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Selective Implementation of the Common Core

Cherry Picking Which Common Core Standards to Teach

In a related article I focused on the “cherry picking” of certain Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects Standards by district curriculum specialists and teachers. I said that cherry picking can mean picking the easiest fruit on the tree, picking the best fruit on the tree, or picking just the fruit on the tree that we want and ignoring the rest. Straight off wikipedia, so you know that it’s the truth.

I suggested that the latter use of “cherry picking” would seem to apply to many districts and teachers as they have begun implementing the Common Core ELA/Reading Standards. Of course we all tend to teach what we know, but we also teach what we want to believe. The former I could classify as unconscious cherry picking. The latter is conscious cherry picking and has a hidden agenda.

We Tend to Teach What We Know: Unconscious Cherry Picking

Elementary and middle-high school English-language Arts teachers are generally well-trained and/or interested in teaching reading and writing—less so in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary acquisition, listening, and speaking content and skills. After all, how many grammar classes are required for teachers earning their elementary or secondary English credentials? 0. Thus, when districts and teachers began implementing the Common Core State Standards in 2011 and 2012, district curriculum specialists and teachers initially gravitated toward the known and put the unknown on the backburner. In my school district we’ve had plenty of Common Core reading and writing trainings, but not one moment of training dedicated to the Language, Speaking, or Listening Standards. Conscious cherry picking—but perhaps a reasonable approach, given the paramount importance of reading and writing to literacy.

However, having acclimated themselves and their students to the Common Core Reading: Literature, Reading: Informational Text, and Writing Strands over the last four years, many teachers are now ready to teach the well-balanced approach intended by the Common Core writers—including all of the Strands.

Indeed, these other Strands are trending. As an educational publisher I use my blog to promote my books. I have to keep track of search results and key search terms to drive traffic to my blog. My blog drives traffic to my website and sells my books. As states “raced to the top” to adopt the Common Core State Standards in 2011, googling “Common Core Reading Standards” and “Common Core Writing Standards” got the most search results in the field of English-language Arts/Reading. Googling “Common Core Language Standards” and “Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards” got negligible amounts of search results.

I just googled the same search terms and found 42,500,000 search results for “Common Core Reading Standards” and 27,200,00 for “Common Core Writing Standards.” However, I was shocked to see the increase in search results for “Common Core Language Standards.” 40,600,000 results! Teachers may have initially gravitated toward what they know, but now they are shifting focus to what they want to know.

So why aren’t district trainings responding to this need? Why aren’t many district curricular specialists and university professors promoting the Language, Speaking, and Listening Strands? Why aren’t budgetary allocations being funneled into all of the Common Core ELA/Reading Strands?

We Also Teach What We Want to Believe: Conscious Cherry Picking

Many state, county, and district curriculum specialists, as well as university professors don’t want teachers to implement all of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.

Specifically, many of these “movers and shakers” were inculcated in the 1980s whole language philosophy of implicit whole to part learning. Age is a factor in educational decision-making. The educational “movers and shakers” are now in their 50s or 60s. And all of us, to a certain extent, are products of our times. These educational decision-makers were taught that explicit part to whole language instruction was useless or even counter-productive. Educational research studies which confirmed this philosophy were trumpeted; studies which pointed in the other direction were brushed aside. Unlike the unconscious cherry picking, this was conscious cherry picking.

Choosing to make selective choices among competing evidence, so as to emphasize those results that support a given position, while ignoring or dismissing any findings that do not support it, is a practice known as “cherry picking” and is a hallmark of poor science or pseudo-science.

— Richard Somerville, Testimony before the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, March 8, 2011.

In terms of instructional approaches to literacy, this meant that explicit part to whole phonics, spelling patterns and rules, structured approaches to writing, explicit vocabulary strategies, grammar, usage, and mechanics practice were disparaged and even forbidden in some states.

At the height of the whole language movement fanaticism in California, principals were even instructed to confiscate spelling workbooks from their teachers.

By the late 1990s most school districts and teachers had abandoned the whole language philosophy in reading. Failing test scores demanded the switch to explicit phonics and spelling instruction. However, because standardized tests emphasized reading and math, the whole language philosophy maintained its influence on grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary acquisition, speaking, and listening content and skill development.

For many educational “movers and shakers,” this hidden agenda remains.

