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How to Teach Greek and Latin Word Parts Vocabulary

How to Teach Greek and Latin Word Parts Vocabulary

How to Teach Greek and Latin Word Parts

Earlier in my teaching career I taught SAT/ACT preparation courses on the side. No, not the math. 

In checking out all of the SAT prep books I found page after page of Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes. As I began reviewing countless practice tests, I saw why. Academic vocabulary is loaded with Greek and Latin word parts. In fact, I discovered later that over 50% of the words in our dictionaries contain one or more Greek or Latin morphemes (the word parts which have meaning, not grammatical inflections).

Now, I never had a class in Latin in high school; it wasn’t offered and I wouldn’t have taken this dead language if it had been. However, having subsequently earned my MA as a reading specialist, having taught ELA at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels for twenty years, and having taken two years of Greek classes, I certainly see the value of learning both Greek and Latin to enhance one’s English vocabulary.

Memorizing high frequency Greek and Latin word parts is truly the most efficient short-cut to academic language acquisition.

I do wish to say that I have found little long-term retention of vocabulary learned through simple rote memorization. The keys to memorization involve deep learning, association, and continued practice. Students won’t benefit from these Greek and Latin short-cuts by simply learning a list of 20 per week with a quiz on Friday. Instead, a few well-chosen, high frequency Greek and Latin word parts learned well in the word analysis context, associated with each other to develop mental linking, and practiced in the four communicative contexts of listening, speaking, writing, and reading works so much better.

Let’s refresh our knowledge of the Common Core State Standards to see how learning Greek and Latin word parts fits into a balanced approach to vocabulary development:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

An Instructional Approach

Although many instructional techniques can be used to practice Greek and Latin vocabulary acquisition, I have never come across an effective instructional approach to introduce Greek and Latin word parts, so I had to invent my own. First, I had to select the right words. I used three criteria for doing so:

1. Frequency

I found high frequency research on prefixes, suffixes, and roots and examined the recent Academic Word List to verify that the Greek and Latin word parts I chose appeared in Tier 2 words (cross-curricular academic language) and not the domain-specific Tier 3 words (ones which each academic discipline has, yet is relatively exclusive to that discipline). Here’s a nice high frequency list.

2. Grade Level Utility

Frequency is important, but grade-level utility is an essential criterion as well. For example, the prefix em (meaning in) as used in emphatic is ranked #5 in the high frequency Greek and Latin prefixes; however, the prefix pre (meaning before) as used in preview is down the list at #13. No fourth grade teacher I know would argue that students should learn em before pre. You see the research studies don’t measure high frequency at reading grade levels. So, which words to teach can’t solely be based upon frequency.

3. Pairing

Lastly, I considered which words to teach in conjunction with which other words. First, I decided to avoid the conjugations. For example, if you were learning English, you would certainly need to learn the root, view, at some point. However, you would not have to memorize viewed, has viewed, had viewed, viewing, was viewing, will view, etc. This criterion cuts out a lot of memorization. Second, I chose word parts which link to other word parts by meaning, for example, em and en mean in and association, for example, pre dict. Again, the prefix pre (meaning before) associates with the root dict (meaning to say). Together they mean to say before. Highly memorable. Of course, precocious teachers are adding on the suffix ion (meaning process or result) to form prediction (the process or result of saying before). 

Now, besides the memorable association, this pairing also helps students problem-solve the meaning of the whole word. As you know, Greek and Latin word parts are usually, but not always helpful cues to the meanings of words. The pairing serves as an educated guess or predicted meaning.

I next required students to check their predictions. Students look up the Greek and Latin pairings as whole words in a dictionary (print or online) to compare and contrast their educated guesses to the denotative definition of the words.

Finally, I required students to divide the vocabulary word into syl/la/bles, mark its primary áccent, list its part of speech, and write its primary definition.

Now, that’s how to introduce Greek and Latin word parts!

Example

The author provides three CCSS standards-based vocabulary program options for grades 4-8 teachers. Each includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Interested in convincing your colleagues to purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

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Common Core Vocabulary

One quick glance at the Vocabulary Standards (see below) will convince most teachers that the traditional method of vocabulary instruction in our schools: pre-teaching a few challenging words before reading an article or story and handing out a vocabulary word list of Greek and Latin word parts, a few homonyms, the weekly spelling words, and a few hard words to be studied at home and tested on Friday is simply not the vocabulary instruction that the Common Core authors have in mind.

