step by step worksheets that help students build or reinforce essay writing skills.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

“A thoroughly comprehensive format to teach writing. Just what I needed.”

Tim Walker

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