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Reading Counts! Claims and Counterclaims

Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts!

AR or RC?

The purpose of this article on Reading Counts! is threefold: 1. To briefly summarize the basics of the Reading Counts! (RC) independent reading management program 2. To analyze three key claims made by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMS) regarding the efficacy of the RC (formerly Scholastic Reading Counts!) program and provide counterclaims by reading researchers, librarians, students, teachers, and Yours Truly. 3. To promote my own reading intervention program at the end of the article with free teaching resources 🙂

Background

I previously ventured into the deep waters of independent reading management programs a number of years ago with my article, The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader. Accelerated Reader™ is the most popular independent reading management program with 180,000 book titles (January 2019) assigned a Reading Practice Quiz. RC is the second place challenger with 45,000. Teacher comments on my article tend to focus more on the abuses of the program, and less so on the program itself. Many teachers are quite defensive about their use of the AR program. Understandably so. We teachers view our instructional choices as reflections of our professionalism. Curriculum is personal. In anticipation of similar comments to this article on Reading Counts!, I would like to preemptively respond by saying, “I’m sure that you are doing your part to adapt the Reading Counts! program to the needs of your kids, and I respect your professional judgment that you know your students best.” Please don’t shoot the messenger! However, as I re-read “The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader” in preparation for this article, I would have to say that most of the problems in the AR program are applicable to the RC program, as well. I won’t cover the same ground in this article. However, I will analyze three of the claims made in the RC program, which I see as being more exclusive to this program. But first, a brief overview of how the RC program works.

How Reading Counts! Works

  • A school or district pays a school start-up fee of $375.00 and is assigned a sales representative. The RC software management program is licensed for an annual fee of $4.00 per student (a lower price for 2019). The reading placement and monitoring assessment, recently re-named the Reading Inventory (RI), costs an additional $4.00 per student. So, if my math is correct, that’s $4,000.00 for a 500 student elementary school every year. Plus, more money…
  • The school and/or district re-allocate portions of their budgets to purchase books included within the RC program. Currently, RC has about 45,000 titles, but unlike the books in the AR program, the company makes money from each sale, because HMH publishes them! These purchases will necessarily become an every-year budget item. 
  • The HMS sales representative in-services school librarians, teachers, and administrators (lots of online help, as well) on how to implement the RC program. Suggestions as to how to inform and work with parents and corresponding resources are provided. The program resources are relatively easy to use, but time-consuming.
  • The classroom teacher or librarian administers the computer-adaptive Reading Inventory (RI) as a reading placement test to all students participating in the RC program. This test provides a Personal LexileÂŽ score for each student.
  • Teachers use the Student Achievement Manager (SAM) data and management system to generate student and class reports. The reports list the results of the RI as a Personal LexileÂŽ number (level or measure) for each student and a class Lexile average. A higher Lexile number indicates a higher reading level ability.
  • The reports also list the students’ optimal Lexile text readability levels (a numerical range). A text’s Lexile level is determined by its semantic and syntactic degree of difficulty and sentence length. Once students know their reading levels, they can select books from the Search Book Expert Online ,within these reading levels. Although the RC is a Lexile-based program, it also includes grade-level equivalency and guided reading levels in this search engine. Additional filters include grade-level interest (K–2, 3–5, 6–8, high school, and high interest/intervention), fiction and non-fiction, subject areas, genre, and curriculum-integrated books. Note that the HMS reading intervention programs, READ 180 Next GenerationÂŽ and System 44Ž include some RC titles for their independent reading rotations.
  • Teachers and students set reading goals in terms of a point system. Each book is assigned a specific point value based upon its length and text complexity. Many teachers establish a monthly points requirement.
  • Once students have finished their books, they take a corresponding quiz on the computer, or the teacher may choose to print the quiz. Although the test bank for each quiz includes 30 items, the default number of questions is 10. The RC authors and sales representatives make much ado about the larger quiz bank of questions compared to that of the AR program. They claim that is less easy for students to cheat due to the randomized 10 question default when students are sitting side-by-side. This may be true; however, a quick search indicated plenty of RC quiz “cheat sites,” as are found with the AR program. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Students are allowed to examine their incorrect responses, but there is no pay-off for doing so if the quiz re-takes use different questions. 
  • If the students achieve a predetermined score (mastery criteria set by the teacher), they receive a “congratulations screen” and an opportunity to rate the book they read on the “Read-o-Meter.” Students can also check their own RC Student Progress Report. Points are awarded based upon the percentage of quiz questions answered correctly. If the students do not achieve mastery, the teacher may require them to read the book again and retest or re-visit the students’ RI Lexile level range and the level and content of the book. Students are able to take the 10-question quiz 3 times, because there are 30 questions.
  • Teachers generate reports on students’ quiz scores and track the amount of reading and student test scores. They can also receive alerts when a student has not taken a quiz within a given period.
  • Once individual student point goals (usually set monthly) have been mastered, the student receives a certificate of achievement.
  • The Reading Counts! Educator’s Guide provides plenty of reproducibles to supplement the quizzes, such as reading logs, story charts, book reports, parent letters (in several languages), and guides for teachers to write their own quizzes (if the school library does not have the RC book).

