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How to Practice Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Well, I stirred up somewhat of a ruckus with my companion article titled “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” and I think I understand why. Admittedly, the hook is designed to do exactly what we teachers teach our students: Grab the readers’ attention and make them want to read more.” Back in high school, my fellow journalist, Kraig King, somehow was able to get this story headline approved by Mr. Devlin, our school newspaper teacher: “Drugs Are Great” with the first sentence following with “that’s what my friend Joe kept telling me.” Every student read that article.

In my previous article I provided evidence that the reading community of practitioners (we teachers and reading specialists) and academics (reading researchers) really don’t have a consensus as to what exactly is reading comprehension. The instructional implications seem clear to me: We shouldn’t assess or pretend to teach what we don’t know.

I also cautioned that teachers face enormous pressure to adopt a particular definition of reading comprehension from administrators and publishers of assessments and curricula. I’ll say it again, “We have to be crap detectors” in our business of teaching students.

Since “everyone and their mother” (horrible grammar) has their own definition of reading comprehension, I developed my own: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

The “when we see it” part of my working definition for reading comprehension offers some practical advice for helping students practice their reading comprehension. Most of us can spot a good reader when we see one. And, fortunately, most teachers are pretty good readers. So let’s remind ourselves about what good readers do.

Here the reading research provides helpful insight. Although causal connections (This teaching practice will effect this learning effect) can rarely be established, we do have a body of statistically significant reading research indicating positive correlations between certain learning practices and reading comprehension… admittedly we beg the question as to just what reading comprehension is; however, this is beside the point for our working definition). For example, oral reading fluency has a statistically significant correlation with reading comprehension; the practice and result share a high correlation (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, and Jenkins).

We may not know exactly “how to get it,” but Johnny has high fluency scores and everyone knows he’s a good reader, so one way to practice reading comprehension would be… let’s be like Johnny. The following is certainly not an exhaustive list of what good readers like Johnny do, but each has research studies supporting statistically significant correlations between the description or practice and reading comprehension. I’ll add on links to that research later. Please comment with relevant links and additional suggestions and I’ll add onto the list. Or, even better yet, challenge my assumptions.

Practice Doing What Good Readers Do

Practice Reading Comprehension

Students Practicing Reading Comprehension

  • Good readers are fluent in all senses of the word, both orally and silently.
  • Good readers understand why they are reading something and tend to read toward a specific purpose.
  • Good readers are smart. Sad, but true. We educators wish that every student had the aptitude or capability to be brilliant, but nature gets in the way. In one way or another, reading is a thinking activity and good thinkers have the opportunity to be good readers. Maybe someday we will understand the brain enough to even the playing field, but we are still a long way from that day.
  • Good readers bring plenty of prior knowledge to the table through experience, content learning, practice, study skills. Good for them, but not for all our students. Nurture gets in the way. Fortunately, we have some of the tools needed to somewhat level the playing field, but it takes a lot of work.
  • Good readers have a good understanding of English idioms. English-language learners do have challenges here. Let’s be honest.
  • Good readers read for meaning and monitor their own comprehension.
  • Good readers dialogue with the text and see the reading experience as interactive between reader and author and others. They question the text.
  • Good readers have high vocabularies, especially Tier 1 and Tier 2 words.
  • Good readers know how to find resources to help them understand difficult text.
  • Good readers are flexible: Good readers vary reading speed, re-read what they don’t understand, know when to skim and not to skim.
  • Good readers know what’s important and what’s not.
  • Good readers know they need to infer meaning from the text and draw conclusions.
  • Good readers relate one part of the text to others.
  • Good readers understand text structure.
  • Good readers understand the craft of writing.
  • Good readers understand how genre affects story development.
  • Good readers do a better job of answering recall and inferential reading selection questions.
  • Good readers read narrative differently than expository text.

Teaching Practices to Practice Reading Comprehension

I’ll keep the explanations in this list short and let the links broaden any topics or ideas you may wish to explore. Several of the lists include ready-to-use resources to help your students practice reading comprehension. I suggest teachers use this list as a sort of a “I do that (pat on the back affirmation),” “I used to do that (reminder that you should use that practice again),” and “I want to think about doing that or do that instead of what I’m doing” self-analysis.

1. Think-Alouds: Good readers (both teachers and students) can share how they understand and interpret text in light of their own personal and academic experiences, text-based strategies, self-questioning, and monitoring for understanding. Click HERE for suggestions as to how to use this technique. Think-Alouds will help your students understand what reading is, for example connecting parts of text, and what reading isn’t, for example, word calling.

2. Close Readings: If you haven’t heard of close readings, you’ve been asleep at the wheel. If you read my article, Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely, you may wind up with a different take on this trendy reading strategy, but it is still useful to help students practice reading comprehension and it works well in conjunction with think-alouds and external, text dependent questions.

3. External Questions: Any search of Common Core reading standards will bring up text dependent questions, the favorite subject of the Common Core authors, after the need for text complexity. The time-tested QAR Reading Strategy helps students practice comprehension through recognizing and applying the types of text-dependent questions publishers, teachers, and good readers ask themselves about text.

4. Internal Questions: Reading research indicates that self-generated reader questioning improves reading comprehension as much or even more than publisher or teacher questions. My article, How to Improve Reading Comprehension with Self-Questioning, provides a helpful overview and summary of the research. Also, I’ve developed a useful set of five internal questions which prompt active engagement with both narrative and expository text. These SCRIP Comprehension Strategies (includes posters, five worksheets, and SCRIP Bookmarks) are memorable and effective. Plus, they provide a language of instruction for literary discussions.

5. Student Monitoring of Text: Teaching students to self-monitor their reading comprehension is wonderful practice. Read my article, Interactive Reading-Making a Movie in Your Head, for a nice explanation of how to read interactively. Follow up with a think-aloud and have students pair share their own think-alouds. Now that’s reading comprehension practice!

6. Literary Discussions: When we build upon (and sometimes revise) prior knowledge with relevant content and life experience, we better comprehend text. Modeling and practicing thinking skills via Socratic Seminars, literacy circles, cooperative groups, and the like help students practice reading comprehension, which is truly a listening and speaking skill. Check out How to Lead Effective Group Discussions to fine tune your discussion experience. Also check out my Critical Thinking Openers.

7. Pre-teach and Re-teach: Read the king of these reading comprehension practices (Marzano). We have to level the playing field by making text accessible to all students. By the way, why not show the movie first before reading the novel upon which it is based? Just an idea, but an effective one. Give students the keys to effective reading comprehension practice; don’t withhold them.

8. Fluency Practice: Students need both oral and silent fluency practice. Check out these articles: How and Why to Teach Fluency, Differentiated Fluency Practice, and Reading Fluency Homework. My Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program provides modeled oral reading fluency practice at three separate speeds. The expository animal fluency passages are tiered in terms of reading level: the first two paragraphs of each article at grade 3, the next two paragraphs at grade 5, and the last two at grade 7. Each article has word counts and corresponding timing sheets.

9. Syllabication Practice: The original and new editions Rewards (Archer) programs stretch decoding to the multi-syllabic academic vocabulary that we want students to practice to improve reading comprehension. My own Syllable Transformers (a nice article with lesson downloads) activity is essential practice for students at all reading levels. You’ll also want to check out these great reference lists: Syllable Rules with Examples and Accent Rules with Examples.

