Archive

Posts Tagged ‘grammar standards’

Curriculum Map for Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Developing a curriculum map for English-language arts, also referred to as an instructional scope and sequence, can be a time-consuming process for most grade level teams or departments. Detailed curriculum maps help get teachers on “the same page” in terms of what needs to be taught by the end of the term or year. Most teachers agree on what to teach, but prefer a bit more latitude on how to teach.

The curriculum map is most effective when the grade level or course content meshes with the previous and next year curriculum. Of course, a built-in review is necessary to clear away the summer brain drain that most students seem to experience. If teachers are able to agree on diagnostic and summative assessments, all the better to know right where to start a class and exactly what remediation will be necessary for individualized instruction. Check out our free ELA and reading assessments HERE.

Most teachers find that reading and writing are process-oriented subjects, while grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary are more content-oriented subjects. The devil is in the details for the latter subjects. To serve as a starting point for the curriculum map, check out these grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 instructional scope and sequence charts HERE from my Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary programs. I think you’ll find them to be helpful.

Cheers!

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

Grammar Interactive Notebook Checklist

Since the publication of Erin Cobb’s wonderful Interactive GRAMMAR Notebook in 2014, the sale of Interactive Notebooks (INBs) in every subject area has boomed on such key teacher-author curriculum sites as Teachers Pay Teachers.

To say that Erin has been successful is an understatement. As of this writing, her interactive grammar notebook has sold over 30,000 downloads with 6,958 reviews (most all gushingly supportive and/or at least thankful in order to receive the 5% credit for a rating and review on the Teachers Pay Teachers site).

Erin has also been influential. Her clever grammar activities, foldable templates, cover art, and incredibly low price have set the standard for other interactive notebooks. Erin is also prolific. The number of her Lovin Lit products increases at a seemingly exponential rate.

Although secure in her market share of interactive grammar notebooks because of Teacher Pay Teachers page/site position by sales and reviews and Erin’s renowned customer service, any industry standard can be improved upon… After all, “New and Improved” is the American way.

Rather than a specific critique of what an interactive notebook should not be (see my article titled “10 Reasons Not to Use Interactive Notebooks”), let’s learn from Erin’s example and the improvements other teacher-authors have made to the interactive notebook style of instruction for grammar. Here’s a checklist of what to look for in your first grammar INB or if you’re looking for a “New and Improved” version of a grammar INB.

The ideal grammar interactive notebook should include the following characteristics:

  • Less class time wasted… no more than ninety minutes of instructional time per week… two lessons of 45 minutes each seems to be ideal (you do have other subjects to teach)
  • More focus on concepts and skills, less focus on art work
  • Cute, but not too cute with fonts and graphics which do not get in the way of clarity and purpose
  • Less mess and less waste. Keep on the good side of your custodian
  • Minimal prep for each lesson… teach on the fly. Good curriculum is user-friendly.
  • A completed teacher INB for absent students to copy
  • Clear, consistent, and simple directions to be user-friendly to students and so that a new teacher or substitute could teach any lesson with success
  • Less simplistic copying and more time in truly interactive learning via writing down relevant examples, highlighting, annotation, making connections… in short, student response to teacher-provided content… that’s interactive learning
  • Rigorous, grade-level Standards-based lessons based upon a balance of grammar, usage, and mechanics. Check for specific grade-level Standards alignment documents, not a general one page reference.
  • Narrow focus on grade levels… A grades 4-8 notebook will either be too simplistic or too challenging, too juvenile or too mature for any one grade level
  • Enough practice, but not too much practice in the lesson’s concepts and skills
  • Application of the concepts and skills in the reading and writing contexts
  • Easy for students to self-correct and less time-consuming for teachers to skim grade
  • Graphic organizers, aka foldables, templates, pop-outs which are quick and easy for students to cut, glue or tape
  • Graphic organizers which help students problem-solve, classify, reinforce lesson content, and provide a study review for unit tests
  • Biweekly unit tests (with answers) which require students to define, identify, and apply the grammar and mechanics skills in their own writing
  • Formative assessments for each grammar and mechanics lesson to provide immediate feedback to individual students and the teacher
  • Specific remedial worksheets (not just extra practice) to help individual students master grammar and mechanics concepts and skills yet unmastered following the lessons and/or unit test. That’s assessment-based, individualized instruction with a formative assessment to determine mastery on each and every worksheet.
  • Cornell note-taking… the note-taking format used by most every high school teacher
  • Online links and resources with proper copyright permission. Teachers need to model proper digital citizenship and fair use. If we insist upon student citations and warn against plagiarism, then… enough said.
  • Online links and resources need to be extensive and integral to instruction, not mere window dressing

Before buying a grammar interactive notebook, perhaps consider a FREE Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook spelling rules and parts of speech review unit (which includes all of the “New and Improved” instructional features mentioned above. Why not try before you buy?

 

Get the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook FREE Resource:

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

Spelling Scope and Sequence

For many teachers, spelling instruction has taken a back seat to other instruction, especially in the ELA middle and high school classrooms. Perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was relegated to an editing-only issue at the tail end of the writing process. Or perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was considered as part to whole instruction rather than in the predominant whole to part instruction of whole language reading and constructivism. Or perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was considered as the stepchild of vocabulary. Spelling workbooks, once a staple in both the elementary and secondary classrooms, were removed from supplemental program lists at district and state levels. However, things are changing. Educators who once thought that spelling word check would solve students’ spelling and writing issues are squarely facing the fact that they do have a responsibility to teach spelling patterns.

In fact, most all teachers support teaching some form of simple to complex instructional order in teaching spelling. For example, students need to be able to spell plurals for singular nouns with an ending prior to learning that nouns ending in /ch/, /sh/, /x/, /s/, or are spelled with “es” prior to learning nouns ending in /f/ are spelling with “ves” prior to learning about irregular plurals such as children and deer prior to learning about Latin plural spellings such as “” and “ae.” In other words, the simple academic language and grammatical instruction should precede the more complex. We have supportive (and recent–as of January 2016) educational research to validate this instructional order:

Here’s the research to support simple to complex instructional order…

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill) in which researchers summarize how instructional practice should be ordered: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

Of course, spelling instruction (like grammar and usage instruction) is certainly recursive. Once the simple is taught to “mastery” and the complex is introduced, the simple is always re-taught and practiced in other instructional contexts. For example, teachers will need to teach and re-teach the before spelling rule yearly from third grade through high school.

The Common Core Standards present a simple to complex instructional scope and sequence in the Language Strand Standards… albeit less so in the spelling Standards.

However, grade-level Language Strand Standards do not include a comprehensive spelling scope and sequence. A few examples from the L.2 Standards prove this out. Again, check out the simple to complex instructional order for the capitalization Standards.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.”

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.K.2.D  Spell simple words phonetically, drawing on knowledge of sound-letter relationships.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.D  Use conventional spelling for words with common spelling patterns and for frequently occurring irregular words.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.E  Spell untaught words phonetically, drawing on phonemic awareness and spelling conventions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.C  Use an apostrophe to form contractions and frequently occurring possessives.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.D  Generalize learned spelling patterns when writing words (e.g., cage → badge; boy → boil).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.E  Use conventional spelling for high-frequency and other studied words and for adding suffixes to base words (e.g., sitting, smiled, cries, happiness).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.F  Use spelling patterns and generalizations (e.g., word families, position-based spellings, syllable patterns, ending rules, meaningful word parts) in writing words.
  •  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.4.2.D and 5.2.D  Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.2.B, etc.  Spell correctly.
 After grade 3 the Common Core State Standards provide no specific spelling pattern Standards.

So, to summarize… Both educational research and the authors of the Common Core State Standards validate a simple to more complex mechanics sequence of instruction.

How Should This Affect My Spelling Instruction?

The simple to complex instructional order is clearly conducive to spelling patterns instruction. Students need to master the basic sound-spellings and sight words before moving on to more complex spelling patterns influenced by derivational affixes and roots. 

A spelling program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards provides a well-defined instructional order.

Site levels (and districts) need to plan a comprehensive year-to-year scope and sequence for spelling instruction. The Common Core State Standards provide bare bones exemplars or benchmarks, but educators need to fill in the blanks. Students will not improve spelling by reading and writing alone. Students need more spelling instruction than a weekly pre and post test, a personal spelling errors notebook, or simply being required to spelling content vocabulary words correctly. Spelling instruction is sequential.

A Model Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence

Preview the Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Mechanics Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

Also check out the diagnostic spelling assessment and recording matrices on the Pennington Publishing website.

 

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

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

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes 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.

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

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/TLS-Instructional-Scope-and-Sequence-Grades-4-8.pdf”]

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

Mechanics Scope and Sequence

We may not all agree on using the Oxford (serial) comma. Some favor oranges, apples, and peaches. Others favor oranges, apples and peaches. English teachers tend to prefer the former, but journalists seem hooked on the latter. We also may not agree on the place of mechanics* instruction within ELA instruction. Some favor direct instruction of these skills. Others favor editing groups and mini lessons to handle the instructional chore. I personally lean toward the former with additional “catch up” individualization through research-based worksheets targeted to diagnostic assessments. Of course, I do use peer editing before turning in published works.

*When most teachers refer to mechanics we mean the technical components of composition: punctuation, capitalization, and abbreviations. Some will also include spelling, usage, and organization in this terminology. The Common Core authors use the umbrella term language conventions.

However, most all teachers support teaching some form of simple to complex instructional order in teaching mechanics. For example, students need to be able to define, identify, and apply simple abbreviations (Mr.) before learning acronyms (UNICEF) and initialisms (FBI). In other words, the simple academic language and mechanics instruction should precede the more complex. We have supportive (and recent–as of January 2016) educational research to validate this instructional order:

Here’s the research to support simple to complex instructional order…

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill) in which researchers summarize how instructional practice should be ordered: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

Of course, mechanics instruction (like grammar and usage instruction) is certainly recursive. Once the simple is taught to “mastery” and the complex is introduced, the simple is always re-taught and practiced in other instructional contexts. For example, proper noun capitalization will be re-introduced in every grade, every year. Sigh… The Common Core authors agree.

The Common Core Standards present a simple to complex instructional scope and sequence in the Language Strand Standards

However, grade-level Language Strand Standards do not include a comprehensive mechanics scope and sequence. A few examples from the L.2 Standards prove this out. Again, check out the simple to complex instructional order for the capitalization Standards.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.”