Many district curriculum specialists are simply not providing training and budget allocations for the other Language Strand and Speaking and Listening Strand precisely because they don’t want to emphasize the explicit part to whole instruction called for in the Common Core State ELA/Reading Standards. To fail to choose is a choice.

Additionally, neither the PARCC and Smarter Balanced Common Core assessments focus on grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, speaking, or listening Standards. So even for the less philosophically-driven and more pragmatic teach-to-the-test district decision-makers, it’s reading and writing that remains the focus.

However, younger teachers are beginning to experience some instructional cognitive dissonance. Although still force-fed much of the whole language philosophy at district level trainings and in university coursework, they see things differently in their classrooms. They don’t believe that their students will “catch on” to grammar or spelling by just writing a lot or through the editing process or via simplistic mini lessons or via writing “warm ups” such as Daily Oral Language. They don’t believe that students will acquire necessary academic vocabulary solely through reading. In other words, younger teachers tend to believe in explicit, not implicit, instruction. What is “taught” works better than what is “caught.” And retired teachers who gutted out the whole language movement of the 1980s and kept passing out their phonics, grammar, spelling, and mechanics “drill and kill” worksheets are smiling. And so are many of their former students.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

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 Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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Common Core Spelling Standards

Common Core Spelling Standards

*****

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts provide instructional challenges for all conscientious upper elementary and middle school teachers. In addition to the Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening Strands, teachers are expected to teach the grammar, mechanics, language application, spelling, and vocabulary Standards of the CCSS Language Strand (Standards L. 1-6). When establishing instructional priorities to address these Standards, many teachers have placed spelling (Standard L. 2) on the back-burner.

It’s not that teachers devalue spelling instruction. Instructional time and the diverse instructional needs of our students are the key instructional concerns. Teaching is reductive-spending time on this takes away from that. Instructional decision-making is largely about establishing priorities. So, curricular materials must afford teachers the choices to reflect those priorities.

Recently I attended an all-day introduction to the Common Core State Standards sponsored by my school district. As expected, the changes in the reading standards assumed the vast amount of instructional attention. Writing standards were allotted an hour and listening and speaking standards a mere ten minutes. A passing reference was given to the language standards of grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary. However, spelling (Language Standard 2.0) was not mentioned.

Perhaps our trainers were taking their cues from the minimal references to spelling in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards. Following are the spelling standards from Grades 4−8:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.2e Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.2b Spell correctly.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b Spell correctly.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.2b Spell correctly.

Hardly the specificity or attention that most parents, teachers, and administrators would desire, especially given the heavy focus on phonics, syllabication, and word analysis in the primary grades and the sound-spelling emphases of CCSS contributors to the appendices.

Indeed, those same authors would readily acknowledge that teaching explicit spelling patterns in conjunction with reading has a solid research base. The spelling-reading (encoding-decoding) connection is well-established at every stage of word study—from sound-spelling relationships in the primary grades to derivational and etymological influences from elementary through high school.

Perhaps their assumption is that all students have mastered the sound-spelling relationships, derivational, and etymological underpinnings of our language by the end of third grade. Our new standards are rigorous, but even so…

So what about students who clearly have not mastered the basic sound-spellings by, say, eighth grade? The Common Core State Standards shy away from this all-too-often reality in many schools. Here is the advice:

“The Standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations.”

My take is that teachers are going to have to flesh out meaningful spelling instruction beyond the third grade level to benefit our students. Additionally, students who have not mastered those primary grade sound-spelling patterns and sight words deserve our addition in the upper elementary, middle school, high school, and community college settings. We can help students “keep up” with grade-level instruction and “catch up” on spelling pattern deficits.

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
Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction. Mark has also written five separate slices of the program: the grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs.

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Grammar and the Common Core

I hear the same two comments at English-language arts conferences all the time: 1. “I’ve heard that research has proven grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary instruction doesn’t work.” 2. “I teach grammar and they seem to get it. They pass my tests and do okay on the standardized tests, but they don’t transfer the learning to their writing or speaking. And they just don’t retain what we’ve covered. Their next-year teacher always asks why I don’t teach grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling.”