The Common Core State Standards emphasize a balanced approach to vocabulary development. Unlike some of the other ELA Standards, the vocabulary Standards are quite specific. Although much of our Tier 2 (academic language) vocabulary is acquired through reading challenging text, other gateways to vocabulary acquisition are best taught through explicit instruction. Let’s take a look at the Common Core Vocabulary Standards and the key instructional strategies to teach each Standard:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

Instructional Strategies

Multiple Meaning Words

Students should practice grade-level homonyms (same spelling homographs and sound homophones) in context clue sentences which show the different meanings and function (part of speech) for each word.

Greek and Latin Word Parts

Greek and Latin word parts appear in 50% of our Tier 2 academic words. In choosing which Greek and Latin word parts to teach, teachers should consider three criteria:

  1. Frequency research
  2. Utility for grade-level Tier 2 words
  3. Pairing:

Regarding #s 2 and 3, pairing word parts as Greek or Latin prefix-roots or root-suffix combinations enhances memorization and demonstrates utility of the Greek and Latin word parts. For example, pre (before) is paired with view (to see). Students use these combinations to make educated guesses about the meaning of the whole word. This word analysis is critical to teaching students how to problem-solve the meanings of unknown words.

Check out more on how to teach Greek and Latin word part vocabulary HERE and Greek and Latin word part games and a fantastic list of 15 Power Words which include the paired (and more) word parts HERE.

Language Resources

Students can look up the Greek and Latin pairings as whole words in a dictionary (print or online) to compare and contrast their educated guesses to the denotative definition of the words. Students should divide the vocabulary word into syl/la/bles, mark its primary áccent, list its part of speech, and write its primary definition.

Additionally, students can extend their learning by writing synonyms, antonyms, or inflected forms of the word, using either the dictionary or thesaurus (print or online). This activity helps students develop a more precise understanding of the word.

Figures of Speech

Students should learn a variety of figures of speech (non-literal expression used by a certain group of people). The Common Core Vocabulary Standards assign specific types of figures of speech to each grade level. For example, grade 4 students should learn idioms, similes, metaphors, imagery, adages, alliteration, proverbs, and onomatopoeia. Students should review each of these in grades 5−7 and learn personification, symbolism, colloquialisms, allusions, consonance, assonance, verbal irony, situational irony, dramatic irony, and puns by grade 8. Complexity should increase grade to grade.

Word Relationships

Students must learn not only to recognize context clues to discover the meanings of unknown words in their reading, but also learn how to apply context clues strategies to show the meanings of unfamiliar words and technical terms in their own writing.

Students do so by learning the categories of word relationships. Again, vocabulary instructional programs should increase in complexity from grade to grade. For example, a grade 4 word relationship category of item to category with examples such as hurricane to weather makes sense, By grade 8, students should learn more challenging word relationship categories, such as problem to solution with examples like infection to diagnosis.

Connotations: Shades of Meaning

Students need to be exposed to new grade-level vocabulary words which have similar denotative meanings, but different connotative meanings. From the provided definitions, students write these new words on a semantic spectrum to fit in with two similar words, which most of your students will already know. For example, the two new words, abundant and scarce would fit in with the already known words, plentiful and rare in this semantic order: abundant–plentiful–scarce–rare.

Academic Language

The Common Core authors write a helpful explanation of why Tier 2 words (academic vocabulary) should be the focus of vocabulary instruction. Many of these words will be discovered and learned implicitly or explicitly in the context of challenging reading, using appropriately leveled independent reading, such as grade-level class novels and specific reading strategies, such as close reading with shorter, focused text. Establishing an instructional scope and sequence of these Tier 2 words with grade-level, below, and above teaching colleagues is critical to non-repetitive curricular mapping from grade to grade level.

Additionally, direct instruction of high utility and high frequency academic vocabulary is certainly worthwhile. Teachers may wish to check out the research-based Academic Word List. Students can use the four square (definition, synonym, antonym, and example-characteristic-picture) Frayer model to learn these words. The Common Core authors and reading specialists (like me) refer to this process as learning vocabulary with depth of instruction.

If you are looking for a program to teach each of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards for your grade level, the author provides several program options. Each option includes vocabulary worksheets as described above to teach the grade-level Vocabulary Standards (L.4, 5, 6).

The Vocabulary Academic Literacy Center in available in grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 program levels. For teachers, opting for a non-literacy center approach to vocabulary instruction, the same resources (and more) are included in the author’s grades 4–8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits and in the grades 4–8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

PREVIEW THE GRADE 4 VOCABULARY WORKSHEETS HERE.

PREVIEW THE GRADE 5 VOCABULARY WORKSHEETS HERE.

PREVIEW THE GRADE 6 VOCABULARY WORKSHEETS HERE.