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.K.2.A
Capitalize the first word in a sentence and the pronoun I

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.A
Capitalize dates and names of people.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.A
Capitalize holidays, product names, and geographic names.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.A
Capitalize appropriate words in titles.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.4.2.A
Use correct capitalization.

The Language Strand Standards provide no capitalization Standards beyond grade 4. Again, the Common Core authors certainly advocate review.

So, to summarize… Both educational research and the authors of the Common Core State Standards validate a simple to more complex mechanics sequence of instruction.

How Should This Affect My Mechanics Instruction?

  1. The simple to complex instructional order is clearly not conducive to the more eclectic and hodgepodge DOL or DLR (Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review) instruction without major revamping of either program. 
  2. A grammar, usage, and mechanics program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards provides a well-defined instructional order.
  3. Site levels (and districts) need to plan a comprehensive year-to-year scope and sequence for mechanics instruction. The Common Core State Standards provide bare bones exemplars or benchmarks, but educators need to fill in the blanks. Just because acronyms are not mentioned in the Standards doesn’t mean that we aren’t supposed to teach them.

A Model Grades 4-8 Mechanics Scope and Sequence

Preview the Grades 4-8 Mechanics Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Spelling Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

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

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

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes 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.

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

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/TLS-Instructional-Scope-and-Sequence-Grades-4-8.pdf”]

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

Grammar Scope and Sequence

Although the grammar debate* continues between 1.Those who favor part to whole (indirect, implicit, inductive) instruction and 2. Those who prefer whole to part (direct, explicit, deductive) instruction, both sides would generally agree that students should be able to define, identify, and use some things before other things. In other words, the simple academic language and grammatical instruction should precede the more complex. We have solid (and recent–January 2016) educational research to support this instructional sequence of instruction:

*When most teachers refer to grammar we mean the structure of the sentence, the components of the sentence, word choice, the order of words, parts of speech, and usage. Some will also include punctuation, capitalization and even spelling in this terminology. The Common Core authors use the umbrella term language conventions.

Here’s the research to back up these instructional assumptions…

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill) in which researchers summarize how instructional practice should be ordered: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

This is not to say that effective grammatical instruction is not recursive. It is and the writers of the Common Core certainly agree.

The Common Core authors also support a simple to complex instructional scope and sequence in the Language Strand Standards

However, neither the grade-level Standards, nor the Progressive Skills Review, provide a comprehensive grammar scope and sequence. A few examples from the L.1 Standards should suffice to prove these points. Again, notice the simple to complex pattern.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 1) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.”

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.1.F
Use frequently occurring adjectives.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.1.E
Use adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.1.A
Explain the function of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in general and their functions in particular sentences.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.4.1.D
Order adjectives within sentences according to conventional patterns (e.g., a small red bag rather than a red small bag).

Grades 5, 6, and 8 have no specific adjective Standards. Obviously, Grade 5 teachers would review the Grades 1-4 adjective Standards. Common sense is not thrown to the wind by the Common Core authors. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.7.2.A
Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., It was a fascinating, enjoyable movie but not He wore an old[,] green shirt).

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.9-10.1.B
Use various types of phrases (noun, verb, adjectival, adverbial, participial, prepositional, absolute) and clauses (independent, dependent; noun, relative, adverbial) to convey specific meanings and add variety and interest to writing or presentations.

So, to summarize… Both educational research and the authors of the Common Core State Standards validate a simple to more complex grammar sequence of instruction.

Instructional Implications

  1. Even a cursory glance at the recent research and the Language Strand and Progressive Skills Review Standards should convince teachers using DOL/DLR (Daily Oral Language / Daily Language Review) and  Writers (Writing) Workshop that an order of grammar instruction makes some sense and so re-ordering the instructional sequence of the former openers/bell ringer activities and the mini-lessons of the latter makes sense. 
  2. Selecting a grammar program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards makes a lot of sense. 
  3. Defining a specific year-to-year instructional scope and sequence (the Common Core Standards are far too generic) with colleagues provides a game plan and also defines the content for assessment. It makes sense to establish a set of skills and expectations to be mastered at each grade level.

A Model Grammar Instructional Scope and Sequence

Why reinvent the wheel? Preview the Grades 4-8 Grammar and Usage Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this helpful planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Also check out my articles on Mechanics Scope and Sequence, Spelling Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

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

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

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes 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.

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

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/TLS-Instructional-Scope-and-Sequence-Grades-4-8.pdf”]

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

Time for the Common Core?

Teachers and district administrators are busy attending staff developments and planning days on aligning curriculum to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Experts are making their rounds at districts still lucky enough to have a few dollars allocated to staff development. Far more often it’s the sales reps from publishers, eager to cash in on Common Core-aligned curriculum, who are assisting educators in instructional planning.

For most English-language arts teachers, the chief question to be answered is not what to teach or how to teach, but how much to teach. By and large, English teachers will teach what they are paid to teach. Few teachers have real issues with the overall concept, parameters, design, or scope and sequence of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). We may grouse about the shift to expository reading and writing, but beneath our posturing at staff meetings, we are really a compliant bunch. Just let us hang on to some semblance of sovereignty re: how to teach, and we will willingly accept the dictates of what to teach.

But the question of how much to teach is keeping English teachers up at night. All instruction is inherently reductive. It’s an agonizing process of give and take. If we give additional attention to this Standard, we necessarily take attention from this Standard. Gone are the days when we simply fretted over losing cherished projects such as building Medieval Castles, writing Anne Frank Diaries, or performing Romeo and Juliet. We’ve been on this no-frills Standards kick for quite a while. We’re down to bare bones, and any new instructional focus takes away from teaching an English Language Arts Standard.

And let’s just take a moment to call out those well-meaning colleagues who insist upon some hodge-podge all-inclusive Standards, akin to 1990s thematic education. You can’t teach specific reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language Standards in one easy unified lesson. Gone are the days when we pretended to teach everything by teaching nothing in detail. It all sounded good, but it never worked.

So how do we teach the CCSS English Language Arts Standards with fidelity and specificity and still have time to take roll? It’s not easy, but here are some thoughts.

How Much Time for the Common Core?

*****************************

My take on the CCSS English Language Arts emphasis of Standards is that a consensus is building toward a 35-30-25-10 plan. That would be 35% of class time spent on the Reading Anchor Standards (Literature and Informational Text), 30% of class time spent on the Writing Anchor Standards, 25% of class time spent on the Language Anchor Standards, and 10% of class time spent on Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards. Percentages include differentiated instruction in all instructional Strands.

Now percentages are useful in that we all have different instructional minutes and some of our history/social science, science, and technology colleagues are actually getting serious about teaching their fair share of the CCSS Literacy Standards. But detailed minutes get to the nuts and bolts of how much to teach.

I’m fortunate to teach seventh grade English-language Arts in an eighty-minute block, five days per week. No, I won’t tell you where. You’re probably a better teacher than I, and I still have a few more years ‘til retirement. Adjust to your own instructional minutes, but here is how I make sense of allocating instructional time to the CCSS English Language Arts Standards:

  • Reading: 25 minutes each day with a fifty-fifty expository/informational, narrative/descriptive split.
  • Writing: 20 minutes each day with a fifty-fifty split of process pieces and essay strategies, sentence combining, quick writes, etc.
  • Language: 15 minutes each day of grammar and usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary development.
  • Speaking and Listening: 10 minutes each day of Speaking and Listening Standards: direct instruction and application in all facets of communication.
  • Differentiated Instruction: 10 minutes each day of specifically adjusting instruction to individual needs.

Homework: 20 minutes each day of independent reading at the student’s instructional reading level with interactive, graded discussion involving parents and book clubs.

Of course each day is not rigid according to this time frame and allocation of instructional minutes. I do tell a joke occasionally and take roll when I remember to do so.

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 grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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

Common Core Curricular Crossover

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) produces some interesting curricular crossover. The traditional English-language arts divisions of reading, writing, listening, and speaking have been replaced with four new strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. The six Standards of the Language Strand borrow a bit from each of the traditional divisions.

CCSS L.1 and 2 are titled “Language Conventions.” They include grammar, mechanics, and spelling which have traditionally been listed in the writing division. Despite the assurances from the Common Core collaborators that conventions should not be divorced from the communicative context, many anti-direct instruction of grammar are suffering heart palpitations now that these conventions stand on their own in the Common Core.

CCSS L.3 is titled “Knowledge of Use.” Essentially, these grade-level standards deal with language application and have traditionally belonged within the writing, listening, and speaking divisions.

CCSS L.4, 5, and 6 are titled “Vocabulary Acquisition and Use.” These standards have traditionally been placed within the reading division. They include 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.), and Academic Language Words (L.6.0).

Here is how the CCSS document summarizes the Language Strand:

The Language standards include the essential “rules” of standard written and spoken English, but they also approach language as a matter of craft and informed choice among alternatives. The vocabulary standards focus on understanding words and phrases, their relationships, and their nuances and on acquiring new vocabulary, particularly general academic and domain-specific words and phrases.

One unique feature of the Language Strand is the “Language Progressive Skills” document. Perhaps recognizing the cyclical nature of language instruction and the value of differentiated instruction, the document specifies certain L. 1 and 2 Standards for “special attention” and “review.”

The CCSS document summarizes the purpose of the “Language Progressive Skills”: The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) in Language standards 1–3, are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.

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 lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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

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

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

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

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) is part of a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language program, designed to address each Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 60-90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year program includes all the instructional resources in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary to help students master these Standards. Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Following are the program components of Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand).

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics (CCSS L.1, 2)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) provides 56 interactive lessons, designed for direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling Standards. Each scripted lesson (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) is formatted for LCD/overhead projection. Standards review, definitions, examples, practice, simple sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications with sentence combining and sentence manipulation, and formative assessments are woven into each lesson. The instructional sequence establishes scaffolded review and practice for each of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills. Students take margin notes, practice lesson components, and complete sentence dictations on 56 Language Convention Worksheets included in the accompanying student workbooks. Teachers individualize remedial instruction according to the results of the diagnostic assessment with 72 targeted Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets.

Spelling (CCSS L.2)

Each grade-level program provides a comprehensive spelling curriculum with weekly spelling lists and spelling sorts based upon developmental spelling patterns. The instructional sequence is designed to review previously introduced spelling patterns and add new grade-level spelling patterns. Students create personal spelling lists to supplement these spelling patterns. Each Spelling Patterns Test and Spelling Sort Answers page is formatted for SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection so students can self-correct. Students also complete spelling sorts on the Spelling Worksheets included in the accompanying student workbooks. Teachers individualize remedial instruction according to the results of the diagnostic assessment with 64 remedial Spelling Pattern Worksheets. Extensive word lists, games, and proofreading resources supplement the direct and individualized instruction.

