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Assessment-based Individualized Instruction and Differentiated Instruction

Let’s face it. Many teacher are afraid of individualized instruction. We may have tried it once or twice, at the behest of a supervising teacher or evaluator, but found the preparation, class management, and correcting to be overwhelming. It’s not that we teachers don’t buy in the the validity of differentiating instruction according to the needs of their students. After all, any teacher knows that a class full of cookie-cutter students is rare or non-existent. It’s just that we learn how to balance life inside of the classroom with life outside of the classroom. It’s a matter of survival. Plain and simple. So we set our defense mechanisms firmly in place. We track students. We shove the load of remediation on special education teachers or newbies. We tell gifted students to read an extra book or sent them off on field trips. We make excuses, blaming students, parents, class sizes, etc. We frankly give up and focus on doing what we can do-teach to the middle of the class.

But what if there were efficient resources and instructional practices that made adjusting instruction to the level of each student quite do-able without tearing our hair out or turning to Prosac®?

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding assessment-based instruction from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Check out our approach to teaching to the needs of individual students–Assessment-based Individualized Instruction (ABIL). An instructional approach taking the best from differentiated instruction, individualized instruction, and personalized instruction. An instructional approach teachers actually use and keep using. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Assessment-based Individualized Instruction

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/assessment-based-individualized-learning/

Every educational movement needs a catchy new acronym. ABIL will have to do: Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Simply put, it’s the supplemental instruction students need to catch up  while they keep up with grade-level instruction. See how ABIL differs from Differentiated Instruction.

Teaching the Class and Individuals

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/teaching-the-class-and-individuals/

Perhaps the greatest guilt-inducers for any veteran teacher are these two questions: 1. Do you know the individual needs of your students? 2. Are you teaching to the individual needs of your students?

Let’s provide a bit of context to those questions: Teaching the class is important and takes an enormous amount of energy and skill. Doing it well takes years of trial and error, professional development, and probably some natural ability that just can’t be learned or taught. It’s both an art and a science.

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

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Download free phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, sight word, rimes, sight syllables, fluency, grammar, mechanics, and spelling assessments. All with answers and recording matrices. A true gold mine for the teacher committed to differentiated instruction!

Navigating Differentiated Instruction

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/navigating-differentiated-instruction/

A quality English-language arts curriculum designed to differentiate instruction is like a good nav system. Teachers committed to differentiated instruction need to invest in curricular resources with good nav systems rather than band-aiding outdated road maps.

Common Core DI, RTI, and ELL

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-di-rti-and-ell/

DI (Differentiated Instruction), RTI (Response to Intervention), and ELL (English Language Learners) or ELD (English Language Development) instructional strategies are all validated in the new Common Core State Standards. Common Core writers have clearly gone out of their way to assure educators that the Standards establish the what, but not the how of instruction.

Don’t Teach to the LCD

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

Our penchant for helping individuals can work cross-purpose to our overall mission of helping all students. In fact, we often wind up teaching to the LCD (the Lowest Common Denominator). Instead, we need to differentiate instruction to all of our students.

Differentiated Reading Instruction for Gifted Students

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/differentiated-reading-instruction-for-gifted-students/

It’s time to differentiate reading instruction for all students, including our gifted ones. An entirely different curriculum is not the answer, but gifted students do need to be taught differently to maximize their progress and love of learning. Here are three tips that will make a difference for your gifted students.

The Dos and Don’ts of Differentiated Instruction

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

With the Response to Intervention (RTI) model now being incorporated into many school districts today, it has become increasingly important to help frame the differentiated instruction (DI) discussion in an objective manner that won’t promote narrow agendas and will encourage teachers to experiment with DI in their own classrooms. At its core, differentiated instruction is simply good, sound teaching. Directly addressing the individual learning needs of our students, rather than teaching a class as though all individuals in it were basically alike, offers our best chance of success for all.

Differentiated Instruction: The What and the How

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/differentiated-instruction-the-what-and-the-how/

Our understanding of the characteristics and proclivities of our students should inform both the what and the how of instruction. Consider this: students don’t know what they don’t know. To devolve the what of instruction to student choice is to abrogate our responsibilities as the informed, objective decision-makers.  Teaching professionals know what our students do and don’t know. Furthermore, to delegate the how of learning to students seems akin to educational malpractice.

