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RtI Reading Tests and Resources

Response to Intervention Reading Assessments

FREE Response to Intervention Reading Assessments

Teachers like to teach, not test. After years of required testing, many teachers develop a healthy dose of test aversion. This condition exists because teachers perceive that testing takes away time from teaching, which is their first priority and first love. I’ve yet to meet a teacher when asked, “Why did you get into teaching?” who answered, “Because I love testing.”

Test aversion is accentuated by assessments which provide no teachable data. Of course, the PARCC and SBAC tests come to mind; however, many other assessments, such as random sample normed assessments, contribute to this progressive disease. This is particularly the case within programs designed to meet individual student needs, such as reading intervention. Response to Intervention (RtI) reading assessments are widely perceived as top-down requirements which are time-consuming exercises in test administration, grading, recording, and monitoring: all of which take away teaching time, add countless hours of paperwork, and subject teachers to unfair administrative or peer scrutiny. Think awkward group meetings.

In fact, RtI reading tests can be counterproductive. Years ago I served as a site-level reading specialist at an elementary school. The principal had reached out to district program specialists to develop an RtI-style assessment package for administration to second and third-graders, as well as to fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade students who scored poorly on the standardized tests. Part of the assessment package was the SORT (Slosson Oral Reading Test). The SORT is an individually administered assessment, which takes from 2-4 minutes to administer and score. Merits of this test aside (I’ve always found the test useful as a predictor of reading comprehension grade level), the principal and teachers decided to teach-to-the-test. Teachers, instructional aids, and parents spent countless hours quizzing students with Slosson word flashcards memorizing this random sample test. Time is reductive. Teaching to this test was counterproductive.

So, does assessment have its place? Will teachers buy-in to the value of RtI reading tests? Absolutely. The cure to test aversion? Assessment-based instruction. Following are the criteria for assessment-based instruction:

Seven Assessment-based Criteria

  1. Comprehensive: Each assessment is comprehensive, not a normed random sample. For example, teachers don’t want a 20-question qualitative spelling inventory indicating that students haven’t mastered some or all of their short and long vowels. Teachers want to know exactly which short and long vowels have and have not been mastered. Hence the 102 item Diagnostic Spelling Assessment.
  2. Accurate (internally valid) and Reliable (externally valid)
  3. Quick and Easy Administration: All but one assessment (fluency) are whole class assessments.
  4. Easy to Grade and Record:  have audio files for easy test administration.
  5. Easy-to-Monitor
  6. Teachable: teach to the results of each test item.
  7. Designed for Response to Intervention

Response to Intervention Reading Tests

So which RtI reading tests meet those criteria? The comprehensive alphabetic, phonological (phonemic awareness), phonics, sight words, sight syllables, reading fluency, and spelling assessments for site-level Response to Intervention teams and individual teachers help teachers quickly and accurately diagnose what students know and what they do not know. Each assessment has been developed by Mark Pennington, M.A. Reading Specialist, and revised from extensive teacher feedback. The assessments are offered absolutely FREE for classroom use. Why FREE?

As the author of these assessments, I care about creating assessments that teachers value as reliable diagnostic tools for their students. I also know that once teachers determine what students know and don’t know, they will want the corresponding resources to teach to the diagnosed reading deficits. Of course, teachers can use their own resources, but I hope that they’ll purchase mine. Each program resource corresponds to the FREE reading assessments, test item by test item.

The author’s assessment-based phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency and comprehension, syllabication, vocabulary, and spelling programs provide the resources for assessment-based whole class and individualized instruction. Click on the blue hyperlinks for the FREE reading assessments and the maroon hyperlinks to check out the corresponding curricular resources.

Phonemic Awareness and Alphabetic Awareness (Paper Copies) 

Use these five phonemic awareness (syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting) and two alphabetic awareness assessments (upper and lower case identification and application) to determine reading readiness. Each of the seven assessments is administered whole class. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness activities to remediate all deficits indicated by the assessments.