Knowledge of Language (CCSS L.3)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) has 56 Language Application openers to help students apply the L.1, 2 Standards in the reading, writing, speaking, and listening contexts. These fast-paced, interactive lessons help students practice grammatical constructions, vary sentence patterns, and maintain a consistent voice and tone with precise and concise word choices. Also provided are 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes to help students adjust the voice, audience, purpose, and form of their writing. Students take margin notes and complete language application revisions on 56 Language Application Worksheets included in the accompanying student workbooks. Additional Language Worksheets help teachers remediate specific writing deficits.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (CCSS L.4, 5, 6)

The accompanying student workbook includes two independent Vocabulary Worksheets per week to help students learn all of the grade-level vocabulary Standards: context clues, multiple meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships, connotations, academic language, and denotations/dictionary skills. Vocabulary Worksheets emphasize the Language Progressive Skills Standards.

Appendices (CCSS L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The appendices in Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) contain a wealth of practical resources for both students and teachers. Language convention appendices include grammar, usage, and mechanics resources, proofreading strategies and practice, supplemental spelling word lists, spelling review games, and Syllable Worksheets. The vocabulary appendix provides Greek and Latin practice, vocabulary games, context clues practice, and vocabulary teaching resources.

Teachers are provided PDF files of the Teacher Guide, formatted for SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection to facilitate interactive instruction. Teachers are granted license to upload all student worksheets, reference materials, and the Pennington Manual of Style on class websites for easy access at home. Teacher’s Guide consists of 919 pages in a three-ring binder. The accompanying Student Workbook has 252 pages in a quality soft cover binding.

The Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Student Workbook serves as an integral instructional component of the comprehensive Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program. The workbook includes 252 interactive worksheets to help students master the Common Core Language Standards. Students practice and apply what has been learned in each lesson.

Language Convention Worksheets (CCSS L.1, 2)

Two Language Convention Worksheets accompany each of the teacher’s 56 Language Conventions “openers.” The first worksheet provides definitions, examples, content, rules, or skills to master grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling Standards. Students annotate the text and take interactive Margin Notes based upon the teacher’s lesson. The second worksheet includes a sentence diagram, mentor text with writing application practice, and the mechanics, spelling, and grammar and usage dictations. The dictations serve as formative assessments for the lesson. Students complete the worksheets and then self-correct from the SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection.

Spelling Worksheets (CCSS L.2)

The Spelling Worksheets include the spelling rule or focus and a spelling pattern sort based upon the weekly spelling list. Students complete the spelling sort and then self-correct from the SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection.

Language Application Worksheets (CCSS L.3)

The Language Application Worksheets accompany each of the teacher’s 56 Language Application “openers” to help students apply the Knowledge of Language L.1, 2 Standards in the reading, writing, speaking, and listening contexts. Students annotate the text and take interactive Margin Notes based upon the teacher’s lesson. Then they read examples of the language application task and complete the language application revision. Students self-correct from the SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection.

Vocabulary Worksheets (CCSS L.4, 5, 6)

The Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Student Workbook includes 56 Vocabulary Worksheets (two per week) to help students mastery all the Vocabulary Acquisition and Use Standards: context clues, multiple meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships, connotations, academic language, and denotations/dictionary skills. Teachers will need to correct these worksheets.

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 lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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

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

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

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our “content” area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (now called strands) with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language now has its own seat at the table. So who exactly is this new dinner guest?

For those just beginning to explore the CCSS Language Strand, an overview may be helpful. The Language Strand consists of the following: Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3), and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6), as well as the review/special attention Standards of the “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade.” Note: Grades 9-10 and 11-12 are combined throughout the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.

Let’s break down all of the gobbledygook.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 1) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.” In other words… heavy doses of specific and rigorous grammatical constructions, throughout the grade levels with “special attention” and “review” in the “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade.” These progressive skills begin with two Standards at Grade 3 and “staircase” to eighteen at Grades 11-12. Even a cursory glance at the Language Strand will convince die-hard DOL/DLR (Daily Oral Language/Daily Language Review) practitioners or TGOitWP (Teach Grammar Only in the Writing Process) purists that direct instruction of these Standards, interactive practice, and plenty of writing application will be necessary to get the job done. The heaviest burden falls on elementary teachers, but most secondary teachers will have to “bone up” on their old McCracken to teach “coordinate adjectives” (L.7.2). Yes, it’s going to take time and a bit of effort to teach these Standards with any sense of fidelity.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.” Spelling gets short-shrift here with little specificity: “Spelling correctly” (L.6.2-12.2)

Knowledge of Language (Standard 3) requires students to “Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.” Grades 9-12 require students to “Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.” These Standards focus on using language and its conventions in reading, writing, listening and speaking. The L.3.3-L.12.3 Standards include the following: word choice and word order for precision and effect, sentence structure, sentence patterns, and sentence variety, sentence expansion, sentence combination, and sentence reduction, writing style, voice, mood, point of view, rhetorical stance, informal and formal language, standard and non-standard language, language variety, language context, language form, and MLA citations. Lots of writing application practice.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 4) requires students to “Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade…level… reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.” Plenty of homonyms.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 5) requires students to “Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.” All the different figures of speech: similes, metaphors, idioms, adages, proverbs, alliteration, onomatopoeia, imagery, symbolism, personification, colloquialisms, allusions, consonance, assonance, irony, puns, oxymorons, euphemisms, paradox, understatement. Plus denotative and connotative definitions with word resources (dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses, etc.) and word relationships (semantic spectrums, word analysis, four square activities, etc.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 6) requires students to “Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.” Grades 9-12 require students to “Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.” In other words, both direct instruction in academic language (Beck and McGowan’s Tier 2 and 3 Words). I highly recommend building “deep level” vocabulary instruction from the well-researched Academic Word List. Standards also include Greek and Latin morphemes from Grade 3-Grade 8. Note: Greek and Latin morphemes are not included, for some reason in the 9-10 or 11-12 Standards. I doubt if many high school teachers will abandon Greek and Latin vocabulary as they help prep their students for the ACT/SAT reading sections.

The Common Core State Standards also provides a review strand titled Language Progressive Skills.

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 lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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

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

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

Why Grammar Doesn’t Stick

Last Wednesday, one of my favorite eighth grade English-language Arts colleagues burst into my fifth period seventh grade class. Herding ten of my previous students through the door to stand in front of my class, my clearly frustrated friend said, “My students can’t identify is as a linking verb in this practice sentence. I asked which students had you last year, and here they are.”

Now, you’ve got to understand my colleague. She did not interrupt my class to challenge my inadequate instruction in grammar and usage. She did not force students into a setting of public humiliation as a matter of punishment. She was not asking the question: Of what use is grammar and usage instruction?

She was simply asking the question: Why can’t students retain knowledge and application of simple grammar and usage from grade to grade? By the way… she knows that I taught is as a linking verb to those students.

You see, my colleague is not convinced by the research that purportedly indicates that direct grammar instruction has no impact on student acquisition of language skills. She recognizes the value of teaching language and wants her students to learn how to speak and write well. I share her views and her commitment to changing how she teaches to accommodate how her students learn. So do most English-language Arts teachers. So do the writers of the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards.

So, what’s the answer to her question?

Why Doesn’t Grammar Stick?

No pat answers here; however, a few points should be considered. I’ll let the writers of the Common Core State Standards make these points regarding the recursive nature of instruction in grammar and usage:

“Grammar and usage development in children and in adults rarely follows a linear path.”

“Native speakers and language learners often begin making new errors and seem to lose their mastery of particular grammatical structures or print conventions as they learn new, more complex grammatical structures or new usages of English.”

(Bardovi-Harlig, 2000; Bartholomae, 1980; DeVilliers & DeVilliers, 1973; Shaughnessy, 1979).

“These errors are often signs of language development as learners synthesize new grammatical and usage knowledge with their current knowledge. Thus, students will often need to return to the same grammar topic in greater complexity as they move through K–12 schooling and as they increase the range and complexity of the texts and communicative contexts in which they read and write.”

“The Standards account for the recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge in two ways. First, the Standards return to certain important language topics in higher grades at greater levels of sophistication… Second, the Standards identify with an asterisk (*) certain skills and understandings that students are to be introduced to in basic ways at lower grades but that are likely in need of being retaught and relearned in subsequent grades as students’ writing and speaking matures and grows more complex.”

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf

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 lessons. The lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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

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

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

CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

One controversial component of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS has been the Language Strand. The Language Strand consists of the following for each grade level: Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3), and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6).

The main point of contention, of course, has been the inclusion of Language as a separate strand with grammar, usage, and conventions divorced from writing instruction and vocabulary divorced from reading instruction.

In fact, the writers of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) go out of their away to alleviate the fears of writing-based and literature-based devotees with the following disclaimer: “The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts (51).” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

A second issue has received far less attention than the aforementioned point of contention in curricular mapping committees and ELA forums, but has created more rumblings in the educational publishing world. This second issue will perhaps have a greater impact than the first on classroom instruction.

In the Language Strand, at the end of both the K-5 (p. 30) and 6-12 (p. 56) Language Standards is a document titled “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade” with this subheading: “The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) in Language standards 1–3, are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.”

CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

…..

  1. 3.1f. Ensure subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement.
  2. 3.a. Choose words and phrases for effect.
  3. 3.3a. Produce complete sentences, recognizing and correcting inappropriate fragments and run-ons.
  4. 4.1g. Correctly use frequently confused words (e.g., to/too/two; there/their)
  5. 4.3a. Choose words and phrases to convey ideas precisely.
  6. 4.3b. Choose punctuation for effect.
  7. 5.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense.
  8. 5.2a. Use punctuation to separate items in a series.†
  9. 6.1c. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun number and person.
  10. 6.1d. Recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).
  11. 6.1e. Recognize variations from standard English in their own and others’ writing and speaking, and identify and use strategies to improve expression in conventional language.
  12. 6.2a. Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
  13. 6.3a. Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.‡
  14. 6.3b. Maintain consistency in style and tone.
  15. 7.1c. Place phrases and clauses within a sentence, recognizing and correcting misplaced and dangling modifiers.
  16. 7.3a. Choose language that expresses ideas precisely and concisely, recognizing and eliminating wordiness and redundancy.
  17. 8.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood.
  18. 910.1a. Use parallel structure.

Analysis and Implications of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

…..

No Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6) are included-only Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3). In other words, grammar, usage, and conventions warrant this second document. Compared to previous state standard documents, the CCSS sees these components as specific building blocks to literacy, and not just incidental outcomes learned by some mysterious form of academic osmosis.

Of the 18 CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards, 14 are Grade 3-6 Standards. Clearly the writers of the CCSS have chosen to notch up the rigor of previous state standards by devolving most of the heavy instructional lifting of grammar, usage, and conventions skills to elementary teachers.

The CCSS defines grammar, usage, and conventions as “skills.” Skills are to be applied to the writing craft. National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, and Writing Process advocates have been loath to accept this skills/craft instructional distinction.

Tacit acknowledgement is made that these grammar, usage, and conventions skills must be reviewed at each grade level. In other words, the cyclical nature of skills acquisition is affirmed. Unlike many previous state standards documents, the CCSS writers seem to get the fact that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The examples in Appendix A of the CCSS document are helpful in this regard.

Although the writers of the CCSS document have been careful to leave methodological autonomy to teachers, the inclusion of a separate language strand, the labeling of grammar, usage, and conventions as “skills,” and the review component of the 18 Language Progressive Skills Standards certainly promote some means of both direct and differentiated instruction in the Standards themselves.

The grammar, usage, and conventions skills require deep instruction, not just review practice, as with Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review methodologies. And that means intensive, direct instruction and guided practice following an instructional sequence that includes the review components as scaffolding to build onto with new skills. Periodic “mini-lessons” are just not going to cut it. Each of the 18 Language Progressive Skills Standards cries out for diagnostic assessments and differentiated instruction for the sake of instructional efficiency and individual mastery.

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 lessons.  The lessons include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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

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

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

Grammar Openers

District administrators and teachers are digging into the newly adopted Common Core State Standards and finding some unexpected buried treasure: the Language Strand. Of course, one’s pirate’s treasure can be another’s curse; nonetheless, this particular treasure seems here to stay, so we might as well figure out how to invest its resources into the lives of our students.

This treasure is English grammar. Now, by grammar we have lumped together a whole slew of things about how our language works: words and their component parts, rules, usage, word order, sentence structure, parts of speech, mechanics, and even spelling. Yes, language is probably a better catch-all term.

Specifically, the writers of the Common Core Language Strand do not advocate a specific instructional approach and I would argue that the writers go out of their way to affirm teacher autonomy with respect to the hows of instruction. “By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached…” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf (Introduction).

However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that many of us are going to have to teach grammar differently, given the Standards levels of rigor and specificity. For example, Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., It was a fascinating, enjoyable movie but not He wore an old[,] green shirt). L.7.2. How many of us knew or taught coordinate adjectives before these Standards?

Much of the burden of grammar instruction is now in the hands of elementary teachers. However, secondary teachers do not get off easily. Although the number of language standards decreases in middle school and high school, the Standards clearly mandate recursive instruction (review), as well as differentiated instruction. “Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf (Introduction). Review has always been a given in grammar instruction, but differentiated instruction will be a new approach for many teachers.

Following is a brief analysis of the four most common means of current grammar instruction. Teachers will tend to agree with my summary and analysis of the three instructional approaches that they do not employ, yet disagree wholeheartedly with my characterizations of the one approach that they favor. Afterwards, I will identify and offer a rationale for the one approach that seems most conducive to helping students master the new grammar standards.

1. Do Nothing

Many teachers simply do not teach grammar. Some play the blame game and argue that previous teachers should have done the job. Some do not see the importance of grammar to reading, writing, listening, and speaking and argue that grammar instruction takes away time from more important instruction. Some are simply afraid of the unknown: they never learned it, don’t know how to teach it, and argue that they “turned out alright.” Some teachers just don’t like grammar.

2. Writers Workshop/Writing Process

Many teachers went “whole hog” after the whole language movement and constructivism in the 1980s and have remained loosely committed (although many are about to retire). These veteran teachers wield some influence; however, most will honestly admit that their cherished notions that grammar should best be relegated to a mere editing skill in the last stage of the Writing Process or to a small collection of mini-lessons (should the needs of their student writers so indicate) have simply been pipe dreams. Results of state standard exams and the SAT/ACT clearly attest to this failure. Freshman college writing instructors bemoan the lack of writing skills exhibited by students exposed to this whole to part instructional philosophy.

3. Drill and Kill

Some teachers do have the set of grammar handbooks, the four file-drawer collection of grammar worksheets pulled from an old copy of Warriner’s, or the online resources of Grammar Girl and OWL (the Purdue University Online Writing Lab) saved in their Favorites. These teachers teach the grammar skills via definition and identification and then drill and kill. “Tonight’s homework is to complete all the odd problems on pages 234-235.” These teachers do “cover” the subject’ however, student writing generally indicates little transfer of learning and test scores reflect only minimal gains.

4. Grammar Openers

Most teachers have adopted the Grammar Openers approach. Widely known as Daily Oral Language, there are many instructional variations. However, the basics are the following: a quick lesson targeting review of previously “learned” language skills (usually grammar and mechanics) in which students examine short examples of writing riddled with errors. Students practice error identification and the teacher interactively helps students analyze these errors via brief discussion and “reminders” of the rules. Clearly, this approach has significant problems: grammar instruction can’t be relegated to “error fix-a-thons” (Jeff Anderson), review without deep-level instruction is ineffective, the hodge-podge lack of an instructional scope and sequence reflects a shotgun approach that is incongruous with standards-based instruction, the lack of application of these skills in the contexts of reading and writing, and more… See Why Daily Oral Language Doesn’t Work.

So which of the four is most conducive to helping students master the Common Core State Standards in grammar? The Grammar Openers instructional model seems to offer the most promise. Teachers teach from what they know. Teachers are by nature eclectic and prefer tweaking, rather than starting over. And since the predominant means of grammar instruction is the Grammar Openers model, it seems practical to build on this foundation and encourage such tweaking.

Here are the positives of the Grammar Openers model:

  • It’s consistent. Many teachers cram in huge chunks of ineffective grammar instruction before standardized tests or as intensive grammar units of instruction. Any chance of transfer to writing or oral language developments is doomed by such an inconsistent approach. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Grammar Openers offers the little-at-a-time instructional approach, which does happen to have the best research-base.
  • It’s quick. Drill and Kill teachers get so wrapped up in the grammatical complexities, that grammar instruction consumes an inordinate amount of instructional time. All instruction is reductive. We do have other Standards to teach. Grammar Openers provide quick-paced instruction, two or three days per week.
  • It’s interactive. Teachers can help students access prior knowledge and teachers can assess levels of whole-class competence through the back-and-forth design of Grammar Openers. The interactive approach can be engaging and does require some levels of accountability. Also, the interactive process can promote exploration, not just practice.
  • It involves direct instruction. Writers Workshop/Writing Process purists will simply have to admit that the rigor and specificity of these Common Core State Standards necessitates some of this approach. Whole to part instruction just won’t do this job.
  • It does involve review. Teachers have long recognized the recursive nature of instruction, particularly in grammar and mechanics. Those teachers who only teach grade-level standards have their heads firmly planted in the sand. Grammar is especially dependent upon scaffolded skills. Students will not learn what an adverbial clause is and how to use it in the writing context without first mastering adverbs and adverbial phrases.

Necessary Tweaks to the Grammar Openers Model

  • Establish a meaningful scope and sequence of instruction aligned to the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, including a comprehensive review of the asterisked review mandates.
  • Move beyond the definition and error identification approach (essential ingredients, by the way) of Grammar Openers to include identification of effective writing skills via Sentence Modeling. There is no doubt that constant exposure to incorrect grammar, mechanics, and spelling reproduces the same in student writing. For example, how many teachers have found themselves questioning how to spell their after years of seeing this spelling mistake in student writing?
  • Change the focus of Grammar Openers to interactive discussion and writing application. For example, try using simple sentence diagrams, sentence revision, sentence combining, and writing openers during the Grammar Openers, with sentence dictations as formative assessments. A balance of contrived and authentic writing practice/application makes sense.
  • Require systematic application of the grammar skills learned in Grammar Openers within the writing context. Students should be required to use what they have learned in their own writing during the Grammar Openers lesson and should be held accountable for applying these skills in short writing strategy practice, as well as on writing process papers.
  • Provide connected reading resources that demonstrate how mastery of the specific grammar skills adds depth and meaning to what the author has to say. Identification of the grammar is not sufficient. Recognition of how the grammar affects meaning is necessary and provides a meaningful purpose for grammar instruction.
  • Establish formative assessments to inform and adjust instruction.In addition to the direct instruction provided in Grammar Openers, teach to specific diagnostic data and differentiate instruction accordingly. Rather than relying upon solely implicit assessment of what students know and do not know, add on explicit, whole-class diagnostic assessments and teach relative weaknesses via small group or individualized instruction. Here, targeted grammar handbook, online, or worksheet practice (Drill and Kill) in conjunction with writers mini-conferences (Writers Workshop) certainly does make sense.

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 lessons.  The lessons include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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

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

 

 

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

Common Core State Standards Fear-mongering

Standards and Accountability

A recent discussion on my favorite site, the English Companion Ning, made me take a critical look at just what has engendered the recent demands for increased accountability in our public schools. Both Democrats and Republicans are playing the blame game and teachers are the easiest targets. As a public school teacher, my initial response has been defensive; however, upon a bit of reflection I’m thinking that teachers may well largely be to blame–not for the “sorry state of public education” as our critics claim, but for the very accountability movement that is being used to attack us. We teachers are often our own worst enemies.

A bit of history helps put things in perspective. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s teachers felt that our norm-referenced testing, such as the ITBS, SAT, CTBS, MAT, provided data that did not measure what we are teaching. We used sophisticated psychometric criticisms such as sampling and measurement error and socio-political criticisms such as bias to largely rid ourselves from the nuisances of these exams. We teachers went wild. Authentic assessments, multiple-measure assessments, and no assessments ruled the educational landscape. I once taught a sophomore world history class for an entire year without giving any traditional tests.

However, with teacher-created assessments, testing manufacturers lost money. Educational Testing Services and others do not like to lose money. So, the test manufacturers changed tactics. They asked for and gave teachers what teachers said they wanted–tests that purport to test what we teach. In other words, criterion-referenced standards tests. And the standards-based movement was born.

Teachers were even asked to develop their own subject area standards. A seemingly bottom-up initiative. How inclusive! Each state department of education, county office of education, and most school districts funded the creation of these subject area content standards documents. I joined other colleagues in spending countless hours developing the English-language Arts Standards for my own school district.