23 Myths of Differentiated Instruction

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/23-myths-of-differentiated-instruction/

Differentiated instruction “is simply a teacher attending to the learning needs of a particular student or small groups of students, rather than teaching a class as though all individuals in it were basically alike (Carol Ann Tomlinson)” However, 23 myths of differentiated instruction continue to dissuade teachers and administrators from embracing this instructional concept.

12 Reasons Why Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/10-reasons-why-teachers-resist-differentiated-instruction/

Teachers resist differentiating instruction within their classroom for both internal and external reasons. Knowing why teachers prefer whole group instruction, rather than differentiated instruction can help break down barriers to change and help teachers focus on the individual needs of their students.

Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/don%E2%80%99t-teach-to-learning-styles-and-multiple-intelligences/

Most teachers believe in some form of learning styles or multiple intelligences theories. The notion that each child learns differently, so we should adjust instruction accordingly (learning styles) justseems like such good old-fashion common sense. The theory that each child has different innate abilities (multiple intelligences) just seems to be confirmed by common experience. But common sense and experience are untrustworthy and unreliable guides to good teaching. Despite what the snake oil learning styles and multiple intelligences folk tell us, they are simply wrong. Here are five reasons why.

Learning Styles Teaching Lacks Common Sense

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/learning-styles-teaching-lacks-common-sense/

Different strokes for different folks.  Our assumption is that we all learn differently so good teachers should adjust instruction to how students learn. Specifically, we assume that some students are better auditory (or aural) learners, some are better visual learners, and some are better kinesthetic learners. Or add additional modalities or intelligences to the list, if you wish. All we need to do to maximize learning is to adjust instruction to fit the modality that best matches the students’ learning styles or intelligences. It just seems like good old-fashioned common sense. However, common sense is not always a trustworthy or reliable guide.

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

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Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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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Using Music to Develop a Creative Writing Culture

I am a dinosaur. I have to face the fact that I am culturally irrelevant to my students. My English-language arts colleagues are all young twenty-somethings. They do all of the student clubs, sports, and activities such as the overnight bus trip to Disneyland. They even do yard duty/campus supervision when they don’t have to. But, I’ve got one thing that they don’t have yet-reflective experience.

As I reflect back on my experience as a junior high and high school student, one creative medium was singularly influential and remains so for my students today-music. Music inspired me. Music made me dream big dreams. Music made me want to write.

Now, music didn’t make me want to write the way that Mr. Devlin, my junior high English teacher, wanted me to write. And music didn’t inspire me to write the stupid five-paragraph essays that Ms. Carruthers, my senior Advanced English teacher, assigned each week. Music made me want to write like John and Paul, Mick and Keith, and Bob Dylan. Somehow, my English-language arts teachers just did not tap into that motivating influence.

Now we did analyze a few songs in class. I remember Mr. Devlin helping us to interpret the Beatles’ “Revolution.” I ate it up, but there was no follow-through. It was a one-time experience, and then back to the literary anthology. No connection to our own writing as students. Our art teacher was very cool. She played our records while we worked with paint and clay. I discovered The Doors in her class. But, the music was background and its creative potential was not instructionally connected to our paper mache Christmas angels.

Music is just as influential on today’s students as it was for me. Ask students how much they listen to music today. It’s certainly more than they spend reading or writing. And they listen to music while they are on Facebook®. That’s a powerful combination. It seems to me that we can apply a few lessons from how our students combine music and social networking to how we should teach them to write.

Music has always been a social medium. Let’s do a bit of reflective thinking about the music business, and songwriting in particular, to see how we might apply some of this to improve student writing.

Toward the end of the Nineteenth Century musical tastes were changing from minstrel shows to vaudeville. The economic up-tick following the terrible recession of 1873 put more money in the hands of more Americans. Recently freed slaves migrated north into already-crowed cities. Increasing immigration added wealth to the expanding economy and consumers enjoyed some of the trickle-down benefits of the Gilded Age, including more leisure time and a bit more discretionary money.

A number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan along 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway to take advantage of the economic boom and sell music to the popular vaudeville shows and sheet music to consumers to play on their parlor pianos. This neighborhood became known as “Tin Pan Alley,” probably due to “the cacophony of the many pianos being pounded in publisher’s demo rooms… characterized as sounding as though hundreds of people were pounding on tin pans (Wikipedia).”

