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Assessment-based Individualized Learning

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

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, 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. For example, what reading and English-language arts teacher cares about learning that Johnny has some sight word deficits? Good teachers want to know precisely which sight words Johnny kn0ws and does not know to be able to efficiently teach to Johnny’s specific needs.
  • Reading assessments: upper and lower case alphabet, syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, sight syllables, word recognition level, short vowel sound-spellings, long vowel sound-spellings, vowel digraph sound-spellings, vowel diphthong sound-spellings, silent final e, consonant sound-spellings, consonant blend sound-spellings, consonant digraph sound-spellings. Reading fluency level, word recognition level, instructional reading level.
  • Previous grade-level spelling assessment: Every spelling pattern and conventional spelling rule.
  • Previous grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments.
  • 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 special ed 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, provides assessments and curricular resources to implement Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Want to check out the curriculum? Click here. Want to download the assessments, answers, and recording matrices described above for your students?

ELA/Reading Assessments

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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!

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

How to Individualize Instruction

Chances are that you are the type of ELA or reading teacher who wants to get better at what you do.

Good teachers refine their units and lesson plans to provide quality direct instruction to the whole class. Great teachers, and frankly some never take this step, figure out how to address the individual learning needs of their students.

Now I’m not talking about revamping your class(es) into some crazy differentiated instruction-learning centers-reading writing workshop-personalized learning circus in which you create individual lessons for every student every day. Some teachers try that… for a year or two. What I am talking about is a sensible, few minutes each day plan to help your students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction. I call this Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI).  Simply defined, Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI) is a commitment to students to help them catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

Here’s how to implement ABI: In the first two weeks of school, administer  some of these free whole class diagnostic assessments: Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Syllable Awareness, Syllable Rhyming, Phonemic Isolation, Phonemic Blending, Phonemic Segmenting, Alphabetic Upper and Lower Case Letter Match and Alphabetic Sequencing, Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment, Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Outlaw Words Assessment, Rimes Assessment, Sight Syllables Assessment, Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, and an Individual Fluency Assessment. Each assessment includes recording matrices for progress monitoring. Plus, most include audio files for easy administration and make-ups.

Next, find targeted worksheets and activities which perfectly correspond to each item in the diagnostic assessments you choose to administer. You could create these resources, but why reinvent the wheel?

For a few minutes each day (as classwork or homework), students complete the worksheets and activities for each item missed on their diagnostic assessments. After completing an assignment, students self-correct and edit from answer booklets to learn from their own mistakes. Print up several booklets so that more than one student can correct at the same time. Finally, students complete a short formative assessment and mini-conference with the teacher to determine if mastery has been achieved. No extra prep, no extra correcting, no classroom circus. You may wish to check out my related articles: 8 Keys to Classroom Management with Assessment-Based Instruction and Using Student Data to Inform Instruction for detailed instructions.

That’s assessment-based learning which targets the individual needs of your students. That’s what great teachers do.

The author of this article includes targeted worksheets and activities with formative assessments in each of his ELA and reading intervention programs to help students “catch up” to grade-level instruction. Each Pennington Publishing program provides Standards-based whole class and individualized instruction.

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

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Also, check out the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the program.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated byboth older readers. The teenage chpositive values and character development. Teachers print their own copies 🙂

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

Using Student Data to Inform Instruction

In my last article, Assessment-Based Instruction, I discussed the importance of whole class diagnostic assessments for ELA and reading intervention teachers. I also provided a link to free diagnostic assessments (including answers and recording matrices).

ABI is a commitment to students to help them catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction. The dual focus is important. Direct whole class instruction is an essential means of delivering Standards-based grade-level instruction; however, the diversity of our learners demands that we concurrently teach to the needs of individual students.

In this article I will provide the research base (from the federal government What Works Clearinghouse) and practical tips regarding the use of formative assessments for ELA and reading intervention teachers. Specifically, we will discuss how quick formative assessments can be used on targeted worksheets and activities to address diagnostically assess determined ELA and reading skill deficits to help students “catch up” to grade level instruction. In other words, this article will not discuss how the teacher can use formative assessments, such as “thumbs up, show me your answer” techniques or embedded assessments, in whole class direct instruction to help students “keep up” with grade level Standards.

The What Works Clearinghouse report, “Using Student Data to Inform Instruction,” applies the most relevant educational research on both uses of formative assessments. Regarding the use of formative assessments to cater instruction to the demonstrated needs of individual students, the report concludes:

“Armed with data and the means to harness the information data can provide, educators can make instructional changes aimed at improving student achievement, such as: prioritizing instructional time; targeting additional individual instruction for students who are struggling with particular topics; more easily identifying individual students’ strengths and instructional interventions that can help students continue to progress…”

The report has recommendations for both teachers and students:

  1. “Make data part of an ongoing cycle of instructional improvement. Collect and prepare a variety of data about student learning. Interpret data and develop hypotheses about how to improve student learning.
  2. Teach students to examine their own data and set learning goals. Teachers should provide students with explicit instruction on using achievement data regularly to monitor their own performance and establish their own goals for learning. This data analysis process—similar to the data use cycle for teachers described in recommendation 1—can motivate both elementary and secondary students by mapping out accomplishments that are attainable, revealing actual achievement gains and providing students with a sense of control over their own outcomes. Teachers can then use these goals to better understand factors that may motivate student performance and adjust their instructional practices accordingly. Students are best prepared to learn from their own achievement data when they understand the learning objectives and when they receive data in a user-friendly format.”

Here’s how to follow these What Works Clearinghouse recommendations:

1. After administering content and skill-based ELA and reading assessments, teachers chart the student results data as relative strengths and weaknesses on progress monitoring matrices.

2. Teachers share this data with students and explain how to interpret the information on the matrices. I suggest a simple system of a numbered list of boxes, corresponding to the diagnostic assessments, in which a blank box indicates mastery of the skill or content and a slash (“/”) indicates a skill or content that needs to be mastered.

3. The teacher helps students and their parents set individual goals to “catch up” to grade level instruction by mastering each deficit.

4. Teachers purchase or create diagnostically-based ELA and reading worksheets and activities to address each numbered skill or content focus.

In a 2016 article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” for the American Psychological Association, researchers recommend the following guidelines for deliberate practice (re-ordered and edited). My comments follow. These are necessary components for well-designed targeted worksheets or activities:

  • “Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Directions must facilitate independent practice and be consistent across all worksheets and activities. If a teacher is assigning different learning activities to different students, students must be able to work on their own to free teachers up to monitor the class as a whole.
  • Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. Students need both clear definitions and specific examples to learn unmastered content and skills.
  • Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Students need just enough, but not too much practice on any content or skill. Additionally, students need immediate feedback on their practice. Rather than having students turn work for teacher grading, I suggest providing answer booklets to permit students to grade and self-edit their own work. Students learn best when correcting their own errors. The teacher requires student to use different color pens or pencils for corrections and assures student that they will not be penalized for wrong answers to discourage cheating. This process affords the students with immediate feedback and re-teaching.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. After self-correcting their practice, students complete a quick formative assessment to master the content or skill. I recommend a writing application.

Following are examples of quick writing application formative assessments for remedial ELA and reading worksheets:

  • Spelling−Write an original sentence including each example of the i before e spelling rule, not using any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Grammar−Write an original sentence including the past progressive verb tense, not using any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Mechanics−Write an original sentence including proper use of commas with three items in a list, not using any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Writing−Write an original paragraph without using any “to be” verbs. Don’t use any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Reading−Write an original sentence in which you infer what the author means in this sentence.
  • Vocabulary−Write an original sentence, using context clues to show the meaning of hyperbole.

5. After completing the formative assessment, a student brings the self-graded worksheet or activity up to the teacher for review in a mini-conference. The teacher discusses the writing application with the student and determines whether mastery has or has not been achieved. If mastered, the student is instructed to change the slash (/) into an “X” on the recording matrix. I recommend posting the class matrices on the wall with either student names or i.d. numbers; however, other teachers have students keep their own writing folders with individual matrices. If the formative assessment has not been mastered, the teacher may elect to have students re-do the sentence or complete additional remedial work on the content or skill with formative assessment.

The author of this article includes targeted worksheets and formative assessments in each of his ELA and reading intervention programs to help students “catch up” to grade-level instruction. Mark Pennington’s programs also provide Standards-based instruction, which use formative assessments to inform teacher instruction of the grade-level Standards.

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

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Also, check out the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the program.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated by both older readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Teachers print their own copies :).

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

8 Keys to Classroom Management with Assessment-Based Instruction

Most ELA and reading teachers are certainly willing to experiment with both classroom management and instructional delivery models. A few colleagues are “stuck in the mud,” but most will try something new to add to their bag of tricks or conclude that “This didn’t work for me.” Of course, a few zealots will proselytize their particular approach with the attitude that “every teacher should be doing this,” but most teachers eventually adopt a “live and let live” model in which they accept the fact that “what works for you and your students may not work for me.” Good administrators draw the same conclusions. Now, I’m not saying that all approaches to classroom management and instructional delivery are equally effective. What I am saying is that teachers want to be good at what they do and so seek a workable balance between what is best for their students and what is best for their individual teacher comfort zones.

While educators readily agree to the fact that each student is different, less often do we admit that teachers are different, too. The same approach to classroom management and instructional delivery won’t work for every teacher. The following 10 keys to classroom management are designed for teachers who want to help their students “catch up,” while they “keep up” with grade-level instruction BUT in an instructional delivery model which facilitates an orderly, on-task, relatively quiet, and time-managed learning environment in which the teacher delegates some, but not all, control and responsibility of the learning to students. I call this instructional approach Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI). Simply defined, Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI) is a commitment to students to help them catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

In a nutshell, ABI affirms the role of whole-class direct instruction and other instructional delivery models (Socratic Seminars, Inquiry-Based Learning, Literacy Circles, Writers Workshop, etc.) for grade-level instruction (the “keep up,”) but also uses the results of whole class diagnostic assessments of previous grade-level Standards to cater instruction according to individual student needs (the “catch up”) for remediation. The 8 keys to classroom management for Assessment-Based Instruction help teachers implement the instructional “catch up,” to keep students engaged in learning while maintaining teacher sanity.

