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Posts Tagged ‘Common Core State Standards’

Common Core Test Results

As teachers have focused on the reading and writing strands of the Common Core State Standards the past three years, the Language Strand Standards have been given short shrift. As the testing data from the 2015 SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), the PAARC (Partnership of Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and other state tests has been or soon will be released, teachers and district personnel are identifying the instructional gaps and rediscovering why a balanced literacy program, including explicit instruction in grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary is so essential.

As of August 30, 2015, full or preliminary scores have been released for these states: Connecticut, Idaho, Missouri, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. Each participated in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The second testing group, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PAARC) has not released any results. Several other states that developed their own exams tied to the standards have been released. Many states have adopted a cafeteria model, using some of the two consortia online assessments plus their own paper ad pencil achievement tests.

A Brief Case Study

In Elk Grove Unified School District, the fifth largest school district in California, teachers have received extensive training, including over a week of all day sessions at the district office in the Reading (Literature and Informational) and Writing Strands. Teachers have learned and practiced Close Reading strategies, text dependent questions, and analyzed district-created writing rubrics in the narrative, argumentative, and informational/explanatory Writing Standards. A passing nod has been given to the Speaking/Listening Strand, but only minimal professional development has been delivered in the Language Strand. Until now.

Elk Grove Unified and all districts in California have now received the assessment results for the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) mix of online and paper-pencil assessments, including the online SBAC English language arts/literacy (ELA) tests. The district results? Not nearly as good as expected for this high performing school district.

Parents will soon be receiving the CAASP test results.

CAASP Test Results for Parents

Elk Grove is not alone. At Los Angeles Unified School District, Cynthia Lim, executive director of the Office of Data and Accountability, said the preliminary results received by the nation’s second largest district are “lower than what people are used to seeing.” Christine Amario AP

The current mantra? “It’s just a baseline year for us.”

The game plan to improve overall and sub-group scores? Focus on the Language Strand.

The Big Picture

It’s the Language Strand that provides the tools of language, that is the grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary that makes reading and writing intelligible. Now as teachers and district personnel, such as in Elk Grove Unified, have begun to deconstruct what the Common Core tests actually assess, it is evident that the whole is made up of many parts. Part to whole instruction is making a comeback.

In the words of the Common Core authors:

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. They must also be able to determine or clarify the meaning of grade-appropriate words encountered through listening, reading, and media use; come to appreciate that words have nonliteral meanings, shadings of meaning, and relationships to other words; and expand their vocabulary in the course of studying content. 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/ELA-Literacy/CCRA/L/

When most teachers and district personnel think grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary, they think about writing. The performance-based writing assessments evaluate students’ abilities to 1. Develop ideas 2. Organize their writing and 3. Craft their grammar and language usage to narrate, argue, or inform. Teachers have done a wonderful job on 1 and 2. Students now understand the difference between the writing domains (genre). However, as the 2015 SBAC and PAARC assessment results show so clearly, it’s the ability to use the tools of language that our students lack.

But these relative weaknesses are not solely found in the performance-based writing components. The language tools are critically important in every testing component. Let’s take a look at some of the actual multiple-choice assessment reading components from both the SBAC and PAARC tests to see how integral the grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary of the Language Strand is to success on the Common Core tests:

[pdf-embedder url=”http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Common-Core-Test-Items-Vocabulary.pdf”]

[pdf-embedder url=”http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Common-Core-Test-Items-Grammar-Usage-Mechanics-and-Spelling.pdf”]

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language

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

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.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Common Core Greek and Latinates

As we all know by now, the bulk of Vocabulary Standards are now included in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Greek and Latin affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and roots are key components of five of the grade level Standards. But not the grade levels most of us would expect.

Older, close-to-retirement teachers or parochial school expatriates remember the value of their own high school Latin classes. Both grammar and cognates significantly improved their writing and vocabulary. They swear by it. Also those colleagues trying to make a few extra dollars by teaching SAT or ACT prep classes will affirm the importance of learning Greek and Latin word parts for the reading sections of these tests. So, high school 9-12 CCSS Standards strongly emphasize Greek and Latinates, right? Wrong. There are no Greek and Latin vocabulary Standards for Grades 9-12.

Interestingly, the CCSS vocabulary Standards dealing with Greek and Latin affixes and roots begin at 4th Grade and end at 8th Grade. Here are these Standards for each of these grade levels:

Common Core Greek and Latinates

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L.4.4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 4 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies. Use context (e.g., definitions, examples, or restatements in text) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

  • Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., telegraph, photograph, autograph).
  • Now, recent reading research has supported emphasizing the morphological approach to vocabulary development in elementary and middle school.

Why is it important to study Greek and Latin word parts?

  • Over 60% of the words students will encounter in school textbooks have recognizable word parts; and many of these Latin and Greek roots (Nagy, Anderson,Schommer, Scott, & Stallman, 1989).
  • Latin and Greek prefixes, roots, and suffixes have predictable spelling patterns.(Rasinski & Padak, 2001; Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston, 2000).
  • Content area vocabulary is largely Greek and Latin-based and research supports this instruction, especially for struggling readers (Harmon, Hedrick & Wood, 2005).
  • Many words from Greek and Latin word parts are included in “Tier Two” and “Tier Three” wordsthat Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002) have found to be essential to vocabulary word study.
  • Knowing Greek and Latin word parts helps students recognize and gain clues to understanding of other words that use known affixes and roots(Nagy & Scott, 2000).
  • “One Latin or Greek root or affix (word pattern) aids understanding (as well as decoding and encoding) of 20 or more English words.” 
  • “Since Spanish is also a Latin-based language, Latin (and Greek) can be used as a bridge to help Spanish speaking students use knowledge of their native language to learn English.” 
  • Learning Greek and Latin affixes and roots may help reduce the literacy gap.

So, which Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes, and roots should we teach?

It makes sense to begin with the most commonly used word parts.

Additionally, here are the most useful Greek and Latin word part lists I’ve found:

So, how many Greek and Latinates should we teach per week? I’d say from two to seven, depending upon grade level. Less is more. The more word play, analogies, writing, and games the better.

So how should we introduce the Greek and Latin word parts?

Introduce two Greek and Latin word parts that fit together to form one word. Tell students to write down this word. Ask students to brainstorm which words they know that include each of the word parts. Write their example words on the board. Direct students to guess the part of speech and definition of the word formed from the word parts and to write down their guesses next to their vocabulary word.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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

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.


Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , ,

Time for the Common Core?

Teachers and district administrators are busy attending staff developments and planning days on aligning curriculum to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Experts are making their rounds at districts still lucky enough to have a few dollars allocated to staff development. Far more often it’s the sales reps from publishers, eager to cash in on Common Core-aligned curriculum, who are assisting educators in instructional planning.

For most English-language arts teachers, the chief question to be answered is not what to teach or how to teach, but how much to teach. By and large, English teachers will teach what they are paid to teach. Few teachers have real issues with the overall concept, parameters, design, or scope and sequence of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). We may grouse about the shift to expository reading and writing, but beneath our posturing at staff meetings, we are really a compliant bunch. Just let us hang on to some semblance of sovereignty re: how to teach, and we will willingly accept the dictates of what to teach.

But the question of how much to teach is keeping English teachers up at night. All instruction is inherently reductive. It’s an agonizing process of give and take. If we give additional attention to this Standard, we necessarily take attention from this Standard. Gone are the days when we simply fretted over losing cherished projects such as building Medieval Castles, writing Anne Frank Diaries, or performing Romeo and Juliet. We’ve been on this no-frills Standards kick for quite a while. We’re down to bare bones, and any new instructional focus takes away from teaching an English Language Arts Standard.

And let’s just take a moment to call out those well-meaning colleagues who insist upon some hodge-podge all-inclusive Standards, akin to 1990s thematic education. You can’t teach specific reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language Standards in one easy unified lesson. Gone are the days when we pretended to teach everything by teaching nothing in detail. It all sounded good, but it never worked.

So how do we teach the CCSS English Language Arts Standards with fidelity and specificity and still have time to take roll? It’s not easy, but here are some thoughts.

How Much Time for the Common Core?

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My take on the CCSS English Language Arts emphasis of Standards is that a consensus is building toward a 35-30-25-10 plan. That would be 35% of class time spent on the Reading Anchor Standards (Literature and Informational Text), 30% of class time spent on the Writing Anchor Standards, 25% of class time spent on the Language Anchor Standards, and 10% of class time spent on Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards. Percentages include differentiated instruction in all instructional Strands.

Now percentages are useful in that we all have different instructional minutes and some of our history/social science, science, and technology colleagues are actually getting serious about teaching their fair share of the CCSS Literacy Standards. But detailed minutes get to the nuts and bolts of how much to teach.

