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Posts Tagged ‘inferences’

Into, Through, but Not Beyond

English-language arts teachers and reading experts certainly agree that pre-teaching a reading selection is an essential component of good reading instruction. To help students get into a text, teachers may need to pre-teach some vocabulary, establish a context for the reading, explain the genre, and introduce the author to facilitate optimal  comprehension. Additionally, teachers need to assist students in reading “between the lines” to ensure that students understand the reading as the author intended. Help through the text can include teaching vocabulary, pointing out literary devices, explaining literary references, and interpreting difficult passages.

However, at the beyond stage many English-language arts teachers and reading experts will part ways. Constructivists will argue that unless the reading is made personally relevant through various instructional means such as KWLs, dialectical journals, and reflective writing responses, the reading is essentially meaning-less. Comprehension is defined as meaning-making.

A brief example may be helpful. In a freshman English-language arts course, a constructivist teacher limits the through instruction to get to the meat of the instruction, that is, the beyond activities, with this discussion prompt: “When Shakespeare says, “To be, or not to be: that is the question” he argues that finding meaning in one’s existence should be the driving force behind all decision-making. It is only in the process of questioning one’s very own existence can one rise above the pedantic necessities of life and be self-actualized as true human being.” Students then complete “Agree or Disagree” quick writes to be followed by heterogeneously mixed groups (by reading ability, learning style, multiple intelligences, etc.) to share and process the responses. Risk-taking teachers might even bring up the “Is suicide ever a morally justified option?” angle. The culminating project would involve creating individual epitaphs on the purpose of life etched into artsy clay tombstones, which may or may not (individual student choice) be displayed at Open House.

Others would disagree with this approach. These non-constructivist, literature-based English-language arts teachers would focus (not limit) the reading experience to what the author says and means in the context of his or her own writing. Personal relevance is deemed to be superfluous or, at least secondary to understanding what and the character means and why the character says it. Thus, the personal connection to reader is minimized. Group discussion and writing responses would focus on the text and not the application beyond the confines of the text.

In the same freshman course described above, a non-constructivist, literature-based  teacher begins the into activities with a class discussion. They work through Shakespeare’s word choice (the infinitive “to + the base form of the verb” as a repetitive and ongoing action that can express a generalization), ask for a summary of events that led up to this soliloquy, ask students to interpret Hamlet’s words in light of the plot, predict how this crisis of thought may affect the next or ultimate plot event(s), etc. Students then add the “To be…” quotable quote to their character development charts as evidence that Hamlet serves as a dynamic character. Students finally compose a response-to-literature essay to this prompt: “If Shakespeare ended the play Hamlet at this point, would Prince Hamlet truly be considered a tragic character? Cite textual evidence from Acts I, II, and III to justify your point of view.”

Clearly, both lessons would be engaging and promote critical thinking. The constructivist approach is using the text to teach content. The non-constructivist, literature-based  approach is to teach the text as the author intended. The former focuses on the beyond application of the text. The latter focuses on the through approach and minimizes the beyond. This is not to say that the non-constructivist, literature-based approach would not bring in outside source material or compare different texts to enhance comprehension.

My view is that English-language arts teachers have moved more toward the constructivist approach over the last dozen or so years. As an MA reading specialist, I tend to believe that letting the literature speak its own voice to students will accomplish the ends of content and process acquisition better than imposing content on the text. The constructivist approach is essentially isogesis­-reading something into the text that is not there. The non-constructivist, literature-based approach is accountable to the rules of exegesis-how to properly derive meaning out of the text itself. And I personally think that Shakespeare would prefer his readers to follow the latter approach.

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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Teaching Fact and Opinion: When, What, and How

Recently, a New York State elementary test prep site has been generating some buzz regarding its use of the terms fact and opinion. Here is one of the test items that elementary students are to label as fact or opinion. Researchers believe the Pterosaurus flew as fast as 25 miles per hour. The test’s answer may surprise you.*

Read on to learn when to teach, what to teach, and how to teach fact and opinion. Some may quibble a bit with my scope and sequence of instruction, my definitions of key terms, or my language of instruction. But then everyone has his or her own opinion, and furthermore, don’t confuse me with the facts!