The 8 Keys

  1. Create, find, or purchase targeted remedial worksheets and independent activities which specifically address items tested in whole class diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, reading, and writing assessments. Directions must be concisely and clearly written so that students can complete the worksheets and activities independently. Each must provide samples (examples) of each instructional application of the focus concept or skill. Each must include a practice section that is not too long, and not too short. Each must have a formative assessment (a brief written application of the concept or skill) to determine mastery. Number each worksheet or activity and print copies according to how many students failed to master each assessment item. File the worksheets or activities according to the numbers in boxes or cabinets that are easily accessible by students.
  2. Post the results of the diagnostic assessments (by name or student i.d.) or pass out to each student. Simple recording matrices work best. Record an unmastered “/” below the numbered item indicates a corresponding worksheet or activity that must be completed, corrected, and presented to the teacher to determine whether mastery has been achieved.
  3. Teach students not to complete the formative assessment until they have self-corrected the rest of the worksheet from answer booklets. Post several answer booklets around the room. Allowing students to self-correct helps them learn from their mistakes before completing the formative assessment.
  4. Instruct students to bring the worksheet or activity up to the teacher to mini-conference with you for thirty seconds to review the worksheet. Many teachers like to place themselves in the center of their classroom. A mini-conference focuses on the formative assessment, not the practice.
  5. If a student has mastered the formative assessment, the teacher directs the student to change the slash (/) into an “X” for mastery on the appropriate box on the recording matrix. The teacher assigns a reward for mastery: a grade, points, peer and parent recognition, etc.
  6. If the student id not master the rule, skill, or concept on the formative assessment, re-teach during the mini-conference. Then direct the student to re-do the formative assessment and return for re-correction.
  7. Limit the waiting line for mini-conferences to three students at one time. Teach students to continue working on new worksheets or activities while waiting for the mini-conference. Many teachers use a pick a number system or a write a name on the board system.
  8. Help students set their own goals for their own progress. Include parents in the goal-setting and progress monitoring
Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Also, check out the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the program.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated by both older readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Teachers print their own copies :).

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

Assessment-Based Instruction

As a reading specialist teaching seventh grade English-language arts and reading intervention classes at a lower-performing urban middle school, I start off the school year administering reading, spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics diagnostic assessments to my students. Most of you won’t be surprised to learn that the diagnostic data indicate that some students have severe instructional gaps.

I’ve especially noticed a decline in these basic skill areas over the last five years as teachers have been largely expected to re-invent the wheel and create Common Core aligned units and lesson plans. Last year, the ten members of our ELA department never even checked the district adopted ELA textbooks out of our library. Everything now being Common Core-ized. Now, I’m not blaming the Common Core State Standards for the decline in basic ELA and reading skills. Having taught a number of years, I know that major educational transitions always coincide with some decline until teachers get up to speed with the new Standards, educational approach to instruction, curriculum, administration, economic downturn. Teachers do have a way of making lemonade out of lemons, but many of our students do have ELA and reading skill deficits.

So, what should teachers do to address these academic deficits? Answer: Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI).

Oh great… another acronym, another educational approach, another district “bold goal” to direct district-trainings and faculty meetings, another instructional movement to provide conference speakers the subject of keynote addresses, fodder for a new book for Heinemann, oh… a grant from the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation. No. The last thing teachers need is something new. It’s time for something old that has stood the test of time. Something that steals from the best. Something that will last beyond the three-year life cycle of most educational approaches. Something that can be explained in one sentence–simple, but not simplistic.

Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI): Defined

Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI) is a commitment to students to help them catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

Rationale

“We teach children, not Standards.” Most of the states are still hanging on to the Common Core State Standards. Some have dropped them and have been developing their own versions; however, the standards-based movement is still alive and well. In the midst of this movement, educators have to remember why we got into the education business: to teach students, to teach subject material, and to have summers off :). I would hazard to guess that none of us wrote “My passion is to teach the ELA or reading Standards” on our teacher credential program application letters.

So much of our teaching involves training students to be good people. Good citizens. Kind and respectful. Well-balanced. Healthy and happy. We know that children are snowflakes. Each is different and requires different approaches to get the results we want. Teachers know that Roberto has different instructional needs (catch up) than does Luis (gifted and talented designation), than does Pedro (auditory deficits), than does Ivan (English-language learner), etc. Yes, all of them need access to and instruction in the grade-level Standards (keep up). Again, teaching different children (ages 4-18) necessitates a catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instructional approach.

“Learning is recursive.” When the Common Core State Standards first came out, I was relieved to see the inclusion of Appendix A. Appendix A provides so much validation of what teachers already know and do. The Common Core authors affirm the facts that learning is recursive and instruction must be cyclical as well as linear. In fact, anyone who has taught the basic parts of speech to freshman in high school won’t be surprised to learn that excellent teachers from elementary school and middle school taught the same parts of speech every year.

Because learning does not always pursue a linear path, the Common Core authors included numerous documents such as the Progressive Skills Review in the Language Strand to identify key grammar, usage, and mechanics re-teaching at every K-12 grade level. As teachers who believe in recursive instruction, we have to use such documents as ammunition when called upon to focus, focus, focus on grade-level Standards, especially for the PAARC and SBAT tests. We need to be equipped to counter the thoughts of some, like my former principal, who told me, “We can’t teach basic reading skills at middle school. That was the job of elementary teachers. If students can’t read, our elementary teachers are the ones to blame. That’s not our job.” Or a district language coach who asked me, “Why are you teaching that? It’s a fourth grade Standard.” Because they don’t know it!

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

If teachers believe that students need to catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction, it simply makes sense to find out what students know and what they don’t know. Only reliable diagnostic assessments can answer this question. Since my focus is on ELA and reading, I’ve developed whole class, internally and externally valid assessments in reading, spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics to help students show what they know and don’t know. Check out these free, quick and easy-to-grade diagnostic assessments: Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Syllable Awareness, Syllable Rhyming, Phonemic Isolation, Phonemic Blending, Phonemic Segmenting, Alphabetic Upper and Lower Case Letter Match and Alphabetic Sequencing, Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment, Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Outlaw Words Assessment,Rimes Assessment, Sight Syllables Assessment, Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, and an Individual Fluency Assessment. Each includes recording matrices for progress monitoring and most have audio files. What’s the catch? If you use ’em, you’re gonna want to teach to ’em. Our Pennington Publishing program resources are all assessment-based, teacher-created resources; and they perfectly correspond to the items in the comprehensive diagnostic assessments. For example, if Annie misses the items on vowel digraphs, there are worksheets and activities for that. If Andre misses the commas in a list test item, there are worksheets and activities for that. Every resource has a formative assessment to check mastery. Oh, and answers as well. You could create these, but why reinvent the wheel?

Our next article really deals with where the rubber meets the road. How does Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI) handle the management issue? How can teachers help their students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction without the usual nightmares of any instructional approach other than whole-class direct instruction? Think differentiated instruction, individualized instruction, personalized instruction, learning centers, readers and writers workshops, cooperative groups, learning style groups, etc. for examples of “been there, done that, won’t do that again” instructional approaches. Let’s invest in an approach to instruction that makes sense.

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

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Also, check out the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the program.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page take-home readers are decodables and are designed for guided reading practice. Each book includes sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. The cartoons, characters, and plots are specifically designed to be appreciated by both older readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Teachers print their own copies :).

 

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10 Reasons Differentiated Instruction Died

At the height of the free-wheeling differentiated instruction movement, I and a number of educators interested in teaching to individual student needs tried with only minimal success to co-opt the movement into something that teachers would actually implement in their classrooms. Teachers heard a lot of idealistic approaches at conferences and in university classrooms, and some testimonials from superstar teachers, but differentiated instruction never gained traction in the typical teacher’s classroom. The same has turned out to be the case with both individualized instruction, and personalized instruction. Brothers of another mother (no matter what the few remaining practitioners claim).

Now the only time I hear differentiated instruction, it seems to be in the context of some snide teacher remark about false expectations or administrative cop-out remarks on teacher evaluations. Sad, but true. Additionally, some elements of some differentiated instruction have fallen into disfavor, such as learning styles and free choice learning.

But back in the day… As a district reading specialist, I learned plenty of practical ideas about differentiating, individualizing, and personalizing instruction−some well worth trying. I would demonstrate an instructional technique or approach with some degree of success in a teachers’ classroom to a rapt audience of 30 fifth-graders or 38 seventh-graders. Of course, the teachers had bribed her class with extra recess time or no homework passes if they behaved perfectly and threatened death and dismemberment if they did not.

I got plenty of compliments about my lessons and consensus that we all have to teach to individual needs, but the teachers never adopted differentiated instruction, individualized instruction, nor personalized instruction in their classrooms.

Why Not?

  1. Behavior Management−Teachers frequently hear conference speakers or university professors trivialize the challenge of any teaching approach other than whole-class direct instruction. I know what teachers think: “He or she does not know my classroom. That might work in an ideal situation, but not where I teach with the constraints that I have.” Behavior management was the first nail in the coffin of differentiated instruction. Simply put, whole-class direct instruction provides teachers with the most control to maintain discipline and structure.
  1. Administrative Gate-Keeping−Administrators like to see students in their seats, quiet, attentive, and on-task. No matter what they say in faculty meetings. To quote from 12 Reasons Why Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction, “Administrator-teacher relationships are optimally viewed as professional and collegial with differences simply being ones of roles and tasks. Practically, administrator-teacher are management and worker relationships. The fact that administrators wield the one-sided powers of evaluation and teacher grade-subject-or schedule assignment make teachers conform to some degree to the wishes and tone of the administration in any school. Teachers who don’t play the game to a certain degree may find their input marginalized or their services outsourced to another site.” The safe choice for any teacher is whole-class direct instruction, not the freedom of choice learning centers, rotating cooperative groups, reading and writing workshops, etc.
  1. Not Enough Prep Time−Any form of individualized instruction requires considerable amounts of lesson preparation, assessment, visits to the copier, and more paper correction. Differentiated instruction meant more work for teachers at home, on weekends, during summer.
  1. Not Enough Class Time−More and more class time is being eaten up by broadening the scope of teaching and adding on subject requirements. With the new PAARC and SBAT assessments in most states, more class time is allocated to test prep and the tests themselves. More state and district mandates steal more class time. Extending the number of instructional days is simply cost-prohibitive. Something’s got to give. Time is reductive. If time were allocated to teaching to the needs of individual students, instructional time would be reduced in other academic areas. A typical teacher legitimate excuse: “I would like to differentiate, but who has the time? There are so many Standards to get to and testing takes up so much time, as well.”
  1. Standards-based instruction−Common Core and the standards movement has made many teachers abandon differentiated instruction. Comprehensive standards and emphasis on teaching to standards-based tests have re-focused many teachers on the what of teaching at the expense of the how and why of teaching. For many teachers, teaching the “power standards,” that is the standards most often tested on the yearly test, are more important than teaching to the needs of individual students. As one colleague once told me, “My job is to teach the grade-level standards, if students have not yet mastered the previous years’ standards, that is the fault of their teachers. I have to do my job, not theirs.”
  1. A Teacher Is Not Omnipresent−Key to individualized instruction is the focus on the individual. Duh! A middle school teacher may have 38 individuals. A teacher can’t be everywhere at once.
  1. Academic Rigor−The emphasis on rigor with high standards has led many teachers to abandon instructed catered to the needs of individual students. The thought is that students need to rise to the level of expectations (without any scaffolded means to do so). Also, the Depth of Knowledge (D.O.K.) Levels movement has made many teachers I know feel that unless their students are involved in instruction at Level 3, they’re not really teaching. Most teachers I know would like to help students “catch up” through scaffolded instruction, while the students concurrently “keep up” with rigorous grade-level instruction. However, teachers often feel the pressure to do the latter at the expense of the former.
  1. Curricular Materials−We tend to use only district adopted instructional materials or the curriculum and class novels that our colleagues use. We may “cut and paste” with a few purchases from Teachers Pay Teachers, but most materials focus on whole-class direct instruction. Districts are always financially strapped. When new English-language arts and reading program adoptions are finally purchased, the ancillary materials e.g. ELD, lower reading level, additional practice, differentiated instruction workbooks, CDs, software are often jettisoned. Teachers are left to create on their own, and they frequently don’t.
  1. Tradition−We tend to teach the way that we learned. “If it was good enough for me, it should be good enough for my students.” Most of us learned through whole-class, non-differentiated instruction.