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (Paper Copy) *

Use this comprehensive 52 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of short vowels, long vowels, silent final e, vowel digraphs, vowel diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any vowel sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment (Paper Copy) *

Use this comprehensive 50 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of consonant digraphs, beginning consonant blends, and ending consonant blends. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any consonant sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Sight Words (Outlaw Words) Assessment (Paper Copy)

Use this 99 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common non-phonetic English words. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment. The program includes an Outlaw Words fluency article which uses all assessment sight words. The program also provides sight word game card masters and individual sets of business card size Reading and Spelling Game Cards.

Rimes (Word Families) Assessment (Paper Copy) 

Use this comprehensive 79 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common English rimes. Memorization and practice of these word families such as ack, eck, ick, ock, and uck can supplement an explicit and systematic phonics program, such as found in the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. Experienced reading teachers know that different students respond differently to reading instruction and some remedial students especially benefit from learning onsets (such as consonant blends) and rimes. The program includes small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment. The program also provides rimes game card masters and individual sets of business card size game cards in the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards.

Sight Syllables Assessment (Paper Copy)

Use this 49 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes. Memorization and practice of these high utility affixes will assist with syllabication, spelling, and vocabulary development. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program provides Greek and Latin prefix and suffix game card masters and individual sets of business card size game cards in the accompanying reading and spelling game cards.

The Pets Fluency Assessment (Paper Copy) *

The “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage permits the teacher to assess two-minute reading fluencies (a much better measurement than a one-minute timing).

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes 43 expository animal fluency articles, each marked with words per line and timing charts to help students monitor their own fluency progress. Plus, each of the 43 fluency articles has been recorded at three different reading speeds to provide the appropriate challenge level for each of your students. This toolkit provides the YouTube links to these 129 modeled readings.

Each of the 43 articles is composed in a leveled format: the first two paragraphs are at third grade reading level, the next two are at the fifth grade reading level, and the last two are at the seventh grade reading level. Slower readers get practice on controlled vocabulary and are pushed to read at the higher reading levels, once the contextual content has been established. Faster readers are challenged by the increasingly difficult multi-syllabic vocabulary.

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

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (Paper Copy) *

Use this comprehensive diagnostic assessment to pinpoint all sound-spelling patterns learned from kindergarten through eighth grade. This 102 item eighth grade test pinpoints spelling deficits and allow the teacher to individualize instruction according to the assessment-data. The author’s Grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs and the comprehensive Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs provide the appropriate test items according to grade level and targeted worksheets to remediate each unknown assessment sound-spelling. Each worksheet includes a spelling sort and formative assessment.

* Placement Assessments

Spelling Patterns Assessment Matrix

Reading Assessments Recording Matrix


Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

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

ESL Reading Assessments

ELL Reading Assessments

ESL Reading Assessments

Let’s get the alphabet soup out of the way up front. By ESL (English as a Second Language), I’m lumping in ELL (English Language-Learners),  ELD (English Language Development), SDAIE (Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English), and EFL (English as  a Foreign Language) programs. If you want 5 more acronyms, check out my favorite ESL forum: Matt Errey’s English Club.

Now, I’m not saying that these categorizations are irrelevant, nor am I claiming that all instructional strategies and resources are appropriate for each group of learners. Nevertheless, I am advocating one common approach.

Yes, I have my California CLAD (Crosscultural Language and Academic Development) credential, but I am also an M.A. reading specialist in a very diverse school district with over 50 spoken languages. Many of these kids wind up in my seventh grade reading intervention classes or in the grades 4, 5, and 6 classes which I used to serve as a district elementary reading specialist. Crazy, fun, and challenging!

The common approach to teach each of these learning groups? Assessment-based instruction.

As everyone knows, ESL students are diverse learners, just as are all students. For example, from a reading perspective a P1 Spanish-speaker from Mexico may have a solid phonics background while a P1 Mandarin-speaker from China may not because of the logographic (non-alphabetic) writing system. As is the case where I teach (Elk Grove, CA), these two kids (plus plenty of others) wind up in the same reading intervention class.