Claims and Counterclaims

Claim 1: Students improve their reading more when the complexity of the text they read matches their reading ability. The best test to measure that optimal match or zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978)? The HMH Reading Inventory. Why? The RI is a criterion (compared to a fixed goal, such as a Common Core Standard) and norm-referenced (compared to other students) test. This is important because the test design allows teachers to administer the RI twice more within the school year to monitor progress. The Lexiles, which RI uses, have improved readability assessments (standard errors of measurement have been minimized and the amount of comprehension variance that can be explained by text difficulty has been improved. Accelerated Reader’s STAR test doesn’t have those advantages.

Counterclaim: Given that the RI is state of the art, in terms of Lexile levels and matching students to texts, and given that the ability to administer the test three times per year does provide a valid measure to monitor progress. But, the entire design of the RC programs begs the question. It assumes what has yet to be proven. As noted reading researcher, Dr. Tim Shanahan asserts,

…Lexiles have greatly improved readability assessment … and yet we are in no better shape than before since there are no studies indicating that if you teach students at particular Lexile levels more learning will accrue. http://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/shanahan-on-literacy/teaching-books-students-reading-levels

…we have put way too much confidence in an unproven theory. The model of learning underlying that theory is too simplistic. Learning to read is an interaction between a learner, a text, and a teacher. Instructional level theory posits that the text difficulty level relative to the student reading level is the important factor in learning. But that ignores the guidance, support, and scaffolding provided by the teacher. [In doing so, educators] have striven to get kids to levels where they will likely learn best with minimal teacher support. https://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/rejecting-instructional-level-theory

Matching the right books to readers is simply more complex than the quantitative Lexile approach RC uses. Content, theme, and sophistication of thought matter, as well as the age and maturity of the reader are critically important factors to consider when students select books for independent reading. Most would find the following strictly quantitative Lexile measurements, listed in parentheses, to be inappropriate criteria for these grade levels.

  • 2nd Grade: Night – Wiesel (570)
  • 3rd Grade: The Sun Also Rises – Hemingway (610); Twisted – Anderson (680); Incarceron – Fisher (600)
  • 4th Grade: Grapes of Wrath – Steinbeck (680); The Color Purple – Walker (670)
  • 5th Grade: For Whom the Bell Tolls – Hemingway (840); Kite Runner – Hosseini (840); A Farewell to Arms – Hemingway (730); Cat’s Cradle – Vonnegut (790)
  • 6th Grade: As I Lay Dying – Faulkner (870); The Sound and the Fury – Faulkner (870); To Kill a Mockingbird – Lee (870); Fahrenheit 451 – Bradbury (890)

http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?p=8891

Additionally, the authors of the Common Core State Standards, with their emphases on text complexity, specifically challenge the notion that reading instruction should focus solely on texts at student ability levels. The authors cite research suggesting that with such scaffolds as close reading, even struggling readers can access significantly more complex text than that to which they have been traditionally given access. https://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Implementation%20-%20Issues%20With%20a%20Leveled-Only%20Text%20Approach[1].pdf

“Below are bibliographic citations for the 26 studies referenced in Shanahan (2014) regarding students making gains with more complex text when given appropriate scaffolding. In addition abstracts and full-text PDF’s of all studies are available as well. These references were provided by Shanahan in “Building Up To FrustrationLevel Text” in Reading Today Online available here:”

https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2014/09/02/building-up-to-frustration-level-text

Furthermore, reading research has repeatedly demonstrated the important variable of prior knowledge with respect to reading comprehension. When readers have significant prior knowledge on a topic, familiarity with the genre, or experience with the author’s writing style, even high Lexile level texts can be accessible. Prior knowledge and scaffolding relevant content and context can often trump the quantitative challenges of complex semantic and syntactic text for students.

Motivation is another significant variable in matching readers to text that can override the limitations of the RC Lexile levels. My youngest son was in 4th grade when the last Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out. Clearly, the quantitative Lexile level of 880 should have prevented his MA reading specialist father (me) from purchasing this “frustration level” book. Instead, I dutifully ignored the quantitative data and waited in line with my fourth grader for the midnight release of this treasured book. My son plowed through the book with a high level of comprehension. By the end of fourth grade, my son was reading significantly above grade level. Thanks to motivational influence of J.K. Rowling and the dozens of peers who were concurrently reading and discussion that book during recess.