So, should we bother teaching grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling? Some would say “No.” This is what Dr. Stephen Krashen recommends, at least until high school. Dr. Krashen finds that students learn grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary most efficiently through free voluntary reading, not explicit instruction or even writing, as my old National Writing Project colleagues would advocate. Now, to be fair, Dr. Krashen does see the value of teaching some usage issues and grammatical terminology. And he advocates teaching students how to use language resources, such as language handbooks, to correct errors and improve writing style. But he, and others of his ilk, certainly support the overall position described in the first comment listed above. My view is that the collective jury is still out on this research question.

Irrespective of the research into the effectiveness of explicit grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling instruction, the writers of the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) certainly affirm the need for instruction in these skill and content areas.  In fact, grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary now have their own CCSS Language Strand in the English Language Arts Standards. Apparently, language instruction is back in style.

According to the CCSS writers, “Students must have a strong command of the grammar and usage of spoken and written standard English to succeed academically and professionally.” And, despite the comments of the CCSS writers designed to placate English-language arts teachers clinging onto a teach-grammar-only-through-writing approach, the pendulum has definitely swung back toward explicit instruction of these Standards.

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 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:

Experiment with different approaches until you find the ones that work the best for you and your students. Some teachers focus on showing students how phrases add rich detail to sentences. Other teachers find that sentence diagrams help students see the organization of sentences. Some use grammar metaphors (the sentence, for example, as a bicycle, with the subject as the front wheel and the predicate as the back). Some emphasize the verb as the key part of speech, showing students how the sentence is built around it and how vivid verbs create vivid sentences.

But, back to the teacher comments at the English-language arts conferences. The second comment listed above reflects the common experience of so many English-language arts teachers in their own classrooms. There just is no doubt that students tend to have troubles transferring their learning of grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling to writing and (with grammar and usage) speaking, not to mention next-year’s-teacher.

The CCSS writers acknowledge and validate this common experience. The CCSS writers explicitly recognize the cyclical nature of formal and standard language acquisition in their narrative and in the Standards themselves. To wit, the Standards include specific “Progressive Language Skills” to review, practice, and build on key Standards precisely because of the “recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge.”

However, simply acknowledging the fact that students have trouble with language transfer does not solve the problem. Teachers do need to take a fresh look at instructional approaches. One approach would be to take a hard look at how students have learned some grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling and then devise instructional approaches to replicate this success for other un-mastered language content and skills. In other words, find out what has worked and do more of that.

What Works

1. We know from language acquisition research and classroom practice that new skills are best acquired when students notice and understand, before practice. That is, input is more important than output for student mastery of skills and/or content. This appears to be true for both primary language and secondary language students. Production, that is writing and speaking application and practice, should come after a certain degree of mastery has been acquired.

Application: Provide comprehensible input via oral language to learn grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary content and skills. Teaching grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary through active listening and interactive discussion with plenty of examples makes sense. Use mentor texts to analyze how writers and speakers use the language skill and content.

2. We have to teach through successive approximation and build upon prior knowledge.

New learning best takes place in context of the old. The CCSS “Progressive Language Skills” identifies the key Standards to scaffold instruction. Expect the need to re-teach foundational language skills and content.

Application: Begin the year with extensive review of language skills and content. Reference and practice prior Standards, then build upon these foundations to extend learning.

3. Students can chew gum and walk at the same time. Teach language form and meaning concurrently. Form influences meaning and meaning influences form. The CCSS Standards integrate form and meaning: traditional and descriptive approaches to language learning.

Application: Target the specific skill or content to be learned and teach, then practice in all of the communicative contexts. Teach the academic language, show and practice the variety of grammatical structures, validate the different purposes and forms of communication and contrast to Standard English, and provide a meaningful rationale for learning “correct” English to motivate learning.

4. Practice output in both contrived and meaningful contexts.

Application: Use canned, repetitive practice in limited doses. Most students don’t have to do “all of the even number exercises on page 223” to master a skill and/or concept. “Drill and kill” worksheets never killed anyone. But, contrived practice needs to target specific skills, inform the student as to “what is correct and what is not” via immediate feedback, provide a basis for formative assessment, and help the student practice skills and content already learned (#s 1 and 2 above.) Teachers do need to provide authentic writing tasks to practice what has been learned and give immediate and specific feedback regarding task application.

