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Posts Tagged ‘reading comprehension’

Learning to Read and Reading to Learn

Over the last dozen years, our nation’s educators have dramatically improved K-3 literacy skills. A return to phonics-based instruction, improved teacher-training, and increased funding (including lower primary class sizes) all share credit. Recent National Assessment of Educational (NAEP) fourth-grade reading scores attest to this improvement. Especially encouraging are the increases in reading performance by lower socio-economic students. Indeed, we have made solid progress in learning to read at these age levels. However, reading scores still level off in upper elementary and noticeably decline in middle school.

Reading scores for students entering high school are particularly sobering. In high poverty schools, fewer than one-in-six students read at grade level (Perie et al., 2005). Half of freshman students have reading scores more than two grade levels below ninth grade expectations (Balfanz et al, 2002). Not until the junior and senior years of high school do we see an upward trend, and these results are significantly skewed due to high school drop-outs. Although we still have little meaningful data on who drops out and when, it does not take a Carnegie Foundation fellow to surmise that students who have dropped out of the system by this point tend to be those most challenged by lack of literacy skills.

And, even those students who remain in the comprehensive high schools on the college-track face challenges. Only have of the college-bound students taking the ACT college entrance exam were found ready to complete college-level reading assignments in core subjects such as English, history, math, and science (ACT 2005).

Why are we failing our secondary students?

The predominant educational philosophy in American schools can be summarized as this: Learn the skills of literacy in K-6 and apply these skills to learn academic content in 7-12. In other words, learning to read should transition to reading to learn. Courses have been organized in middle schools (or junior high schools) and high schools by academic areas. Even English is considered an academic content area, primarily organized by literature content standards in most school districts. Most secondary English teachers consider themselves as teachers of literature, less so that of reading or writing. Teachers have been trained and hired to reflect this secondary focus. For example, secondary teachers in most credential programs still only take one post-graduate “reading strategies” course. Clearly, this educational philosophy and its application are failing a sizeable portion of our secondary students.

What can we do to reverse this trend?

To meet the increasing demands of Twenty-First Century literacy skills, we need to abandon the current educational reading philosophy at the secondary level. Every secondary teacher needs the training to re-orient instruction and coursework to a reading to learn pedagogy. Yes, every teacher a teacher of reading (and writing). Now, obviously some disciplines should shoulder less of this responsibility. No one is suggesting that geometry teachers should abandon teaching theorems and begin teaching reading fluency. Both university and school districts need to develop partnerships to improve this expertise and re-write curriculum to reflect this focus. New collaborative partnerships need to be formed, in terms of flexible cohorts with professors and adjunct district personnel teaching both pre-service and in-service professional development in literacy skills. We also have to get past our mortar and brick biases and embrace online education to accomplish these ends. This focus ongoing professional development should be key to Response to Intervention (RtI) at any secondary school.

Secondary school curriculum and instruction must be both content and process focused. And this re-orientation is not solely for students with poor literacy skills; this paradigm shift is for our “best and brightest,” as well. We already have the diagnostic tools to differentiate instruction, now we have to make the commitment to doing so. Higher level reading involves analysis, critical thinking, and problem-solving. All students need explicit instruction to master the rigorous demands of Twenty-First Century academic reading. Once this instruction is mastered, we can then more effectively return to reading to learn.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , ,

Into, Through, but Not Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

Crazy Reading Fads

As an MA reading specialist, I’ve seen some strange remedial reading fads come and go over the years. Much like new weight loss products, each new fad looks enticing and promising. Let’s face it. Everyone wants the magic reading pill that will transform poor readers into skillful readers overnight.

My favorite has to be the developmental reading strategy that was quite en vogue back in the 1970s and 1980s. Advocates theorized that poor readers must have missed a key developmental stage somewhere along the way that triggered the brain’s ability to hard-wire the synapses to efficiently interpret and put together sound-symbols. After numerous studies, a positive correlation was found between those students unable to decode and those students who skipped the crawling stage, going from snake-like scooting directly to walking. The reading therapy? You guessed it; poor readers were put on all fours and made to crawl.

Two recent fads rival the crawling therapy. I stumbled upon this article from the Purdue University Calumet Chronicle, February 1, 2010, written by Andrea Drac. At first, I thought it was clever student satire, but NO… It seems that teachers at a number of elementary schools in Northwest Indiana have been requiring students to read out loud to stuffed animals and claim impressive gains in reading comprehension as a result. “One school in particular saw their sixth grade reading levels go from just 47 percent to 93 percent,” said Richard Riddering, Assistant Chancellor for Student Development & Outreach. See the whole article at Strange, but True: Stuffed Animals Increase Reading Levels) but you get the gist.

A related reading fad was detailed in a Sacramento Bee article, published March 20, 2010, titled “UC Davis study shows dogs can help youngsters read [sic].” Here are excerpts:

“Westley Kear, 11, hated reading aloud. Then he found the perfect audience.

Digory, a Labrador retriever mix from a rescue group in Walnut Creek, melted into Westley’s lap when he read to the dog from his book, Warriors into the Wild, as part of a study at CU Davis. Digory never asked Westley to speak up, slow down or repeat sentences.

It remains to be seen whether children would do just as well reading to hamsters, rabbits, cats or turtles, the researchers said, but the fact that dogs are attentive and nonjudgmental seems to make a difference.”

Read the rest, if you must, here. I love collecting these crazy reading fads, by the way… If you have any favorites, please post away.

2014 UPDATE: By the way… SINCE WRITING THIS ARTICLE OVER SIX YEARS AGO, I’VE BEEN CITED MORE TIMES THAN I CAN COUNT AS ADVOCATING READING TO STUFFED AND REAL ANIMALS. WOW!

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , , ,

Strange, but True: “Stuffed Animals Increase Reading Levels”

I knew there had to be a short-cut to improving reading success. Why didn’t I learn this in my MA Reading Specialist program? Response to Intervention educators need to take note of this cutting-edge research. In today’s tough economic climate, the cost of one stuffed animal for improved reading gains is certainly a cost-effective approach. Yes, I am being factitious.

From the Purdue University Calumet Chronicle, February 1, 2010 by Andrea Drac. Here is the article:

Over the years, stuffed animals have become iconic childhood toys. They are used as guests for picnics and tea parties and the occasional session of dress-up and, now, as “reading buddies.”

PUC is participating in the “I Need a Hug” program, a program designed to help tackle literacy in schools using stuffed animals as an aid. The event, which involves a stuffed animal drive, will take place during the week of Feb. 8 -11 in the SUL building and all stuffed animals are being donated first to the United Way and will make their way to 85 local elementary schools in the area. These schools are using the animals to better enhance children’s reading skills.

Before this program improved reading levels, it started for a different reason.

“The program is called, ‘I Need a Hug,’ because it first started as a way for school counselors to help students who were in crisis in elementary schools around NW Indiana,” said Assistant Chancellor for Student Development & Outreach Richard Riddering.

“The counselors gave the students a stuffed animal and told them to give it a hug whenever they felt as if they ‘needed a hug.’ The students needed this because they felt very stressed as a result of situations that were happening in their personal lives.”

Later on, the program went from helping out stressed children to helping them with their reading levels.

“School administrators brought the stuffed animal concept into the classroom as a way to increase the time students were spending reading,” said Riddering.

According to Riddering, students were given a stuffed animal as a “reading buddy” and were encouraged to read to their buddy. Because of this method, reading scores increased greatly.

“One school in particular saw their sixth grade reading levels go from just 47 percent to 93 percent,” Riddering said. “That’s huge success!”

Such successes make the need for this stuffed animal drive strong and Riddering states it is important for PUC students to rally around this cause.

“I’ve thrown out a number of 1,000 new stuffed animals as a goal for our students,” he said. “I’m hoping we can hit that goal, and maybe even surpass it. I’m very optimistic that PUC students will rise to the occasion.”

Riddering is very passionate about the program, not just for the cause itself but the emotional meaning behind it as well.

“I think the ‘I Need a Hug’ program is a wonderful way for PUC students, faculty and staff to make a huge dent in our area’s below par reading levels and, at the same time, make a huge difference in the lives of students who are struggling emotionally,” he said. “If our students look at it that way, they can actually see a face of a child who feels better about themselves with every stuffed animal’s face. So, I’m really excited to see our students come together to support this effort.” Find the article here:

http://media.www.pucchronicle.com/media/storage/paper1082/news/2010/02/01/News/Stuffed.Animals.Become.Reading.Buddies.In.hug.Program-3861480.shtml

2016 UPDATE: SINCE WRITING THIS ARTICLE OVER SIX YEARS AGO, I’VE BEEN CITED INNUMERABLE TIMES AS ADVOCATING SUCH CRAZY READING FADS… WOW!

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , , ,

Teaching Fact and Opinion: When, What, and How

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

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

Birds and the Bees

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

Importance and Relevance

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

What Fact and Opinion is Not

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

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

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

When? 3rd – 4th Grades

What?

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

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

When? 5th – 6th Grades

What?

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

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

When? 7th – 8th Grades

What?

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

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

When? 9th – 10th Grades

What?

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

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

When? 11th – 12th Grades

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading Intervention: How to Beat the Odds

Shocking: Less than one-third of America’s high school students are able to read or write at grade level. Even more sobering: Fewer than one-in-six low-income students have these essential skills (Perie et al., 2005). In high-poverty urban high schools, only half of incoming ninth-graders are able to read at the sixth/seventh-grade levels (Balfanz et al., 2002). Overwhelming: Only one-of-six students entering middle school two or more grade levels behind reading skills ever achieve grade or age level reading ability.

What Has Not Worked

Ignoring the Problem: Some educators have mistakenly believed that because students learn at different rates, students will “catch up” in their reading as they become developmentally ready. We can’t afford to place our heads in the sand with this approach.

Wishful Thinking: Some educators have mistakenly believed that students will “catch up” in their reading when they are exposed to the “right” reading materials. “If only we could find an author or genre at Johnny’s level, he would teach himself to read.” Johnny needs much more than appropriate reading materials and self-motivation.

Reading Modeling: Some educators have mistakenly believed that if parents and teachers read enough to their children/students, they will “catch up” to grade level reading. Reading is all about content, but it is also all about skills. Remedial reading students do not learn to read by the process of osmosis.

Survival Skills: Some educators have mistakenly believed that once students master basic reading skills, say those traditionally learned by the end of third grade, they need no more “learning to read” instruction. So, the focus on “reading to learn” becomes hodgepodge survival skills which won’t equip students to read secondary grade level content.

“Canned” Reading Programs: Some educators have mistakenly believed that a “canned” teacher-proof reading program will be able to “catch up” remedial readers at the upper elementary, middle school, or high school levels. As the predominant means of remediating reading deficiences, has this approach worked? No.

What Can Work

Student-based Reading Instruction: Students who are reading below grade-level are the “highest risk students” in any school. Their special needs are not limited to reading difficulties. Low self-esteem, depression, and “acting-out” behavioral patterns are common. Responding to the whole child is a key ingredient in improving reading ability. See Social and Emotional Problems Related to Dyslexia.

Assessment-based Reading Instruction: Standards-based tests may provide a rough indicator of students with severe reading problems. However, when used as a sorting method to form “reading ability” classes, this mis-application of data does more harm then good. Proper diagnostic screening assessments are essential tools to ensure proper placement and remediation.

Teacher-based Reading Instruction: The most important variable in successful reading intervention is the teacher. The teacher must be placed in the key decision-making role, and not be made subservient to a “canned” curriculum that dictates what and how to teach. As a reading specialist, I have constantly had to push and prod administrators and district curricular specialists to support teachers in this role as the key decision-makers. All too often, well-intentioned administrators and curricular specialists have de-valued teacher professionalism. Despite the claims of reading intervention publishers and salespeople, there is no “teacher-proof” reading remediation. This being said, secondary teachers (usually English-language arts teachers by default) usually have little instructional reading background and have probably only taken one or two post-graduate reading strategies courses. True enough, but teaching professionals are expert learners and are motivated because they want their students to succeed.

Collaborative Commitment: Both administrators and teachers must avoid creating self-fulfilling prophecies. All too often, new teachers are selected to teach reading intervention courses. Rarely does a veteran teacher step up and demand to teach a reading intervention course. Only the “best and brightest” will ensure success of a reading intervention program.

Differentiated Instruction: The reading intervention teacher has to commit to the concept and practice of differentiated instruction. Each secondary student has different reading issues and will learn at different paces. Both content (the what) and the methods of instruction (the how) need to be adjusted to the needs of the students. These needs must be determined by teacher judgment of relevant diagnostic and formative assessments and not by the dictates of the “canned” curriculum. Any curriculum that does not afford the teacher with the flexibility to differentiate instruction will guarantee failure.

Flexibly Structured Reading Instruction: The structure of a successful reading intervention program must match this pedagogical approach to ensure success. If we are serious about improving the odds (one-in-six) of success for our “highest risk” students, course schedules must be built around the needs of students, enabling in and out transfers of remedial reading students to accommodate their needs. The needs of these students must be afforded the highest priorities to ensure success. Optimally, the reading intervention should be compensatory and not reductive. The goal should be to “catch up” and “keep up” these students. Substituting a remedial reading class for a student’s English-language arts class may do more harm than good.