10. Vocabulary Practice with the Common Core Language Standards: The best section of the Common Core State Standards, and perhaps the only set of Standards that has produced universal praise and no criticism is found in the Language Strand: Standards 4, 5, and 6. Every teacher and reading researcher agrees that a growing and targeted vocabulary is a prerequisite and concurrent necessity to improving reading comprehension. The Common Core State Standards Appendix A  argument by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown that teachers should focus on Tier 2 words academic words has wide acceptance as does the teaching of Greek and Latin word parts. Check out this resource: How to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes.

Furthermore, teachers should check out the research-based Academic Word List used in my Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits. Following are nice ready-to-teach samples as to how to teach these Standards: Four Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers, and Four Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers.

11. Independent Reading for Vocabulary Acquisition and Content Knowledge:  The best homework? Independent reading with accountability: not for reading comprehension practice, per se, but for vocabulary acquisition and content knowledge. Read a set of articles HERE regarding how to set up an effective independent reading program with accountability and how to help students select books at the optimal word recognition levels. No, you do not need Lexiles, nor Accelerated Reader. Teach your students how to maximize vocabulary acquisition by using the FP’S BAG SALE Context Clues Strategies lesson, including two practice worksheets with answers.

12. Read a Variety of Genre: True, the Common Core State Standards have renewed our focus on non-narrative genre, but the Standards do not outlaw short stories, poetry, and novels. Check our this particularly helpful resource: How to Read Textbooks with PQ RAR.

13. Write About Reading: A good writing program is excellent reading comprehension practice. See Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection.

14. Fill in the Gaps: Help students practice reading comprehension by ensuring that they have the necessary tools to do so. We know that good readers have phonemic awareness and they can apply the alphabetic code through their knowledge of how sounds connect to spellings. In other words, good readers tend to have their phonics mastered, irrespective of how they got there; they can decode. That’s simply not up for debate anymore.  We also know that good readers tend to have the “other side of the coin” mastered as well, that is they can encode (spell) the sound-spellings.

“75% of children who were poor readers in the 3rd grade remained poor readers in the 9th grade and could not read well when they became adults.” – Joseph Torgeson from Catch Them Before They Fall

Check out these FREE diagnostic reading and spelling assessments to determine exactly which gaps to fill. These assessments pinpoint specific, teachable areas that students have not yet mastered, but need to. These are comprehensive assessments, not random samples indicating a generic “problem area.” For example, the Vowel Sound Phonics Assessment will indicate that Raphael has not mastered the Long a, ai_. For example, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment does not indicate a problem with syllable juncture as a qualitative spelling inventory might; instead, the test would indicate that Frances does not understand the consonant-le spelling patterns.

Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%. Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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. Perfect for guided reading. Perfect for homework.

 

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Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Okay, I’ll admit it; the article title is a bit of an attention grabber. However, as an MA reading specialist and author of plenty of reading programs over the years, I do believe that the title does point to some helpful advice. And I don’t believe I’m splitting hairs or making a distinction without a difference (pick your figure of speech) by advising “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” here while alternatively advocating “How to Practice Reading Comprehension” in my companion article. Teaching is different than practicing.

Let’s Be Honest About Teaching Reading Comprehension

Years ago I served as an elementary reading specialist, training teachers in our district-adopted reading program. I had plenty of diagnostic and instructional tools in my toolbox, ready to hand out to teachers to improve the quality of reading instruction for their classes and individual students. Fresh from my masters program, I knew stuff that the teachers did not and I felt pretty good about the level of my expertise.

At a grade level team meeting, veteran teachers were asking me about the results of their San Diego Quick Assessments, how to teach the r, l, w controlled vowels, and my take on schema theory. I was on a roll. Next, teachers tossed out their progress monitoring assessments and I suggested how to improve the fluency of Raphael, how to teach the outlaw (sight) words to Marci, and how to get Huong to practice his common Greek and Latin prefixes. Teachers were nodding their heads in a approval, and I was just about to step down from my throne and dismiss my subjects when a brand new teacher asked the question about Alberto: Even though Alberto has mastered all of his sight words, passed the phonics tests, and has the second highest fluency rate in the class, why can’t he tell me about what he has read or answer any simple questions about the reading?

The question stopped me dead in my tracks. I faked the answer pretty well, suggesting something along the lines of confusion with his primary language (Spanish) and English, not knowing that he was supposed to read for meaning, dietary issues, and perhaps some degree of cognitive impairment. But her follow-up question was devastating: “How can I teach reading comprehension to him?” I had no answer. We never covered that in my MA reading specialist program. I muttered something about the issue being complicated and said I’d get back to her. I never did.

Since those early years as an elementary reading specialist, I’ve also served as both a middle and high school reading intervention teacher and a reading instructor at a community college. After a few years under my belt, I’ve learned to be more like that new teacher. I ask harder questions and I’m not satisfied with simplistic or speculative answers. Today my answer to her question would be, “We don’t know how to teach reading comprehension, so don’t teach it.” However, that answer does require some explanation. First, let’s take a look at why we can’t teach reading comprehension; next, the instructional implications; and lastly in my companion article, how to help students practice reading comprehension

Why We Can’t Teach Reading Comprehension

In the short-lived 1969-1970 television show, Then Came Bronson, a middle-aged man in a business hat pulls his family station wagon alongside the lead character, Bronson, who is riding a

Then Cam Bronson

“Wherever I wind up, I guess”

motorcycle.

The car driver asks, “Taking a trip?”

Bronson shakes his head and answers, “Yeah.”

 “Where to?”

 “I don’t know… Wherever I wind up, I guess.”

 “Man, I wish I was you…”

“Really, well hang in there.”

Great dialogue… We all want to be about the journey with no cares about the destination, but this attitude is simply not acceptable when applied to the subject of reading comprehension. We need to know where we are going before we figure out how to get there. So, just what is reading comprehension and how do we get there?

What is Reading Comprehension? We Don’t All Agree

I googled “reading comprehension definition” and found these top results from practitioners:

“Simply put, reading comprehension is the act of understanding what you are reading” (K12 Reader).

“Comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read… For many years, reading instruction was based on a concept of reading as the application of a set of isolated skills such as identifying words, finding main ideas, identifying cause and effect relationships, comparing and contrasting and sequencing. Comprehension was viewed as the mastery of these skills.” (Reading Rockets).

“I’ve noticed that many books about reading, and specifically about comprehension for that matter, don’t even define what comprehension is. Perhaps it’s assumed that we all know what it is; or maybe comprehension is a slippery term that we have trouble grasping, or comprehending, if you will!” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary offers this definition: ‘capacity of the mind to perceive and understand.’ Reading comprehension, then, would be the capacity to perceive and understand the meanings communicated by texts. Simple, huh? Clear. Now we comprehend comprehension! (Jeff Wilhelm, Scholastic).

Next, I googled “reading comprehension scholarly definition” and found a wide variety of results from the academics:

“We define reading comprehension as the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language. We use the words extracting and constructing to emphasize both the importance and the insufficiency of the text as a determinant of reading comprehension” (Greenleaf, Murphy, Schoenbach).

“Reading comprehension is the construction of the meaning of a written or spoken communication through a reciprocal, holistic interchange of ideas between the interpreter and the message.
. . . The presumption here is that meaning resides in the intentional problem-solving, thinking processes of the interpreter, . . . that the content of the meaning is influenced by that
person’s prior knowledge and experience” (Harris and Hodges).