“Song composers were hire under contract giving the publisher exclusive rights to popular composer’s works. The market was surveyed to determine what style of song was selling best and then the composers were directed to compose in that style. Once written, a song was actually tested with both performers and listeners to determine which would be published and which would go to the trash bin. All of a sudden t seemed that music was becoming an industry more than an art. Once a song was published, song pluggers (performers who worked in music shops playing the latest releases, akin to playing new CD releases in a record store today) were hired and performers were persuaded to play the new songs in their acts to give the music exposure to the public (Wikipedia).”

Writing Lesson #1

Publishing was the motivator for songwriting in Tin Pan Alley. This was, indeed, writing for a purpose. The profit-motive and pay-off were paramount; art was a by-product of that end. In contrast, our students are frequently only required to write to please an audience of one, that is their teacher, and the resulting pay-off is simply a grade. Hardly motivating and largely perceived as being irrelevant to their lives. No wonder there is little authentic voice, creativity, or passionate commitment in our students’ writing. The solution is to make the pay-off a motivator for student effort. Survey students to find what publishing ends would motivate their best efforts. Online postings, video reads, peer reviews to name a few.

Writing Lesson #2

Encourage mimicry of author’s styles. Just as vaudevillian composers were directed to compose in popular styles, help students to do the same. Help students identify components of popular author’s styles, including those of musical composers. Yes, hip hop is music. Don’t fret about lack of originality. One’s writing voice is an amalgam of one’s reading experiences and other voices.

Writing Lesson #3

Have students serve as song pluggers and performers for each other. We create a writing culture when peers begin responding to each other’s work. Students care more about their peers’ responses than those of their teacher. Teach constructive criticism: the “I like way you did ______, but you might try ______” needs both modeling and practice. Trust-building activities are a must. Allow students some degree of choice with whom they will work. After all, students don’t “friend” everyone on Facebook®. Try directed and undirected response groups, but don’t relegate these to the end of the writing process. Response groups work well after both prewriting and drafting. Don’t use student response solely as editing assistance. The more students perceive writing as a collaborative and social art, the more commitment and investment in their own writing will result.

Read a related article on Using Music to Develop a Productive Writing Climate.

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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23 Myths of Differentiated Instruction

“Differentiation is simply a teacher attending to the learning needs of a particular student or small groups of students, rather than teaching a class as though all individuals in it were basically alike.”

“The idea of differentiating instruction to accommodate the different ways that students learn involves a hefty dose of common sense, as well as sturdy support in the theory and research of education (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). It is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms.” 
Carol Ann Tomlinson (2000)

Most advocates of differentiated instruction (DI) would certainly agree with Carol’s definition. However, educators who venture much beyond that simple statement may quickly part paths with their colleagues regarding how best to accomplish that mission in the classroom. DI is certainly not an easily-identified, monolithic movement. Indeed, the movement is multi-faceted. There is no DI uniform.

Educational organizations, publishers, researchers, and presenters have jumped on the DI bandwagon over the last dozen years and DI is now big business. Everyone tends to define DI in ways that best suit their pedagogical presuppositions and/or interests. However, the basic principles of DI cannot be co-opted by any group because DI is fundamentally just good teaching.

With Response to Intervention (RTI) now taking center stage throughout many school districts today, it is increasingly important to shed light on some of the key myths of DI. Teachers who have resisted implementing DI because of these myths may be encouraged to re-visit how they teach their students.

Educational Philosophy

1. Contrary to popular belief, differentiated instruction has not been completely kidnapped by constructivists. Constructivism is an educational philosophy predicated on the belief that learning occurs best when students construct their own “rules,” “mental models,” and “meaning-making” to integrate new experiences into their existing schemata and prior knowledge. As applied to differentiated instruction, constructivists including the likes of Carol Ann Tomlinson, Amy Benjamin, and Rick Wormeli, believe that students should be provided multiple options for taking in information and making sense of ideas and that teachers must adapt the curriculum or mode of instruction to the student. Many DI teachers fundamentally disagree with constructivism and believe that trained and informed teaching professionals make the best choices regarding what and how their students need to learn.

2. No, Howard Gardner did not invent DI. The theory of multiple intelligences has lost favor over the last few years. No brain scientist has yet found a “musical intelligence” section in the cerebral cortex. Many teachers who differentiate instruction do believe that students who haven’t yet learned certain skills need to be taught differently, but not necessarily because those students lacked a particular form of “intelligence” and, instead, need to learn via another of the seven intelligences.

