Posts Tagged ‘learning centers’

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 , , , , , , , , , , ,

Making Sense of Community College and Trade School Instruction

As an educational publisher, I receive many emails asking for assistance with products and/or instruction in a variety of settings. Although most of my business is in the K-12 market, I do get plenty of response from community college and trade school professors. Having taught three years (part time) in that setting, I do understand the challenges and rewards of working with adult learners. Those of us in the K-12 community who complain about how tough it is working with our diverse learners should walk two moons in the moccasins of our colleagues at the community colleges and trade schools before we cry “Woe is me.”

Here’s the email (used with the author’s permission).

Wondering what products you might suggest to me as an adult instructor of students 18 -70+ years old enrolled in a jobs training program.  My adult learners in general do well being highly motivated with strong self-initiative.  However, they have problems taking tests written for the specific class subject matter.  My feeling is that some of the lower achievers bring along a suitcase (even a trunk load) of bad study habits; unresolved conceptual learning issues; and other bad life experiences preventing their higher achievement.  Simple things like reading comprehension of test questions; basic math concepts and practical usage, etc. 

The program consists of technical classes such as 40-hour Hazwoper; Confined Space Entry; Stormwater Managment; Chemical Safety Awareness; Underground Storage Tanks; Mold Inspection & Remediation; Alternate Remediation Technologies.  These classes follow federal and state guidelines thus requiring success at 80% levels.

I work to help each student, but it is difficult to first analyze what is wrong (carrying the ones instead of tens in whole number addition) and then figuring out why they are doing what they are.  In the end we work to try to find solutions which they use to see better results on exams, exercises, etc.

Thank you for your help,

Chris Goodman Lead Instructor

Making Sense of Community College and Trade School Instruction


Your email is quite similar to many I’ve received, asking for targeted resources for adult learners. You have a tough, but rewarding job. I’ve been there and done that! I taught part time in a community college setting for three years with a student population quite similar to yours. Entering and re-entering the work force at any age can be difficult. I’ve decided to respond at length to your thoughtful email to both commiserate and offer some solutions to your challenging instructional needs based upon my own experience.

At the community college I taught lecture classes and also served in the Learning Resource Center. In this large complex, professors staffed the Reading Center, Writing Center, and Math Center from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily.

The instructional design of each of the Learning Resource Centers had some significant strengths:

  • Diagnostic reading, writing, and math exams were administered and scored in the Counseling Center. “Cut-off” scores were established and students who scored below were assigned to the relevant center for tutorial instruction while concurrently taking required classes in their selected instructional programs. Completion of the tutorial instruction served as prerequisites to certain core classes.
  • Learning was self-paced with the Learning Resource Center open twelve hours a day for student drop-in. So important for working adults.
  • Students completed  individualized learning plans and set their own learning goals.
  • Content professors “bought into” the instructional design and referred students for tutorial assistance.
  • We professors wrote, purchased, or “borrowed” curriculum catered to both student interest and need.
  • Credit was variable and flexible: Students worked on short-term specific learning modules in reading, writing, and math with check-in and review by the professors. Most modules were designed to be completed within 7.5 hours for the average student, and students earned .5 units. Some comprehensive modules were designed to be completed within 45 hours with students earning 3.0 units. Other modules ranged in between these extremes. Many of the learning modules permitted students to work together to complete the learning tasks. This “learning community” was nurtured by caring professors.
  • Much of the generic study skills curriculum was excellent and appropriate for most all students in each of the three centers.

The instructional design of each of the Learning Resource Centers had some significant weaknesses:

As you mentioned in your email, “… it is difficult to first analyze what is wrong.”

Despite the appropriate entry-level reading, writing, and math assessments, no further specific diagnostic assessments were given within the respective centers. Thus, professors knew that the student “had a problem” in reading, writing, or math; however, trial and error via student feedback and completed work was the only means of more refined assessment of student need. Highly inefficient. Plus many students failed in their first learning modules until their completed work was analyzed by a professor; others students completed work on content and skills already mastered.

With no specific diagnostic assessments, the curriculum did not match the diagnosed learning deficits of the individual student. Furthermore, few formative assessments were built into the instructional design of the individual modules. Although student did complete the modules, professors had no vehicle to assess whether the content or skills had been mastered as a whole and no item analysis to be able to refine and assign remedial learning tasks to help students achieve mastery.

In subsequent years I’ve written English-language arts curriculum to address these weaknesses. My credo has been “Help students catch up, while they keep up with age or grade-level

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

instruction.” Resources include the specific diagnostic resources (simple, short, and comprehensive and administered “whole class,” … not individually) with self-paced curriculum designed to address each diagnostic need. Each targeted worksheet includes definitions, examples, practice, application, and a quick formative assessment. Supplementary resources provide additional practice with unmastered content and skills. Recording matrices help teachers and students track individual progress.