Now the test-makers were happy. They had the basis of a new revenue stream. And, now because the tests ostensibly test what teachers teach, administrators, politicians, and even billionaire do-gooders can hold us accountable and measure teacher/school/district/state performance. The zenith? Our Common Core National Standards.

Teachers helped create this mess. We enabled the accountability movement that is choking teacher creativity, teacher autonomy, and teacher initiative. And our students are the ones who are paying the greatest price. In replacing normed-reference testing with criterion-reference testing, we replaced something bad with something worse. “Meet the new boss.” Not the same as the old boss. Apologies to Pete Townshend.

And now the standards-based movement is so endemic that any challenges to teaching to the test or resisting accountability standards are viewed with wonderment by many in our profession. The standards-based movement with its frame of accountability is fully entrenched. Newer teachers have known nothing else. With the new PAARC and Smarter Balanced Common Core assessments, the tail is wagging the dog once again. Teachers are spending valuable class time test prepping and changing instruction to be more test-friendly. The tests themselves take an inordinate amount of class time. Last year at my middle school, we English-language arts teachers had the task of testing all subject area. It took two weeks out of our teaching schedule to administer all of the tests.

Sigh. More on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post site.

Response from Maja Wilson, author of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Heinemann, 2006) and the recent article, “First blame the teachers then the parents”  in the Washington Post.

Mark,

This is why I argue that trying to get and maintain a “seat at the table” is ultimately counterproductive. The meal served at the table of power is unhealthy, the conversation is stilted (actually, there isn’t much conversation–lots of orders given and followed) and those who partake leave with indigestion. That’s what happened when teachers created standards–following orders at the table–that were then used against them as the basis first for high-stakes standardized tests, and then as a springboard for national standards created by a corporation created by governors and business interests (Achieve Inc).

Instead, we should create, set, and decorate another table, then serve a tasty and healthy meal there. We could invite as many people to join as possible, and then enjoy a rich conversation and lots of laughter together as we dine.

Michael (another poster to Maja’s initial post) may be right that the problem is that we can’t agree on what to serve at that table. But hey, even a potluck would be tastier, healthier, and more socially edifying than the cardboard and nails currently on the Department of Education’s menu.

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

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

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.

 

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

Free Resources on Educational Issues and Teaching Trends

Even though we teachers like to think that we are “kings and queens of our own castles,” we are not immune to outside influences. As public servants, what we do in the classroom is impacted by political, economic, and social change. For better or worse, we live in a democracy.

In addition to our roles as public servants, we are also research scientists. More precisely, we are social scientists with a complex and evolving laboratory of students, parents, administration, and teaching colleagues.

As servants and scientists, educational issues and teaching trends affect who we are and how we teach more than many of us like to admit. The veteran teachers who roll their collective eyes and say “What comes around, goes around” know a thing or two. They know that sometimes the tail wags the dog-that things go on that determine what we do as professional educators. Now, change is good. But change with perspective and judgment is better.

Following are articles and practical resources regarding educational issues and teaching trends from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Educational Issues and Teaching Trends

Don’t Rely on Rigor and Relevance

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/don’t-rely-on-rigor-and-relevance/

As a precursor to the current economic crisis, the educational leadership trend was the Rigor and Relevance Movement. Popularized over the last decade by Bill Daggett and the International Center for Leadership in Education, with concurrent support from the Institute of Education Sciences (the federal research agency arm of the U.S. Department of Education), the movement has swept the nation. Largely as a result of historical timing, the Rigor and Relevance (and now, relationships) Movement has become the de facto solution to the ills of public education. A critique of this movement points out a few noteworthy deficits in philosophy and pedagogy.

Crazy Reading Fads

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/crazy-reading-fads/

As an MA reading specialist, I’ve seen some strange remedial reading fads come and go over the years. Much like new weight loss products, each new fad looks enticing and promising. Let’s face it. Everyone wants the magic reading pill that will transform poor readers into skillful readers overnight.

Strange, but True: “Stuffed Animals Increase Reading Levels”

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/strange-but-true-stuffed-animals-increase-reading-levels/

According to Riddering, students were given a stuffed animal as a “reading buddy” and were encouraged to read to their buddy. Because of this method, reading scores increased greatly.

“One school in particular saw their sixth grade reading levels go from just 47 percent to 93 percent,” Riddering said. “That’s huge success!”

Educational Fads: What Goes Around Comes Around

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/educational-fads-what-goes-around-comes-around/

Teaching is, by its very nature, experimental. We teachers are just as susceptible to snake-oil sales pitches, fads, and cultural pressures as any professionals. Educational fads seem to come and go. Teachers need to learn to “crap detectors” to avoid some of the pitfalls of educational bandwagoning and experimentation.

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

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

The writer of this article, Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Teaching Essay Strategies, and Teaching Reading Strategies and more ELA/Reading resources for the overworked teacher committed to differentiating instruction according to diagnostic and formative data. Perfect for EL/ESL and RtI instruction. For free diagnostic assessments, game cards, and instructional materials, as well as his highly-recommended curricula, check out www.penningtonpublishing.com. Bookmark and refer back often to the Pennington Publishing Blog for insightful articles, free resources, and educational tips. 

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

Free English-language Arts Instructional Resources

English-language arts teachers are a unique breed. They are decidedly schizophrenic in that they teach both content and process. Other content area teachers tend to expect ELA teachers to shoulder the burden of teaching only the minor educational necessities: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Of course most content area teachers would also expect students to have read, i.e., ELA teachers to have taught, all of the classics. Let’s add on all study skills, critical thinking, and life skills. Here’s to the overworked ELA teachers. Shouldn’t they do all of the supervision and adjunct duties, as well?

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding English-language arts instruction from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

English-language Arts Instruction

Time for the Common Core?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/time-for-the-common-core/

How much to teach, not what to teach or how to teach are the questions keeping English-language arts teachers up at night. How much to teach for each of the four Common Core State Standard ELA Strands? Is there really time to teach all of the Common Core ELA Standards? Check out this balanced approach with detailed instructional times.

Common Core Academic Language Words

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-academic-language-words/

Yes, the Common Core authors view literacy development as a mutual responsibility of all educational stakeholders. Yes, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Grammar Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/common-core-grammar-standards/

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

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

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-common-core-vocabulary-standards/

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. So what instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? Following is a weekly instructional plan to teach the L.4, 5, and 6 Vocabulary Standards.

Teaching ELA/Reading: 10 Impediments and Solutions

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/teaching-elareading-10-impediments-and-solutions/

All ELA/reading teachers want to do their best for their students. But how can we give our best when so many impediments stand in our way? I’m not talking about the usual ones we discuss in the staff room: discipline problems, overbearing administrators, bothersome parents, lack of materials. I’m talking about the all of the stuff that reductively minimizes our opportunity to be our best.

How to Lead Effective Group Discussions

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/study_skills/how-to-lead-effective-group-discussions/

Effective group discussions don’t just happen naturally. Good teachers or facilitators carefully craft the expected interaction by using the techniques provided in this article. Learn how to manage a discussion, praise and correct appropriately, and get everyone to participate.

How to Use Graded Literary Discussions

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-use-graded-literary-discussions/

Students need to know that their participation in class discussion is an important part of their overall grade. Otherwise, many will avoid participation or perceive the group discussion as being of minimal importance. Graded literary discussions motivate student participation.

How to Save Time Grading Essays

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-save-time-grading-essays/

Grading essays with specific comments can be very time-consuming. The answer is not to simply award a numerical rubric score. Instead, learn how to use the editing tools of Microsoft Word® to give prescriptive comments and still save time. These are comments that students will actually read.

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

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

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

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

Free Resources to Teach English-language Arts Standards and the Common Core

Standards-based education is at an important crossroads. Having largely captured the focus of the educational reform movement over the last 20 years, standards-based instruction is now the norm in all 50 states. Currently, 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. More rigorous than previous state standards, teachers and district administrators are scrambling to align curriculum to the instructional demands of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.

Although much discussion has ensued over the Common Core Standards insistence that literacy instruction must be a shared responsibility within the school, the largest burden still falls on the shoulders of ELA teachers. Of the four Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language Strands, the Language Strand presents the greatest challenge for many teachers. Most ELA teachers simply have not had the undergraduate or graduate coursework to prepare them to teach the L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 Standards in grammar and usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary.

The author of the Pennington Publishing Blog, Mark Pennington, has written a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language series to help ELA teachers teach each of the Common Core Language Standards. Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) ©2012 Pennington Publishing provides the resources teachers need to teach grade-level Standards and to differentiate instruction for their diverse learners. Previews of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available on the author’s website.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog regarding the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Bookmark and visit us often. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

English-language Arts Standards and the Common Core

Grammar and the Common Core

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/grammar-and-the-common-core/

I hear the same two comments at English-language arts conferences all the time: 1. “I’ve heard that research has proven grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary instruction doesn’t work.” 2. “I teach grammar and they seem to get it. They pass my tests and do okay on the standardized tests, but they don’t transfer the learning to their writing or speaking. And they just don’t retain what we’ve covered. Their next-year teacher always asks why I don’t teach grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling.” So, how can we respond to these comments and what instructional approaches do work to teach the Common Core Language Standards?

Time for the Common Core?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/time-for-the-common-core/

How much to teach, not what to teach or how to teach are the questions keeping English-language arts teachers up at night. How much to teach for each of the four Common Core State Standard ELA Strands? Is there really time to teach all of the Common Core ELA Standards? Check out this balanced approach with detailed instructional times.

Common Core Academic Language Words

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-academic-language-words/

Yes, the Common Core authors view literacy development as a mutual responsibility of all educational stakeholders. Yes, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Greek and Latinates

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-greek-and-latinates/

The bulk of Vocabulary Standards are now included in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Greek and Latin affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and roots are key components of five of the grade level Standards: Grades 4-8. Which Greek and Latin affixes and roots should we teach? How many should we teach? How should we teach them?

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/teaching-the-language-strand/

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) is part of a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language program, designed to address each Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards in 60-90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year curriculum provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. The program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Appendices have extensive instructional resources, including the Pennington Manual of Style and downloadable essay-comments. A student workbook accompanies this program.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/overview-of-the-common-core-language-strand/

English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our “content” area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (now called strands)with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language now has its own seat at the table. So who exactly is this new dinner guest? For those just beginning to explore the CCSS Language Strand, an overview may be helpful.

Common Core Grammar Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/common-core-grammar-standards/

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

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

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-common-core-vocabulary-standards/

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. So what instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? Following is a weekly instructional plan to teach the L.4, 5, and 6 Vocabulary Standards.

