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r-controlled Vowels for Big Kids

r-controlled Vowels

The r-controlled Vowels

Although r, l, and do control (change from the usual) the vowel sounds, most phonics programs only include the r-controlled vowels. I agree with this approach. Try watching an l-controlled or w-controlled video lesson on YouTube and your head will start spinning. Much better to include the l-controlled vowels in the context of other sounds, such as the /aw/ diphthong for “al” and “all” and the schwa for the “_le” word parts. The w-controlled vowels are so crazy that they are most-easily learned as outlaw words (sight words). I do recommend showing two w-controlled vowels patterns via spelling sorts: the war /or/ as in warm and the wor /er/ as in word. Most speech therapists agree with this balanced approach, and they are the sounds experts.

Following is the explicit, systematic approach to phonics acquisition via small group workshops from my reading intervention program. Download the entire set of r-controlled vowel lessons and assessment at the end of the article. Plus, get the complete set of FREE diagnostic 13 reading assessments to see which of your BIG KIDS need help with which phonics elements.

How to Teach r-Controlled Vowels

The r-controlled vowels of ar, er, and ir.

The r-controlled Vowels

Introductory Definition: When an follows a vowel, the r changes the sound that the vowel makes. The vowel is called an r-controlled vowel. Sometimes teachers refer to the r as the “bossy r” because the r “bosses” the vowel to make the vowel change its sound.

On our animal sound-spelling cards, the names of each card: ermine, armadillo, and orca each have an which controls the vowel sounds. Examples: /er/ as in her, /ar/ as in car, and /or/ as in for. The /er/ ermine has three different spellings, which can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of a syllable.

Teaching Tips

To teach phonics to big kids and adults, we have to teach differently than when we teach phonics to beginning readers. Your big kids and adults are smarter and have more life experience than pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. Intervention students have “heard it all before.” They just haven’t learned all of it.

I suggest a four-pronged approach to teaching r-controlled vowels to your reading intervention students:

1. Use the animal sound-spelling cards (provided for you in a FREE five-lesson long vowels download at the end of this article) to teach the names, sounds, and spellings in isolation.

2. Teach whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending for all of the r-controlled vowel spellings. Use a hurried pace, but blend every day until each has been mastered. Reinforce with games, using the diphthong cards to blend with the consonant and consonant blend cards.

3. Diagnose and gap-fill. If we use effective, comprehensive diagnostic assessments to determine what students know and don’t know and target instruction accordingly, students will much more likely buy-in to this individualized instruction (even when you use groups). Want my FREE 13 reading assessments, used by hundreds (or more) teachers to teach assessment-based gap-filling? BTW… the two phonics tests have audio files dictated by Yours Truly!

4. Use targeted practice to do the gap-filling and make sure your students have mastered the diphthongs through formative assessment. The FREE five-lesson download includes a short formative assessment. Be willing and able to re-teach if they don’t get it. After all, reading intervention is all about learning, not teaching.

Get the The r-controlled Vowels Lessons and Assessment FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Diphthongs for Big Kids

Teaching Diphthongs

Diphthongs RtI

Response to intervention reading teachers know that phonics instruction is critically important to fill in the gaps for older readers. Teachers use a variety of approaches to determine which phonics skills are missing from older students’ reading strategies. Diphthongs are quite often among these phonics deficits. Some teachers favor an implicit approach to discover these gaps, such as guided reading running records. Other teachers favor an explicit approach to this data via phonics assessments. I tend to be a broad-brush, cover all the angles kind of reading specialist with a balanced approach to reading intervention. What works for some kids doesn’t necessarily work for all kids.

Assessment

My Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books provide 54 custom running records and word fluency practice to allow teachers to discover reading deficits through reading, i.e. the implicit approach. My Vowel Sounds and Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessments provide the explicit approach to diagnose phonics deficits.

Instruction and Practice

The assessment-based instruction and practice in my comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program uses the implicit and explicit approaches as well. With the modeled expository reading fluencies (129 YouTube videos a 3 speeds) and connected comprehension worksheets, there are plenty of learn to read by reading practice activities. Additionally, the systematic and explicit sound-spellings blending, syllabication worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, and phonics workshops ensure that the reading intervention is targeted to assessment-based, identified student needs. As a sample of this program, a full set of five diphthong workshop lessons with a formative assessment is provided absolutely FREE at the end of this article.

A Balanced Approach to Reading Intervention

Older kids who didn’t get (or never got) phonics instruction the first time around deserve the assessments and practice that will ensure mastery this time. And, as an aside, my assessments and practice for word identification and recognition are balanced as well. In addition to five phonemic awareness assessments (and corresponding activities), the program also includes sight word, rimes (word families), and word part (syllable), assessments and activities.