Birds and the Bees

Teaching fact and opinion should be a lot like teaching “the birds and the bees.” The content and process should be appropriate to the age level. We don’t need to give all the answers to the seven-year-old’s question: “Where do babies come from?” However, with all-due apologies to stork advocates, we do need to give accurate, albeit incomplete, responses as a foundation to layer-in additional knowledge at the appropriate times.

Importance and Relevance

Helping students understand and apply the differences between fact and opinion is crucial to analytical reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Distinguishing between fact from opinion is key to interpreting information intelligently. It is one of the few “macro” skills that is, indeed, interdisciplinary. It is also a skill that is refined from elementary school up through post doctoral study. Furthermore, it is a skill of life-long learning and daily use.

What Fact and Opinion is Not

One of the best ways to learn anything well is to learn what it is not. Teachers may cringe a bit over this section or perhaps get a bit defensive because they may have misinformed their students over the years. Don’t fret. Knowledge changes and students are flexible. We’ve all taught that Pluto was our ninth planet for years, until recently.

  • Fact is not “something proven true.”
  • Fact is not “something accepted as true by most people.”
  • Fact is not “truth.”
  • Opinion is not “what you like”
  • Opinion is not “just what you believe”
  • Opinion is not “It’s just your opinion” or “You have your opinion and I have mine”

Teaching Fact and Opinion: When, What (with Exemplars), and How

When? 3rd – 4th Grades

What?

  • Fact is something said or done in the past or present. Exemplars: “He painted the wall blue” or “He said, ‘That wall is an ugly shade of blue.'”
  • Opinion is a belief. Exemplar: “Blue is a better color for this wall than green”

How? Memorize those definitions and exemplars. Identify and judge between fact and opinion from examples. Apply in both narrative and expository writing.

When? 5th – 6th Grades

What?

  • Fact can be used as evidence or can be supported by other evidence. Exemplars: “Walls can be painted in different colors. For example, one wall is blue” or “One wall is blue. This proves that walls can be painted in different colors.”
  • By definition, facts cannot be wrong. False Exemplar: “He got his facts about the blue wall all wrong.” Explanation: We really mean that he did not state facts or that he misapplied the use of those facts.
  • Opinion can be used as evidence or can be supported by other evidence. Exemplars: “Two boys in the class are color blind, so blue is a better color for this wall than green” or “Blue is a better color for this wall than green because the chairs in the classroom have blue backs.”
  • Opinion is not a preference. Exemplar: “In my opinion, I like blue walls.” Explanation: Liking one color over another states a personal preference, not an opinion.

How? Memorize those definitions and exemplars. Identify and judge among fact, opinion, and preference from examples. Apply fact and opinion as both evidence and as evidentiary support in both narrative and expository writing.

When? 7th – 8th Grades

What?

  • Fact is something that could be verifiable in time and space. Exemplar: “The wall was painted blue in 2016.” The fact would certainly be verifiable if the school office files contained a similar shade of blue paint chip, attached to a dated 2016 receipt for blue paint and a painting contractor’s 2016 dated invoice marked ‘Paid in Full.’”
  • Fact is not based upon consensus or tradition. False Exemplars: “”It’s an established fact that retired educators living in the town think that the walls of that classroom have always been blue” or “Historians assert and Americans have traditionally held that Pilgrims and Native Americans ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving.” Explanation: The conclusion of experts or a traditional belief, even over long periods of time, does not constitute a fact.
  • Fact is not definition. False Exemplars: “It’s a fact that blue is a mix of green and yellow” or “2 +2 = 4 and If A = B and B = C, then A = C.” Definitions simply state that one thing synonymously shares the same essence or characteristics of another thing. Much of math deals with meaningful definitions, called tautologies, not facts, per se.
  • Fact is not a scientific theory. False Exemplar: The universe began fifteen billion years ago withthe “Big Bang.” Explanation: “Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.” Stephen Jay Gould
  • Opinion is a belief or inference (interpretation, judgment, conclusion, or generalization). Check out my Top Ten Inference Categories Exemplar: “Blue is a better color for the classroom walls than red, because blue is a more soothing color.”
  • By definition, opinions are arguable, much like persuasive essay thesis statements. Exemplar: “Blue walls are more stylish than white walls.”
  • Opinions can be categorized as valid or invalid based upon their evidentiary support. Exemplar: “In a survey of thirty building-design architects, 28 of 30 stated that blue walls were ‘more stylish’ than white walls.” False Exemplar: “I asked the owner of All-Blue Paint Company if blue or white walls were more stylish, and he said ‘blue.’” Explanation: The owner would certainly not be an unbiased source and the survey sample is too small to provide meaningful data.