As we move in the direction of affirming teacher professionalism with the evolving RtI process, we are beginning to emphasize a collaborative approach to determine how to best meet student needs. Here’s hoping that we reduce the odds of failure and increase the odds of success for these deserving students.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader

Accelerated Reader™ (AR) is a simple software concept that was at the right time (late 1980s) and right place (public schools during a transition from whole language to phonics instruction) that has simply grown into an educational monolith. From an economic standpoint, simple often is best and AR is a publisher’s dream come true. Renaissance Learning, Inc.(RLI) is publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange under the ticker symbol RLRN and makes a bit more than pocket change off of its flagship product, AR. As is the case with many monoliths, detractors trying to chip away at its monopolistic control of library collections, computer labs, and school budgets are many. Following are short summaries of the most common arguments made by researchers, teachers, parents, and students as to why using AR is counterproductive. Hence, The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader. But first, for the uninitiated, is a brief overview of the AR system.

What is Accelerated Reader?

From the Renaissance Learning website, A Parent’s Guide to Accelerated Reader™, we get a concise overview of this program: “AR is a computer program that helps teachers manage and monitor children’s independent reading practice. Your child picks a book at his own level and reads it at his own pace. When finished, your child takes a short quiz on the computer. (Passing the quiz is an indication that your child understood what was read.) AR gives both children and teachers feedback based on the quiz results, which the teacher then uses to help your child set goals and direct ongoing reading practice.”

How is the Student’s Reading Level Determined?

Renaissance Learning sells its STAR Reading™ test to partner with the AR program. The STAR test is a ten minute computer-based reading assessment that adjusts levels of difficulty to student responses. Among other diagnostic information, the test establishes a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) reading range for the student.

How are AR Books Selected?

Students are encouraged (or required by some teachers) to select books within their ZPD that also match their age/interest level. AR books have short multiple choice quizzes and have been assigned a readability level (ATOS). Renaissance Learning provides conversion scales to the Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) test and the Lexile Framework, so that teachers and librarians who use  these readability formulae will still be able to use the AR program. Additionally, Renaissance Learning provides a search tool to find the ATOS level.

What are the Quizzes? What is the Student and Teacher Feedback?

AR quizzes are taken on computers, ostensibly under teacher or librarian supervision. They consist of multiple choice questions, most of which are at the “recall” level. Students must score 80% or above on these short tests to pass and receive point credit for their readings. When students take AR quizzes, they enter information into a database that teachers can access via password. The TOPS Report (The Opportunity to Praise Students) reports quiz results after each quiz* is taken.

Both teachers and students have access to the following from the database:

  • Name of the book, the author, the number of pages in the book
  • ATOS readability level
  • Percentage score earned by the student from the multiple choice quiz
  • The number of points earned by students who pass the quiz. AR points are computed based on the difficulty of the book (ATOS readability level) and the length of the book (number of words).

*Quizzes are also available on textbooks, supplemental materials, and magazines. Most are in the form of reading practice quizzes, although some are curriculum-based with multiple subjects. Magazine quizzes are available for old magazines as well as on a subscription basis for new magazines. The subscription quizzes include three of the Time for Kids series magazines, Cobblestone, and Kids Discover. www.renlearn.com

What about the Reading Incentives?

“Renaissance Learning does not require or advocate the use of incentives with the assessment, although it is a common misperception.” However, most educators who use AR have found the program to be highly conducive to a rewards-based reading incentive program.

Criticisms

Book Selection

1. Using AR tends to limit reading selection to its own books. Teachers who use the AR program tend to limit students to AR selections because these have the quizzes to maintain accountability for the students’ independent reading. Although much is made by Renaissance Learning of the motivational benefits of allowing students free choice of reading materials, their selection is actually limited. Currently, AR has over 100,000 books in its database; however, that is but a fraction of the books available for juvenile and adolescent readers.

2. Using AR tends to limit reading selection to a narrow band of readability. A concerned mom recently blogs about her experience with her sixth grade daughter (Lady L) who happens to read a few years beyond her grade level:

I’m not trying to be a whining, complaining parent here.  I’m simply trying to highlight a problem.  At our public library, there are bookmarks in the youth department that list suggested books for students in each grade (K-12th).  We picked up an 8th grade bookmark to get ideas for Lady L’s acceptable reading-leveled book.  Found a book.  Looked up the reading level  and found that it was a 4.5 (not anywhere near the 8.7-10.7 my daughter needed). http://inthemomzone.blogspot.com/2010/01/accelerated-readermy-take.html

3. Using AR tends to discriminate against small publishing companies and unpopular authors. Additionally, valid concerns exist about the appropriateness of a private company effectively dictating the materials which children within the program may read. Although teachers may create custom quizzes for reading material not already in the Accelerated Reader system, the reality is that teachers will not have the time nor inclination to do so in order to assess whether an individual student has read a book that is not already in the system. Thus, the ability for a student to explore books which are neither currently commercially popular nor part of major book lists is severely restricted in reality by the Accelerated Reader program. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerated_Reader

In fact, many teachers are inadvertently complicit in this discrimination as they require students to read only books that are in the AR database. Many teachers include the TOPS Report as a part of the students’ reading or English-language arts grade, thus mandating student participation in AR.

4. Using AR tends to encourage some students to read books that most teachers and parents would consider inappropriate for certain age levels. Although Renaissance Learning is careful to throw the burden of book approval onto the shoulders of teachers and parents, students get more points for reading and passing quizzes on higher reading levels and longer books. Although an interest level is provided as is a brief synopsis/cautionary warning on the AR site, students often simply select books by the title, cover, availability, or point value. Thus, a fourth grader might wind up “reading” Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (4.7 ATOS readability level) and a sixth grader might plow through Camus’ The Stranger (6.2 ATOS readability level). Hardly appropriate reading material for these grade levels! Content is not considered in the AR point system and students are, of course, reading for those points.

Reader Response

5. Using AR tends to induce a student mindset that “reading is a chore,” and “a job that has to be done.”

“As a teacher and a mom of 4, I do NOT like AR. As a parent, I watched my very smart 9 year old work the system. He continually read books very much below his ability NOT because he likes reading them, but because he could read them quickly and get points. Other books that he told me he really wanted to read, he didn’t either because they were longer and would take “too long to read” or they weren’t on the AR list. I finally told him to stop with the AR stuff, took him to the bookstore and spent an hour with him finding books he would enjoy. We have never looked back and I will fight wholeheartedly if anyone tries to tell any of my kids they ‘have’ to participate in AR.” http://englishcompanion.ning.com/profiles/blog/show?id=2567740:BlogPost:161876&xg_source=activity&page=3#comments

6. Using AR tends to replace the intrinsic rewards of reading with extrinsic rewards.

AR rewards children for doing something that is already pleasant: self-selected reading. Substantial research shows that rewarding an intrinsically pleasant activity sends the message that the activity is not pleasant, and that nobody would do it without a bribe. AR might be convincing children that reading is not pleasant. No studies have been done to see if this is true.
Stephen Krashen Posted by
Stephen Krashen on December 17, 2009 at 10:40pm http://englishcompanion.ning.com/profiles/blogs/does-accelerated-reader-work?xg_source=activity&id=2567740:BlogPost:161876&page=2#comments

Again, Renaissance Learning does not endorse prizes for points; however, its overall point system certainly is rewards-based.

7. Using AR tends to foster student and/or teacher competitiveness, which can push students to read books at their frustrational reading level or create problems among students. In some situations, this competitiveness can lead to hard feelings or outright ostracism. Students mock other students for not earning enough points, or “making us lose a class pizza party.” Here are two recent blog postings by moms who happen to be educators:

My son is a voracious reader, but AR had him in tears more than once. I had to encourage him to NOT participate in AR (which meant that his class didn’t get the stuffed cougar promised as a reward to the class with the most AR points!) in order to protect that love. He took a hit for his non-participation in school (he started reading books off the list and not getting points for them) but it preserved his love of reading. In my estimation, this love of reading will take him further in the long run. Stupid that he had to choose between school and what was best for his reading life. http://englishcompanion.ning.com/profiles/blogs/does-accelerated-reader-work?xg_source=activity&id=2567740:BlogPost:161876&page=5#comments

As an educator, it concerns me when I see students being punished with reading, as can be the case when I visit sites on a Friday afternoon, a day many grade levels offer students “Fun Friday” activities. Students who’ve completed their class and homework assignments for the week and have had no behavioral problems get to sign-in for fun activities. One teacher volunteers to monitor those who did not earn a Fun Friday, including students who did not meet their AR requirement for the week – and as a result, will be punished with staying in the non-FF room to read.

http://englishcompanion.ning.com/profiles/blogs/does-accelerated-reader-work?xg_source=activity

8. Using AR tends to turn off some students to independent reading. Countless posts on blogs point to the negative impact of this program on future reading. From my own survey of sixty blogs, using the “accelerated reading” search term, negative comments and/or associations with the AR program far outweigh positive ones in the blogosphere. Of course there are those who credit AR for developing them into life-long readers; however, would other independent reading programs have accomplished the same mission? In Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide, he cites a few studies that demonstrate that after exiting an AR program, students actually read less than non-AR students. Plus, all instructional activities are reductive. Having students spend hours skimming books in class to prepare for AR test takes away from other instruction. Check out why sustained silent reading in the classroom doesn’t work here.

9. Using AR tends to turn some students into cheaters. Many students skim read, read only book summaries, share books and answers with classmates, select books that have been made into movies that they have already seen, or use web cheat sites or forums to pass the quizzes without reading the books. Pervasive among many students seems to be the attitude that one has to learn how to beat the AR system, like one uses cheat sites and codes to beat video games. Both are on the computer and detached from human to human codes of conduct. Students who would never dream of cheating on a teacher-constructed test will cheat on AR because “it’s dumb” or “everyone does it.”

In order to take Accelerated Reader tests without any reading at all, many students use sites such as Sparknotes to read chapter summaries. Other websites offer the answers to Accelerated Reader tests. Students regularly trade answers on yahoo.com. Renaissance Learning has filed lawsuits against some of the offending websites and successfully closed them down after a short time. An AR cheat site is currently the ninth Google™ listing on the first page for the “accelerated reader” search term.

AR is Reductive

10. Using AR tends to supplant portions of established reading programs. In my experience, teachers who use AR spend less time on direct reading instruction. Some teachers even consider AR to be solid reading instruction. However, AR does not teach reading; AR tests reading. The expectation of many teachers is that students are learning to read on their own or are dutifully practicing the reading strategies that their teachers have taught them.

11. Using AR tends to train students to accumulate facts and trivia as they read in order to answer the multiple choice recall questions. Students receive no extrinsic “rewards” for making inferences, connections, interpretations, or conclusions as they read. Reading is reduced to a lower higher order thinking process. Students read to gain the gist of characterizations and plots. The Florida Center for Reading Research noted the lack of assessment of “inferential or critical thinking skills” as weaknesses of the software. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerated_Reader

12. Using AR tends to takes up significant instructional time. Students have to wait their turn to take quizzes on the classroom computer(s) or the teacher has to march the class down to the library or computer lab to allow the students to do so.

The incentives schools develop with the AR program also take away from instructional time. One parent details her frustrations with the program:

When the librarian tallies up all of the people who have passed a book (not a goal, but just ONE book), everybody gets a chance to come to the library to select a prize (these are dollar store purchases to include child-like toys and snacks). The English teachers are asked to send the students when the coupons come (a disruption of classroom time). The reason for this is to send a clear message to the students who did not pass a book. It is to make them feel bad, I presume. Tell me how this fits into anything that looks like motivation. This includes students who took a quiz the day before coupons were made and distributed who now have to sit in class while all of their classmates go down to collect a prize.

AR recommends a minimum of 20 minutes per day of in-class reading on its website. The National Reading Panel’s conclusion of programs that encouraged independent reading was “unable to find a positive relationship between programs and instruction that encourage large amounts of independent reading and improvements in reading achievement, including fluency.” p.12). There are other options for independent reading, such as reading at home, that do not take up significant amounts of class time.

13. Using AR tends to reduce the amount of time that teachers spend doing “read-alouds” and teaching class novels. Jim Trelease, chief advocate of the “read-aloud” was an early advocate of AR, even keynoting three national conferences for AR. However, in his sixth edition of his popular The Read-Aloud Handbook, Trelease turns quite critical.  AR teachers tend teach fewer core novels and to limit class discussions because of the time considerations or because a discussion would give away AR quiz answers. Besides, the computer can ask the questions instead.