CCSS Language Progressive Skills

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/ccss-language-progressive-skills-standards/

The Language Strand has been one of the most controversial components of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. One of these components stirring up heated debate has been the Language Progressive Skills document.

Common Core Curricular Crossover

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-curricular-crossover/

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) produces some interesting curricular crossover. The traditional English-language arts divisions of reading, writing, listening, and speaking have been replaced with four new strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. The six Standards of the Language Strand borrow a bit from each of the traditional divisions. The inclusion of the Language Strand as its own set of Standards has created some concern in the ELA community.

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/spelling-word-lists-by-grade-levels/

As an MA Reading Specialist and author of quite a few spelling curricula (eight at last count), I’m often asked about spelling word lists by grade levels. Which words are right for which grade levels? Is blank (substitute any word) a third or fourth grade word? Which spelling words are the most important ones to practice? The short answer is…

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/common-core-essay-writing-terms/

I propose using the CCSS language of instruction for the key writing terms across all subject disciplines in elementary, middle school, and high school. Some of us will have to come down out of our castles and give up pet writing terms that we’ve used for years, and ones that, indeed, may be more accurate than those of the CCSS. But for the sake of collaboration and service to our students, this pedagogical sacrifice is a must.

Common Core Content Area Reading and Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-content-area-reading-and-writing/

Nothing in the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has worried English-language arts teachers more than “The Great Shift.” This shift changes the emphasis of reading and writing in K-12 English-language arts (ELA) classrooms from the literature and narrative to the informational (to explain) and argumentative (to persuade) genres. Hear are some relevant tactics to assist ELA teachers in spreading the wealth (pain) of the new Standards.

Current Status of the Common Core State Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/current-status-of-the-common-core-state-standards/

As K-12 education transitions to the new Common Core State Standards, teachers have understandably been asking the “When do we start teaching the new standards?” and “Will we need new curriculum to teach the Common Core State Standards?” questions. State departments of education and school districts have been scrambling for answers. Teachers have been left in limbo. Here’s the latest, with special attention on California.

Common Core State Standards Fear-mongering

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-state-standards-fear-mongering/

Phyllis Shlaffly’s July 21 article, posted in the Eagle Forum pieces together a number of undocumented sources commenting on the prospect of a national curriculum and the Common Core State Standards. Following is her article and my responses to her concerns and comments from the perspective of a public school teacher and educational publisher.

California Common Core Language Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/california-common-core-language-standards/

Teachers in California are asking plenty of questions. For example: How much red ink was used before the state legislatures of California adopted the Common Core State Standards in the rush to qualify for the federal Race to the Top funds? In this article, I answer that question specifically with respect to the language strand of the California ELA/reading standards.

Common Core Language Standards
Here are the questions teachers are asking about the language strand of the Common Core State Standards. I’ll answer with specific reference to the document itself and then follow with a quick analysis. Teachers are naturally concerned with such a monumental change away from district and state standards to national standards. And don’t let ‘em fool you: These are national standards with minimal variations from state to state.

Standards and Accountability

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/standards-and-accountability/

A recent discussion on my favorite site, the English Companion Ning, made me take a critical look at just what has engendered the recent demands for increased accountability in our public schools. Both Democrats and Republicans are playing the blame game and teachers are the easiest targets. As a public school teacher, my initial response has been defensive; however, upon a bit of reflection I’m thinking that teachers may well largely be to blame–not for the “sorry state of public education” as our critics claim, but for the very accountability movement that is being used to attack us. We teachers are often our own worst enemies. Check out this article, published in the Answer Sheet of The Washington Post.

Turning Dependent into Independent Readers

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/turning-dependent-into-independent-readers/

The new Common Core State Standards for English-language Arts makes a compelling case for not doing business as usual in our ELA classrooms. That business consists of the traditional “sage on the stage” methodology of reading an entire novel or play out loud (or with CD) and parsing paragraphs one at a time. Our new business? Scaffolding just enough reading strategies and content as we act as “guides on the side” to facilitate independent reading. In other words, the days of  spoon-feeding have got to go.

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-and-how-to-teach-complex-text/

A growing body of research presents a challenge to current K-12 reading/English-language Arts instruction. In essence, we need to “up” the level of text complexity and provide greater opportunities for independent reading. The Common Core State English-language Arts Standards provides a convincing three-reason argument in support of these changes in instructional practice. Following this rationale, I will share ten instructional implications and address a few possible objections.

Common Core State Writing Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/common-core-state-writing-standards/

The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing.  The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards.

How to Teach the English-language Arts Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-english-language-arts-standards/

Every English-language arts teacher shares the same problem—too much to teach and not enough time to teach it. So, where are the magic beans that will allow us to teach all of the have-tos (think ELA standards) and still have a bit of time to teach the want-tos? Following are a few suggestions to help the clever ELA teacher have her cake and eat it, too.

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/should-we-teach-standards-or-children/

The excesses of the standards-based movement frequently run contrary to the need to differentiate instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of children.

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

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

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

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

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

A growing body of research presents a challenge to current K-12 reading/English-language Arts instruction. In essence, we need to “up” the level of text complexity and provide greater opportunities for independent reading. The Common Core State English-language Arts Standards provides a convincing three-reason argument in support of these changes in instructional practice. Following this rationale, I will share ten instructional implications and address a few possible objections.

1. Text complexity is the most important variable in reading comprehension. The level of difficulty is a more important variable in reading comprehension than is a reader’s degree of mastery of inferential reading strategies or critical thinking skills. In other words, what you read is more of an issue than how you read. Now applying reading strategies and critical thinking skills can certainly scaffold a reader’s ability to comprehend difficult text, but vocabulary, text organization, and sentence length seem to be more crucial variables.

From the Common Core State English-language Arts Standards Appendix A…

In 2006, ACT, Inc., released a report called Reading Between the Lines that showed which skills differentiated those students who equaled or exceeded the benchmark score (21 out of 36) in the reading section of the ACT college admissions test from those who did not. Prior ACT research had shown that students achieving the benchmark score or better in reading—which only about half (51 percent) of the roughly half million test takers in the 2004–2005 academic year had done—had a high probability (75 percent chance) of earning a C or better in an introductory, credit-bearing course in U.S. history or psychology (two common reading-intensive courses taken by first-year college students) and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better in such a course.

Surprisingly, what chiefly distinguished the performance of those students who had earned the benchmark score or better from those who had not was not their relative ability in making inferences while reading or answering questions related to particular cognitive processes, such as determining main ideas or determining the meaning of words and phrases in context. Instead, the clearest differentiator was students’ ability to answer questions associated with complex texts. Students scoring below benchmark performed no better than chance (25 percent correct) on four-option multiple-choice questions pertaining to passages rated as “complex” on a three-point qualitative rubric described in the report. These findings held for male and female students, students from all racial/ethnic groups, and students from families with widely varying incomes.

2. Post K-12 text complexity in college, the workplace, and in popular media has remained constant or increased in terms of levels of difficulty over the last fifty years.

From the Common Core State English-language Arts Standards Appendix A…

Research indicates that the demands that college, careers, and citizenship place on readers have either held steady or increased over roughly the last fifty years. The difficulty of college textbooks, as measured by Lexile scores, has not decreased in any block of time since 1962; it has, in fact, increased over that period (Stenner, Koons, & Swartz, in press). The word difficulty of every scientific journal and magazine from 1930 to 1990 examined by Hayes and Ward (1992) had actually increased, which is important in part because, as a 2005 College Board study (Milewski, Johnson, Glazer, & Kubota, 2005) found, college professors assign more readings from periodicals than do high school teachers. Workplace reading, measured in Lexiles, exceeds grade 12 complexity significantly, although there is considerable variation (Stenner, Koons, & Swartz, in press). The vocabulary difficulty of newspapers remained stable over the 1963–1991 period Hayes and his colleagues (Hayes, Wolfer, & Wolfe, 1996) studied.

3. K-12 text complexity has declined over the last fifty years.

From the Common Core State English-language Arts Standards Appendix A…

Despite steady or growing reading demands from various sources, K–12 reading texts have actually trended downward in difficulty in the last half century. Jeanne Chall and her colleagues (Chall, Conard, & Harris, 1977) found a thirteen year decrease from 1963 to 1975 in the difficulty of grade 1, grade 6, and (especially) grade 11 texts. Extending the period to 1991, Hayes, Wolfer, and Wolfe (1996) found precipitous declines (relative to the period from 1946 to 1962) in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks for a variety of grades… Carrying the research closer to the present day, Gary L. Williamson (2006) found a 350L (Lexile) gap between the difficulty of end-of-high school and college texts—a gap equivalent to 1.5 standard deviations and more than the Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

http://www.corestandards.org/

Ten Implications for K-12 Instruction

1. Higher Expectations

Clearly, we teachers need to “up” the level of difficulty of text and provide the scaffolds students need to understand that text. We need to challenge our students to struggle a bit. We can’t focus all of our instruction on the lowest common denominators.

2. Vocabulary

We need to use a systematic approach to vocabulary instruction including teaching structural analysis, context clues, and rote memorization and practice in what Isabel Beck calls “Tier Two” words that have high utility and applicability in academic language. Our students have got to master frequently used Greek and Latin affixes and roots.

3. Sentence and Text Structure

We need to not only analyze sentence and text structure, but also practice variations and complexities in our students’ writing. Good writers are better equipped to understand the complexities of how ideas are presented in academic text. The reading-writing connection is teachable.

4. Content

We need to teach the prior knowledge that students need to access difficult text independently. And we need to share and coordinate the load with our colleagues. For example, are our novels, poetry, and writing assignments aligned with what our students are learning in their history classes? We need to work smarter, not harder.

5. Reading Strategies

We need to be both content and process-driven. If we do not provide the tools and practice for our students, “reading to learn” will never work. Our elementary colleagues have largely handled the “learning to read,” but we need to apply the basic to the complex.

6. Critical Thinking

We need to teach the elements of logic and higher order thinking are prerequisites to understanding difficult reading text. Recognizing both solid and fallacious reasoning is an essential reading skill.

7. Expository Text

We need to put aside our exclusive love of literature and poetry for the sake of our students. College, workplace, and popular media texts are overwhelmingly expository in nature. We can do both.

8. Novel Selection

We may need to let go of traditional novels. Let’s take a hard look at what we are teaching to maximize content and process instruction. For example, Reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry may cover the content and standards nicely for an eighth grade ELA class, but the largely fifth grade reading level does not provide the text complexity that our students need. Additionally, shorter novels, selections, poems, articles, etc. will do the job more efficiently and with greater variety.