PREVIEW THE GRADE 7 VOCABULARY WORKSHEETS HERE.

PREVIEW THE GRADE 8 VOCABULARY WORKHEETS HERE.

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How to Practice Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice Doing What Good Readers Do

Practice Reading Comprehension

Students Practicing Reading Comprehension

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

Teaching Practices to Practice Reading Comprehension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Perfect for guided reading. Perfect for homework.

 

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Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

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

Let’s Be Honest About Teaching Reading Comprehension

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

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

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

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

Why We Can’t Teach Reading Comprehension

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

Then Cam Bronson

“Wherever I wind up, I guess”

motorcycle.

The car driver asks, “Taking a trip?”

Bronson shakes his head and answers, “Yeah.”

 “Where to?”

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

 “Man, I wish I was you…”

“Really, well hang in there.”

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

What is Reading Comprehension? We Don’t All Agree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instructional Implications

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

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

"Don't Follow Leaders"

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

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

We Can’t and Shouldn’t Assess Reading Comprehension

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

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

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

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

What Doesn’t Improve Reading Comprehension

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

1. Free Voluntary Reading (Sustained Silent Reading)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reading Program Placement

Far too often grades 4-12 students are placed in reading intervention classes where they don’t belong. Far too often students are not placed in reading intervention programs where they do belong. In the following article I will discuss a common sense criteria for reading program placement and a few pitfalls to avoid. I will also provide three complete reading program placement assessments with audio files and recording matrices.

First of all, a caveat. No criteria for reading program placement are perfect. Students meeting reading program placement criteria will be placed in reading intervention classes only to be filtered out, once subsequent diagnostic assessments have been evaluated. Some students may miraculously master reading program placement tests who do need to be placed into reading assessment classes upon further observation by classroom teachers or specialists. We are dealing with human beings here, and although our assessments may be reliable, kids most certainly are not.

Secondly, a disclaimer. I am the publisher of Teaching Reading Strategies, a reading intervention program which I will promote at the end of the article.

Common Sense Criteria and Pitfalls to Avoid with Reading Program Placement

  1. The program placement criteria must match the class. A reading intervention class with curriculum and delivery designed to teach explicit and systematic phonics, structural analysis, and fluency to increase vocabulary, improve reading comprehension, and improve spelling must have placement assessments which match what the program teaches. Using PAARC or SBAC “Standard Not Met” overall English-language arts/literacy scores to place students into reading intervention programs makes zero sense. Using a qualitative spelling inventory because “poor spellers tend to be poor readers” when spelling is not a key instructional component makes less than zero sense.
  2. Use teachable tests. Assessments take time to administer and correct. If instructional time is allocated to assessment, the assessments need to provide data that teachers will be able to use. A common sense guideline should be “If you can’t teach to it, don’t test it.” For students who do qualify for reading program placement, the program placement assessments should provide comprehensive data that teachers can “teach to.” What use is a random sample test or spelling/phonics inventory that cannot be used beyond program placement? Far too often, expensive reading intervention programs use separate random sample tests for program placement and then require more instructional time for additional diagnostic tests (and correction/recording/analysis) once program placement is made. For students who do not qualify for reading program placement, the program placement assessments should still provide teachable data to help teachers differentiate instruction. For example, if a student demonstrates mastery of all phonics elements other than the and w-controlled vowels, is at or above grade level fluency norms but fails to pause at commas, and has mastered 90% of spelling patterns, that student will not meet criteria for reading program placement; however, the regular classroom teacher will still derive teachable data from each of those three assessments.
  3. (Most) All students need to be assessed. Using teacher recommendations, past grades, past program placements, and cum file reviews are notoriously unreliable program placement indicators. Teachers and schools have divergent views as to what does and does not constitute reading proficiency. If the program placement assessments provide usable data for all students, using a “first-sort” or “multi-tiered” batch of assessments (which all too often weed out students who need to be placed in reading intervention) is unnecessary. Now let’s use some common sense here. Gifted and talented students, honor course students, etc. can “take a pass”; however, having taught at elementary, middle, high school, and community college levels I have often found interesting anomalies. When in doubt, always assess.
  4. Use common sense data analysis. Students are snowflakes. Each reading intervention candidate will have certain strengths and weaknesses, and as a side note: the reading intervention program can’t be a cookie-cutter, lock-step, A-Z curriculum which treats all students the same. Most reading specialists recommend 80% mastery criteria on multiple measure assessments. Using the three reading program placement assessments which I recommend (and are provided below), two of the three assessments not mastered at the 80% criteria would place a student in a Tier II instructional setting; all three of the assessments not mastered at that level would place a student in a Tier I instructional setting. As another aside, the Teaching Reading Strategies program incorporates both Tier I and II instructional delivery within the same reading intervention class.
  5. Include behavioral criteria for reading program placement. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) need to be in place alongside of Response to Intervention (RtI) to form a cohesive (MTSS) Multi-Tiered System of Supports for these students. Once reading program placements have been administered and a student meets the criteria for reading intervention placement, site level decision-making regarding proper placement is key. One or two behaviorally-challenged students can disrupt the instructional delivery and prevent success in any reading intervention class.