I’m fortunate to teach seventh grade English-language Arts in an eighty-minute block, five days per week. No, I won’t tell you where. You’re probably a better teacher than I, and I still have a few more years ‘til retirement. Adjust to your own instructional minutes, but here is how I make sense of allocating instructional time to the CCSS English Language Arts Standards:

  • Reading: 25 minutes each day with a fifty-fifty expository/informational, narrative/descriptive split.
  • Writing: 20 minutes each day with a fifty-fifty split of process pieces and essay strategies, sentence combining, quick writes, etc.
  • Language: 15 minutes each day of grammar and usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary development.
  • Speaking and Listening: 10 minutes each day of Speaking and Listening Standards: direct instruction and application in all facets of communication.
  • Differentiated Instruction: 10 minutes each day of specifically adjusting instruction to individual needs.

Homework: 20 minutes each day of independent reading at the student’s instructional reading level with interactive, graded discussion involving parents and book clubs.

Of course each day is not rigid according to this time frame and allocation of instructional minutes. I do tell a joke occasionally and take roll when I remember to do so.

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.

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

Common Core Academic Language Words

The principal authors of the Common Core State Standards have rightly criticized the dumbing-down of reading text in Appendix A of the Common Core document. Citing the research detailed in the 2006 ACT, Inc., report titled Reading Between the Lines that high school student scores in reading comprehension have dropped over recent years, the authors pinpoint two primary reasons for this trend. First, the level of K-12 text complexity has decreased. Second, too many teachers are reading novels out loud and explicating line by line such that their students have little practice in independently accessing meaning from text.

Of course, pinpointing text complexity as a problem begs the question of just what constitutes complex text. To their credit, the authors do a nice job evaluating reading level formulas and analyzing the semantic and syntactic features that contribute to reading levels. Although they spend some time discussing the impact of syllable number and word length, the authors fail to adequately bullet-point the chief variable in text complexity: the words themselves. To be fair, the authors certainly do emphasize the importance of vocabulary throughout the rest of the Common Core document.

So, which words make reading text complex? And, if we know what they are, how can we teach them most effectively? I try to answer the latter question in a complementary article, How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards, but following is part of my answer to the first question.

To teach the types of words that are included in complex reading text, the Common Core document lists its primary Vocabulary Standards in the English Language Arts Language Strand. The Standards focus on these kinds of words: 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).

So as not to chew on too much for one article, let’s focus on the academic language words (L.6.0).

These Tier Three Words (Beck, McKeown, Kucan) require explicit instruction and practice in a variety of reading and writing contexts. These words are not incidental vocabulary that will naturally be acquired through “free choice” independent reading of novels. Indeed, academic language words show up most of the time in complex expository text.

I can hear English language-arts teachers thinking… “Isn’t the Common Core all about sharing the literacy load? Shouldn’t history and science handle this complex expository text?”

Yes, the Common Core authors view literacy development as a mutual responsibility of all educational stakeholders. Yes, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. For example, tectonic plates will appear frequently in science textbooks, but rarely elsewhere. However, the word analyze will appear frequently in science textbooks and frequently in all other expository text. It’s the academic language that English-language arts teachers need to teach.

So, this is why the Common Core State Standards has begun the “Great Shift” from narrative to expository reading. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Academic Language Words

Dr. Averil Coxhead, senior lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies developed and evaluated The Academic Word List (AWL) for her MA thesis. The list has 570 word families which were selected according to certain criteria:

  • The word families must occur in over half of the 28 academic subject areas. “Just over 94% of the words in the AWL occur in 20 or more subject areas. This principle ensures that the words in the AWL are useful for all learners, no matter what their area of study or what combination of subjects they take at tertiary level.”
  • “The AWL families had to occur over 100 times in the 3,500,000 word Academic Corpus in order to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the words will be met a reasonable number of times in academic texts.” The academic corpus refers to a computer-generated list of most-frequently occurring academic words.
  • “The AWL families had to occur a minimum of 10 times in each faculty of the Academic Corpus to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the vocabulary is useful for all learners.”

Words Excluded From the Academic Word List

  • “Words occurring in the first 2,000 words of English.”
  • “Narrow range words. Words which occurred in fewer than 4 faculty sections of the Academic Corpus or which occurred in fewer than 15 of the 28 subject areas of the Academic Corpus were excluded because they had narrow range. Technical or specialist words often have narrow range and were excluded on this basis.”
  • “Proper nouns. The names of places, people, countries, for example, New Zealand, Jim Bolger and Wellington were excluded from the list.”
  • “Latin forms. Some of the most common Latin forms in the Academic Corpus were et al, etc, ie, and ibid.” http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/resources/academicwordlist/information

The Academic Word list has been ordered into lists by frequency of use. Why not teach the academic language words that appear most often in academic text?

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

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).

Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts divides vocabulary development among a variety of instructional strands across the grade levels. For example, the Reading Strand in both Literature and Informational Text includes the same Standard (8.4): Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

and

The Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects Standards include Vocabulary Standard RST 8.4: Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6–8 texts and topics.

However, most of the specific Vocabulary Standards are placed in the K-12 Language Strand. The CCSS L.4, 5, 6 Vocabulary Standards include the following:

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

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. Obviously, incidental vocabulary acquisition from independent reading won’t “teach” the Standards listed above with any degree of fidelity. Nor will introducing a few “story-specific” or “content-specific” words prior to reading a selection from the literature anthology or social studies chapter. Not that there is anything wrong with these approaches to vocabulary development. The bulk of Tier One (conversational language) are certainly acquired primarily through independent reading.

But Tier Two Academic Vocabulary (Beck, McKeown, Kucan), as discussed in the Common Core Appendix A, is different. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. In the words of the Common Core document:

This normal process of word acquisition occurs up to four times faster for Tier Three words when students have become familiar with the domain of the discourse and encounter the word in different contexts (Landauer & Dumais,1997). Hence, vocabulary development for these words occurs most effectively through a coherent course of study in which subject matters are integrated and coordinated across the curriculum and domains become familiar to the student over several days or weeks.

So which instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? After all, there are more Standards to teach.

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

Weekly Instructional Plan: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (L.4, 5, and 6)

Day One

  1. Introduce two multiple meaning words and read their definitions out loud. Write two sentences with the multiple meaning words on the board/projector and ask students to identify the use of the words. Direct students to compose their own sentences, using context clues to show the meanings of the words. (L.4.a.)
  2. Introduce two Greek and Latin word parts that fit together to form one word. Tell students to write down this word. Ask students to brainstorm which words they know that include each of the word parts. Write their example words on the board. Direct students to guess the part of speech and definition of the word formed from the word parts and to write down their guesses next to their vocabulary word. (L.4.a.)
  3. Pass out dictionaries, display an online dictionary, or use other language resources. Teach students to use the guide words to find the word entry, if using a print dictionary. Read the primary definition of the word formed from the Greek and Latin word parts and compare to student guesses. Teach students the different between primary and secondary definitions and read the secondary definition to compare. Teach students the symbols used from syllable division, accents, and parts of speech. Direct students to divide their vocabulary word into syllables with slashes (/), mark the primary accent (´), write the abbreviated part of speech, and write the definition that best matches the Greek and Latin word parts. Write the answers on the board and tell students to edit their answers as necessary. (L.4.c.d.)
  4. List a grade-appropriate figure of speech on the board/projector and explain the literal image of the expression. Tell students to write down the figure of speech. Ask students for their explanations and interpretations of the figurative meaning of the expression. Validate the correct student responses or provide the correct meaning as necessary. Tell students to paraphrase the figurative meaning next to the figure of speech. (L.5.a.)

Day Two

  1. Introduce two grade-level vocabulary words that have special denotative relationships and read their definitions out loud. Direct students to compose a compound sentence with a connecting transition word or phrase to define one word in terms of the other, using context clues. (L.5.b.)
  2. Introduce two grade-level words that have special connotative relationships and read their definitions out loud. Explain the difference between denotation (dictionary definition) and connotation (definition in context). Explain that words have different shades of meaning when used in different situations. Explain what a spectrum is, using a rainbow as an example. Direct students to draw a four-word spectrum in which they place the two vocabulary words in connotative relationship with two already-known words with related meanings. (L.5.c.)
  3. Introduce two academic language words and read their definitions out loud. Direct students to draw two vocabulary four-squares, one for each academic language word. Quadrants are labeled “Key Words,” “Similar to…,” “Different than…,” and “Example.” Tell students to analyze the meaning of the academic vocabulary words by completing each square. (L.6.0)

 
Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

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, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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

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).

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , ,

Common Core Curricular Crossover

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

CCSS L.1 and 2 are titled “Language Conventions.” They include grammar, mechanics, and spelling which have traditionally been listed in the writing division. Despite the assurances from the Common Core collaborators that conventions should not be divorced from the communicative context, many anti-direct instruction of grammar are suffering heart palpitations now that these conventions stand on their own in the Common Core.

CCSS L.3 is titled “Knowledge of Use.” Essentially, these grade-level standards deal with language application and have traditionally belonged within the writing, listening, and speaking divisions.