3. Learning styles, multi-sensory instruction, and the importance of environmental preferences are long-standing educational constructs. All are based upon minimal research. Still popular with special education teachers, learning style inventories do not provide reliable diagnostics about how to differentiate instruction. Auditory and visual processing deficits can be diagnosed, but no research has yet demonstrated which instructional strategies work best for these learners.

Instructional Strategies

4. Some teachers and administrators reject DI because of the mistaken belief that DI rejects direct instruction. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much of DI instruction involves direct, explicit instruction as in pre-teaching concepts and/or skills or direct whole class instruction followed by small group and/or individual review.

5. A commonly held belief is that there is only one way to differentiate instruction and that is through small groups: heterogeneous cooperative groups or homogeneous ability groups. Small groups are certainly key DI instructional strategies, but not the only ones.

6. Many veteran teachers or special education teachers think that DI means individualized  instruction. Some picture SRA® reading kits with color-coded reading comprehension cards and  individual students anxiously lining up to have their work corrected by the teacher to see if they will advance to the “silver” level. Some DI teachers do individualize instruction, but many prefer other instructional methods.

7. Some teachers equate DI with open-ended assignments that focus on self-exploration, based upon student choice, such as with some components of Learning Centers or Writers Workshop. Some assume that DI classrooms are Montessori®-style “open classrooms” with self-guided, unstructured learning. Students only learn when the task is perceived as being meaningful or relevant. In other words, the curriculum is defined by the student. Actually, most successful DI teachers are excellent classroom managers, are extremely organized, and are very much in charge of student learning and the curricular content. DI classrooms may be student-centered, but they are very much teacher-directed.

8. Some have heard that problem solving, critical thinking, inquiry learning, and “big picture” learning are key features of a DI classroom. Some see visions of classrooms plastered with Bloom’s Taxonomy and Costa’s Levels of Questioning posters. Good differentiated instruction challenges students of all levels at all levels of thinking, but these characteristics and/or instructional methodologies are not exclusive to a DI classroom.

9. Interdisciplinary thematic instruction is not joined at the hip with DI. The flexibility and cross-over potential of this instructional approach may lend itself to DI strategies, but there is no necessary connection in the way that some advocates insist.

10. The authentic assessments movement has no hand-in-glove connection with DI. Some teachers who differentiate instruction do use authentic assessments; some do not. DI does not necessitate varying assessments according to the preference and/or perceived needs of individual students.

11. Many think that the “basics” are ignored in a DI classroom. Some have heard that only whole-to-part, deductive reasoning and learning are emphasized.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Much of differentiated instruction is skill-centered and inductively builds knowledge through layers of learning from basic to more complex, from part-to-whole.

12. Many teachers believe that DI requires different instruction, different assessments, different grading, and different assignments for different students. Actually, most DI teachers use the same instructional methodologies, the same assessments, the same grading system, and many of the same assignments for all of their students. Teachers may emphasize different instructional components, but many of the tools are the same for all students.

Who Receives Differentiated Instruction

13. “DI is only for students with learning disabilities,” some say. “Every child must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and teachers are held accountable for adapting their instruction to the prescribed needs of each student. Response to Intervention (RTI) is all about the procedures to ensure that these IEPs are enforced.” Not true. Although “mainstreaming” or “full inclusion” models have placed students with identified (IEP) learning disabilities or special needs students back into the classroom, DI is not just for these students. DI is for every student.

14. “DI is only for heterogeneously mixed classes, not for tracked programs including remedial (intervention), regular, and accelerated (honors) divisions.” One of most ubiquitous beliefs about DI is the erroneous assumption that it is only intended for diverse classrooms. Although many teachers who practice DI fundamentally disagree with tracking, differentiated instruction deals with meeting the needs of individual students, not groups, per se. Thus, many teachers practice DI in very homogeneous settings.

15. “DI is forced upon teachers to meet the needs of Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) students in order to qualify for state funding.” There may be isolated situations in which teachers are required to differentiate instruction because they have identified gifted students in their classes; however, this would certainly be the exception, not the rule.

Curricular Rigor and Fairness

16. Advocates of DI may be surprised to hear that many think that DI eliminates standardized curriculum and cannot be standards-based. Actually, DI can be used to “catch up,” “keep up,” and “move ahead” students in reference to grade-level standards. In fact, teachers practicing DI usually reference their diagnostic and formative assessments to an established instructional scope and sequence, based upon state standards.