So the 10 Reasons Differentiated Instruction Died got me wondering… What would teachers not only agree to, but also actually implement in their classrooms to attend to the individual needs of their students? Check out my article on Assessment-Based Instruction for some answers.

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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, Usage, 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 Grammar Standards

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

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

What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand?

Autonomy is Maintained

The Common Core Language Strand dictates the what, but not the how of instruction. From the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“The Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

“By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”

Differentiated or Individualized Instruction is Validated

The Common Core Language Strand assumes that teachers will need to differentiate instruction to master both grade-level and previous grammatical standards. Again, from the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.”

“The Standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations. No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety in abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom. However, the Standards do provide clear signposts along the way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students.

It is also beyond the scope of the Standards to define the full range of supports appropriate for English language learners and for students with special needs. At the same time, all students must have the opportunity to learn and meet the same high standards if they are to access the knowledge and skills necessary in their post–high school lives.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Review is Emphasized

The Common Core Language Strand identifies specific standards and skills that are “particularly likely” to require review.

“The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*)  are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

A considerable number of skills are marked with the asterisks throughout the K-12 language strand. To me, this indicates a basic acknowledgement of the cyclical nature of grammar instruction and the necessity for review and differentiated instruction in grammar, mechanics, and spelling.

Many Language Standards are Specific or Detailed

Examples of Specific or Detailed Language Standards

  • Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., It was a fascinating, enjoyable movie but not He wore an old[,] green shirt). L.7.2.
  • Form and use verbs in the indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional, and subjunctive mood. L.5.2.

Many Language Standards Integrate Grammar into the Writing Context

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Application to Writing

  • Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style. L.6.3.
  • Maintain consistency in style and tone. L.6.3.

I find a nice balance between focusing on the correctness of usage and application to writing. The standards go out of their way to assert that grammar, mechanics, and spelling are best taught within the context of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

The Importance of Grammatical Correctness is Emphasized

“To build a foundation for college and career readiness in language, students must gain control over many conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics as well as learn other ways to use language to convey meaning effectively… The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts.” http://www.corestandards.org

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Correctness

  • Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive). L.6.1.
  • Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood. L.8.1.

Most Common Core Language Standards are Rigorous

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Rigor

  • Produce and expand complete simple and compound declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences in response to prompts. L.1.1
  • Form and use comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified. L.3.1.

What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand?

Many Language Standards Lack Specificity or Details

Examples of Vague or General Language Standards

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

Some Common Core Language Standards Lack Rigor

Examples of Language Standards De-emphasizing Rigor

  • Explain the function of phrases and clauses in general and their function in specific sentences. L7.1 (Clauses are not introduced until seventh grade.)
  • Explain the function of verbals (gerunds, participles, infinitives) in general and their function in particular sentences. L8.1 (Verbals are not introduced until eighth grade.)
  • Parallel structures are not introduced until ninth grade.

Too Much of the Instructional Burden of the Common Core Language Strand is Placed Upon Elementary Teachers

Without getting lost in the specificity, the language strand clearly places the largest burden of grammar, mechanics, and spelling instruction on primary (first, second, and third) grade teachers. At the macro level (after deleting the vocabulary components from the language strand): first, second, and third has three pages of language standards; fourth and fifth has one page; sixth, seventh, and eighth has one page; and ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth has only half of a page.

The Common Core Language Strand De-emphasizes Spelling Instruction

Most notably, spelling gets short shrift in the Common Core State Standards language strand.

After third grade, here are the spelling standards:

  • Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed. L.4.2. and L.5.2.
  • Spell correctly L.6.2.-L.12.2

It’s great to know that all American school children will require no spelling standards after third grade. Just wave the magic wand, I guess.

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

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

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

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

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Common Core DI, RTI, and ELD

Writers of the new Common Core State Standards have clearly gone out of their way to assure educators that the Standards establish the what, but not the how of instruction.

From the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“The Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.”

And more:

“By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”

And more:

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

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

Cyclical Instruction

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

“The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.”

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

Common Core DI (Differentiated Instruction)

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

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

Common Core RtI (Response to Intervention)

Again, from the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“The Standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations. No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety in abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom. However, the Standards do provide clear signposts alongthe way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students.”

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

Common Core ELD (English Language Development)

“It is also beyond the scope of the Standards to define the full range of supports appropriate for English language learners and for students with special needs. At the same time, all students must have the opportunity to learn and meet the same high standards if they are to access the knowledge and skills necessary in their post–high school lives.”

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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Differentiating Instruction in Writer’s Workshop

In Writer’s Workshop, students are provided a structured time to write in the social context of the classroom, with the expertise of their teacher as a “guide on the side.” In most Writer’s Workshops, students select their own writing projects and work at their own pace. Typically, a one-hour workshop would include some of these components: a mini-lesson on a writing skill, a brief “status of the class” check-in and goal-setting time, writing time with peer conferences and/or mini-conferences with the teacher, and time for published work or work in progress to be publically presented to the whole class.

Critics of Writer’s Workshop often complain that Writer’s Workshop can be inefficient and/or a class management nightmare. Some teachers have tried Writer’s Workshop, but have given up because the workshop is interest-based, not standards-based or because it is student-centered, not teacher-centered.

Neither of those criticisms concerns me greatly. However, I do feel that the traditional model of Writer’s Workshop is not as conducive to differentiated instruction as it could be. Tweaking one of the above four components does makes sense to me.

The Mini-Lesson

The traditional approach to the Writer’s Workshop mini-lesson is summarized as follows:

The secret to giving effective mini-lessons is asking yourself this question: “What single problem am I trying to help these writers solve?” The best way to do this is simply to take note of the specific problems your students are having, and to ask them from time to time what they would like help with. You don’t have to turn your whole class over to the students, but from time to time, maybe every few weeks or so, ask your students to give some thought to the difficulties they’ve been having, and what kind of help they want next. Then base your lessons on that information. A good rule of thumb for deciding on when to give a particular lesson is this: if more than a third of your class really needs to know about something in order to make progress, it’s time for a mini-lesson.

from “Welcome to Writer’s Workshop” by Steve Peha

The problem with this approach is that it begs a few questions:

Is there a single problem that all of the writers need to solve? Apparently not, if the “more than a third” criteria is followed. By this standard, the mini-lesson would be given to one-half to one-third of the students from whom the problem is not an issue.

Do the student writers really know “what they would like help with” and “what kind of help they want next”? Isn’t this more like the blind leading the blind? Students truly don’t know what they don’t know.

My suggestion is that mini-lessons should be differentiated according to the needs of all students and that the teacher has the expertise to best determine those needs. But, what data should teachers depend upon to plan differentiated instruction?

Advocates of the traditional approach to Writer’s Workshop favor this implicit approach:

In Writer’s Workshop, teachers don’t test their students on every new concept presented. They don’t have to. If the mini-lessons are delivered in a thoughtful and entertaining way that addresses legitimate student needs, and students are given encouragement and ample writing time to try out the new things they’ve learned, the concepts will begin to show up in their writing, which is exactly where we should be looking for them.

from “Welcome to Writer’s Workshop” by Steve Peha

Several problems arise when teachers rely too heavily on implicit formative writing assessments. First of all, this approach is highly inefficient. It may take many writing samples before a teacher can accurately deduce the discreet writing issues a student writer may have. Secondly, writers use their strengths, not weaknesses, so writing samples may not even present the information that a teacher needs to address relative weaknesses. Thirdly, even with “encouragement and ample writing time to try out the new things they’ve learned” the concepts may not ever show up in a student’s writing, if the student never learned the skill from the mini-lesson. Wouldn’t it make more sense to assess students on the discreet writing skills, design mini-lessons or assign targeted worksheets, then determine whether a particular skill has been mastered or requires re-teaching?

On a personal note, I use Writer’s Workshop three days a week with my seventh-graders. Over time, I learned to adjust my writing instruction to what students were and were not learning. Many mini-lessons turned into multiple-day lessons as I re-taught and struggled to find ways to get my students to learn what seemed so easy for me to teach. I learned the value of quick, informal formative writing assessments. Writer’s Workshop and differentiated instruction need not be mutually exclusive teaching designs.

The author of this article provides two curricular writing resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Both are appropriate to help teachers differentiate writing instruction for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.

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

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

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

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

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

 

 

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

Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

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

1. We don’t know enough about how the brain works to change the way we teach. What we do know about the brain suggests that catering instruction to specific modalities can be counter-productive. Knowledge is stored in the form of memories and only 10% of those memories are visual and auditory representations. Meaning-based memories make up the 90% (Willingham on Learning Styles Don’t Exist–TeacherTube). Those impressive-looking illustrations of the brain on the Universal Design for Learning site and interesting graphic organizers on the multiple intelligences sites hopelessly simplify what we know is a far more complex subject. Daniel T. Willingham, cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Virginia advises districts, schools, and teachers to “save your money” on any brain-based instructional in-services or instructional resources. See Willingham’s excellent YouTube on the fallacy of brain-based instruction.

