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Assessment-based Individualized Learning

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

What It’s Not

  • ABIL is nothing new. Teachers have been doing it forever.
  • It’s not about creating individual educational plans for every student.
  • It’s not a replacement for rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • It’s not funky differentiated instruction.
  • It’s not one teaching methodology: small groups, lit circles, writers workshop, learning centers, etc.
  • Impossible or unmanageable.

What It Is

  • Foundational content, concepts, and skills that every student needs to access rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • Reliable and valid diagnostic assessments to determine individual student mastery and deficits in those prerequisites. Assessments which are comprehensive and teachable–not random samples. For example, what reading and English-language arts teacher cares about learning that Johnny has some sight word deficits? Good teachers want to know precisely which sight words Johnny kn0ws and does not know to be able to efficiently teach to Johnny’s specific needs.
  • Reading assessments: upper and lower case alphabet, syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, sight syllables, word recognition level, short vowel sound-spellings, long vowel sound-spellings, vowel digraph sound-spellings, vowel diphthong sound-spellings, silent final e, consonant sound-spellings, consonant blend sound-spellings, consonant digraph sound-spellings. Reading fluency level, word recognition level, instructional reading level.
  • Previous grade-level spelling assessment: Every spelling pattern and conventional spelling rule.
  • Previous grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments.
  • Curriculum which directly corresponds to each assessment item with progress monitoring matrices to ensure student mastery and is conducive to concurrent instruction in grade-level Standards.
  • The key ingredient of RtI (Response to Intervention) besides quality, accessible grade-level instruction.
  • What special ed and ELD students need most.
  • How you would want your own child taught with rigorous grade-level instruction and individualized learning to remediate any relative weaknesses.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, provides assessments and curricular resources to implement Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Want to check out the curriculum? Click here. Want to download the assessments, answers, and recording matrices described above for your students?

ELA/Reading Assessments

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Teaching the Class and Individuals

Perhaps the greatest guilt-inducers for any veteran teacher are these two questions:

1. Do you know the individual needs of your students? 2. Are you teaching to the individual needs of your students?

For those of you still reading, let’s provide a bit of context to those questions:

Teaching the class is important and takes an enormous amount of energy and skill. Doing it well takes years of trial and error, professional development, and probably some natural ability that just can’t be learned or taught. It’s both an art and a science.

By and large, teachers do a great job at whole class direct instruction. Teachers know their subject areas. They know how to plan instructional units, how to prepare standards-based lessons, how to teach comprehensible lessons, how to provide their students with appropriate practice, and how to assess whether their students have mastered the unit and lesson objectives. Teachers have also learned the classroom management skills to enable most students to make significant academic progress. They know how to teach the class.

However, teaching the individual is quite another skill set.

Teaching the individual student is far more challenging and satisfying than teaching the class as a whole.

When people asked me what a do for a living, I tell them I’m a seventh grade teacher. Of course they ask, “What class do you teach?”

I repeat, “Seventh graders.”

Now, I realize they want to know that I teach English-language arts and reading intervention classes, so I’ll stop being snotty and tell them what they want to hear to satisfy their curiosity. However, I try and get across the message that I’m really teaching students, not a particular class. You elementary teachers have it easier… people don’t expect you to be subject-specific.

Now I like English-language arts as a subject area: the reading, writing, speaking, and listening. And I do enjoy planning instruction for my classes. But I like the seventh graders much more, because they are far more interesting to me than my teaching Walk Two Moons or The Giver for the thirtieth time. Seventh graders are more interesting because they are all individuals.

If you’re ready to take the step to individualize instruction, check out these resources: FREE ELA and Reading Diagnostic Assessments and the 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets. The free assessments provide the data you need to know the individual reading, spelling, grammar, and mechanics needs of your students. The worksheets include the skills, practice, and formative assessments you need to teach to the individual needs of your students.