My point is that the best ESL resources are ones which are assessment-based, not program-based. Clearly, one-size-fits-all ESL resources would not work equally as well for the two aforementioned students. Catering resources to the needs of the learner makes sense and reliable assessments can pinpoint relative strengths and specific deficits. With targeted assessments, If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t. I think I made that up years ago. If I didn’t, please correct me 🙂

My Pennington Publishing store provides both the diagnostic assessments (in reading, spelling, grammar, and mechanics) and the corresponding resources to teach to assessed individual needs.

However, these are compensatory resources, i.e. they are designed to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. I think that one’s mine as well, but I’ve said it so often over the years that, again, I might be wrong. Hopefully I won’t start claiming “To be or not to be; that is the question” as I start aging.

In other words, my resources include both remedial and grade-level, CCSS-aligned lessons. To this end, all my resources include classroom management tips to help teachers manage the diverse needs in their classrooms. Teaching to heterogeneous groups is definitely more challenging than teaching to homogeneous (if there is such a thing) classes.

The best ESL resources both remediate (according to assessed needs) and challenge with rigorous grade-level Standards. Ah, but I’m probably “preaching to the choir” in this post.

Over the years I’ve developed and field-tested these comprehensive phonemic awareness, phonics, rimes, spelling, and sight words assessments. Most of the assessments have audio files for easy whole-class (or small group) administration. Recording matrices are included.


Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

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

Free ELA and 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.

Re-teach the Standards

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/re-teach-the-standards/

In traditional calendar schools across the U.S. and Canada, spring-itis is now setting in. The weather is changing. The clock has sprung forward. The standardized tests are over. Only Open House remains and the summer countdown begins. I have a cure for stable horses and spring-itis: re-teach the Standards. Not a repetitive re-hash of what has already been mastered, but an assessment-based, targeted triage of what was taught, not not caught.

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.

Quick Reading Assessments

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/quick-reading-assessments/

At the start of the school year or when they get the inevitable transfer students, veteran teachers realize that they can’t depend solely upon previous teacher or counselor placements with regard to student reading levels. Teachers don’t want to find out in the middle of a grade-level novel that some students are reading two or more years below grade level and can’t hope to understand the book without significant assistance. The best quick initial reading assessment? Reading. Specifically, a short reading fluency passage, but one that gives you not just a reading fluency number, but one that also gives you a good ballpark of what grade level the students can independently access. You’ve never seen anything like this before.

Assessment-based Re-teaching

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/assessment-based-re-teaching/

  1. It just hit me. I cared more about the quality of what I taught and how I taught it, than what the students needed to learn and if the students learned it. The focus isn’t a distinction without a difference. It’s a game-changer. If you are willing to re-teach what you’ve already taught (and not yet taught) this year, check out my 14 FREE diagnostic ELA and reading assessments with recording matrices. These quick, comprehensive, whole-class tests will give you teachable data to re-teach students what they need.

Mastery Learning in RtI

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/mastery-learning-in-rti/

What if a shaky foundation is what we’re dealing with now? We can’t do anything about the past. Teachers can start playing the blame game and complain that we’re stuck teaching reading to students who missed key foundational components, such as phonics. All-too-often, response to intervention teachers are ignoring shaky foundations and are trying to layer on survival skills without fixing the real problems. Instead, teachers should re-build the foundation. Teachers can figure out what is missing in the individual student skill-sets and fill the gaps… this time with mastery learning. Get Pennington Publishing’s set of diagnostic reading assessments absolutely FREE with the link in this article.

Pre-teach before Assessment

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/pre-teach-before-assessment/

Call it what you wish: summer brain-drain, poor retention, a learning disability, problem with learning styles, developmental delay, or lack of motivation or practice… some students just seem to forget what they have learned before. Good assessments catch students at their best. That’s why it makes sense to pre-teach before teachers assess to help students retrieve prior knowledge and get the assessment results that will help us design efficient instruction.

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 StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

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

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

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

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, 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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