2. Research does not support adjusting instruction according to learning styles or multiple intelligences theories. To sum up his extensive meta-analysis of modality research, Willingham states “…we can say that the possible effects of matching instructional modality to a student’s modality strength have been extensively studied and have yielded no positive evidence. If there was an effect of any consequence, it is extremely likely that we would know it by now (American Educator 1995).” With respect to research on multiple intelligences, “The fundamental criticism of MI theory is the belief by scholars that each of the seven multiple intelligences is in fact a cognitive style rather than a stand-alone construct (Morgan, 1996). Morgan, (1996) refers to Gardner’s approach of describing the nature of each intelligence with terms such as abilities, sensitivities, skills and abilities as evidence of the fact that the “theory” is really a matter of semantics rather than new thinking on multiple constructs of intelligence (http://www.indiana.edu/~intell/mitheory.shtml),” Frankly, the essential variables of motivation, preference, teacher perception, and the learning tasks themselves probably cannot ever be isolated in an experimental design, thus prohibiting statistically significant conclusions regarding how students learn best and how teachers should teach.

3. Learning styles and multiple intelligences theories beg the question about how students learn. The assumption is that students learn best by receiving instruction in their strongest modality or intelligence. This may make sense for designated hitters in the American League. Allow me to explain. In the American League, pitchers rarely bat; instead, designated hitters bat for them. The designated hitter does not play in the field. It would make sense for the designated hitter to practice according to his modality strength. Developing kinesthetic expertise in slugging home runs will earn him his multi-millions. But exclusive kinesthetic batting practice will not help him become a better fielder. There is no learning transfer. We certainly don’t want designated hitters in our classrooms. We want students to be complete ballplayers. In fact, it makes more sense to practice our relative weaknesses. Why should kinesthetically adept Johnny continue to make project after project rather than practicing in his areas of relative weakness: oral (auditory, aural) and written (visual) communication?

4. By emphasizing the how of instruction, learning styles and multiple intelligences practitioners lose sight of the what of instruction and tend to force square blocks into round holes. For teaching input to be processed and stored in the memory, that input has to match how the information will be stored. Little of what we teach will be stored as visual or auditory representations. This does not mean that good teaching won’t use the visual or auditory domains, but the focus of most all of our instruction is meaning-based. We want our students to know stuff. We have to match the how of instruction to the what of instruction, not the reverse. “All students learn more when content drives the choice of modality (Willingham in American Educator 1995).” It should go without saying that if a child has, for example, an auditory processing disability, the how of instruction should be limited in that modality. Similarly, adapting learning tasks to perceived student intelligences is impractical for the vast majority of our teaching standards. A student with musical intelligence still needs meaning-based practice to understand the roles of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

5. Although learning Styles and multiple intelligences theories seem individual-centered and egalitarian on the surface, the converse is more likely true. The practical applications of these theories tend to pigeon-hole students and assume that nature plays a greater role in learning than does nurture. For example, teachers disproportionately tend to label African-American children, especially boys, as kinesthetic learners and Asian kids are more often classified as visual learners. Being labeled limits options and dissuades effort and exploration. Learning styles and multiple intelligences assessments particularly have this egregious effect. Our students are not stupid. Labeling them as “good at” and “has strengths in” also labels them as “bad at” and “has weaknesses in.” Students “shut down” to learning or “self-limit” their achievement with such labels. If limited to what the students know and don’t yet know, assessments data can be productive. If extended to how students learn, data can be debilitating. Additionally, who is to say that how a student learns remains a constant? Teachers certainly have an important role in nurturing motivation, risk-taking, and exploration. Teachers should be about opening doors, not closing doors.

Unfortunately, the differentiated instruction movement has largely adopted learning style and multiple intelligence theories. Check out why differentiated instruction should be more about the what and less about the how in 23 Myths of Differentiated Instruction. As we move ahead in the Response to Interventionprocess, this subject of how to best serve students with learning challenges is especially relevant. Readers may also wish to check out the author’s introductory article: Learning Styles Teaching Lacks Common Sense.

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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

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

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Learning Styles Teaching Lacks Common Sense

Different strokes for different folks. What works for you doesn’t necessarily work for me. These sayings appeal to our American ideals of individualism and equality, don’t they? And they certainly seem to apply to how we think we should teach. Our assumption is that we all learn differently so good teachers should adjust instruction to how students learn. Specifically, we assume that some students are better auditory (or aural) learners, some are better visual learners, and some are better kinesthetic learners. Or add additional modalities or intelligences to the list, if you wish. All we need to do to maximize learning is to adjust instruction to fit the modality that best matches the students’ learning styles or intelligences. It just seems like good old-fashioned common sense.

However, common sense is not always a trustworthy or reliable guide. Galileo once challenged Aristotle’s wisdom and the popular consensus of two millennia that objects fall at different rates, depending upon their bulk. Galileo climbed to the top of the leaning tower of Pisa and dropped a tiny musket ball and a huge canon ball at the same time. Defying common sense, those objects reached ground at the same time. Even today, ask most people whether a nickel or computer would hit the ground first. Most would still pick the computer.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Teachers encounter counter-intuitive examples in teaching all the time: a not-so-bright student whose parents both have master’s degrees, a student with high fluency but low comprehension, an administrator who has never taught in a classroom. These anomalies just don’t make sense, but they happen quite frequently. In fact, before recent IDEA legislation, students with demonstrated learning problems could not qualify for special education unless there was an established discrepancy between ability and performance. In other words, unless the student’s learning disability challenged our notions of common sense, the student could not qualify for special education services.

Most teachers will say that they believe in some form of learning style or multiple intelligences theory. Most will say that they attempt to adjust instruction to some degree to how they perceive students learn best. Many use modality assessments to guide their instructional decision-making. This is particularly true within the special education community. Although there probably has been some change, Arter and Jenkins (1979) found that more than 90% of special education teachers believe in modality theory. These assumptions are especially relevant as special education teachers assume lead roles in the expanded Response to Intervention models, especially with respect to the three-tiered instructional model.

But these common sense assumptions are simply wrong for the most part. To understand why, we need to define our terms a bit. When we talk about how our students learn we need to consider three components of the learning process. First, the learner accesses input, that is teaching, through sensory experiences. Next, the learner makes meaning of and connects that new input to existing knowledge and experience. Finally, that learner stores this input into the short and long term memories.

Now, this learning process is not the same as knowledge. Learning (the verb) leads to knowledge (the noun). And knowledge is not how students learn. Knowledge is what students learn. Knowledge is stored in the memory. Knowledge = memory. Memory includes everything and excludes nothing. It even includes learning how to learn. We have no separate data bases.

So how is knowledge (memory) stored in the brain? According to cognitive scientists, 90% of the memory is meaning-based. Only 10% of the memory consists of visual or auditory representations (Willingham 2009). These percentages do reflect what we teach. Most everything we teach is meaning-based. So, shouldn’t we focus our teaching energies on matching how we teach to how the knowledge is stored?

Auditory Memory

Let’s start with the 10%. If knowledge will be stored as an auditory memory, teaching should emphasize this modality. For example, if band students are learning how to tune their instruments, they need to listen to and practice hearing the sound waves, not necessarily see a spectrograph or understand the complexities of how sound is produced. Or if students are learning to read with inflection, they need to hear good models of inflection and mimic those models. Both sound waves and reading inflection knowledge are stored primarily as auditory memories. To tune their instruments, band students will access their auditory memories of wave sounds and apply this knowledge to raising or lowering the pitch of their instruments. To read with inflection, students will recall the rhythm, emphasis, and altered voices of modeled readings and apply this knowledge to reading in front of the class.

Visual Memory

And now the balance of the 10%. If knowledge will be stored as a visual memory, teaching should emphasize this modality. For example, if art students are learning the color spectrum, they need to see and practice the colors with their various hues, not just memorize ROY G BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet). Or if students are memorizing the locations of the states, they will need to see and practice their shapes, sizes, and relationships to other states on political and/or physical maps. Both colors and the locations of states are stored primarily as visual memories. To draw an apple from memory, art students will access their visually stored memories of various hues of red and/or other colors and apply this knowledge to their watercolor. To pass the map test, students will recall the images of the political and/or physical maps and correctly label the states.

Meaning-Based Memory

And finally to the 90%. These meaning-based memories are stored independent of any modality-“not in terms of whether you saw, heard, or physically interacted with the information.” (Willingham 2009). If knowledge will be stored in the memory as meaning, teaching should be designed to emphasize this outcome. For example, if history students are learning the three branches of the federal government and the system of checks and balances, they need to understand the meanings of the terms: legislative, executive, and judicial as well as the specific limitations of and checks on powers that the framers of the Constitution designed to ensure balance and prevent abuse. Good teaching would emphasize both rehearsal and application of this information to ensure understanding. This would, of course, necessitate using the auditory (or aural) modality. It would also certainly be appropriate to use the visual modality by drawing the three-branch tree with each branch representing the divisions of government. However, most of the learning process will necessitate memorizing how, what, where, when, and why facts through meaning-storage strategies and techniques (such as repetition), establishing cognitive connections to prior knowledge and experiences with plenty of appropriate examples, and practicing trial and error feedback through class discussion, reading, and writing. Whew! Complex, meaning-based stuff. On the test, students will not access memories of the teacher’s lecture voice or the teacher’s tree drawing to answer the multiple-choice questions. Students will recall meaning-based memories derived from teaching that appropriately matches the content to be learned. If 90% of what our students learn is meaning-based, why waste limited planning and instructional time fixating on the 10%? Now that’s good old-fashioned common sense.

Check out Dr. Daniel Willingham’s YouTube on this subject.

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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

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

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Free ELA/Reading Assessments

As an MA reading specialist and English-language Arts teacher, I know the value of diagnostic assessments. No two students are exactly alike. Each has different instructional needs. Each student deserves instruction adjusted to those needs. But how can elementary, middle, and high school teachers assess and teach to a class or classes full of individuals? Simple. With whole-class assessments. These assessments must be quick and easy to administer, grade, and record. Less time assessing leads to more time teaching.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding ELA/Reading Assessments from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

ELA/Reading Assessments

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/

Download free phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, sight word, rimes, sight syllables, fluency, grammar, mechanics, and spelling assessments. All with answers and recording matrices. A true gold mine for the teacher committed to individualized instruction! Go to the QUICK LINKS resources at the bottom of our homepage to select the assessments you want. Absolutely free and all include recording matrices.