9. Differentiated Instruction

We need to recognize that all of students simply do not read at the same levels. Students have  different reading issues that inhibit their abilities to comprehend challenging text. We have to find out who has what issues and adjust our instruction accordingly. It does no good to play the “blame game” on previous teachers. We teach standards, but we also teach students. Diagnostic reading assessment has got to be a given for the conscientious reading/ELA teacher.

10. Independent Reading

We need to stop being co-dependents. The Common Core emphasis on CLOSE READING STRATEGIES can can be overdone. We do have to transfer the demands of accessing text over to students at some point. Plus, we need to fight the hard fight and require students to read at home. The amount of independent reading needed to increase even one grade level in terms of reading comprehension and vocabulary development necessitates reading at home.

Possible Objections and Howevers

We can certainly question the adequacy and accuracy of the tools used to measure text complexity. However, we all know that our students’ biology textbooks are more difficult than the Manga and Twilight that are students are reading.

What about the joy of reading? We want to create lifelong readers, not factory-trained automatons for the needs of academia, the workplace, and popular media. Reading trash can be entertaining. However, text complexity does not preclude reading for fun. The ability to read and understand more complex text should expand and enhance that experience.

What we teach in K-12 is in-it-of-itself valuable and relevant to the needs of our students. It may also be foundational in terms of content and process for greater text complexity. We are not just training students for future college, careers, and citizenship; we are teaching students now. However, can’t we have our cake and eat it, too? If our students need to know about chimpanzee behavior, can’t we replace Curious George with a scientific journal?

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

Common Core State Writing Standards

For years, English teachers have struggled with essay terminology. Fittingly, the word essay derives from the French verb essayer which roughly means “to try” or “to attempt.” Some teachers have attempted rather precise definitions and limitations of the genre. More recently, state exams have become the tails that wag the dogs in terms of essay classification. In California, for example, the California Standards Test even refers to a multi-paragraph summary as an essay.

Now, we have a different approach to defining the essay. The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing. (The third writing classification, narrative, is acknowledged and brief mention is made of poetry and “other forms.”) The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards. The committee used the 2009 ACT national curriculum survey of postsecondary instructors of composition, freshman English, and survey of American literature courses (ACT, Inc., 2009) as reference and found that “write to argue or persuade readers” was virtually tied with “write to convey information” as the most important type of writing needed by incoming college students. Hence the two essay classifications.

Following is an executive summary of the two essay classifications, using the language of the document within my own organizational structure. The full document (Appendix A) is found here.

Argument

Definition

Arguments are used for many purposes—to change the reader’s point of view, to bring about some action on the reader’s part, or to ask the reader to accept the writer’s explanation or evaluation of a concept, issue, or problem. An argument is a reasoned, logical way of demonstrating that the writer’s position, belief, or conclusion is valid.

Application within Subject Disciplines Grades 6-12

  • In English language arts, students make claims about the worth or meaning of a literary work or works. They defend their interpretations or judgments with evidence from the text(s) they are writing about.
  • In history/social studies, students analyze evidence from multiple primary and secondary sources to advance a claim that is best supported by the evidence, and they argue for a historically or empirically situated interpretation.
  • In science, students make claims in the form of statements or conclusions that answer questions or address problems. Using data in a scientifically acceptable form, students marshal evidence and draw on their understanding of scientific concepts to argue in support of their claims.

Grades K-5

Although young children are not able to produce fully developed logical arguments, they develop a variety of methods to extend and elaborate their work by providing examples, offering reasons for their assertions, and explaining cause and effect. These kinds of expository structures are steps on the road to argument. In grades K–5, the term opinion is used to refer to this developing form of argument.

Informational/Explanatory Writing

Definition

Informational/explanatory writing conveys information accurately. This kind of writing serves one or more closely related purposes: to increase readers’ knowledge of a subject, to help readers better understand a procedure or process, or to provide readers with an enhanced comprehension of a concept. To produce this kind of writing, students draw from what they already know and from primary and secondary sources. With practice, students become better able to develop a controlling idea and a coherent focus on a topic and more skilled at selecting and incorporating relevant examples, facts, and details into their writing. They are also able to use a variety of techniques to convey information, such as naming, defining, describing, or differentiating different types or parts; comparing or contrasting ideas or concepts; and citing an anecdote or a scenario to illustrate a point.

Application within Subject Disciplines Grades K-12

Informational/explanatory writing addresses matters such as the following:

  • Types (What are the different types of poetry?)
  • Components (What are the parts of a motor?)
  • Size, function, or behavior (How big is the United States? What is an X-ray used for? How do penguins find food?)
  • How things work (How does the legislative branch of government function?)
  • Why things happen (Why do some authors blend genres?).

Informational/explanatory writing includes a wide array of genres, including academic genres such as literary analyses, scientific and historical reports, summaries, and precis writing as well as forms of workplace and functional writing such as instructions, manuals, memos, reports, applications, and resumes. As students advance through the grades, they expand their repertoire of informational/explanatory genres and use them effectively in a variety of disciplines and domains.

Comparing and Contrasting the Essay Classifications

Although information is provided in both arguments and explanations, the two types of writing have different aims.

  • Arguments seek to make people believe that something is true or to persuade people to change their beliefs or behavior. Explanations, on the other hand, start with the assumption of truthfulness and answer questions about why or how. Their aim is to make the reader understand rather than to persuade him or her to accept a certain point of view. In short, arguments are used for persuasion and explanations for clarification.
  • Like arguments, explanations provide information about causes, contexts, and consequences of processes, phenomena, states of affairs, objects, terminology, and so on. However, in an argument, the writer not only gives information but also presents a case with the “pros” (supporting ideas) and “cons” (opposing ideas) on a debatable issue. Because an argument deals with whether the main claim is true, it demands empirical descriptive evidence, statistics, or definitions for support. When writing an argument, the writer supports his or her claim(s) with sound reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Narrative Writing

Narrative writing conveys experience, either real or imaginary, and uses time as its deep structure. It can be used for many purposes, such as to inform, instruct, persuade, or entertain. In English language arts, students produce narratives that take the form of creative fictional stories, memoirs, anecdotes, and autobiographies. Over time, they learn to provide visual details of scenes, objects, or people; to depict specific actions for example, movements and gestures).

Creative Writing beyond Narrative

The narrative category does not include all of the possible forms of creative writing, such as many types of poetry. The Standards leave the inclusion and evaluation of other such forms to teacher discretion.

My Take

Although much makes sense in the Common Core State Writing Standards in terms of essay classification (I happen to use the same classifications in my Teaching Essay Strategies writing curriculum, teaching four argumentative and four informational/explanatory essays), much of the document assumes things not yet proven. A few examples should suffice.

  • Who is to say that college English professors are the experts in defining the essay? The experiences of my three sons at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. San Diego, and San Diego State would prove otherwise. With few exceptions, the writing topics and prompts assigned as papers and exams were uniformly contrived, artificial, and downright incoherent for both assignments and exams, leaving my sons, me, and my English high school and middle school colleagues shaking our collective heads. Basing the K-12 writing standards on how and what college professors teach may be a shaky foundation.
  • Who is to say whether the personal essay, narratives, and poetry are less important than argument and informational/explanatory writing?
  • Other forms of writing may be more developmentally appropriate at different grade levels and may actually serve as effective scaffolds to the two essay classifications.
  • Application of the these essay classifications may work fine within the social sciences; however, our science colleagues may find these forms constraining, and perhaps out of sync with their rigid scientific methodologies.

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

Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Teaching ELA/Reading: 10 Impediments and Solutions

None of us gets into the teaching profession with the hopes of being mediocre. All ELA/reading teachers want to do their best for their students. But how can we give our best when so many impediments stand in our way? I’m not talking about the usual ones we discuss in the staff room: discipline problems, overbearing administrators, bothersome parents, lack of materials. I’m talking about the all of the stuff that reductively minimizes our opportunity to be our best. In other words, if we could just rid ourselves (and our students) of… XXXX, we could truly be the teachers we want to be. So, let’s explore the impediments many ELA/reading teachers that keep us from teaching how and what we need to teach, the solutions as to how to reduce or get rid of these in our teaching repertoire, and most importantly what to teach now that the impediments have been removed.

10 Impediments and Solutions

1. Standards

Impediments: Although most teachers support the notion of an instructional scope and sequence, district-state-national standards were not delivered at Mt. Sinai. Some ELA/reading standards are more important than others and we ultimately and practically teach our students, not the standards. Our students are an unruly lot, refusing to progress at exactly the same rates and generally making a mess of our year-to-year academic standards.

Solutions: Establish priorities in terms of instructional time. Does anyone think that an identifying author’s purpose standard merits the same amount of attention as a reading comprehension standard? Develop a balance between teaching grade-level and review standards, according to the needs of your students indicated by diagnostic data.

2. School Culture and Interruptions

Impediments: At the middle or high school level, the ELA classes check out all books in the library, get student identification pictures, get picture re-takes, listen to counselor career presentations, and attend discipline assemblies. Daily announcements, spirit assemblies, guest speakers, phone calls interrupt all teachers. Not to mention the usual bathroom/counselor/nurse passes.

Solutions: Be assertive and learn to say “No.” Get other colleagues on board, work through the appropriate channels, and be willing to compromise; but guard “time on task” and re-visit these impediments regularly—they have a habit of sneaking back in.

3. Traditions

Impediments: 3rd grade silkworms and the reading incentive program, 4th grade dioramas and animal reports, 5th grade sugar cube castles and state reports, 6th grade science projects and PowerPoint® presentations, 7th grade African masks and oral reports, Martin Luther King, Jr. essay contest and 8th grade U.S. Constitution graduation requirement. You get the idea.

Solutions: Develop the mindset that any instructional activity that can achieve the same objectives in a more efficient manner than another instructional activity should be the one you choose. Don’t confuse content and process objectives.

4. Colleagues

Impediments: “We all teach XXXX. It’s a team decision—there is no I in team.” Disagreement is perceived as personal attack. Gossip, friendship, even romance. And colleagues tend to prey upon our good natures to get us to follow their agendas.

Solutions: Affirm your colleagues’ agendas, but don’t get sucked in. Always run a cost-benefit analysis when changing instruction. Being a team player doesn’t mean sacrificing your autonomy. Do what makes sense for you and your students.