Here’s what you get in the 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets…

1000 ELA/Reading Worksheets

1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets

• 77 Grammar and Mechanics Worksheets (L. 1, 2)
• 145 Language Application Worksheets (L. 3)
• 21 Phonics Worksheets (R.F.S.S. 3)
• 14 Syllabication Worksheets (R.F.S.S. 3)
• 43 Comprehension Worksheets (R.I.T.S. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8)
• 73 Spelling Sort Worksheets (L. 2)
• 102 Spelling Pattern Worksheets (L. 2) All K−8 sound-spelling patterns
• 56 Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 56 Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
• 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Write Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
• 42 Essay Strategy Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 4, 9)
• 35 Writing Skill Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
• 40 Study Skills Worksheets
• 64 Critical Thinking Worksheets
• Answer Booklet
-Perfect for new and veteran teachers alike.
-Great for “Oh no! They finished early.”
-The substitute teacher’s best tool.
-Independent homework
-Quality individualized instruction in the writing and reading contexts.
-Study skills/advisory/lifeskills/ELD/special education classes
-Both remedial as well as gifted and talented worksheets

You will love these resources!

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

How to Individualize Instruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

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

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

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

Using Student Data to Inform Instruction

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

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

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

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

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

The report has recommendations for both teachers and students:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

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

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

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

8 Keys to Classroom Management with Assessment-Based Instruction

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

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

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

The 8 Keys

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

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

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

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

Assessment-Based Instruction

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

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

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

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

Assessment-Based Instruction (ABI): Defined

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

Rationale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

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

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

 

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

10 Reasons Differentiated Instruction Died

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

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

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

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

Why Not?

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

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

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

Navigating Differentiated Instruction

Anyone with a good nav system knows its value in planning a family road trip. First, you enter your Destination. Establishing the end goal for the trip lets both driver and passengers in on the plan. Does it reduce the number of “Are we there yets?” Not completely. Second, you have to let your GPS establish the Current Location  to search the route to your destination. You may need to adjust that Starting Point. Third, you need to make use of the flexible features. A good navigation system allows the driver and passengers the flexibility to choose the best or fastest routes. It also re-routes if the driver makes a wrong turn, if there is road construction, or if the passengers want to take a side trip to see that interesting historical marker.

A quality English-language arts curriculum designed to differentiate instruction is like a good nav system. First, the program uses diagnostic assessments to establish the Destination. Assessments are based upon the Common Core State Standards. The teacher (or helpful parents) records the assessment data that indicates each student’s Current Location. Knowing what a child knows and does not know informs instructional decision-making. Should the Starting Point be adjusted? Are the learning gaps minimal, requiring brief review, or substantial, necessitating systematic instruction? Are there other students with the same deficits that would permit small group instruction? Is individualized instruction required for some curricular components? Effective instructional resources provide formative assessments that inform the teacher when to veer off course, backtrack, skip ahead, or take those educational side trips. The fastest route is not always the best. Good instructional resources allow parents and teachers to adjust instruction and re-route throughout the road trip.

Old-school English-language arts instructional resources are still using the same worn-out road maps. Everyone has to be on the same stretch of highway at the same time. Both teacher and students must adapt to a cookie cutter curriculum which assumes that every child begins with the same background knowledge, the same level of mastery, and/or the same skill set. Of course, the reality is that some students already know sections of the highway well and wind up repeating the same stretches of road. Highway hypnosis often sets in. Other students can’t even get on the same road-the curricular resources are just too-far above their ability levels.

Teachers committed to differentiated instruction need to invest in curricular resources with good nav systems rather than band-aiding outdated road maps.

Pennington Publishing provides the flexible instructional resources to adjust instruction to the individual needs of each student. Check out Mark Pennington’s Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Teaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Essay Strategies and get the help teachers need to differentiate assessment-based instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or specialized training.

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

Free Differentiated Instruction (DI) Resources

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

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

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

Differentiated Instruction

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/

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

Navigating Differentiated Instruction

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

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

Common Core DI, RTI, and ELL

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

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

Don’t Teach to the LCD

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

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

Differentiated Reading Instruction for Gifted Students

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

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

The Dos and Don’ts of Differentiated Instruction

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

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

Differentiated Instruction: The What and the How

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

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

23 Myths of Differentiated Instruction

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

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

12 Reasons Why Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction

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

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

Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

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

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

Learning Styles Teaching Lacks Common Sense

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

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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

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

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23 Myths of Differentiated Instruction

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

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

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

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

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

Educational Philosophy

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

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

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

Instructional Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Receives Differentiated Instruction

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

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

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

Curricular Rigor and Fairness

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher Commitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Reasons Why Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction

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

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

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

Following are 12 reasons why teachers resist differentiated instruction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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