“From a cognitive or psycholinguistic perspective, comprehension is viewed as a process of constructing meaning in transaction with texts” (Goodman, 1996; Smith, 2004).¹

“(Reading comprehension is) a combination of decoding and oral comprehension skills” (Hoover & Gough, 1990).²

“From a post-structuralist or socio-cultural perspective, there is no meaning that simply resides in a text until a reader with the requisite knowledge and skills constructs the meaning with the signs on a page (McCormick, 1995; O’Neill,1993).³

1,2,3 from Rethinking Reading Comprehension: Definitions, Instructional Practices, and Assessment (Serafini).

One observation: I can’t tell you how many times I read the equivalent of “After years of… there is a growing consensus that…” for diametrically opposed summaries of the reading research.

Finally, I went to the Common Core State Standards to see how the authors weighed in on reading comprehension. The Common Core Standards divides its Reading Standards into Reading Foundational Skills, Reading Literature, and Reading Informational Text. Its Appendix A focuses on text complexity, but offers no working definition of reading comprehension. The closest we get to a definition is “the ability to perform literacy tasks.”

Instructional Implications

At this point we are, at best, left with this working definition of reading comprehension: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

Now, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It does provide some helpful hints about the limitations of reading assessments and instructional strategies. At the minimum, this working definition

"Don't Follow Leaders"

(From Don’t Look Back produced by Leacock-Pennebaker (1965); Pennebaker Films)

informs our “crap detectors” and keeps us questioning authority. “Don’t follow leaders; watch your parking meters” (Dylan).

We Can’t and Shouldn’t Assess Reading Comprehension

Assessments are designed to measure stuff. If we can’t agree on what we are testing, reading comprehension assessments may actually lead us into teaching to the results of the test, rather than helping students improve comprehension. Reading comprehension tests become self-fulfilling prophesies. Additionally, publishers love comprehension assessments that test concrete skills: Think test prep materials, skill workbooks, etc.

Teachers should rightfully be cautious about making instructional decisions from the results of the Common Core Standards-based PAARC and Smarter Balanced tests. These high stakes tests drive instructional decisions which often counter reading research and teacher judgment. The pressure to make these achievement tests the arbiters of what reading comprehension is and is not is increasingly difficult for teachers to challenge. Furthermore, each of the criterion-referenced and normed assessments purporting to measure reading comprehension have their own biases: the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, Second Edition (KTEA-II), Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT-III), Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement (WJ III ACH), The Gray Oral Reading Tests, Fifth Edition (GORT-5), Test of Reading Comprehension, Fourth Edition (TORC-4), Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests Terra Nova Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) Stanford Achievement Test, etc.

As a reading specialist for quite a few years, I also recommend not using informal reading inventories to measure comprehension. I am a huge advocate for teacher-based reading assessments, but not with comprehension. If we can’t test it (and we can’t), we can’t teach it. Make sure to avoid making reading assessments “walk on all fours.” I can’t tell you how many teachers I’ve known who use the Slosson, San Diego Quick, or the Read Naturally Brief Oral Screener and predictors of reading grade level. Wrong. And for goodness sake, avoid using the Accelerated Reader STAR test for the same misguided purpose.

The results of the above tests give us nothing to reliably inform our reading instruction. Be suspect of aggregated results which purport to provide useful instructional information. And labels can lead to silly instructional decisions, for example, tracking all far below basic readers into remedial reading classes. As if each low-performing reader had the same reading issues. Sigh.

What Doesn’t Improve Reading Comprehension

Time to step on a few toes. We may not be able to define exactly what reading comprehension is and we may not know how to assess or directly teach reading comprehension, but by any of the working definitions, assessment results, and reading research detailed in the National Reading Panel Report most of us would agree that the following practices do not improve reading comprehension.

1. Free Voluntary Reading (Sustained Silent Reading)

According to noted reading researcher, Doctor Timothy Shanahan in his August 13, 2017 article:

NRP did conclude that there was no convincing evidence that giving kids free reading time during the school day improved achievement — or did so very much. There has been a lot of work on that since NRP but with pretty much the same findings: either no benefits to that practice or really small benefits (a .05 effect size — which is tiny). Today, NRP would likely conclude that practice is not beneficial rather than that there is insufficient data. But that’s arguable, of course.

Remember that this is regarding reading comprehension, not vocabulary acquisition.

2. Teaching according to learning styles and multiple intelligences. Click HERE for the a complete debunking of these misguided approaches.

3. Visual (graphophonic) reading strategies. Over-reliance on letter shapes, pictures, and context clues to practice reading comprehension is, indeed, a “psycholinguistic guessing game” (Goodman) and the results of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s strongly suggest that whatever reading comprehension is, it isn’t something that ignores the alphabetic code.

4. Leveling books for guided reading by “comprehension grade level” (whatever that means). Also, use Lexiles only as flexible guidelines for independent reading or for selecting class novels.

5. Reading ability groups by reading comprehension levels. Whatever reading comprehension is, it’s not a skill which can be taught to a flexible ability group, such as a group of students who don’t know their basic sight words.

6. Reading strategy worksheets. It’s not that worksheets don’t have a place… they do, but teaching main idea, inferencing, drawing conclusions, visualizing, and text structure are important tools for skillful readers to acquire, but passing out skill worksheets on each does not teach reading comprehension.

7. Reading techniques, such as close reading, the QAR strategy, reciprocal teaching, and even the KWL may be helpful, but in them of themselves they don’t teach reading comprehension and even too much of a good thing can be counterproductive.

So, if you agree with my advice: Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension, you may be interested in the specifics on How to Practice Reading Comprehension. The article goes into detail about practicing reading comprehension that way good readers do and has a wealth of article and ready-to-teach FREE resources and lessons.

Mark Pennington is the author of the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books reading intervention BUNDLE.

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Summarize to Increase Comprehension

The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

Often teachers assume that summarizing is the same for both writing and reading. However, the purpose and task of summarizing is considerably different for these literary activities. Whereas the purpose of a writing summary is to identify the main or controlling idea or argument with supporting major details to put the thrust of exposition into a nutshell, the purpose of a reading summary is to build comprehension. This article focuses on reader-generated summarizing as a means of building reading comprehension.

Now to make sure we are on the same page, we are not discussing reading a summary or abstract prior to reading a textbook chapter or article. This is an important means of building prior knowledge and a critical component of any good read-study method. My own PQ RAR read-study method emphasizes the importance of reading any available summaries prior to reading the text.

Instead, we are discussing why summarizing while reading is important and how to teach your students to do so.

First, the why. Reading research has consistently shown a statistically significant correlation between high levels of reading comprehension and high levels of active engagement with text and, conversely, low comprehension with low engagement. We call this engagement internal monitoring. Numerous studies have confirmed that “retrieving relevant knowledge during reading is essential for monitoring” (Otero & Kintsch, 1992; Vosniadou, Pearson, & Rogers, 1988). One important component of monitoring is summarizing.

A great way to demonstrate this internal monitoring is with a reader-author dialog. Try this think-aloud with your students to model what goes on inside a good reader’s head as the reader monitors text.

But what about summarizing, specifically?

“Summarizing and reviewing integrate and reinforce the learning of major points…these structuring elements not only facilitate memory for the information but allow for its apprehension as an integrative whole with recognition of the relationships between parts” (J. E. Brophy and T. L. Good, 1986).

“In a synthesis of the research on summarizing, Rosenshine and his colleagues found that strategies that emphasize the analytic aspect of summarizing have a powerful effect on how well students summarize” (1996).