Again, a multi-pronged approach is needed for the diverse student populations in any reading intervention class at any age. I’ve taught remedial reading and supervised reading programs for elementary, middle school, high school and community college. I’m here to say that reading intervention teachers have to be equipped to teach how students learn and that different approaches are necessary. As a further aside, I’m not talking about learning styles, multiple intelligences, or different modalities; I’m simply talking about varied approaches to reading instruction.

Following is the explicit, systematic approach to phonics acquisition via small group workshops from my reading intervention program. Download the entire set of diphthong lessons and assessment at the end of the article.

How to Teach Diphthongs

Introductory Definition: Unlike vowel digraphs, which say one sound, such as with “ai” as in train, a diphthong says two sounds, such as with “aw” in hawk.

On our animal sound-spelling cards, the names of each card: rooster, woodpecker, cow, koi, and hawk each use two vowel sounds. The diphthongs are written in purple on the cards with slashes (/) before and after to remind us that the diphthongs are sounds, not letters.

Each diphthong has more than one spelling. The most common spellings are listed below the names of the cards. A blank means that a consonant must go in there. A consonant is a different sound than a vowel and can be spelled with one or more letters.

Teaching Tips

To teach phonics to big kids and adults, we have to teach differently than when we teach phonics to beginning readers. Your big kids and adults are smarter and have more life experience than pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. Intervention students have “heard it all before.” They just haven’t learned all of it.

I suggest a four-pronged approach to teaching diphthongs to your reading intervention students:

1. Use the animal sound-spelling cards (provided for you in a FREE five-lesson long vowels download at the end of this article) to teach the names, sounds, and spellings in isolation.

2. Teach whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending for all of the diphthong spellings. Use a hurried pace, but blend every day until each has been mastered. Reinforce with games, using the diphthong cards to blend with the consonant and consonant blend cards.

3. Diagnose and gap-fill. If we use effective, comprehensive diagnostic assessments to determine what students know and don’t know and target instruction accordingly, students will much more likely buy-in to this individualized instruction (even when you use groups). Want my FREE 13 reading assessments, used by hundreds (or more) teachers to teach assessment-based gap-filling? BTW… the two phonics tests have audio files dictated by Yours Truly!

4. Use targeted practice to do the gap-filling and make sure your students have mastered the diphthongs through formative assessment. The FREE five-lesson download includes a short formative assessment. Be willing and able to re-teach if they don’t get it. After all, reading intervention is all about learning, not teaching.

Get the Diphthongs Phonics Workshop FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mastery Learning in RtI

Foundation of Mastery Learning

Fix the Foundation with Mastery Learning

I just finished watching a TED TALK by Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy. Sal was talking about mastery learning and the importance of building strong learning foundations before layering on additional information.

As I watched the video, I was thinking about why a stubborn 25% of most students in the upper elementary, middle, and high schools are reading two or more years below grade level.

Sal cites the example of a child who scores an average grade of 75% on a unit test. Most educators would accept 75% as an average score, and in fact most diagnostic assessments would accept 75—80% as mastery level; however, Sal points out the not knowing 25% of the test components is problematic. From the student’s perspective: “I didn’t know 25% of the foundational thing, and now I’m being pushed to the more advanced thing.”

When students try to learn something new that builds upon these shaky foundations, “they hit a wall… and “become disengaged.”

Sal likens the lack of mastery learning to shoddy home construction. What potential homeowner would be happy to buy a new home that has only 75% of its foundation completed (a C), or even 95% (an A)?

Of course, Sal is a math guy and math lends itself to sequential mastery learning more so than does my field of English-language arts and reading intervention. My content area tends to have a mix of sequential and cyclical teaching learning, as reflected in the structure of the Common Core State Standards. The author of the School Improvement Network site puts it nicely:

Many teachers view their work from a lens that acknowledges the cyclical nature of teaching and learning.  This teaching and learning cycle guides the definition of learning targets, the design of instructional delivery, the creation and administration of assessments and the selection of targeted interventions in response to individual student needs.

At this point, our article begins to beg the question: What if a shaky foundation is what we’re dealing with now? We can’t do anything about the past. Teachers can start playing the blame game and complain that we’re stuck teaching reading to students who missed key foundational components, such as phonics. All-too-often, response to intervention teachers are ignoring shaky foundations and are trying to layer on survival skills without fixing the real problems.

Instead, teachers should re-build the foundation. Teachers can figure out what is missing in the individual student skill-sets and fill the gaps… this time with mastery learning.