CCSS L.4, 5, and 6 are titled “Vocabulary Acquisition and Use.” These standards have traditionally been placed within the reading division. They include multiple meaning words and context clues (L.4.a.), Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.), Language Resources (L.4.c.d.), Figures of Speech (L.5.a.), Word Relationships (L.5.b.), Connotations (L.5.c.), and Academic Language Words (L.6.0).

Here is how the CCSS document summarizes the Language Strand:

The Language standards include the essential “rules” of standard written and spoken English, but they also approach language as a matter of craft and informed choice among alternatives. The vocabulary standards focus on understanding words and phrases, their relationships, and their nuances and on acquiring new vocabulary, particularly general academic and domain-specific words and phrases.

One unique feature of the Language Strand is the “Language Progressive Skills” document. Perhaps recognizing the cyclical nature of language instruction and the value of differentiated instruction, the document specifies certain L. 1 and 2 Standards for “special attention” and “review.”

The CCSS document summarizes the purpose of the “Language Progressive Skills”: The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) in Language standards 1–3, are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.

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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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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Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

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

For those just beginning to explore the CCSS Language Strand, an overview may be helpful. The Language Strand consists of the following: Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3), and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6), as well as the review/special attention Standards of the “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade.” Note: Grades 9-10 and 11-12 are combined throughout the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.

Let’s break down all of the gobbledygook.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 1) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.” In other words… heavy doses of specific and rigorous grammatical constructions, throughout the grade levels with “special attention” and “review” in the “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade.” These progressive skills begin with two Standards at Grade 3 and “staircase” to eighteen at Grades 11-12. Even a cursory glance at the Language Strand will convince die-hard DOL/DLR (Daily Oral Language/Daily Language Review) practitioners or TGOitWP (Teach Grammar Only in the Writing Process) purists that direct instruction of these Standards, interactive practice, and plenty of writing application will be necessary to get the job done. The heaviest burden falls on elementary teachers, but most secondary teachers will have to “bone up” on their old McCracken to teach “coordinate adjectives” (L.7.2). Yes, it’s going to take time and a bit of effort to teach these Standards with any sense of fidelity.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.” Spelling gets short-shrift here with little specificity: “Spelling correctly” (L.6.2-12.2)

Knowledge of Language (Standard 3) requires students to “Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.” Grades 9-12 require students to “Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.” These Standards focus on using language and its conventions in reading, writing, listening and speaking. The L.3.3-L.12.3 Standards include the following: word choice and word order for precision and effect, sentence structure, sentence patterns, and sentence variety, sentence expansion, sentence combination, and sentence reduction, writing style, voice, mood, point of view, rhetorical stance, informal and formal language, standard and non-standard language, language variety, language context, language form, and MLA citations. Lots of writing application practice.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 4) requires students to “Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade…level… reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.” Plenty of homonyms.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 5) requires students to “Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.” All the different figures of speech: similes, metaphors, idioms, adages, proverbs, alliteration, onomatopoeia, imagery, symbolism, personification, colloquialisms, allusions, consonance, assonance, irony, puns, oxymorons, euphemisms, paradox, understatement. Plus denotative and connotative definitions with word resources (dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses, etc.) and word relationships (semantic spectrums, word analysis, four square activities, etc.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 6) requires students to “Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.” Grades 9-12 require students to “Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.” In other words, both direct instruction in academic language (Beck and McGowan’s Tier 2 and 3 Words). I highly recommend building “deep level” vocabulary instruction from the well-researched Academic Word List. Standards also include Greek and Latin morphemes from Grade 3-Grade 8. Note: Greek and Latin morphemes are not included, for some reason in the 9-10 or 11-12 Standards. I doubt if many high school teachers will abandon Greek and Latin vocabulary as they help prep their students for the ACT/SAT reading sections.

The Common Core State Standards also provides a review strand titled Language Progressive Skills.

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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CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

One controversial component of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS has been the Language Strand. The Language Strand consists of the following for each grade level: Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3), and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6).

The main point of contention, of course, has been the inclusion of Language as a separate strand with grammar, usage, and conventions divorced from writing instruction and vocabulary divorced from reading instruction.

In fact, the writers of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) go out of their away to alleviate the fears of writing-based and literature-based devotees with the following disclaimer: “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 (51).” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

A second issue has received far less attention than the aforementioned point of contention in curricular mapping committees and ELA forums, but has created more rumblings in the educational publishing world. This second issue will perhaps have a greater impact than the first on classroom instruction.

In the Language Strand, at the end of both the K-5 (p. 30) and 6-12 (p. 56) Language Standards is a document titled “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade” with this subheading: “The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) in Language standards 1–3, are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.”

CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

…..

  1. 3.1f. Ensure subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement.
  2. 3.a. Choose words and phrases for effect.
  3. 3.3a. Produce complete sentences, recognizing and correcting inappropriate fragments and run-ons.
  4. 4.1g. Correctly use frequently confused words (e.g., to/too/two; there/their)
  5. 4.3a. Choose words and phrases to convey ideas precisely.
  6. 4.3b. Choose punctuation for effect.
  7. 5.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense.
  8. 5.2a. Use punctuation to separate items in a series.†
  9. 6.1c. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun number and person.
  10. 6.1d. Recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).
  11. 6.1e. Recognize variations from standard English in their own and others’ writing and speaking, and identify and use strategies to improve expression in conventional language.
  12. 6.2a. Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
  13. 6.3a. Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.‡
  14. 6.3b. Maintain consistency in style and tone.
  15. 7.1c. Place phrases and clauses within a sentence, recognizing and correcting misplaced and dangling modifiers.
  16. 7.3a. Choose language that expresses ideas precisely and concisely, recognizing and eliminating wordiness and redundancy.
  17. 8.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood.
  18. 910.1a. Use parallel structure.

Analysis and Implications of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

…..

No Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6) are included-only Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3). In other words, grammar, usage, and conventions warrant this second document. Compared to previous state standard documents, the CCSS sees these components as specific building blocks to literacy, and not just incidental outcomes learned by some mysterious form of academic osmosis.

Of the 18 CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards, 14 are Grade 3-6 Standards. Clearly the writers of the CCSS have chosen to notch up the rigor of previous state standards by devolving most of the heavy instructional lifting of grammar, usage, and conventions skills to elementary teachers.

The CCSS defines grammar, usage, and conventions as “skills.” Skills are to be applied to the writing craft. National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, and Writing Process advocates have been loath to accept this skills/craft instructional distinction.

Tacit acknowledgement is made that these grammar, usage, and conventions skills must be reviewed at each grade level. In other words, the cyclical nature of skills acquisition is affirmed. Unlike many previous state standards documents, the CCSS writers seem to get the fact that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The examples in Appendix A of the CCSS document are helpful in this regard.

Although the writers of the CCSS document have been careful to leave methodological autonomy to teachers, the inclusion of a separate language strand, the labeling of grammar, usage, and conventions as “skills,” and the review component of the 18 Language Progressive Skills Standards certainly promote some means of both direct and differentiated instruction in the Standards themselves.

The grammar, usage, and conventions skills require deep instruction, not just review practice, as with Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review methodologies. And that means intensive, direct instruction and guided practice following an instructional sequence that includes the review components as scaffolding to build onto with new skills. Periodic “mini-lessons” are just not going to cut it. Each of the 18 Language Progressive Skills Standards cries out for diagnostic assessments and differentiated instruction for the sake of instructional efficiency and individual mastery.

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.  The lessons 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 Essay Writing Terms

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate (Cool Hand Luke, 1967).” A great line from one of Paul Newman’s best movies… but also relevant to, arguably, one of the more controversial strands of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): writing. Controversial because of three reasons:

  1. As with the reading strand, much of the writing focus is now on the argumentative and informational/explanatory domains, rather than on the narrative.
  2. The new history/social science, science, and technology literacy standards include each of the ten components from the writing strand.
  3. It looks like secondary content area teachers are going to have to start talking to one another. Some tips on beginning this conversation are in a related article, but the purpose of the present discussion to make the case for using a common language of instruction.

Much can be said in favor of a common language of instruction in writing. Using the same writing terms permits clear communication among teachers as well as with students. Terminology used by teachers in the subject disciplines can be quite “in-house” and can lead to misunderstanding/misuse out of context. Getting on the same page in terms of what we mean when we say “thesis statement,” for example, will facilitate more productive cross-curricular discussions, expectations, and instructional planning. Besides teachers, students have to scale the academic language barrier for each new teacher and course of study. Some of this may be necessary, but there is little doubt that students who hear and use the same academic vocabulary from grade to grade and course to course are more likely to apply prior content and process knowledge to new academic situations and tasks. Yes, students need to be flexible learners, but teachers also need to be “user-friendly” to their clients.

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

…..

I propose using the CCSS language of instruction for the key writing terms across all subject disciplines in elementary, middle school, and high school. Some of us will have to come down out of our castles and give up pet writing terms that we’ve used for years, and ones that, indeed, may be more accurate than those of the CCSS. But for the sake of collaboration and service to our students, this pedagogical sacrifice is a must. Following are the first two (of ten) components of the writing strand with their respective purposes and forms, according to language of the CCSS document. The 6-12 Writing Strand uses the same writing terms and a.-e. components, but scaffolds more complex expectations grade to grade. Following is the 6th grade Writing Strand with relevant comments regarding additional scaffolded Grades 7-12 components.