Eliminating the Trust Factor with Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/eliminating-the-trust-factor-with-diagnostic-elareading-assessments/

In summary, trust the science of comprehensive, diagnostic ELA/reading assessments to inform your instruction. Using this objective data will eliminate the “trust factor” and guess work and enable effective ELA and reading teachers to differentiate instruction.

Ten Criteria for Effective ELA/Reading Diagnostic Assessments

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

Diagnostic assessments are essential instructional tools for effective English-language Arts and reading teachers. However, many teachers resist using these tools because they can be time-consuming to administer, grade, record, and analyze. Here are the criteria for effective diagnostic assessments.

What’s the Value of Individual Reading Assessments?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/whats-the-value-of-individual-reading-assessments/

Individual reading assessments are time-consuming and inefficient. Effective reading assessments are 1. comprehensive 2. diagnostic and 3. They must be easy to give, easy to grade, and easy to record. Essentially, effective reading assessments can be delivered whole class as accurate screening tools.

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

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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

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

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

Free Differentiated Instruction (DI) Resources

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

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

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

Differentiated Instruction

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/

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

Navigating Differentiated Instruction

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

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

Common Core DI, RTI, and ELL

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

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

Don’t Teach to the LCD

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

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

Differentiated Reading Instruction for Gifted Students

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

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

The Dos and Don’ts of Differentiated Instruction

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

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

Differentiated Instruction: The What and the How

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

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

23 Myths of Differentiated Instruction

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

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

12 Reasons Why Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction

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

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

Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

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

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

Learning Styles Teaching Lacks Common Sense

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

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

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

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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

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

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

Don’t Teach to the LCD

Teachers get into our profession for different reasons. Some of us truly enjoyed school and have always wanted to be teachers. Some of us value the independence of our own classrooms. Some of us like being part of a team. Some of us like the job security (true until recently). Some of us like the vacations. However, all of us share two common denominators: we enjoy working with students and we want to help make a difference in their lives.

These common denominators require some degree of compassion, empathy, and idealism. Admirable and necessary character traits for an educator, if you ask me. However, our penchant for helping individuals can work cross-purpose to our overall mission of helping all students. In fact, we often wind up teaching to the LCD (the Lowest Common Denominator). Perhaps I  had better explain…

Problems

  • We may spend an inequitable amount of time, resources, and personal teacher attention on students who need instructional remediation. Our desire to see every student succeed often means that we give more to the neediest. Remedial instruction often includes more instructional time within the school day. “Early Bird” classes in primary, intervention classes in intermediate, middle, and high schools provide that additional time. Our schools fund these special classes, which often include lower teacher to student ratios and more supplies (such as remedial texts) to students who perform lower than grade-level norms. Within the “regular” class setting, students with instructional and/or behavioral challenges receive more personal teacher attention than do other students. Now, few teachers would argue that these students do not deserve this additional time, resources, and personal teacher attention. This would run counter to “who we are” as educators. However, in the real world there are fiscal, legal, and systemic constraints. All students can certainly be labeled as needy—think middle-performing and gifted students… Don’t these students deserve equitable time, resources, and teacher attention? Teachers are less comfortable with the concept of “taking away” instructional time, resources, and personal teacher attention. But, schools are reductive entities. Giving more there takes away from here.
  • We may slow down the instructional pace to ensure that all students have a greater chance at mastering our teaching objectives. Typically, this means that we repeat instruction, provide additional examples, and spend more time on guided practice. Increased success in mastery of the teaching objectives for remedial students often comes at the cost of boring middle-performing and gifted students to tears.
  • We may cater to the perceived needs of remedial students. Beyond special classes, we spoon-feed alternative instruction (pre-teach/re-teach, TPR, student choice, learning styles, and more) within the classroom. Teachers may provide peer tutoring or use instructional aides to monitor progress of remedial students and especially special education students. Teachers repeat or re-explain whole-class instructions to individuals. In catering to the needs of some students, we may find ourselves unintentionally lowering expectations for these students. For example, we may be advised to reduce the class or homework for individual students. We may choose to ignore teaching certain challenging standards. We may adjust tests, grading scales, or the type of assigned work.

Solutions

  • Commit to spending an equitable amount of time, resources, and personal teacher attention on all students. Often, this means middle-performing students who can get “lost in the shuffle.” Think of the student names that are hardest to learn. They belong to your middle-performing students. I will bet that you quickly and more easily learn the names of your students with instructional or behavioral challenges and the names of your brightest students.
  • Be an anti-tracking advocate. Tracking students assumes that there is such a possibility of a homogeneous class. There is no such animal. For example, as a reading specialist I can assure you that lumping together a group of remedial readers into an intervention class does not make homogeneous instruction possible. Students are remedial readers for a wide-variety of reasons. At the other end of the spectrum, no two gifted students are gifted in the same way. Tracking costs additional money. Reducing class sizes for some raises class sizes for others. Scheduling tracked classes is a nightmare and involves real costs. We can also discuss the negative social stigma for some students that often derives from tracking.
  • Differentiating instruction for all of your students means that all deserve your personal attention. All students need to be personally challenged at the points of their diagnostically assessed instructional needs. Affording equitable personal teacher attention does not necessarily mean that you interact in the same way with each student; however, assigning appropriate learning activities needs to reflect that goal.
  • Speed up your instructional pace. You don’t have to become a “fast-talker,” but becoming consciously aware of how you manage class time, and especially how you deliver instruction, is essential to the success of all of your students. Counter-intuitively, remedial students benefit from a “hurried, yet relaxed” instructional pace. Setting a daily time for differentiated instruction will allow you to judiciously address students who need more time.
  • Guard time-on-task zealously. Use the full amount of class time by designing effective “openers” and “closers.” Train your students to make quick instructional transitions. Know your own proclivities. If you are the “funny teacher,” tell fewer jokes. If you are the “share my personal life teacher,” tell less stories and spend more time on Facebook®. Having a peer observe your time-on-task instructional patterns can be an eye-opening experience. Advocate forcefully for fewer class interruptions.
  • If two instructional activities or methodologies accomplish the same mastery, teach the one that takes less time. To tread on a few cherished traditions: sugar cube or toothpick forts and castles, dioramas, masks, oral book reports from every student, and quite a few science projects just have to go. Process and fun are fine, but we have choices to make as professionals.
  • We know from years of educational research that maintaining high expectations for all students is essential to their success. Guard against those that would provide the “realistic” caveat to that statement. Maintain your idealism that all students can and must learn. Treat students as individuals and know their needs, but don’t cater to them and avoid spoon-feeding. Encourage independent learning and maximum effort from your students.

Teachers are habitual creatures, just as are our students. It takes time to change from teaching to the Lowest Common Denominator to differentiating instruction for all of your students.

R

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

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

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How to Determine Reading Levels

Degrees of Reading Power (DRP)? Fleish-Kincaid? Lexiles? Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Book List? Accelerated Reader ATOS? Reading Recovery Levels? Fry’s Readability? John’s Basic Reading Inventory? Standardized test data? Each of these resources/assessments quantifies student reading levels and purports to offer guidance regarding how to match reader to text. For the purposes of this article, we will limit discussion to why these approaches do not work and what does work to match reader to text for independent reading.

As an MA reading specialist, I have been trained in how these tests are constructed and how they help determine reading levels for students. I also know how some of the publishers of these tests level reading materials to match the results of their tests. Although very scientific, there are eight problems with each of these approaches:

1. They are cumbersome and time-consuming to administer.

2. They tend to be costly.

3. They are teacher-dependent (students and parents can’t pick books at their challenge levels without guidance).

4. They do not factor in reader motivation.

5. They do not factor in reading content, in terms of maturity of themes (Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye has a 4.7 ATOS readability level).

6. When compared, the various formulae each vary in grade level equivalencies (one rates Tom Sawyer at 4.2, another at 6.9, and still another at 7.3).

7. They tend to force librarians into arbitrary book coding systems to conform to the tests.

8. They limit student and parent choice of reading materials. Two examples of the problems of determining readability levels and matching these to “appropriate books” should suffice:

I’m not trying to be a whining, complaining parent here. I’m simply trying to highlight a problem. At our public library, there are bookmarks in the youth department that list suggested books for students in each grade (K-12th). We picked up an 8th grade bookmark to get ideas for (her daughter’s) acceptable reading-leveled book. Found a book. Looked up the reading level  and found that it was a 4.5 (not anywhere near the 8.7-10.7 my daughter needed).

As a parent, I watched my very smart 9 year old work the system. He continually read books very much below his ability NOT because he likes reading them, but because he could read them quickly and get points. Other books that he told me he really wanted to read, he didn’t either because they were longer and would take “too long to read” or they weren’t on the AR list.

Given these issues, isn’t there a better solution that will help inform selection of independent reading books?

Yes. Motivation and word recognition.

Motivation has to factor into reading selection. My own son grew a full year in reading comprehension by reading the fourth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire over the summer a few years back. The book was certainly above his grade level for a fifth grader, but he was motivated and carefully read and re-read with dictionary and Dad at his side for help. Similarly, thank God for the current “Twilight” series. Many of my below grade level readers (I teach seventh graders) have significantly increased their reading levels by getting hooked on this latest literary phenomenon.

Word recognition remains the best indicator for self-selection of appropriate reading level books. It is book and reader-specific and thus cannot be tested by the above readability formulae. With guidance, parents and students can use the techniques below, in combination with the motivation factor to select books within their proximal zone of development—in other words, books that will challenge, but not frustrate the reader.

Word Recognition Techniques

Primary teachers have used the “five-finger method” for years.  Readers select appropriate reading levels by using the fingers of one hand to count down the number of unknown words on a single page. Any more than five unknown words means that the text is at their frustrational level and another book should be selected.

To update and refine this technique for older students, reading text that has about 5% of the words that are unknown to the reader is the appropriate independent reading level.

How can you pick a book to read that has 5% unknown words?

1. Choose a book and count the number of words on any complete page found near the beginning of the book and multiply that number by 3.

2. Read a page toward the beginning of the book, counting the number of unknown words. A good guideline would be “if you can’t define it with a synonym, antonym, or example,” it is unknown. Then, read a page near the middle of the book and continue the count. Finally, read a page near the end of the book and finish the count.

3. Divide the total number of unknown words by the total number of words found on the three pages. The result will be the percentage of unknown words. Anything within the 4-6% range is acceptable. For example, a reader counts the number of words on a page and arrives at 225. 225 x 3 = 750. After reading the three pages, the amount of unknown words totals 30. 30.00 divided by 750 = .05, or 5%.