Others would agree that reader motivation is far more important than instructional reading levels in book selection. From Ricki Ginsberg’s article, “This is my Anti-Lexile, Anti-Reading Level Post” (Ginsberg is Assistant Professor of English Education at Colorado State University):

I’m a 6th grader and when I took a Lexile test for my grade, I got stuck with books I hate so much. We had to search for books in my Lexile. I am so bored of those books. I want to read whatever I want to.

I took my grandson (a few years ago) to his book fair to purchase some books with him. He chose a few, and then we went back to his classroom to get his things, where I met his teacher. She took a look at the books he had chosen, and was excited about, and said, “Oh, I think these are too hard for you. You need to choose ones more at your level.” She didn’t know that I was a teacher, and I didn’t tell her. I almost hit her, but I didn’t do that either. She was the one who pretty much stopped his excitement about reading…

As a librarian, I have fought for years against leveling books. I was supported my district years ago against AR, but my job as a librarian was shifted to support classroom curriculum instead of supporting reading enjoyment, reference process, and library skills. Now a new deputy superintendent, whose old District used a Lexile based reading program, is spending money on a program that is Lexile leveled. While library books are hardly given any budget money, tens of thousands are being spent… The skills that teachers built by learning how to “fit” a book to a student and teaching students to self-select challenging and interesting reading material is being prostituted to paying publishers for poorly written formulaic books dressed up with attractive level numbers. It is a disservice to our students that ultimately destroys their confidence in becoming independent readers.

Unshelved

Used with permission www.unshelved.com

Claim 2: RC provides the accountability to ensure that students are reading independently.

At the heart of this powerful program is the practice provided by its quizzes. Unlike other reading assessment programs, no two quizzes in Reading Counts! are the same, struggling readers have the opportunity to retake quizzes, and quiz settings can be customized based on individual students’ needs for extra support or challenge. This quiz quality leads to more accurate and actionable data to keep students on track for success.

[Reading Counts!] automatically generates a quiz that meets each student’s reading needs. Because every quiz provides a true formative, curriculum-based assessment, As a computer-based program, RC provides immediate feedback and unique opportunities for mastery. Students can review questions that were incorrectly answered. Because each quiz is drawn from a database of up to 30 questions, students not showing an expected level of mastery can retake quizzes with a different set of questions. Research shows that when students are provided with immediate feedback, they are able to self-correct and make academic progress (Branford, Goldman & Vye 1991). https://www.hmhco.com/programs/reading-counts

Counterclaim: While the reading research is clear that students who read independently are significantly more likely to outperform peers who do not read on their own (Anderson, Wilson & Fielding 1998), and those who read more independently score higher on reading tests compared to those who read less (Juel, 1988; Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Stanovich, 1986), the research does not support the claim of the RC authors and editorial board that the type of accountability that the program uses (quizzes) is necessary to achieve optimal reading gains.

Each of the 45,000 RC quizzes includes a test bank of 30 questions. They are primarily recall questions with some vocabulary and a minimum number of inferential questions. Few of the questions are relevant to the big ideas or themes of the corresponding books. In essence, the quizzes are designed to hold students accountable for reading their books.

Some researchers such as Dr. Stephen Krashen, argue that free voluntary reading, without accountability, produces greater reading gains than independent reading programs with accountability, as with the quizzes in the RC program. You may wish to check out my dialogue with Dr. Krashen on in-class independent reading and accountability. I disagree with Dr. Krashen and support independent reading with accountability.

My take is that we teachers have much better methods to hold students accountable for independent reading that also reinforce effective reading practice. For example, as a middle school teacher, I use online peer book clubs and student-parent discussions for my middle school students. I’ve also taught high school ELA and supervised elementary teachers doing the same. Plenty of accountability and practice, using the motivating social nature of reading. And no in-class independent reading. It’s all homework. I’m no guru, but I’m persistent, and I get between 80–90% participation (more the first semester than the last).

I teach students and their parents how to self-select reading, informed, but not limited by word recognition measures. However, challenging books need not be the only books students read. Reading at multiple levels has clear advantages and reflects real-world reading. I also train students how to discuss their reading in their online book clubs with their peers (one daily post and two comments required using the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks… download follows… to prompt), and I pop in to add my 2 cents. At Back-to-School Night (I require at least one family member to attend, and arrange infinite make-up sessions until I meet with every parent or guardian), I train adults how to hold 3-minute student-led reading discussions and parents assign points for their kid’s 5-days-per-week independent reading and discussion. I’m in a lower, poverty-challenged school with 75% free and reduced lunch, multi-ethnic, multi-languages, etc. If you have tricks up your sleeves to hold students accountable for reading that don’t require additional teacher correction or huge amounts of time, please add to the comments section of this post. At the end of this article, I link to a nicely organized list of articles and free resources for ELA and reading intervention teachers with quite a few more ideas on independent reading.