CCSS W1 Argumentative Essays

Purpose

1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

Comments: Some teachers would distinguish between argument (focus on the writer) and persuasion (focus on the reader), but the CCSS makes no such distinction. Many teachers would prefer using thesis statement, instead of claim, but even the California revisions make no such reference.

Form

a. Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.

Comments: Essentially the introduction here with some reference to the organizational plan of the essay. Grades 7-12 scaffold alternate or opposing claim(s): “address” in the California revision (7th), “distinguish” (8th), make “clear” (9th -10th), and make “precise” (11th – 12th). The focus is on defining the claim(s) in context of competing claims.

b. Support claim(s) with clear reasoning and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

Comments: The writing terms for the body paragraphs are reasons and evidence. The usual structure of the body paragraph would identify the reason as the topic sentence and evidence as support/development. However, more mature writers could also select complementary claims as topic sentences (See 1a. “claim(s)) with reasons and evidence as support/development. Grades 7-12 replace “clear evidence” with “logical evidence” and add “accurate” to “credible sources. The California revision inserts “counterarguments” at 7th grade only. Grades 9-12 add the criteria of fairness and sense of audience to the argument.

c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to clarify the relationships among claim(s) and reasons.

Comments: Grades 7-12 scaffold in “counterclaims” and “evidence.”

d. Establish and maintain a formal style.

e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument

Comments: In other words, the conclusion.

CCSS W2 Informational/Explanatory Essays/Texts

Purpose

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

Comments: The language of these standards suggests a variety of writing genre that would come under the umbrella of informative/explanatory, including, but not limited to the traditional essay.

a. Introduce a topic; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

Comments: Essentially the introduction here with reference to the organizational plan. The California revision includes “or thesis statement” following “Introduce a topic” in Grades 6-12. Specific strategies to be used throughout the body paragraphs to examine the topic are detailed. Additional strategies are scaffolded across the grade levels: “previewing” (7th), “broader categories” with “definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect” omitted (8th), “to make important connections and distinctions” (9th -10th), and “each new element build upon that which precedes it to create a unified whole” (11th – 12th).

Form

b. Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

Comments: Essentially the same types of evidence in Grades 7-12 that would develop the body paragraphs of the essay/text.

c. Use appropriate transitions to clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts. Grades 11-12 add “syntax” to transitions.

d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic. Grades 11-12 add “techniques such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic.”

e. Establish and maintain a formal style. Grades 9-12 add “objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.”

f. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the information or explanation presented.

Comments: In other words, the conclusion. Grades 9-12 add two examples of conclusion strategies: “articulating implications or the significance of the topic.”

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, an e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

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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

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , , , , ,

Common Core DI, RTI, and ELD

Writers of the new Common Core State Standards have clearly gone out of their way to assure educators that the Standards establish 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.”

And more:

“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.”

And more:

“Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.” http://www.corestandards.org

In other words, despite the fact that the Standards put all of us on the same page, in terms of grade-level expectations, teachers retain the autonomy to teach how they see fit.

Cyclical Instruction

The Common Core State Standards validate the need for review, as well as the cyclical nature of instruction by identifying the skills needed to scaffold higher level instruction and practice. These directions appear throughout the document:

“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.”

Teachers advised to skip review of previous grade-level standards and concentrate on the grade-level standards that will be tested, now have firm legs to stand upon when they say “No” to administrators only interested in achieving AYP goals.

Common Core DI (Differentiated Instruction)

Implicit in the mandated review is the need for effective diagnostic assessments to determine what and how much requires re-teaching to establish a solid foundation for grade-level instruction. Using data to impact instructional decisions will help teachers decide which content and skills are best reviewed whole-class and which content and skills are best addressed via small group or individualized instruction.

For example, if initial diagnostic assessments indicate that the whole class needs review of subjects and predicates, whole class instruction and guided practice will certainly be the most efficient means of review; thereafter, if the formative assessment on subjects and predicates shows that half a dozen students have not yet mastered these concepts, small group instruction or targeted individual practice makes sense. However, if initial diagnostic assessments indicate that only half a dozen students have not yet mastered subjects and predicates, it would certainly be advisable to begin with differentiated instruction, rather than waste the time of students who have already mastered these concepts.

Common Core RtI (Response to Intervention)

Again, from the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“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 alongthe way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students.”

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Common Core ELD (English Language Development)

“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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies.

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Common Core Content Area Reading and Writing

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

A response to one of my recent posts reflects this worry:

“…taking away (or throwing it into the ‘narrative’ category) creative writing is going to kill creativity in our country. I wish they would realize that creative writing goes hand-in-hand with critical-thinking and problem-solving… I went to a workshop this spring in which one of the writers of the CC standards said MOST of the non-fiction reading/writing would come in the history and science classes… But they do not make that clear enough in the standards. If that is what they want, then they need to speak up soon before ELS teachers stop teaching literature all together! (And if that is the case, I will be getting out of teaching).”

So, what’s all the fuss?

Common Core Content Area Reading

Citing the Distribution of Literary and Informational Passages by Grade in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP framework, the introductory pages of the Common Core State Standards call for the following distributions of text: 50% literary/50% information (4th grade); 45% literary/55% information (8th grade); 30% literary/70% information (12th grade).

Secondary ELA teachers are quick to point to the CCSS reading footnote:

2 As with reading, the percentages in the table reflect the sum of student writing, not just writing in ELA settings.

Common Core Content Area Writing

Similarly, the CCSS introduction follows the NAEP lead in the Distribution of Communicative Purposes by Grade in the 2011 NAEP Writing Framework, but with more explicit direction than with respect to the reading distribution.

“It follows that writing assessments aligned with the Standards should adhere to the distribution of writing purposes across grades outlined by NAEP.” (CCSS Introduction p. 5)

And “the Standards aim to align instruction with this framework.” (p. 5) So, what are these writing distributions? 30% to persuade/35% to explain/35% to convey experience (4th grade); 35% to persuade/35% to explain/30% to convey experience (8th grade); 40% to persuade/40% to explain/20% to convey experience (12th grade).

Again, secondary English teachers are quick to point to the CCSS writing footnote, which is more explicit than the reading footnote and provides a useful example:

1 The percentages on the table reflect the sum of student reading, not just reading in ELA settings. Teachers of senior English classes, for example, are not required to devote 70 percent of reading to informational texts. Rather, 70 percent of student reading across the grade should be informational.

It should be noted that “The Great Shift” actually introduces a greater curricular change for elementary teachers. In response to the guidelines of the National Reading Panel, most elementary teachers spend 90-120 minutes daily in reading instruction (primarily literature), while reductively integrating writing, social studies, and science instruction. There is just so much time in the day. But, elementary teachers can adjust reading and writing assignments to reflect this shift more easily than their secondary colleagues.

Indeed, the challenges for secondary teachers to conform to the change in emphasis in the CCSS standards will be many. And since “The Great Shift” has been introduced in the ELA standards of the CCSS, the initiative of how to respond has been clearly dumped in the lap of English teachers. If follows that if the strategic goals of ELA teachers will be to spread the wealth (pain) of the CCSS mandates to include other content area teachers, a discussion of tactical options will be advisable.

Tactics for Developing Common Core Reading and Writing

  • It’s time to discuss curriculum with history/social studies and science colleagues. Let’s add on visual and performing arts friends as well.
  • Recognize and validate the fact that content area colleagues have full curricular plates already and reading/writing add-ons will not be universally welcomed.
  • Make the Common Core State Standards the “bad guys,” not ELA teachers.
  • Recognize the expertise of content area colleagues. They are probably better informational (to explain) readers than are ELA teachers. Writing may or may not be a different matter.
  • Make peace with excerpts, articles, abstracts, abridged versions, editorials, etc. Non-fiction does not have to come in 300 plus page volumes. Content area teachers will be willing to compromise and add small bites throughout their curriculum.
  • Cherished class novels may have to go.
  • Be willing to give up pet instructional language and adopt universal language of reading and writing instruction across the curricular areas.
  • Be willing to relinquish control. What if history/social studies teachers handled the bulk of persuasive writing? What if science teachers handled the bulk of informational/explanatory writing? Would the world end?
  • Consider a humanities-based, interdisciplinary approach. We are simply too comfortable in our content area castles.
  • Support staff development and include outside “experts.” Yes, “a prophet is without honor in his own country.”
  • Support; don’t criticize. Baby steps are important here. It’s preachy, but needs to be said.

I welcome additional tactics.

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.

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Common Core State Standards Fear-mongering

California Common Core Language Standards

At the outset of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the research and writing committees latched upon the California and Massachusetts state standards to serve as reference points for establishing the Common Core State Standards. Both of these states’ standards were deemed to be the most rigorous and comprehensive in the nation. Both California and Massachusetts state standards followed a similar design and degree of specificity, unlike say the detailed Texas state standards.