14. Using AR tends to make reading into an isolated academic task. With each student reading a different book, the social nature of reading is minimized. Research on juvenile and adolescent readers emphasizes the importance of the book communities in developing a love for reading. Fewer Literature Circles with small groups sharing the same book and discussing chapter by chapter, fewer Book Clubs focused on Harry Potter or Twilight novels, fewer class Book Talks, and fewer oral book reports (well, maybe AR does have some value here :))

15. Using AR tends to drains resources that could certainly be used for other educational priorities. The program is not cheap. As librarians are losing their jobs in the current economic downturn, the pressure to build up the AR library collection grows. For each $15 hardback purchase, there is an additional cost of close to $3 for the AR quiz. This amounts to a de facto 20% tax on library acquisitions. Another way to look at this is that a school library able to purchase 300 new books a year will only be able to purchase 250 because of the AR program. AR costs that library and those students 50 books per year.

16. Using AR tends to minimize the teaching and instructional practice in diagnostically-based reading strategies. The STAR Test is hardly diagnostic in terms of the full spectrum of reading skills, despite its flimsy claims to point out potential reading issues in the teacher reports. AR neither assesses, nor teaches phonemic awareness, decoding/word attack, syllabication, vocabulary, or reading comprehension strategies.

17. Using AR tends to limit differentiated instruction. Students are not grouped by ability or skill deficits with AR. The teacher does not spend additional time with remedial students for AR. Students do not receive different instruction according to their abilities. Worse yet, many teachers wrongly perceive AR as differentiated instruction because all of their students are reading books at their own reading levels. Again, there is no reading instruction in AR.

Research Base

18. Although a plethora of research studies involving AR are cited on the Renaissance Learning website, the research base is questionable at best. Few of the AR studies meet the strict research criteria of the Institute of Education Services What Works Clearinghouse. Control groups are always the sticky point when evaluating reading programs. The AR program is no exception.

Stephen Krashen summarizes the research findings regarding AR as follows:

Accelerated Reader consists of four elements: (1) books, (2) reading time, (3) tests, and, usually, (4) prizes. Because there is clear evidence that factors (1) and (2) are effective in encouraging reading and promoting literacy development (Krashen, 1993), the obvious study that needs to be done is to compare the effects of all four factors with (1) and (2) only. After reviewing the research on Accelerated Reader, I have concluded that this has yet to be done: Accelerated Reader studies usually compare Accelerated Reader to doing nothing, and the few attempts to do the needed comparison have been flawed (Krashen, 2004) See www.sdkrashen.com for more analysis.

According to the United States Department of Education Institute for Educational Sciences (IES What Works Clearinghouse, August 2010), Accelerated Reader was found to have no discernible effects on reading fluency or comprehension for adolescent learners.

But, are there any free, schoolwide independent reading programs that do work? Click here to learn How to Develop a Free Schoolwide Reading Program.

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.TRS

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Response to Intervention: What Just Won’t Work

Having served as a reading specialist at elementary, middle, and high school levels (and even part-time at the community college level), I have taught numerous reading and writing intervention courses and trained teachers to doing so. With the new emphasis on Response to Intervention (RtI) voices of real-world teaching experience need to begin shouting quickly and boldly to be heard. Although I commend the International Reading Association (IRA) for assigning reading assessment a prominent role in their Response to Intervention (RtI) document; however, the language of the document betrays certain pedagogical presuppositions and is, at points, flat unrealistic. For reference, the document is found at  Let’s take a look at one section of this document to see if my analyses ring true.

On page two, the IRA Commission lists these guiding principles under the subheading of “Assessment”:

“Assessments, tools, and techniques should provide useful and timely information about desired language and literacy goals. They should reflect authentic language and literacy activities as opposed to contrived texts or tasks generated specifically for assessment purposes. The quality of assessment information should not be sacrificed for the efficiency of an assessment procedure.”

Clearly, the commission has in mind the content, form, and delivery of diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments, particularly reading assessments.

Presupposition #1 Authentic Text is Better than Contrived Text for Assessment Purposes

Since when did reading assessments have to use authentic language? As a writer of numerous reading and writing assessments, contrived text is often essential to produce an effective assessment. In fact, it is nigh on to impossible to create assessments with internal validity that don’t use contrived text. Good assessments isolate variables to ensure that we really do test what we are supposed to be testing.

One example should suffice to demonstrate how unworkable and unreliable authentic language can be when used for reading assessments. At random, I opened up to the middle (pp. 679-680) of one of my favorite novels: Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I skimmed to find the beginning of a start-to-finish passage of typical length for a one-minute fluency assessment and copied such below.  Feel free to time your reading out loud, keeping track of word attack accuracy, unknown vocabulary, and comprehension as you read.

‘Glory be to God in Heaven,

(6) Glory be to God in me…

(12) ‘That verse came from my heart once, it’s not a verse, but

(24) a tear…. I made it myself… not while I was pulling the captain’s

(37) beard, though..’

(39) ‘Why do you bring him in all of a sudden?’

(49) ‘Why do I bring him in? Foolery! All things come to an

(61) end; all things are made equal. That’s the long and short of

(73) it.’

(74) ‘You know, I keep thinking of your pistols.’

(82) ‘That’s all foolery, too! Drink, and don’t be fanciful. I love

(93) life. I’ve loved life too much, shamefully much. Enough!

(102) Let’s drink to life, dear boy, I propose the toast. Why am

(114) I pleased with myself? I’m a scoundrel, but I’m satisfied

(124) with myself. And yet I’m tortured by the thought that I’m a

(136) scoundrel, but satisfied with myself. I bless the creation. I’m

(146) ready to bless God and His creation directly, but… I must

(157) kill one noxious insect for fear it should crawl and spoil life

(169) for others…. Let us drink to life, dear brother. What can be

(181) more precious than life? Nothing! To life, and to one queen

(192) of queens!’

(194) ‘Let’s drink to life and to your queen, too, if you like.’

(206) They drank a glass each. Although Mitya was excited

(215) and expansive, yet he was melancholy, too. It was as though

(226) some heavy, overwhelming anxiety were weighing upon

(233) him.

(234) ‘Misha… here’s your Misha come! Misha, come here, my

(243) boy, drink this glass to Phoebus the golden-haired, of tomorrow

(254) morn..’

(255) ‘What are you giving it him for?’ cried Pyotr Ilyitch, irritably.

(266) ‘Yes, yes, yes, let me! I want to!’

(274) ‘E — ech!’

(275) Misha emptied the glass, bowed, and ran out.

(283)

Words Read in One Minute ____ – Miscues = ____ Net Fluency Score

How did you do? Difficult passage? Not so, according to the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores: Reading Level 1.1  Reading Ease 94.6. Average Word Length 4.0.

As illustrated above, using authentic language is far from an accurate means of assessing one’s fluency. Would you use this 1.1 grade level passage as a diagnostic assessment and follow with a Dr. Seuss 1.1 grade level passage to formatively assess progress two months later? Of course not. Most real-text reading passages of a length suitable for fluency assessments have similar variables as in the Dostoyevsky passage above: They are necessarily out of context and they include unfamiliar language, including names, idiomatic expressions, vocabulary, and culturally-based word choice.

Authentic text does not meet the standards of reliability we need to measure baseline ability or growth. The results cannot be generalized in any meaningful way. Even using the same source for subsequent fluency assessments provides no guaranteed compatibility. Most importantly, authentic language does not give the reading diagnostician the information needed to differentiate instruction. We need to isolate variables with contrived text to insure that we are using accurate reading assessments to inform our instruction. And this is true with all forms of reading assessments, including reading comprehension and phonics (mysteriously not even mentioned in the RtI document) diagnostic instruments. How could a comprehension test effectively measure how much a third-grader understands without using a controlled vocabulary? How could a phonics test measure a sixth-grader’s ability to decode without using nonsense words to isolate the variable of sight word knowledge?

Presupposition #2 Quality Assessments Must be Inefficient

On page two, the IRA Commission lists these guiding principles under the subheading of “Assessment”:

“Assessments, tools, and techniques should provide useful and timely information about desired language and literacy goals. They should reflect authentic language and literacy activities as opposed to contrived texts or tasks generated specifically for assessment purposes. The quality of assessment information should not be sacrificed for the efficiency of an assessment procedure.”

Now, the commission does not say that quality assessments must be inefficient, but by their own criteria they effectively preclude efficient assessment design, form, and delivery. See their referenced document: Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing developed jointly by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English (2010) a a case in point.

It would seem that the IRA Commission wants to have its cake and eat it, too. The commission equates assessment quality with authentic language testing. Authentic language testing involves long in-context reading passages, whole-to-part (e.g. miscue analyses), no nonsense words, multiple measures, etc. and necessitates individual administration. Ever done a complete Individual Reading Inventory?  Pretty time-consuming—hours for an individual student. Individualized assessments require significant training to both correctly administer and accurately interpret results. Inefficient and flat unrealistic. Job protection for reading specialists, special education teachers, and reading coaches?

Although using inclusive language to encourage teachers to be responsible for diagnostic assessments and progress monitoring, the real-world application of the above RtI principles would be to maintain the status quo:

1. Reading specialists, special education teachers, and reading coaches as the “keeper of the keys” and 2. Intervention instruction based upon canned-all-students-start-on-page-one programs, rather than upon diagnostic assessments that will enable teachers to differentiate instruction.

In the real world, there is not enough time to assess students, according to the IRA principles. Teachers do not have the requisite training to assess, interpret data, and accurately inform their instructional decision-making, using the inefficient authentic language assessments. In fact, many of the teachers assigned to reading intervention classes are not the most experienced teachers.

My suggestions? Let’s leave our presuppositions behind and live in the real world. Let’s get off our high horses and train teachers to use simple whole-class, multiple-choice diagnostic reading assessments, so that they can effectively differentiate reading instruction for their intervention students. Sacrifice authentic language? Have a negligible impact on accuracy (debatable) by assessing whole-class? Oh, well… well worth the sacrifices, if teachers will be able to use assessments to inform and differentiate instruction for their intervention students.

Here are some free diagnostic assessments, created by a team of reading specialists, that are user-friendly, simple to score and analyze, and designed to enable teachers of all levels of expertise to differentiate reading instruction: assessments Now, that’s RtI that does work.

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , ,

To Read or Not to Read: That is the Question

In terms of teaching literature, I live in two worlds. I am an English-language arts teacher and a reading specialist. Although the two worlds would seem to be quite complementary, this is not always the case.

As an English-language arts teacher, I love teaching the nuances of the author’s craft. I live to point out allusions, symbolism, and an occasional foreshadowing. I am ecstatic when I am able to lead my students into the “ah ha” experience of how a passage reinforces the theme of a novel. I believe that we English-language arts teachers do have “content” to share with students. Go ahead… try to convince me that being able to identify the omniscient point of view is not a critical life skill. Make my day… My students need me; they are dependent upon me to teach them this content.

However, as a reading specialist, I also believe in the skills/process side of reading. In this world, my aim is to work my way out of a job. I have to change dependence into independence. The more students can do on their own to understand and retain the meaning of text, the better I have accomplished my mission. I need to train students to become successful independent readers in college, in the workplace, and at home.

Which leads us to our dilemma. When we teach a novel or short story, how much of our instruction should be teacher-dependent and how much should be teacher-independent? My thought is that we English-language arts teachers tend to err too frequently on the side of teacher-dependence and we need to move more to the side of teacher-independence.

As a reading specialist/staff developer at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels, I have had to opportunity to see hundreds of teachers “in action,” teaching a novel or short story to students. From my experience, the predominant way that English-language arts teachers work through a text is by reading and dissecting the entire text out loud (an in class).

The reasons that we hang on to the teacher-dependent mode of reading out loud (or via student popcorn reading/CDs) and dissecting the text are varied:

1. We want to earn our pay-checks by being the ones responsible for student learning.

2. The text is too hard for students to understand it on their own.

3. We like being the “sage on the stage.”

4. Students lack sufficient prior knowledge.

5. Reading out loud is a behavior management tool.

In sum, we distrust the readiness of students to handle the challenging tasks of reading and thinking on their own. We know that we do a better job of understanding the text than our students.

The way we casually describe what we are teaching is informative: In the staff room, a science teacher asks what we are teaching. We respond, “I’m half-way through teaching Julius Caesar,” not “I’m teaching my students…”,” nor “I’m teaching Roman history through…”, nor “I’m teaching these reading and literary skills through…”, nor “My students are learning…” We tend to view the literature as our curriculum and not as an instructional vehicle. When the literature is treated as an end–in-itself, we are ensuring that our instruction remains teacher-dependent. After all, we are the keeper of the keys. We know “Julius Caesar” better than the students (and probably Will himself). A high school colleague of mine literally had memorized every word of the play and worked her students through the play from memory. That’s teacher-dependence.

How to Move toward Teacher-Independence

1. Lose the Guilt

We really need to relieve ourselves of the self-imposed or colleague-imposed guilt that we are not really teaching a short story, poem, or novel unless we read and dissect every word out loud.

2. Become a Coach

We need to become coaches, not spoon-feeders. Let’s coach students to become effective independent readers by giving them the skills to understand the text on their own. Here are some effective reading comprehension strategies that will move students toward that independence: http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-reading-c…

3. Get strategic

Some reading out loud and dissecting text is essential. But when to do so and when not to do so?

A good guideline to help us decide how much to read out loud, with explanation and gap-filling, is word recognition. Simply put, if the novel, story, etc. is at 95% word recognition for the vast majority of students, then there should be less reading out loud, i.e., the reading is at the independent reading level of students. If there is lower word recognition, then more reading out loud/working through the text will be necessary (or the book selection is inappropriate for the students) for this instructional reading level. For more on how to use word recognition to inform instructional decisions, see my blog at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-get-students-to… As a relevant aside, I feel that word recognition is a much better indicator of an appropriate student to text match than a lexile number.

4. Trust Your Judgment-Not Just Data

Of course, using this rather clinical criterion of word recognition has its limitations: maturity of theme, unfamiliar historical context, amount of allusions or figures of speech etc. After all, we all know students who “read” the last Harry Potter book and Twilight with enjoyment, albeit limited comprehension, when their word recognition rate was at the instructional end of the spectrum, so motivation is an important factor in determining what can be left to independent reading.

5. Focus on the Pay-offs

Independent reading of text has significant pay-offs. Reading independently at the 95% word recognition level of text will expose most readers to about 300 unknown words in 30 minutes of reading. Learning 5% of these words from the surrounding context clues of the text is realistic. This means that students will learn about 15 new words during a typical reading session.

6. Experiment with Alternative Instructional Approaches, But…

Reciprocal teaching, literature circles, GIST strategies, partner reading, jigsaw. Yes. But don’t leave out what should be the primary instructional approach: independent reading.

If our goals are to foster the abilities to read independently with good comprehension/retention and to inspire young adults to read for purpose and pleasure as lifelong readers, then we’ve got to cut the cords and become more teacher-independent and less teacher-dependent.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

How to Teach Reading Intervention

Teaching reading intervention is qualitatively different from teaching beginning reading. By definition, the initial reading instruction did not “take” to a sufficient degree, so things must be done differently this time around to improve chances for success. According to reading research, these chances are not good betting odds. Only one out of six middle schoolers who are below grade level in reading will ever catch up to grade level.

I have written elsewhere regarding the characteristics of remedial readers. Sufficed to say, knowing their developmental characteristics is just as important as knowing their specific reading deficiencies. Effective reading intervention instruction depends on addressing both components.

But, knowing the specific reading deficiencies is crucial. Using prescriptive diagnostic assessments that will produce the data needed to inform instruction is the one non-negotiable prerequisite. Teachers need to know exactly where their students are to take them to where they want them to be. Once administered, the reading intervention teacher is confronted with the “snowflake phenomena.” No two remedial readers are exactly alike. One has no phonemic awareness; one does not know phonics; one does not know how to blend; one lacks fluency; one is vocabulary deficient; one has poor reading comprehension; and one has poor reading retention.

Of necessity, an effective reading intervention program must be based upon differentiated instruction. A cookie-cutter program starting all students at the same level or having all students use the same workbooks or receive the same direct instruction will address some needs of some students, but not all the needs of all students. Anything less than the latter is nothing less than professional malpractice. Would a medical patient who sets a doctor’s appointment to treat a variety of maladies be satisfied with receiving the same course of treatment as every patient—ignoring some issues and being treated for issues that do not require treatment? Even the staunchest advocates of the current health care system would find this brand of medical practice unacceptable.

Regarding student placement in reading intervention, a number of factors must be considered. Chief of these must be the reductive consideration. First, if the student is placed in a special intervention class, what class is replaced? Removing a child from a literature class seems much like “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Poor readers require compensatory instruction, not just different instruction. Second, multiple measures are needed to ensure that a student needs reading intervention and that the student has a reasonable chance of success in the reading intervention class. Standardized tests can provide an initial sort; however, the student history in the cumulative records and the diagnostic assessments detailed above must be analyzed to refine the sort. Behavioral considerations are legitimate concerns; many students who read poorly tend to compensate with inattentive and disruptive behavior. These students need an intervention with a behavioral specialist that will also teach to their reading deficiencies. These students do not need another platform in a typical reading intervention class to prevent the learning of their peers.

The two most popular reading programs, READ 180 The Next Generation and Language! Live use sampling for their screening and placement assessments. Check out my article

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

comparing these two programs to my own Teaching Reading Strategies.

The greatest variable that will determine the success of a reading intervention class is the teacher. A well-trained teacher with superior management skills, sufficient reading training, and a commitment to diagnostic and formative assessments to inform differentiated instruction are the keys to success. The teacher must be the “best and brightest” on campus, not the new teacher fresh out of the teacher credential program. Reading intervention is the hardest subject to teach and requires a special teacher. The students for whom our educational system has most failed deserve no less.

So, what to teach? The task is daunting. Remedial reading is not just skills instruction or extra reading practice. Effective reading intervention involves both content and process. Reading is both the what and the how. The short answer is that the students themselves determine the what via their diagnostic assessments. The teacher decides the how through differentiated instruction. Beyond this cryptic, albeit accurate, response, certain components will no doubt require attention in a reading intervention class for any age student. Following is an instructional template that will provide a proper balance between the what and how with a brief description of the instructional component and a percentage of the class that the component will necessitate:

  • Small ability group fluency practice (emphasizing repeated readings within the group’s zone of proximal development (15%)
  • Small ability group phonemic awareness practice (10%)
  • Small ability group phonics practice (10%)
  • Individual sight word and syllabication practice (10%)
  • Guided reading, using self-questioning comprehension strategies (15%)
  • Direct instruction and whole group vocabulary development (10%)
  • Small ability group spelling practice (10%)
  • Small ability group blending practice (10%)
  • Independent reading at the individual student’s instructional reading level (10%) and for homework

Every component described above is needed to ensure a successful reading intervention program for students of all ages. All of these instructional components with support resources can be found in these two comprehensive curricula:

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

Why Advanced Reading Skills are Increasingly Important

Reading is the gateway to knowledge. Without refined reading skills, personal independence and options are severely limited. Poor readers can only know what others choose to tell them. Poor readers have limited socio-economic opportunities. This ramifications of an increasingly illiterate society are compounding as knowledge compounds at an exponentially rapid rate.

The ability to read well increases the freedom and self-determination of the individual. Nineteenth Century American slaveholders understood this concept well. By 1850, each of the fifteen slaveholding states had enacted laws that criminalized reading instruction to slaves. Slaveholders found out through experience that the ability to read opened up the world of knowledge, individual choice, and aspiration to a better life—all dangerous challenges to authoritarian control. In the Twentieth Century, the Nazis came to power, burning books and harassing those who thought differently then their party. Once their power solidified, concentrated efforts were made to control and manipulate the reading of school children and the masses. The communists in the Soviet Union altered textbooks to reflect their view of history and sent authors to Siberia for re-education. In the Twenty-First Century, economic problems have provided the pretext for closing public or school libraries, considering limits to the freedom of thought via Internet censorship or taxation, and limiting the capital acquisition of small publishing companies which has forced many into bankruptcy—thus solidifying the conglomerate power of the largest publishing houses, whose agenda consists of money-making and preserving the status quo.

In this information age, the ability to read well is an increasingly essential skill. The negative consequences of limited reading ability are numerous. For example, identifying a phishing email requires higher order critical reading skills to read between the lines and recognize non-sequiturs, unsupported generalizations, and questionable authority errors in reasoning. Reading and applying the Schedule A instructions for allowable deductions on the 1040 form requires content-specific vocabulary. Reading how to program a new flat screen television requires advanced technical reading ability. A limited reader could wind up with a bank account depleted, an audit, or a large paperweight.

Today, we need to see advanced reading instruction as a bulwark against an increasingly illiterate society. What was an adequate reading skill level thirty years ago is inadequate today. More higher level high school and college reading courses are needed to appropriately prepare students for the  information age.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , ,

Content vs. Skills Reading Instruction

A key discussion point regarding reading instruction today involves those favoring skills-based instruction and those favoring content-based instruction. This is not the old phonics-whole language debate. Other than a few hold-outs, such as Stephen Krashen, most in the reading field would agree that this debate has been largely settled. The current debate involves whether teachers at all levels should be teaching the how or the what of reading.

There are, indeed, some who would restrict reading to a measurable skill-set. These would pigeon-hole reading instruction into a continuum of increasingly complex rules, while ignoring the thinking process necessary to advanced reading. Teachers of this ilk love their phonics, context clues, and inference worksheets when they are not leading their students in fluency exercises, ad nauseum, whether the students need fluency practice or not.

On the other side of the debate are those who would claim that content is the real reading instruction. These would limit reading skill instruction in favor of pouring shared cultural knowledge into learners. They favor teacher read-alouds, Cornell note-taking, and direct instruction. They argue that subject area disciplines such as English literature, science, and history often provide the best reading instruction by the content that they teach.

Both are extremes. Students need some of each to become skilled and complex readers. One need not be at the expense of the other. However, if I had to side with one group, I would lean toward the skill teachers because at least those of their persuasions are trying to impact the students’ abilities to increase their own reading competencies. We need to teach developing readers of all levels how to access information and ideas on their own. Additionally, the content side raises thorny issues, such as what should be the content poured into students and who decides what content is and is not important? Some cultural literacy is certainly fine, but I feel more comfortable in playing the equipping role, rather than the inculcating role in reading instruction.

Furthermore, many in the content-only camp are under the false assumption that reading is a basic skill, such as simple addition. Once multiple digit addition with carrying over is mastered, the skill can be applied to more complex operations such as multiplication, division, and algebra. Although learning the phonetic code and the syllabication rules certainly serve as the basic skills to enable pronunciation of  multi-syllabic words, pronunciation is not reading. Reading is ultimately about meaning-making. And meaning-making is a complex process. Indeed, reading is a skill in the same manner as writing and thinking are each skills.

Although I lean toward the skill side of reading skills instruction, I do believe that at some point the spoon-feeding of skills-based reading instruction needs to morph into providing the recipes for critical-thinking readers to create on his or her own. Having taught reading and trained teachers of reading at elementary school, middle school, high school, and college levels, I am of the opinion that teaching more advanced reading skills are necessary to get students to this level of independence and that these skills are better “taught” than “caught.” Students of all ages need both “learning to read” and “reading to learn.”

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , ,

Why Round Robin and Popcorn Reading are Poor Reading Practices

Every day in thousands of classrooms, students are called upon to  read out loud. Some teachers use round robin reading, in which every students takes a turn reading a section. Other teachers use popcorn reading, in which students call upon each other to read. For many teachers, these strategies are the primary means of working through a reading text with students.

Teachers claim that having students read out loud is important fluency and decoding practice. Teachers argue that having students read out loud holds students accountable for reading along with the class, unlike silent reading. Reading out loud builds comprehension because listening comprehension is generally at a higher level than silent reading comprehension. Reading out loud also helps the teacher formatively assess student pronunciation, attention to punctuation, and inflection. Student love to read out loud and much prefer reading a story out loud together as a class than reading the story silently and independently. Having students read out loud is as American as apple pie.

But, upon closer analysis, round robin and popcorn reading are not effective means of reading instruction. Instead, having students read out loud can actually be counterproductive.

First of all, reading out loud as a class is not good fluency practice. Effective fluency practice is leveled according to the instructional level of the student. The Read Naturally® fluency program uses a Brief Oral Screener to assess the fluency level of each student. Reading a class novel or textbook may or may not be at the instructional level for the majority of your students.

Good fluency practice uses modeled readings. Students are not the best model readers in the class. Poor student readers reinforce poor reading skills such as inattention to punctuation, mispronunciation, and poor inflection. The more the teacher interrupts to correct student mistakes, the less fluency is practiced.

Good fluency practice requires lots of reading, including repeated readings. In any given reading, an individual student may read once or twice for a grand total of, say, one minute. Hardly enough practice to improve reading fluency.

Round robin and popcorn reading is poor decoding practice. Class novels and textbooks are not decodable reading text. Real literature is filled with sight words. Additionally, students have different diagnostic decoding deficiencies. Correcting one student’s mispronunciation of the /ch/ in chorus may only address the needs of one or two students. And correction is not effective practice. Students need multiple examples, not isolated corrections, to improve decoding. Nor does correction improve syllabication skills.

Having students read out loud decreases reading comprehension. Jumping from one student to the next interrupts the flow of the reading. Reading comprehension depends upon the connection of ideas. Imagine watching a twenty-two minute episode of “The Office” with thirty different five-second commercials interrupting the show. Comprehension would obviously decrease. In round robin reading, students frequently anticipate where they will begin reading and silently practice—thus losing comprehension.

Not all students enjoy reading out loud. For some, reading out loud is the single most-feared classroom activity. Poor readers lose self-esteem when required to read out loud. Peers can be heartless and cruel. Too often, teachers use round robin or popcorn reading to “catch” students who are inattentive, which further disrupts fluency and comprehension and only serves to humiliate students.

Instead of round robin and popcorn reading, why not use reading strategies that are appropriate to the teacher’s instructional objectives. For fluency development, use a differentiated fluency plan with diagnostically assessed leveled readings with teacher read alouds or modeled readings and repeated practice. Or at least use choral readings or echo readings to provide some modeling. For decoding practice, use phonics worksheets assigned according to the diagnostically assessed needs of students. For reading comprehension, use specific guided reading comprehension strategies with the best model reader, the teacher, as the coach. For formative reading assessment, protect the self-concept of the student and the accuracy of the assessment by reading one-on-one periodically.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

How to Teach Reading Comprehension

Teachers struggle with how to teach reading comprehension. The implicit-instruction teachers hope that reading a lot really will teach comprehension through some form of reading osmosis. The explicit-instruction teachers teach the skills that can be quantified, but ignore meaning-making as the true purpose of reading.

The die-hard implicit-instruction teachers want to believe that reading comprehension is something caught, and not taught. They want to believe this “feel-good” saying because it assuages guilt and legitimizes pedagogical laziness. These same teachers spend tremendous amounts of time reading out loud and enjoying literature with their students. Occasionally, these “sages on their stages” may drop pearls of literary wisdom to their enraptured audiences. Of course, students enjoy this implicit, spoon-fed “instruction” because it keeps them from having to read challenging text on their own.

The die-hard explicit-instruction teachers believe that every instructional moment  must be planned as part of the teachers’ instructional objectives. If the reading skill cannot be measured and put on a progress monitoring chart, then it is simply not worth teaching. Unfortunately, these teachers focus on the appetizers of reading and not the main course. The appetizers of discreet reading skills are easily diagnosed and are frequently easy to teach. The main course of reading comprehension is difficult to diagnose, even more difficult to teach, and just cannot be quantified on traditional recording matrices.

Having detailed the extremes, here are the reading comprehension strategies that will help teachers strike the balance between implicit and explicit instruction and turn their students into capable independent readers.

1. The explicit direct instruction advocates are right: the appetizers are necessary to enjoy the meal. But the appetizers are not the meal; reading comprehension is the meal. So, as efficiently as possible, teach the pre-requisite reading skills and help students unlearn their bad reading habits.

How? Know your readers. Each comes to your class with different skill-sets and deficits. Each needs mastery of phonemic awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, and grade-level fluency to master the reading automaticity that will allow them to attend to meaning-making.

Effective whole-class diagnostic assessments that won’t take up all of your teaching time and differentiated reading skills instruction are crucial to setting the main course. However, students need to understand the purpose behind the appetizers. Teachers accomplish this by helping all students “catch up” in their areas of reading skill deficits, while they concurrently “keep up” with challenging reading comprehension strategies instruction and practice. Read about the value and purpose of reading assessments and get the free diagnostic reading assessments that will inform your instruction. Learn about the importance and role of phonemic awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, and fluency in shaping reading comprehension for you readers.

2. Use shared reading to model the synthesized process of reading. Shared reading means that the teacher reads stories, articles, poetry, songs, etc. out loud to students to model the whole reading process. Students need to see and hear modeled reading that integrates all of the reading skills with a focus on meaning-making. Without this “whole to part” modeling, isolated reading skills instruction will fail to develop readers who read well on their own. The teacher shares the reading strategies as she reads that help her understand, interpret, and enjoy the text. She models self-questioning strategies and problem solving. Learn how to do a reading think-aloud and teach self-questioning skills.

3. Use guided reading to teach discreet reading comprehension strategies. Guided reading means that the teacher reads or plays a CD and stops to help students practice a pre-selected reading comprehension strategy. At stops, students share whole group, pair share, or write responses to the comprehension strategies. Students do not read out loud as they are generally poor models. Learn how to teach the following SCRIP reading comprehension strategies: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

4. Teach independent reading by getting students to practice guided reading strategies on their own. Teach students to make personal connections with the text. This does not mean that students relate aspects of the reading to their own experience. Instead, readers access their prior knowledge and experiences to understand and interpret the reading. The focus is on the author-reader relationship. Learn how to teach students to visualize and connect their lives and knowledge to the text to increase reading comprehension.

Assign reading homework with required parental discussion, even at the middle school level. We have to get students practicing reading for at least two hours weekly at 5% unknown word recognition with accountability. SSR in the classroom won’t get this done, even with response journals. Immediate discussion at the summary and analytical levels builds comprehension. Parents can quite capably supervise this independent activity. Learn how to develop a successful independent reading homework component.

5. Teach the reading and writing connection. Reinforce the reading/writing connection by showing how expository and narrative texts are organized and how each should be read according to their own characteristics. Wide experience across many reading genres will help build comprehension and writing ability. Learn the reading-writing strategies that “kill two birds with one stone”  and learn how to teach an effective read-study method for expository text.

6. Teach vocabulary explicitly and in context. Vocabulary acquisition is essential to reading comprehension. Teachers need to expose students to challenging text, teach context clues, teach the common Greek and Latin word parts, teach vocabulary strategies such as semantic spectrums, and practice “word play” and memory tricks to increase vocabulary proficiency.

7. Teach content. Teaching content is teaching reading comprehension. Good readers bring content, prior knowledge, and experience to their side of the author-reader relationship. Content-deficient readers can’t make relevant personal, literary, or academic connections to the text and comprehension suffers. Pre-teaching story background is essential to build comprehension. For example, why not show the movie first, once in awhile, before reading the novel? Pull aside a group of struggling readers and pre-teach key concepts to scaffold meaning.

Remedial readers often practice reading skills ad nauseum, but grow more deficient in content. For example, a seventh grade student who is removed from an English-language arts class for remedial reading will probably lose the content of reading two novels, learning grade level grammar and vocabulary, missing the speech and poetry units… you get the idea. Not to mention, the possibility of losing social science or science instruction if placed in a remedial reading class… Both content and reading strategies are critical for reading development.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , ,

Independent Reading: The Meeting of the Minds

Years ago, Steve Allen hosted and moderated a terrific television show titled Meeting of Minds. Steve resurrected some of the greatest thinkers from different eras to discuss a wide range of ideas and issues. I thought I’d use this format to respond to recent posts on the subject of independent reading in the classroom. I’m sure I’ve managed to set up a few straw men, but here goes…

Steve: The subject of independent reading in the classroom certainly provokes passionate advocates, as well as assorted debunkers.

Plato: Yes, we can’t really see the subject as it is, but we can see it as a reflection of educators’ presuppositions regarding the purpose of education.

Yoda: Right you are. Many are they who assume that teachers should be inculcators of knowledge and skills. Others are they who assume that teachers should be provokers of unfettered thought.

Kerouac: It’s time to get out of your cave and off your planet. It’s the how, not the why that’s important.

Steve: Okay, Jack. Let’s discuss the how. Some teachers assign novels for independent reading; others insist upon free choice of reading materials. Some teachers assign written response and/or assign grades; others do not.

Sartre: Yes, only in the act of freely choosing is one’s humanness truly affirmed. Any procedure designed to produce accountability, such as response journals or grades are counterproductive and coercive.

Tom Cruise: Scientology is the answer.

Plato: Um, okay… We are talking about empty vessels here. Students do not know what they do not know. It is the teacher’s job to manipulate what and how students should read. For example, The Republic stimulates the mind far better than that trashy Twilight or that manga pulp. Most of our students are not philosopher-kings. They will simply stare at pages and live within their dreams, if the teacher does not demand accountability and guide them in their choices.

Dr. Phil: Accountability in class takes time away from exploration. If independent reading is the purpose, what better method is there than free-choice reading itself?

Yoda: Balance is the answer. Of the force, two sides there are. Freedom and responsibility students must learn. Happy and motivated must they be.

Kerouac: It’s the have-to that turns students off to reading. If teachers were really being consistent in their educational philosophies, they would let students choose to read or choose not to read.

Plato: That would be anarchy-mob rule. We need good readers to maintain freedom and democracy. Force-feeding serves a utilitarian purpose. We are a connected community, not individual islands. If students practice reading the classics, they will learn to appreciate their value and be motivated to become life-long readers. Reading has intrinsic worth and attractiveness.

Sartre: Certainly true from the perspective of an English teacher. However, many children and adults are happy without reading.

Tom Cruise: I’m happy without reading. Happiness is Scientology.

Dr. Phil: Happiness is highly overrated. Who has a better life perspective, here—the teacher or the student? Even though most children hate vegetables, they should still eat them. Vegetables are important for future development. Students don’t have to like books to benefit from them. It’s the doing that is important. The present attitudes of children are largely irrelevant in the developmental scheme of things. Most children choose to eat the same vegetables as adults that they were forced to eat as children. Attitudes can and do change; impoverished reading skills rarely do so. Only one in six below-grade-level readers in middle school ever catch up to grade-level reading.

Yoda: Books they don’t like and books they do like, students must read. Very important is teacher judgment, I see.

Sartre: So, less than complete freedom now could produce more freedom later. The more reading skills that are mastered now, even at the expense of student choice, the more options will be available to free-choosing adults.

Steve: What about the issue of teacher modeling? If the teacher spends class time doing independent reading, some would argue that this time commitment teaches students that reading is a priority. Also, some would insist that teachers must read along with their students for proper modeling.

Yoda: A master a servant must have. A model a painter must have. A—

Kerouac: Stop with the direct objects you post-pubescent puppet! Why is conformity so highly prized in our schools? Modeling is overrated. Students will not develop reading skills or learn to love reading because the teacher stops grading papers and reads silently for fifteen minutes a day. There is no causal connection. In fact, rebellious teenagers may be more turned off to reading because they will never identify with some old guy sitting at his desk reading On the Road. Worse yet, some adult reading one of their teenage books… Bob Dylan said, “Don’t follow leaders; watch your parking meters.”

Sartre: And no student would ever think or say, “Ms. Jones, I would really enjoy reading more and realize its true value, if you stopped emailing during SSR.”

Plato: If amount of class time signals educational priorities, why wouldn’t a teacher spend fifteen minutes a day, three times a week, on say morals and ethics? Surely developing kindness and compassion should be equally as important for the good of our society as developing life-long readers. And if teachers must do as the students, to show that they truly value the activity, then why stop at reading along with the students? Should we not study vocabulary when students study vocabulary, do grammar worksheets when students do grammar worksheets, practice our own sentence combining when students do sentence combining, take the standardized test when students are forced to do so, eat a nutritious meal in the cafeteria alongside students?

Tom Cruise: I feel like jumping on your couch, Steve.

Steve: Try to refrain, Tom. I’d like to bring up one more issue for debate: why not read independently at home and save class time for other instructional priorities? After all, students cannot learn how to write an essay at home, but they can read at home.

Tom Cruise: No problem, Steve. I get so excited when Katie lets me out on my own.

Dr. Phil: It seems to me that although students may spend their independent reading time in school just staring at pages, with or without accountability, it is more likely that more students will actually read in school then at home. Countless studies have shown that students, by and large, read very little at home. They are conditioned to read in the school environment. You don’t need Doctor Oz to help you figure that one out.

Sartre: Ah, a logical fallacy. Teachers frequently assume to be true what has not yet been proven to be true. Just because most students do not now read at home, does not mean that they can’t read at home. Those studies that you refer to reflect how things are, not how things could be.

Yoda: Wise you are my philosopher friend. But, all is not light in our homes. Much darkness I see: few books at home, single parents with no time to read to children, illiterate parents, language issues.

Plato: This is especially true with the brass and iron of our state; these students just don’t have the home support that the gold and silver of our state enjoy. Schools have to accept this reality.

Dr. Phil: Yes. The Matthew Effect… Good readers from literate homes tend to become better readers, while poor readers from less literate environments tend to improve less. Teachers want to be released from guilt by blaming illiteracy on parents and the culture.

Yoda: Blame they may be misplacing, I feel.

Sartre: Teachers can become the radical change-agents, not the reinforcers of the status quo. Teachers give up on students and parents too easily. Instead of micro-managing, teachers should be macro-managing. Teachers could be creating literate families. What has happened to Family Literacy Nights? Home visits? Book Give-Aways? Family Reading Incentives? Parent Reading Seminars?

Kerouac: It seems to me that independent reading at home would go further in creating life-long readers than reading that is solely dependent upon teacher control within the class. Since when has dependence ever fostered more independence? If we are, indeed, talking about creating the habit of independent life-long reading, we need to encourage students to read on their own, apart from the teacher’s watchful eyes.

Yoda: Truly. A wise master a servant must become.

Sartre: And the master must become the wise servant. Teachers have an important role in teaching reading skills. Students don’t learn these skills exclusively through independent reading.

Plato: More reading skill instruction in the classroom and required independent reading at home = more reading practice. A perfect tautology.

Yoda: Integral to reading success are both sides of the force.

Tom Cruise: Scientology has all the answers. Trust me on this one.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

What Reading Intervention Teachers Want (A Manifesto)

Reading intervention reading (reading intervention) teachers of upper elementary, middle school, high school, and adult students all share the same instructional goal: help their students become fluent readers who understand what they read. Teachers want to achieve this goal in the shortest amount of instructional time. The longer poor readers have to wait to “catch up” to grade level reading, the further they fall behind in their overall education. Research shows that the older the poor reader gets, the less likely is that reader to catch up to reading at grade level. For example, only one-in-six middle school readers who are two grades behind in their reading ever catch up to grade level reading.

Teachers all understand that remedial reading students may all be in the same boat, in terms of their inability to read well, but that they are each in that boat for different reasons. If teachers treat the students as if they all are in the boat for the same reasons, both teacher and students will fail to achieve their goals. So, the instructional design and resources of a successful remedial reading program must allow teachers to differentiate instruction for the diverse needs of their students. Teachers know that a one-size-fits all program will not work for these learners. In fact, a canned program can be counterproductive.

Education is always reductive. If we do one thing, we can’t do another. Resources (both monetary and human), time, structural considerations, and commitment are all scarcities. If a remedial reader does not directly benefit from a program that specifically addresses why he or she is in the boat, it would be better to stay out of the boat and benefit from other resources. For example, a seventh grade student who is removed from an English-language arts class for remedial reading will probably lose the content of reading two novels, learning grade level grammar and vocabulary, missing the speech and poetry units… you get the idea. Not to mention, the possibility of losing social science or science instruction if placed in a remedial reading class… Both content and reading strategies are critical for reading development.

So, let’s get specific about how teachers want to teach a remedial reading program with a What Reading Intervention Teachers Want (A Manifesto).

1. Teachers want diagnostic assessments that will pinpoint individual reading strengths and deficiencies. But, they don’t want assessments that will eat up excessive amounts of instructional time or cause mounds of paperwork.

2. Teachers want teaching resources that specifically target the reading deficits indicated by the diagnostic assessments. Teachers don’t want to waste time by starting each learner from “scratch” with hours of repetitive practice. Teachers don’t want to teach what students already know.

3. Teachers want program resources that will enable them to establish a clear game plan, but also ones which will allow them to deviate from that plan, according to the needs of their students. Teachers want to be able to integrate writing, grammar, and spelling instruction and include real reading in their remedial reading programs.

4. Teachers want resources that won’t assume that they are reading specialists. However, they don’t want resources that treat them like script-reading robots. Teachers are fast learners.

5. Teachers want resources that they can grab and use, not resources that require lots of advance preparation. Teachers want to do a great job with their students and still maintain their own sanity.

6. Teachers want reasonable class sizes that are conducive to effective remedial instruction.

7. Teachers understand that remedial readers frequently have behavioral problems; however, their behaviors can’t interfere with other students’ rights to learn. Administrators have to buy-in to this condition and support teacher judgment.

To summarize, teachers want to be free to teach their students, not a program, per se. Teachers want their students to see direct benefit and pay-off in each lesson and learn quickly in what social psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, termed their “zone of proximal development.”  If teachers get what they want in this Remedial Reading Teacher’s Manifesto, they will achieve their goal to help their students become fluent readers who understand what they read.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Teach a Write Aloud

Writing is a complicated thinking process. It requires an enormous amount of multi-tasking, problem-solving, interactivity, and creativity. There is science to effective writing, but there is also art. Unlike reading, which provides the author component of the dialog between reader and text, writing requires the thinker to generate both sides of the dialog. The writer must create the content and anticipate the reader response. Like reading, writing is chiefly learned through direct instruction, modeling, and practice.

Of the three instructional components necessary for effective writing instruction (direct instruction, modeling, and practice), the Write Aloud strategy focuses on the modeling component. In essence, the teacher shows students how he or she composes by thinking out loud and writing out that process so that students can think along with the writer. The Write Aloud is also referred to as “Modeled Writing.”

Writing is certainly not a natural process. Developing writers do not have a priori understanding about how to compose. Thus, teachers play a crucial role in helping to develop good writers.

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog with their anticipated readers while they write is vitally important. “Talking to the reader” significantly increases writing coherency. Placing the emphasis on writing as the reader will read that writing also helps the writer determine the structure of that writing and so unify the whole.

Good writers are adept at practicing many metacognitive strategies.  That’s a big word that means “thinking about thinking.”  Students who practice these self-monitoring strategies develop better writing fluency those who do not.

Write Aloud Sample Lesson

1. Select a short, high interest section of dialog from a story familiar to all students. The dialog will help students understand the interactive components of the Write Aloud strategy. Post the dialog on the board, Smartboard®, or overhead projector. Write this brief prompt, or one of your own, below the dialog: “Analyze the character development in ___________.”

2. Tell them that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, as you read the brief dialog from ____________, and that they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during your reading. Read the short dialog out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about the plot context and what and why the characters are saying what they say. Focus on comprehension, not character development for your first read.

3. After reading, ask students if they think they understood the text better because of your verbalized thoughts than just by passively reading without active thoughts. Their answer will be “Yes,” if you have read effectively. Quickly remind students to listen well and not to interrupt.

4. Tell students that they are now going to learn an important thinking strategy, and that they will listen to your thoughts as an experienced writer. Tell them that your thoughts will not be the same thoughts as theirs. Explain that learning how to think is the focus of this activity, not what to think. Tell them that they can improve the ways in which they think.

5. Tell students that you are going to brainstorm ideas for a character analysis essay during your Write Aloud. Point to the word brainstorm on your Writing Process charts and tell students that you are only going Write Aloud this one part of the process. Remind students that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, but they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during the activity.

6. Now, read the prompt out loud and define analyze as “to break apart the subject and to explain each part” as if you are reminding yourself of the definition. Re-read the dialog out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about how the characters are saying what they say. Write down your comments below the dialog in a graphic organizer. Explain that you are going to use a mapping, a.k.a. bubble cluster, graphic organizer to brainstorm your ideas because it will help you organize your thoughts and allow you to add on new ones as you think of them. Focus your comments (and writing) on these four components: character personalities, descriptions, motives, and author word choice. Ask if the organization and comments will make sense to the reader. Don’t ramble on with personal anecdotes. Comment much more on the text than on your personal connection with the text.

7. After reading, ask students if listening to you think and watching you write down your thoughts helped them understand how the characters are saying what they say. Their answer will be “Yes.” Ask students to repeat what you said that most helped them understand your thinking process. Ask students how they would think differently about what to write, if they were teaching the Write Aloud.

8. Post two new dialogs on the board, Smartboard®, or overhead projector with the same prompt as above.

9. Group students into pairs and have students practice their own Write Alouds, using the two dialogs. This can get quite noisy, so establish your expectations and remind students that they will be turning in their graphic organizers.

10. Repeat the Write Aloud procedure often with different components of the Writing Process, with or without different prompts, and with different writing tasks or genre.

Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies at www.penningtonpublishing.com.TES

Reading, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Problems with the KWL Reading Strategy

The KWL Reading Strategy has been with us for years. Developed by Donna Ogle in 1986 at the height of “whole language” movement, KWL is a metacognitive reading strategy that frequently masquerades under the guise of a comprehension strategy. KWL has been often misapplied and has taken the place of other more relevant and effective reading comprehension strategies.

Essentially, here is the KWL strategy: The teacher passes out a three-column KWL worksheet to each student. The teacher activates students’ prior knowledge by asking them what they already Know; then students individually, in small groups, or as a whole class list what they Want to learn; after reading, students list and discuss what they have Learned. In 1992, Professor Ogle revised the strategy as KWHL. The added H refers to How the reader plans to find what he or she Wants to learn.

KWL is a metacognitive strategy because it is a problem-solving process that focuses on thinking about and developing a language for the thinking (reading) process. It is reader-centered, not author-centered. There-in lie the pitfalls of this strategy, when misapplied as a reading comprehension strategy.

Because KWL is reader-centered, it is also limited by the background knowledge of the readers. Although the prior knowledge of the K step is significantly enhanced, when brainstormed collaboratively, oftentimes students will share irrelevant, inaccurate, or incomplete information which may well confuse their reading. Of course, the teacher has a role, here, to make the student contributions comprehensible by using analogies, filling in gaps, and synthesizing the students’ collective prior knowledge; however, the question has to be raised: Is this process really worth the time? Is the pay-off worth the process? At the minimum, teachers should be judicious about using the KWL activity by selecting reading topics that are very familiar with their students.

Again, because KWL is reader-centered, it is limited by what is shared by students in the W step. 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. Following the dictates of reader interest may lead to lots of spinning in circles and tangential bird-walking. A much more useful and purposeful step would be a P for a prediction about what the author will say, after accessing students’ prior knowledge and a brief “picture walk” or “preview” of the reading.

There is nothing magical about the L step. Listing what the reader has learned makes sense as a comprehension check, although it is doubtful whether providing an end-of-reading list actually improves reading comprehension. It does make sense to validate or correct what has been listed in the K and W steps. Other note-taking strategies do teach reader monitoring of the text, so the real issue is a reductive one: Although the L step does focus on the author and text (a good thing), there are better strategies that can be used instead. For example, the PQ RAR read-study method is one of the better author/text-centered reading comprehension strategies for expository text.

Although the author-reader connection is vital to comprehension, the relationship should be weighted heavily on the side of the author. It is the author’s thoughts that we are trying to interpret, not ours as readers. The “whole language” movement skewed this relationship on the side of the reader, at the expense of the author, his or her writing, and the reading process itself (decoding, etc.).This is the key issue with response journals disguising themselves as comprehension strategies, such as KWL. They are weighted too heavily on the reader side of the ledger. Schema theory aside, accessing prior knowledge (K) and setting a purpose for the reading (W) are somewhat helpful, but frankly over-valued. The (L) component is really what readers are after. Response journals are good note-taking vehicles and serve nicely to hold students accountable for what they read, but internal monitoring and self-questioning strategies can teach readers to understand the author’s ideas better.

Additionally, focusing on the experience and needs of the readers (K,W) can lead the readers to think of the text as a purely subjective experience. Instead, readers need to view the text as objectively as possible, setting aside all preconceived ideas and biases. Readers are supposed to infer what the author means. This skill can be taught and practiced to improve comprehension. In sum, good readers focus more on the text and less on themselves; the majority of our instructional strategies should reflect this.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

Effective Secondary School Reading Staff Development

“Oh no… another obligatory reading staff development. If the presenter says ‘every teacher a teacher of reading’ just one time, I will walk out.”

“What does this have to do with me? I teach math. Another district-mandated reading-across-the-curriculum in-service. Ho-hum. Glad I brought papers to grade.”

As an administrator, literacy coach, English-language Arts teacher, or staff developer, you know the challenge. How can you train and convince such a diverse group of colleagues, representing the full slate of academic disciplines, that staff development in reading is valuable at the middle or high school level?

As educators have addressed the issues and suggested instructional strategies to respond to the growing “achievement gap,” many have come to the point of validating reading guru Anita Archer’s comment that “the ‘achievement gap’ is chiefly a ‘literacy gap.’” Today, there is wide consensus that secondary schools need to improve delivery of reading instruction, even at the expense of content-laden curricula.

“Oh great. Another thing to cram into my course. I don’t have the time to teach everything I am supposed to teach-not to mention what I want to teach.”

As a reading specialist/staff developer, once assigned to a high school, I know how secondary teachers, and even elementary teachers (been there-done that, too) can be a tough audience during a reading-based staff development. However, I’ve found that even the most obstinate, stuck-in-the-mud teachers do care about their students. Most will care enough to be willing to try something new, if they see the direct pay-off for their students.

In my experience, to get staff buy-in, you’ve got to accomplish three fundamental goals:

1. Ensure that all teachers feel that the strategies directly apply, in some degree, to their own academic disciplines. And let’s be honest, the matter is less relevant to some.

2. Give teachers something they can use the next day, and

3. Get the staff actively involved in the presentation.

Here are three sure-fire reading staff developments that I have presented at secondary schools and a nice resource for each:

1. Train and convince every teacher to assign reading in their academic discipline for homework on a regular basis. Here’s how.

2. Train and convince every teacher to use the same language of instruction i.e., the same terminology, for teaching and practicing reading strategies. SCRIP  is a set of self-questioning prompts that students can use to promote the author-reader dialog. Beyond the memorable mnemonic, the advantage to these strategies is that they work equally well with expository and narrative text (all academic disciplines).

By the way, if these reading strategies make sense to you, email me at mark@penningtonpublishing.com and I will send you some colorful SCRIP bookmarks that I have students use during silent reading. Offer a sign-up sheet for teachers who want class sets of these bookmarks (laminated or cardstock).

3. Train and convince every teacher to teach and have students use the same read-study method for expository reading. The PQ RAR method is a nice update on the “tried and true” SQ3R read-study method.

Using the same language of instruction is simply “user-friendly” for our students. Having similar instructional strategies lets students know that we do actually talk to teachers in other departments. More importantly, a staff that commits to using these strategies will significantly impact the reading performance of its students and help to bridge the “literacy gap.”

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

Free Informal Reading Assessments

I spent years as an elementary reading specialist, administering individual reading inventories to prepare for IEPs, SSTs, 504s, persnickety parents, and, occasionally, even the curious or caring teacher. Yes, I was an informal reading assessment junkie. I piloted all of the new ones coming down the pike and had loads of fun experimenting on unsuspecting elementary students. After years of sitting across from individual students at my kidney-shaped table, I began asking what is the real value of these assessments, and more generally, what is the value of individual reading diagnosis?

As I see things, the most useful informal reading assessments should meet three criteria:

1. They must be comprehensive. No more random sample spelling inventories and no more random sample phonics assessments.

2. They must be diagnostic. I don’t need to know a qualitative stage of development or a grade-level equivalency. I’ve got to know what exactly the child does and does not know so that I can plan instruction accordingly.