5. Scheduling

Impediments: Advanced band is only offered this period, the special education pull-out study skills program, the reading intervention program, the remedial-basic-advanced-honors ELA classes, and the computer lab. And others.

Solutions: The needs of the students should dictate schedules; however, well-intended interventions, pull-out programs, and tracking can reduce the amount of core instructional time each student receives and/or change a teacher’s instructional plans. Insist upon differentiating instruction within the scope of the core ELA curricula and the confines of the regular classroom to address student needs.

6. Pigeonholing

Impediments: Shouldn’t the ELA teachers teach XXXX? Reading (literature and reading skills and SSR), writing, listening, speaking. Note-taking. Critical thinking. Problem-solving skills. Study skills. Career exploration. And let’s add on basic parenting.

Solutions: Preach “all teachers are teachers of reading, writing, and thinking.” Get to know the process-oriented standards of your math, social studies, arts, foreign language, physical education, and science teachers for ammunition and encourage everyone to share the load.

7. Educational Fads

Impediments: Learning styles, rigor and relevance, multiple intelligences, small learning communities, tribes, Cornell notes, reading fads, levels of questioning. And a few hundred more.

Solutions: Before jumping onto bandwagons, talk to veteran teachers for their “what comes around, goes around” perspectives, search the Internet for the real research on any educational fad, and take all professors’ and presenters’ information with grains of salt. Stick to the basics when in doubt.

8. Bureaucracy and Paperwork

Impediments: Progress monitoring charts, skills documentation, reading logs, independent learning goals, student evaluations. Staff meetings. Department meetings. Grade-level team meetings. Cross-disciplinary meetings. Vertical articulation. The mind boggles.

Solutions: Veteran teachers know how to cut corners when they need cutting. Ask them. Insist upon written agendas with time allocations and a time-keeper for meetings. Push to get everything in writing that can be written on an agenda and e-mailed in advance. Hold colleagues accountable for “birdwalking.” Keep business meetings all-business, and schedule personal hang-out/discussion time prior to or after meetings.

9. Testing

Impediments: State testing, district testing, diagnostic assessments, formative assessments, summative assessments. Standardized test preparation. Unit test review.

Solutions: Select colleagues committed to protecting teacher instructional time as district representatives on testing committees. Minimize isolated test preparation. The best test preparation is good teaching in the core ELA instructional components.

10. Ourselves

Impediments: I love to share my personal life with my students. My students love my stories. My students love my jokes. I just enjoy talking with students. I go with the “teachable moments.” I teach more of this because I like it better. I hate teaching, never liked, or I’m bad at XXXX… so I don’t teach it.

Solutions: We are often our own worst enemies. Ask a trusted colleague to observe you, your personal idiosyncrasies, and how you waste instructional time. Video-tape yourself. Don’t confuse your own teaching style with poor time management. Teach all the core curricular components and work on those in which you are weak.

Instructional Priorities

There are curricular priorities that most ELA teachers would agree to teach “if only they had the time.” To be practical as possible, here are the specific “Big Six” ELA instructional components with percentages of instructional time that make sense to allocate to each. Having taught at the upper elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels, I believe that the core instructional components and allocations of instructional time should remain constant across those levels. Take stock of what you teach and how much time you allocate to each instructional component. And feel free to disagree.

The Big Six

1. Word Study (Vocabulary, Spelling, Syllabication) 16%

2. Grammar and Mechanics 16%

3. Reading Strategies 16%

4. Literary Analysis 16%

5, Writing Strategies 16%

6. Writing Process Papers 16%

That leaves 4% for the impediments that you cannot remove. Such is life.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

How to Teach the English-language Arts Standards

Every English-language arts teacher shares the same problem—too much to teach and not enough time to teach it. Whether you are teaching on a traditional six-period schedule with 55 minute classes or on a modified block schedule with 90 minute classes, the challenge is the same. By the way, I teach three 85 minute ELA classes, five days per week (I know you’re drooling right now), and there still is not enough time. Elementary teachers face the same dilemma.

So, where are the magic beans that will allow us to teach all of the have-tos (think Common Core ELA standards) and still have a bit of time to teach the want-tos? Following are a few suggestions to help the clever ELA teacher have her cake and eat it, too.

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

First, I must get my caveats out of the way. I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all standards-based instruction. Yes, I am committed to differentiated instruction. Secondly, I do believe that our primary job is to teach students, not standards, per se. These being said, most of us would agree that having standards makes some sense and helps us follow an instructional scope and sequence that benefits students. Standards also gives us something to talk about during department meetings.

A few ideas…

1. Teach to the standards, not content. Adjust instructional content and methodology to the standards. Don’t paste on standards to a short story, for example. We sometimes spend a lot of time teaching very little, if we don’t get this right.

2. Prioritize. Not every standard is equally important. No ELA teacher would seriously argue that teaching “author’s purpose” is as important as “drawing inferences.” Most state departments of educations have developed power standards that get the most bang for the buck.

3. Spend more time on the new standards and less on the old ones. All standards-based instructional scopes and sequences have both grade-level and review standards. Some even include accelerated standards. Now, don’t ditch the review standards as did a former colleague of mine. We have to teach according to the diagnostic needs of our students, and this often necessitates review.

4. Kill two birds with one stone. Many ELA standards are complimentary and can be combined to increase instructional efficiency. For example, context clue standards (say using antonyms to define) can be included with inference standards. For example, students can identify and compose antonym clues within sentences that require inference or state implication.

5. Break down the standards into scaffolded skills. Many of these skills will actually be prerequisites to being able to master the overall standard. For example, a reading or speaking standard on pronunciation or articulation would possibly necessitate instruction in syllable rules.

6. Don’t teach what they already know. Pre-assessment for each standard can eliminate some components and also refine instruction. “If they know it, they will show it. If they don’t, they won’t.” Adjust instruction according to the data. I suggest saving direct, whole-class instruction for truly un-mastered standards. Targeted small group instruction is more effective for those who have yet to master standards than their peers already have. By the way, doing a quick review or pulling aside a group to pre-teach before giving the pre-assessment will likely decrease the number of students that will require instruction and practice.

7. Don’t over-teach. We often waste instructional time by “beating the dead horse.” Don’t use three examples, when one will do. Avoid unnecessary repetition, especially for the sake of those students not paying attention or requiring remediation. Using quick formative assessments, either oral (show me thumbs up or down, color cards) or written (tickets out the door) can inform the teacher if more instruction is really needed and for whom. Having a “hurried, yet comfortable pace” will enable the teacher to teach more and bore students less.

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

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

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

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

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

Grammar Instruction: Establishing Common Ground

Perhaps no instructional issue in English-language arts produces more contentious debate than the issue of how best to teach grammar. When most of us refer to grammar we mean the structure of the sentence, the components of the sentence, word choice, the order of words, style, and usage. Some will also include punctuation, capitalization and even, perhaps spelling in the grammar stew.

All too often we bog down in our discussion over the issue of instructional strategies. Should we teach these skills explicitly through direct instruction? Should we teach these skills implicitly at the point of student need? Should we teach these skills in isolation? Should we teach these skills in the context of writing? What are the most efficient and effective means of instruction? Which instructional strategies produce the most retention? How can we differentiate instruction?

It may be that we begin, but quickly end the discussion of how to teach grammar because in posing these questions we are placing the “cart before the horse.” Perhaps a more useful starting point for our discussion would be to come to consensus about what we expect students to know and when. Establishing a common ground on this issue can help us determine what to diagnostically assess in order to determine our students’ relative strengths and weaknesses. Only at this point does it make sense to discuss the instructional strategies that will address the needs of our students.

This goal of consensus can be easier said than done. Teachers are inherently protective of their own instructional sovereignty. We all enter teaching to be “queens and kings of our own castles.” We are, by nature, independent thinkers. Collaboration requires some levels of releasing that sovereignty and replacing some of that independence with dependence. Additionally, we are all afraid of exposing our deficiencies. Many of us have received little grammar instruction and less training in how to teach the skills outlined above. Colleagues can be intimidating. It’s hard to admit our weaknesses. Much easier to keep our ostrich heads in the sand regarding grammar and focus our efforts on what we do know.

However, for the sake of our students we need to acknowledge our “elephants” in the room and begin to trust our colleagues. A climate of collaboration can be nurtured among teaching professionals. This risk-taking climate takes time and requires sensitive leadership. Group norms need to be established and practiced to ensure success. But, the results will be worth the efforts.

What Should Students Know and When?

At first blush, teachers will latch onto to Common Core Language Strand Standards. Fine as a starting point and undoubtedly more rigorous than previous state standards which tended to emphasize grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction only in the writing context; however, standards only offer a basic blueprint for grammatical instruction. The devil is in the details. Defining these issues in meaningful ways that will impact both instruction and learning necessitates detailed conversations. We need to get specific.

It makes sense to establish a set of skills and expectations to be mastered at each grade level. Defining a specific year-to-year instructional scope and sequence (the Common Core Standards are far too generic) with colleagues provides a game plan and also defines the content for assessment. See the following author tag for a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence for Grades 4-8. These skills and expectations need to be hammered out in the context of vertical teaming and articulation. The complexity of English grammar and the recursive nature of grammatical instruction necessitate grade-to-grade level discussion and consensus-building.

At my middle school, we began the conversation with seventh and eighth grade teams. We then got release time to meet with our elementary and high school colleagues. We began the process of building a scope and sequence to help us move students from Point A to Point B to Point C. Our goals were to adopt a common academic language, establish grade-level expectations, and build in review to address the recursive nature of grammatical instruction. We found much more common ground on these goals than many of us had expected, especially because we have not addressed instructional strategies at this point of the conversation.

How Do We Know What They Know and Do Not Know?

Having agreed to 72 skills and expectations for our middle schoolers in our comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, we then began designing diagnostic assessments to inform our grammatical instruction. Our criteria for the diagnostic assessments included the following: The assessments must specifically focus on the 72 “common ground” components of our instructional scope and sequence. The assessments must be whole-class, easy-to-administer, easy-to-grade, and easy-to-record. The assessment components should be “teachable.” One such set of diagnostic assessments, based upon 72 “common ground issues” that we are using as starting points are my own multiple-choice Grammar and Mechanics Assessments.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Having established what students need to know and when, and having developed diagnostic assessments to determine what students do and do not know, the real fun begins. At this point, we are beginning the process of sharing the instructional strategies that seem to best meet the needs of our students. Explicit or implicit instructional strategies? How can we establish benchmarks to formatively assess skill acquisition?  How can we differentiate instruction, according to the results of our assessments?

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

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

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

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

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

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