Next, the how. Internal monitoring is more efficiently “taught,” rather than just “caught.” Readers can be taught to summarize while reading by learning and practicing  cueing strategies. Cueing strategies are simply prompts to focus the reader on the active and analytical tasks of reading.

Poor readers tend to view reading as a passive activity. The cueing strategies provide readers a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain active dialogue with what the author says and means. The author of this article has developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Here is a nice set of SCRIP Bookmarks for you to download, print, and distribute to your students.

Take the time to explicitly teach and model each of the five strategies. Emphasize one strategy at a time on a given text. Since Summarize is the focus of this article, let’s begin with a teaching script to teach this strategy.

Summarize to Increase Comprehension

“Summarize means to put together the main ideas and important details of a reading into a short-version of what the author has said. A summary can be of an entire reading, but it is more useful to divide your reading up into sections and summarize each section as you read.”

“Today we are going to learn why it is important to pause your reading at certain places and summarize sections of what you have just read and then we will learn how to do this.”

“First, the why. I know that pausing to summarize in the middle of your reading takes a bit more time than just reading without pausing, not too much. You also might be worried that you might lose your concentration if you pause, but actually pausing to summarize will help you concentrate even more. Dividing your reading into sections will help you focus on understanding and remembering smaller chunks of reading, one at a time. You will also be able to remember each chunk of reading and apply your memory to the next reading section. It’s like playing a leveled video game: First, you master one level and the game pauses before you move on to the next level with new graphics, characters, or problems to solve. You use your summarized knowledge of how to beat the first level to help you master each following level, one at a time. After time you will be able to master most or all of the game. In the same way reading in sections and then summarizing will build your undertanding of the whole reading.”

“Next, the how. As you know already, authors use paragraphs in articles or textbooks built upon the main idea known as the topic sentence. Most, but not all of the time, the topic sentence is the first sentence of the paragraph. In stories, authors start new paragraphs to signal something different in setting, plot, description, or dialog.”

“Paragraphs connect to each other to continue a certain idea or plot event. When a major change takes place, the author frequently uses transition words to tell the reader that something new is being introduced. Textbooks often use boldfaced subtitles to signal new sections. When the reading begins a new section, pause to summarize what you just read in the last chunk of reading.”

“For articles or textbooks use What, How, and Why as question-starters to help you put into your own words a short version of what you just read. For stories use Who, What, Where, When, and Why question-starters to help you do the same.

“Let’s take a look at a fairytale that many of you will have read or heard about and practice how to divide a reading up into sections and summarize as we read.”

Here is a one-page version of “The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf” for you to download, print, and distribute to your students. Have students read each section and complete the summary. Then discuss why the section was a good chunk after which to pause and summarize and have students read their summaries. Coach as to what to and what not to include in reading summaries from your student examples. Check out a YouTube video demonstration of the Summarize Comprehension Strategy, using The Boy Who Cried Wolf fairy tale to illustrate this strategy. The storyteller first reads the fairy tale without comment. Next,  the story is read once again as a think-aloud with interruptions to show how readers should summarize sections of the reading as they read to monitor and build comprehension.

If you have found this article to be helpful, check out the next comprehension strategy, “Connect,” and the resources to teach this cueing strategy.

Sam and Friends Phonics Books Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

The author, Mark Pennington, has written the comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies, the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards, and the accompanying 54 take home decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These books include teenage characters and themes and are perfect for older readers.

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The Problem with Dialectical Journals

Well, at least we know how our students feel about dialectical journals… But, how should teachers feel about dialectical journals?

Teachers grapple with how to assign independent reading activities to help students interact with assigned novels or independent reading. Dialectical journals have been teacher favorites since literature-based reading pedagogy was popularized in the 1980s. KWL charts and variations upon the same theme have served as into-through-beyond activities within English-language arts, history/social science, and science courses.

At surface level, these forms of reading response seem to assist students in reaching our goals of promoting independent reading comprehension. The thought/hope has been that if we can just get students to access their own prior knowledge of content and story schema, then help students connect these to what the author has to offer, then establish a relevant and personal connection/application to the readers’ lives… students will problem-solve their way to full comprehension and reading enjoyment. The pendulum has clearly swung from the author to the reader side of the equation.

The Problem with Dialectical Journals

…..

After years of “teaching” this reader-centered, literature-based approach, educators are starting to see the results. Almost 60% of community college students and 30% of university students require at least one year of developmental coursework. And, yes, remedial reading is the chief subject of this remediation. http://www.communitycollegecentral.org/Downloads/Developmental_Education_TOOLKIT.pdf

Good readers may be able to put up some of this reader-centered nonsense and still engage with the text; however, students with reading difficulties desperately need comprehension strategies that will help them understand what the author has to say. The focus on personal relevance impedes comprehension. Tier I and II Response to Intervention readers confuse “What it means to me” strategies with “What the author means” strategies. The latter is much more important for developing readers (and for that matter, all readers). Some personal application within teacher-guided class discussion makes sense, but should be secondary to teaching the text itself.

In lieu of dialectical journals, teachers should help students learn and apply the five types of independent reading strategies that promote internal monitoring of the text: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. These SCRIP strategies promote the reader-author conversation and, thus, internal monitoring of text to help students achieve your goal: “to get them to read and understand what they are reading on their own.” Here are some SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies resources and bookmarks. Having a consistent language of instruction that works for narrative and expository texts is useful.

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, 390 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.

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Good Reading Fluency, but Poor Reading Comprehension

Hello all! I have a question for you all. I have had students in the past that were speed readers. They may have read with 99% accuracy, but did not comprehend material. What recommendations do you have for teaching kiddos to slow down? I have thought about having them tape record themselves, but other than that, I am not sure how else to help show them the importance of reading fluently (which doesn’t mean being a speed reader!!). http://www.proteacher.net/discussions/showthread.php?t=345167

I did respond to this teacher, but I reserved the cathartic confession for my own blog. I am well aware that I have become part of the problem described above by this conscientious teacher. As a whole language trained MA reading specialist who converted to a systematic explicit phonics advocate in the early 1990s, I jumped onto the fluency bandwagon. I supervised fluency labs and trained teachers in how to differentiate fluency instruction. I emphasized repeated reading practice at the student’s optimal reading level and helped teachers develop workable formative assessments to monitor fluency progress. These were and are good instructional practices.

Of course, supervising principals love to see progress monitoring charts and fluency timings are easily measured components. It would naturally follow that teachers would teach to these tests. Teachers are motivated by the concrete and gravitate toward the self-validation of seeing a student go from “Point A to Point B.” Parents like to see numbers on charts, as well (especially when the numbers for their child trend upwards). In short, everyone got on the reading fluency bandwagon.

The problem is one of emphasis. While reading fluency is highly correlated with reading comprehension, fluency is all too often confused with comprehension itself. True that reading fluency is an important ingredient in reading comprehension, but also true that cream is an important ingredient of ice cream, but it is not ice cream. Additionally, because reading comprehension is not easily or accurately measured, it gets left off of the progress monitoring charts. If a reading comprehension score is used, it is all too often a criterion-referenced, standards-based assessment measurement from the year before that provides questionable data at best. So, teachers teach to the data that makes sense and tend to under-emphasize the non-quantifiable. Students get taught a lot of cream, but not the ice cream they need. Don’t get me wrong; the cream is important, and fluency assessment does make sense.

Now, having confessed to my part of the problem of Good Fluency, but Poor Comprehension, it would seem appropriate to offer penance. What I should have done and strive to do in my trainings and reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies, is to emphasize a more balanced instructional approach in which reading fluency is treated as but one of the key ingredients of reading instruction.