How? Memorize those definitions and exemplars. Identify and judge among fact, opinion, preference, consensus, tradition, definition, and theories from examples. Indentify and judge between valid and invalid opinions. Identify whether facts are verifiable and whether opinions are arguable. Apply fact and opinion as both evidence and as evidentiary support in both narrative and expository writing.

When? 9th – 10th Grades

What?

  • Fact is an objective reflection of reality. A fact exists independent of our sensory experience. Exemplar: “If a classroom’s walls are blue, then someone must have painted them that color.”
  • Fact can be misapplied and manipulated when used out of context or in combination with other irrelevant facts. False Exemplar: “He said, ‘The classroom walls need painting.’”  “The teacher said, “Blue has always been my favorite color.” The contractor painted the her classroom walls blue. Explanation: There is no necessary connection between the three facts. Combining the three possibly unrelated facts leads one to infer that the teacher had input regarding the color selection of her classroom walls.
  • Fact is not the same as truth. False Exemplar: “It’s a fact that the classroom walls are blue.” Explanation: This is known as a category error. We can state the fact that the walls were painted blue or the fact that someone said that they are blue, but this is not the same as truth. There is no process of falsification with facts, as there is with truth. For example, we could not say “It’s not a fact that the classroom walls are black.” Similarly, in a criminal court case, if a defendant pleads not-guilty to the charge that he or she murdered someone, the prosecution must falsify this plea and prove the truth of the guilty charge via evidence, such as facts, in order to convict the defendant.
  • Opinions are subjective interpretations of reality. Exemplar: “Neon green walls would more likely keep students awake and attentive, rather than soothing blue walls.”
  • Opinions can be manipulated and taken out of context. False Exemplar: “He said, ‘Blue walls seem more soothing than red ones.’” “He said, ‘That wall is an ugly shade of brown.'” “He will only be satisfied if we paint his classroom walls blue.” Explanation: Putting together two opinions that are not necessarily related can lead to an invalid inference.

How? Memorize those definitions and exemplars. Identify how facts are objective and opinions are subjective from examples. Indentify and judge how facts and opinions may be manipulated, misapplied, and taken out of context. Identify the difference between fact and truth with examples.

When? 11th – 12th Grades

What?

  • Fact is not a phenomenological representation of reality. False Exemplar: “The walls appear blue during the day, but have no color at night.” Explanation: Just because the blue color appears to disappear at night due to the absence of light, does not mean that this describes reality. To say that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west describes how things appear from our perspective, not what factually occurs.
  • Fact is studied in the philosophical discipline of ontology. Exemplar: “Existence is proven by the act of thinking about existence—cogito ergo sum” “I think, therefore I am” Rene Descartes
  • Fact is studied in the philosophical discipline of epistemology. Exemplar: “How can I know to what extent the “facts” of scientific observation have been influenced by my biases, the limits of my sensory experiences, and the act of observation in it of itself?”
  • A fact is not a claim. False Exemplar: “Blue walls make my students perform better on standardized tests.” Explanation: This is a category error. A claim is an inference, more closely related to an opinion than a fact, yet still different. This claim suggests that there is a causal relationship between wall color and student test performance. Akin to a “green 3,” there is no necessary connection between the two concepts. A positive correlation may, indeed, be found; however, asserting such would still not be factual.
  • Opinions that appear to differ need not be mutually exclusive. Exemplar: “Teacher A thinks blue walls are better than white walls because blue hides dust and marks while white does not. Teacher B totally disagrees with Teacher A’s rationale but believes that students would much prefer blue over white for their classroom.”

How? Memorize those definitions and exemplars. Identify the difference between factual and phenomenological representations of reality. Identify the relevant study of ontology and epistemology with regard to fact. Identify the difference between facts and claims. Identify and judge from examples how seemingly contradictory opinions need not be mutually exclusive.

*The test answer was “opinion.” Read my article and you will find out why the test-maker was mistaken.

