As a reading specialist teaching seventh grade English-language arts and reading intervention classes at a lower-performing urban middle school, I start off the school year administering reading, spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics diagnostic assessments to my students. Most of you won’t be surprised to learn that the diagnostic data indicate that some students have severe instructional gaps.
I’ve especially noticed a decline in these basic skill areas over the last five years as teachers have been largely expected to re-invent the wheel and create Common Core aligned units and lesson plans. Last year, the ten members of our ELA department never even checked the district adopted ELA textbooks out of our library. Everything now being Common Core-ized. Now, I’m not blaming the Common Core State Standards for the decline in basic ELA and reading skills. Having taught a number of years, I know that major educational transitions always coincide with some decline until teachers get up to speed with the new Standards, educational approach to instruction, curriculum, administration, economic downturn. Teachers do have a way of making lemonade out of lemons, but many of our students do have ELA and reading skill deficits.
So, what should teachers do to address these academic deficits? Answer: Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI).
Oh great… another acronym, another educational approach, another district “bold goal” to direct district-trainings and faculty meetings, another instructional movement to provide conference speakers the subject of keynote addresses, fodder for a new book for Heinemann, oh… a grant from the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation. No. The last thing teachers need is something new. It’s time for something old that has stood the test of time. Something that steals from the best. Something that will last beyond the three-year life cycle of most educational approaches. Something that can be explained in one sentence–simple, but not simplistic.
Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI): Defined
Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI) is a commitment to students to help them catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction.
“We teach children, not Standards.” Most of the states are still hanging on to the Common Core State Standards. Some have dropped them and have been developing their own versions; however, the standards-based movement is still alive and well. In the midst of this movement, educators have to remember why we got into the education business: to teach students, to teach subject material, and to have summers off :). I would hazard to guess that none of us wrote “My passion is to teach the ELA or reading Standards” on our teacher credential program application letters.
So much of our teaching involves training students to be good people. Good citizens. Kind and respectful. Well-balanced. Healthy and happy. We know that children are snowflakes. Each is different and requires different approaches to get the results we want. Teachers know that Roberto has different instructional needs (catch up) than does Luis (gifted and talented designation), than does Pedro (auditory deficits), than does Ivan (English-language learner), etc. Yes, all of them need access to and instruction in the grade-level Standards (keep up). Again, teaching different children (ages 4-18) necessitates a catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instructional approach.
“Learning is recursive.” When the Common Core State Standards first came out, I was relieved to see the inclusion of Appendix A. Appendix A provides so much validation of what teachers already know and do. The Common Core authors affirm the facts that learning is recursive and instruction must be cyclical as well as linear. In fact, anyone who has taught the basic parts of speech to freshman in high school won’t be surprised to learn that excellent teachers from elementary school and middle school taught the same parts of speech every year.
Because learning does not always pursue a linear path, the Common Core authors included numerous documents such as the Progressive Skills Review in the Language Strand to identify key grammar, usage, and mechanics re-teaching at every K-12 grade level. As teachers who believe in recursive instruction, we have to use such documents as ammunition when called upon to focus, focus, focus on grade-level Standards, especially for the PAARC and SBAT tests. We need to be equipped to counter the thoughts of some, like my former principal, who told me, “We can’t teach basic reading skills at middle school. That was the job of elementary teachers. If students can’t read, our elementary teachers are the ones to blame. That’s not our job.” Or a district language coach who asked me, “Why are you teaching that? It’s a fourth grade Standard.” Because they don’t know it!
“If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.”
If teachers believe that students need to catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction, it simply makes sense to find out what students know and what they don’t know. Only reliable diagnostic assessments can answer this question. Since my focus is on ELA and reading, I’ve developed whole class, internally and externally valid assessments in reading, spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics to help students show what they know and don’t know. Check out these free, quick and easy-to-grade diagnostic assessments: Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Syllable Awareness, Syllable Rhyming, Phonemic Isolation, Phonemic Blending, Phonemic Segmenting, Alphabetic Upper and Lower Case Letter Match and Alphabetic Sequencing, Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment, Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Outlaw Words Assessment,Rimes Assessment, Sight Syllables Assessment, Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, and an Individual Fluency Assessment. Each includes recording matrices for progress monitoring and most have audio files. What’s the catch? If you use ’em, you’re gonna want to teach to ’em. Our Pennington Publishing program resources are all assessment-based, teacher-created resources; and they perfectly correspond to the items in the comprehensive diagnostic assessments. For example, if Annie misses the items on vowel digraphs, there are worksheets and activities for that. If Andre misses the commas in a list test item, there are worksheets and activities for that. Every resource has a formative assessment to check mastery. Oh, and answers as well. You could create these, but why reinvent the wheel?
Our next article really deals with where the rubber meets the road. How does Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI) handle the management issue? How can teachers help their students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction without the usual nightmares of any instructional approach other than whole-class direct instruction? Think differentiated instruction, individualized instruction, personalized instruction, learning centers, readers and writers workshops, cooperative groups, learning style groups, etc. for examples of “been there, done that, won’t do that again” instructional approaches. Let’s invest in an approach to instruction that makes sense.
Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs
The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language componeGrammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Program.
Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.
Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program
Also, check out the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Get diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the program.
Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated by both older readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Teachers print their own copies :).
Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing