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Sight Words: Which to Teach and Which Not To

Sight Words

Which sight words should we teach?

Most teachers and reading specialists advocate some teaching of sight words: the question is which ones make sense to teach and which ones don’t make sense to teach? Don’t worry… At the end of the article you’ll get the assessments, word lists, activities, and suggested resources you need to teach. But, we do need to answer the question.

First, let’s dispel a few notions about how we learn to read. It’s not a which came first, the chicken or the egg? question some still suggest. In other words, the end result is not all that matters. Witness the plethora of reading intervention classes in upper elementary and middle schools to see how many of our students can “read,” but not understand what they are “word calling.” How we get to the end result does matter. Reading does not teach phonemic awareness, nor does reading teach phonics and multi-syllabic decoding.

We have plenty of reading research to positively assert that explicit, systematic phonics instruction is the most efficient approach to teaching beginning and remedial readers. The Look-Say Method of the Dick and Jane readers (sight words only instruction) and the Onset-Rime Method (b-ack, h-ack, j-ack, l-ack, p-ack, r-ack, s-ack, t-ack) have largely been placed on the dustbin of instructional approaches.

However…

We can certainly take things too far. We know some things, but we don’t know a lot of things about reading. We are only at the beginning stages of brain research.

So…

A prudent approach to both beginning and remedial reading instruction is to focus on decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling) instruction and practice, but to also “throw in” a healthy dose of sight words practice just to be sure. But, all sight words are not created equal.

Which Sight Words Not to Teach and Why

Don’t pass out lists of high frequency reading or spelling words for students to memorize. Intuitively, it would seem to make sense to have students memorize the words that they are going to read or spell most often. However, our gut-level instincts lead us astray here.

  • The Dolch and Fry word lists of the most commonly used words in basal readers were never designed to provide a list of words to study. Countless U.S. classrooms still, unfortunately, have these reading goals (and assign parents the task of teaching): 10 words by the end of kindergarten; 100 words by the end of first grade; 200 words by the end of second grade; and 300 words by the end of third grade. As a reading specialist, I’ve worked with hundreds of elementary, middle school, high school, and even community college students who can word call each of these lists, but not read with comprehension.
  • Similarly, the Slosson Oral Word Reading Test and San Diego Quick Assessment were only designed to test word recognition and they do provide correlations to reading comprehension, but authors Richard L. Slosson and Charles L. Nicholson, as well as Margaret La Pray and Ramon Ross respectively, never advocated using their random sample assessments as instructional tools.
  • The “No Excuse” spelling word lists, floating around since Rebecca Sitton popularized this band aid approach to spelling mastery during the height of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s still, unfortunately, serves as the entire spelling program for countless U.S. classrooms with absolutely no research validating its instructional validity.

Which Sight Words to Teach and Why

The first group of sight words are, indeed, words; the second and third groups are word parts.

  • Outlaw Words: These words break the law, that is they break the rules of the alphabet code and are non-phonetic. Words such as the and above are Outlaw Words because readers can’t decode them. I’ve heard way too many teachers and parents force children into sounding out words which can’t be done because they break the code. It is true that many of our high frequency and high utility words happen to be non-decodable, but many are not, so the efficient approach to sight words instruction is to teach and have students practice only the non-decodable words, not the high frequency words which mix non-decodable and decodable. Why confuse students? We have to teach these outlaw words because they are exceptions to our phonics rules.
  • Word Families (Rimes): A rime is a vowel and the final consonants in one syllable, such as “ack.” The rime usually follows an first consonant, e.g. “b,” or consonant blend, e.g. “tr,” to form words, e.g., “back” or “track.” Students apply these to other starting consonants (called onsets) to recognize or say new words. By the end of second grade, students should know every one of these 79 word families with automaticity through explicit, systematic phonics instruction. If they don’t, gap fill with flashcard practice and activities to help students master the rimes. I have found plenty of success teaching the word families that students do not know with sound-spelling blending. Again, the focus is remedial, not instructional, with the rimes.
  • High Frequency Greek and Latin Prefixes and Roots: Greek and Latin word parts make up over 50% of the words in the dictionary. Some are decodable in English, and some are not. Because of the strong reading-vocabulary connection, it does make sense to have students teach and practice the Greek and Latin high frequency prefixes and suffixes which they do not know. Like with rimes, the analogous relationships formed by morphological (meaning-based) word parts make this a sound sight words instructional focus. For example,  bi means two in bicycle, just as it means two in bicameral or biped.

FREE Sight Words Assessments

Outlaw Words: Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Word Families (Rimes): Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Greek and Latin High Frequency Prefixes and Suffixes: Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Click HERE to get a one-page Reading Assessment Matrix for these sight word assessments.

FREE Sight Words Lists and Activities

Outlaw Words: Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

Word Families (Rimes): Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

Greek and Latin High Frequency Prefixes and Suffixes: Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

But wait… Why not get these sight word assessments, sight word lists, ALL (not the sample) sight word activities plus 10 other reading assessments AND all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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. Perfect for guided reading.

Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

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Reading Fluency Assessment | Expository Article FREE

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

It’s back to school and good teachers want to know if their students can read the class novel, assigned articles, or their textbooks. Teachers also want to know what level reading is appropriate for each of their students. Teachers need a reading fluency assessment that matches their curriculum. With the move to more and more informational/expository reading, it makes sense to assess students’ reading fluency accordingly. Wouldn’t it be great if you found a two-minute, numbered reading fluency that was leveled, at say first through seventh grade reading levels, did not require prior knowledge, was interesting, and was expository text, and was FREE? Here you go!

This “Pets” expository fluency article is leveled in a special pyramid design: Using the Fleish-Kincaid formula, the first paragraph is at the first grade reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level.

With this design, the reader begins at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language, longer sentences, and multi-syllabic words. As the student reads the article, the teacher notes  the reading levels at which the student has a comfortable degree of accuracy and automaticity. Accuracy at the 95% or better decoding and automaticity with relatively effortless reading. The 383 word “Pets” expository fluency article is a two-minute expository reading fluency, which is a much superior measurement than a one-minute narrative reading fluency at only one grade level.

High levels of reading fluency are positively correlated with high levels of comprehension. Although not a causal connection, it makes sense that a certain degree of effortless automaticity is necessary for any reader to fully attend to meaning-making.

Following are end-of-year expected reading fluency rates:

2nd Grade Text            80 words per minute with 95% accuracy

3rd Grade Text            95 words per minute with 95% accuracy

4th Grade Text            110 words per minute with 95% accuracy

5th Grade Text             125 words per minute with 95% accuracy

6th Grade Text            140 words per minute with 95% accuracy

7th Grade Text            150 words per minute with 95% accuracy

8th Grade Text            160 words per minute with 95% accuracy

The Pets Fluency Assessment is my gift to you and your students. But, how do I best remediate reading fluency deficits? Pennington Publishing’s Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit (a slice of the comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program) includes 43 animal fluency articles with vocabulary to pre-teach. Word counts are provided in the left margin for fluency timings. The YouTube videos of each article are recorded at three different reading speeds (Level A at 95-115 words per minute; Level B at 115-135 words; and Level C at 135-155 words) to provide modeled readings at each of your students’ challenge levels.

Why not get this assessment plus 12 other reading assessments AND all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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. Perfect for guided reading.

Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

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Phonemic Awareness Assessments FREE!

Phonemic Awareness Tests

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

“There is considerable evidence that the primary difference between good and poor readers lies in the good reader’s phonological processing ability” (University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning). We all know the importance of phonemic awareness as both a predictor (Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977; Stanovich, 1986, 1994) and causal factor (Adams, 1990) in reading readiness. Students need to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds of the language before (or while) learning to read. Although some researchers still posit the notion that complete phonemic awareness is a by-product of reading, most reading researchers and teachers now see phonemic awareness as a teachable prerequisite to reading (Smith, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1998).

If phonemic awareness is critically important to reading and it can be taught, we should do so both as pre-school to second grade beginning reading instruction and as third grade to adult reading remediation.

Some encouraging research indicates that remedial readers can learn phonemic awareness with the right teaching strategies. Bhat, Griffin, and Sindelar (2003) reported that middle school remedial readers do benefit from phonemic awareness training, although, unfortunately, not as much as do younger learners.

Additionally, although specific speech sounds (phonemes) do differ among languages, making phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition more challenging for English-language Learners (ELs), these students are certainly able to transfer their phonemic awareness skills from their primary languages to English, and research supports the benefits of phonemic awareness training for second language learners (Abbot, Quiroga, Lernos-Britton, Mostafapour, and Berninger, 2002). In fact, some primary languages, such as Spanish, share more phonemes with English than not.

Moreover, because phonemic awareness is an auditory skill, speech therapists will emphasize the importance of teaching and practicing phoneme manipulation to special education students, many of whom are diagnosed with auditory learning challenges.

So how should we teach phonemic awareness to beginning, remedial, EL/ELD, and special education students? Assessment-based instruction.

1. Efficient, comprehensive, and accurate whole class (or at least small group) phonemic awareness assessments to determine what beginning and remedial readers know and don’t know. With these tests, teachers can feel confident that “if they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.” Not all students will have mastered the same components of phonemic awareness. No more time-consuming individual phonemic awareness assessments? Yeah! Download the six assessments below for free.

2. Assessment-based phonemic awareness activities designed to teach the phonemic awareness deficits indicated by the assessments. Why teach the same phonemic awareness activity whole class to, say a kindergarten or an intermediate or middle school reading intervention class, when not all students need to remediate the same phonemic awareness skill? Instead, use the assessment-data to determine instructional decisions. Perfect for whole class (if the assessments so indicate the need), small ability groups (think learning stations and cooperative groups), and individualized instruction. Download the sample phonemic awareness activities below for free.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Here are the six phonemic awareness assessments. By the way, reading specialists suggest remediating these skills in the order listed here:

  • Rhyming Awareness
  • Alphabetic Awareness (Make sure to check out the Mp3 “New Alphabet Song” found in the phonemic awareness activities packet.)
  • Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation
  • Phonemic Isolation
  • Phonemic Blending
  • Phonemic Segmentation

Each of the assessments has a teacher and student page (for recording… remember that phonemic awareness is an auditory skill). Download and print these files: Phonemic Awareness and Alphabetic Awareness

Plus, five of the six (not the alphabetic awareness assessment) include audio files. Woohoo!

Phonemic Awareness Audio Files

Syllable Awareness Assessment (5:48)

Syllable Awareness Assessment

Syllable Rhyming Assessment (5:38)

Syllable Rhyming Assessment

Phonemic Isolation Assessment (5:54)

Phonemic Isolation Assessment

Phonemic Blending Assessment (5:53)

Phonemic Blending Assessment

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment (5:21)

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment

Reading Assessment Matrix

You’ll love this one-page assessment matrix for student data and simple progress monitoring: Reading Assessments Recording Matrix

But what about the resources to teach what the phonemic awareness assessments indicate to be unmastered skills? Got you covered! Check out some of the phonemic awareness activities used in the author’s reading intervention program linked at the end of this related articleYou, the teacher, need to have the instructional resources and training to teach to the specific assessment data. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness activities to remediate all deficits indicated by the assessments.

Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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. Perfect for guided reading.

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Phonics Test: Free Diagnostic Decoding Assessment

As an elementary, middle school, and high school reading specialist (Yes, I’ve also taught remedial reading courses at the community college level), I’ve found more and more teachers feeling that obligatory reading assessments were a waste of time… Things that had to be done because the district, principal, site reading specialist, Response to Intervention Coordinator, or grade level team members said to do so.

I have a bit of advice: Only administer, correct, record, and monitor reading assessments if they are quick, comprehensive and teachable and if you, the teacher, are given the instructional resources and training to teach to the specific assessment data. These are reasonable requests/demands/expectations. Let’s explore these conditions just a bit and get you the FREE phonics test that you googled.

Why Teachers Don’t Value Reading Assessments

1. We are here to teach and not spend all of our time testing. Test administration, correction, recording, progress monitoring, re-testing takes away from instructional time. Why, for example, should we administer a two-minute reading fluency assessment if last year’s teacher already tested the child at above grade level? Why should we give a decoding test again and again (with most RtI models) when the diagnostic phonics test indicated complete mastery of all vowel and consonant sound-spellings?

31 Flavor Ice Cream

Students are 31 flavors.

2. Reading Assessments are random samples. If you had limited experience in eating ice cream, and you were taken to Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors to see if you liked ice cream, tasting a half-dozen random flavor samples would probably let you answer “Yes” or “No.” However, there are 25 other flavors that you did not taste. You could hate every one, love every one, or more probably prefer some more than others. You don’t really know until you try all 31 flavors. The same is true with, say a phonics test.

The DIBELS Next, Aimsweb, and K12 Reading Placement Tests (some of the most widely used phonics tests) all provide interesting data; however, their phonics tests do not assess all 31 flavors. Now the test creators would be quick to ask if I’ve had an educational statistics class (Yes, got an A) and understand experimental design. They might argue that if you tasted chocolate and liked it, you would not have to taste mocha almond fudge, rocky road, etc. to predict that you would also like these similar flavors. Similarly, they would suggest that if your phonics assessment tests the “au_” sound-spelling, it would not be necessary to assess the “aw,” “ou_,” “augh,” “a(l),” and “a(ll)” sound-spellings. I disagree; I love chocolate, but can’t stand mocha almond fudge and rocky road. Poor Raphael may know that “au_” sound-spelling on the phonics test, but not know any of those other sound-spellings unless each is tested.

3. Reading Assessments provide non-teachable data. Knowing that a child is below reading grade level doesn’t tell us why, nor show us what to do to address the deficit.

For example, an individual reading inventory (I’ve done hundreds) might indicate the following for Amy, a sixth grade Vietnamese child, who came to the United States three years ago:

Amy was tested on the Insert Normed Reading Comprehension Test of Your Choice at 2.5 grade level. She had frequent ear infections as a child. Amy has mastered some, but not all, of her phonemic awareness and phonics skills. She scored at grade level 3.1 on the San Diego Quick Assessment. Her fluency on the grade 6 passage was 65 with 82% accuracy. She scored below the syllable juncture stage on the qualitative spelling inventory. She knew 182 of 300 on the Dolch list. She does not like to read.

That data might be enough to ship Amy off to an ELD class or get her tested for special education; but the data provide nothing that is concrete, specific, and teachable.

What Types of Reading Assessments Teachers Would Like to Use

1. Whole class assessments that are quick and easy to administer (How about audio files?), simple to correct and record, with easy-entry progress monitoring charts.

2. Comprehensive reading assessments that assess everything the student does and does not know. No random sampling.

3. Teachable data with student test errors which indicate specific reading deficits that are discrete and generalizable. Tests that inform the teacher exactly what needs teaching and what does not need teaching for the individual student, flexible ability groups, and the class as a whole.

Like most teachers, you would be excited to use a phonics test that is quick, comprehensive and teachable. Here are two phonics assessments (vowels and consonants) with answers and audio files, and a simple one-page recording matrix for progress monitoring: 

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Use this comprehensive 52 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of short vowels, long vowels, silent final e, vowel digraphs, vowel diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any vowel sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (10:42) *

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

Use this comprehensive 50 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of consonant digraphs, beginning consonant blends, and ending consonant blends. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any consonant sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment (12:07) *

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

Reading Assessment Matrix

You’ll love this one-page assessment matrix for student data and simple progress monitoring: Reading Assessments Recording Matrix

But don’t forget the second of your requests/demands/expectations. You, the teacher, need to have the instructional resources and training to teach to the specific assessment data.

Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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. Perfect for guided reading.

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Reading Intervention Tailwind Tribe

Tailwind Tribe for Reading Intervention

Reading Intervention Tailwind Tribe

Fellow teachers, authors, and publishers who love creating wonderful reading intervention resources and programs are welcome to join my Reading Intervention Tailwind Tribe. Let’s make this the go-to resource for teachers who are dedicated to improving the reading competencies of their below grade level remedial readers, special education students with auditory challenges, and English-language learners. Who says reading intervention can’t be efficient, successful, and fun!

Here’s my Reading Intervention Tailwind Tribe description:

Free resources and the best reading intervention programs to teach below grade level readers, special education students with auditory challenges, and English-language learners. Diagnostic assessments for RtI screening and placement, phonemic awareness, phonics, sight words, rimes (word family) activities and games, sound-spelling cards, syllabication, decodable text, reading level formulas, reading comprehension, reading fluency, self-monitoring strategies, question/answer relationships, think alouds, text dependent questions, close reading, metacognition, independent reading ideas and contests, individualized spelling, spelling sorts, spelling songs and games, vocabulary instruction, context clues, plus Greek and Latin word parts. We are after solid assessment-based reading instruction with engaging class lessons and individualized instruction. Focus is on grades 3 to adult non-readers and remedial readers. 

How about the tribe rules? We want to support teachers first and our own interests second! I think you’ll find that they make sense. Please join if you are a teacher, administrator, author, or publisher. If you are a parent looking for reading resources for your child, you are welcome to observe, but not join. Thanks!

  1. Only post high quality, vertical pins which are specifically grammar, usage, and mechanics resources. Our focus is on grades 4-high school.  
  2. Re-pin at least 3 pins from our tribe for each that you add to the tribe (3:1).
  3. Pin at least two ready-to-use free grammar, usage, and mechanics resources (worksheets, posters, articles, videos, etc.) for each “program for sale” pin (2:1).

 Want to check out my Pinterest Reading Intervention Board (you should) before joining the tribe? We want contributions from all reading philosophies.

https:/www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/reading-intervention/   

I’ll be looking for administrators. If you want to help out, please email me at mark@penningtonpublishing.com with a link to your Pinterest board(s).

HERE’S HOW TO JOIN. CLICK THIS INVITATION LIST!

https://www.tailwindapp.com/tribe/join?d=eyJpdiI6ImhmQTJFTk9rNzUxOFIyeERldjE0RHc9PSIsInZhbHVlIjoiNVRMUUpFdmpYMVlYTENkeWF1OG9IT0VLVmdNeWdZNzYyS2Z2Tk5FU1hpTWIwZ29pSVwvV1MwU0VTZFI1djNcL1NWTm5wM040SHp6SUlzTjduMkpJR04xMFlSTjErTnZjQ3gxRjhsdXlXdTRxcz0iLCJtYWMiOiI3NmIwNmU5NzQyZDk3NzlmM2E0OTViOTU3OTY2YWY4NWE0NzVjNTg3MmQyZTNhYzZlOTc5OGI0MzkxMzlhMDEyIn0%3D 

Check out these FREE diagnostic reading and spelling assessments to determine exactly which gaps to fill. These assessments pinpoint specific, teachable areas that students have not yet mastered, but need to. These are comprehensive assessments, not random samples indicating a generic “problem area.” For example, the Vowel Sound Phonics Assessment will indicate that Raphael has not mastered the Long a, ai_. For example, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment does not indicate a problem with syllable juncture as a qualitative spelling inventory might; instead, the test would indicate that Frances does not understand the consonant-le spelling patterns.

Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%. Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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. Perfect for guided reading. Perfect for homework.

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How to Practice Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Well, I stirred up somewhat of a ruckus with my companion article titled “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” and I think I understand why. Admittedly, the hook is designed to do exactly what we teachers teach our students: Grab the readers’ attention and make them want to read more.” Back in high school, my fellow journalist, Kraig King, somehow was able to get this story headline approved by Mr. Devlin, our school newspaper teacher: “Drugs Are Great” with the first sentence following with “that’s what my friend Joe kept telling me.” Every student read that article.

In my previous article I provided evidence that the reading community of practitioners (we teachers and reading specialists) and academics (reading researchers) really don’t have a consensus as to what exactly is reading comprehension. The instructional implications seem clear to me: We shouldn’t assess or pretend to teach what we don’t know.

I also cautioned that teachers face enormous pressure to adopt a particular definition of reading comprehension from administrators and publishers of assessments and curricula. I’ll say it again, “We have to be crap detectors” in our business of teaching students.

Since “everyone and their mother” (horrible grammar) has their own definition of reading comprehension, I developed my own: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

The “when we see it” part of my working definition for reading comprehension offers some practical advice for helping students practice their reading comprehension. Most of us can spot a good reader when we see one. And, fortunately, most teachers are pretty good readers. So let’s remind ourselves about what good readers do.

Here the reading research provides helpful insight. Although causal connections (This teaching practice will effect this learning effect) can rarely be established, we do have a body of statistically significant reading research indicating positive correlations between certain learning practices and reading comprehension… admittedly we beg the question as to just what reading comprehension is; however, this is beside the point for our working definition). For example, oral reading fluency has a statistically significant correlation with reading comprehension; the practice and result share a high correlation (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, and Jenkins).

We may not know exactly “how to get it,” but Johnny has high fluency scores and everyone knows he’s a good reader, so one way to practice reading comprehension would be… let’s be like Johnny. The following is certainly not an exhaustive list of what good readers like Johnny do, but each has research studies supporting statistically significant correlations between the description or practice and reading comprehension. I’ll add on links to that research later. Please comment with relevant links and additional suggestions and I’ll add onto the list. Or, even better yet, challenge my assumptions.

Practice Doing What Good Readers Do

Practice Reading Comprehension

Students Practicing Reading Comprehension

  • Good readers are fluent in all senses of the word, both orally and silently.
  • Good readers understand why they are reading something and tend to read toward a specific purpose.
  • Good readers are smart. Sad, but true. We educators wish that every student had the aptitude or capability to be brilliant, but nature gets in the way. In one way or another, reading is a thinking activity and good thinkers have the opportunity to be good readers. Maybe someday we will understand the brain enough to even the playing field, but we are still a long way from that day.
  • Good readers bring plenty of prior knowledge to the table through experience, content learning, practice, study skills. Good for them, but not for all our students. Nurture gets in the way. Fortunately, we have some of the tools needed to somewhat level the playing field, but it takes a lot of work.
  • Good readers have a good understanding of English idioms. English-language learners do have challenges here. Let’s be honest.
  • Good readers read for meaning and monitor their own comprehension.
  • Good readers dialogue with the text and see the reading experience as interactive between reader and author and others. They question the text.
  • Good readers have high vocabularies, especially Tier 1 and Tier 2 words.
  • Good readers know how to find resources to help them understand difficult text.
  • Good readers are flexible: Good readers vary reading speed, re-read what they don’t understand, know when to skim and not to skim.
  • Good readers know what’s important and what’s not.
  • Good readers know they need to infer meaning from the text and draw conclusions.
  • Good readers relate one part of the text to others.
  • Good readers understand text structure.
  • Good readers understand the craft of writing.
  • Good readers understand how genre affects story development.
  • Good readers do a better job of answering recall and inferential reading selection questions.
  • Good readers read narrative differently than expository text.

Teaching Practices to Practice Reading Comprehension

I’ll keep the explanations in this list short and let the links broaden any topics or ideas you may wish to explore. Several of the lists include ready-to-use resources to help your students practice reading comprehension. I suggest teachers use this list as a sort of a “I do that (pat on the back affirmation),” “I used to do that (reminder that you should use that practice again),” and “I want to think about doing that or do that instead of what I’m doing” self-analysis.

1. Think-Alouds: Good readers (both teachers and students) can share how they understand and interpret text in light of their own personal and academic experiences, text-based strategies, self-questioning, and monitoring for understanding. Click HERE for suggestions as to how to use this technique. Think-Alouds will help your students understand what reading is, for example connecting parts of text, and what reading isn’t, for example, word calling.

2. Close Readings: If you haven’t heard of close readings, you’ve been asleep at the wheel. If you read my article, Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely, you may wind up with a different take on this trendy reading strategy, but it is still useful to help students practice reading comprehension and it works well in conjunction with think-alouds and external, text dependent questions.

3. External Questions: Any search of Common Core reading standards will bring up text dependent questions, the favorite subject of the Common Core authors, after the need for text complexity. The time-tested QAR Reading Strategy helps students practice comprehension through recognizing and applying the types of text-dependent questions publishers, teachers, and good readers ask themselves about text.

4. Internal Questions: Reading research indicates that self-generated reader questioning improves reading comprehension as much or even more than publisher or teacher questions. My article, How to Improve Reading Comprehension with Self-Questioning, provides a helpful overview and summary of the research. Also, I’ve developed a useful set of five internal questions which prompt active engagement with both narrative and expository text. These SCRIP Comprehension Strategies (includes posters, five worksheets, and SCRIP Bookmarks) are memorable and effective. Plus, they provide a language of instruction for literary discussions.

5. Student Monitoring of Text: Teaching students to self-monitor their reading comprehension is wonderful practice. Read my article, Interactive Reading-Making a Movie in Your Head, for a nice explanation of how to read interactively. Follow up with a think-aloud and have students pair share their own think-alouds. Now that’s reading comprehension practice!

6. Literary Discussions: When we build upon (and sometimes revise) prior knowledge with relevant content and life experience, we better comprehend text. Modeling and practicing thinking skills via Socratic Seminars, literacy circles, cooperative groups, and the like help students practice reading comprehension, which is truly a listening and speaking skill. Check out How to Lead Effective Group Discussions to fine tune your discussion experience. Also check out my Critical Thinking Openers.

7. Pre-teach and Re-teach: Read the king of these reading comprehension practices (Marzano). We have to level the playing field by making text accessible to all students. By the way, why not show the movie first before reading the novel upon which it is based? Just an idea, but an effective one. Give students the keys to effective reading comprehension practice; don’t withhold them.

8. Fluency Practice: Students need both oral and silent fluency practice. Check out these articles: How and Why to Teach Fluency, Differentiated Fluency Practice, and Reading Fluency Homework. My Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program provides modeled oral reading fluency practice at three separate speeds. The expository animal fluency passages are tiered in terms of reading level: the first two paragraphs of each article at grade 3, the next two paragraphs at grade 5, and the last two at grade 7. Each article has word counts and corresponding timing sheets.

9. Syllabication Practice: The original and new editions Rewards (Archer) programs stretch decoding to the multi-syllabic academic vocabulary that we want students to practice to improve reading comprehension. My own Syllable Transformers (a nice article with lesson downloads) activity is essential practice for students at all reading levels. You’ll also want to check out these great reference lists: Syllable Rules with Examples and Accent Rules with Examples.

10. Vocabulary Practice with the Common Core Language Standards: The best section of the Common Core State Standards, and perhaps the only set of Standards that has produced universal praise and no criticism is found in the Language Strand: Standards 4, 5, and 6. Every teacher and reading researcher agrees that a growing and targeted vocabulary is a prerequisite and concurrent necessity to improving reading comprehension. The Common Core State Standards Appendix A  argument by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown that teachers should focus on Tier 2 words academic words has wide acceptance as does the teaching of Greek and Latin word parts. Check out this resource: How to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes.

Furthermore, teachers should check out the research-based Academic Word List used in my Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits. Following are nice ready-to-teach samples as to how to teach these Standards: Four Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers, and Four Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers.

11. Independent Reading for Vocabulary Acquisition and Content Knowledge:  The best homework? Independent reading with accountability: not for reading comprehension practice, per se, but for vocabulary acquisition and content knowledge. Read a set of articles HERE regarding how to set up an effective independent reading program with accountability and how to help students select books at the optimal word recognition levels. No, you do not need Lexiles, nor Accelerated Reader. Teach your students how to maximize vocabulary acquisition by using the FP’S BAG SALE Context Clues Strategies lesson, including two practice worksheets with answers.

12. Read a Variety of Genre: True, the Common Core State Standards have renewed our focus on non-narrative genre, but the Standards do not outlaw short stories, poetry, and novels. Check our this particularly helpful resource: How to Read Textbooks with PQ RAR.

13. Write About Reading: A good writing program is excellent reading comprehension practice. See Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection.

14. Fill in the Gaps: Help students practice reading comprehension by ensuring that they have the necessary tools to do so. We know that good readers have phonemic awareness and they can apply the alphabetic code through their knowledge of how sounds connect to spellings. In other words, good readers tend to have their phonics mastered, irrespective of how they got there; they can decode. That’s simply not up for debate anymore.  We also know that good readers tend to have the “other side of the coin” mastered as well, that is they can encode (spell) the sound-spellings.

“75% of children who were poor readers in the 3rd grade remained poor readers in the 9th grade and could not read well when they became adults.” – Joseph Torgeson from Catch Them Before They Fall

Check out these FREE diagnostic reading and spelling assessments to determine exactly which gaps to fill. These assessments pinpoint specific, teachable areas that students have not yet mastered, but need to. These are comprehensive assessments, not random samples indicating a generic “problem area.” For example, the Vowel Sound Phonics Assessment will indicate that Raphael has not mastered the Long a, ai_. For example, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment does not indicate a problem with syllable juncture as a qualitative spelling inventory might; instead, the test would indicate that Frances does not understand the consonant-le spelling patterns.

Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%. Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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. Perfect for guided reading. Perfect for homework.

 

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Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Okay, I’ll admit it; the article title is a bit of an attention grabber. However, as an MA reading specialist and author of plenty of reading programs over the years, I do believe that the title does point to some helpful advice. And I don’t believe I’m splitting hairs or making a distinction without a difference (pick your figure of speech) by advising “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” here while alternatively advocating “How to Practice Reading Comprehension” in my companion article. Teaching is different than practicing.

Let’s Be Honest About Teaching Reading Comprehension

Years ago I served as an elementary reading specialist, training teachers in our district-adopted reading program. I had plenty of diagnostic and instructional tools in my toolbox, ready to hand out to teachers to improve the quality of reading instruction for their classes and individual students. Fresh from my masters program, I knew stuff that the teachers did not and I felt pretty good about the level of my expertise.

At a grade level team meeting, veteran teachers were asking me about the results of their San Diego Quick Assessments, how to teach the r, l, w controlled vowels, and my take on schema theory. I was on a roll. Next, teachers tossed out their progress monitoring assessments and I suggested how to improve the fluency of Raphael, how to teach the outlaw (sight) words to Marci, and how to get Huong to practice his common Greek and Latin prefixes. Teachers were nodding their heads in a approval, and I was just about to step down from my throne and dismiss my subjects when a brand new teacher asked the question about Alberto: Even though Alberto has mastered all of his sight words, passed the phonics tests, and has the second highest fluency rate in the class, why can’t he tell me about what he has read or answer any simple questions about the reading?

The question stopped me dead in my tracks. I faked the answer pretty well, suggesting something along the lines of confusion with his primary language (Spanish) and English, not knowing that he was supposed to read for meaning, dietary issues, and perhaps some degree of cognitive impairment. But her follow-up question was devastating: “How can I teach reading comprehension to him?” I had no answer. We never covered that in my MA reading specialist program. I muttered something about the issue being complicated and said I’d get back to her. I never did.

Since those early years as an elementary reading specialist, I’ve also served as both a middle and high school reading intervention teacher and a reading instructor at a community college. After a few years under my belt, I’ve learned to be more like that new teacher. I ask harder questions and I’m not satisfied with simplistic or speculative answers. Today my answer to her question would be, “We don’t know how to teach reading comprehension, so don’t teach it.” However, that answer does require some explanation. First, let’s take a look at why we can’t teach reading comprehension; next, the instructional implications; and lastly in my companion article, how to help students practice reading comprehension

Why We Can’t Teach Reading Comprehension

In the short-lived 1969-1970 television show, Then Came Bronson, a middle-aged man in a business hat pulls his family station wagon alongside the lead character, Bronson, who is riding a

Then Cam Bronson

“Wherever I wind up, I guess”

motorcycle.

The car driver asks, “Taking a trip?”

Bronson shakes his head and answers, “Yeah.”

 “Where to?”

 “I don’t know… Wherever I wind up, I guess.”

 “Man, I wish I was you…”

“Really, well hang in there.”

Great dialogue… We all want to be about the journey with no cares about the destination, but this attitude is simply not acceptable when applied to the subject of reading comprehension. We need to know where we are going before we figure out how to get there. So, just what is reading comprehension and how do we get there?

What is Reading Comprehension? We Don’t All Agree

I googled “reading comprehension definition” and found these top results from practitioners:

“Simply put, reading comprehension is the act of understanding what you are reading” (K12 Reader).

“Comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read… For many years, reading instruction was based on a concept of reading as the application of a set of isolated skills such as identifying words, finding main ideas, identifying cause and effect relationships, comparing and contrasting and sequencing. Comprehension was viewed as the mastery of these skills.” (Reading Rockets).

“I’ve noticed that many books about reading, and specifically about comprehension for that matter, don’t even define what comprehension is. Perhaps it’s assumed that we all know what it is; or maybe comprehension is a slippery term that we have trouble grasping, or comprehending, if you will!” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary offers this definition: ‘capacity of the mind to perceive and understand.’ Reading comprehension, then, would be the capacity to perceive and understand the meanings communicated by texts. Simple, huh? Clear. Now we comprehend comprehension! (Jeff Wilhelm, Scholastic).

Next, I googled “reading comprehension scholarly definition” and found a wide variety of results from the academics:

“We define reading comprehension as the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language. We use the words extracting and constructing to emphasize both the importance and the insufficiency of the text as a determinant of reading comprehension” (Greenleaf, Murphy, Schoenbach).

“Reading comprehension is the construction of the meaning of a written or spoken communication through a reciprocal, holistic interchange of ideas between the interpreter and the message.
. . . The presumption here is that meaning resides in the intentional problem-solving, thinking processes of the interpreter, . . . that the content of the meaning is influenced by that
person’s prior knowledge and experience” (Harris and Hodges).

“From a cognitive or psycholinguistic perspective, comprehension is viewed as a process of constructing meaning in transaction with texts” (Goodman, 1996; Smith, 2004).¹

“(Reading comprehension is) a combination of decoding and oral comprehension skills” (Hoover & Gough, 1990).²

“From a post-structuralist or socio-cultural perspective, there is no meaning that simply resides in a text until a reader with the requisite knowledge and skills constructs the meaning with the signs on a page (McCormick, 1995; O’Neill,1993).³

1,2,3 from Rethinking Reading Comprehension: Definitions, Instructional Practices, and Assessment (Serafini).

One observation: I can’t tell you how many times I read the equivalent of “After years of… there is a growing consensus that…” for diametrically opposed summaries of the reading research.

Finally, I went to the Common Core State Standards to see how the authors weighed in on reading comprehension. The Common Core Standards divides its Reading Standards into Reading Foundational Skills, Reading Literature, and Reading Informational Text. Its Appendix A focuses on text complexity, but offers no working definition of reading comprehension. The closest we get to a definition is “the ability to perform literacy tasks.”

Instructional Implications

At this point we are, at best, left with this working definition of reading comprehension: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

Now, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It does provide some helpful hints about the limitations of reading assessments and instructional strategies. At the minimum, this working definition

"Don't Follow Leaders"

(From Don’t Look Back produced by Leacock-Pennebaker (1965); Pennebaker Films)

informs our “crap detectors” and keeps us questioning authority. “Don’t follow leaders; watch your parking meters” (Dylan).

We Can’t and Shouldn’t Assess Reading Comprehension

Assessments are designed to measure stuff. If we can’t agree on what we are testing, reading comprehension assessments may actually lead us into teaching to the results of the test, rather than helping students improve comprehension. Reading comprehension tests become self-fulfilling prophesies. Additionally, publishers love comprehension assessments that test concrete skills: Think test prep materials, skill workbooks, etc.

Teachers should rightfully be cautious about making instructional decisions from the results of the Common Core Standards-based PAARC and Smarter Balanced tests. These high stakes tests drive instructional decisions which often counter reading research and teacher judgment. The pressure to make these achievement tests the arbiters of what reading comprehension is and is not is increasingly difficult for teachers to challenge. Furthermore, each of the criterion-referenced and normed assessments purporting to measure reading comprehension have their own biases: the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, Second Edition (KTEA-II), Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT-III), Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement (WJ III ACH), The Gray Oral Reading Tests, Fifth Edition (GORT-5), Test of Reading Comprehension, Fourth Edition (TORC-4), Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests Terra Nova Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) Stanford Achievement Test, etc.

As a reading specialist for quite a few years, I also recommend not using informal reading inventories to measure comprehension. I am a huge advocate for teacher-based reading assessments, but not with comprehension. If we can’t test it (and we can’t), we can’t teach it. Make sure to avoid making reading assessments “walk on all fours.” I can’t tell you how many teachers I’ve known who use the Slosson, San Diego Quick, or the Read Naturally Brief Oral Screener and predictors of reading grade level. Wrong. And for goodness sake, avoid using the Accelerated Reader STAR test for the same misguided purpose.

The results of the above tests give us nothing to reliably inform our reading instruction. Be suspect of aggregated results which purport to provide useful instructional information. And labels can lead to silly instructional decisions, for example, tracking all far below basic readers into remedial reading classes. As if each low-performing reader had the same reading issues. Sigh.

What Doesn’t Improve Reading Comprehension

Time to step on a few toes. We may not be able to define exactly what reading comprehension is and we may not know how to assess or directly teach reading comprehension, but by any of the working definitions, assessment results, and reading research detailed in the National Reading Panel Report most of us would agree that the following practices do not improve reading comprehension.

1. Free Voluntary Reading (Sustained Silent Reading)

According to noted reading researcher, Doctor Timothy Shanahan in his August 13, 2017 article:

NRP did conclude that there was no convincing evidence that giving kids free reading time during the school day improved achievement — or did so very much. There has been a lot of work on that since NRP but with pretty much the same findings: either no benefits to that practice or really small benefits (a .05 effect size — which is tiny). Today, NRP would likely conclude that practice is not beneficial rather than that there is insufficient data. But that’s arguable, of course.

Remember that this is regarding reading comprehension, not vocabulary acquisition.

2. Teaching according to learning styles and multiple intelligences. Click HERE for the a complete debunking of these misguided approaches.

3. Visual (graphophonic) reading strategies. Over-reliance on letter shapes, pictures, and context clues to practice reading comprehension is, indeed, a “psycholinguistic guessing game” (Goodman) and the results of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s strongly suggest that whatever reading comprehension is, it isn’t something that ignores the alphabetic code.

4. Leveling books for guided reading by “comprehension grade level” (whatever that means). Also, use Lexiles only as flexible guidelines for independent reading or for selecting class novels.

5. Reading ability groups by reading comprehension levels. Whatever reading comprehension is, it’s not a skill which can be taught to a flexible ability group, such as a group of students who don’t know their basic sight words.

6. Reading strategy worksheets. It’s not that worksheets don’t have a place… they do, but teaching main idea, inferencing, drawing conclusions, visualizing, and text structure are important tools for skillful readers to acquire, but passing out skill worksheets on each does not teach reading comprehension.

7. Reading techniques, such as close reading, the QAR strategy, reciprocal teaching, and even the KWL may be helpful, but in them of themselves they don’t teach reading comprehension and even too much of a good thing can be counterproductive.

So, if you agree with my advice: Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension, you may be interested in the specifics on How to Practice Reading Comprehension. The article goes into detail about practicing reading comprehension that way good readers do and has a wealth of article and ready-to-teach FREE resources and lessons.

Mark Pennington is the author of the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books reading intervention BUNDLE.

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Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Before my reading specialist colleagues and fellow English-language arts teachers jump down my throat, I do want to mention a few things at the outset:

  • I think close reading has its place in both elementary and secondary classrooms.
  • I’m still a fan of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading, as the document describes… not necessarily as some publishers and pundits have interpreted or applied these Standards.
  • I’ve been teaching for a quite awhile in both the reading and English fields (elementary reading specialist, middle school and high school ELA teacher, and community college reading professor), so I’ve seen a few of the “educational cycles” regarding both teaching reading and literary analysis. Solomon was right: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
  • Disclaimer: I am a teacher publisher and sell a terrific reading intervention program. Think biases.
Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

But the problem that I have is that…

Some educators are making close reading and text dependent questions their only means of teaching reading comprehension and literary analysis. Over the last decade, close reading has just gotten “too big for its britches.”

A few definitions…

Although somewhat a false dichotomy because they really are two sides of the same coin, most educators use reading comprehension to mean “learning to read” and literary analysis to mean “reading to learn.” The former is seen as the stuff of elementary school and latter is practiced in secondary and post secondary.

In a nutshell, close reading means reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.  The strategy is, despite permutations, utilizes text dependent questioning to complete three reading tasks: In the first read, students focus on the most important textual elements (key ideas and details). During the second read, students focus on how the text works (craft and structure). For the third reading, students focus on what the text means to the reader and how it connects to other experiences (integration of knowledge and ideas).

Historical Perspective

I do feel a bit of historical context may help explain where the close reading strategy came from and why we shouldn’t go overboard by using this strategy as our primary means of teaching reading comprehension and literary analysis.

Reader Response Theory

 

The reader response theorists emphasized the interaction of the reader and the text. Perhaps the greatest contributor to this field would be Louise Rosenblatt with her transactional reader-response theory, developed through many influential works beginning in the 1930s until her death in 2005.

Rosenblatt argued that a reader’s life and literary experiences and emotions influence the meaning derived from the text. The meaning of a text is shaped by what the reader brings to the text, what the author writes, and the context in which it is read. Thus, what the text says is both subjective and objective. Some in the reader response camp would go so far as to argue that text only has meaning when involving the reader.

The New Criticism Movement

 

In contrast to reader response advocates, the New Critics of the late 1960s, such as I. A. Richards, argued that a literary work should be read as is and apart from the outside influence of the reader and the historical, sociological, and psychological influences of a given text. Those in the New Criticism movement argued that the task of the reader is to discover the objective meaning of the text (what the text says in-it-of-itself) in its own context. The New Critics first coined the term close reading to describe this process of text dependent literary analysis. Those in this camp would believe that to properly understand the meaning of a text, readers need to put aside their own perspectives and biases. Some would go so far as to suggest that the author’s intended meaning should not be considered; only what the text says itself should be discussed and analyzed.

Many reading and English teachers leaned upon the instructional strategies of popular philosopher and educator, Mortimer Adler, to apply the tenets of New Criticism to focus on the meaning of the text itself.

Text Complexity

Mortimer Adler

 

Pre-dating the New Critics, Mortimer Adler (along with co-author  Charles Van Doren) popularized the essential techniques of what later became known as close reading with his influential How to Read a Book: The classic guide to Intelligent Reading in 1940. Check out an interesting discussion between Adler and Van Doren HERE

Adler, especially, was concerned about the populace’s preference for easy-reading literature instead of the more challenging classics. Adler advocated reading the Great Books, especially those which inculcated the ideas of Western Civilization. As I write, I’m looking at my set of Harvard Classics on the bookshelves.

Adler developed the rudiments of the close reading strategy to help readers tackle the textual complexity of these challenging books. His belief that everyone could understand any literary work, given the right instructional tools, was highly influential in the 1950s and 1960s. Many educators in private and some public schools developed Great Books programs to implement Adler’s ideals.

Like Adler, the authors of the Common Core State Standards believed that students were not being exposed to complex texts. The authors relied heavily on the 2006 ACT report, Reading Between the Lines, to argue that K–12 reading texts had been “dumb-downed” over the last 50 years and that teachers need to increase the levels of text complexity to better prepare students for college and careers, which will demand better readers. In Appendix A the authors summarize the relevant reading research:

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

Unlike Adler, the Common Core authors did not advocate a return to the Great Books to increase text complexity. Instead, they legislated a move to informational/expository texts, such as technical documents, non-fiction novels, and articles. However, the authors adopted and expanded upon Adler’s close reading strategies to access these complex texts.

Text Dependency

One hallmark of close reading is its dependence upon the text to inform the reader. Two of the primary Common Core authors, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, have argued against the reader-centered approach to reading comprehension, in which what the reader brought to the reading (prior knowledge) and what the reader took out of the reading (in light of the reader’s own experience and needs) were primary emphases.  Instead, in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards these authors have championed the idea that to develop reading comprehension and understanding of complex texts, the questions which teachers use to prompt student engagement with the text need to be text dependent, not reader dependent.

Classroom Application

Close reading in one good reading strategy to promote reading comprehension and discuss the author’s ideas and information. However, there are pitfalls to avoid.

1. As Alex Reid says, “Arguing ‘against close reading’ … is not an argument to say that we should stop paying close attention to texts.” In fact, other reading strategies are just as effective as the close reading strategy. Check out “How to Teach Reading Comprehension” for ideas.

2. The close reading technique necessitates reading brief passages, documents, short articles, etc. The breadth of longer text and the author’s flow of ideas, development of theme and character, etc. are not possible. Yes, teachers need to move away from exclusively teaching novels, but reading longer text produces stamina and joy. Too much close reading does not foster a love for reading.

3. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Any instructional time is reductive, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some advice from Timothy Shanahan, reading researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

Of course, not every text deserves a close read. Sometimes it’s okay to be interested only in the story—considerations of craft and structure and deeper implications are beside the point. And classroom reads don’t always have to emphasize close reading; the key is to incorporate close reading into your instruction, not use it exclusively. No one knows how many teacher-led close reads would be a good idea, but don’t overdo it; one or two close reads every couple of weeks (some taking place over multiple days) seems like the right dosage.

4. Close reading tends to produce teacher-dependence, rather than equipping students to become skillful independent readers. True that close reading and accompanying text dependent questions can teach students the tools to unlock the meaning of complex text; however, the value of independent reading at accessible independent levels of word recognition produces the same results by exposing students to the vast array of ideas, text genre, and vocabulary development. See this collection of articles advocating the value of independent reading, especially as homework HERE.

Additionally, teachers need to help students monitor their own reading with self-generated questions. The five SCRIP Comprehension Strategies reading comprehension strategies work for both narrative and expository text and provide a language of instruction for literary analysis and discussion: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

5. Publishers and school district personnel have produced ready-to-use close readings, many of which only focus on factual or literal text dependent questions. Teachers need to ignore these or supplement with pre-reading and reader-response activities, and add on higher order inferential and application questions. David Pearson, Professor Emeritus at U.C. Berkeley has concerns about the Common Core authors’ narrow and restrictive views about text dependent questions. Pearson fears that “We will operationally define text dependent (questions) as literal, factual questions, forgetting that LOTS of other questions/tasks are also text-reliant.” For example, comparison and contrast questions both use the text and go beyond the text.

6. Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into of reading), even with close reading. Accessing prior knowledge and gap-filling are still essential vehicles to promote the reader’s understanding of complex text. The role of the reader still has a place in understanding text. Reading remains a two-way street. Yes, we teachers may have gone overboard with reader response in the past. The KWL (Already Know, Want to Know, What I Learned) reading strategy and its variations come into mind. Because the first two components are reader-centered, there are significant limitations. Students don’t know what they don’t know and they similarly don’t know what they Want to know. Or, they may Want to know what is inconsequential, trivial, or not available in the reading or available resources. More HERE.

Grant Wiggins, educator and author of the influential Understanding by Design, argues for a balanced approach in close reading in his article, Authentic Education:

As I noted in my previous post, this does not mean, however, that we should ignore or try to bypass the reader’s responses, prior knowledge, or interests. On the contrary, reading cannot help but involve an inter-mingling of our experience and what the author says and perhaps means. But it does not follow from this fact that instruction should give equal weight to personal reactions to a text when the goal is close reading. On the contrary: we must constantly be alert to how and where our own prejudices (literally, pre-judging) may be interfering with meaning-making of the text.

7. Re-define the term close reading to mean a variety of strategies that readers use to look closely at text. As noted reading researchers, Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown, state: “Our view of deeper understanding of text, which we have coined as ‘grist,’ is akin to close reading. Our definition of close reading is keen attention to fine details of language for the purpose of appreciating authors’ craft toward figuring out how broader-level meanings are developed.”
I’ll leave U.C. Berkeley reading researcher, David Pearson, with these last words about close reading and text dependent questioning: “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind… (making) sure that it applies to several purposes for reading (and will) encompass literal, interpretive, and critical reading tasks.”
Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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,

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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.

 

Reading , , , , , , , ,

Reading Fluency Homework

What’s the best homework? Reading!

Now… independent reading is valuable for so many purposes: vocabulary acquisition, reading comprehension development, self-discipline, stamina, building concentration, nurturing imagination, learning culture, and FUN!

However, many parents want and are equipped to give even more to their children. One area of reading development where parents can do an even better job than the classroom teacher is reading fluency.

Just exactly what reading fluency is gets mixed up with the instructional procedures and practice to achieve it. For example, reading fluency is not repeated reading; although that practice can certainly help improve reading fluency. A helpful way to understand the purpose of developing reading fluency is to think of it as language dexterity.

Merriam-Webster defines dexterity as “mental skill or quickness; readiness and grace in physical activity-especially skill and ease in using the hands.” I like this working definition, because when we think of dexterity in other contexts, such as physical dexterity, we think of it as a process and a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

For example, with the focus on reading speed (one goal of reading fluency), most teachers have had students who meet or exceed grade level fluency standards, in terms of both accuracy and words per minute, but don’t comprehend or retain anything that they’ve read. Reading fluency positively correlates with reading comprehension because the whole purpose of language dexterity is understanding (See this scholarly article for more.) In other words, we want to improve reading fluency in order to improve reading comprehension.

So how can parents build language dexterity in their children and practice reading fluency at home?

Select the Right Book for Fluency Practice

Parents can’t be bothered with complicated Lexile levels or other criteria. Be practical! Here’s a better alternative that all parents can do. CLICK!

Modeled Readings

I read a sentence/paragraph; you read a sentence/paragraph, mimicking my pronunciation, inflection, pacing, and attention to punctuation.

Choral Readings

Parents and children both read a section at the child’s “challenge pace.” The challenge pace should be about 15-20% faster than the child’s independent fluency level.

Repeated Readings

Parents can get their children to repeat large sections, for example, chapters, within the same reading session. A few options: 1. Read it out loud; then read it silently. 2. I read a page; you read a page. 3. We listen to an audio book chapter; you read the same chapter.

Fluency Assessment

Assessment is teaching and practice. Parents can do pre and post fluency assessments on simple timing charts. Teach parents how to quickly determine words per page (the average grades 3-5 chapter book has 200 words per page; grades 6-8 has 275). Parents can assess words per minute or pages read in 5 minutes. Click HERE for 13 free reading assessments, including a simple multi-level reading fluency assessment (The Pets Fluency Assessment) to serve as a baseline.

Other Reading Fluency Homework Options

Word Fluency

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

With the correct instructional materials, parent can help their children practice decodable and sight word fluency. The author’s guided reading  books, Sam and Friends Phonics Books, provide optimal practice for developing what we reading specialists call automaticity. These 54 take-home books are designed for remedial/reluctant readers and provide teenage characters and plots with fantastic non-juvenile cartoons. Five comprehension questions are embedded in each story. Plus, each back page includes word fluency practice to rehearse and assess (in a 30-second assessment) the focus phonics (sound-spellings) and sight words of the lesson with built-in book to book review. Teachers are licensed to print these take-home books and distribute to parents.

Multi-Speed YouTube Modeled Readings

Parents can use phones, tablets, or desktops to access the author’s Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit fluency and comprehension

The Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

development animal articles. The teacher prints the article (with three vocabulary and five comprehension questions using the SCRIP independent reading comprehension questions) back-to-back, the progress monitoring matrix, and provides the URL.

Students complete a “cold” (unpracticed) fluency timing and record on the provided matrix.

Students practice choral reading at one of three reading speeds (selected by the teacher and/or parent) with the audio recording, following along with the reading text on the screen. Parents may elect to have their children re-read at the faster reading speed.

Students then complete a “hot” (practiced) fluency timing and record on the matrix.

These animal articles are designed in a three-tiered format: the first two paragraphs at the third grade level; the next two at the fifth grade level; and the last two at the seventh grade level. The design helps remedial readers “push through” more difficult text after having built context and confidence in the preceding text.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

The author, Mark Pennington, is an MA reading specialist who writes curriculum targeted at grades 4-8. His comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies and the Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE includes both fluency resources described in this article.

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Quick Reading Assessments

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

At the start of the school year or when they get the inevitable transfer students, veteran teachers realize that they can’t depend solely upon previous teacher or counselor placements with regard to student reading levels. Teachers don’t want to find out in the middle of a grade-level novel that some students are reading two or more years below grade level and can’t hope to understand the book without significant assistance.

The best quick initial reading assessment? Reading. Specifically, a short reading fluency passage, but one that gives you not just a reading fluency number, but one that also gives you a good ballpark of what grade level the students can independently access. You’ve never seen anything like this before.

This “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level.

Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage and two-minute expository reading fluency is a much better measurement than a one-minute narrative reading fluency at only one grade level. The Pets Fluency Assessment is my gift to you and your students.

High levels of reading fluency are positively correlated with high levels of comprehension. Although not a causal connection, it makes sense that a certain degree of effortless automaticity is necessary for any reader to fully attend to meaning-making.

A good guideline that is widely used for acceptable fluency rates by the end of the school year follows.

2nd Grade Text            80 words per minute with 95% accuracy

3rd Grade Text            95 words per minute with 95% accuracy

4th Grade Text            110 words per minute with 95% accuracy

5th Grade Text             125 words per minute with 95% accuracy

6th Grade Text            140 words per minute with 95% accuracy

7th Grade Text            150 words per minute with 95% accuracy

8th Grade Text            160 words per minute with 95% accuracy

Having administered the Pets Fluency Assessment, two more initial assessments will help you further pinpoint any relative weaknesses and give you a game-plan for assessment-based instruction

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42audio file, print copy and consonants: 12:07 audio fileprint copy)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38audio file, print copy)

These two recording matrices will help you keep track of individual student fluency, phonics, and spelling data: fluency and phonics recording matrix and spelling recording matrix. The matrices facilitate assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrices also serve as the progress monitoring source.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, has written a reasonably priced Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program, which includes all of the instructional resources to help students master the demonstrated relative weaknesses in fluency, phonics, and spelling plus other diagnostic assessments (phonemic awareness and sight words) for remedial reading instruction.

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness activities to remediate all deficits indicated by the assessments. Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

Why not get this assessment plus 12 other reading assessments AND all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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. Perfect for guided reading.

Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

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Context Clues in Reading and Writing

We teachers love a bargain. Especially a “two-for one” bargain. the two for one skill which can be used in more than one context. We are all about efficiency! Context clues strategies provide that skill which can be used both to improve reading comprehension and writing clarity and coherence.

Reading and writing do have a reciprocal relationship. Check out my Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection on the Pennington Publishing Blog when you have time. Learning context clues strategies helps students not only understand and apply new words, but also helps students apply more precise vocabulary in their writing to improve clarity and coherence.

So, how can you get students to use context clues in their reading and writing? Teach the memorable FP’S BAG SALE strategy. Click on this Context Clues Worksheets Resource to download the strategy (see below) and two accompanying worksheets (with answers).

Get the Context Clues Worksheets FREE Resource:

But wouldn’t it be better to teach Tier II (academic) and III (domain specific) reading and writing vocabulary by using the dictionary?

No. The dictionary is a fine tool and should be used to look up words that are critical to the comprehension of any reading and for precise usage in writing. However, the dictionary is not a practical tool for most reading and writing.

So, learning and practicing context clue strategies makes sense. Context clue strategies can be mastered with sufficient practice and can be flexibly applied both to figure out the meaning of many unknown words in reading and to support the use of technical language in writing. Teach students to use the whole FP’S BAG SALE strategy for reading and the last part, i.e., the SALE strategy for writing.

FP’S BAG SALE

  • Finish the sentence. See how the word fits into the whole sentence.
  • Pronounce the word out loud. Sometimes hearing the word will give you a clue to meaning.
  • Syllables–Examine each word part. Word parts can be helpful clues to meaning.
  • Before–Read the sentence before the unknown word. The sentence before can hint at what the word means.
  • After–Read the sentence after the unknown word. The sentence after can define, explain, or provide an example of the word.
  • Grammar–Determine the part of speech. Pay attention to where the word is placed in the sentence, the ending of the word, and its grammatical relationship to other known words for clues to meaning.
  • Synonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of a synonym. Synonyms appear in apposition, in which case commas, dashes, or parentheses are used. Example: The wardrobe, or closet, opened the door to a brand new world.
  • Antonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of an antonym. Antonym clues will often use Signal Words such as however, not, but, in contrast Example: He promised innovation, not keeping things the way they are.
  • Logic–Your own knowledge about the content and text structure may provide clues to meaning. Logic clues can lead to a logical guess as to the meaning of an unknown word. Example: He petted the canine, and then made her sit up and beg for a bone.
  • Example–When part of a list of examples or if the unknown word itself provides an example, either provides good clues to meaning. Example clues will often use Signal Words such as for example, like, such as Example: Adventurous, rowdy, and crazy pioneers all found their way out West.

When shouldn’t we encourage students to use context clues?

Using context clues to guess the pronunciation and meanings of Tier I words (conversational, not academic English) is not efficient. Teaching students to use the alphabetic code (phonics) to sound out words and syllabication skills plus the conventional spelling rules (encoding) to write these words is essential. Context clues strategies are not useful for the “psycholinguistic guessing games (Goodman)” whole language method of developing word identification and word recognition.

Kylene Beers, in her book When Kids Can’t Read, summarizes the problem of using context clues strategies for word identification: “. . . Discerning the meaning of unknown words using context clues requires a sophisticated interaction with the text that dependent readers have not yet achieved.”

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.

The program is also useful for grade-level syllabication skill worksheets, reading fluency practice, and reading comprehension development. With the tiered grade-level design of the fluency and comprehension worksheets, students will develop confidence reading at increasingly more challenging levels. Perfect scaffolded instruction for a classroom of diverse learners.

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Teaching Reading Comprehension

As more teachers are teaching reading strategies (all helpful) to help students access, understand, and analyze text independently, let’s not overlook the obvious: How to Improve Reading Comprehension.

As a reading specialist, I am constantly surprised by teachers who tell me that they have never learned how to teach reading comprehension or think that reading strategies alone will do the job. If you’ve never learned how to teach reading comprehension, the following advice and FREE Resources are just what the doctor ordered.

Despite what many believe, reading is not a natural process; it needs to be taught, and not just caught.

A reader’s comprehension of any text (narrative or expository) depends upon the quality of the internal dialogue between the reader and author. “Talking to the text” significantly increases reader comprehension and promotes retention as well. Tons of reading research on this. Check out my Pennington Publishing Blog for dozens of articles on this. However, reader-author dialogue is not a skill acquired by osmosis. It requires instruction and practice. Doesn’t everything?

The most effective approach to helping students learn to interact with the text is to teach students how to begin and carry on the conversation with the author. Specific cueing strategies prompt the reader to talk to the text and the author. These cueing strategies assign readers a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain interactive dialogue with the text.

I’ve developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with narrative and expository text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Teaching students to question the text they read by prompting themselves with the SCRIP strategies will help them understand and better remember what they read. Click here to get three great resources absolutely FREE: 1. SCRIP classroom posters 2. Five one-page fairy tales to teach each of the SCRIP strategies 3. SCRIP bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Here’s how to use those resources: Do a Think-Aloud to teach students how you carry on the conversation with an author. Start with the each of the five fairy tales to focus on one SCRIP strategy per lesson.

  1. Tell students that you are going to demonstrate what good readers do as they silently read.

    1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets for Grades 4-8 Teachers

    Every teacher needs back-up!

  2. Read a few lines out loud and then alter your voice (raise the pitch, lower the volume, or use an accent) to model what you are thinking. Stop and explain what the voice altering meant and keep this voice altering consistent throughout the Think-Aloud.
  3. Prompt your dialogue with the focus SCRIP strategy. Use this specific language of instruction.
  4. Don’t over-do the amount of your Think-Aloud thoughts. Once or twice per every paragraph is about right. Don’t interrupt the flow of the reading.
  5. Have students read the same fairy tale as a “pair share.” One student reads a paragraph out loud and does a Think-Aloud, referencing their SCRIP bookmark to prompt their dialogue with the author. Then the next reads a paragraph, etc.
  6. De-brief. Ask students if they think they understood the text better because of your verbalized thoughts (and theirs) rather than just by passively reading without talking to the text.
  7. Select your own reading and do a Think-Aloud, using all five of the SCRIP strategies

Mark Pennington provides teacher-created and kid-tested assessment-based curriculum to help students “catch up while they keep up” with grade level instruction.

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Reading Program Placement

Far too often grades 4-12 students are placed in reading intervention classes where they don’t belong. Far too often students are not placed in reading intervention programs where they do belong. In the following article I will discuss a common sense criteria for reading program placement and a few pitfalls to avoid. I will also provide three complete reading program placement assessments with audio files and recording matrices.

First of all, a caveat. No criteria for reading program placement are perfect. Students meeting reading program placement criteria will be placed in reading intervention classes only to be filtered out, once subsequent diagnostic assessments have been evaluated. Some students may miraculously master reading program placement tests who do need to be placed into reading assessment classes upon further observation by classroom teachers or specialists. We are dealing with human beings here, and although our assessments may be reliable, kids most certainly are not.

Secondly, a disclaimer. I am the publisher of Teaching Reading Strategies, a reading intervention program which I will promote at the end of the article.

Common Sense Criteria and Pitfalls to Avoid with Reading Program Placement

  1. The program placement criteria must match the class. A reading intervention class with curriculum and delivery designed to teach explicit and systematic phonics, structural analysis, and fluency to increase vocabulary, improve reading comprehension, and improve spelling must have placement assessments which match what the program teaches. Using PAARC or SBAC “Standard Not Met” overall English-language arts/literacy scores to place students into reading intervention programs makes zero sense. Using a qualitative spelling inventory because “poor spellers tend to be poor readers” when spelling is not a key instructional component makes less than zero sense.
  2. Use teachable tests. Assessments take time to administer and correct. If instructional time is allocated to assessment, the assessments need to provide data that teachers will be able to use. A common sense guideline should be “If you can’t teach to it, don’t test it.” For students who do qualify for reading program placement, the program placement assessments should provide comprehensive data that teachers can “teach to.” What use is a random sample test or spelling/phonics inventory that cannot be used beyond program placement? Far too often, expensive reading intervention programs use separate random sample tests for program placement and then require more instructional time for additional diagnostic tests (and correction/recording/analysis) once program placement is made. For students who do not qualify for reading program placement, the program placement assessments should still provide teachable data to help teachers differentiate instruction. For example, if a student demonstrates mastery of all phonics elements other than the and w-controlled vowels, is at or above grade level fluency norms but fails to pause at commas, and has mastered 90% of spelling patterns, that student will not meet criteria for reading program placement; however, the regular classroom teacher will still derive teachable data from each of those three assessments.
  3. (Most) All students need to be assessed. Using teacher recommendations, past grades, past program placements, and cum file reviews are notoriously unreliable program placement indicators. Teachers and schools have divergent views as to what does and does not constitute reading proficiency. If the program placement assessments provide usable data for all students, using a “first-sort” or “multi-tiered” batch of assessments (which all too often weed out students who need to be placed in reading intervention) is unnecessary. Now let’s use some common sense here. Gifted and talented students, honor course students, etc. can “take a pass”; however, having taught at elementary, middle, high school, and community college levels I have often found interesting anomalies. When in doubt, always assess.
  4. Use common sense data analysis. Students are snowflakes. Each reading intervention candidate will have certain strengths and weaknesses, and as a side note: the reading intervention program can’t be a cookie-cutter, lock-step, A-Z curriculum which treats all students the same. Most reading specialists recommend 80% mastery criteria on multiple measure assessments. Using the three reading program placement assessments which I recommend (and are provided below), two of the three assessments not mastered at the 80% criteria would place a student in a Tier II instructional setting; all three of the assessments not mastered at that level would place a student in a Tier I instructional setting. As another aside, the Teaching Reading Strategies program incorporates both Tier I and II instructional delivery within the same reading intervention class.
  5. Include behavioral criteria for reading program placement. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) need to be in place alongside of Response to Intervention (RtI) to form a cohesive (MTSS) Multi-Tiered System of Supports for these students. Once reading program placements have been administered and a student meets the criteria for reading intervention placement, site level decision-making regarding proper placement is key. One or two behaviorally-challenged students can disrupt the instructional delivery and prevent success in any reading intervention class.

Three Effective Reading Program Placement Assessments (for a reading intervention class with curriculum and delivery designed to teach explicit and systematic phonics, structural analysis, and fluency to increase vocabulary, improve reading comprehension, and improve spelling)

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42 audio file, print copy and consonants: 12:07 audio fileprint copy)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38 audio file, print copy)
  3. Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minute individual assessment print copy).

Note that these placement tests provide assessment-based instructional data to inform the teacher’s selection of Tier 2 (small group of 5−8 students) and Tier 3 (individualized) instruction for each student. A built-in management system provides the instructional resources which allow the teacher to simultaneously supervise small group and individualized instruction. Nine additional diagnostic assessments (audio files) are administered during the first two weeks of instruction: syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, and sight syllables. Flexible Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction is assigned according to the assessment data. All reading diagnostic data are recorded on a one page recording matrix. All spelling patterns diagnostic data are recorded on a multi-page recording matrix. The matrix facilitates assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrix also serves as the progress monitoring source.

Why not check out the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies Introductory Video (15:08)?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesIn addition

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

to the diagnostic and formative assessments, the program offers blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Teachers access five online training videos to learn how to teach each instructional component.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and 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.

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Teaching Reading Strategies and RtI

To understand how the Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program aligns with the Response to Intervention (RtI) model, a brief orientation to the educational alphabetic jargon may be helpful. Increasingly, both educational literature as well as school district and site implementation are combining RtI and PRIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support) into a comprehensive (MTSS) Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Now RtI is generally used to reference the academic piece of the intervention puzzle.

According to the well-respected RtI Action Network, “Response to Intervention (RtI) is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs. The RtI process begins with high-quality instruction and universal screening of all children in the general education classroom. Struggling learners are provided with interventions at increasing levels of intensity to accelerate their rate of learning. These services may be provided by a variety of personnel, including general education teachers, special educators, and specialists. Progress is closely monitored to assess both the learning rate and level of performance of individual students. Educational decisions about the intensity and duration of interventions are based on individual student response to instruction. RtI is designed for use when making decisions in both general education and special education, creating a well-integrated system of instruction and intervention guided by child outcome data.” http://www.rtinetwork.org/learn/what/whatisrti

In the three-tiered RtI model, Tier 1 targets a whole class and focuses on differentiating instruction to teach the core curriculum; Tier 2 targets small groups (5−8 students) to teach to assessment-based deficits; and Tier 3 targets individuals to teach to assessment-based deficits.

The Teaching Reading Strategies program provides both Tier 2 and Tier 3 reading intervention to struggling readers in a half-year intensive program (70 minutes per day, 5 days per week) or full-year program (55 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Students receive whole class direct instruction, as well as small group and individualized instruction based upon assessment-based needs. The Teaching Reading Strategies delivery model is teacher-based, not computer-based (except for the online modeled fluency readings).

The Teaching Reading Strategies program uses 3 assessments for program placement:

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42 audio file and consonants: 12:07 audio file)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38 audio file)
  3. Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minute individual assessment). The placement tests provide assessment-based instructional data to inform the teacher’s selection of Tier 2 (small group of 5−8 students) and Tier 3 (individualized) instruction for each student. A built-in management system provides the instructional resources which allow the teacher to simultaneously supervise small group and individualized instruction.

Nine additional diagnostic assessments (audio files) are administered during the first two weeks of instruction: syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, and sight syllables. Flexible Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction is assigned according to the assessment data. All diagnostic data is recorded on a one page recording matrix. The matrix facilitates assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrix also serves as the progress monitoring source.

Program Components

Whole Class Instruction (18−23 minutes per day)

  • Animal Sound-Spelling Cards
  • Sound−by−Sound Spelling Blending
  • Vowel Transformers
  • Syllable Blending and Syllable Division Worksheets

Small Group Reading Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

Phonemic Awareness

  • Alphabetic Awareness Workshops
  • Rhyming Awareness Workshops
  • Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation Workshops
  • Phonemic Isolation Workshops
  • Phonemic Blending Workshops
  • Phonemic Segmenting Workshops

Phonics

  • Short Vowels
  • Silent Final e
  • Consonant Digraphs
  • Consonant Blends
  • Long Vowels and Vowel Digraphs
  • Vowel Diphthongs
  • r and l−controlled Vowels

Fluency

  • 43 Animal Fluency Online Modeled Readings (each recorded at three different reading speeds)
  • Fluency Grouped Practice
  • 43 Fluency Articles and Timing Charts

Individualized Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

  • Spelling Pattern Worksheets
  • Reading and Spelling Game Cards Games
  • Context Clues Vocabulary Strategies and Practice
  • SCRIP Comprehension Worksheets

Training Modules

Both new and veteran teachers will appreciate the extensive video training resources of the Teaching Reading Strategies program. Videos are provided for each instructional component.

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP 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 Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and 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.

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Schoolwide Independent Reading Program

As an MA reading specialist, author, and frequent blogger on independent reading, I am constantly receiving posts and emails regarding the Accelerated Reading™ program. I frequently joke that I wish I had had the foresight to develop an AR-style program years ago. I’d be living in my castle in the Loire Valley fending off critics when not visiting my offshore tax haven in the Cayman Islands. But I’d feel a bit guilty knowing that schools could implement their own independent reading program for free (relatively speaking).

However, I’m pretty sure that the effectiveness of my AR-style program would not have been judged as following:

“Accelerated Reader was found to have no discernible effects on reading fluency, mixed effects on comprehension, and potentially positive effects on general reading achievement.” What Works Clearinghouse

or

“A hypothetical example may help us understand whether AR should be used or not. Drug A and Drug B are both designed to cure a specific disease. A is known to be effective with highly beneficial long-term effects. There is little evidence for or against B, but suggestive evidence that it may be harmful in the long run. A drug company produces AB, more expensive than A alone, and justifies it by providing studies showing that AB tends to be effective. A scientist reviewing the research shows that no study has compared AB to A alone. Clearly such studies are called for before the medical establishment endorses or even approves AB. A is providing access and time to read. B is tests and rewards. Accelerated Reader is AB.” Dr. Stephen Krashen

So here’s a recent post to my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article and my response including a free alternative for an effective schoolwide independent reading program:

“I am a new principal of an elementary school that uses AR and honestly am not a fan however my teachers “love” it.  I’m really puzzled by what they “love” about it.  Our school spends over 5K for this program a year which in my opinion could be better used purchasing more books for the library or assisting teachers with classroom libraries.  How do I get my teachers/staff as well as parents to see this?”

Yes, many teachers and parents love the AR program. Why so?

  1. It’s well-organized.
  2. It requires no prep–just place and use.
  3. It’s motivational and competitive.
  4. It gets kids to read.
  5. It works with so many books at so many reading levels.
  6. The school has been using it for years. If you stopped using it now, all the previous money spent would be “wasted.”
  7. Many other schools use it.
  8. Teachers, administrators, and parents know of no other schoolwide independent reading programs.

Of course, many teachers and parents (add in students, administrators, and reading specialists) do not love the AR program (Check out the comments on my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article for plenty of examples.

And, yes, I completely agree that the 5K per year could be better used purchasing more books for the library or assisting teachers with classroom libraries.” So here’s my answer to your final question: “How do I get my teachers/staff as well as parents to see this?”

By offering a more enticing alternative.

How to Implement a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP)

(Apparently every schoolwide independent reading program must have an acronym (AR, SSR, DEAR, etc.) Were I smart, it would be named the PIRP (Pennington Independent Reading Program).

  1. Buy tons of good books.
  2. Teach students and parents how to select appropriate reading level books.
  3. Teach students, parents, and teachers where and when to read books.
  4. Teach students and parents how to read and discuss books.
  5. Teach parents, teachers, librarians, and administrators how to motivate independent reading. 

1. Buy tons of good books. A good school librarian is an indispensable asset. Good librarians and teachers read what their students read and pay attention to what their students are and should be reading. They are “in the know.” What works for their school culture is not the same as what works for other schools. They pay attention to publisher marketing, but they exercise solid judgment. Librarians and teachers are patient and crafty. They know that good school and classroom libraries aren’t “built in a day.” They know when and where to shop for bargains. They know how to solicit parent and community donations. They know how to lobby administrators and district personnel for book money. They buy a wide variety of books to appeal to the interests and needs of their readers. For example, a shameless publisher plug: they buy low level, high interest decodable books for older remedial readers, such as the author’s Sam and Friends Phonics Books.

2. Teach students and parents how to select the right books. We really need to take the mystery out of book selection. There is no such thing as a sixth grade reading level. Lexile levels do not provide adequate criteria for book selection. Same for the Degrees of Reading Power (DRP), Fleish-Kincaid Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Book List, Accelerated Reader ATOS, Reading Recovery Levels, Fry’s Readability, John’s Basic Reading Inventory, standardized test data, etc.

The two key criteria for effective book selection are reader interest and word recognition level. Reader Interest: If the student is not interested in the genre, subject matter, author, book title, or book jacket, it’s the wrong book. Students have their own literary tastes, but also like what their peers like. Adults can expose students to new tastes, but cannot make a seventh grader like Pride and Prejudice. Choice is important, but within certain common sense limitations: Word Recognition Level: On the technical side, books are made up of words. Readers have to understand words to understand sentences and ideas. Glad to clear that one up for you:)  Students need to understand about 95% of the words to comprehend and enjoy what they are reading. The 5% unknown words are just the right amount for vocabulary acquisition through application of context clue strategies. For how to select books using this criteria, click here; for why the 5% is the optimal percentage, click here. So simple, but effective. And, most importantly, both parents and students can apply this criteria to help select appropriate books. No rocket science required.

3. Teach students, parents, and teachers where and when to read books. I’ll step on a few toes with my recommendations here. An effective schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP) does not have to involve independent reading at school. I’m not a fan of wasting instructional time with what can best be done at home: independent reading and discussion of that reading. For my lively debate on the merits of reading at home with Dr. Stephen Krashen (Free Voluntary Reading) and Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer), click here. Teachers just have too much to teach and too little time to do so. With the proper student and parent training, independent reading is the perfect homework.

4. Teach students and parents how to read and discuss books. Without proper training, a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP) will fail. Parents are the best resources we have to monitor and engage students with their independent reading. Reading at the 5% unknown word level will help students increase vocabulary, but we also need to increase reading comprehension. Teachers need to teach independent reading comprehension strategies and practice these in the classroom; however, the extensive practice needs to take place at home with daily student-parent discussions of what the child has read that day during independent reading homework. I recommend a 3-minute student-led book discussion with the parent following 20 minutes of independent or guided reading for primary children and 30 minutes for older readers, four or five days per week. To guide independent reading and the book discussion, I recommend using the SCRIP Bookmarks. Yes, you have permission to print, share, and distribute these.

The SCRIP acronym refers to the five reading comprehension cueing strategies which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Good readers learn how to carry on an internal dialog while they read. To train students and parents how to self-monitor and increase reading comprehension, click here for five lessons from the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. These SCRIP strategies provide teachers with the language of instruction to teach and model reading comprehension. Librarians can use these to do effective book talks.

5. Teach parents, teachers, librarians, and administrators how to motivate independent reading. 

Yes, I recommend accountability for independent reading homework. I have parents award points for the quality of the student-led book discussion. I also “require” the same amount of reading and discussions over vacations and summer recess. Call me a fascist.

I take a balanced approach and recommend such in the development of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). On the one hand, we want our students to become lifelong readers. We want them to intrinsically enjoy reading and choose to read on their own. See Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards for the pitfalls of reading incentives. Also take a look at the heart-breaking teacher, parent, and student comments as to how AR tests, grades for books read, and reading motivational ploys have destroyed students’ love of reading following my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article.

I do see the value in some marketing and promotion of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). Students work well when pursuing goals and everyone likes rewards. Students also like competition. I would offer these guidelines from years of experience “running” IRPs as a a school reading specialist: If you’re going to reward based upon quantitative data, do so by page numbers read, not by books read. Emphasize class competitions, not individual competitions. Reward with literacy-related incentives, e.g. books, bookmarks, posters, not toys or candy. Get your students to review books in class, on schoolwide posters and in newsletters, and especially in the library. Keep schoolwide competitions limited in time: Several two-month competitions or challenges work much better than one year-long competition or challenge.

Would love to see your thoughts.

 

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High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

Quite often I get emails from both parents and teachers regarding what to do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension. As a reading specialist, I have had the opportunity to serve students and teachers in assignments at the K-6, middle school, high school, and community college levels. I, too, have struggled with students in the same predicament at each level. Following is a nice representative sample of parent comments on my blog and teacher comments on another popular blog with some solutions to the problem:

Hello, I was hoping you could give me some advice.  I have an 8 year old daughter who can read orally very well.  She also aces all her spelling tests.  When someone reads aloud to her, she can summarize what was read very well.  But when she reads silently to herself, she doesn’t seem to absorb much at all.  I will have her read a short, at or below grade level paragraph in head her, sometimes 2 or 3 times, and she often can’t answer simple questions about it.  I’ve stressed making sure that she is going slowly, and actually READING each word and not just SEEING it.  I gather this means her comprehension must be rather low, and I was wondering if you have any advice for how to support growth in this area?  Her grades are average or above average in most areas in school, but as she gets older and is transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” she is really struggling, and I would like to know how to support her.  Thank you!

Jessi

On the “A-Z Teacher Stuff” blog, the question is explored by both primary and elementary teachers:

I have a student that scored at a mid-4th grade level in reading fluency and yet her comprehension is at a high 1st grade level.
She loves to read but has a very hard time with even simple recall.
Could this be an indicator of a disability? What can I do to help her?

Not necessarily an indicator of a disability…I can fluently read a medical text or legal documents or ‘Le Petit Prince’ in French (or the more than 2000 page healthcare bill)…doesn’t mean I comprehend all of it…
Your student should be reading books that s/he can read fluently and with good comprehension…reading IS meaning…anything else is ‘word calling’…

I have a student who is very similar. He can read challenging texts fluently and with good accuracy, but when I ask him to retell or even orally answer basic questions from the story he has difficulty. Now this same child can do written comprehension tasks wonderfully when he is given the opportunity to go back to the text. He then demonstrates higher level thinking skills and a deep understanding of the books we read, just not immediately after an initial read.

In his reading group I have been spending a lot of time talking about how readers need to think about what they are reading as they read rather than JUST saying the words correctly and sounding smooth. I would suggest breaking down stories into smaller chunks, such as reading one paragraph/page at a time then checking for understanding by retelling or questioning.

Some five years ago I wrote an article about the same issue, but focused on the the over-use and over-dependence upon fluency practice in reading instruction. My related article regarding the a popular fluency program stirred up quite a fuss. I was forced to delete after a threatening letter promising legal action from that company.  However, the article did not focus attention on what parents and teachers need to do to address the problem.

First of all, a few important caveats… 

Reading is thinking. Cognitive challenges certainly limit comprehension. A student with an IQ of 85 is not going to have to same capacity for understanding text as a student with an IQ of 135. Sad, but true. English language learners have three challenges to comprehension: academic vocabulary, knowledge of American idioms, and knowledge of English grammar. Special education students may have auditory or visual processing disorders which require work-arounds to comprehension. Children with physical impairments, such as chronic inner ear infections, tend to have reading challenges. Finally, socio-enonomic status definitely can inhibit comprehension if a child has minimal access to books and limited conversations with literate adults.

Reading is a skill. We know a lot more about the connection between the alphabetic code and reading comprehension than we used to; however, we still have a long way to go. What we do know is that there is a statistically significant correlation between good decoders and good “comprehenders.” Children without phonemic awareness do not make the connection between the alphabetic code and words. Children without a sophisticated knowledge of the alphabetic code (phonics) struggle with a “sight words only” band-aid to reading approach when they transition from simple K-2 narrative to grades 3-adult multi-syllabic expository reading. By hook or by crook, every child needs to develop decoding skills. Lastly, the transition from reading out loud to silent reading does not magically occur for every child at the beginning of third grade as we have traditionally believed. Let’s spend a bit of time exploring this…

In an article published on April 21, 2016, Kristin Coyne, discusses the little-understood transition from oral to silent reading.

“Researchers at the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) at Florida State University will tackle that paradox over the next four years. Funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, a team headed by FCRR researcher Young-Suk Kim will examine a poorly understood area of literacy: the relationship between oral and silent reading, and how those skills, in turn, relate to reading comprehension.”

We do know that most children seem to transition from out loud reading to silent reading by subvocalization. In other words, they say the words “in their heads.”

“’What we ultimately want is instantaneous recognition without subvocalization because that’s faster,” Kim said. “But we don’t know how that process happens.’

Until recently, measuring silent reading was difficult: After all, you can’t hear the child’s progress. But researchers can now see this progress, with the help of advanced eye-tracking technologies that follow students’ eye movements as they read text on a computer screen.

‘It’s very fascinating how precisely we can measure this,’ Kim said. ‘We can even determine exactly which letter a student is focusing on.'”

Notice that our amazing brains do process at the individual letter level and not at the whole word or sentence level as some of the “whole language” advocates used to argue.

Having addressed the important caveats, we can get the crux of the issue: What can we, as parents and teachers, do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension?

1. Diagnose and eliminate subvocalization . As a parent or teacher, do give a diagnostic fluency assessment. Although I mentioned above the problem of over-dependence upon fluency practice, some fluency practice is certainly important at all grade levels. During the fluency assessment, in addition to recording miscues, words read accurately, and total number of words read in a two-minute timing, observe the child’s mouth. If the child is mumbling or moving lips, he or she is subvocalizing. THE FIX: Tell the child (and parent) that he or she is doing so and that good silent readers avoid this “bad habit.” Suggest reading with a pencil between the teeth or lightly clenching teeth until the habit is broken. Most children only need a few reading sessions with this simple “therapy” to fix the problem.

2. Diagnose and eliminate multiple eye movements. During the fluency assessment notice what the child is doing with his or her eye movements. If the child is moving eyes noticeably from left to right, it may indicate a tracking problem. Good readers look at the center of the page and use their peripheral vision to attend to letter correspondences from left to right. Poor readers have multiple eye fixations per line. Again, researchers have found statistically significant correlations between readers with minimal eye fixations per line and good “comprehenders.” THE FIX: Tell the child (and parent) that he or she has too much eye movement per line and should focus on the center and “look out to the left and to the right” as he or she reads. Demonstrate how easy it is to “see things to the left and right by looking at the center” by having the child touch hands and slowly move them apart to test peripheral vision. Teach the child to place the hand (not a finger) in the center, underneath the line being read and drop down as the text is being read. *Note: Never have the child point at each individual word. If the center of the line hand tracking does not work, a referral to a certified vision trainer (optometrist or opthamologist) may be required. Be careful on this one. Vision therapy can be helpful, but should not be a “once per week for three years commitment.” Buyer beware.

3. Talk to the child about what reading means. Often, children are so focused on the skill that they don’t focus on the thinking. Simple, but true. Good decoding skills are not an end in themselves, but should make reading for meaning effortless. Automaticity is the goals of phonics instruction. THE FIX: Tell the child, “When you are reading, concentrate on what the person is saying to you.” Teach the child to pause after each sentence to ask and answer that question. Transition to the paragraph.

4. Teach students to make a movie in their heads as they read. Visualization is a powerful aid to reading comprehension for both narrative and expository text. THE FIX: Read my article: Interactive Reading: Making a Movie in Your Head.

5. Many children fail to comprehend text because they daydream as they read. In other words, they lose attention to the text. Students who use self-questioning strategies develop a greater understanding of the text than passive readers. THE FIX: Teach the child how to use the SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies. Each strategy emphasizes internal self-monitoring of text and the article has some great free bookmarks to download.

6. Poor readers often just don’t know what good readers do as they silently read. THE FIX: Show the child  what a good reader does by using Think-Alouds in which the parent or teach reads silently out loud. In other words, you read the words of the text and employ #s 3, 4, and 5 above to interrupt the text to capture its meaning. Have the child do the “think aloud” for you and other children. Emphasize how quickly the brain makes these applications so that reading continuity is not compromised.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP 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 Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and 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.

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Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

The Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit (eBook plus Links to YouTube Modeled Readings) provides 43 expository animal fluency articles and 43 corresponding animal comprehension worksheets, along with user-friendly, no teacher prep support materials. Here’s what teachers will use in this must-have eBook toolkit:

Get 43 expository animal fluency articles, each marked with words per line to help students monitor their own fluency progress. At last! Quality fluency practice in the expository (not narrative) genre. Reading experts agree that students need extensive reading practice in the expository domain to internalize the text structure and multi-syllabic vocabulary of social studies and science textbooks. Not to mention the expository articles found on standardized tests. Yes, fluency timing charts are provided. Plus, each of the 43 fluency articles has been recorded at three different reading speeds to provide the appropriate challenge level for each of your students. This toolkit provides the YouTube links to these 129 modeled readings.

Each of the 43 articles is composed in a leveled format: the first two paragraphs are at third grade reading level, the next two are at the fifth grade reading level, and the last two are at the seventh grade reading level. Slower readers get practice on controlled vocabulary and are pushed to read at the higher reading levels, once the contextual content has been established. Faster readers are challenged by the increasingly difficult multi-syllabic vocabulary. This format is perfect for differentiated fluency instruction. Both developing readers and reading intervention students who read at a variety of reading levels will benefit from this fluency practice. What a great add-on resource for phonics-based Response to Intervention tiered instruction!

This toolkit also provides 43 corresponding animal comprehension worksheets with content-specific comprehension questions listed in the margins next to the relevant text. These low-higher order thinking questions ask readers to summarize, connect, re-think, interpret, and predict (the SCRIP comprehension strategy) to promote reader dialog with the text. Students practice self-monitoring their own reading comprehension as they read. This “talking to the text” transfers to better independent reading comprehension and retention.

The animal fluency and comprehension articles each describe the physical characteristics of the animal with a color animal photograph–no drawings or cartoon characters inappropriate for older children or teenagers. Articles contain paragraphs detailing each animal’s habitat, what the animal eats, the animal’s family, interesting facts, and the status of the species (endangered or not). The writing is engaging and students will enjoy learning about both common and uncommon animals.

Each featured animal corresponds to the colorful set of digital Animal Sound-Spelling Cards. The sounds of each animal name represent each of the phonetic components. For example, erminearmadillo, and orca represent each of the r-controlled sound-spellings. Each of the cards contains the most common spellings of the animal card sound to reinforce the reading-spelling connection. A full set of consonant blend cards complements the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards and can be used for phonics practice and games.

Additionally, get digital comprehension posters, bookmarks, and context-clue practice.

Also included are an individual fluency assessment and a kid-tested, teacher-approved plan to differentiate fluency instruction in your classroom. Note: This Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit is a “slice” of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. 128 pages

Preview This Book

Check out the introductory video.

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Teaching Reading Strategies

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies (Print and eBook) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers with low fluency, poor comprehension, and lack of decoding skills, special education students with auditory and visual processing disorders, and English-language learners. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides whole-class diagnostic reading assessments to pinpoint specific reading deficits for students ages eight-adult. The print version includes a digital copy (PDF) of the entire program for classroom display and interactive practice.

Teachers describe the Teaching Reading Strategies program as…

  • Comprehensive.This complete remedial reading curriculum is ideal for non-readers or below grade level readers with low fluency, poor comprehension, and lack of decoding skills, special education students with auditory and visual processing disorders, and English-language learners.
  • Flexible. Resources and activities work in the classroom (push in) or as a stand-alone (pull out) reading intervention program. This is not a canned program; the teacher teaches students according to their instructional needs.
  • User-friendly.Minimal teacher prep design with simple and clear procedures and instructional activities, suitable for the novice reading teacher as well as for the veteran reading specialist.
  • Age-appropriate. Every resource, activity, and audio recording has been designed with older children, teenagers, and adults in mind. No primary cartoon illustrations and no juvenile reading content.
  • Research-based.Teaching Reading Strategies is a balanced reading curriculum, emphasizing phonemic awareness acquisition and systematic and explicit phonics instruction, coupled with extensive syllabication, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary development.

Get these essential resources in Teaching Reading Strategies:

Assessments

13 classroom-tested diagnostic reading assessments covering all reading skills—each in multiple choice format. That’s right. No individual time-consuming testing—use Scantrons® if you wish. Each of the 13 assessments is comprehensive and prescriptive. Unlike most reading assessments, none of the assessments (other than the phonemic awareness tests) is based on random sample. Everything you need to teach (or not) is assessed. For example, the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment covers every common vowel sound-spelling, so you can use the assessment data to effectively remediate each un-mastered component. This makes differentiated instruction easy to plan and efficient.

  • Simple progress monitoring on one comprehensive reading recording matrix means easy data entry and cuts down on paperwork.
  • Formative assessments. Each phonetic component in the 28 phonics workshops has a simple formative assessment to ensure mastery. Fluency practice includes timing charts for cold (unpracticed) and hot (practiced) timings.

Instructional Resources and Activities

  • Whole class blending activities.The sound-by-sound spelling blending instructional sequence is designed to teach all of the vowel and consonant sound-spellings in just 15 weeks of instruction.
  • Syllable transformers and syllabication. Teach the common syllable patterns and all the syllable and accent rules with whole class interactive practice. Assess mastery with syllable worksheets.
  • Reading and Spelling Game Cards.Each card represent the sounds of each animal name and provide the common spellings of those sounds. Play whole class games with the 586 reading and spelling game card masters (you print and cut). Add FUN to your instruction as students practice sound-spelling, sight word, vocabulary, and spelling patterns. Or buy the pre-printed reading and spelling game cards (business card size) for a reasonable $12.99 per set.
  • Phonemic awareness small group workshops.Get extensive phonemic awareness activities which perfectly correspond with the phonemic awareness assessments. Students fill in the gaps to ensure a solid foundation for learning the phonetic code by learning to hear, identify, and manipulate the phonemes. So essential for special education and English-language learners!
  • Phonics small group workshops.Get 35 quick phonics workshop activities with worksheets which exactly correspond with the vowel sounds and consonant blends phonics assessments. Each of these activities/worksheets provides practice and each phonetic component has a short formative assessment to ensure mastery. Answers are provided.
  • Individualized reading fluency practice.Get 43 expository animal fluency articles, each marked with words per line to help students monitor their own fluency progress. At last! Quality fluency practice in the expository (not narrative) genre. Yes, fluency timing charts are provided. Each of the 43 articles is composed in a leveled format–the first two paragraphs are at third grade reading level, the next two are at the fifth grade reading level, and the last two are at the seventh grade reading level. Slower readers get practice on controlled vocabulary and are pushed to read at the higher reading levels, once the contextual content has been established. Faster readers are challenged by the increasingly difficult multi-syllabic vocabulary. Also get access to each of the 43 reading fluency articles recorded as YouTube videos with modeled readings at three different speeds for each article. Students practice reading at their individual challenge levels along with the videos.
  • Comprehension worksheets.The corresponding animal comprehension worksheets list content-specific comprehension questions in the margins next to the relevant text. These low-higher order thinking questions ask readers to summarize, connect, re-think, interpret, and predict (the SCRIP comprehension strategy) to promote reader dialog with the text. Students practice self-monitoring their own reading comprehension as they read. This “talking to the text” transfers to better independent reading comprehension and retention. Articles also highlight three vocabulary words to be defined, using context clues strategies. Each article describes the physical characteristics of the animal, the animal’s habitat, what the animal eats, the animal’s family, interesting facts, and the status of the species (endangered or not). The writing is engaging, and students (and teachers) enjoy learning about both common and uncommon animals.

Additionally, get comprehension posters, bookmarks, and context-clue practice activities. No other reading intervention program matches the resources of Teaching Reading Strategies.

Also check out the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. This product includes 54 eight-page decodable books which perfectly align to the instructional scope and sequence used in Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed with teenage cartoon characters and plots with 5 comprehension questions each and 30-second word fluencies, your students will love these take home books. (Sold as a PDF for you to print and fold. Priced at only $49.99).

View the product details here and view samples in Preview This Book.

Phonemic Awareness and Phonics Toolkit Preview

Check out the introductory video.

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Predict to Increase Comprehension

The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

Readers can develop good reading habits by integrating specific cueing strategies into their reading. These cueing strategies serve as a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain concentration and determine the meaning of text.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Here is a nice set of SCRIP Bookmarks to download, print, and distribute to your students.

Both good and struggling readers can practice these cueing strategies to improve comprehension. Despite what many teachers have learned, reading is not a natural process; it needs to be taught, and not just caught. Teaching students to interact with the text. the SCRIP strategies will help them better understand and better remember what they read.

Good readers learn how to carry on an internal dialog while they read. Many readers consider reading to be a passive activity in which the author talks to the attentive listener. Reading research supports the notion that reading should be active with an ongoing dialogue between reader and author. Up to 50% of comprehension is what the reader brings to the text in terms of prior knowledge. Follow this link here to learn how to teach developing readers to carry on this conversation.

Predict to Increase Comprehension

The fifth cueing strategy in the SCRIP comprehension strategies is Predict. Predict means “to think about what they are going to read based on clues from the reading. It is an ongoing process that actively engages the reader in two ways: The reader’s mind is a jump ahead, trying to figure out what is coming next (making new predictions), while at the same time the reader is revising and refining the old predictions” (Guisinger).

Types of Clues that Inform Prediction for Narrative and Expository Text

Text Structure and Genre

Knowing the structure of a story can help readers make informed predictions. With narrative text, knowledge of the elements of plot: basic situation, problem-conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution will inform predictions. With informational/explanatory or argumentative text, knowledge of paragraph structure: topic sentence/claims, evidence/reasons, analysis/commentary and/or counterargument/refutations will help the reader more accurately predict the writer’s train of thought or line of argument.

Vocabulary

Paying close attention to transition words and phrases will help the reader make specific predictions. Transitions signal the development of ideas including the following purposes: definition, example, explanation, analysis, comparison, contrast, cause-effect, conclusion, addition, numerical, sequence.

Literary Devices

Recognizing literary devices such as foreshadowing, tone, and mood can assist the reader in making accurate predictions. The writer’s style gives important clues to what will happen next.

Check out the other SCRIP Comprehension Strategies: summaryconnect , re-think, and interpret.

Because teaching the Interpret cueing strategy is the focus of this article, let’s work through a teaching script to teach this Predict cueing strategy.

Predict means to make an educated guess about what will happen or be said next in the text. A good prediction uses the clues presented in a story, article, or textbook to make a logical guess that makes sense. Good readers check their predictions with what actually happens or is said next.”

“When you reach a part of a story, article, or textbook in which a clue to understanding what will happen next appears, pause to predict what will happen as a result of that clue. Your prediction might be what happens immediately after the clue, later in the reading, or at the end of the reading.”

“Continue to read with your prediction at the back of your mind. If additional, related clues appear, adjust your prediction to reflect these clues. Aim at a specific prediction, not a general one.”

“For example, you would probably not be surprised by a fortune in a fortune cookie which reads ‘Your life will have many ups and downs’ because the prediction is so general and could probably apply to everyone who gets that same fortune. However, if you open a fortune cookie to read ‘Tomorrow at 3:10 p.m. you will get a call from someone you haven’t heard from in a long time’ you would be very interested in checking to see it the prediction comes true because of how specific the fortune reads.”

“Let’s take a look at a fairy tale that many of you will have read or heard about and practice how to make and check on predictions.”

Sam and Friends Phonics Books Hi-Lo Readers

Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Here is a one-page version of “The Three Little Pigs” for you to download, print, and distribute to your students. Have students read, break the reading into sections, and complete the summaries, connections, re-thinks, and interprets in their heads. Direct students to answer the Interpret questions. Share out the student answers. Check out a YouTube video demonstration of the Predict Comprehension Strategy, using The Three Little Pigs fairy tale to illustrate this strategy. The storyteller first reads the fairy tale without comment. Next,  the story is read once again as a think-aloud with interruptions to show how readers should predict sections of the reading and check the accuracy of their predictions as they read to monitor and build comprehension.

The author, Mark Pennington, has written the comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies, the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards, and the accompanying 54 take home decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These books include teenage characters and themes and are perfect for older readers.

Reading , , , , ,

Interpret to Increase Comprehension

The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

Good reading habits can be developed by using specific cueing strategies. These cueing strategies assign readers a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain interactive dialogue with the text.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Here is a nice set of SCRIP Bookmarks to download, print, and distribute to your students.

Both good and struggling readers can practice these cueing strategies to improve comprehension. Despite what many believe, reading is not a natural process; it needs to be taught, and not just caught. Teaching students to question the text they read by prompting themselves with the SCRIP strategies will help them understand and better remember what they read.

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog while they read is critically important. Cueing strategies prompt the reader to talk to the text and the author. Check out how to get developing readers to carry on this conversation here.

Interpret to Increase Comprehension

The fourth cueing strategy in the SCRIP comprehension strategies is Interpret. Interpret means to determine what an author means in a section of narrative or expository reading text. The meaning may be implied, not stated.

Reading researchers have generally described two skills of interpretation or inference: Cromley and Azevedo (2007) discuss text-to-text and background-to-text interpretations. Others label the two reading skills as coherence or text-connecting and elaborative or gap-filling.

Text-to-Text

The meaning may necessitate synthesizing two or more reading sections to arrive at what the author means. Or the meaning may be derived from breaking up what the author says and examining each part independently as in analysis.

Background-to-Text

The meaning may necessitate filling in the gaps between what the author says and what the author expects that the reader already knows. Correct interpretation can depend on the readers prior knowledge. Pre-teaching necessary prior knowledge may be necessary if the author assumes a certain vault of knowledge or experience to be able to correctly parse what the author adds to, comments upon, or argues against.

Make sure to stress that interpretations are not simply the reader’s opinions. Good interpretations derive from the textual evidence and arrive at what the author means. Interpretations can be right and also wrong.

Unlike the summaryconnect , and re-think cueing strategies, in which the reader needs to divide a reading into meaningful sections for the reader to pause to summarize and make connections, the re-think and interpret strategies are applied when the reader pauses following a section which is confusing or seems inconsistent with the previous section.

Because teaching the Interpret cueing strategy is the focus of this article, let’s work through a teaching script to teach this Interpret cueing strategy.

Interpret means to focus on what the author means. Authors may directly say what they mean right in the lines of the text. They also may suggest what they mean with hints to allow readers to draw their own conclusions. These hints can be found in the tone (feeling/attitude) of the writing, the word choice, or in other parts of the writing that may be more directly stated.”

“When you reach a confusing part of a story, an article, a poem, or your textbook, go back to re-read the last part of the section that you understood completely and then read into the confusing section. Ask yourself what the author means in the confusing section. Often what the author means is not exactly stated. The author may choose to hint at the meaning and require the reader to figure out what is really meant.”

“Additionally, an author might require the reader to figure out the meaning by putting together what is said in one portion of the reading with another. It’s just like explaining a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to someone who has never eaten one. You’ve got to explain what peanut butter is and what jelly is first. Then you can tell how the combination of the two creates a salty and sweet flavor experience.”

“Let’s take a look at a fairy tale that many of you will have read or heard about and practice how to interpret some confusing passages.”

Here is a one-page version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” for you to download, print, and distribute to your students. Have students read, break the reading into sections, and complete the summaries, connections, and re-thinks in their heads. Direct students to answer the Interpret questions. Share out the student answers.

If you have found this article to be helpful, check out the next comprehension strategy, “Predict,” and the resources.

Sam and Friends Phonics Books Hi-Lo Readers

Sam and Friends Phonics Books

The author, Mark Pennington, has written the comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies, the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards, and the accompanying 54 take home decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These books include teenage characters and themes and are perfect for older readers.

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Re-think to Increase Comprehension

Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets to kill off reading comprehension problems. Poor comprehension tends to be self-perpetuating because a reader’s approach to acquiring meaning from text is habitual. Bad reading habits are reinforced each time a reader reads an online post, book, or magazine unless unless those bad reading habits are replaced with good  reading habits. Good reading habits can be taught and reinforced with specific cueing strategies. The cueing strategies provide readers a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain active dialogue with what the author says and means.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Here is a nice set of SCRIP Bookmarks for you to download, print, and distribute to your students.

To improve reading comprehension, both good and struggling readers can practice these cueing strategies. Reading is not a natural process; it needs to be taught, not just caught. Developing readers do not have a priori understanding about how to understand and remember what they read. Thus, teachers and parents play a crucial role in helping to develop good readers.

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog while they read is vitally important. Cueing strategies prompt the reader to dialog with the text and the author. Check out how to get developing readers to carry on this conversation here.

Re-Think to Improve Comprehension

The third cueing strategy in the SCRIP comprehension strategies is Re-Think. Re-Think means to look at a section of reading text (narrative or expository) from a different point of view to see if a different meaning is intended by the author, other than the one intitially understood by the reader. It requires and re-thinking.

People who play board games are accustomed to looking at things from different perspectives. In Boggle®, Risk®, Settlers of Catan®, or Scrabble®, players know that seeing things from the opposite side of the game really changes how the player understands or plays the game.

Unlike the summary and connect cueing strategies, in which the reader needs to divide a reading into meaningful sections for the reader to pause to summarize and make connections, the Re-think strategy has the reader pause when the text following the section is confusing or seems inconsistent with the previous section.

Since teaching the Re-think cueing strategy is the focus of this article, let’s work through a teaching script to teach this Re-think cueing strategy.

Old Woman Young Woman perspective

Re-think means to re-read a section of the text to look at things from a different point of view. When you start reading text which seems different than what you have been reading or if you get confused, don’t keep on reading in the hope that you will catch on to what was meant. The author may actually be saying something different than what you first thought. Or first impressions aren’t always accurate. When we look from another point of view, we oftentimes find a different truth.”

“When you reach that point in a reading text, go back to re-read the last part of the section that you completely understood and then read into the confusing section. Ask how the author may mean something different than what you first thought. In other words, re-trace your steps. Your mom helps you do this when you lose something. She asks, ‘When was the last time you remember having it? What did you do next?’ Do the same in your reading when you get lost; go back to the point where you weren’t lost and then re-read the confusing text.”

“Also, when you re-read be especially alert to overlooked transition change words, such as although, but, and however or negative words or prefixes, such as not or un. These words or word parts can be extremely important to a correct understanding of what the author intends to mean.”

“Let’s take a look at a fairy tale that many of you will have read or heard about and practice how to re-think some confusing passages.”

Here is a one-page version of “Little Red Riding Hood” for you to download, print, and distribute to your students. Have students read, break the reading into sections, and complete the summaries and connections in their heads. Direct students to answer the Re-think questions. Share out the summaries, connections, and Re-Think answers. Check out a YouTube video demonstration of the Re-think Comprehension Strategy, using Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale to illustrate this strategy. The storyteller first reads the fairy tale without comment. Next,  the story is read once again as a think-aloud with interruptions to show how readers should re-think sections of the reading as they read to monitor and build comprehension.

If you have found this article to be helpful, check out the next comprehension strategy, “Interpret,” and the resources to teach this cueing strategy.

The author, Mark Pennington, has written the comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies, the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards, and the accompanying 54 take home decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These books include teenage characters and themes and are perfect for older readers.kids

 

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Teaching Your Child to Read Well

One of the true joys and responsibilities of parenthood is teaching your child to read. But wait… isn’t that the teacher’s job? Of course it is, but the best approach is always an effective and complementary home-school partnership. As a parent of three boys, an MA Reading Specialist, and an author of numerous reading textbooks, I have a few practical tips to help you teach your child to read and read well. And the tips work equally well with four-year-old and fourteen-year-old readers.

Developing a Literate Home Environment

Plenty of research studies demonstrate a positive correlation between skilled readers and their literate home environments. Having books and other print media visible and readily accessible in the home fosters a certain reading atmosphere. Discussing books while driving to school or waiting in the doctor’s office builds comprehension and vocabulary. Modeling reading in the home shows the value you place on literacy. Reading a newspaper after dinner, rather than watching a re-run of The Big Bang Theory, says something to your child.

Reading to Your Child

Reading to your child, regardless of age or reading level, certainly makes a difference. Reading out loud helps model expression and attention to punctuation. Reading out loud also provides an opportunity to model “talking to the text.” Practicing reading as a reader-author dialogue will help your child understand and retain textual information far better than readers who simply passively read the printed words.

Try modeling my SCRIP Comprehension Strategies to teach this interactive reading: Summarize means to put together the main ideas and important details of a reading into a short-version of what the author has said. Connect means to notice the relationship between one part of the text with another part of the text. Re-think means to re-read the text when you are confused or have lost the author’s train of thought. Interpret means to focus on what the author means. Frequently authors suggest what they mean and require readers to draw their own conclusions. Predict means to make an educated guess about what will happen or be said next in the text. Good readers check their predictions with what actually happens or is said next.

Getting Your Child to Read on Their Own

Although watching and listening to an expert about how to use a tool has some value, learning to use that tool on our own is the goal. Teaching your child to be an effective independent reader requires consistent and sufficient practice, but also a bit of teaching know-how.

First, let’s address the reluctant reader problem. Waiting for your child to want to read will produce a long wait for many parents. Although you would love your child to be avid reader, few children fit into that category. None of my three boys liked to read, but all did. They were required to read throughout the year (summers and vacations too), sometimes by their teachers and sometimes by me for thirty minutes reading, five days per week. Over the years all three boys read an amazing amount of books. Sometimes we permitted comic books, magazines, and newspapers, but mostly books. And our boys read both expository and narrative texts. We did offer some free choice, but not always, and independent reading requirement continued until they got their drivers’ licenses. All three boys are now avid readers as adults.

Next, let’s discuss how to select books for independent reading. As I mentioned, we did offer some free choice, but within certain parameters. Knowing that independent reading is the most efficient means of vocabulary acquisition, I suggest that parents should strive to help their children select books at close to the 5% unknown word level. In other words, a child should know and be able to define or explain the meaning of most all, but not all words on a given page. The 5% unknown word recognition level provides enough unknown vocabulary words to enable reader acquisition through context clues, but not too many unknown words to interfere with comprehension. Some dictionary use makes sense, but a readily parent can help with essential words as well.

Lastly, let’s get real. Without accountability your child will not read or will not read well. Teaching your child to read at home does require some monitoring. A daily discussion of the reading during dinner or on the way to the soccer game, using the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies as discussion prompts, will ensure careful reading and promote comprehension development as well. And what better way to keep the lines of communication open with your child than to discuss the world of ideas within the pages of a book? Teaching reading to your child may be an important parental responsibility, but it is also a true joy that will turn your child into a lifelong reader.

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, spelling pattern 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.

 

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The Problem with Dialectical Journals

Well, at least we know how our students feel about dialectical journals… But, how should teachers feel about dialectical journals?

Teachers grapple with how to assign independent reading activities to help students interact with assigned novels or independent reading. Dialectical journals have been teacher favorites since literature-based reading pedagogy was popularized in the 1980s. KWL charts and variations upon the same theme have served as into-through-beyond activities within English-language arts, history/social science, and science courses.

At surface level, these forms of reading response seem to assist students in reaching our goals of promoting independent reading comprehension. The thought/hope has been that if we can just get students to access their own prior knowledge of content and story schema, then help students connect these to what the author has to offer, then establish a relevant and personal connection/application to the readers’ lives… students will problem-solve their way to full comprehension and reading enjoyment. The pendulum has clearly swung from the author to the reader side of the equation.

The Problem with Dialectical Journals

…..

After years of “teaching” this reader-centered, literature-based approach, educators are starting to see the results. Almost 60% of community college students and 30% of university students require at least one year of developmental coursework. And, yes, remedial reading is the chief subject of this remediation. http://www.communitycollegecentral.org/Downloads/Developmental_Education_TOOLKIT.pdf

Good readers may be able to put up some of this reader-centered nonsense and still engage with the text; however, students with reading difficulties desperately need comprehension strategies that will help them understand what the author has to say. The focus on personal relevance impedes comprehension. Tier I and II Response to Intervention readers confuse “What it means to me” strategies with “What the author means” strategies. The latter is much more important for developing readers (and for that matter, all readers). Some personal application within teacher-guided class discussion makes sense, but should be secondary to teaching the text itself.

In lieu of dialectical journals, teachers should help students learn and apply the five types of independent reading strategies that promote internal monitoring of the text: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. These SCRIP strategies promote the reader-author conversation and, thus, internal monitoring of text to help students achieve your goal: “to get them to read and understand what they are reading on their own.” Here are some SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies resources and bookmarks. Having a consistent language of instruction that works for narrative and expository texts is useful.

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, 390 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.

Reading, Writing , , , , , , ,

Elements of Plot

Teaching the elements of plot can be a challenging task. Knowing story structure is critically important to comprehension development. Without story schema, independent reading is hodge-podge and non-sensical. Using a common story builds upon prior knowledge, especially when using the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies. Fairy tales are ideal for this purpose.

Here’s my fractured fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The two-age story includes all plot elements (character-setting-problem/situation-internal and external conflict-complications-climax-falling action-resolution), as well as examples of  foreshadowing, direct and indirect characterization, and a twist. Ideal for middle and high schoolers, maybe for some upper elementary, but it’s quite twisted, so use some judgment here. Altering the rhetorical stance or changing up the ending is a great writing application to follow this lesson.

Attached is the story, ready for your plot diagram. Also attached is a matching quiz of the plot elements found in the story. Goldilocks Story  Goldilocks Quiz

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.

Reading , , , ,

Debunking Speed Reading Myths – Is Speed Reading for Real?

I don’t normally post articles by other authors. However, this informative article on speed reading is well-worth reading. And it comes with a powerful resource that teachers will want to test-pilot to measure their students’ silent reading fluency.

Primary and intermediate elementary teachers do a great job of assessing oral reading fluency and helping students improve their fluency rates and accuracy. We all know that fluency is highly correlated with reading comprehension. However, upper elementary and secondary teachers usually assume that the rate and accuracy of their students’ silent reading fluency is static. Not so. Using simple speed reading techniques, as well as other self-monitoring reading strategies, can improve both rate and comprehension. Speed reading is not hocus-pocus. Here’s some background on speed reading and the facts that will help debunk a number of speed reading myths.

Bob Watson first learned speed reading about five years ago for the purpose of teaching it to a young, eager group of sixth graders in a summer school study skills course.  He read a few books on the subject, took a weekend long seminar course, and significantly increased his reading speed.  He taught what he had learned to my students, and almost all of them saw some major improvement in their reading skills, both speed and comprehension.

Doing more and more research on this subject, however, led Bob to a skeptics website claiming that speed reading was a farce. After reading what this site, and many others like it, had to say on the subject, Bob started to see where they were coming from.

You see, speed reading is still a fairly new concept.  The first person to use the term was Evelyn Woods in the 1960s, an Australian teacher who identified a number of bad reading habits and eventually started teaching correspondence courses and holding seminars where she taught her techniques, most of which are still well accepted and taught today. However, many scam artists jumped on the speed reading bandwagon.

In the 1990 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, Howard Stephen Berg was listed as the fastest reader in the world. Berg claimed to be able to read over 80 pages of text in one minute, a reading speed of about 25,000 words per minute.  But, once you start to look into the record, you’ll see that the officials at Guinness, at the time, weren’t well known for verifying the records they posted, and this was, in fact, not a record that they checked.  They took Berg at his word, and it seems that he completely invented the number.  On a number of television programs Berg demonstrates near perfect recall and excellent reading.  In 1998, he had a lawsuit filed against him for deceptive advertising.

The lesson here is really quite simple: there is, in fact, a great deal of deception in the field of speed reading.  Also, as you might have guessed, faster isn’t always better.

So, is it really possible to increase your reading speed?  Yes. For most people, it is not outside the limits of possibility to increase their reading speed past 600 words per minute, which is more than double than what the average American can read.

Does speed reading affect comprehension?  It certainly does.  “Reading” at an outrageous pace certainly decreases understanding of the text.  However, if the techniques of speed reading are applied at a manageable speed, readers can improve their reading comprehension.  The reason is simple – they’re not only learning to read faster, but they’re also learning how to read much better.  Reading faster ties together the details of the text much better into comprehensible input, than reading slowly.

So, who is Bob? Bob Watson is a teacher who works primarily with high school and middle school students with emotional disabilities. He has written a number of well-crafted articles on speed reading. Bob also created a free speed reading test that teachers will find very useful to measure their students’ silent reading rates.

I say you’ve got to check out this computer-based test. Five short passages are provided to test silent reading fluency. I had my students take one of these tests as a diagnostic assessment in the computer lab. Took just a few minutes and the students loved it.

I will teach some of Bob’s speed reading techniques and re-test periodically with the rest of the passages to chart progress. Give it a try. You can help students improve both their silent reading speed and comprehension.

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.

Reading, Study Skills , , ,

Good Reading Fluency, but Poor Reading Comprehension

Hello all! I have a question for you all. I have had students in the past that were speed readers. They may have read with 99% accuracy, but did not comprehend material. What recommendations do you have for teaching kiddos to slow down? I have thought about having them tape record themselves, but other than that, I am not sure how else to help show them the importance of reading fluently (which doesn’t mean being a speed reader!!). http://www.proteacher.net/discussions/showthread.php?t=345167

I did respond to this teacher, but I reserved the cathartic confession for my own blog. I am well aware that I have become part of the problem described above by this conscientious teacher. As a whole language trained MA reading specialist who converted to a systematic explicit phonics advocate in the early 1990s, I jumped onto the fluency bandwagon. I supervised fluency labs and trained teachers in how to differentiate fluency instruction. I emphasized repeated reading practice at the student’s optimal reading level and helped teachers develop workable formative assessments to monitor fluency progress. These were and are good instructional practices.

Of course, supervising principals love to see progress monitoring charts and fluency timings are easily measured components. It would naturally follow that teachers would teach to these tests. Teachers are motivated by the concrete and gravitate toward the self-validation of seeing a student go from “Point A to Point B.” Parents like to see numbers on charts, as well (especially when the numbers for their child trend upwards). In short, everyone got on the reading fluency bandwagon.

The problem is one of emphasis. While reading fluency is highly correlated with reading comprehension, fluency is all too often confused with comprehension itself. True that reading fluency is an important ingredient in reading comprehension, but also true that cream is an important ingredient of ice cream, but it is not ice cream. Additionally, because reading comprehension is not easily or accurately measured, it gets left off of the progress monitoring charts. If a reading comprehension score is used, it is all too often a criterion-referenced, standards-based assessment measurement from the year before that provides questionable data at best. So, teachers teach to the data that makes sense and tend to under-emphasize the non-quantifiable. Students get taught a lot of cream, but not the ice cream they need. Don’t get me wrong; the cream is important, and fluency assessment does make sense.

Now, having confessed to my part of the problem of Good Fluency, but Poor Comprehension, it would seem appropriate to offer penance. What I should have done and strive to do in my trainings and reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies, is to emphasize a more balanced instructional approach in which reading fluency is treated as but one of the key ingredients of reading instruction.

Timothy Rasinski shares many of my concerns regarding reading fluency instruction in an important article: Reading Fluency Instruction: Moving Beyond Accuracy, Automaticity, and Prosody. Dr. Rasinski highly recommends balancing repeated reading practice with meaningful oral expression. He suggests Readers Theater and poetry as two venues for this practice and cites validating reading research.

I would add on two concurrent instructional practices: Think-Alouds and my SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies. Each strategy emphasizes internal self-monitoring of text and the latter has some great free bookmarks to download.

One necessary caveat… fluency instruction without systematic explicit phonics instruction is like using low fat cream. It doesn’t make the kind of ice cream we would want in our cones. To mix metaphors, we need to treat the wound (or better yet prevent the injury), not just band-aid it. This is especially important with Tier I and Tier II Response to Intervention.

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.

 

Reading , , , , , , , ,

Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work

O.K. So my title is a good hook. I’m an ELA teacher, so you’d expect no less. However, I’m also an MA reading specialist, so you’d expect me to be passionate about getting students to read and read well. I do believe that independent reading is vital to reading improvement. So why am I writing an article titled Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work?

First, let’s get on the same page about what most of us mean when we talk about SSR. SSR does have a variety of pseudonyms: FVR (Free Voluntary Reading, DEAR (Drop Everything And Read); DIRT (Daily Individual Reading Time); SQUIRT (Sustained Quiet Un-Interrupted Reading Time), WEB (We Enjoy Books), and USSR (uninterrupted sustained silent reading). I’m sure there are more. Essentially, SSR is based upon these assumptions:

  • Reading is a skill which improves with practice.
  • Students should be allowed to select their own books to read.
  • SSR should not include instructional accountability.
  • SSR is best accomplished within the classroom with the teacher as a silent reading model.

Now, of course, not every teacher implements the program in the same way; however, even with teacher tweaks, SSR just is not an effective use of class time. Why so? Here are 8 reasons Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work.

1. Reading Research Does Not Support SSR

According to the Report of the National Reading Panel (2000), the experimental design studies on SSR indicate no statistically or educationally significant differences between those students who do SSR and those students who do not. Now, to be fair, the reading research does not invalidate SSR. There are just too many variables to isolate and no teacher would ever agree to participate in a study in which a control group of students was not allowed to read.

According to noted reading researcher, Doctor Timothy Shanahan in his August 13, 2017 article:

NRP did conclude that there was no convincing evidence that giving kids free reading time during the school day improved achievement — or did so very much. There has been a lot of work on that since NRP but with pretty much the same findings: either no benefits to that practice or really small benefits (a .05 effect size — which is tiny). Today, NRP would likely conclude that practice is not beneficial rather than that there is insufficient data. But that’s arguable, of course.

Some educational researchers have criticized the findings of the National Reading Panel, arguing that long term correlational studies do suggest that students doing SSR gain more in reading than those who do not. However, correlation does not imply causation.

My take regarding reading research is that we should prioritize our instruction to focus on the instructional strategies that both experimental design and correlational studies support. In other words, let’s teach what works for sure. To devote significant class time to an instructional strategy with a questionable research base should give educators pause, especially when there is an alternative which achieves better results than SSR advocates purport to achieve.

2. There is Not Enough Class Time for SSR

There just are not enough minutes in the day to achieve the results desired by proponents of SSR. For example, to achieve year to year vocabulary growth, elementary students need to read a minimum of one million pages; secondary students need to read a minimum of two million pages. Do the math. Many secondary teachers only have four hours of class time per week. No conscientious secondary teacher would allot half of instructional time to SSR. True that many students read in other content classes and some outside of school, but also true that with normal instructional interruptions there are many weeks with less than four hours of class time. In other words, an hour of SSR per week is just not going to make much of a dent in the amount of independent reading that students need to achieve significant reading growth. The “some is better than none” response is just not acceptable.

Additionally, all instruction is reductive: teachers cannot add on without taking away. Should elementary teachers give up teaching science or social studies to add on SSR? Of course not. Furthermore, with the increasing rigor of the language and writing strands of the ELA/Reading Common Core State Standards, both elementary and secondary teachers will be hard-pressed to teach the grade level standards and differentiate instruction as mandated.

3. Free Choice Reading in SSR Does Not Maximize Reading Development

Free choice reading is an essential tenet of SSR proponents. However motivating self-selected reading may be, there are significant downsides. Students often choose books with reading levels far below or far above own their reading levels and so do not experience optimal reading growth. Most reading experts suggest a 95-98% word recognition level as being necessary for comprehensible input and vocabulary acquisition. To be crass, allowing students to choose their own reading material, without any guidance, lets the lunatics be in charge of the asylum.

4. SSR is Not Teaching

Yes, incidental learning does take place when students are in engaged in SSR. Some SSR advocates go so far as to claim that “Free reading appears to be the source of much of our reading ability, our writing style, much of our vocabulary knowledge, our spelling ability, and our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions (Krashen, 1993; Elley, 1991, 1998).

However, having a credentialed teacher model silent reading while 36 students choose to read or not read independently does not avail students of that teacher’s expertise. It’s not a question of which is better: a teacher-centered or student centered classroom. It’s an issue of educational priorities, efficiency, and effectiveness. SSR devolves the responsibilities and applications of reading strategies, comprehension or vocabulary development, and literary analysis to children. I’m not saying a teacher should exclusively assume the role of “sage on the stage,” but a “guide on the side,” should guide, not merely model.

Additionally, SSR is not appropriate for all students. SSR does not magically differentiate instruction. For example, some students (even secondary learners) need oral fluency practice, not independent silent reading. Other students already read extensively at home and do not need more independent reading time.

5. SSR Does Not Hold Students Accountable for Reading

Reading researchers Von Sprecken and Krashen concluded that children were more likely to read during SSR when certain conditions were in place: When there was access to interesting reading in the classroom and students are not required to bring their own reading material, when teachers read while students are reading, and when teachers made efforts to promote and discuss certain books the researchers found that 90% of students were reading. Even in a class in which none of these conditions were met, however, Debra Von Sprecken and Stephen Krashen found that 80% of the students were reading when observed. (California Reader, 1998, 32(1): 11-13) Not many teachers I know would be satisfied with a classroom instructional strategy in which from 4 to 9 of their 36 students (10-20%) did not participate.

It is true that many teachers “band-aid” this component of SSR and both the International Reading Association and important reading researchers part ways with SSR purists with regard to accountability. For example, Fountas and Pinnell suggest keeping records on student reading (2001). Nancy Atwell’s Reading Workshop includes the following: “monitoring the type and the number of books students read; they may also administer assessments, keep reading checklists, and ask questions or encourage student discussion about books.” (Atwell, 2007; Gambrell, 2007; Reutzel, Jones, Fawson, & Smith, 2008). Manning and Manning (1984) found that coupling SSR with peer discussions or teacher conferences led to improvements in reading achievement compared to a control group.” But these “band aids” avoid the fact that SSR necessitates such tweaking to even approach meaningful reading instruction.

6. SSR Provides No Opportunity for Reader Response

SSR is designed as a solitary activity. It is true that we want to equip our students to learn the discipline and enjoyment of the author-reader interaction. However, the simplistic notion that reading makes better readers ignores the fact that better reading makes even better readers. Reader response is critically important to making students better readers.

Students can be trained to become better monitors of their silent reading. Teacher think-alouds, reading journals, and comprehension starters such as the SCRIP comprehension strategies can encourage self-monitoring of reading text. SSR ignores the reading-writing connection. Plot diagrams, character webs, and comprehension questions aren’t just for teaching class novels. Narrative and essay response the same. The social context of reading development to build vocabulary and comprehension has been well-established both in research and practice. Social engagement increases reading motivation and accountability. Classroom reading discussions, literature circles, readers theater, book clubs, book reviews, and online discussion forums can be powerful motivators to encourage wide and thoughtful reading. Now for teachers thinking, “But we can have our cake and eat it, too” with SSR and Reader Response, I kindly suggest leaving the hypothetical and engaging the practical. See #2 above.