Again, don’t let the word recognition range be the only factor in determining student choice. When in doubt, let the student go higher. Student motivation can overcome word recognition deficiencies (within reason). Try to discourage reading materials below the students’ word recognition levels. Although we want students to love what they read, we are also about challenging them and building reading comprehension and vocabulary development.

As C.S. Lewis once said… the neat sorting-out of books into age ranges, so dear to publishers, has only a very sketchy relation with the habits of any real readers. Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table.CS Lewis (1952 essay On three ways of writing for children, collected in Of Other Worlds (latest edition, Harvest Books 2002)

The results can be amazing. Reading this level of text will expose most readers to about 300 unknown words in 30 minutes of reading. Learning 5% of these words from the surrounding context clues of the text is realistic. This means that students will learn about 15 new words during a typical reading session. My advice? Ditch the overly complex and limited reading formulae and use motivation and word recognition to guide independent book selection.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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The Dos and Don’ts of Differentiated Instruction

With the Response to Intervention (RTI) model now being incorporated into many school districts today, it has become increasingly important to help frame the differentiated instruction (DI) discussion in an objective manner that won’t promote narrow agendas and will encourage teachers to experiment with DI in their own classrooms. Before I offer some tips on the dos and don’ts of differentiated instruction, it makes sense to address the key reasons that some teachers resist this educational approach.

Why Some Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction

1. Some teachers resist implementing DI because they wrongly perceive that managing diverse instructional strategies and on-going assessments would necessitate a veteran superstar teacher with no life outside of the classroom. Some teachers believe that DI requires too much preparation, assessment, correction, and record-keeping. These may have been truisms years ago, but clever teachers have since developed effective short-cuts to planning, assessment, and paper work. DI need not be a cause of teacher “burn-out” and teachers of all ability and experience levels can begin differentiated instruction with proper training and support. Furthermore, DI is not an “all or nothing” proposition, as some would lead us to believe. Most teachers layer in different aspects of DI over time.

2. The increasing emphasis on rigorous standards-based instruction and teaching to high-stakes tests have clearly prevented some teachers from implementing DI. In today’s educational climate, teachers do not want to be accused of “dumbing-down” instruction. However, DI can provide better access to those rigorous standards and greater success on those high-stakes tests, if done right. Differentiated instruction adjusts the focus from teaching to learning. Teachers can help students “catch up” through scaffolded instruction, while the students concurrently “keep up” with rigorous grade-level instruction.

3. Some teachers resist implementing differentiated instruction by attempting to create  homogeneous classes. Early-late reading and math instruction in the elementary grades and tracked ability classes in the secondary schools are designed to provide qualitatively different instruction for different student levels. However, analyzing the data of any subject-specific diagnostic assessment will indicate that students have a wide variety of relative strengths and weaknesses in any subject and that “different student levels” is an arbitrary and unworkable concept. Even within highly-tracked programs, DI is absolutely necessary because each student is unique with different skill sets and learning needs.

*For the complete article on Why Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction, check out this link.

The Whats of Differentiated Instruction

Don’ts

1. Don’t Trust the Standardized Test Data. The results of standardized tests provide “macro” data that can assess program quality or level of student achievement relative to the composite scores of other students. The data cannot pinpoint the “micro” data of student strengths and weaknesses in the skills and content that teachers need to assess. Even standards-based assessments provide only generic data, not the “nuts and bolts” discreet skills analyses that can effectively inform instruction.

2. Don’t Trust Your Colleagues. Teaching is an independent practice. No matter how many years we have eaten lunch with our teacher peers, no matter how many conferences, department or grade-level meetings we have attended together, no matter how many of the same teaching resources we share, and no matter how specific our scope and sequences of instruction align, we cannot assume that the students of our colleagues have mastered the skills that we need to build upon.

3. Don’t Trust Yourself. Making instructional decisions based upon “what the students know and what they don’t know” requires objective data to inform our judgments. There are just too many variables to trust even the best teacher intuition: family situations, language, culture, school experience, just to name a few. If we are honest, even veteran teachers are frequently fooled by sophisticated student coping mechanisms and cultural stereotypes.

Dos

1. Use relevant and specific diagnostic assessments. Eliminate the trust factor with good diagnosis. Record and analyze the student data to inform direct and differentiated instruction, including what skills and concepts need to be taught, how much time needs to be spent upon instruction, who needs intensive instruction and who needs only review, and who has already mastered the skill or concept. Use whole-class, multiple-choice assessments whenever possible, to minimize assessment and grading times.

2. Develop quick and frequent formative assessments to gauge student mastery of your teaching objectives. Use the data to inform and adapt your instruction accordingly. Learning is the heart and soul of DI, not teaching.

3. Establish and use a collaborative model to determine the whats of instruction. Include students, parents, and teaching colleagues in data analysis. Collaboration is essential to successful implementation of DI and RTI.

The Hows of Differentiated Instruction

Don’ts

1. Just because DI is student-centered, don’t go overboard on adjusting the how of instruction to correspond to student learning preferences. Learning styles, multi-sensory instruction, and multiple intelligences are long-standing educational constructs, but are based upon minimal research. Learning preference inventories do not provide reliable diagnostics about how to differentiate instruction. For example, auditory and visual processing deficits can be diagnosed, but no research has yet demonstrated which instructional strategies work best for these learners.

2. Don’t devolve all decision-making to student choice regarding how they choose to learn. Students don’t know what they don’t know. To devolve the how of instruction to student choice is to abrogate our responsibilities as informed and objective decision-makers. Do we really want to entrust the how of instruction to an eight-year old student and agree that Johnny knows best how to learn his multiplication tables? Do we really want to allow middle schoolers to choose whether they can listen to their iPods® while they silently read their social studies textbooks?

3. Don’t allow the hows of learning to destroy class management or time-on-task instructional efficiency. We should always perform a cost-benefit analysis on how we differentiate instruction. Good teachers weigh the needs of the class and the needs of the individual students, and then make decisions accordingly. Sometimes the optimal instructional methodology needs to be ditched and substituted with another because the students or teacher just can’t handle learning or teaching that way that day.

Dos

1. Consider the needs and differences of the learners. We never want to limit students to our own imaginations. Students do have important insights into their own learning that we need to consider. Teaching students to monitor and experiment with how they learn best is invaluable to their development as life-long learners. This kind of self-reflection can be promoted by teaching metacognitive strategies, such as self-questioning during independent reading or self-assessment on an analytical writing rubric.

2. Model different ways to learn skills and concepts. For example, in composition, some students prefer to draft first and revise thereafter; others prefer to integrate the drafting and revision process. Wouldn’t a teacher-led “think-aloud” that models these two composition processes make sense? Students learn which option or combination thereof works best for them through teacher direction, not from a sink or swim, work-it-out-yourself, trial and error process.

3. Use a variety of instructional methodologies. Effective DI instruction adapts to the needs of the learners. For some skills or concepts, DI involves direct, explicit instruction to pre-teach or re-teach concepts. For others, DI is best accomplished in heterogeneous cooperative groups or homogeneous ability groups. For still others, DI requires individualized instruction, via targeted worksheets and one-on-one review.

At its core, DI is simply good, sound teaching. Some proponents seem to intimate that DI is the ultimate educational panacea. However, no educational approach absolutely ensures student success. Unfortunately, it is all too often the case that you “can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Some students exposed to the best DI will continue to fail. But, directly addressing the individual learning needs of our students, rather than teaching a class as though all individuals in it were basically alike, offers our best chance of success for all.

The writer of this article, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of assessment-based teaching resources in the fields of reading and English-language arts. His comprehensive curricula help teachers differentiate instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or specialized training. Check out the following programs designed to teach both grade-level Standards and help students master those Standards not yet mastered. For the finest in assessment-based instruction…

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

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components. Check out the entire instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Grades 4-8 Common Core Standards.

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

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

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

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Differentiated Instruction: The What and the How

Rick,

… My point is that teachers need to be the ones making informed choices about how to differentiate instruction, not students. Student choice re: content and process is at best “the blind leading the blind.” I do agree with your practical emphasis on what works, as long as the teacher sets the agenda.

Mark Pennington (February 16th, 2010)

Mark,

I think there’s still room for a student’s sense of what he needs to learn to help teachers orchestrate the learning experience. For example, a student might claim that flash cards don’t really help him learn vocabulary so much as a another strategy does, and he’d like to use this other strategy. He asks the teacher about using this other strategy, and effective teachers usually say, “Let me get out of your way and let you learn.” If we’re not teaching the process itself, it doesn’t matter how students learn it, as long as they learn it well. We don’t want to limit students to our imagination. Students have important insights into their own learning that our curriculum and student overload doesn’t always allow us to see. This does not change the teacher’s agenda, and it would be a mistake to summarily dismiss such input from our thinking as we teach.

Rick Wormeli (February 17th, 2010)

Rick,

As a staff developer and district reading specialist for five years during the 1990s in Elk Grove Unified (the third largest school district in California), I had the opportunity to visit countless elementary classrooms. Student-choice learning including “Learning Centers,” “Free-Choice Fridays,” unsupervised “SSR” (student selected books with no accountability), “Learning Style” assignments in which kinesthetic learners acted out, rather than wrote essays, “Multiple Intelligences Learning” in which students could choose to create a written report, oral report, a song/rap, or create a model (countless sugar cube castles, DNA double helices, dioramas)… I could go on… were prominent features of many classrooms. Not only was a substantial portion of the daily content in the hands of students, teachers also devolved the methods of learning to their students via the “in” educational instructional fad which promoted student-choice learning. Reading test scores hovered in the 40th percentiles for years, especially in the middle and lower SES schools.

Enter a swing in the pedagogical pendulum, away from constructivist student-centered learning to teacher-directed, standards-based learning and away from whole language reading instruction to phonics-based reading instruction. Elk Grove Unified adopted Open Court® Reading—which utilized a scripted instructional block and “workshop” in which reading instruction was differentiated according to formative data. Most teachers, at first, hated the tightly-bound curriculum, and especially the differentiated “workshop.” Learning how to organize and implement differentiated instruction was very challenging. Both teachers and reading specialists experimented and shared successes and failures of their “workshops.” As teacher expertise improved, reading scores jumped within two years to the 60th percentiles and have remained there for a dozen years. Certainly, the change in the what of instruction mattered, but the how of instruction may have mattered more. Most of us credited the teacher-directed differentiated instruction of “workshop” as the key factor in improving student scores across all demographics.