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

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

Don’t Teach to the LCD

Teachers get into our profession for different reasons. Some of us truly enjoyed school and have always wanted to be teachers. Some of us value the independence of our own classrooms. Some of us like being part of a team. Some of us like the job security (true until recently). Some of us like the vacations. However, all of us share two common denominators: we enjoy working with students and we want to help make a difference in their lives.

These common denominators require some degree of compassion, empathy, and idealism. Admirable and necessary character traits for an educator, if you ask me. However, 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). Perhaps I  had better explain…


  • We may spend an inequitable amount of time, resources, and personal teacher attention on students who need instructional remediation. Our desire to see every student succeed often means that we give more to the neediest. Remedial instruction often includes more instructional time within the school day. “Early Bird” classes in primary, intervention classes in intermediate, middle, and high schools provide that additional time. Our schools fund these special classes, which often include lower teacher to student ratios and more supplies (such as remedial texts) to students who perform lower than grade-level norms. Within the “regular” class setting, students with instructional and/or behavioral challenges receive more personal teacher attention than do other students. Now, few teachers would argue that these students do not deserve this additional time, resources, and personal teacher attention. This would run counter to “who we are” as educators. However, in the real world there are fiscal, legal, and systemic constraints. All students can certainly be labeled as needy—think middle-performing and gifted students… Don’t these students deserve equitable time, resources, and teacher attention? Teachers are less comfortable with the concept of “taking away” instructional time, resources, and personal teacher attention. But, schools are reductive entities. Giving more there takes away from here.
  • We may slow down the instructional pace to ensure that all students have a greater chance at mastering our teaching objectives. Typically, this means that we repeat instruction, provide additional examples, and spend more time on guided practice. Increased success in mastery of the teaching objectives for remedial students often comes at the cost of boring middle-performing and gifted students to tears.
  • We may cater to the perceived needs of remedial students. Beyond special classes, we spoon-feed alternative instruction (pre-teach/re-teach, TPR, student choice, learning styles, and more) within the classroom. Teachers may provide peer tutoring or use instructional aides to monitor progress of remedial students and especially special education students. Teachers repeat or re-explain whole-class instructions to individuals. In catering to the needs of some students, we may find ourselves unintentionally lowering expectations for these students. For example, we may be advised to reduce the class or homework for individual students. We may choose to ignore teaching certain challenging standards. We may adjust tests, grading scales, or the type of assigned work.


  • Commit to spending an equitable amount of time, resources, and personal teacher attention on all students. Often, this means middle-performing students who can get “lost in the shuffle.” Think of the student names that are hardest to learn. They belong to your middle-performing students. I will bet that you quickly and more easily learn the names of your students with instructional or behavioral challenges and the names of your brightest students.
  • Be an anti-tracking advocate. Tracking students assumes that there is such a possibility of a homogeneous class. There is no such animal. For example, as a reading specialist I can assure you that lumping together a group of remedial readers into an intervention class does not make homogeneous instruction possible. Students are remedial readers for a wide-variety of reasons. At the other end of the spectrum, no two gifted students are gifted in the same way. Tracking costs additional money. Reducing class sizes for some raises class sizes for others. Scheduling tracked classes is a nightmare and involves real costs. We can also discuss the negative social stigma for some students that often derives from tracking.
  • Differentiating instruction for all of your students means that all deserve your personal attention. All students need to be personally challenged at the points of their diagnostically assessed instructional needs. Affording equitable personal teacher attention does not necessarily mean that you interact in the same way with each student; however, assigning appropriate learning activities needs to reflect that goal.
  • Speed up your instructional pace. You don’t have to become a “fast-talker,” but becoming consciously aware of how you manage class time, and especially how you deliver instruction, is essential to the success of all of your students. Counter-intuitively, remedial students benefit from a “hurried, yet relaxed” instructional pace. Setting a daily time for differentiated instruction will allow you to judiciously address students who need more time.
  • Guard time-on-task zealously. Use the full amount of class time by designing effective “openers” and “closers.” Train your students to make quick instructional transitions. Know your own proclivities. If you are the “funny teacher,” tell fewer jokes. If you are the “share my personal life teacher,” tell less stories and spend more time on Facebook®. Having a peer observe your time-on-task instructional patterns can be an eye-opening experience. Advocate forcefully for fewer class interruptions.
  • If two instructional activities or methodologies accomplish the same mastery, teach the one that takes less time. To tread on a few cherished traditions: sugar cube or toothpick forts and castles, dioramas, masks, oral book reports from every student, and quite a few science projects just have to go. Process and fun are fine, but we have choices to make as professionals.
  • We know from years of educational research that maintaining high expectations for all students is essential to their success. Guard against those that would provide the “realistic” caveat to that statement. Maintain your idealism that all students can and must learn. Treat students as individuals and know their needs, but don’t cater to them and avoid spoon-feeding. Encourage independent learning and maximum effort from your students.

Teachers are habitual creatures, just as are our students. It takes time to change from teaching to the Lowest Common Denominator to differentiating instruction for all of your students.


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.

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