Some educators in California and Massachusetts feared that the end product of the Common Core State Standards would water down the high expectations of their state standards, especially in the math strands. Scores of articles urged their respective state departments of education to head off the gutting of their standards at the pass. State Department of Education officials promised to red ink plenty of revisions to maintain the rigor of their standards. However, the final product (actually the revised draft) of the Common Core State Standards that was inadvertently leaked out to the press actually maintained most of the rigor of these two sets of state standards.

Teachers in California and Massachusetts are asking plenty of questions. For example, how do the Common Core State Standards differ from those of their states. How much red ink was used before the state legislatures of California and Massachusetts adopted the Common Core State Standards in the rush to qualify for the federal Race to the Top funds? In this article, I answer that question specifically with respect to the language strand of the California ELA/reading standards. To be short and to the point—not much.

In fact, only six additions (and no deletions) were made to the language strand of the English-language Arts/Reading Common Core State Standards. Each addition is relatively of minor concern and three reflect California’s unwavering support of penmanship.

Here are the differences:

1st Grade L.1.d. The addition clarifies pronouns as including “subject, object” in “Use personal (subject, object), possessive, and indefinite pronouns.”

2nd Grade L.1.a. The addition inserts “Create readable documents with legible print.”

3rd Grade L.1.a. The addition inserts “Write legibly in cursive or joined italics, allowing margins and correct spacing between letters in a word and words in a sentence.”

3rd Grade L.1.c. The addition inserts “Use reciprocal pronouns correctly.” Author’s Note: I am the author of a comprehensive grammar and mechanics program and I had to look these up to find that there are but two: each other and one another. Whew! Now I can teach third grade.

4th Grade L.1.a. The addition inserts “Write fluidly and legibly in cursive or joined italics.”

4th Grade L.1.b. The addition inserts “interrogative pronouns” next to the existing “relative pronouns.” Author’s Note: Interrogative pronouns stand without antecedents; relative pronouns have antecedents. Examples: What did you say? I said our car, which is old, still runs.

6th Grade L.1.b. The addition inserts “all pronouns” and “correctly” in “Use all pronouns, including intensive pronouns (e.g., myself, ourselves), correctly.”

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

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

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.

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 Language Standards

As an author of both a spelling series and a grammar and mechanics curriculum, I am constantly deluged with questions regarding the language strand of the new Common Core State Standards. Teachers are naturally concerned with such a monumental change away from district and state standards to national standards. And don’t let ‘em fool you: These are national standards with minimal variations from state to state. Irrespective of how the standards came about (the Common Core State Standards Initiative folk are adamant that this was a state-driven effort), the current status as of this writing is that 43 of the states have adopted this national set of standards.

Here are the questions teachers are asking about the language strand of the Common Core State Standards. I’ll answer with specific reference to the document itself and then follow with a quick analysis.

  • Teachers know the standards dictate what they are to teach, but teachers also want to know if the standards dictate how they are to teach.
  • Teachers want to know the philosophical stance with respect to these conventions of language, for example how grammatical instruction is linked to writing instruction.
  • Teachers have heard that the Common Core dumbs-down the standards from Massachusetts and California, but significantly increases expectations for the rest of the states, and so they ask just how rigorous are the language standards.
  • Some past state standards have been intentionally vague; others have been much more detailed. Teachers want to know how general or specific the language standards get.
  • Teachers want to know about the pacing of the K-12 instructional scope and sequence: what new stuff to they have to teach?
  • Teachers want to know what’s de-emphasized in the language standards: what stuff do they not have to teach?
  • How much, if any, review is built into the language strand?

Teachers want to know if the standards dictate how they are to teach.

“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

To me, the most interesting sentence above is “Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.” A tacit acknowledgement that the teacher needs to have the autonomy to differentiate instruction according to needs of her students.

Teachers want to know how want to know how grammatical instruction is linked to writing instruction.

“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

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. However, it is noteworthy that language does have its own strand, apart from writing and the standards do emphasize the necessity of mastering “standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics…”

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.

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.

Teachers ask just how rigorous are the language standards.

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.

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.

Clearly the levels of rigor are hit and miss.

Teachers want to know how general or specific the language standards get.

Examples of Vague or General Language Standards

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

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.

Teachers want to know about the pacing of the K-12 instructional scope and sequence.

The http://www.corestandards.org site lays out the language strands by elementary and secondary groupings of both bullet points and scope and sequence charts.

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.

Teachers want to know what’s de-emphasized in the language standards

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.

How much, if any, review is built into the language strand?

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.

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.

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.

 

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , ,

Standards and Accountability

A recent discussion on my favorite site, the English Companion Ning, made me take a critical look at just what has engendered the recent demands for increased accountability in our public schools. Both Democrats and Republicans are playing the blame game and teachers are the easiest targets. As a public school teacher, my initial response has been defensive; however, upon a bit of reflection I’m thinking that teachers may well largely be to blame–not for the “sorry state of public education” as our critics claim, but for the very accountability movement that is being used to attack us. We teachers are often our own worst enemies.

A bit of history helps put things in perspective. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s teachers felt that our norm-referenced testing, such as the ITBS, SAT, CTBS, MAT, provided data that did not measure what we are teaching. We used sophisticated psychometric criticisms such as sampling and measurement error and socio-political criticisms such as bias to largely rid ourselves from the nuisances of these exams. We teachers went wild. Authentic assessments, multiple-measure assessments, and no assessments ruled the educational landscape. I once taught a sophomore world history class for an entire year without giving any traditional tests.

However, with teacher-created assessments, testing manufacturers lost money. Educational Testing Services and others do not like to lose money. So, the test manufacturers changed tactics. They asked for and gave teachers what teachers said they wanted–tests that purport to test what we teach. In other words, criterion-referenced standards tests. And the standards-based movement was born.

Teachers were even asked to develop their own subject area standards. A seemingly bottom-up initiative. How inclusive! Each state department of education, county office of education, and most school districts funded the creation of these subject area content standards documents. I joined other colleagues in spending countless hours developing the English-language Arts Standards for my own school district.

Now the test-makers were happy. They had the basis of a new revenue stream. And, now because the tests ostensibly test what teachers teach, administrators, politicians, and even billionaire do-gooders can hold us accountable and measure teacher/school/district/state performance. The zenith? Our Common Core National Standards.

Teachers helped create this mess. We enabled the accountability movement that is choking teacher creativity, teacher autonomy, and teacher initiative. And our students are the ones who are paying the greatest price. In replacing normed-reference testing with criterion-reference testing, we replaced something bad with something worse. “Meet the new boss.” Not the same as the old boss. Apologies to Pete Townshend.

And now the standards-based movement is so endemic that any challenges to teaching to the test or resisting accountability standards are viewed with wonderment by many in our profession. The standards-based movement with its frame of accountability is fully entrenched. Newer teachers have known nothing else. With the new PAARC and Smarter Balanced Common Core assessments, the tail is wagging the dog once again. Teachers are spending valuable class time test prepping and changing instruction to be more test-friendly. The tests themselves take an inordinate amount of class time. Last year at my middle school, we English-language arts teachers had the task of testing all subject area. It took two weeks out of our teaching schedule to administer all of the tests.

Sigh. More on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post site.

Response from Maja Wilson, author of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Heinemann, 2006) and the recent article, “First blame the teachers then the parents”  in the Washington Post.

Mark,

This is why I argue that trying to get and maintain a “seat at the table” is ultimately counterproductive. The meal served at the table of power is unhealthy, the conversation is stilted (actually, there isn’t much conversation–lots of orders given and followed) and those who partake leave with indigestion. That’s what happened when teachers created standards–following orders at the table–that were then used against them as the basis first for high-stakes standardized tests, and then as a springboard for national standards created by a corporation created by governors and business interests (Achieve Inc).

Instead, we should create, set, and decorate another table, then serve a tasty and healthy meal there. We could invite as many people to join as possible, and then enjoy a rich conversation and lots of laughter together as we dine.

Michael (another poster to Maja’s initial post) may be right that the problem is that we can’t agree on what to serve at that table. But hey, even a potluck would be tastier, healthier, and more socially edifying than the cardboard and nails currently on the Department of Education’s menu.

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

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

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.

 

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Free Resources on Educational Issues and Teaching Trends

Even though we teachers like to think that we are “kings and queens of our own castles,” we are not immune to outside influences. As public servants, what we do in the classroom is impacted by political, economic, and social change. For better or worse, we live in a democracy.

In addition to our roles as public servants, we are also research scientists. More precisely, we are social scientists with a complex and evolving laboratory of students, parents, administration, and teaching colleagues.

As servants and scientists, educational issues and teaching trends affect who we are and how we teach more than many of us like to admit. The veteran teachers who roll their collective eyes and say “What comes around, goes around” know a thing or two. They know that sometimes the tail wags the dog-that things go on that determine what we do as professional educators. Now, change is good. But change with perspective and judgment is better.