Timothy Rasinski shares many of my concerns regarding reading fluency instruction in an important article: Reading Fluency Instruction: Moving Beyond Accuracy, Automaticity, and Prosody. Dr. Rasinski highly recommends balancing repeated reading practice with meaningful oral expression. He suggests Readers Theater and poetry as two venues for this practice and cites validating reading research.

I would add on two concurrent instructional practices: Think-Alouds and my SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies. Each strategy emphasizes internal self-monitoring of text and the latter has some great free bookmarks to download.

One necessary caveat… fluency instruction without systematic explicit phonics instruction is like using low fat cream. It doesn’t make the kind of ice cream we would want in our cones. To mix metaphors, we need to treat the wound (or better yet prevent the injury), not just band-aid it. This is especially important with Tier I and Tier II Response to Intervention.

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.

 

Reading , , , , , , , ,

Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work

O.K. So my title is a good hook. I’m an ELA teacher, so you’d expect no less. However, I’m also an MA reading specialist, so you’d expect me to be passionate about getting students to read and read well. I do believe that independent reading is vital to reading improvement. So why am I writing an article titled Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work?

First, let’s get on the same page about what most of us mean when we talk about SSR. SSR does have a variety of pseudonyms: FVR (Free Voluntary Reading, DEAR (Drop Everything And Read); DIRT (Daily Individual Reading Time); SQUIRT (Sustained Quiet Un-Interrupted Reading Time), WEB (We Enjoy Books), and USSR (uninterrupted sustained silent reading). I’m sure there are more. Essentially, SSR is based upon these assumptions:

  • Reading is a skill which improves with practice.
  • Students should be allowed to select their own books to read.
  • SSR should not include instructional accountability.
  • SSR is best accomplished within the classroom with the teacher as a silent reading model.

Now, of course, not every teacher implements the program in the same way; however, even with teacher tweaks, SSR just is not an effective use of class time. Why so? Here are 8 reasons Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work.

1. Reading Research Does Not Support SSR

According to the Report of the National Reading Panel (2000), the experimental design studies on SSR indicate no statistically or educationally significant differences between those students who do SSR and those students who do not. Now, to be fair, the reading research does not invalidate SSR. There are just too many variables to isolate and no teacher would ever agree to participate in a study in which a control group of students was not allowed to read.

According to noted reading researcher, Doctor Timothy Shanahan in his August 13, 2017 article:

NRP did conclude that there was no convincing evidence that giving kids free reading time during the school day improved achievement — or did so very much. There has been a lot of work on that since NRP but with pretty much the same findings: either no benefits to that practice or really small benefits (a .05 effect size — which is tiny). Today, NRP would likely conclude that practice is not beneficial rather than that there is insufficient data. But that’s arguable, of course.

Some educational researchers have criticized the findings of the National Reading Panel, arguing that long term correlational studies do suggest that students doing SSR gain more in reading than those who do not. However, correlation does not imply causation.

My take regarding reading research is that we should prioritize our instruction to focus on the instructional strategies that both experimental design and correlational studies support. In other words, let’s teach what works for sure. To devote significant class time to an instructional strategy with a questionable research base should give educators pause, especially when there is an alternative which achieves better results than SSR advocates purport to achieve.

2. There is Not Enough Class Time for SSR

There just are not enough minutes in the day to achieve the results desired by proponents of SSR. For example, to achieve year to year vocabulary growth, elementary students need to read a minimum of one million pages; secondary students need to read a minimum of two million pages. Do the math. Many secondary teachers only have four hours of class time per week. No conscientious secondary teacher would allot half of instructional time to SSR. True that many students read in other content classes and some outside of school, but also true that with normal instructional interruptions there are many weeks with less than four hours of class time. In other words, an hour of SSR per week is just not going to make much of a dent in the amount of independent reading that students need to achieve significant reading growth. The “some is better than none” response is just not acceptable.

Additionally, all instruction is reductive: teachers cannot add on without taking away. Should elementary teachers give up teaching science or social studies to add on SSR? Of course not. Furthermore, with the increasing rigor of the language and writing strands of the ELA/Reading Common Core State Standards, both elementary and secondary teachers will be hard-pressed to teach the grade level standards and differentiate instruction as mandated.

3. Free Choice Reading in SSR Does Not Maximize Reading Development

Free choice reading is an essential tenet of SSR proponents. However motivating self-selected reading may be, there are significant downsides. Students often choose books with reading levels far below or far above own their reading levels and so do not experience optimal reading growth. Most reading experts suggest a 95-98% word recognition level as being necessary for comprehensible input and vocabulary acquisition. To be crass, allowing students to choose their own reading material, without any guidance, lets the lunatics be in charge of the asylum.

4. SSR is Not Teaching

Yes, incidental learning does take place when students are in engaged in SSR. Some SSR advocates go so far as to claim that “Free reading appears to be the source of much of our reading ability, our writing style, much of our vocabulary knowledge, our spelling ability, and our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions (Krashen, 1993; Elley, 1991, 1998).

However, having a credentialed teacher model silent reading while 36 students choose to read or not read independently does not avail students of that teacher’s expertise. It’s not a question of which is better: a teacher-centered or student centered classroom. It’s an issue of educational priorities, efficiency, and effectiveness. SSR devolves the responsibilities and applications of reading strategies, comprehension or vocabulary development, and literary analysis to children. I’m not saying a teacher should exclusively assume the role of “sage on the stage,” but a “guide on the side,” should guide, not merely model.

Additionally, SSR is not appropriate for all students. SSR does not magically differentiate instruction. For example, some students (even secondary learners) need oral fluency practice, not independent silent reading. Other students already read extensively at home and do not need more independent reading time.

5. SSR Does Not Hold Students Accountable for Reading

Reading researchers Von Sprecken and Krashen concluded that children were more likely to read during SSR when certain conditions were in place: When there was access to interesting reading in the classroom and students are not required to bring their own reading material, when teachers read while students are reading, and when teachers made efforts to promote and discuss certain books the researchers found that 90% of students were reading. Even in a class in which none of these conditions were met, however, Debra Von Sprecken and Stephen Krashen found that 80% of the students were reading when observed. (California Reader, 1998, 32(1): 11-13) Not many teachers I know would be satisfied with a classroom instructional strategy in which from 4 to 9 of their 36 students (10-20%) did not participate.

It is true that many teachers “band-aid” this component of SSR and both the International Reading Association and important reading researchers part ways with SSR purists with regard to accountability. For example, Fountas and Pinnell suggest keeping records on student reading (2001). Nancy Atwell’s Reading Workshop includes the following: “monitoring the type and the number of books students read; they may also administer assessments, keep reading checklists, and ask questions or encourage student discussion about books.” (Atwell, 2007; Gambrell, 2007; Reutzel, Jones, Fawson, & Smith, 2008). Manning and Manning (1984) found that coupling SSR with peer discussions or teacher conferences led to improvements in reading achievement compared to a control group.” But these “band aids” avoid the fact that SSR necessitates such tweaking to even approach meaningful reading instruction.

6. SSR Provides No Opportunity for Reader Response

SSR is designed as a solitary activity. It is true that we want to equip our students to learn the discipline and enjoyment of the author-reader interaction. However, the simplistic notion that reading makes better readers ignores the fact that better reading makes even better readers. Reader response is critically important to making students better readers.