In the RC program, the SAM management system tracks individual and class quiz scores and also the number of words students have read in each book. If a student doesn’t pass the quiz after three attempts, she or he loses credit for having read the book. This means that the number of words the student has read is not tallied, and the student doesn’t receive a reward certificate as quickly. If it’s the independent reading that reinforces comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, and fluency, why doesn’t the student receive credit for doing so? The bottom line is that students receive positive reinforcement for mastering quizzes, not for reading. Reading is not rewarded; passing the quizzes is.

Claim 3: RC EMPOWERS educators with reports and actionable data at the student, school and district level. As a supplementary reading program, RC REINFORCES comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency skills. 

Counterclaims: The reports do provide information to the teacher regarding who read what, at what Lexile levels, how many pages read, what quiz scores were achieved, who hasn’t taken a quiz for awhile (alerts), and more. Plenty of information about what your students are and are not doing with respect to their independent reading. All interesting information, but information which takes time to input, analyze, and report (whoever says that technology is a time-saver is crazy); and information which RI administrators (like your principal) can access and compare to that of your colleagues. Although not advocated by the authors of the RC program, most teachers do use this data in various ways to provide incentives for participation in terms of rewards and/or grades. Of course, the incentives can become problematic. See my article, The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader for examples. In short, the SAM reports do provide data collection and management functions (ones which could be done by paper and pencil or a simple ExcelÂŽ spreadsheet in less time at no cost); however, none of these data informs reading instruction.

Next, let’s take a look at the claim about empowering educators with actionable data. Remember, the two assessments of the RC program are the three-times per year, Lexile-based HMH Reading Inventory (used for initial placement and subsequent progress monitoring) and the 45,000 quizzes. To my mind, actionable data should mean teachable data derived from prescriptive assessments that are reliable and valid. Let’s examine whether these two assessments provide information which is teachable.

For example, let’s say the students in your class take the RI during the first week of school. One of your bright students, Amanda, scores an above grade-level Personal Lexile score of 700, while  your class average is 550. With the SAM management software, you are able to use that data to match readers to books. However, other than that use (which we’ve already shown to be of questionable value), those initial RI Lexile scores provide no data to inform our reading instruction. On the RI given 3 months later, Amanda improves to a 750 and her average quiz scores from 80–90%, but your class averages the same 550 Lexile level and has not improved its 70% quiz average.

What does that data indicate? Something appears to be helping Amanda improve her reading, but we have no idea what it is. It could be the RC program; it could be the independent reading, itself; it could be the reading instruction you are doing in class, though you may not know exactly what instruction is helping; it could be what her parents are doing at home. Regarding your class, average Lexile and quiz scores, something appears not to be working. But what is the something so we can do something about it? We don’t know. You could look at subgroups and find out that your girls have improved more than your boys, or one ethnic group over the other, etc. But how does the Lexile and quiz data inform our instruction? The short answer? It doesn’t. The RI and quizzes provide no information about which reading skills have not yet been mastered and which have been mastered by Amanda or class as a whole. Neither assessment offers the teacher any specific data regarding what to teach and what not to teach. So why test if it does not provide actionable data?

A good question. Of course, teachers have been creating diagnostic and formative assessments for years that do inform their reading instruction in specific sub-skills. Good teachers are more than willing to test when the data pinpoints what needs to be taught and practiced and what does not require repeated instruction. Like many teachers, I’ve developed my own assessments to inform my instruction. I’ve written and field tested 13 diagnostic reading assessments with recording matrices and audio files, which provide teachable data. I provide them free of charge to help your students, and because some teachers would prefer not to re-invent the wheel by creating their teaching resources to correspond to each assessment item. Yes, you can buy those instructional resources from Pennington Publishing. Simply click the link and look in the header to download and print the free assessments. Additionally, skim the Articles and Resources to find over 700 articles of interest to the ELA and reading teacher, including a slew of articles on how to create your own no-cost independent reading program that I think does a better job for students than either the Accelerated Reader™ and Reading Counts! programs.

Both the Accelerated Reader™ and Reading Counts! program authors are careful to label their independent reading management programs as supplementary programs, as they should. However, as every teacher knows, instructional time is reductive: if you add on this, you have to take away that. Because both programs are designed for in-class and home practice, AR and RC supplant other instruction, most always reading instruction. Accepting at face value the RC claim that RC REINFORCES comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency skills, my question to teachers would be… Which would help your students improve their reading more? REINFORCING or TEACHING? Feel free to download my SCRIP Comprehension Strategies TEACHING resource at the end of this article as a reward for slogging through this rather long diatribe. I look forward to your comments.