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 Critical Thinking

Students are bombarded with content. Knowledge increases exponentially, and the entire storehouse of human knowledge gained over the last six thousand years is now doubled every five years, or less. The old educational philosophy of filling empty heads with the cumulative wisdom of the ages is yielding to a new pedagogy. Knowledge as a product is now being replaced with knowledge as a process.

This is not to say that our accumulated knowledge is irrelevant. Quite to the contrary, it is essential. Without the inductive and deductive reasoning developed by the Ancient Greeks, and without the scientific method, refined by the Enlightenment thinkers, we would have no foundation upon which to build a new process-centered design, commonly referred to as critical thinking.

However, we must begin to practice what we preach. If we are to equip Twenty-First-Century students with the tools they need to add to our “knowledge pool,” we need to re-evaluate how we spend our time in the classroom. The standards-based movement, prevalent in many American schools today, is primarily product-driven. Despite much talk about differentiating instruction, according to the needs of students as indicated by diagnostic assessments, the primary delivery of knowledge in most classrooms remains product-centered. And all students learn the same product, the same way, and on the same timetable to perform (hopefully) the same way on standards-based assessments.  The pressures on teachers to conform to this antiquated model of knowledge acquisition are formidable.

Change Their Way of Thinking

One way to implement change is incremental. A small, but effective way to start introducing critical thinking into the classroom is with the traditional “opener” activities. These “bell-ringer” activities can establish an important framework for learning and a mind-set for the day’s activities, even if they are product-centered.

To accomplish their process-centered mission, critical thinking openers can help a teacher teach a schema for thinking that students can learn, practice, and apply with the coaching assistance of their teachers.

The word schema comes from the Greek word “σχήμα” (skēma), which means a mental planning process. The schema that I propose is not original, by any means. It involves four simple steps: Observation, Interpretation, Application, and Revision. Observation is What do you see? Interpretation is What does it mean? Application is How can it be used? Revision is How can it be changed?

Teaching Procedures

To provoke process-thinking, students need a context from which to explore the schema described above. One great way to stimulate young minds is with famous literary quotations from the greatest thinkers and writers of all time, including contemporary minds from all knowledge disciplines. The web is filled with great quotes (as are some of your students). Simply post the quote and explain the context and/or vocabulary as is necessary. Introduce the critical thinking schema one at a time.  Then, have students take time to think, write, and interactively discuss the components of the critical thinking schema in response to the literary quotation.

Explore individual responses, paired responses, cooperative group responses, whole class responses, and your own responses as teacher-coach. Combine instructional methods. For example, starting off with a teacher “think aloud” on the Observation will stimulate paired written responses on the Interpretation, which will provoke terrific whole class discussions on the Application, which will engender creative and original individual ideas on the Revisions.

Teacher Think Alouds

To learn the four critical thinking schemata, teacher modeling is essential.  Creative thinking and problem-solving is certainly not exclusively a natural process. Developing thinkers do not have a priori understanding about how to effectively observe, interpret, apply, and revise. Thus, teachers play a crucial role in helping to develop good thinkers.

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog while they think is vitally important. As “talking to the reader” significantly increases writing coherency and “talking to the author” significantly increases reading comprehension, so does internal dialog significantly increase effective thinking. In fact, good thinkers are adept at practicing internal metacognitive strategies.  Students who consciously practice these self-monitoring strategies develop better problem-solving skills than those who do not. Students need to learn how to flexibly adapt these strategies by observing teacher modeling and then practicing what has been demonstrated.

Think Aloud Sample Lesson

1. Select a short, high interest literary quotation from a story familiar to all students. Post the quotation on the board, LCD, Smartboard®, or overhead projector.

2. Tell students that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, as you read the quotation and that they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during your reading. Read the quotation out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about the vocabulary, word choice, syntax, and historical context. Re-read difficult parts and make comments about the ideas that are presented. Ask questions of the author, especially about parts of the quotation that you do not fully understand. Some teachers like to use other voices for the internal dialogue and their normal voices for the reading.

3. After reading and thinking out loud, ask students if they think they understood the quotation better because of your verbalized thoughts rather than just by passively reading without active thoughts. Their answer will be “Yes,” if you have read and thought out loud effectively.

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.

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, 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).

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