Students can be trained to become better monitors of their silent reading. Teacher think-alouds, reading journals, and comprehension starters such as the SCRIP comprehension strategies can encourage self-monitoring of reading text. SSR ignores the reading-writing connection. Plot diagrams, character webs, and comprehension questions aren’t just for teaching class novels. Narrative and essay response the same. The social context of reading development to build vocabulary and comprehension has been well-established both in research and practice. Social engagement increases reading motivation and accountability. Classroom reading discussions, literature circles, readers theater, book clubs, book reviews, and online discussion forums can be powerful motivators to encourage wide and thoughtful reading. Now for teachers thinking, “But we can have our cake and eat it, too” with SSR and Reader Response, I kindly suggest leaving the hypothetical and engaging the practical. See #2 above.

7. SSR Turns Recreational Reading into a School Thing

SSR advocates are keen on stressing how SSR is essential at their school because students do not have optimal environmental reading conditions at home or a lack of engaging books to choose from, or the distractions of video games-cell phones-family, et al. However, the fact that SSR in the classroom removes these distractions (highly debatable) sends a message and provides reading habits that require a structured school environment for independent reading. No teacher that I know takes the Free Voluntary Reading to mean “you can read if you want or not if you don’t want to,” whether the teacher enforces accountability procedures or not. Let’s face it. SSR is coercive and required in a contrived setting—hardly the conditions that will transfer to recreational reading out of the classroom. If our end goal is to get students to become lifelong independent readers outside of the school experience, shouldn’t we teachers work toward that end?

8. SSR Gives Up on Students, Peers, and Parents

To work toward the complementary goals of using class time to provide research-based reading instruction (#1, #4, #6) and assigning significant independent reading practice (#2, #3, #5, #7), I advocate abandoning classroom SSR and assigning independent reading as homework. “But they won’t do it. Students will not read for homework.” I have a different view and experience. Students will do independent reading as homework if a motivated teacher provides the leadership, appropriate carrots and sticks, gets parents to buy-in, and has the perseverance to ensure success.

Independent Reading Text Selection

Students choose any reading text that meets these criteria:

The motivational component of self-selection remains, but with appropriate oversight to ensure optimal reader-novel matches.

Independent Reading Accountability

But, how can teachers get students to read at home? How can teachers ensure that students really are reading? I require thirty minutes of reading and three minutes of discussion, four times per week. Student reading is monitored by reading partners, who also grade the quality of the student-led reading discussion. Parents typically serve as these partners. Of course, guardians, child care workers, grandparents, and older siblings can serve just as well. For older students, peer partners can certainly fulfill that role. Discussion partners grade the quality of each daily reading discussion, then total the points and sign the Reading-Discussion Log. I collect and record these logs bi-weekly and count this homework as 15% of the student’s overall grade. Do kids or discussion partners cheat on this? Rarely… and not as much as teachers might think.

Advantages of This Model

This reading-discussion model builds relationships, reinforces internal monitoring of comprehension, promotes reading as a dynamic process of conversation among reader, peers, and author, and motivates readers to read more. Reinforcement and feedback is immediate, not delayed as in the case other reader response assignments such as dialectical journals turned in at the end of each week or book reports completed after a novel has been finished. Students are required to apply the reading strategies we learn and practice in the classroom. For example, I pass out reading strategy bookmarks that that help students frame, but not limit, their book discussions.

What Kind of Results Can Teachers Get?

I get similar participation rates 80-90% (compared to the Von Sprecken, Krashen research) at my lower-middle, 70% free and reduced lunch, middle school, but remember that’s for homework, not for classwork. I would guess that the few students who do not do the independent reading at home would be the same ones that would not do the SSR in the Von Sprecken, Krashen study. Both parents and students love my “only homework is reading” policy. Some of my students prefer to participate in online book clubs in lieu of the parental discussion. I require a daily posting and response to other book discussion colleagues. Hunger Games was big with my students this year. Of course, I get to eavesdrop on their discussions.

My results are a bit less than Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller, achieves in terms of books read per year, but I’ve got a lot more time in class to teach other things I value because I don’t use SSR in my classroom.

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.

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Teaching Fact and Opinion: When, What, and How

Recently, a New York State elementary test prep site has been generating some buzz regarding its use of the terms fact and opinion. Here is one of the test items that elementary students are to label as fact or opinion. Researchers believe the Pterosaurus flew as fast as 25 miles per hour. The test’s answer may surprise you.*

Read on to learn when to teach, what to teach, and how to teach fact and opinion. Some may quibble a bit with my scope and sequence of instruction, my definitions of key terms, or my language of instruction. But then everyone has his or her own opinion, and furthermore, don’t confuse me with the facts!

Birds and the Bees

Teaching fact and opinion should be a lot like teaching “the birds and the bees.” The content and process should be appropriate to the age level. We don’t need to give all the answers to the seven-year-old’s question: “Where do babies come from?” However, with all-due apologies to stork advocates, we do need to give accurate, albeit incomplete, responses as a foundation to layer-in additional knowledge at the appropriate times.

Importance and Relevance

Helping students understand and apply the differences between fact and opinion is crucial to analytical reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Distinguishing between fact from opinion is key to interpreting information intelligently. It is one of the few “macro” skills that is, indeed, interdisciplinary. It is also a skill that is refined from elementary school up through post doctoral study. Furthermore, it is a skill of life-long learning and daily use.

What Fact and Opinion is Not

One of the best ways to learn anything well is to learn what it is not. Teachers may cringe a bit over this section or perhaps get a bit defensive because they may have misinformed their students over the years. Don’t fret. Knowledge changes and students are flexible. We’ve all taught that Pluto was our ninth planet for years, until recently.

  • Fact is not “something proven true.”
  • Fact is not “something accepted as true by most people.”
  • Fact is not “truth.”
  • Opinion is not “what you like”
  • Opinion is not “just what you believe”
  • Opinion is not “It’s just your opinion” or “You have your opinion and I have mine”

Teaching Fact and Opinion: When, What (with Exemplars), and How

When? 3rd – 4th Grades

What?

  • Fact is something said or done in the past or present. Exemplars: “He painted the wall blue” or “He said, ‘That wall is an ugly shade of blue.'”
  • Opinion is a belief. Exemplar: “Blue is a better color for this wall than green”

How? Memorize those definitions and exemplars. Identify and judge between fact and opinion from examples. Apply in both narrative and expository writing.

When? 5th – 6th Grades

What?

  • Fact can be used as evidence or can be supported by other evidence. Exemplars: “Walls can be painted in different colors. For example, one wall is blue” or “One wall is blue. This proves that walls can be painted in different colors.”
  • By definition, facts cannot be wrong. False Exemplar: “He got his facts about the blue wall all wrong.” Explanation: We really mean that he did not state facts or that he misapplied the use of those facts.
  • Opinion can be used as evidence or can be supported by other evidence. Exemplars: “Two boys in the class are color blind, so blue is a better color for this wall than green” or “Blue is a better color for this wall than green because the chairs in the classroom have blue backs.”
  • Opinion is not a preference. Exemplar: “In my opinion, I like blue walls.” Explanation: Liking one color over another states a personal preference, not an opinion.

How? Memorize those definitions and exemplars. Identify and judge among fact, opinion, and preference from examples. Apply fact and opinion as both evidence and as evidentiary support in both narrative and expository writing.

When? 7th – 8th Grades

What?