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies with the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. A key component of the program is our 13 diagnostic reading assessments. These comprehensive and prescriptive assessments will help response to intervention reading teachers find out specifically which reading and spelling deficits have created a shaky foundation for each of your students. I gladly share these FREE Reading Assessments with teachers and welcome your comments and questions.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Elizabeth Lewis

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fluency Assessment Problems

The Problem with Reading Fluency Assessments

The Problems with Fluency Assessments

The heart of effective reading intervention, whether in a comprehensive Response to Intervention (RtI) program, individual remedial reading classes, reading tutoring, or in-class literacy centers, guided reading, readers workshop, etc. is assessment-based instruction. The devil is in the details, especially with respect to the diagnostic (and placement) reading assessments. This article focuses on reading fluency assessments.

Background

As a reading specialist, I’ve worn three different hats in four different grade-level settings. My first hat has been worn as a district trainer of trainers and professional development instructor for elementary, middle, and high school teachers. My second hat has been worn as a site-level reading program diagnostician and supervisor at the eight elementary schools and one high school. My third hat has been worn as a reading intervention teacher in grades 4–6 elementary, grade 7 middle school, grade 9 high school, and the reading lab at a community college.

What I Learned

After earning my M.A. as a reading specialist, I began my three-hat, four grade-level setting career. I quickly learned that my grad school experience provided the theoretical framework, but not the tools (specifically the assessment tools) to ply my trade. As I learned and developed those assessment tools in the real world of teachers and their classrooms, I found that teachers were more than willing to try some new tools, but the tools had to be on their terms and conditions

Teacher Terms and Conditions

1. Minimal expenditure of assessment time including testing, correction, data recording, data analysis, progress monitoring, and grade-level or school-wide meetings.

2. Minimal expense for testing tools. Teachers prefer spending school and personal money on teaching, not testing, resources. After all, teachers got into the business to teach, not to test.

3. Teachable assessment tools. Teachers love meaningful and simple test data, but only quantitative data. Teachers don’t like the random sample tests that university professors produce. Teachers prefer comprehensive test data which identify learning gaps that teachers can tackle in their instruction. 

4. No evaluations based upon progress monitoring. Teachers are at different places on their learning curves and are teaching uncontrolled variables, that is their students, with behavioral issues, language challenges, soci0-economic issues, and school structures, such as time allotments for reading instruction, training, supplies, and administrative support.

I started making an impact on teachers and on my struggling readers when I accepted and applied these conditional terms for assessment-based instruction.

Brief Critique of Popular Fluency Assessments

To my mind, the most popular fluency assessment programs fail to meet some or all of these teacher terms and conditions: Dibels, aimsweb, and Read Naturally®. Their products are 1. Time-consuming 2. Expensive (Dibels being a partial exception) 3. Not simple, nor teachable (explanation follows) and 4. Too-amenable to evaluation of teachers, rather than their students.

The two aims of these diagnostic reading fluency assessments are to determine baseline data with regard to grade-level fluency scores and to establish a subsequent instructional fluency level to provide practice at the student’s proximal zone of development (Vygotsky). In other words, find out how the student compares to other grade-level reading fluency norms and figure out the reading levels that provide the optimal practice.

Sounds great in theory; however, I have doubts (as do most teachers) about the validity and practicality of these approaches to diagnostic fluency assessment. First, giving a grade-level fluency passage to a struggling reader introduces too many variables: vocabulary, multi-syllabic decoding, sentence length and construction to name a few. True that a sixth grader reading a sixth grade passage at 65 WCPM (words correct per minute) does have reading problems. However, to say that the data indicates a reading fluency deficiency is an over-reach and useless as a teachable tool for the teacher.

Jan Hasbrouk, co-author of the widely-used grades 1–8 fluency norms research labels diagnostic reading fluency assessments as a “canary in a coal mine.” She comments:

A score falling more than 10 words below the 50th percentile should raise a concern; the student may need additional assistance, and further assessments may be needed to diagnose the source of the below-average performance. Depending on the age of the student and any concerns about reading performance noted by the teacher or parents, such additional testing might include assessments of oral language development, phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, and/or comprehension (Hasbrouk).

I would agree that a diagnostic reading fluency assessment can be an important “canary,” but not a grade-level fluency.

Secondly, the time-consuming (even with computer software) task of determining the right fluency practice levels rests on some unproven assumptions. Since when does practicing the same thing (grade-level passages) over and over again (even at so-called challenge levels) prepare the student for something more difficult (the next reading grade level)? For example, if I asked my math specialist friend about how she would remediate students’ multiplication deficits, I sincerely doubt if she would advise a third grade teacher to solely require students to practice the 1–5’s repeatedly (even with the challenging 4 x 5) until mastery before moving on to the 1–10’s. At some point the teacher needs to help students practice the next level before or they never are going to get to the rest of the table, nor make sense of the whole.