Following are articles and practical resources regarding educational issues and teaching trends from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Educational Issues and Teaching Trends

Race to the Top Winners and Losers

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/race-to-the-top-winners-and-losers/

The nineteen state finalists in the Race to the Top initiative are truly winners and losers.

Don’t Rely on Rigor and Relevance

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/don’t-rely-on-rigor-and-relevance/

As a precursor to the current economic crisis, the educational leadership trend was the Rigor and Relevance Movement. Popularized over the last decade by Bill Daggett and the International Center for Leadership in Education, with concurrent support from the Institute of Education Sciences (the federal research agency arm of the U.S. Department of Education), the movement has swept the nation. Largely as a result of historical timing, the Rigor and Relevance (and now, relationships) Movement has become the de facto solution to the ills of public education. A critique of this movement points out a few noteworthy deficits in philosophy and pedagogy.

Crazy Reading Fads

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/crazy-reading-fads/

As an MA reading specialist, I’ve seen some strange remedial reading fads come and go over the years. Much like new weight loss products, each new fad looks enticing and promising. Let’s face it. Everyone wants the magic reading pill that will transform poor readers into skillful readers overnight.

Strange, but True: “Stuffed Animals Increase Reading Levels”

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/strange-but-true-stuffed-animals-increase-reading-levels/

According to Riddering, students were given a stuffed animal as a “reading buddy” and were encouraged to read to their buddy. Because of this method, reading scores increased greatly.

“One school in particular saw their sixth grade reading levels go from just 47 percent to 93 percent,” Riddering said. “That’s huge success!”

Educational Fads: What Goes Around Comes Around

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/educational-fads-what-goes-around-comes-around/

Teaching is, by its very nature, experimental. We teachers are just as susceptible to snake-oil sales pitches, fads, and cultural pressures as any professionals. Educational fads seem to come and go. Teachers need to learn to “crap detectors” to avoid some of the pitfalls of educational bandwagoning and experimentation.

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

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The writer of this article, Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Teaching Essay Strategies, and Teaching Reading Strategies and more ELA/Reading resources for the overworked teacher committed to differentiating instruction according to diagnostic and formative data. Perfect for EL/ESL and RtI instruction. For free diagnostic assessments, game cards, and instructional materials, as well as his highly-recommended curricula, check out www.penningtonpublishing.com. Bookmark and refer back often to the Pennington Publishing Blog for insightful articles, free resources, and educational tips. 

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Free English-language Arts Instructional Resources

English-language arts teachers are a unique breed. They are decidedly schizophrenic in that they teach both content and process. Other content area teachers tend to expect ELA teachers to shoulder the burden of teaching only the minor educational necessities: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Of course most content area teachers would also expect students to have read, i.e., ELA teachers to have taught, all of the classics. Let’s add on all study skills, critical thinking, and life skills. Here’s to the overworked ELA teachers. Shouldn’t they do all of the supervision and adjunct duties, as well?

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding English-language arts instruction from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

English-language Arts Instruction

Time for the Common Core?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/time-for-the-common-core/

How much to teach, not what to teach or how to teach are the questions keeping English-language arts teachers up at night. How much to teach for each of the four Common Core State Standard ELA Strands? Is there really time to teach all of the Common Core ELA Standards? Check out this balanced approach with detailed instructional times.

Common Core Academic Language Words

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-academic-language-words/

Yes, the Common Core authors view literacy development as a mutual responsibility of all educational stakeholders. Yes, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Grammar Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/common-core-grammar-standards/

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

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

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-common-core-vocabulary-standards/

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

Teaching ELA/Reading: 10 Impediments and Solutions

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/teaching-elareading-10-impediments-and-solutions/

All ELA/reading teachers want to do their best for their students. But how can we give our best when so many impediments stand in our way? I’m not talking about the usual ones we discuss in the staff room: discipline problems, overbearing administrators, bothersome parents, lack of materials. I’m talking about the all of the stuff that reductively minimizes our opportunity to be our best.

How to Lead Effective Group Discussions

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/study_skills/how-to-lead-effective-group-discussions/

Effective group discussions don’t just happen naturally. Good teachers or facilitators carefully craft the expected interaction by using the techniques provided in this article. Learn how to manage a discussion, praise and correct appropriately, and get everyone to participate.

How to Use Graded Literary Discussions

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-use-graded-literary-discussions/

Students need to know that their participation in class discussion is an important part of their overall grade. Otherwise, many will avoid participation or perceive the group discussion as being of minimal importance. Graded literary discussions motivate student participation.

How to Save Time Grading Essays

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-save-time-grading-essays/

Grading essays with specific comments can be very time-consuming. The answer is not to simply award a numerical rubric score. Instead, learn how to use the editing tools of Microsoft Word® to give prescriptive comments and still save time. These are comments that students will actually read.

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

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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.

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).

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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Free Resources to Teach English-language Arts Standards and the Common Core

Standards-based education is at an important crossroads. Having largely captured the focus of the educational reform movement over the last 20 years, standards-based instruction is now the norm in all 50 states. Currently, 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. More rigorous than previous state standards, teachers and district administrators are scrambling to align curriculum to the instructional demands of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.

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

The author of the Pennington Publishing Blog, Mark Pennington, has written a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language series to help ELA teachers teach each of the Common Core Language Standards. Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) ©2012 Pennington Publishing provides the resources teachers need to teach grade-level Standards and to differentiate instruction for their diverse learners. Previews of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available on the author’s website.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog regarding the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Bookmark and visit us often. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

English-language Arts Standards and the Common Core

Grammar and the Common Core

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/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, how can we respond to these comments and what instructional approaches do work to teach the Common Core Language Standards?

Time for the Common Core?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/time-for-the-common-core/

How much to teach, not what to teach or how to teach are the questions keeping English-language arts teachers up at night. How much to teach for each of the four Common Core State Standard ELA Strands? Is there really time to teach all of the Common Core ELA Standards? Check out this balanced approach with detailed instructional times.

Common Core Academic Language Words

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-academic-language-words/

Yes, the Common Core authors view literacy development as a mutual responsibility of all educational stakeholders. Yes, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Greek and Latinates

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-greek-and-latinates/

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

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/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 in 60-90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year curriculum provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. The program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Appendices have extensive instructional resources, including the Pennington Manual of Style and downloadable essay-comments. A student workbook accompanies this program.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/overview-of-the-common-core-language-strand/

English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our “content” area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (now called strands)with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language now has its own seat at the table. So who exactly is this new dinner guest? For those just beginning to explore the CCSS Language Strand, an overview may be helpful.

Common Core Grammar Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/common-core-grammar-standards/

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

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

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-common-core-vocabulary-standards/

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

CCSS Language Progressive Skills

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/ccss-language-progressive-skills-standards/

The Language Strand has been one of the most controversial components of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. One of these components stirring up heated debate has been the Language Progressive Skills document.

Common Core Curricular Crossover

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-curricular-crossover/

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

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/spelling-word-lists-by-grade-levels/

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

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/common-core-essay-writing-terms/

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

Common Core Content Area Reading and Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-content-area-reading-and-writing/

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

Current Status of the Common Core State Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/current-status-of-the-common-core-state-standards/

As K-12 education transitions to the new Common Core State Standards, teachers have understandably been asking the “When do we start teaching the new standards?” and “Will we need new curriculum to teach the Common Core State Standards?” questions. State departments of education and school districts have been scrambling for answers. Teachers have been left in limbo. Here’s the latest, with special attention on California.

Common Core State Standards Fear-mongering

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-state-standards-fear-mongering/

Phyllis Shlaffly’s July 21 article, posted in the Eagle Forum pieces together a number of undocumented sources commenting on the prospect of a national curriculum and the Common Core State Standards. Following is her article and my responses to her concerns and comments from the perspective of a public school teacher and educational publisher.

California Common Core Language Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/california-common-core-language-standards/

Teachers in California are asking plenty of questions. For example: How much red ink was used before the state legislatures of California adopted the Common Core State Standards in the rush to qualify for the federal Race to the Top funds? In this article, I answer that question specifically with respect to the language strand of the California ELA/reading standards.

Common Core Language Standards
Here are the questions teachers are asking about the language strand of the Common Core State Standards. I’ll answer with specific reference to the document itself and then follow with a quick analysis. Teachers are naturally concerned with such a monumental change away from district and state standards to national standards. And don’t let ‘em fool you: These are national standards with minimal variations from state to state.

Standards and Accountability

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/standards-and-accountability/

A recent discussion on my favorite site, the English Companion Ning, made me take a critical look at just what has engendered the recent demands for increased accountability in our public schools. Both Democrats and Republicans are playing the blame game and teachers are the easiest targets. As a public school teacher, my initial response has been defensive; however, upon a bit of reflection I’m thinking that teachers may well largely be to blame–not for the “sorry state of public education” as our critics claim, but for the very accountability movement that is being used to attack us. We teachers are often our own worst enemies. Check out this article, published in the Answer Sheet of The Washington Post.