  • Fact is something that could be verifiable in time and space. Exemplar: “The wall was painted blue in 2016.” The fact would certainly be verifiable if the school office files contained a similar shade of blue paint chip, attached to a dated 2016 receipt for blue paint and a painting contractor’s 2016 dated invoice marked ‘Paid in Full.’”
  • Fact is not based upon consensus or tradition. False Exemplars: “”It’s an established fact that retired educators living in the town think that the walls of that classroom have always been blue” or “Historians assert and Americans have traditionally held that Pilgrims and Native Americans ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving.” Explanation: The conclusion of experts or a traditional belief, even over long periods of time, does not constitute a fact.
  • Fact is not definition. False Exemplars: “It’s a fact that blue is a mix of green and yellow” or “2 +2 = 4 and If A = B and B = C, then A = C.” Definitions simply state that one thing synonymously shares the same essence or characteristics of another thing. Much of math deals with meaningful definitions, called tautologies, not facts, per se.
  • Fact is not a scientific theory. False Exemplar: The universe began fifteen billion years ago withthe “Big Bang.” Explanation: “Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.” Stephen Jay Gould
  • Opinion is a belief or inference (interpretation, judgment, conclusion, or generalization). Check out my Top Ten Inference Categories Exemplar: “Blue is a better color for the classroom walls than red, because blue is a more soothing color.”
  • By definition, opinions are arguable, much like persuasive essay thesis statements. Exemplar: “Blue walls are more stylish than white walls.”
  • Opinions can be categorized as valid or invalid based upon their evidentiary support. Exemplar: “In a survey of thirty building-design architects, 28 of 30 stated that blue walls were ‘more stylish’ than white walls.” False Exemplar: “I asked the owner of All-Blue Paint Company if blue or white walls were more stylish, and he said ‘blue.’” Explanation: The owner would certainly not be an unbiased source and the survey sample is too small to provide meaningful data.

How? Memorize those definitions and exemplars. Identify and judge among fact, opinion, preference, consensus, tradition, definition, and theories from examples. Indentify and judge between valid and invalid opinions. Identify whether facts are verifiable and whether opinions are arguable. Apply fact and opinion as both evidence and as evidentiary support in both narrative and expository writing.

When? 9th – 10th Grades

What?

  • Fact is an objective reflection of reality. A fact exists independent of our sensory experience. Exemplar: “If a classroom’s walls are blue, then someone must have painted them that color.”
  • Fact can be misapplied and manipulated when used out of context or in combination with other irrelevant facts. False Exemplar: “He said, ‘The classroom walls need painting.’”  “The teacher said, “Blue has always been my favorite color.” The contractor painted the her classroom walls blue. Explanation: There is no necessary connection between the three facts. Combining the three possibly unrelated facts leads one to infer that the teacher had input regarding the color selection of her classroom walls.
  • Fact is not the same as truth. False Exemplar: “It’s a fact that the classroom walls are blue.” Explanation: This is known as a category error. We can state the fact that the walls were painted blue or the fact that someone said that they are blue, but this is not the same as truth. There is no process of falsification with facts, as there is with truth. For example, we could not say “It’s not a fact that the classroom walls are black.” Similarly, in a criminal court case, if a defendant pleads not-guilty to the charge that he or she murdered someone, the prosecution must falsify this plea and prove the truth of the guilty charge via evidence, such as facts, in order to convict the defendant.
  • Opinions are subjective interpretations of reality. Exemplar: “Neon green walls would more likely keep students awake and attentive, rather than soothing blue walls.”
  • Opinions can be manipulated and taken out of context. False Exemplar: “He said, ‘Blue walls seem more soothing than red ones.’” “He said, ‘That wall is an ugly shade of brown.'” “He will only be satisfied if we paint his classroom walls blue.” Explanation: Putting together two opinions that are not necessarily related can lead to an invalid inference.

How? Memorize those definitions and exemplars. Identify how facts are objective and opinions are subjective from examples. Indentify and judge how facts and opinions may be manipulated, misapplied, and taken out of context. Identify the difference between fact and truth with examples.

When? 11th – 12th Grades

What?

  • Fact is not a phenomenological representation of reality. False Exemplar: “The walls appear blue during the day, but have no color at night.” Explanation: Just because the blue color appears to disappear at night due to the absence of light, does not mean that this describes reality. To say that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west describes how things appear from our perspective, not what factually occurs.
  • Fact is studied in the philosophical discipline of ontology. Exemplar: “Existence is proven by the act of thinking about existence—cogito ergo sum” “I think, therefore I am” Rene Descartes
  • Fact is studied in the philosophical discipline of epistemology. Exemplar: “How can I know to what extent the “facts” of scientific observation have been influenced by my biases, the limits of my sensory experiences, and the act of observation in it of itself?”
  • A fact is not a claim. False Exemplar: “Blue walls make my students perform better on standardized tests.” Explanation: This is a category error. A claim is an inference, more closely related to an opinion than a fact, yet still different. This claim suggests that there is a causal relationship between wall color and student test performance. Akin to a “green 3,” there is no necessary connection between the two concepts. A positive correlation may, indeed, be found; however, asserting such would still not be factual.
  • Opinions that appear to differ need not be mutually exclusive. Exemplar: “Teacher A thinks blue walls are better than white walls because blue hides dust and marks while white does not. Teacher B totally disagrees with Teacher A’s rationale but believes that students would much prefer blue over white for their classroom.”

How? Memorize those definitions and exemplars. Identify the difference between factual and phenomenological representations of reality. Identify the relevant study of ontology and epistemology with regard to fact. Identify the difference between facts and claims. Identify and judge from examples how seemingly contradictory opinions need not be mutually exclusive.

*The test answer was “opinion.” Read my article and you will find out why the test-maker was mistaken.

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, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach a Write Aloud

Writing is a complicated thinking process. It requires an enormous amount of multi-tasking, problem-solving, interactivity, and creativity. There is science to effective writing, but there is also art. Unlike reading, which provides the author component of the dialog between reader and text, writing requires the thinker to generate both sides of the dialog. The writer must create the content and anticipate the reader response. Like reading, writing is chiefly learned through direct instruction, modeling, and practice.

Of the three instructional components necessary for effective writing instruction (direct instruction, modeling, and practice), the Write Aloud strategy focuses on the modeling component. In essence, the teacher shows students how he or she composes by thinking out loud and writing out that process so that students can think along with the writer. The Write Aloud is also referred to as “Modeled Writing.”

Writing is certainly not a natural process. Developing writers do not have a priori understanding about how to compose. Thus, teachers play a crucial role in helping to develop good writers.

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog with their anticipated readers while they write is vitally important. “Talking to the reader” significantly increases writing coherency. Placing the emphasis on writing as the reader will read that writing also helps the writer determine the structure of that writing and so unify the whole.

Good writers are adept at practicing many metacognitive strategies.  That’s a big word that means “thinking about thinking.”  Students who practice these self-monitoring strategies develop better writing fluency those who do not.

Write Aloud Sample Lesson

1. Select a short, high interest section of dialog from a story familiar to all students. The dialog will help students understand the interactive components of the Write Aloud strategy. Post the dialog on the board, Smartboard®, or overhead projector. Write this brief prompt, or one of your own, below the dialog: “Analyze the character development in ___________.”

2. Tell them that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, as you read the brief dialog from ____________, and that they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during your reading. Read the short dialog out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about the plot context and what and why the characters are saying what they say. Focus on comprehension, not character development for your first read.