5. Assess learning, adjust instruction to re-teach, and differentiate instruction.

Application: English-language arts teachers need to buy-in to formative assessment to teach at the point of individual student needs. What good is it if we’ve “taught it,” if they haven’t learned it? That next-year’s teacher does have a point. And tracking students into remedial, regular, and honors classes does not address this point. Tracking, whether beneficial or not, is about delivery of content and skills, not about differentiating instruction according to what students have or have not learned.

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
Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) is part of a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language program, designed to address each Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 60-90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year program includes all the instructional resources in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary to help students master these Standards. Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Following are the program components of Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand).

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics (CCSS L.1, 2)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) provides 56 interactive lessons, designed for direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling Standards. Each scripted lesson (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) is formatted for LCD/overhead projection. Standards review, definitions, examples, practice, simple sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications with sentence combining and sentence manipulation, and formative assessments are woven into each lesson. The instructional sequence establishes scaffolded review and practice for each of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills. Students take margin notes, practice lesson components, and complete sentence dictations on 56 Language Convention Worksheets included in the accompanying student workbooks. Teachers individualize remedial instruction according to the results of the diagnostic assessment with 72 targeted Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets.

Spelling (CCSS L.2)

Each grade-level program provides a comprehensive spelling curriculum with weekly spelling lists and spelling sorts based upon developmental spelling patterns. The instructional sequence is designed to review previously introduced spelling patterns and add new grade-level spelling patterns. Students create personal spelling lists to supplement these spelling patterns. Each Spelling Patterns Test and Spelling Sort Answers page is formatted for SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection so students can self-correct. Students also complete spelling sorts on the Spelling Worksheets included in the accompanying student workbooks. Teachers individualize remedial instruction according to the results of the diagnostic assessment with 64 remedial Spelling Pattern Worksheets. Extensive word lists, games, and proofreading resources supplement the direct and individualized instruction.

Knowledge of Language (CCSS L.3)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) has 56 Language Application openers to help students apply the L.1, 2 Standards in the reading, writing, speaking, and listening contexts. These fast-paced, interactive lessons help students practice grammatical constructions, vary sentence patterns, and maintain a consistent voice and tone with precise and concise word choices. Also provided are 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes to help students adjust the voice, audience, purpose, and form of their writing. Students take margin notes and complete language application revisions on 56 Language Application Worksheets included in the accompanying student workbooks. Additional Language Worksheets help teachers remediate specific writing deficits.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (CCSS L.4, 5, 6)

The accompanying student workbook includes two independent Vocabulary Worksheets per week to help students learn all of the grade-level vocabulary Standards: context clues, multiple meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships, connotations, academic language, and denotations/dictionary skills. Vocabulary Worksheets emphasize the Language Progressive Skills Standards.

Appendices (CCSS L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The appendices in Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) contain a wealth of practical resources for both students and teachers. Language convention appendices include grammar, usage, and mechanics resources, proofreading strategies and practice, supplemental spelling word lists, spelling review games, and Syllable Worksheets. The vocabulary appendix provides Greek and Latin practice, vocabulary games, context clues practice, and vocabulary teaching resources.

Teachers are provided PDF files of the Teacher Guide, formatted for SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection to facilitate interactive instruction. Teachers are granted license to upload all student worksheets, reference materials, and the Pennington Manual of Style on class websites for easy access at home. Teacher’s Guide consists of 919 pages in a three-ring binder. The accompanying Student Workbook has 252 pages in a quality soft cover binding.

The Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Student Workbook serves as an integral instructional component of the comprehensive Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program. The workbook includes 252 interactive worksheets to help students master the Common Core Language Standards. Students practice and apply what has been learned in each lesson.

Language Convention Worksheets (CCSS L.1, 2)

Two Language Convention Worksheets accompany each of the teacher’s 56 Language Conventions “openers.” The first worksheet provides definitions, examples, content, rules, or skills to master grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling Standards. Students annotate the text and take interactive Margin Notes based upon the teacher’s lesson. The second worksheet includes a sentence diagram, mentor text with writing application practice, and the mechanics, spelling, and grammar and usage dictations. The dictations serve as formative assessments for the lesson. Students complete the worksheets and then self-correct from the SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection.

Spelling Worksheets (CCSS L.2)

The Spelling Worksheets include the spelling rule or focus and a spelling pattern sort based upon the weekly spelling list. Students complete the spelling sort and then self-correct from the SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection.