Turning Dependent into Independent Readers

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/turning-dependent-into-independent-readers/

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

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-and-how-to-teach-complex-text/

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

Common Core State Writing Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/common-core-state-writing-standards/

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

How to Teach the English-language Arts Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-english-language-arts-standards/

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

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/should-we-teach-standards-or-children/

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

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

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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.

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).

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

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

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

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

1. Text complexity is the most important variable in reading comprehension. The level of difficulty is a more important variable in reading comprehension than is a reader’s degree of mastery of inferential reading strategies or critical thinking skills. In other words, what you read is more of an issue than how you read. Now applying reading strategies and critical thinking skills can certainly scaffold a reader’s ability to comprehend difficult text, but vocabulary, text organization, and sentence length seem to be more crucial variables.

From the Common Core State English-language Arts Standards Appendix A…

In 2006, ACT, Inc., released a report called Reading Between the Lines that showed which skills differentiated those students who equaled or exceeded the benchmark score (21 out of 36) in the reading section of the ACT college admissions test from those who did not. Prior ACT research had shown that students achieving the benchmark score or better in reading—which only about half (51 percent) of the roughly half million test takers in the 2004–2005 academic year had done—had a high probability (75 percent chance) of earning a C or better in an introductory, credit-bearing course in U.S. history or psychology (two common reading-intensive courses taken by first-year college students) and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better in such a course.

Surprisingly, what chiefly distinguished the performance of those students who had earned the benchmark score or better from those who had not was not their relative ability in making inferences while reading or answering questions related to particular cognitive processes, such as determining main ideas or determining the meaning of words and phrases in context. Instead, the clearest differentiator was students’ ability to answer questions associated with complex texts. Students scoring below benchmark performed no better than chance (25 percent correct) on four-option multiple-choice questions pertaining to passages rated as “complex” on a three-point qualitative rubric described in the report. These findings held for male and female students, students from all racial/ethnic groups, and students from families with widely varying incomes.

2. Post K-12 text complexity in college, the workplace, and in popular media has remained constant or increased in terms of levels of difficulty over the last fifty years.

From the Common Core State English-language Arts Standards Appendix A…

Research indicates that the demands that college, careers, and citizenship place on readers have either held steady or increased over roughly the last fifty years. The difficulty of college textbooks, as measured by Lexile scores, has not decreased in any block of time since 1962; it has, in fact, increased over that period (Stenner, Koons, & Swartz, in press). The word difficulty of every scientific journal and magazine from 1930 to 1990 examined by Hayes and Ward (1992) had actually increased, which is important in part because, as a 2005 College Board study (Milewski, Johnson, Glazer, & Kubota, 2005) found, college professors assign more readings from periodicals than do high school teachers. Workplace reading, measured in Lexiles, exceeds grade 12 complexity significantly, although there is considerable variation (Stenner, Koons, & Swartz, in press). The vocabulary difficulty of newspapers remained stable over the 1963–1991 period Hayes and his colleagues (Hayes, Wolfer, & Wolfe, 1996) studied.

3. K-12 text complexity has declined over the last fifty years.

From the Common Core State English-language Arts Standards Appendix A…

Despite steady or growing reading demands from various sources, K–12 reading texts have actually trended downward in difficulty in the last half century. Jeanne Chall and her colleagues (Chall, Conard, & Harris, 1977) found a thirteen year decrease from 1963 to 1975 in the difficulty of grade 1, grade 6, and (especially) grade 11 texts. Extending the period to 1991, Hayes, Wolfer, and Wolfe (1996) found precipitous declines (relative to the period from 1946 to 1962) in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks for a variety of grades… Carrying the research closer to the present day, Gary L. Williamson (2006) found a 350L (Lexile) gap between the difficulty of end-of-high school and college texts—a gap equivalent to 1.5 standard deviations and more than the Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

http://www.corestandards.org/

Ten Implications for K-12 Instruction

1. Higher Expectations

Clearly, we teachers need to “up” the level of difficulty of text and provide the scaffolds students need to understand that text. We need to challenge our students to struggle a bit. We can’t focus all of our instruction on the lowest common denominators.

2. Vocabulary

We need to use a systematic approach to vocabulary instruction including teaching structural analysis, context clues, and rote memorization and practice in what Isabel Beck calls “Tier Two” words that have high utility and applicability in academic language. Our students have got to master frequently used Greek and Latin affixes and roots.

3. Sentence and Text Structure

We need to not only analyze sentence and text structure, but also practice variations and complexities in our students’ writing. Good writers are better equipped to understand the complexities of how ideas are presented in academic text. The reading-writing connection is teachable.

4. Content

We need to teach the prior knowledge that students need to access difficult text independently. And we need to share and coordinate the load with our colleagues. For example, are our novels, poetry, and writing assignments aligned with what our students are learning in their history classes? We need to work smarter, not harder.

5. Reading Strategies

We need to be both content and process-driven. If we do not provide the tools and practice for our students, “reading to learn” will never work. Our elementary colleagues have largely handled the “learning to read,” but we need to apply the basic to the complex.

6. Critical Thinking

We need to teach the elements of logic and higher order thinking are prerequisites to understanding difficult reading text. Recognizing both solid and fallacious reasoning is an essential reading skill.

7. Expository Text

We need to put aside our exclusive love of literature and poetry for the sake of our students. College, workplace, and popular media texts are overwhelmingly expository in nature. We can do both.

8. Novel Selection

We may need to let go of traditional novels. Let’s take a hard look at what we are teaching to maximize content and process instruction. For example, Reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry may cover the content and standards nicely for an eighth grade ELA class, but the largely fifth grade reading level does not provide the text complexity that our students need. Additionally, shorter novels, selections, poems, articles, etc. will do the job more efficiently and with greater variety.

9. Differentiated Instruction

We need to recognize that all of students simply do not read at the same levels. Students have  different reading issues that inhibit their abilities to comprehend challenging text. We have to find out who has what issues and adjust our instruction accordingly. It does no good to play the “blame game” on previous teachers. We teach standards, but we also teach students. Diagnostic reading assessment has got to be a given for the conscientious reading/ELA teacher.

10. Independent Reading

We need to stop being co-dependents. The Common Core emphasis on CLOSE READING STRATEGIES can can be overdone. We do have to transfer the demands of accessing text over to students at some point. Plus, we need to fight the hard fight and require students to read at home. The amount of independent reading needed to increase even one grade level in terms of reading comprehension and vocabulary development necessitates reading at home.

Possible Objections and Howevers

We can certainly question the adequacy and accuracy of the tools used to measure text complexity. However, we all know that our students’ biology textbooks are more difficult than the Manga and Twilight that are students are reading.

What about the joy of reading? We want to create lifelong readers, not factory-trained automatons for the needs of academia, the workplace, and popular media. Reading trash can be entertaining. However, text complexity does not preclude reading for fun. The ability to read and understand more complex text should expand and enhance that experience.

What we teach in K-12 is in-it-of-itself valuable and relevant to the needs of our students. It may also be foundational in terms of content and process for greater text complexity. We are not just training students for future college, careers, and citizenship; we are teaching students now. However, can’t we have our cake and eat it, too? If our students need to know about chimpanzee behavior, can’t we replace Curious George with a scientific journal?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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Turning Dependent into Independent Readers

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

I can hear the excuses. But they won’t read it on their own. They won’t understand it on their own. My students have varied reading levels. We have core novels and plays to teach—that’s our job. Yes, those are valid concerns; however, there are proven means to ameliorate those concerns.

Following is the rationale for creating independent readers, then an analysis of the teacher-dependent status quo, and finally a few practical ideas to minimize scaffolding and maximize comprehension of challenging text.

Reading Independently: The Rationale

Excerpts from the Common Core State Standards for English-language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects Appendix A | 2…

Being able to read complex text independently and proficiently is essential for high achievement in college and the workplace and important in numerous life tasks. Moreover, current trends suggest that if students cannot read challenging texts with understanding—if they have not developed the skill, concentration, and stamina to read such texts—they will read less in general. In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text to gain information, they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets. These sources, while not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breadth of ideas developed through complex text. As Adams (2009) puts it, “There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest. To grow, our students must read lots, and more specifically they must read lots of ‘complex’ texts—texts that offer them new language, new knowledge, and new modes of thought” (p. 182).

A turning away from complex texts is likely to lead to a general impoverishment of knowledge, which, because knowledge is intimately linked with reading comprehension ability, will accelerate the decline in the ability to comprehend complex texts and the decline in the richness of text itself. This bodes ill for the ability of Americans to meet the demands placed upon them by citizenship in a democratic republic and the challenges of a highly competitive global marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

The Teacher-Dependent Status Quo

College Preparation

There exists “a serious gap between many high school seniors’ reading ability and the reading requirements they will face after graduation. Furthermore, students in college are expected to read complex texts with substantially greater independence (i.e., much less scaffolding) than are students in typical K–12 programs. College students are held more accountable for what they read on their own than are most students in high school (Erickson & Strommer, 1991; Pritchard, Wilson, & Yamnitz, 2007).

