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Posts Tagged ‘how to teach ELA standards’

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.

 

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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

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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. 

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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

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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.

I can hear the excuses. But they won’t read it on their own. They won’t understand it on their own. My students have varied reading levels. We have core novels and plays to teach—that’s our job. Yes, those are valid concerns; however, there are proven means to ameliorate those concerns.

Following is the rationale for creating independent readers, then an analysis of the teacher-dependent status quo, and finally a few practical ideas to minimize scaffolding and maximize comprehension of challenging text.

Reading Independently: The Rationale

Excerpts from the Common Core State Standards for English-language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects Appendix A | 2…

Being able to read complex text independently and proficiently is essential for high achievement in college and the workplace and important in numerous life tasks. Moreover, current trends suggest that if students cannot read challenging texts with understanding—if they have not developed the skill, concentration, and stamina to read such texts—they will read less in general. In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text to gain information, they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets. These sources, while not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breadth of ideas developed through complex text. As Adams (2009) puts it, “There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest. To grow, our students must read lots, and more specifically they must read lots of ‘complex’ texts—texts that offer them new language, new knowledge, and new modes of thought” (p. 182).

A turning away from complex texts is likely to lead to a general impoverishment of knowledge, which, because knowledge is intimately linked with reading comprehension ability, will accelerate the decline in the ability to comprehend complex texts and the decline in the richness of text itself. This bodes ill for the ability of Americans to meet the demands placed upon them by citizenship in a democratic republic and the challenges of a highly competitive global marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

The Teacher-Dependent Status Quo

College Preparation

There exists “a serious gap between many high school seniors’ reading ability and the reading requirements they will face after graduation. Furthermore, students in college are expected to read complex texts with substantially greater independence (i.e., much less scaffolding) than are students in typical K–12 programs. College students are held more accountable for what they read on their own than are most students in high school (Erickson & Strommer, 1991; Pritchard, Wilson, & Yamnitz, 2007).

College instructors assign readings, not necessarily explicated in class, for which students might be held accountable through exams, papers, presentations, or class discussions. Students in high school, by contrast, are rarely held accountable for what they are able to read independently (Heller & Greenleaf, 2007). This discrepancy in task demand, coupled with what we see below is a vast gap in text complexity, may help explain why only about half of the students taking the ACT Test in the 2004–2005 academic year could meet the benchmark score in reading (which also was the case in 2008–2009, the most recent year for which data are available) and why so few students in general are prepared for postsecondary reading (ACT, Inc., 2006, 2009).”

The Achievement Gap

It should be noted also that the problems with reading achievement are not “equal opportunity” in their effects: students arriving at school from less-educated families are disproportionately represented in many of these statistics (Bettinger & Long, 2009). The consequences of insufficiently high text demands and a lack of accountability for independent reading of complex texts in K–12 schooling are severe for everyone, but they are disproportionately so for those who are already most isolated from text before arriving at the schoolhouse door.

A Few Practical Ideas

It is important to recognize that scaffolding often is entirely appropriate. The expectation that scaffolding will occur with particularly challenging texts is built into the Standards’ grade-by-grade text complexity expectations, for example. The general movement, however, should be toward decreasing scaffolding and increasing independence both within and across the text complexity bands defined in the Standards.

1. Teach students to select independent reading books appropriate to their instructional reading levels.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-determine-reading-levels/

2. Hold students accountable for independent reading.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-get-students-to-read-at-home/

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

3. Avoid read-arounds and reading large portions of text in class.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/to-read-or-not-to-read-that-is-the-question/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-round-robin-and-popcorn-reading-are-evil/

4. Differentiate instruction according to diagnostic reading data.

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

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

5. Don’t teach to the LCD (Lowest Common Denominator).

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

6. Teach self-monitoring reading comprehension skills.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-reading-comprehension/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-increase-reading-comprehension-using-the-scrip-comprehension-strategies/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-use-think-alouds-to-teach-reading-comprehension/

7. Strike the appropriate balance between teaching students and the ELA standards.

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

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

8. Teach fluency.

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-differentiate-reading-fluency-practice/

9. Teach vocabulary and structural analysis.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-problem-with-most-vocabulary-instruction-part-1/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-we-learn-vocabulary-from-reading-part-ii/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-double-vocabulary-acquisition-from-reading-part-iii/

10. Share the independent reading and reading strategies load.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/learning-to-read-and-reading-to-learn/

11. Maximize teaching the text, not the personal application of the text.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/into-through-but-not-beyond/

12. Teach the reading-writing connection.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/twelve-tips-to-teach-the-reading-writing-connection/

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.

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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

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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

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