Three Effective Reading Program Placement Assessments (for a reading intervention class with curriculum and delivery designed to teach explicit and systematic phonics, structural analysis, and fluency to increase vocabulary, improve reading comprehension, and improve spelling)

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42 audio file, print copy and consonants: 12:07 audio fileprint copy)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38 audio file, print copy)
  3. Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minute individual assessment print copy).

Note that these placement tests provide assessment-based instructional data to inform the teacher’s selection of Tier 2 (small group of 5−8 students) and Tier 3 (individualized) instruction for each student. A built-in management system provides the instructional resources which allow the teacher to simultaneously supervise small group and individualized instruction. Nine additional diagnostic assessments (audio files) are administered during the first two weeks of instruction: syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, and sight syllables. Flexible Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction is assigned according to the assessment data. All reading diagnostic data are recorded on a one page recording matrix. All spelling patterns diagnostic data are recorded on a multi-page recording matrix. The matrix facilitates assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrix also serves as the progress monitoring source.

Why not check out the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies Introductory Video (15:08)?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesIn addition

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

to the diagnostic and formative assessments, the program offers blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Teachers access five online training videos to learn how to teach each instructional component.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and 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.

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Effective Spelling Practice

My last post discussed the role of the diagnostic pre-test as part of a balanced spelling program. I provided links for spelling word lists, including Vowel Sound-Spelling Patterns (for primary or remedial spellers), Outlaw Words (non-phonetic words), Dolch High Frequency Words, Commonly Confused Words, and the Eight Conventional Spelling Rules . I suggested that summer would be the best time to assess the spelling of your children to prepare for fall instruction and offered an essential resource: the comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment.

As I previously mentioned, each of the six posts will begin with a brief reflection about the instructional spelling component, follow with a rationale for teaching that component, and finish with some free instructional spelling resources. The components of each of the six posts are as follows:

1. Diagnostic Assessment 2. Sound-Spellings 3. Spelling Rules
4. Spelling Lists and Tests 5. Spelling Practice 6. Integrated Spelling and Vocabulary.

This week we explore how to use appropriate spelling practice as part of a balanced spelling program.

Reflection

□ I provide opportunities for students to practice words missed on the diagnostic pre-test.

□ I provide both memorization and writing practice for spelling words.

□ I connect spelling practice to structural analysis of the words.

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary instruction in our practice.

Rationale

Effective spelling practice is not exclusively memorization. Good spelling practice connects to language development, vocabulary, structural analysis, auditory processing, and writing.

Language Development

The ways that words are spelled are determined by etymological influences. For example, the British spell the /er/ as “re” in theatre, while Americans spell the /er/ as “er” in theater. The ways that words are spelled are also determined by derivational influences. For example, the “ch” spelling in Greek has a hard /k/ sound, so the word chorus is spelled accordingly.

Vocabulary

The ways that words are spelled are often determined by the morphemes (words parts with meaning). For example, we spell emigrate because the prefix e means “out of,” while we spell immigrate because the prefix means “in or into.”

Structural Analysis

The ways that words are spelled are further determined by structural issues. For example, we spell begin with one n, but beginning with two n’s because of the consonant doubling rule. We pronounce unaccented vowels with the schwa sound in multi-syllabic words.

Auditory Processing

Spelling is an auditory skill, not a visual one. We “encode” the sounds we hear into the written alphabetic code. Good spelling practice involves syllabication rules, oral blending, and word fluency.

Writing

We spell in order to write coherently. Students need to practice effectively proofreading to catch inadvertent spelling errors.

Spelling Resources

Language Development

http://www.etymonline.com/ and http://www.yourdictionary.com/

Vocabulary

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-we-learn-vocabulary-from-word-parts-part-iv/

Structural Analysis

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/tag/syllable-division/

Auditory Processing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-do-sound-by-sound-spelling-blending/

Writing

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/8-proofreading-tips-and-techniques/

In next week’s How to Teach Spelling Part VI, we’ll deal with the fifth P-Post-test and have more resources to integrate spelling and vocabulary instruction.

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.

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).

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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