Beyond that eye-opening elementary experience, I’ve taught sixteen years at the middle school level, eight at the high school level, and three at the community college level. From my own teaching experience, and (more specifically) the learning experiences of my students, I’ve gleaned a few more morsels about whether teachers or students should be in charge of the what and how of learning.

A nine-year-old, twelve-year-old, sixteen-year-old, and twenty-year-old all seem to share a few common developmental learning characteristics: First, most would take the path of least resistance to reach their goals. Few are mature enough to include learning skills and concepts as key components of these personal goals. Students want the grades and the related self-satisfaction; they want access to the next class and/or school; they want to keep their parents off of their backs–in other words, they are human. We were once as they are.

Our understanding of the characteristics and proclivities of our students should inform both the what and the how of instruction. Consider this: students don’t know what they don’t know. To devolve the what of instruction to student choice is to abrogate our responsibilities as the informed, objective decision-makers.  Teaching professionals know what our students do and don’t know. Furthermore, to delegate the how of learning to students seems akin to educational malpractice. Do we really want to entrust the how of instruction to an eight-year old student and agree that Johnny knows best how to learn his multiplication tables? Do we really want to allow middle schoolers to choose whether they can listen to their iPods® while they silently read Chapter 24 of their social studies textbooks? Students don’t know how to best learn what they don’t know. How could they? If they did know the how, they would already know the what, especially if what was perceived as relevant to their immediate wants and needs. They don’t. We teachers do best know how they learn. We have the training, results, and informed judgment.

Now, I’m not a stuffy autocrat who says “My way or the highway” and, of course, there is always another imaginative “way to teach this.” Sure, some choice can increase student motivation and “one-size fits all” ways to problem-solve or learn a concept or skill may not get the job done for some students; however, even these choices are most efficiently and effectively teacher-driven and modeled. For example, in composition, some students prefer to draft first and revise thereafter; others prefer to integrate the drafting and revision process. Wouldn’t a teacher-led “think-aloud” modeling these two composition processes make sense? Students learn which option or combination thereof works best for them through teacher direction, not from a sink or swim, work it out yourself, trial and error process. Far from “getting out of the way and letting them learn,” teachers need to actively direct both the what and how of the learning process.

Frankly, I am much more concerned about the what, than the how, in terms of differentiated instruction. If teachers buy-in to assessment-based instruction, based upon diagnostic and formative assessments, the battle is chiefly won and DI (differentiated instruction) is an easy sell. However, most teachers aren’t there yet. There are reasons that teachers resist differentiated instruction, and until teacher buy-in, the how of instruction is a relatively fruitless pursuit. When more teachers get there, we can continue the “skirmishing” re: student choice and the how of effective instruction and learning.

Mark

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Reading Intervention: How to Beat the Odds

Shocking: Less than one-third of America’s high school students are able to read or write at grade level. Even more sobering: Fewer than one-in-six low-income students have these essential skills (Perie et al., 2005). In high-poverty urban high schools, only half of incoming ninth-graders are able to read at the sixth/seventh-grade levels (Balfanz et al., 2002). Overwhelming: Only one-of-six students entering middle school two or more grade levels behind reading skills ever achieve grade or age level reading ability.

What Has Not Worked

Ignoring the Problem: Some educators have mistakenly believed that because students learn at different rates, students will “catch up” in their reading as they become developmentally ready. We can’t afford to place our heads in the sand with this approach.

Wishful Thinking: Some educators have mistakenly believed that students will “catch up” in their reading when they are exposed to the “right” reading materials. “If only we could find an author or genre at Johnny’s level, he would teach himself to read.” Johnny needs much more than appropriate reading materials and self-motivation.

Reading Modeling: Some educators have mistakenly believed that if parents and teachers read enough to their children/students, they will “catch up” to grade level reading. Reading is all about content, but it is also all about skills. Remedial reading students do not learn to read by the process of osmosis.

Survival Skills: Some educators have mistakenly believed that once students master basic reading skills, say those traditionally learned by the end of third grade, they need no more “learning to read” instruction. So, the focus on “reading to learn” becomes hodgepodge survival skills which won’t equip students to read secondary grade level content.

“Canned” Reading Programs: Some educators have mistakenly believed that a “canned” teacher-proof reading program will be able to “catch up” remedial readers at the upper elementary, middle school, or high school levels. As the predominant means of remediating reading deficiences, has this approach worked? No.

What Can Work

Student-based Reading Instruction: Students who are reading below grade-level are the “highest risk students” in any school. Their special needs are not limited to reading difficulties. Low self-esteem, depression, and “acting-out” behavioral patterns are common. Responding to the whole child is a key ingredient in improving reading ability. See Social and Emotional Problems Related to Dyslexia.

Assessment-based Reading Instruction: Standards-based tests may provide a rough indicator of students with severe reading problems. However, when used as a sorting method to form “reading ability” classes, this mis-application of data does more harm then good. Proper diagnostic screening assessments are essential tools to ensure proper placement and remediation.

Teacher-based Reading Instruction: The most important variable in successful reading intervention is the teacher. The teacher must be placed in the key decision-making role, and not be made subservient to a “canned” curriculum that dictates what and how to teach. As a reading specialist, I have constantly had to push and prod administrators and district curricular specialists to support teachers in this role as the key decision-makers. All too often, well-intentioned administrators and curricular specialists have de-valued teacher professionalism. Despite the claims of reading intervention publishers and salespeople, there is no “teacher-proof” reading remediation. This being said, secondary teachers (usually English-language arts teachers by default) usually have little instructional reading background and have probably only taken one or two post-graduate reading strategies courses. True enough, but teaching professionals are expert learners and are motivated because they want their students to succeed.

Collaborative Commitment: Both administrators and teachers must avoid creating self-fulfilling prophecies. All too often, new teachers are selected to teach reading intervention courses. Rarely does a veteran teacher step up and demand to teach a reading intervention course. Only the “best and brightest” will ensure success of a reading intervention program.

Differentiated Instruction: The reading intervention teacher has to commit to the concept and practice of differentiated instruction. Each secondary student has different reading issues and will learn at different paces. Both content (the what) and the methods of instruction (the how) need to be adjusted to the needs of the students. These needs must be determined by teacher judgment of relevant diagnostic and formative assessments and not by the dictates of the “canned” curriculum. Any curriculum that does not afford the teacher with the flexibility to differentiate instruction will guarantee failure.

Flexibly Structured Reading Instruction: The structure of a successful reading intervention program must match this pedagogical approach to ensure success. If we are serious about improving the odds (one-in-six) of success for our “highest risk” students, course schedules must be built around the needs of students, enabling in and out transfers of remedial reading students to accommodate their needs. The needs of these students must be afforded the highest priorities to ensure success. Optimally, the reading intervention should be compensatory and not reductive. The goal should be to “catch up” and “keep up” these students. Substituting a remedial reading class for a student’s English-language arts class may do more harm than good.

As we move in the direction of affirming teacher professionalism with the evolving RtI process, we are beginning to emphasize a collaborative approach to determine how to best meet student needs. Here’s hoping that we reduce the odds of failure and increase the odds of success for these deserving students.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

23 Myths of Differentiated Instruction

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

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

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

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

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

Educational Philosophy

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

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

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

Instructional Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Receives Differentiated Instruction

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

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

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

Curricular Rigor and Fairness

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher Commitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t Rely on Rigor and Relevance

Political and Economic Context

Since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, public schools have felt mounting pressure to increase the levels of instructional rigor and academic success for all students. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, signed into law in 2002, has forced states to reevaluate their standards and assessment programs according to federal criteria, and adjust to the adequate yearly progress (AYP) provision of NCLB. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and now the Race to the Top funding has brought additional federal carrot and stick measures to induce states to follow federal guidelines and initiatives. Over the last few months, state legislatures have raced to approve needed changes to qualify for federal dollars. Forty states and the District of Colombia made the federal deadline of January 19 to enable them to access federal funds.

Concurrently, concerns about the growing Achievement Gap, especially with respect to underperforming African-American and Latino sub-groups have come to the national consciousness. Traditionally liberal voices have begun supporting traditionally conservative, anti-public school proposals such as charter schools, open enrollment, vouchers, and teacher accountability-via-assessment. The Obama Administration and U.S. Department of Education support these initiatives. The National Education Association is reeling.

For example, the ARRA funds are to be used to improve student achievement and close the achievement gap through “shared commitment and responsibility.” What is this process defined by the federal government?

  • Adopting rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments
  • Establishing data systems and using data for improvement
  • Increasing teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of effective teachers
  • Turning around the lowest-performing schools
  • Improving results for all students, including early childhood learning, extended learning time, use of technology, preparation for college, and school modernization http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=204335,00.html

In other words, more and more governmental accountability and less autonomy for school districts, administrators, and teachers.

School districts are failing during the current economic downturn. Deep in debt, districts are enacting furlough days with the consent of powerless teacher unions. Compromises are made to ensure some sort of survival. Districts and teachers are devolving more control to states and the federal government for money to keep afloat. Public education is in crisis mode.

Academic Context

As a precursor to this crisis mode, the in vogue educational leadership trend was the Rigor and Relevance Movement. Popularized over the last decade by Bill Daggett and the International Center for Leadership in Education, with concurrent support from the Institute of Education Sciences (the federal research agency) arm of the U.S. Department of Education, the movement has swept the nation. Largely as a result of historical timing, the Rigor and Relevance (and now, relationships) Movement has become the de facto solution to the ills of public education. Administrators and teachers throughout the United States are using the Rigor and Relevance quadrants to analyze instructional effectiveness.

A Few Working Definitions

Although the movement is pervasive, it is not monolithic. No one holds the trademark on the terms rigor and relevance. In fact, rigor is variously defined. Some define rigor in terms of end-goals, such as high standards or high expectations. Others define rigor as a set of competences as measured by high stakes assessments. Some cross-over adherents from the Essential Schools movement have defined the term as the mastery of educational concepts. Often, the term is defined in terms of process-goals. Instructional methodologies are featured prominently in discussions about rigor. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a favorite, as well as any instructional strategies that elicit critical thinking, deep understanding, exploration, and research.

The usage of relevance also varies. Relevance for students refers to interdisciplinary and contextual learning situations directly connected to real-world problems ranging from routine to complex. Relevance for teachers and administrators implies establishing a vision and mission, and moving forward on school improvement and change initiatives that have purpose and are focused on the agreed-upon needs of that particular school and student population.” http://rebel6.blogspot.com/2010/01/3-rs-not-just-for-students.html David Britten January 3, 2010. So, relevance refers to real-world applications, as well as to the needs and interests of student and school cultures.