17. Some teachers, parents, and administrators think that DI “dumbs-down” the level of classroom instruction because kind-hearted teachers are loathe to “leave any child behind” and will slow the pace of instruction or adjust curriculum accordingly to ensure “success for all.” Actually, DI teachers tend to focus more on individual mastery of established objectives and less on whole-class mastery. Teachers who do not practice DI are more likely to “teach to the center,” in terms of the academic abilities of their students.

18. Many teachers believe that DI “pigeon-holes” students and lowers their self-esteem. Because DI does involve frequent diagnostic and formative assessment to adjust instruction to the needs of the learners, students become well-aware of their relative strengths and weaknesses in given academic areas. Instructional practices, such as flexible ability grouping, can contribute to this potential problem. However, sensitive and well-trained teachers need not succumb to creating negative self-concepts in their classrooms. And, pretending that students do not have different abilities and levels of skills mastery will not increase self-esteem. Improved self-concept, at least in part, derives from increasing expertise and reaching individual goals—exactly the instructional foci of differentiated instruction. Instead of lowering expectations by ignoring individual differences, DI raises expectations for individual students.

19. Some think that DI is inherently undemocratic. They say that the bright students or students with a strong work ethic get extra work or open-ended assignments to keep them busy while “freeing up” the teacher to spend more of her time addressing the needs of underperforming students, who get “modified” assignments, i.e. less work than “regular” or “accelerated” students. Or, worse yet, the bright students are recruited as peer tutors. Thus, industriousness is rewarded with more work and laziness is rewarded with less work. And grading is adjusted as the capstone to these foundational inequities. There may be some truth to this myth in many DI classrooms. The over-arching issue of fairness and how fairness is applied within the walls of the classroom reflect teachers’ personal political and pedagogical philosophies. Some, for example, would argue that it is inherently unfair that students are ill-prepared for their grade-level instruction through no fault of their own.

20. Students who are the beneficiaries of DI won’t be able to compete in the real world. Students not used to working to the highest standards will be ill prepared for gateway tests, such as the SAT® and ACT®. If students aren’t exposed to challenging, high-level skills and concepts, they will be doomed to failure. Actually, DI teachers try to bridge the gap between basic and advanced skills and concepts. They design instruction to help students “keep up” while “catching up.”

Teacher Commitment

21. Some teachers resist DI because they wrongly perceive that managing diverse instructional strategies and on-going assessments takes a genius. However, teachers of all ability and experience levels can begin differentiated instruction with proper training and support. Furthermore, DI is not an “all or nothing” proposition. Most teachers layer in different aspects of DI over years of instruction.

22. Some say that DI requires way too much preparation, assessment, correction, and record-keeping. This may have been a truism years ago, but clever teachers have since developed effective short-cuts to planning, assessment, and paper work. DI need not be a cause of teacher “burn-out.”

23. Some proponents of DI intimate that differentiated instruction solves all educational problems and ensures student mastery of key concepts and skills. However, you “can lead a horse to water, but you can’t always make him drink.” Some students exposed to the best DI will continue to fail.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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

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

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

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Educational Fads: What Goes Around Comes Around

Teaching is, by its very nature, experimental. We teachers are just as susceptible to snake-oil sales pitches, fads, and cultural pressures as any professionals. And many of the teaching strategies, movements, and philosophies appear years later dressed up in different clothes. Talk to any veteran teacher of a dozen years or more and the teacher will eventually comment on the dynamic nature of education with statements such as “Been there, done that,” “There’s nothing new under the sun,” What Goes Around Comes Around,” “We tried that back in…”

Teachers are also victims of the bandwagon effect. What’s new is questioned, until certain key players buy in. At that point, many teachers become no-holds-barred converts. We teachers are especially vulnerable to new ideas labeled as “research-based,” “best practices,” or “standards-based.” We could all do with an occasional reminder that one of our primary duties as teachers should be to act as informed “crap detectors” (Postman, Neil, and Weingartner, Charles (1969), Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Dell, New York, NY.).

Following is a list of the educational fads that have come and gone (and sometimes come again) over the last thirty years of my teaching. I’ve bought into quite a few of them and still believe that some of them have merit. The list reminds me to hold on loosely to some things that I currently practice and to be open to change. Cringe, laugh, and be a bit offended as you read over the list. Oh, and please add on to the list, which is in no particular order.

1. Writing Across the Curriculum No one really ever believed that math, art, or music teachers should be spending oodles of time teaching writing.

2. Timers Timers used to keep students on task, pace themselves, track their reading speed.

3. Left-right Brain Strategies Some teachers used to have students place bracelets on their left or right wrists to cue brain hemispheres.