Language Application Worksheets (CCSS L.3)

The Language Application Worksheets accompany each of the teacher’s 56 Language Application “openers” to help students apply the Knowledge of Language L.1, 2 Standards in the reading, writing, speaking, and listening contexts. Students annotate the text and take interactive Margin Notes based upon the teacher’s lesson. Then they read examples of the language application task and complete the language application revision. Students self-correct from the SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection.

Vocabulary Worksheets (CCSS L.4, 5, 6)

The Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Student Workbook includes 56 Vocabulary Worksheets (two per week) to help students mastery all the Vocabulary Acquisition and Use Standards: context clues, multiple meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships, connotations, academic language, and denotations/dictionary skills. Teachers will need to correct these worksheets.

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 Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also 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 components.

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 PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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Common Core Grammar Standards

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

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

What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand?

Autonomy is Maintained

The Common Core Language Strand dictates the what, but not the how of instruction. From the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“The Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

“By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”

Differentiated or Individualized Instruction is Validated

The Common Core Language Strand assumes that teachers will need to differentiate instruction to master both grade-level and previous grammatical standards. Again, from the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.”

“The Standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations. No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety in abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom. However, the Standards do provide clear signposts along the way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students.

It is also beyond the scope of the Standards to define the full range of supports appropriate for English language learners and for students with special needs. At the same time, all students must have the opportunity to learn and meet the same high standards if they are to access the knowledge and skills necessary in their post–high school lives.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Review is Emphasized

The Common Core Language Strand identifies specific standards and skills that are “particularly likely” to require review.

“The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*)  are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

A considerable number of skills are marked with the asterisks throughout the K-12 language strand. To me, this indicates a basic acknowledgement of the cyclical nature of grammar instruction and the necessity for review and differentiated instruction in grammar, mechanics, and spelling.

Many Language Standards are Specific or Detailed

Examples of Specific or Detailed Language Standards

  • Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., It was a fascinating, enjoyable movie but not He wore an old[,] green shirt). L.7.2.
  • Form and use verbs in the indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional, and subjunctive mood. L.5.2.

Many Language Standards Integrate Grammar into the Writing Context

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Application to Writing

  • Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style. L.6.3.
  • Maintain consistency in style and tone. L.6.3.

I find a nice balance between focusing on the correctness of usage and application to writing. The standards go out of their way to assert that grammar, mechanics, and spelling are best taught within the context of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

The Importance of Grammatical Correctness is Emphasized

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

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Correctness

  • Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive). L.6.1.
  • Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood. L.8.1.

Most Common Core Language Standards are Rigorous

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Rigor

  • Produce and expand complete simple and compound declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences in response to prompts. L.1.1
  • Form and use comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified. L.3.1.

What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand?

Many Language Standards Lack Specificity or Details

Examples of Vague or General Language Standards

  • Spell correctly L.6.2-L.12.2.
  • Use correct capitalization. L.4.2.

Some Common Core Language Standards Lack Rigor

Examples of Language Standards De-emphasizing Rigor

  • Explain the function of phrases and clauses in general and their function in specific sentences. L7.1 (Clauses are not introduced until seventh grade.)
  • Explain the function of verbals (gerunds, participles, infinitives) in general and their function in particular sentences. L8.1 (Verbals are not introduced until eighth grade.)
  • Parallel structures are not introduced until ninth grade.

Too Much of the Instructional Burden of the Common Core Language Strand is Placed Upon Elementary Teachers

Without getting lost in the specificity, the language strand clearly places the largest burden of grammar, mechanics, and spelling instruction on primary (first, second, and third) grade teachers. At the macro level (after deleting the vocabulary components from the language strand): first, second, and third has three pages of language standards; fourth and fifth has one page; sixth, seventh, and eighth has one page; and ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth has only half of a page.

The Common Core Language Strand De-emphasizes Spelling Instruction

Most notably, spelling gets short shrift in the Common Core State Standards language strand.

After third grade, here are the spelling standards:

  • Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed. L.4.2. and L.5.2.
  • Spell correctly L.6.2.-L.12.2

It’s great to know that all American school children will require no spelling standards after third grade. Just wave the magic wand, I guess.

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 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 components.

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.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

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