3. After reading, ask students if they think they understood the text better because of your verbalized thoughts than just by passively reading without active thoughts. Their answer will be “Yes,” if you have read effectively. Quickly remind students to listen well and not to interrupt.

4. Tell students that they are now going to learn an important thinking strategy, and that they will listen to your thoughts as an experienced writer. Tell them that your thoughts will not be the same thoughts as theirs. Explain that learning how to think is the focus of this activity, not what to think. Tell them that they can improve the ways in which they think.

5. Tell students that you are going to brainstorm ideas for a character analysis essay during your Write Aloud. Point to the word brainstorm on your Writing Process charts and tell students that you are only going Write Aloud this one part of the process. Remind students that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, but they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during the activity.

6. Now, read the prompt out loud and define analyze as “to break apart the subject and to explain each part” as if you are reminding yourself of the definition. Re-read the dialog out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about how the characters are saying what they say. Write down your comments below the dialog in a graphic organizer. Explain that you are going to use a mapping, a.k.a. bubble cluster, graphic organizer to brainstorm your ideas because it will help you organize your thoughts and allow you to add on new ones as you think of them. Focus your comments (and writing) on these four components: character personalities, descriptions, motives, and author word choice. Ask if the organization and comments will make sense to the reader. Don’t ramble on with personal anecdotes. Comment much more on the text than on your personal connection with the text.

7. After reading, ask students if listening to you think and watching you write down your thoughts helped them understand how the characters are saying what they say. Their answer will be “Yes.” Ask students to repeat what you said that most helped them understand your thinking process. Ask students how they would think differently about what to write, if they were teaching the Write Aloud.

8. Post two new dialogs on the board, Smartboard®, or overhead projector with the same prompt as above.

9. Group students into pairs and have students practice their own Write Alouds, using the two dialogs. This can get quite noisy, so establish your expectations and remind students that they will be turning in their graphic organizers.

10. Repeat the Write Aloud procedure often with different components of the Writing Process, with or without different prompts, and with different writing tasks or genre.

Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies at www.penningtonpublishing.com.TES

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Problems with the KWL Reading Strategy

The KWL Reading Strategy has been with us for years. Developed by Donna Ogle in 1986 at the height of “whole language” movement, KWL is a metacognitive reading strategy that frequently masquerades under the guise of a comprehension strategy. KWL has been often misapplied and has taken the place of other more relevant and effective reading comprehension strategies.

Essentially, here is the KWL strategy: The teacher passes out a three-column KWL worksheet to each student. The teacher activates students’ prior knowledge by asking them what they already Know; then students individually, in small groups, or as a whole class list what they Want to learn; after reading, students list and discuss what they have Learned. In 1992, Professor Ogle revised the strategy as KWHL. The added H refers to How the reader plans to find what he or she Wants to learn.

KWL is a metacognitive strategy because it is a problem-solving process that focuses on thinking about and developing a language for the thinking (reading) process. It is reader-centered, not author-centered. There-in lie the pitfalls of this strategy, when misapplied as a reading comprehension strategy.

Because KWL is reader-centered, it is also limited by the background knowledge of the readers. Although the prior knowledge of the K step is significantly enhanced, when brainstormed collaboratively, oftentimes students will share irrelevant, inaccurate, or incomplete information which may well confuse their reading. Of course, the teacher has a role, here, to make the student contributions comprehensible by using analogies, filling in gaps, and synthesizing the students’ collective prior knowledge; however, the question has to be raised: Is this process really worth the time? Is the pay-off worth the process? At the minimum, teachers should be judicious about using the KWL activity by selecting reading topics that are very familiar with their students.

Again, because KWL is reader-centered, it is limited by what is shared by students in the W step. Students don’t know what they don’t know and they similarly don’t know what they Want to know. Or, they may Want to know what is inconsequential, trivial, or not available in the reading or available resources. Following the dictates of reader interest may lead to lots of spinning in circles and tangential bird-walking. A much more useful and purposeful step would be a P for a prediction about what the author will say, after accessing students’ prior knowledge and a brief “picture walk” or “preview” of the reading.

There is nothing magical about the L step. Listing what the reader has learned makes sense as a comprehension check, although it is doubtful whether providing an end-of-reading list actually improves reading comprehension. It does make sense to validate or correct what has been listed in the K and W steps. Other note-taking strategies do teach reader monitoring of the text, so the real issue is a reductive one: Although the L step does focus on the author and text (a good thing), there are better strategies that can be used instead. For example, the PQ RAR read-study method is one of the better author/text-centered reading comprehension strategies for expository text.

Although the author-reader connection is vital to comprehension, the relationship should be weighted heavily on the side of the author. It is the author’s thoughts that we are trying to interpret, not ours as readers. The “whole language” movement skewed this relationship on the side of the reader, at the expense of the author, his or her writing, and the reading process itself (decoding, etc.).This is the key issue with response journals disguising themselves as comprehension strategies, such as KWL. They are weighted too heavily on the reader side of the ledger. Schema theory aside, accessing prior knowledge (K) and setting a purpose for the reading (W) are somewhat helpful, but frankly over-valued. The (L) component is really what readers are after. Response journals are good note-taking vehicles and serve nicely to hold students accountable for what they read, but internal monitoring and self-questioning strategies can teach readers to understand the author’s ideas better.

Additionally, focusing on the experience and needs of the readers (K,W) can lead the readers to think of the text as a purely subjective experience. Instead, readers need to view the text as objectively as possible, setting aside all preconceived ideas and biases. Readers are supposed to infer what the author means. This skill can be taught and practiced to improve comprehension. In sum, good readers focus more on the text and less on themselves; the majority of our instructional strategies should reflect this.

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Use Think-Alouds to Teach Reading Comprehension

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialogue with the author and text as they read is vitally important. “Talking to the text” significantly increases reader comprehension and promotes retention as well. However, this is not a skill acquired by osmosis. It requires effective modeling using the Think-Aloud strategy.

Good readers are adept at practicing many metacognitive strategies. That’s a big word that means “thinking about thinking.” Research shows that 50% of reading comprehension is based on what the reader brings to the text by way of prior knowledge and internal dialogue. Students who practice the self-monitoring strategies modeled by teachers using Think-Alouds have better reading comprehension than those who do not.

Here’s how to set-up an effective Think-Aloud with your students:

1. Select a short reading with a beginning, middle, and an end.

2. Tell students that they are about to enter a strange new world, that is the world of your thoughts as a reader. Tell them that your thoughts will not be the same thoughts as theirs.

3. Tell them that reading is not just pronouncing words; it is making meaning out of what the author has written. Tell them that they can improve their reading comprehension.

4. Begin reading the text for a few lines and then alter your voice (raise the pitch, lower the volume, or use an accent) to model what you are thinking. Stop and explain what the voice altering meant and keep this voice altering consistent throughout the Think-Aloud.

5. Keep your thoughts concise and on the focus of the reading. Don’t ramble on with personal anecdotes. Comment much more on the text than on your personal connection with the text.

6. Don’t over-do the amount of your Think-Aloud thoughts. Once every paragraph or two is about right. Don’t interrupt the flow of the reading and lose sight of the textual meaning.

7. Talk to the text and to the author.

8. Ask students if they think they understood the text better because of your verbalized thoughts than just by passively reading without active thoughts. Their answer will be “Yes,” if you have done an effective Think-Aloud.

9. Have students practice their own Think-Alouds in pairs.

10. Repeat Think-Alouds often with both narrative and expository texts.

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 , , , , , ,