4. Self-esteem Teachers developed lessons to promote the self-esteem of students to increase their abilities to learn.

5. Cultural Literacy E. D. Hirsch, Jr. popularized this movement of shared content knowledge in his influential 1987 book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Teachers abandoned free-choice novels and chose core novels that inculcated American values.

6. Multi-culturalism This much maligned approach to education influenced many publishers and teachers to include multi-cultural literature.

7.  Relevance The practice of choosing curriculum and instructional strategies designed to  relate to the lives and interests of students.

8. Clickers Used to track student discussion responses, equitable teacher questioning, and even attendance.

9. Re-learning Early Childhood Behaviors One reading strategy for struggling readers in the 1970s involved re-teaching those remedial readers who never learned to crawl to crawl.

10. Learning Styles I can’t tell you how many learning styles assessments I designed over the years.

11. Experiential Learning Role play, simulations, mock trial.

12. Alternative or Authentic Assessments I once taught an entire year-long sophomore level World History class without giving one traditional paper and pencil test. Think museum exhibits, video productions, interviews, etc.

13. Cooperative Groups Touted as a primary means of heterogeneous instruction in the 1980s.

14. Values Clarification and Moral Dilemmas Two forms of values education that emphasized decision-making and informed moral choices.

15. Gongs Used to focus students’ attention and signal instructional transitions.

16. Critical Thinking Skills Bloom’s Taxonomy, Costa’s Levels of Questioning, et al.

17. Behavioral Objectives and the Madeline Hunter’s Lesson Design Teaching to measurable objectives with connection to prior instruction, guided practice, closure, and independent practice.

18. Standards-based Instruction A movement to identify content standards across grade levels and focus instruction on these expectations. Many state tests were aligned with these standards.

19. Language Experience A reading strategy which used oral language ability to help students read. Teachers copied down student stories and had students practice reading them.

20. Bilingual Education A movement to teach native literacy and celebrate bilingualism in the belief that literacy skills are easily transferred to English.

21. Learn by Doing John Dewey revisited. Gardening and keeping classroom pets were popular recreations of the theme.

22. Cornell Notes Popularized by the A.V.I.D. (Advancement Via Individual Determination), this columnar notetaking strategy originated in the 1950s at Cornell University.

23. Inventive Spelling The practice of guessing sound-spelling relationships to encourage writing fluency. Instruction followed from spelling analysis.

24. Achievement Gap The gap in reading and math achievement between racial subgroups. Later expanded to language and ethnic subgroups.

25. Thematic Instruction Teaching broad-based themes across the curriculum, such as teaching a unit on cooking in which recipes are composed and read, mathematic measurements involving recipe quantities are practiced, the final meal is sketched, using artistic perspective, and the meal is eaten.

26. Time on Task A movement that tried to minimize wasted time, class interruptions, and outside activities (such as assemblies) and maximize minutes of classroom instruction, such as with classroom openers.

27. Whole Language The movement popularized in the 1970s and 1980s that de-emphasized phonics, spelling, and grammar instruction and emphasized reading and writing for meaning.

28. Reading Across the Curriculum No one really ever believed that math, art, or music teachers should be spending oodles of time teaching reading or that “Every Teacher, a Teacher of Reading.”

29. Phonemic Awareness Better described as phonological awareness, teachers played patterns of sounds, emphasized rhythm, and used nursery rhymes to prepare students to match speech sounds to print.

30. ADD, ADHD, Epstein Bar, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Autism, and Others Difficult to diagnose, these conditions introduced educators to Parent Advocates and mandated classroom interventions.

31. Auditory Processing Deficit Disorders and Visual Processing Deficit Disorders New brain research has validated these learning disabilities, but instructional strategies to address these challenges have a questionable track record.

32. Dyslexia Reading difficulties have produced a plethora of remedial strategies, many such as colored transparencies have been dubious, at best.

33. Career Education Students were tracked according to career interests.

34. Community Service Students were required to perform hours of community service as part of course or graduation requirements.

35. Tracing Letters in the Sand Those who believe that spelling is a visual process had students memorize the shapes of letters within words by drawing the outline of the letters.

36. Inquiry Education Instruction based upon student questions and interests.

37. Sustained Silent Reading, Drop Everything and Read, et al In class or school-wide, this practice of silent reading is usually based upon student choice of reading materials without accountability and is designed to foster life-long reading.