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive assessment-based reading intervention curriculum, the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE. 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. Phonological awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, fluency (with 128 YouTube modeled readings), spelling, vocabulary and comprehension. The 54 accompanying guided reading phonics books each have comprehension questions, a focus sound-spelling pattern, controlled sight words, a 30-second word fluency, a running record, and cleverly illustrated cartoons by David Rickert to match each entertaining story. These resources provide the best reading intervention program at a price every teacher can afford.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Check out the quality of these programs with a resource which works for both grade-level and struggling readers to improve internal monitoring of reading: 

These five FREE lessons will help you teach the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies for both grade-level and struggling readers. This FREE download is sent safe and secure to your email, and includes a set of SCRIP Posters and Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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Mechanics Quiz for Teachers

Mechanics Quiz for ELA Teachers

Mechanics Quiz for Teachers

See how much you know about mechanics (commas, capitalization, quotation marks, colons, apostrophes, semicolons, punctuation, etc.) by taking the 10 Question Mechanics Quiz for Teachers. Don’t worry; I’ll dispense with the usual “If you score 9 or 10 out of 10, you are…” Let’s keep things fun! Take out a pen and some scratch paper. Number from 1‒10.

I selected quiz items from the grades 4‒8 Common Core Anchor Standards for Language.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.7.2

Common Core Language Strand Standards

Common Core Anchor Standards for Language

Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Note: The Common Core authors call these components language conventions (along with Standard 1 grammar). Helpful links follow each question if you want to learn explore the grammatical topics.

The answers to the multiple-choice questions follow my promotional materials to ensure that you glance at my grammar and mechanics programs. Okay, so you’re probably not going to get all of these answers correct. I’m sure it’s just the way I’ve phrased the questions and/or answers. I would be happy to explain any of the distractors. Comments are welcomed (not welcome).

Mechanics Quiz for Teachers

1. According to the serial (Oxford) comma rule, which sentence is incorrectly punctuated?

A. Rafael, Louis and Tom met Luisa and Pablo at the coffee shop.

B. Choose the desk, table, or the huge, ugly chair for your apartment.

C. The bright morning sky, cool breeze, and warm company improved my mood.

D. I like most breeds of small dogs, but prefer cats, birds, and hamsters as pets.

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/the-serial-oxford-comma-for-the-want-of-a-nail/

2. According to compound sentence comma rules, which sentence is correctly punctuated?

A. Do you want donuts, or would you prefer scones?

B. Although frequently attacked by her critics, Alyssa continued to press for change.

C. I met Allen and we biked through the park.

D. The teacher was available from noon until three yet neither Jesse, nor Holly, wanted help.

http://grammartips.homestead.com/compoundsentences.html

3. According to introductory phrase comma rules, which sentence is incorrectly punctuated?

A. Through snow and sleet the postal carrier slogged the mail to our houses.

B. Compared to Mike, Huang, and Emily, the other students were quite prepared.

C. Tall and tan, the young man bore a striking resemblance to the actor.

D. Under my bed, I hid my baseball card collection.

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/03/

4. According to dependent (subordinate) clause comma rules, which sentence is correctly punctuated?

A. Whichever you choose, is fine with me.  B. Since you left, he has never been the same though he has received constant care.

C. I still received excellent service in spite of the delays.  D. Even though, she was ready on time, Suzanne still missed the appointment.

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar/punctuation-the-comma-and-the-apostrophe/commas-in-space-and-time/v/commas-and-introductory-elements-the-comma-punctuation-khan-academy

5. According to proper noun capitalization rules, which sentence is incorrectly punctuated?

A. Marvin “The Shark” Bentley had been brought up on racketeering charges by the District Attorney.

B. He was interrogated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation twice during the Cold War.

C. The U.S. Constitution specifies “High Crimes And Misdemeanors” as grounds for impeachment in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 5.

D. I saw the President of the United States speak at the Capitol on the Fourth of July.

https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/capitalizing-proper-nouns

6. According to abbreviation and acronym rules, which sentence is correctly punctuated?

A. David has worked outside of the U.S. in many foreign countries, but he now works for NASA.

B. Ms. Jennifer Jenkins, MD, went AWOL from Dr. Master’s practice.

C. Ikeda awoke to the screaming alarm at 6:00 A.M.

D. She earned her MA in Curriculum Development at U.C.L.A.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/about-words-clauses-and-sentences/abbreviations-initials-and-acronyms

7. According to quotation rules, which sentence is incorrectly punctuated?

A. I want to read the final chapter, “Return of the King,” before I go to sleep.

B. In The Declaration of Independence, did Jefferson say “…all men are created equal?”

C. He asked, “What did Dr. King mean in the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by the phrase ‘free at last’?”