As an aside, the same criticism and caution can be applied to the use of leveled readers. Controlled vocabulary may provide a certain level of access to students, but it also limits progress. Plus, don’t even get me (and other teachers) started about the scientific differences (Lexiles) for short fluency practice passages. Lastly, my take is that expository diagnostic reading fluency assessments present a much better picture of the reading most grades 3–adult students are exposed to in the classroom.

An Alternative Diagnostic Fluency Assessment

The Pets Fluency Assessment: 1. Quick 2. FREE 3. Simple and Teachable 4. Non-Evaluative Expository Article

The “Pets” fluency passage is an expository article leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second-grade level; the third paragraph is at the third-grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level that builds confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language through successive approximation. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity.

1. Quick: Although two-minutes, rather than the traditional one-minute, no follow-up instructional level assessments need to be administered, graded, and recorded. Experienced teachers recognize that two minutes provides a much better indicator than a one-minute timing. One itch or word stumble can ruin a one-minute score.

2. FREE: Click below and I will send you the directions, student copy, and teacher copy with word counts.

3. SIMPLE: When I look at the directions for the popular reading fluency assessments critiqued above, I am shocked at the grading complexity. I’ve used them and find them difficult to mark while concurrently paying attention to the students’ prosody (qualitative factors such as expression, intonation, attention to punctuation). The directions for the Pets Fluency Assessment are simple. Para-professionals and parents can certainly administer this assessment with fidelity.

TEACHABLE: The  two-minute timing allow teachers to see how students read increasingly difficult text and to gain a good gut level feel for the students’ independent reading levels, as well as other reading deficits, such as sight words and phonics. After all, there’s no better reading assessment than reading.

4. Non-Evaluative: The Pets Fluency Assessment is diagnostic and teachable. It’s design is one and done. Teachers rightly complain that other fluency programs using increasingly difficult benchmark reading fluencies (typically monthly or quarterly), compare apples to oranges. If the teacher (administrator or parent or reading coach) is curious about reading progress, the reading sub-skills to fluency (such as decoding) are much better indicators.

Check out the author’s reading intervention program resources, including the Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

The Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

Of course the toolkit provides the Pets Fluency Assessment… plus 43 expository animal fluency articles, each marked with words per line to help students monitor their own fluency progress. At last! Quality fluency practice in the expository (not narrative) genre. Reading experts agree that students need extensive reading practice in the expository domain to internalize the text structure and multi-syllabic vocabulary of social studies and science textbooks. Not to mention the expository articles found on standardized tests. Yes, fluency timing charts are provided. Plus, each of the 43 fluency articles has been recorded at three different reading speeds to provide the appropriate challenge level for each of your students. This toolkit provides the YouTube links to these 129 modeled readings.

This toolkit also provides 43 corresponding animal comprehension worksheets with content-specific comprehension questions listed in the margins next to the relevant text. These low-higher order thinking questions ask readers to summarize, connect, re-think, interpret, and predict (the SCRIP comprehension strategy) to promote reader dialog with the text. Students practice self-monitoring their own reading comprehension as they read.

Get the Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

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Reading Fluency Norms

New Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms

As we all know, reading fluency is highly correlated with reading comprehension. Of course it makes so much sense that if readers can read quickly with expression, accuracy, and attention to punctuation, they will more likely understand what they read than if they don’t have these skill sets. Now it is certainly true that veteran teachers and reading specialists will no doubt have run across an exception or two in their careers. I have tested children and adults with brilliant reading fluency, but poor comprehension. Conversely, I have run across slow, stumbling, readers with monotone expression who seem to understand and remember every single detail.

This being said, reading fluency assessments are universally recognized as important initial looks into how a reader processes text. Unlike other measures, such as comprehension and vocabulary assessments, reading fluency assessments give the classroom teacher and diagnostician not only qualitative, but also quantitative data. We love numbers!

As an elementary reading specialist in a large school district in Northern California, I learned (with my colleagues) the value of comparing student fluency scores in grade-level text to grade-level norms. We had two research studies on group norms for Words Read per Minute (WRPM) to rely upon: those by University of Oregon researchers, Hasbrouck and Tindal (1992, 2006). However, these studies provided data for students from grades 2–5.

When I moved into the middle school setting as an ELA and reading intervention teacher, I (and others) was tough out of luck. No group norms for grades 6–8. Of course, I still designed reading fluency assessments and helped students practice reading fluency, but I was flying blind. Until 2006 when the same two researchers added on grades 6–8 reading fluency norms. Woo hoo!