Critique of the Rigor and Relevance Movement

As is frequently the case, any educational reform movement produces nuggets that can and should be mined by thoughtful public school stakeholders. However, the harder-to-mine gold often remains, as the placer (surface-level) gold is depleted.

Rigor

Much of what passes for rigor is arbitrary, subjective, and contrived.  For example, proponents of rigor usually align themselves with those who advocate standards-based education. Such standards beg the question on many fronts. Why don’t states all agree on the same standards, if there is such a broad educational consensus as to what they should be? What happens when the consensus changes? Which standards are most/least important? Do standards really reflect broader educational priorities, such as can the student read, write, do math, and think well? What prerequisites are necessary to demonstrate mastery of the standards? Why are certain standards appropriate at certain grade levels? Who decided that a standard is a standard and for what reasons?

Rigor that is not arbitrary, subjective, and contrived consists of instructional content and strategies determined through direct diagnostic and formative assessments of individual students, not arbitrary “Below Basic,” “Basic”, “Proficient,” or “Advanced” categorizations derived from annual standards-based assessments. Although we teach subject matter (content), we also teach children. Rigorous  teachers find out what students need and differentiate instruction to match those needs. Students experience success by successive approximation. Teachers challenge students just enough to help students take risks, but not too much to overwhelm them. Success builds upon success.

Relevance

Much of the renewed interest in relevance has developed from panic-attack reactions to the highly publicized Achievement Gap. Well-intentioned, teacher-induced guilt brings the “it must be my fault that I am not meeting student needs” response. Teachers rush to develop “real-world” career applications to lessons on primary numbers. Teachers ditch archaic Shakespeare for analyses of current hip hop songs. Teachers spend inordinate amounts of time establishing a motivational framework to convince students to memorize the scientific method or key elements from the Periodic Table of Elements. Teachers drop rules of classroom decorum to be culturally sensitive to students who have the proclivity to engage in impulsive outbursts.

Perhaps another view of relevance should be considered. Renowned reading researcher, Anita Archer, categorizes the Achievement Gap as largely a misnomer. She says what we really have is a “literacy gap.” I tend to agree. Until we address this fundamental issue, issues such as instructional strategies to establish relevance are futile. In fact, content literacy should be the true means of attaining educational and personal relevance. Relevance becomes a by-product of educational success, not a series of instructional strategies designed by well-intentioned educators.

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

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

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

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

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

Reading, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ten Criteria for Effective ELA/Reading Diagnostic Assessments

Diagnostic assessments are essential instructional tools for effective English-language Arts and reading teachers. However, many teachers resist using these tools because they can be time-consuming to administer, grade, record, and analyze. Some  teachers avoid diagnostic assessments because these teachers exclusively focus on grade-level standards-based instruction or believe that remediation is (or was) the job of some other teacher. To be honest, some teachers resist diagnostic assessments because the data might induce them to differentiate instruction—a daunting task for any teacher. And some teachers resist diagnostic assessments because they fear that the data will be used by administrators to hold them accountable for individual student progress.

To ameliorate these concerns, let’s agree to the ten criteria for effective ELA/reading diagnostic assessments:

1. Diagnostic assessments should be designed to be administered “whole class.” While one-on-one time with a student is wonderful; it just isn’t a practical approach for teachers with class sizes pushing forty in many schools. I won’t throw the baby out with the bath water on this one. Individual assessments are sometimes necessary as double-checks or refinements, and an individual fluency assessment is a must for elementary, middle, and some high school students. However, my experience is that effective whole class diagnostic assessments can produce results that are just as reliable and prescriptive as the time-consuming individual assessments.

2. Diagnostic assessments should be brief. Despite the oft-repeated dictum, assessment is not really instruction.

3. Diagnostic assessments should be designed to  measure only what they purport to measure. For example, a diagnostic fluency assessment that produces  inaccurate  results because it uses unfamiliar terminology or difficult names is useless. A grammar assessment that pretends to measure correct  usage by having students match a past perfect participle to its definition does not accomplish its purpose.

4. Diagnostic assessments should measure important ELA/reading concepts or skills. Although we may disagree on a few of the details, few teachers would argue that assessing a student’s reading level is not as important as assessing a student’s ability to correctly name the four classifications of sentences.

5. Diagnostic assessments should help the teacher determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of the individual student, and not just those of the class. A teacher needs more information than simply what to emphasize in instruction or what to re-teach to “most” of the class.

6. Diagnostic assessments should be quantitative. Although qualitative assessment, such as a class discussion, is useful to inform direct instruction, internally and externally valid and reliable assessments that produce hard numbers  provide objective baselines for instruction, and guide later formative and summative assessments.

7. Diagnostic assessments should be designed to measure academic skills and abilities within our control. Although cognitive ability, family background, culture, socio-economic status, and language certainly impact what students know, these important variables are beyond the scope of useful diagnostic assessments. We need diagnostic assessments that won’t  isolate these variables. For example, a diagnostic assessment  that measures only the phonetic regularities common to English and Spanish, ignores those sound-spellings exclusive to English that all students need to master. Or as a further example, knowing that there is a racial/ethnic achievement gap in ELA/reading is of less value than knowing the specific components of a literacy gap that teachers can effectively address.

8. Diagnostic assessments should be easy to grade and record. Teachers need to spend their prep times using data to inform their instruction, and less time on correction and paperwork. Well-designed assessments can be multiple choice or matching. Recording matrices need to be designed so that they are simple to use, analyze, and plan for differentiated instruction.

9. Diagnostic assessments should be designed to help teachers inform their instruction. Teachers need specificity. If a teacher cannot teach to the data gained from the assessment, of what use is the assessment? For example, complicated and time-consuming normed reading comprehension assessments provide little instructional practicality. Other than individual reading levels, which can be gained from simple word recognition tests, fluencies, or even the self-administered “five finger method,” knowing the degree to which a student can “draw conclusions” does little to impact instruction. Of course, we need to teach those skills measured by reading comprehension tests or the annual standardized test, but we waste time using diagnostic assessments to glean this data, when we will teach these skills to all of our students anyway.

10. Diagnostic assessments should be comprehensive and not random samples. Qualitative spelling inventories, reading tests, phonics tests, grammar tests, mechanics tests, and vocabulary tests that are based on random samples of skills can only help teachers identify an approximate ability/developmental level or that a student has problems in that instructional area. By their very nature, random sample tests are “missing” something. Good diagnostic assessments are designed to quantify everything that needs to be learned in the particular area of focus.

Over the years I have created, field-tested, and revised a battery of ELA/reading assessments that meet the criteria described above. You are welcome to download a comprehensive consonant and vowel phonics assessment, three sight word assessments, a spelling-pattern assessment, a multi-level fluency assessment, six phonemic awareness assessments, a grammar assessment, and a mechanics assessment free of charge. Here they are. Most of these assessments are multiple choice and are administered “whole class.” All have recording matrices to help the teacher plan for individual and small group instruction.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

Educational Fads: What Goes Around Comes Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Reasons Why Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction

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

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

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

Following are 12 reasons why teachers resist differentiated instruction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

As a teacher, I am reminded ad nauseam to “teach the Common Core State Standards.” Since I am a reading specialist, hiding inside the Trojan horse of English-language Arts in an underperforming middle school, I quietly administer reading, spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments to my students. It won’t come as much of a surprise to most of you that the diagnostic data indicate that some students have severe reading and spelling deficits.

Here then is the crux of the issue. The underlying pre-suppositions, results, and practice of standards-based instruction can be diametrically opposed to assessment-based instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of our children. This is especially true in the field of reading instruction.

The underlying pre-suppositions of the standards-based movement accept a priori that education is solely a behavioral science. We critics of this assumption would argue that much of teaching, learning, and parenting is culturally-bound and intuitive. In other words, some of effective teaching is truly an art form. We critics are not above using the scientific method and learning theory to debunk the behavioral purists. For example, the standards-based-movement begs the vital question regarding its linear scope and sequence of grade level standards: Do we really learn that way? Many teachers in my fields of English-language Arts and reading would argue the contrary. In fact, anyone who has taught the basic parts of speech to sophomores in high school won’t be surprised to learn that excellent teachers from elementary school-to middle school-to last year’s freshman class taught the same parts of speech. In other words, some learning may be recursive, not linear. Teachers, students, and parents are the critical variables here. The Common Core writers recognize this recursive element and have included the Progressive Skills Review within the Language Strand to address this instructional issue.

As is frequently the case in education, an idea takes on a life of its own in practice. A conversation a few years back with a fellow English teacher was instructive, but chilling. In discussing the results of our informal reading assessments, he looked over the clearly demonstrated reading deficits in his testing data and then said, “I teach the grade level standards. I’m not paid to go back and teach everything that the students don’t know.” He accepted a job as an administrator in our district the next year. Now, I am not over-critical of administrators… They are held accountable to implement standards-based instruction and to increase the all-important state and/or district standards-based test scores. However, administrators have got to do better than the principal who refused to implement reading intervention programs at her under-performing school because “The elementary teachers are supposed to teach reading; that’s their job, not ours. We teach the middle school Common Core State Standards here.” Of course, the principal certainly needs to read the appendices of the Common Core Standards which recognize the need for assessment-based instruction.

It’s easy to whine at the devolution of academic freedom and the sorry state of education that has been relegated to a series of standards-based grade level scope and sequence charts, with benchmarks or task analyses tacked on to provide the pretense of specificity. It’s harder to offer solutions, but here are a few thoughts.

True educators need to teach both Standards and children.

1. Do teach the grade level Common Core State Standards. Really. However, control the time allotted to teaching these standards and insist on your academic freedom here. When challenged as to why you are teaching a lesson or skill that is not explicitly listed as a grade level Standard, cite previous or advanced grade level standards that address your remedial or advanced grade level instruction.

2. Patiently argue that some students need to “catch up, to keep up.” Justify concurrent remediation or acceleration and grade level instruction by citing diagnostic data. Let data plead your case. For example, if instructed not to teach to diagnosed deficits, ask the principal/district supervisor to write a letter to the parents of students to alleviate you of this responsibility, against your informed judgment. They won’t, but they won’t bother you for awhile.

3. Explain that that any criticism is not about really about what you teach, but rather about how you teach. You are scaffolding instruction, according to the demonstrated diagnostic needs of your students in order to teach the grade level standards. That’s why assessment-based instruction is so critical. You are making the standards comprehensible and in order to do so, you must differentiate instruction. How you teach is a matter of academic freedom.

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

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

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

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

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

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