D. “Blowin’ in the Wind” was released on the 1963 album, Freewillin’ Bob Dylan.

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/22-quotation-mark-rules/ 

8. According to apostrophe rules, which sentence is correctly punctuated?

A. The wives’ dinner at the Jones’ place, followed by dessert at the Martins, showed off the women’s best recipes.

B. Bob and Jolene’s recipe was more popular than her’s.

C. Ethan and Mary’s reactions to the business proposal were quite different.

D. Charles’ books were found on the bookshelves at the Sanchez’s.

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/621/01

9. According to semicolon rules, which sentence is incorrectly punctuated?

A. All their work was wasted; the fund was depleted; and they had no future prospects.

B. Desmond asked for more than his fair share; Mark wondered why the paint would not dry.

C. She did absolutely none of the work; I did it all.

D. Dexter spent time in Chico and Redding in Northern California; El Cajon and San Diego in Southern California; and Visalia and Merced in Central California.

http://www.grammar-monster.com/lessons/semicolons_in_lists.htm 

10. According to colon rules, which sentence is correctly punctuated?

A. His list of accomplishments include: a marathon time of 4:25:34, a key to the city, and a blue ribbon at the Alabama State Fair.

B. I loved listening to “The Great Adventure: landing on the Moon” on my new phone.

C. The politician outlined three goals: A tax on steel imports, a single-payer health care system, and a higher minimum wage.

D. A whale is not a fish: nor is it a crustacean.

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/colon-2/ 

Want to take the 10 Question Grammar Quiz for Teachers? Check it out after you self-correct your mechanics quiz.

Answers: 1. A    2. D    3. D    4. C    5. A    6. A    7. B    8. A    9. B    10. C

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School Programs

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, and the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

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

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Programs

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides 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 the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

The program 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.

Check out the brief introductory video and enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716 at check-out for 10% off this value-priced program. We do sell print versions of the teacher’s guide and student workbooks. Contact mark@penningtonpublishing.com for pricing. Read what teachers are saying about this comprehensive program:

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. I’m teaching all of the grade-level standards and remediating previous grade-level standards. The no-prep and minimal correction design of this program really respects a teacher’s time. At last, I’m teaching an integrated program–not a hodgepodge collection of DOL grammar, spelling and vocabulary lists, and assorted worksheets. I see measurable progress with both my grade-level and intervention students. BTW… I love the scripted lessons!

─Julie Villenueve

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Assessment-based Re-teaching

Re-teach with Assessment-based Curriculum

There’s Still Time to Re-teach

Sometimes the simplest things stop teachers in their tracks. A number of years ago a conference speaker (can’t remember whom) said,

Good teachers care more about learning than teaching.

I heard more than one audible gulp from the audience and, although mine was silent, it was just as loud for me. It just hit me. I cared more about the quality of what I taught and how I taught it, than what the students needed to learn and if the students learned it. The focus isn’t a distinction without a difference. It’s a game-changer.

I was in the middle of a reading specialist masters degree program, and the conference insight really changed my perspective as an educator.

At the time, I was teaching high school ELA for three periods and two periods of freshman reading intervention classes. I started thinking about my unit tests in both classes and my pride at achieving perfect bell curve scores from these summative assessments. Maybe 20% failing to achieve my objectives and 60% achieving at a below mastery rate of 80% was not as good as I thought.

I decided to experiment (probably to complete a project for one of my masters classes) and I re-taught the unit. Not to the students who had achieved mastery (80% or better); they did independent projects over the next two weeks. I analyzed my test data and found I didn’t need to re-teach everything… just some things. So I re-taught the some things, trying different instructional methodologies and did quick formative assessments to see if they were achieving mastery. That worked… for the mid 60%, but not for the bottom scoring 20%. I pulled this group aside in class and even worked out deals with them (full credit on the test re-take) if they would come in at a few lunches for extra remediation. Finally, that worked… I’d like to say all 80% achieved 80% mastery on the test re-take, but I would be lying. The results were, however, impressive.

I learned that if I really cared more about student learning than my own teaching, I would have to commit to assessment-based re-teaching. Over the years I got more efficient, pre-testing with diagnostic assessments, and using embedded formative assessments as I taught the first time around. However, I will have to admit that I’ve never covered the same amount of Common Core content standards as my colleagues. I don’t feel too bad about that by now.

If you are willing to re-teach what you’ve already taught (and not yet taught) this year, check out my 14 FREE diagnostic ELA and reading assessments with recording matrices. These quick, comprehensive, whole-class tests will give you teachable data to re-teach students what they need.

If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.

Why do I provide these assessments free of charge? First of all, I care about teachers focusing on student learning. Secondly, my Pennington Publishing products just so happen to provide the assessment-based resources to help teachers help their students catch up while they keep up with grade-level standards.

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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Pre-teach before Assessment

Teachers Pre-teach before Assessment

Pre-teach before Assessment

For whatever reason or reasons, some children who learned how to ride a bike last summer may have forgotten how to ride by the first day of spring. A wise parent would not  strap back on the training wheels, or worse yet, take out the old balance bike (no pedals). Instead, the parent would do a quick review with her child about what the child had already learned, hold the bike’s handle bars for a quick confidence-builder (I prefer holding the child’s collar… my free tip :), and get the child re-acclimated with intense, quick practice. Somehow prior knowledge, muscle memory, or something kicks in, and most kids are riding their bikes just as well as they did last summer by the end of the day.