38. TRIBES, et al Groups of students, mentored by adults, that build relational and supportive bonds within the school setting.

39. Peer Tutoring A practice in which a smarter student is paired with one less smart to teach the latter.

40. Writers Workshop and Six Traits Movements based upon the writing research of Donald Graves and others that emphasize the process of writing, revision, and publication.

41. Problem-Solving Strategies developed to solve difficult problems in collaborative groups.

42. Rubrics Here a rubric; there a rubric. Holistic and analytic scoring guides that purport to de-mystify and objectify the grading process of complicated tasks, such as essays.

43. Manipulatives Learning mathematical concepts through visual models that students manipulate to understand mathematical processes.

44. Metacognition Thinking about thinking. Strategies that teach reflection on the learning process.

45. Prior Knowledge Usually referred to as a pre-reading or pre-writing strategy in which the student “accesses” his or her background or personal experiences to connect to the reading or writing task.

46. Hands-on Learning Project-based instruction that emphasizes concrete learning making or doing.

47. Realia Using “real” objects to scaffold into abstract learning. For example, bringing in a silver necklace to teach what silver and a necklace mean.

48. Tracking and Ability Grouping Permanent or temporary grouped instruction based upon student grades, test scores, or skill levels.

49. Differentiated Instruction and Individualized Instruction Instruction designed according to the diagnostic needs of individual students, frequently involving group work.

50. Multiple Intelligences Popularized by Howard Gardner, this movement described intelligence aptitudes such as interpersonal intelligence.

51. Powerpoint®, Blackboard, Web 2.0, computer literacy skills, SmartBoards, Video Conferencing and more to come.

52. Color Mood Design Teachers draped soothing colored butcher paper (blue or green) over the teacher’s desk to reduce stress. Teachers stopped using red pens to correct papers.

53. Back to Basics A movement to focus more on the three R’s and less on electives.

54. The Five-Paragraph Essay The model essay, consisting of one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and one conclusion paragraph.

55. Multi-sensory Education Using the five senses to teach a concept or skill.

56. Learning Centers Resources placed around the classroom that allowed students to explore learning on their own.

The writer of this blog, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of teaching resources to differentiate instruction in the fields of reading and English-language arts. His comprehensive curricula: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTeaching Essay StrategiesTeaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary help teachers differentiate instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or training.

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12 Reasons Why Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction

Every ship’s captain knows how to turn a ship around to rescue a “man overboard.” The “Williamson Turn” involves turning the helm hard to starboard until the heading of the ship reaches a 60 degree course change and then it’s thrown hard to port to complete a net 180 degree course change with the ship going back in it’s own wake. Compensation is made for each ship’s propulsion characteristics, the winds, and tides at that point on the sea. Nowadays that maneuver can be computer-assisted. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anderson_turn#The_Williams…

In a recent tragedy, a ship failed to rescue a “man overboard” in time because it took the ship so long to reverse course. Education faces a similar crisis today. The “man overboard” consists of  millions of students who are failing to acquire the education that they deserve. Standardized assessments continue to show that this achievement gap between the haves and have-nots is widening. Indeed, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.

The problem is not that educators can’t identify the “man overboard”; assessment data certainly does that job. The problem is motivational and has consequences. Turning the ship around for one lost soul disrupts the cruise for the many. Turning the ship around means acknowledging that mistakes have been made and that the old ways of doing things may not work anymore (if they ever did work). Turning the ship around requires much more work, a willingness to try new things, and a degree of discomfort among all stakeholders in the educational establishment. In particular, turning the ship around for teachers means differentiating instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of their students.

Following are 12 reasons why teachers resist differentiated instruction.

1. We tend to teach the way that we were taught. Teachers tend to value familiar instruction. “If it worked for me, it should work for my students” is a consistent rationale for choosing instructional materials and teaching strategies. However, most teachers tend to be the ones who caught on to traditional, undifferentiated instruction. What worked for us may not work for today’s culturally diverse students.

2. We tend to use the instructional materials that are prescribed (district adopted). We use these resources not because we have carefully examined all available resources to match them to the needs of our students, according to diagnostic data. We use these because there is pressure to do so from administrators, peers, or “the district.” Then, we cut and paste with add-on materials. We wind up diluting the impact of the original materials, especially in canned reading or math programs. For example, in the widely used “Open Court” reading program, many  teachers teach the kernel of the program, but ignore the “workshop” component that differentiates instruction and, instead, paste in supplemental direct instruction.