7. SSR Turns Recreational Reading into a School Thing

SSR advocates are keen on stressing how SSR is essential at their school because students do not have optimal environmental reading conditions at home or a lack of engaging books to choose from, or the distractions of video games-cell phones-family, et al. However, the fact that SSR in the classroom removes these distractions (highly debatable) sends a message and provides reading habits that require a structured school environment for independent reading. No teacher that I know takes the Free Voluntary Reading to mean “you can read if you want or not if you don’t want to,” whether the teacher enforces accountability procedures or not. Let’s face it. SSR is coercive and required in a contrived setting—hardly the conditions that will transfer to recreational reading out of the classroom. If our end goal is to get students to become lifelong independent readers outside of the school experience, shouldn’t we teachers work toward that end?

8. SSR Gives Up on Students, Peers, and Parents

To work toward the complementary goals of using class time to provide research-based reading instruction (#1, #4, #6) and assigning significant independent reading practice (#2, #3, #5, #7), I advocate abandoning classroom SSR and assigning independent reading as homework. “But they won’t do it. Students will not read for homework.” I have a different view and experience. Students will do independent reading as homework if a motivated teacher provides the leadership, appropriate carrots and sticks, gets parents to buy-in, and has the perseverance to ensure success.

Independent Reading Text Selection

Students choose any reading text that meets these criteria:

The motivational component of self-selection remains, but with appropriate oversight to ensure optimal reader-novel matches.

Independent Reading Accountability

But, how can teachers get students to read at home? How can teachers ensure that students really are reading? I require thirty minutes of reading and three minutes of discussion, four times per week. Student reading is monitored by reading partners, who also grade the quality of the student-led reading discussion. Parents typically serve as these partners. Of course, guardians, child care workers, grandparents, and older siblings can serve just as well. For older students, peer partners can certainly fulfill that role. Discussion partners grade the quality of each daily reading discussion, then total the points and sign the Reading-Discussion Log. I collect and record these logs bi-weekly and count this homework as 15% of the student’s overall grade. Do kids or discussion partners cheat on this? Rarely… and not as much as teachers might think.

Advantages of This Model

This reading-discussion model builds relationships, reinforces internal monitoring of comprehension, promotes reading as a dynamic process of conversation among reader, peers, and author, and motivates readers to read more. Reinforcement and feedback is immediate, not delayed as in the case other reader response assignments such as dialectical journals turned in at the end of each week or book reports completed after a novel has been finished. Students are required to apply the reading strategies we learn and practice in the classroom. For example, I pass out reading strategy bookmarks that that help students frame, but not limit, their book discussions.

What Kind of Results Can Teachers Get?

I get similar participation rates 80-90% (compared to the Von Sprecken, Krashen research) at my lower-middle, 70% free and reduced lunch, middle school, but remember that’s for homework, not for classwork. I would guess that the few students who do not do the independent reading at home would be the same ones that would not do the SSR in the Von Sprecken, Krashen study. Both parents and students love my “only homework is reading” policy. Some of my students prefer to participate in online book clubs in lieu of the parental discussion. I require a daily posting and response to other book discussion colleagues. Hunger Games was big with my students this year. Of course, I get to eavesdrop on their discussions.

My results are a bit less than Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller, achieves in terms of books read per year, but I’ve got a lot more time in class to teach other things I value because I don’t use SSR in my classroom.

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.

Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Teach Your Child to Read

One of the true joys and responsibilities of parenthood is teaching your child to read. But wait… isn’t that the teacher’s job? Of course it is, but the best approach is always an effective and complementary home-school partnership. But not every five, six, or seven year old learns to read at school. In the late 1980s I was earning my masters degree as a reading specialist. One of my most fascinating professors, John McFadden, confessed to our class that he didn’t learn to read until he was in the third grade. His teachers’ “look-say” method of reading instruction did not work for him. When his parents hired a tutor who taught phonics, he learned to read in a matter of months and by the end of third grade was reading at levels higher than the rest of his classmates.

As an MA Reading Specialist and educational author, I’ve done all of the “prep” work necessary for parents to hold up their end of the home-school partnership in these Teach Your Child to Read tools and resources. You don’t have to be a reading expert; you’ve got back-up 🙂 These reading resources reflect a comprehensive and balanced approach to help you teach your child to read. Your child’s teacher will have her own instructional reading methods and they will, no doubt, be beneficial. She might be a phonics fanatic, sight words zealot, or rimes words revolutionary; however, every child is different. All three of my boys certainly were… and they required somewhat different approaches. But all three were reading first and second grade reading books by age four. I’ve found that the best approach to teaching reading at home is a balanced, flexible, but comprehensive approach, that “touches all bases” and meets the needs of the individual child. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Now, one important reminder. As you teach your child to read, don’t forget to read to your child daily. Set an expectation that daily reading is what we do in this family. Read whether your child wants to or not. Many parents make the mistake of thinking that they will “turn their child off to the love of reading” if they “force” them to read. Nonsense. Keep at it, whether they enjoy it or not.

Read a variety of books at a variety of reading levels. I highly recommend pattern and rhyming books, but don’t limit your reading to “how to read” books. Children need to work on vocabulary and comprehension development, as well.  Stop and ask questions of your child about the reading and encourage your child to ask questions as well. Keep the focus on the text and pictures, not on things outside of the book.

Teach print awareness by methodically teaching your child how to open up the book and pacing your reading with your index finger, left to right as you read. Model “talking to the text” by inserting your own comments occasionally. Children need to perceive reading as a dynamic author-reader dialog, not as a passive activity.

Phonemic Awareness

Despite all of the age-old controversy over reading readiness and when you should teach your child to read, the best indicator is when your child has developed most of the skills of phonemic awareness. These six phonemic awareness assessments will give you the best guidance. Of course, the alphabet is a critical component of getting ready to read and spell. Check out this updated alphabet song! For those areas yet un-mastered, here are phonemic awareness activities that will help your child master these pre-reading skills.

Phonics and Spelling

Recent research is clear that the most efficient way to teach reading is through a systematic, explicit approach to teach our alphabetic code: in other words decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling). If your child’s school uses sound-spelling cards for instruction, get a copy of these and use them to teach the sound-spellings. If not, use my wonderful Animal Sound-Spelling Cards and these activities to teach all of the sound-spellings. There is even a catchy song to play in the car that will help your child rehearse the card names, sounds, and spellings. Now, if your child is already reading, but has phonics and spelling gaps, it makes sense to “gap-fill,” rather than “start from scratch.” Have your child take the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment and the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment and practice those specific animal cards and consonant blend cards with the activities.

Every effective outcome in life must have a plan, and this is especially true when you teach your child to read. Here is a systematic plan for introducing  all of the sound-spellings in the order that reading research suggests. Here is how to teach your child to put together (blend) the sound-spellings into words.

Sight Words

Some teachers over-emphasize this instructional component. I was raised on the “Dick and Jane” series that used the look-say method, but I also had “Dr. Seuss,” and more decodable texts. Balance is key. However, it certainly makes sense to teach the most-often used non-phonetic sight words. These are often called Outlaw Words, because they don’t follow the phonics rules. I would avoid having your children spend oodles of time memorizing high utility, non-phonetic sight words. We don’t want our children to have to memorize every word. We want them to use the alphabetic code when at all possible and then adjust to sight words when absolutely necessary. Here is an Outlaw Word Assessment for children who are all ready reading, Outlaw Word Game Cards to begin introducing to beginning readers, and some great Outlaw Word activities.

Word Families

One terrific reading instructional method that works well with systematic and explicit phonics instruction involves teaching your child the rimes. Not nursery rhymes–rimes. These word families draw upon your child’s abilities to build upon the speech sounds (phonemes) and see analogous relationships among word parts. For example, a child who can sound-out/recognize the word me, can be taught to see the connection to be and he. Here is a Rimes Assessment for children who are all ready reading, Rimes Words Game Cards to begin introducing to beginning readers, and some great rimes word activities.

Comprehension

Reading is not pronouncing or memorizing words. Reading is meaning-making. Reading is understanding and making use of what an author says. To teach your child to read, you need to teach reading comprehension strategies that will help your child begin to self-monitor understanding of the text. The SCRIP comprehension bookmark will help you teach your child how to understand what he or she reads.

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.

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

How to Teach Main Idea

Finding the main idea is a basic reading comprehension skill. However, basic does not mean easy. Main idea questions are found on every normed reading comprehension assessment and are the most frequently asked types of questions on the passage-based reading questions of the SAT®. Following are a workable definition, some important disclaimers, and a few critical strategies which will make sense out of this sometimes challenging task for readers of all ages.

Definition: In Googling the meaning of main idea, these two useful entries pop up:

  • The gist of a passage; central thought; the chief topic of a passage expressed or implied in a word or phrase; the topic sentence of a paragraph; a statement that gives the explicit or implied major topic of a passage and the specific way in which the passage is limited in content or reference.
    csmpx.ucop.edu/crlp/resources/glossary.html
  • The main idea of an essay, or other written discourse, is the point that the author is trying to make. It is the most important thing that he wants you to understand about the topic. It is most often stated explicitly, although in narrative essays or in fiction it may be implicit. …
    www.moonstar.com/~acpjr/Blackboard/Common/Glossary/GlossTwo.html

Disclaimers: What main idea is not…

  • Main idea is not the same as the topic.
  • Main idea is not necessarily the thesis statement.
  • Main idea is not necessarily the topic sentence(s).
  • Main idea is not found within the narrative domain of writing, unless tagged on by the author to comment on the story such as with a moral at the end of a fairy tale.
  • Main idea is not limited to one per reading selection.
  • Main idea is not a generalization or something necessarily broad in scope.
  • Main idea is not the minor detail of a reading selection.

Finding Main Idea: Strategies that Readers Can Use

Organization: Access the Writing Connection

Knowing the structure of expository writing (informational, explanatory, analytical, and persuasive) can help readers identify main idea(s) in a reading selection. Reading and writing instruction mirror one another. The reading-writing connection is well-established in research.

  • The thesis statement tells the purpose or point of view of the exposition. Finding the thesis statement will help the reader learn the parameters of the main ideas. Muchlike an umbrella, the thesis statement is designed to cover the main idea(s) of a reading/writing selection. As a starting point, research demonstrates that about 50% of expository writing includes the thesis statement in the last sentence of the introduction.
  • The topic sentences can serve as main ideas in a reading/writing selection. Major details and minor details pertain to, provide support to, and are limited to the topic sentence in any essay body paragraph.
  • The main idea(s) can be repeated in expository writing—frequently in the conclusion.

Language of Instruction

Often the language of the reading text itself or the language of test problems can help readers identify main ideas. In addition to using the phase, main idea, the following references are used in expository text and on standardized tests:

  • “best”                                                  Another answer may be acceptable, but this one most closely fits.
  • “mainly”                                              Not completely, but most importantly.
  • “chiefly”                                              Compared to the others, this is above the rest.
  • “primarily”                                          This means mainly or the chief one, before all others.
  • “most likely”                                       A logical prediction or conclusion.
  • “most directly”                                   Most specifically.

Process of Elimination: Goldilocks and Wanted Posters

Much like Goldilocks eliminates the porridge, chairs, and beds of Papa Bear and Momma Bear from consideration in favor of those of Baby Bear’s, the careful reader can eliminate what is too general and what is too detailed to identify the “just right” the main idea(s).

  • If the material lacks specificity and so is hard to identify as the author’s central point(s), then it is too general to be the main idea(s). Imagine a wanted poster that does not focus in on the specific recognizable physical traits that would help an observer identify the accused criminal in person, but instead affords only hints of the accused’s characteristics with a general description, association, or category.
  • If the material is too specific and so is difficult to identify as the author’s central point(s), then it is probably a major or minor detail that supports the main idea(s). Picture a wanted poster that focuses in on only a part of the whole. Even if that part is the most recognizable physical trait, the accused criminal will not be identifiable unless there is adequate perspective and context.

The “just right” balance of specificity, perspective and context on a wanted poster will enable the observer to identify the accused criminal. Similarly, that same balance will help readers identify the main idea(s) in a reading selection.

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.

TOO GENERAL/TOO SPECIFIC/ MAIN IDEA (Jesse James Wanted Posters)


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

Reading Readiness

Big topic for a small article. With big topics, such as world peace, global warming, or the problem of evil, authors usually find it expedient to narrow things down a bit. Not so with reading readiness. With few exceptions, the following big picture advice applies equally to teachers of four-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, and forty-year-olds. Of course, there are differences that need to be considered for each age group. Preschool/kinder/first grade teachers, intermediate and middle school reading intervention (RtI) teachers, and adult education teachers know how to teach to their clients’ developmental learning characteristics. Similarly, English-language development teachers and special education teachers know their student populations and are adept at how to differentiate instruction accordingly. But, my point is that the what of reading readiness instruction is much the same across the age and experience spectrum.

So in keeping with this big picture advice, let’s begin with a definition of reading. More specifically, what is reading and what is not reading.

What is Reading

Reading is making and discovering meaning from text. It involves both process skills and content. It is both caught and taught.

What is Not Reading

Reading is not just pronouncing (decoding) words.

Reading is not just recognizing a bunch of words and their meanings (memorizing and applying sight words).

Reading is not just content.

Reading is not just applying the reader’s understanding of content by means of prior knowledge and life experience.

Reading is not just a set of skills or strategies.

How Reading is Caught

Plenty of studies demonstrate a positive correlation between skilled readers and their literate home environments. However, because it would be impossible to isolate, we will never be able to determine precisely which features of a literate environment positively impact reading and which do not. From my own experience as a reading specialist and parent of three boys, I offer these observations:

Reading to and with your child or student certainly makes a difference. Yes, reading pattern books, picture books, and controlled-vocabulary books are advisable. But having your child or student read to you (and others) is more important than you reading to them. Apologies to the read-aloud-crowd, but the goal is not to build dependent listening comprehension. The goal is to build independent readers with excellent silent reading comprehension. By the way, although it is nice for children, adolescents, and adults to have warm and fuzzy feelings about reading, it is certainly not necessary. All three of my boys hated reading and being read to at points, but my wife and I still required plenty of reading. All three are now avid and skilled adult readers.

Modeling reading as a reading readiness strategy is highly overrated. Having your child see you read and discuss text will be a by-product of a literate environment. Reading a newspaper in front of your child will not create an “ah-ha” connection in your child that will turn that child into a life-long reader. Similarly, having a teacher read silently for thirty minutes in front of a group of students doing Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) will not improve student reading. The students would be better served if the teacher spent that time refining lesson plans or grading student essays. Or more importantly, shouldn’t students be doing the bulk of independent reading at home? Charles Barkley was right to this extent: Role models are overrated for some things in life, and reading is one of them.

Turning off the television is not a good idea. There is no doubt that we gain vocabulary, an understanding of proper and varied syntax, and important content by watching the tube. Now, of course, a Rick Steeves travel show or the nightly news does a better job at oral language development than does Sponge Bob, but silence teaches nothing.

Talking with your child or students is a huge plus in reading development. A ten-minute conversation exposes children and students to far more vocabulary and content than does a video game. Of course, reading is the best vocabulary development, but we are talking about reading readiness here.

Word play, such as nursery rhymes, verbal problem-solving games (Twenty Questions, Mad Libs®, I See Something You Don’t See), board games, puzzles, jokes, storytelling, and the like teach phonological awareness, print concepts, and important content.

How Reading is Taught

Preschool (home or away), but preferably with other children and a trained teacher, has no easy substitute. A tiered approach to reading intervention, based upon effective diagnostic data is essential for struggling pre-teen or adolescent readers. The social nature, structure, and accountability of a reading class for adult learners has a much higher degree of success than does independent learning or tutoring.

Phonological (Phonemic) awareness must be taught, if not caught. In my experience, most struggling readers do not have these skills. Effective assessment and teaching strategies can address these deficits and even jump-start success. The mythical notion that reading is developmental or that a child has to be cognitively or social ready to read has no research base. The earlier exposure to sounds and mapping sounds to print, the better. Children simply cannot learn to read too early.

Don’t teach according to learning styles and beware of bizarre reading therapies. There just is no conclusive evidence that adjusting instruction to how students are perceived to learn best impacts learning. Focus the instruction of what readers need to learn, less so on the how. 80% of reading process and content is stored as meaning-based memories, not in the visual or auditory modalities.

Teach according to diagnostic and formative data. Build upon strengths, but especially target weaknesses. Even beginning reader four-year-olds can benefit from effective assessment.

Teach a balance of reading approaches. Certainly sound-spelling correspondences (phonics), explicit spelling strategies (encoding), sight syllables, rimes, outlaw words (irregular sight words) are time and experience-tested. Despite what some will say, learning sight words will not adversely affect a reader’s reliance upon applying the alphabetic code. Work on repeated readings, inflection, and fluidity to develop reading fluency. Teach comprehension strategies and help your child or students practice both literal and inferential monitoring of text, even before they are reading independently.

Take a close, hard look at expensive reading intervention programs such as READ 180 Next Generation and Language!® Live. These expensive programs promise the moon but what reading intervention students need most is solid assessment-based reading resources. Playing video games and creating cool avatars does not trump good old-fashioned assessment-based reading instruction. Check out Comparing READ 180 and Language! Live for a biased comparison of these programs to the author’s own Teaching Reading Strategies.

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.

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