The Forgetting Problem

Call it what you wish: summer brain-drain, poor retention, a learning disability, problem with learning styles, developmental delay, or lack of motivation or practice… some students just seem to forget what they have learned before.

The Solution

Quick re-teach. Connecting to students’ prior knowledge can short-circuit the forgetting cycle and produce more reliable assessment results. Before leaping into a battery of diagnostic assessments, it makes sense to pre-teach before we assess. If teachers plan on using assessment-based instruction (a good thing!), the assessment data must be externally valid, that is reliable.

I often share my maxim regarding the efficacy of well-designed assessments: “If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.” However, the caveat is that students may actually know the content, concepts, or skills, but not be able to retrieve that knowledge on assessments.

Good assessments catch students at their best. That’s why it makes sense to pre-teach before teachers assess to help students retrieve prior knowledge and get the assessment results that will help us design efficient instruction.

When we don’t catch students at their best, we get inaccurate assessment data. Teachers who assign assessment-based individualized (or differentiated) instruction often wind up methodically re-teaching what individual students have already learned. Students can’t move ahead, because they are constantly rehearsing what is behind. Or teachers look at class data and sigh, “I have to re-teach everything to this class from start to finish. They don’t know anything. What was Ms. McGuire teaching last year, anyways?”

Despite decades of research studies which demonstrate the effectiveness of pre-teaching students with instructional deficits prior to intensive instruction, little has been examined regarding the effects of pre-teaching upon assessment results.

Intuitively, the popularity of test prep classes for the SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, and MCAT would suggest a positive impact of pre-teaching on high-stakes test scores. Or the often-repeated admonition, “Don’t teach to the test” (except the month before the test administration or all-year if your salary is test-score-incentivized).

A cautionary note: Pre-teaching before assessment should be hurried instruction. Don’t set out the yellow cones and require a week’s worth of drill and review before you let your kids ride their bikes on their own (even if they fall once or twice). Quick and intensive review will produce the most accurate assessment results.

The writer of this article, Mark Pennington, is an M.A. reading specialist and author of Phonics Boot Camp | Phonics Review Unit (a slice of the

Phonics Review Unite

Phonics Boot Camp

comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.

This three-week phonics boot camp proves a worthwhile expenditure of class time in third and fourth grades. The intensive phonics review also works at the beginning of a reading intervention class to weed out those students who need only the quick review and not a half or full-year class. The quick re-teach is a perfect fit for short elective classes or as a summer school session. Special education and English-language development teachers find this program helpful. In addition to the instructional resources, the program provides three culminating reading placement tests. These whole-class tests provide the diagnostic data to inform reading intervention instruction.

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Assessment-based Individualized Learning

First Steps toward Assessment-based Individualize Learning

Assessment-based Individualize Learning

Every educational movement needs a catchy new acronym. ABIL will have to do for mine: Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Simply put, it’s the supplemental instruction students need to help them catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. It’s a realistic approach, developed by a teacher without miraculous class management skills and without perfectly behaved students.

What It’s Not

  • ABIL is nothing new. Teachers have been doing it forever.
  • It’s not about creating individual educational plans for every student.
  • It’s not a replacement for rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • It’s not funky differentiated instruction.
  • It’s not one teaching methodology: small groups, lit circles, writers workshop, learning centers, literacy centers (stations), etc.
  • Impossible or unmanageable.

What It Is

  • Foundational content, concepts, and skills that every student needs to access rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • Reliable and valid diagnostic assessments to determine individual student mastery and deficits in those prerequisites. Assessments which are comprehensive and teachable−not random samples.
  • Curriculum which directly corresponds to each assessment item with progress monitoring matrices to ensure student mastery and is conducive to concurrent instruction in grade-level Standards.
  • The key ingredient of RtI (Response to Intervention) besides quality, accessible grade-level instruction.
  • What SPED, ELL, and ELD students need most.
  • How you would want your own child taught with rigorous grade-level instruction and individualized learning to remediate any relative weaknesses.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, is a teacher-publisher of English-language arts and reading intervention programs. Mark provides ELA and reading assessments and curricular resources to implement Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Want to check out the curriculum, designed to help all learners with rigorous, standards-aligned grade-level instruction and concurrent remedial learning? Click here. to view these grammar, mechanics, reading, spelling, writing, and vocabulary resources. Want to download the assessments, answers, and recording matrices described above for your students? Feel free to download each and thanks for checking out my ABIL instructional resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the The Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

Get the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment with Audio File and Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Audio File, and Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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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?

For those of you still reading, 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.