3. Newton’s First Law of Physics: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. Teachers continue to use what they have used before. Comfortable with the familiar materials and strategies, teachers rarely re-invent the wheel. Teachers tend to resist external forces, such as reading coaches, administrator mandates, and new teaching innovations because these forces take teachers out of their comfort zones. Differentiated instruction brings up a host of uncomfortable issues: classroom management issues, additional teacher preparation, additional grading and record keeping-just to scratch the surface.

4. Newton’s First Law of Physics: The converse of the law is that every object in a state of rest tends to remain at rest unless an external force is applied to it. Every teacher has issues of laziness. Teaching is an energy-zapping profession. Relationships with students, parents, administrators, and other teachers drain the reserves of any professional educator. Professional learning “opportunities” in differentiated instruction, added on to the end of a teaching day in a staff meeting or university course work for salary advancement crowded into an already-busy-life can become the straws that break the backs of the best camels. Anyone think teacher burn-out?

5. Although teachers prize their independence and academic freedom to teach how we want, we are generally conformists. Being part of the “team” means accepting instructional compromises. We all agree to teach this novel, we all agree to do test preparation, we all agree to use Cornell Notes, we all agree to use these assessments, we all agree… not to disagree too much. There is no “I” in team. Teachers who differentiate instruction necessarily minimize their time commitment to the agreed-to scope and sequence of instruction or the unit-ending common assessment. There is tremendous peer pressure to teach like everyone else and avoid differentiation.

6. Lack of preparation time direct impacts teacher inability to treat students as individuals. Differentiated instruction requires more planning time, more analysis time, and more re-teaching time. Teaching colleagues rarely have sufficient time to plan together and learn from each other-not to mention time to break down the counter-productive peer pressure toward conformity to the status quo.

7. The influence of university professors in teacher training programs and continuing education programs can inculcate a bias toward one instructional philosophy. Far from teaching teachers to weigh all options to effectively differentiate instruction, often times individual professors or institutions use their platforms to promote their own agendas.  These overt biases inflicted upon the captive audiences of teachers, who need units of instruction to teach and advance on the salary scale, cause teachers to be wary of change and reticent to try new teaching strategies. Furthermore, professors tend to focus on the theory, not the practice, and so teachers are not equipped to differentiate instruction within their classrooms.

8. Administrator-teacher relationships are optimally viewed as professional and collegial with differences simply being ones of roles and tasks. Practically, administrator-teacher are management and worker relationships. The fact that administrators wield the one-sided powers of evaluation and teacher grade-subject-or schedule assignment make teachers conform to some degree to the wishes and tone of the administration in any school. Teachers who don’t play the game to a certain degree may find their input marginalized or their services outsourced to another site.

Administrators tend to see the “big picture” and offer macro-management solutions such as curricular standards, intervention programs, and schedule options that track students according to ability. They don’t see the micro-management issues within the classroom, for example, that Johnny can’t read well and won’t learn to read well because the teacher can’t or won’t differentiate instruction.

9. Teachers of all age levels are pressured to cover the content, cover the standards, and cover the material that will appear on the standardized test. Teachers are evaluated on what and how they teach and cover the content, not on what the students learn. Differentiated instruction adjusts the focus from teaching to learning. Teachers’ mapping guides and instructional scopes and sequences are all about direct instruction of new content or group review of old content. Differentiated instruction requires re-learning content not-yet-mastered by students.

10. Teachers view the process of teaching as a matter of one’s own taste and relegated to secondary status compared to the teaching content. Differentiated instruction puts process and content on the same level playing field. How a student is taught becomes just as important as what is taught because the degree of success is measured by what is learned.

11. The emphasis on rigor with high standards has led  many teachers to abandon differentiated instruction. Teachers need to help students “catch up” through scaffolded instruction, while the students concurrently “keep up” with rigorous grade-level instruction. However, teachers often feel the pressure to do the latter at the expense of the former.

12. Standards-based instruction has made many teachers abandon differentiated instruction. Comprehensive standards and emphasis on teaching to standards-based tests has re-focused many teachers on the what of teaching at the expense of the how and why of teaching. For many teachers, teaching the “power standards,” that is the standards most often tested on the yearly test, are more important than teaching to the needs of individual students. As one colleague once told me, “My job is to teach the grade-level standards, if students have not yet mastered the previous years’ standards, that is the fault of their teachers. I have to do my job, not theirs.”

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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

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

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

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