College instructors assign readings, not necessarily explicated in class, for which students might be held accountable through exams, papers, presentations, or class discussions. Students in high school, by contrast, are rarely held accountable for what they are able to read independently (Heller & Greenleaf, 2007). This discrepancy in task demand, coupled with what we see below is a vast gap in text complexity, may help explain why only about half of the students taking the ACT Test in the 2004–2005 academic year could meet the benchmark score in reading (which also was the case in 2008–2009, the most recent year for which data are available) and why so few students in general are prepared for postsecondary reading (ACT, Inc., 2006, 2009).”

The Achievement Gap

It should be noted also that the problems with reading achievement are not “equal opportunity” in their effects: students arriving at school from less-educated families are disproportionately represented in many of these statistics (Bettinger & Long, 2009). The consequences of insufficiently high text demands and a lack of accountability for independent reading of complex texts in K–12 schooling are severe for everyone, but they are disproportionately so for those who are already most isolated from text before arriving at the schoolhouse door.

A Few Practical Ideas

It is important to recognize that scaffolding often is entirely appropriate. The expectation that scaffolding will occur with particularly challenging texts is built into the Standards’ grade-by-grade text complexity expectations, for example. The general movement, however, should be toward decreasing scaffolding and increasing independence both within and across the text complexity bands defined in the Standards.

1. Teach students to select independent reading books appropriate to their instructional reading levels.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-determine-reading-levels/

2. Hold students accountable for independent reading.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-get-students-to-read-at-home/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-use-graded-literary-discussions/

3. Avoid read-arounds and reading large portions of text in class.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/to-read-or-not-to-read-that-is-the-question/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-round-robin-and-popcorn-reading-are-evil/

4. Differentiate instruction according to diagnostic reading data.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-dos-and-donts-of-differentiated-instruction/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/ten-criteria-for-effective-elareading-diagnostic-assessments/

5. Don’t teach to the LCD (Lowest Common Denominator).

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/dont-teach-to-the-lcd/

6. Teach self-monitoring reading comprehension skills.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-reading-comprehension/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-increase-reading-comprehension-using-the-scrip-comprehension-strategies/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-use-think-alouds-to-teach-reading-comprehension/

7. Strike the appropriate balance between teaching students and the ELA standards.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-english-language-arts-standards/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/should-we-teach-standards-or-children/

8. Teach fluency.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-and-why-to-teach-fluency/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-differentiate-reading-fluency-practice/

9. Teach vocabulary and structural analysis.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-problem-with-most-vocabulary-instruction-part-1/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-we-learn-vocabulary-from-reading-part-ii/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-double-vocabulary-acquisition-from-reading-part-iii/

10. Share the independent reading and reading strategies load.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/learning-to-read-and-reading-to-learn/

11. Maximize teaching the text, not the personal application of the text.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/into-through-but-not-beyond/

12. Teach the reading-writing connection.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/twelve-tips-to-teach-the-reading-writing-connection/

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Common Core State Writing Standards

For years, English teachers have struggled with essay terminology. Fittingly, the word essay derives from the French verb essayer which roughly means “to try” or “to attempt.” Some teachers have attempted rather precise definitions and limitations of the genre. More recently, state exams have become the tails that wag the dogs in terms of essay classification. In California, for example, the California Standards Test even refers to a multi-paragraph summary as an essay.

Now, we have a different approach to defining the essay. The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing. (The third writing classification, narrative, is acknowledged and brief mention is made of poetry and “other forms.”) The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards. The committee used the 2009 ACT national curriculum survey of postsecondary instructors of composition, freshman English, and survey of American literature courses (ACT, Inc., 2009) as reference and found that “write to argue or persuade readers” was virtually tied with “write to convey information” as the most important type of writing needed by incoming college students. Hence the two essay classifications.

Following is an executive summary of the two essay classifications, using the language of the document within my own organizational structure. The full document (Appendix A) is found here.

Argument

Definition

Arguments are used for many purposes—to change the reader’s point of view, to bring about some action on the reader’s part, or to ask the reader to accept the writer’s explanation or evaluation of a concept, issue, or problem. An argument is a reasoned, logical way of demonstrating that the writer’s position, belief, or conclusion is valid.

Application within Subject Disciplines Grades 6-12

  • In English language arts, students make claims about the worth or meaning of a literary work or works. They defend their interpretations or judgments with evidence from the text(s) they are writing about.
  • In history/social studies, students analyze evidence from multiple primary and secondary sources to advance a claim that is best supported by the evidence, and they argue for a historically or empirically situated interpretation.
  • In science, students make claims in the form of statements or conclusions that answer questions or address problems. Using data in a scientifically acceptable form, students marshal evidence and draw on their understanding of scientific concepts to argue in support of their claims.

Grades K-5

Although young children are not able to produce fully developed logical arguments, they develop a variety of methods to extend and elaborate their work by providing examples, offering reasons for their assertions, and explaining cause and effect. These kinds of expository structures are steps on the road to argument. In grades K–5, the term opinion is used to refer to this developing form of argument.

Informational/Explanatory Writing

Definition

Informational/explanatory writing conveys information accurately. This kind of writing serves one or more closely related purposes: to increase readers’ knowledge of a subject, to help readers better understand a procedure or process, or to provide readers with an enhanced comprehension of a concept. To produce this kind of writing, students draw from what they already know and from primary and secondary sources. With practice, students become better able to develop a controlling idea and a coherent focus on a topic and more skilled at selecting and incorporating relevant examples, facts, and details into their writing. They are also able to use a variety of techniques to convey information, such as naming, defining, describing, or differentiating different types or parts; comparing or contrasting ideas or concepts; and citing an anecdote or a scenario to illustrate a point.

Application within Subject Disciplines Grades K-12

Informational/explanatory writing addresses matters such as the following:

  • Types (What are the different types of poetry?)
  • Components (What are the parts of a motor?)
  • Size, function, or behavior (How big is the United States? What is an X-ray used for? How do penguins find food?)
  • How things work (How does the legislative branch of government function?)
  • Why things happen (Why do some authors blend genres?).

Informational/explanatory writing includes a wide array of genres, including academic genres such as literary analyses, scientific and historical reports, summaries, and precis writing as well as forms of workplace and functional writing such as instructions, manuals, memos, reports, applications, and resumes. As students advance through the grades, they expand their repertoire of informational/explanatory genres and use them effectively in a variety of disciplines and domains.

Comparing and Contrasting the Essay Classifications

Although information is provided in both arguments and explanations, the two types of writing have different aims.

  • Arguments seek to make people believe that something is true or to persuade people to change their beliefs or behavior. Explanations, on the other hand, start with the assumption of truthfulness and answer questions about why or how. Their aim is to make the reader understand rather than to persuade him or her to accept a certain point of view. In short, arguments are used for persuasion and explanations for clarification.
  • Like arguments, explanations provide information about causes, contexts, and consequences of processes, phenomena, states of affairs, objects, terminology, and so on. However, in an argument, the writer not only gives information but also presents a case with the “pros” (supporting ideas) and “cons” (opposing ideas) on a debatable issue. Because an argument deals with whether the main claim is true, it demands empirical descriptive evidence, statistics, or definitions for support. When writing an argument, the writer supports his or her claim(s) with sound reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Narrative Writing

Narrative writing conveys experience, either real or imaginary, and uses time as its deep structure. It can be used for many purposes, such as to inform, instruct, persuade, or entertain. In English language arts, students produce narratives that take the form of creative fictional stories, memoirs, anecdotes, and autobiographies. Over time, they learn to provide visual details of scenes, objects, or people; to depict specific actions for example, movements and gestures).

Creative Writing beyond Narrative

The narrative category does not include all of the possible forms of creative writing, such as many types of poetry. The Standards leave the inclusion and evaluation of other such forms to teacher discretion.

My Take

Although much makes sense in the Common Core State Writing Standards in terms of essay classification (I happen to use the same classifications in my Teaching Essay Strategies writing curriculum, teaching four argumentative and four informational/explanatory essays), much of the document assumes things not yet proven. A few examples should suffice.

  • Who is to say that college English professors are the experts in defining the essay? The experiences of my three sons at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. San Diego, and San Diego State would prove otherwise. With few exceptions, the writing topics and prompts assigned as papers and exams were uniformly contrived, artificial, and downright incoherent for both assignments and exams, leaving my sons, me, and my English high school and middle school colleagues shaking our collective heads. Basing the K-12 writing standards on how and what college professors teach may be a shaky foundation.
  • Who is to say whether the personal essay, narratives, and poetry are less important than argument and informational/explanatory writing?
  • Other forms of writing may be more developmentally appropriate at different grade levels and may actually serve as effective scaffolds to the two essay classifications.
  • Application of the these essay classifications may work fine within the social sciences; however, our science colleagues may find these forms constraining, and perhaps out of sync with their rigid scientific methodologies.

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies, at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

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