By and large, teachers do a great job at whole class direct instruction. Teachers know their subject areas. They know how to plan instructional units, how to prepare standards-based lessons, how to teach comprehensible lessons, how to provide their students with appropriate practice, and how to assess whether their students have mastered the unit and lesson objectives. Teachers have also learned the classroom management skills to enable most students to make significant academic progress. They know how to teach the class.

However, teaching the individual is quite another skill set.

Teaching the individual student is far more challenging and satisfying than teaching the class as a whole.

When people asked me what a do for a living, I tell them I’m a seventh grade teacher. Of course they ask, “What class do you teach?”

I repeat, “Seventh graders.”

Now, I realize they want to know that I teach English-language arts and reading intervention classes, so I’ll stop being snotty and tell them what they want to hear to satisfy their curiosity. However, I try and get across the message that I’m really teaching students, not a particular class. You elementary teachers have it easier… people don’t expect you to be subject-specific.

Now I like English-language arts as a subject area: the reading, writing, speaking, and listening. And I do enjoy planning instruction for my classes. But I like the seventh graders much more, because they are far more interesting to me than my teaching Walk Two Moons or The Giver for the thirtieth time. Seventh graders are more interesting because they are all individuals.

If you’re ready to take the step to individualize instruction, check out these resources: FREE ELA and Reading Diagnostic Assessments and the 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets. The free assessments provide the data you need to know the individual reading, spelling, grammar, and mechanics needs of your students. The worksheets include the skills, practice, and formative assessments you need to teach to the individual needs of your students.

Here’s what you get in the 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets…

1000 ELA/Reading Worksheets

1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets

• 77 Grammar and Mechanics Worksheets (L. 1, 2)
• 145 Language Application Worksheets (L. 3)
• 21 Phonics Worksheets (R.F.S.S. 3)
• 14 Syllabication Worksheets (R.F.S.S. 3)
• 43 Comprehension Worksheets (R.I.T.S. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8)
• 73 Spelling Sort Worksheets (L. 2)
• 102 Spelling Pattern Worksheets (L. 2) All K−8 sound-spelling patterns
• 56 Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Write Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
• 42 Essay Strategy Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 4, 9)
• 35 Writing Skill Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
• 40 Study Skills Worksheets
• 64 Critical Thinking Worksheets
• Answer Booklet
-Perfect for new and veteran teachers alike.
-Great for “Oh no! They finished early.”
-The substitute teacher’s best tool.
-Independent homework
-Quality individualized instruction in the writing and reading contexts.
-Study skills/advisory/lifeskills/ELD/special education classes
-Both remedial as well as gifted and talented worksheets

You will love these resources!

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Navigating Differentiated Instruction

Anyone with a good nav system knows its value in planning a family road trip. First, you enter your Destination. Establishing the end goal for the trip lets both driver and passengers in on the plan. Does it reduce the number of “Are we there yets?” Not completely. Second, you have to let your GPS establish the Current Location  to search the route to your destination. You may need to adjust that Starting Point. Third, you need to make use of the flexible features. A good navigation system allows the driver and passengers the flexibility to choose the best or fastest routes. It also re-routes if the driver makes a wrong turn, if there is road construction, or if the passengers want to take a side trip to see that interesting historical marker.

A quality English-language arts curriculum designed to differentiate instruction is like a good nav system. First, the program uses diagnostic assessments to establish the Destination. Assessments are based upon the Common Core State Standards. The teacher (or helpful parents) records the assessment data that indicates each student’s Current Location. Knowing what a child knows and does not know informs instructional decision-making. Should the Starting Point be adjusted? Are the learning gaps minimal, requiring brief review, or substantial, necessitating systematic instruction? Are there other students with the same deficits that would permit small group instruction? Is individualized instruction required for some curricular components? Effective instructional resources provide formative assessments that inform the teacher when to veer off course, backtrack, skip ahead, or take those educational side trips. The fastest route is not always the best. Good instructional resources allow parents and teachers to adjust instruction and re-route throughout the road trip.

Old-school English-language arts instructional resources are still using the same worn-out road maps. Everyone has to be on the same stretch of highway at the same time. Both teacher and students must adapt to a cookie cutter curriculum which assumes that every child begins with the same background knowledge, the same level of mastery, and/or the same skill set. Of course, the reality is that some students already know sections of the highway well and wind up repeating the same stretches of road. Highway hypnosis often sets in. Other students can’t even get on the same road-the curricular resources are just too-far above their ability levels.

Teachers committed to differentiated instruction need to invest in curricular resources with good nav systems rather than band-aiding outdated road maps.

Pennington Publishing provides the flexible instructional resources to adjust instruction to the individual needs of each student. Check out Mark Pennington’s Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Teaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Essay Strategies and get the help teachers need to differentiate assessment-based instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or specialized training.

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Common Core State Standards Fear-mongering