3. They must be easy to give, easy to grade, and easy to record.

While one-on-one time with a student is wonderful; it just isn’t a practical approach to reading assessment. I won’t throw the baby out with the bath water on this one. Individual assessments are sometimes necessary as double-checks or refinements, and an individual fluency assessment is a must for elementary, middle, and some high school students. However, my experience is that effective whole class tests can produce results that are just as reliable and prescriptive as the time-consuming individual assessments.

Reading specialists do not have to be the keepers of the keys. Devolving the responsibilities of reading assessment to teachers was the most effective professional decision that I have ever made. Whole class (multiple choice) reading assessments that are administered, graded, and analyzed by the teacher empower that teacher as the professional and encourage that teacher to differentiate instruction according to the diagnostic needs of that teacher’s students.

Over the years I have created, field-tested, and revised a battery of reading assessments that meet the criteria described above. You are welcome to download a comprehensive consonant and vowel phonics assessment, three sight word assessments, a spelling-pattern assessment, a multi-level fluency assessment, six phonemic awareness assessments, and even a grammar assessment from my website. All are multiple choice and all have recording matrices to help the teacher plan for individual and small group instruction. Grab a box of Scantrons® and make 2009-2010 the year you teach reading, as well as English, to your students.

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 (Check these fluency passages out!), 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Grade Literary Discussions

The longer I teach, the more I become a capitalist in my ELA classroom. Although I would love to have students participate in rich literary discussions out of their love for reading and passion for truth, it’s a rare student who speaks up out of such pure motives. Over the years, I admit it. I have succumbed to incentives and with good results. Life is compromise.

Students need to know that their participation in class discussion is an important part of their overall grade. Otherwise, many will avoid participation or perceive the group discussion as being of minimal importance. In the school setting, rewards such as grades, extra credit, treats, stickers, privileges are all weapons which the creative teacher can employ to motivate class participation in discussions. Short term, explicit rewards tend to work better than long term ones.

Here is how I organize a graded literary discussion. I select a student to record the points that classmates will earn. The recorder writes tally marks for positive discussion contributions on my class seating chart. The recorder gets two points for this task, but he or she gives up the opportunity to participate in the discussion. I have no problems finding student recorders for this task.  Having a student recorder frees me up to lead the discussion without worrying about properly crediting responses. After a correct student response, I signal the recorder with my index finger and the recorder places a tally mark next to the name of the student. If the response is particularly insightful or directly responds to the response of another student, I may signal two fingers, for two tally marks. The latter must, of course, be accompanied by a resonating class “oooh!”

A good feature of this graded discussion technique is that it tracks student responses. During class discussion, I can survey the tally marks to determine who is failing to contribute or who is contributing excessively. I let students know that I will call on them, whether they raise their hands or not. I can also ensure that I am “calling on” male and female, ethnic sub-groups, etc. fairly. For the next graded class discussion, I have the recorder use a different color pen to differentiate the separate discussion grades.

Students perceive graded discussions as being fair and objective. Try announcing that the class will have a graded literary discussions the next day and students might just “cheat” by reading the assigned text and anticipating/preparing for your questions at home. What a shame! Of course, you could provide your discussion questions in advance and level them according to Costa’s Levels of Questioning, Depth of Knowledge, or Bloom’s Taxonomy, but the students might wind up teaching themselves. What a shame!

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

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

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

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

 

Reading , , , , , , , ,

How to Get Students to Read at Home

Teachers and parents recognize the important role of independent reading in developing reading comprehension, vocabulary, and a lifelong love of books. Research is clear that independent reading does help students achieve these desired reading benchmarks. According to the chapter: “Reading and Writing Habits of Students” in The Condition of Education 1997 (National Center for Education Statistics), “Research has shown that reading ability is positively correlated with the extent to which students read recreationally.”

In fact, students need to “grow” their vocabularies by 2,000-3,000 words each year, just to make grade-level reading progress. And the most efficient method of vocabulary acquisition is via independent reading. By applying context clues, readers who read text at the appropriate reading levels can maximize the amount of new words added to their personal lexicons.

What are the appropriate reading levels for independent reading?

Primary teachers have used the “five-finger method” for years.  Readers select appropriate reading levels by using the fingers of one hand to count down the number of unknown words on a single page. Any more than five unknown words means that the text is at their frustrational level and another book should be selected. To update and refine this technique for older students, reading text that has about 5% of the words that are unknown to the reader is the appropriate independent reading level. Reading this level of text will expose most readers to about 300 unknown words in 30 minutes of reading. Learning 5% of these words from the surrounding context clues of the text is realistic. This means that students will learn about 15 new words during a typical reading session.

How can you pick a book to read that has 5% unknown words?

-Choose a book and count the number of words on any complete page found near the beginning of the book and multiply that number by 3.

-Read a page toward the beginning of the book, counting the number of unknown words. A good guideline would be “if you can’t define it with a synonym, antonym, or example,” it is unknown. Then, read a page near the middle of the book and continue the count. Finally, read a page near the end of the book and finish the count.

-Divide the total number of unknown words by the total number of words found on the three pages. The result will be the percentage of unknown words. Anything within the 4-6% range is acceptable. For example, a reader counts the number of words on a page and arrives at 225. 225 x 3 = 750. After reading the three pages, the amount of unknown words totals 30. 30.00 divided by 750 = .05, or 5%.

When and where should independent reading take place?

Many educators advocate in-school independent reading time. This school-wide or classroom activity may be called Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), Recreational Reading (RR), Daily Independent Reading Time (DIRT), or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR). Usually, advocates of in-school reading time insist on free-choice reading.

However, too much in-school independent reading time can take away from important instructional time. Also, the ten to twenty minutes per day, usually allocated to independent reading in a crowded classroom is hardly enough time, nor is it the best of environments to achieve the gains desired from independent reading. Additionally, students do not always make wise choices about their free-choice reading materials. Many bright middle-schoolers would prefer reading comic books over challenging novels. So I advocate leaving most of independent reading to homework, with teacher and parent approved novels serving as the sources of that reading. Students can still choose any reading text within the clearly defined parameters described above.

But, what about accountability? How can teachers ensure that students really are reading at home?

The catch to my independent reading homework is that students are graded on their discussion of the daily reading by their reading partners-typically, but not exclusively, parents. This builds relationships, reinforces internal monitoring of comprehension, promotes reading as a dynamic process of conversation between reader and author, and increases motivation. I require thirty minutes of reading and three minutes of discussion, four times per week. I pass out reading strategy bookmarks that that help students frame, but not limit, their book discussions. Check out these discussion starters . Teachers love these SCRIP reading strategies, reinforce them in their classes, and students really do use them. I have the discussion partner, usually a parent, guardian, or grandparent, grade the quality of the daily discussion and sign off on a Reading-Discussion Log each week. I count this homework as about 15% of the student’s overall grade. Do kids or discussion partners cheat on this? Of course. However, not as much as you’d think. Students and parents much prefer this type of homework to grinding out an essay or filling out a few grammar worksheets-tasks that most parents are ill-equipped (and loathe) to supervise.

But, what if the students don’t understand all of the literary nuances of the text? You’re not advocating independent reading of class novels, are you?

As Kelly Gallagher states in his new book, Readicide (How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It), “teachers are drowning books by over-teaching them.” This resonates with my view, as a reading specialist, that students should be accessing independent-level-text independently. I typically offer free-choice reading; however, if we are reading a novel that is comprehensible to the vast majority of my students, I will assign “on your own” chapters. I assign and provide the book on tape/CD for students who have independent reading levels below that of the novels. Of course, we follow up in class. I do teach the “literary nuances” and standards. We also re-read portions of the novel that I deem to be “teaching necessities.” And no, I don’t have students read Shakespeare independently. Check out these other articles on independent reading.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , ,

Essential Study Skills

From a child’s point of view, there are advantages and disadvantages to having a teacher as a parent. The time off over holidays and summer vacations certainly provides plenty of options for family activities. However, that additional time at home also means plenty of opportunities for learning and character development.

In our household, Dad was the teacher, and he had three sons. So this meant plenty of sports and outdoor adventures. This also meant that we were given a choice every summer: 4 hours of summer school each day at the nearby public school or 90 minutes of daily supervised instruction at home. It was not much of a choice. Each summer we chose the option that Dad affectionately labeled as Essential Study Skills.

Despite our relief at finally graduating from Dad’s Essential Study Skills once we got summer jobs or took community college classes during our high school years, we have to admit that we learned quite a few useful skills each summer. The study skills were especially helpful, and to this day, we don’t understand why these skills are not taught and re-taught to mastery during the regular school year by “regular” teachers.

Maybe these study skills are not introduced because teachers assume that most are simply common sense and do not require  instruction. Or, maybe each teacher thinks that “some other teacher” should or has already taught them. From our personal experiences, study skills need to be taught, not just caught.

Parents can use the time off over holidays and during summer vacations to teach the study skills that teachers “did not have the time” to teach during the school year. Here’s how to develop your own Essential Study Skills plan for each of your children.

-Find out what your child’s relative weaknesses are by giving brief diagnostic tests. Check out these free diagnostic tests in phonics, spelling, grammar, and mechanics, just to name a few. Design short lessons to address those weaknesses.

-Have your child read for 30 minutes a day in a book at his or her challenge level. Not sure how to help your child pick a book that will best develop the vocabulary and comprehension skills that your child needs to achieve optimal growth? Check out these helpful articles: How We Learn Vocabulary from Reading Part II and Interactive Reading: Making a Movie in Your Head.

-Have your child study Greek and Latin vocabulary game cards. Which word parts should they memorize? Check out this article.

-Have your child develop his or her writing style and build writing fluency by spending 30 minutes a day writing journals, thank-you notes, blogs, emails, stories, or essays, while using the techniques taught in this article: How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers.

-Buy this fantastic self-guided resource: Essential Study SkillsThe forty lessons in Essential Study Skills (eBook) will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Often, the reason why students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because they don’t try hard enough, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success. Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable.

Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. Ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, advocacy/advisory, opportunity program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice.

Pennington Publishing's Essential Study Skills

Essential Study Skills

Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Interactive Reading-Making a Movie in Your Head

Everyone knows that effective communication between two friends or family members is a two-way, active process. One-sided communication does not help people understand each other. People best understand one another when they pay attention to each other, see things from the other person’s point of view, and ask questions when they don’t understand each other.

Reading is different form of communication, but the process should be the same. Reading really is about communication between the reader and the author. Now, it’s true that the author is not speaking directly to the reader; however, readers read best when they pretend that this is so. Reading specialists estimate that reading comprehension is a 50-50 interaction. In other words, about half of our understanding of the text is what the reader puts into the reading, in terms of prior knowledge, understanding of word choice, and knowledge of text structure.

So, how can students  learn to read interactively to improve reading comprehension? The way we watch movies can provide some helpful insights. Most people will say that they understand movies better than they understand books. Why is this so?

First of all, the light of the movie or television screen and the sound draws your complete attention and focus. Distractions are limited, so you concentrate well.

Secondly, you actually do a lot more than “watch” a movie in the movie theater or at home. It is true that movies are a visual experience, but they are also a listening experience. The audio system and quality of the movie soundtrack make a huge difference in how well you understand a movie. Anyone who has seen a foreign movie with subtitles will admit that it is harder to understand the movie without sound. Movies are multi-sensory.

Thirdly, you involve yourself in the movie that you watch. Everyone imagines themselves shooting up the bad guys, looking into the eyes of the beautiful actress or handsome actor, or running away from the evil alien-monster-robot. You may even “talk” to the characters during crucial scenes, such as “I know what’s behind that door. Don’t open it!” You predict what will happen and probably even compare the plot to other movies of that genre as you watch. You act as a movie critic as well, thinking of how boring or exciting a scene may be.

So, let’s apply what to do as a movie watcher to what readers should do to read interactively.

First of all, limit any distractions to improve reading concentration. In the classroom, it may be asking the teacher to move seats away from a friend who talks too much. At home, it may be reading away from the distractions of the television, phone, music, or bothersome little brother.

Secondly, apply all of the senses to the reading. Listen to what the author is saying, try to feel what the characters feel, see the changing settings how the author describes them.

Thirdly, involve yourself in the reading by “talking to the text.” This internal dialog improves concentration and helps you better interact with the author. Summarize, compare, re-read, interpret, and predict frequently as you read. Make your reading a two-way active process, not a one-way passive activity.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

How to Break Bad Reading Habits

Many people do not read well because of poor silent reading habits. Correcting these poor reading practices and replacing them with good reading practices will improve reading comprehension. You can become a better reader by practicing these tips.

1. Improve your reading posture. Reading difficult text is not a relaxed activity. Your body position has much to do with how well you understand the text. Reading in bed is wonderful for putting you to sleep, but not for studying. Instead, sit up straight in a straight-backed chair at a desk or table with good lighting and keep your feet flat on the floor. Place two hands on the reading. Keep the distance from eyes to book about the same distance as that of your forearm. Don’t angle the book too much so that you can keep your head straight. Not perfectly comfortable? Good! Reading is not supposed to be relaxing; it is supposed to be stimulating.