The same two researchers, Hasbrouck and Tindal, have now (2017) have replicated their initial study for grades 1–6. Following is the latest data, i.e. 2017 for grades 1–6 and 2006 for 6–8. Afterwards, read the concise explanation of the tables by Jan Hasbrouck. Note the “middle school slump” in the second chart.

Grades 1-6 Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms Grades 1-6

Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies Comprehensive Reading Intervention Program

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grades 7-8 Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms Grades 7-8

 

 

 

 

 

“Oral reading fluency norms identify performance benchmarks at the beginning (fall), middle (winter), and end (spring) of the year. An individual student’s WCPM score can be compared to these benchmarks and determined to be either significantly above benchmark, above benchmark, at the expected benchmark, below benchmark, or significantly below benchmark. Those students below or significantly below benchmark are at possible risk of reading difficulties. They are good candidates for further diagnostic assessments to help teachers determine their skill strengths or weaknesses, and plan appropriately targeted instruction and intervention” (Hasbrouck, 2010). http://www.brtprojects.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/TechRpt_1702ORFNorms_Fini.pdf

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

Books for Struggling Readers

Phonics Books for Struggling Readers

Books for Struggling Readers

As a reading specialist, I’ve had the opportunity to work with students at the full spectrum of age groups from preK to adult ed. My passion has always been to help struggling readers, especially older readers. You find these students in reading intervention classes, ESL/ELD/ELL programs, special education classes, and learning centers.

Ask any reading teacher, who’s been there and done that, what is the key correlate to reading improvement for older struggling readers and you’ll hear the word, motivation, more often than not.

Long ago I learned the power of motivation upon student achievement. It took me awhile. In my sixth year of teaching I made a study of two teachers teaching my same subject, who were getting better results than I. I sat in their classes during my prep. Initially, I was confused.

“I’m at least as good as Mr. S,” I thought, “and I’m much better than Mr. B.”

I’ve never been diagnosed as “self-esteem deficient.”

However, I cornered some of Mr. S’s and Mr. B’s kids during passing periods and asked them, “What makes you succeed in his class?”

It was motivation. Mr. S loved kids and they knew it. He had the relationships in and out of class that made his students want to learn. Mr. B had a different approach: the behavioral approach of carrot and stick. Rewards and fear made his students have to learn.

I couldn’t be either teacher; Lame as it sounds: I had to be me. It took me years of experimenting and quite a few humbling make-overs to begin motivating some of my students.

My secret? What works for me is a constant self-reminder that I am teaching students, not reading. To really teach struggling readers how to improve their reading, teachers need to know what makes them tick and adapt instruction and teaching resources accordingly. For your struggling readers, you need the books that will motivate these older kids to read.

Even though I mentioned that I am not “self-esteem deficient,” my struggling readers certainly are. Despite the apathetic “I don’t care” self-defense mechanisms of most struggling readers, they really do care that they aren’t like the rest of their peers. No one want to stand out as a poor reader. I’ve never heard the most unreachable fourth grader, middle schooler, high schooler, or community college adult (and I’ve taught them all) say, “I’m a poor reader and proud of it.”

My main point in this article is to get reading teachers to be hypersensitive to the effects of motivation on learning to read. Specifically, we have got to stop unintentionally tearing away at the self-esteem of our struggling readers.

Take a moment to look at your teaching resources. Do they match the age of your students?

I just finished a comment on a teacher’s post asking for feedback on her self-authored ESL teaching resources and chapter books. I was struck by the beautiful cover illustrations. I previewed the book internal pages and the graphics and pictures were so professional. However, the images were perfectly appropriate for beginning readers, not her target grades 4‒8 age group. Struggling readers certainly do judge a book by its cover. Hopefully, my comments maintained a complimentary/constructive balance. Her self-esteem matters, as well!

ESL/ELD/ELL, special education, reading intervention, and adult ed learners need reading resources and books that motivate them to learn, not humiliate them into shutting down or acting out in the classroom.

Yes, these materials are hard to find.

I sell two products, Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books and the Teaching Reading Strategies comprehensive reading intervention program that have been designed to motivate struggling readers.

The former product (54 eight-page booklets) uses teenage (non big-head) cartoons and plots. The illustrator, David Rickert, is a high school ELA teacher and we were both sensitive to ensuring that our visuals matched the maturity of our focus age group.

The latter product includes sound-spelling cards like most other reading programs. However, I selected animals as an ageless theme and photographs, not illustrations, to appeal to older kids.

Teaching Reading Strategies Reading Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

 

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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?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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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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