2. Adjust your reading attitude. Reading may not be your favorite mental activity, but it is a crucially important study skill. As a child, you learned to read. Now, you read to learn. Good readers learn more in school and succeed to a greater degree in the workplace. Be realistic and honest with yourself. Are you reading just to tell yourself or others that you did so? Are you reading for in-depth understanding?

3. Establish a purpose for your reading and adjust your level of comprehension. Not everything should be read for the same reading purpose. Reading an article about a favorite movie star does not require the level of comprehension that reading a computer manual does.

4. Improve your concentration. First of all, turn off the music, put away your phone, get away from the television and computer, and find a quiet room. Anything competing with full concentration reduces reading speed and reading comprehension. Good reading can not include multi-tasking. Stop taking mental vacations during your reading. For example, never allow yourself a pause at the end of a page or chapter-read on! Minimize daydreaming by forcing yourself to make personal connections with what is going on in the reading. Prompt yourself to quickly return to the text when your mind first begins wandering.

5. Improve your reading attention span. Begin with short, uninterrupted reading sessions with 100% concentration and gradually increase the length of your sessions until you can read for, say 30 minutes. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your reading attention span will take time to improve. Take a short, pre-planned break away from your reading area after a reading session. Don’t read something else during your break.

6. When reading silently, don’t pronounce the words in your head and don’t move your lips while reading. These are called sub-vocalizations and they interfere with your understanding of the text. Focus on what the author is trying to say. After all, the purpose of reading is not to say the words; the purpose of reading is to understand the meaning of the text.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

Five Tips To Increase Silent Reading Speed and Improve Reading Comprehension

Many people do not read well because of poor silent reading habits. Correcting these poor reading practices and replacing them with good reading practices will improve both reading speed and reading comprehension. You can become a better reader by practicing these tips.

1. Improve reading posture and attitude. Reading is not a passive activity. Your body position has much to do with your level of engagement with the text. Reading in bed is wonderful for putting you to sleep, but the prone position is not conducive to engaging your mind with a textbook or article. Sit up straight in a straight-backed chair at a desk or table with good lighting and keep your feet flat on the floor. Place two hands on the reading. Not perfectly comfortable? Good! Reading is not supposed to be relaxing; it is supposed to be stimulating. Establish a purpose for your reading, and be realistic and honest with yourself. Not everything should be read with the same reading mindset. Are you reading the article just to tell yourself or others that you did so? Are you reading it to pass a test, to be able to talk at a surface level about the subject, or for in-depth understanding?

2. Improve concentration. First of all, turn of the iPod® and find a quiet room. Anything competing with full concentration reduces reading speed and reading comprehension. Consciously divest yourself from the thousand other things that you need to or would rather be doing. Good reading does not involve multi-tasking. Stop taking mental vacations during your reading. For example, never allow yourself a pause at the end of a page or chapter—read on! Minimize daydreaming by keeping personal connections to the text centered on the content. Cue yourself you quickly return to the text when your mind first begins wandering. Begin with short, uninterrupted reading sessions with 100% concentration and gradually increase the length of your sessions until you can read for, say 30 minutes. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your reading attention span will take time to improve. Take a short, pre-planned break away from your reading area after a reading session. Don’t read something else during your break.

3. Improve reading rhythm. The reading pace should be hurried, but consistent. This does not preclude the need to vary your reading speed, according to the demands of the text, or the need to re-read certain sections. But, do not read in a herky-jerky fashion. Use your dominant hand to pace your reading. Keep three fingers together and pace your reading underneath each line. Move your hand at a consistent, but hurried rate. Intentionally, but only briefly, slow down when reading comprehension decreases. Using the hand prevents re-reading or skipping lines and also improves comprehension. Shortening the stroke of the hand across the page, after practice, will also help expand peripheral vision and improve eye movement.

4. Improve eye movement. Reading research tells us that good readers have fewer eye fixations per line. When the eyes move from fixation to fixation, there is little reading comprehension. So, focus on the center of the page and use your peripheral vision to view words to the left and right when you are reading columnar text, such as newspapers, articles, etc. Focus one-third of the way into the text line, then two-thirds of the way, for book text. Again, you may need to work up to these guidelines by adding on an additional fixation point, until you can read comfortably.

5. Improve interactivity. Good silent reading comprehension is always a two-way conversation between author and reader. The text was written by a person—so personalize your reading by treating the reading as a dialogue. This mental conversation improves concentration and comprehension. Prompt yourself to converse by challenging the author with How? and Why? questions. Ask What Do You Mean? Make predictions as to where the plot (if narrative), or argument (if persuasive), or sequence (if expository) will lead. Make connections to other parts of the text or outside of the text.

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 , , , , , , , , ,

Four Critical Components to Successful Reading Intervention

What are the key ingredients of a successful reading intervention program? Various reading intervention models have been implemented in different educational settings to address the needs of remedial readers. Although the variables of budget, teacher expertise, staffing, room, and age of learner impact the design of a reading intervention program, the following generalizations may assist in decision-making.

1. Successful remedial programs begin with well-supported and highly-valued teachers with excellent classroom management skills, who have a passion for remedial students and are committed to diagnostically-based instruction. Teachers are assisted by instructional assistants, volunteer tutors, or parents. Administrators/counselors consider reading intervention as high priority and assist teachers with parental support, behavioral issues, and paperwork. There is school-wide support for the reading intervention program and a team approach that ignores territorialism. Students are placed and receive quality instruction according to assessed needs, not labels. Special education, English-language learner, and Title I program teachers are willing to place their students according to the same diagnostically assessed needs in the reading intervention program.

2. Class composition and placement are carefully considered. Students are placed in reading intervention classes by assessed needs, not labels such as age, special education or language status. Placement is based upon diagnostically-based reading assessments and not just standardized tests. Normed and criterion-referenced tests, as well as language placement tests, can serve as “first cut” sorting instruments, but need to be confirmed by reliable reading diagnostic assessments. Using “teachable” reading assessments will best match the assessments to the curriculum. Additionally, student and parent buy-in are critically important components. Conferences and carefully crafted contracts are necessary, though time-consuming, pre-requisites for successful remediation. Both students and parents need to see positive pay-offs, such as credits and privileges to motivate successful participation. The reading intervention program is not a dumping ground for behavioral problems. Students with behavioral challenges and reading deficits need to be placed in classes with both of these instructional needs determining placement.

3. Sufficient time needs to be allotted for remedial reading intervention. A minimum of 60 minutes per day, throughout the school year (and preferably during summer sessions) is necessary for most remedial students to make significant progress. Some students will need to be on a multi-year plan; however, significant inroads on life-long remedial readers can be achieved with effective reading intervention instruction and good student participation. Administrators and/or counselors must be willing to adjust school and individual student schedules to optimize reading intervention. The schedule and school-wide personnel must be committed to flexibility. Students will progress at different rates and class assignment needs to reflect this. Students will arrive mid-year and will need placement.

4. A research-validated curriculum with thorough assessment and progress monitoring components is essential. Curricula that are easily manipulated and can be supplemented by informed teacher judgment will serve the interests of remedial reading students. The curricula should never supplant the expertise and informed judgment of the teacher. Instructional materials should be both teacher and student-centered. The instructional strategies should be able to be quickly mastered by teachers with little advance preparation. Diagnostic and formative assessments that don’t consume valuable instructional time are essential to inform instruction and to monitor student progress. Targeted practice activities that directly address the diagnosed reading deficits and teach to mastery are needed. Short, high-interest, leveled reading passages that don’t dumb-down content, nor make remedial readers feel like juveniles, are essential to motivate these students in a successful reading intervention program.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , ,

Top Ten Reasons to Teach Phonics

Teachers and parents often ask me if children learn to read in different ways. The short answer is, of course, they do. Some children have learned to read through explicit and systematic phonics; others have learned to read in a sight word-based “look-say” approach; some have learned to read via memorization of onsets and rimes; still others have learned to read via osmosis, i.e. they just seemed to “catch on.” However, I usually re-phrase their question as “Should children learn to read in different ways?” At that point my answer will change.

Our reading and spelling system is based upon the alphabetic code. It certainly makes sense to teach children to read how our system has been designed. If the student experiences difficulties, we have back-up strategies to reach the end-goal of literacy.

Top Ten Reasons to Teach Phonics

1. Phonics is an efficient way to teach reading.

There are only 43 common speech sounds (phonemes) in English and these are represented by about 89 common spellings. Learning the phonics code produces the biggest learning bang for the smallest instructional buck.

2. Phonics works.

The swing away from “whole language” to phonics-based instruction over the last 35 years has vastly improved reading test scores on nationally normed tests.

3. Phonics is the fastest way to learn how to read.

Reading is not a developmentally acquired skill that naturally derives over time from lots of reading (Adams, 1988; Stanovich, 1986; Foorman, Francis, Novy, & Liberman 1991). Learning the code is the quickest way to learn how to read accurately and independently. Non-readers can independently read simple decodable text after minimal instruction.

4. Phonics makes students better spellers.

Because explicit phonics instruction teaches recognition, pronunciation, and blending of the sound-spelling patterns, students are better equipped to apply those same patterns to spellings.

5. Phonics requires less rote memorization.

The “Dick and Jane” reading method requires memorization of hundreds of words. Phonics makes use of prior knowledge (the sound-spelling relationships) to apply to new learning.

6. Phonics works better for students with learning disabilities.

Students with auditory and visual processing challenges learn best from the structure of explicit phonemic awareness and phonics instruction.

7. Phonics works better for English-language learners.

Phonics instruction relies on phonemic awareness and the connection of speech sounds to spellings. Phonics builds upon and adjusts that connection, rather than abandoning reading instruction already gained in the primary language.

8. Phonics works better for remedial readers.

Effective diagnostic assessments can easily determine which phonics skills have been mastered and which have not. Gap-filling simply makes sense. Remedial readers have strengths to build upon—they don’t need to start from scratch.

9. Phonics makes students smarter.

Interesting research shows that phonics-based instruction can actually change brain activity, resulting in significant improvements in reading (Flowers, 2004). Shankweiler, Lundquist, Dreyer, and Dickinson (1996) noted that differences in comprehension for upper elementary students largely reflected levels of decoding skill.

10. Phonics learning builds self-esteem and gets results.

Because progress is so measurable, students can quickly see their improvement in assessment data, and more importantly, in reading.

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.

“A very thorough phonics program. I believe it can also be used based on students’ ability levels. If you are looking for a supplementary resource, or a primary resource, this is the one! Thank you!” Sarah Hasbrook

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , ,

Should We Teach Phonics to Remedial Readers?

Many teachers were trained in the notion that phonics skills are best learned implicitly in the context of authentic literature. Although many students can probably learn essential decoding skills in this manner, it is also true that explicit phonics training is a more efficient method of instruction. More importantly, it has become increasingly sure in a unified body of research that a certain percentage of students do not learn to read through implicit phonics training. So, yes we should teach phonics to remedial readers.

Phonics involves pronouncing and blending the speech sounds (phonemes) when they are represented by the alphabetic symbols (spellings). Phonics instruction means to teach how to pronounce sounds and words from their spellings. There are about 43 common speech sounds (phonemes) in English and these are represented by about 89 common spellings.

Phonics is not phonemic awareness, which involves the ability to identify and manipulate the speech sounds. It is not spelling, because it does not apply the sounds to the alphabetic symbols.

Why is phonics instruction important and can remedial readers learn phonics?

Reading is not a developmentally acquired skill that naturally derives from phonics. Phonics instruction, using the most common sound-spelling relationships, is the most efficient and effective approach for many children (Adams, 1988; Stanovich, 1986; Foorman, Francis, Novy, & Liberman 1991). New research shows that phonics-based instruction can actually change brain activity in adults with dyslexia, resulting in significant improvements in reading (Flowers, 2004).

Which method of phonics instruction works best?

Research-based explicit, systematic phonics instruction works quickly and efficiently to “fill in the gaps” as determined by diagnostic phonics assessments. Reliable whole-class assessments have recently been developed to enable remedial reading teachers to isolate the phonetic elements that individual students need to master. Based upon this data, teachers can form small groups to remediate each phonetic element.

What about English-language Learners?

Specific speech sounds differ among languages, making phonics and phonics acquisition more challenging for English-language Learners (ELLs). ELL research findings are consistent with primary language research findings in that both phonics and phonics instruction clearly benefit ELL reading development. Furthermore, there is no evidence that phonics and phonics instruction in English needs to be delayed until a certain level of English oral language proficiency is achieved.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , ,

How to Use Context Clues to Improve Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary

Learning how to use context clues to figure out the meaning of unknown words is an essential reading strategy and vocabulary-builder. Identifying context clues in reading is made easier by looking for the key context clue categories within the context of an effective step-by-step strategy. So, here’s the strategy:

When you come to an unknown word, apply the steps of the FP’S BAG SALE strategy in the following order until you get a good clue about the meaning of an unknown word.

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.

The context clue categories:

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.

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 e.g., however, not, but, in contrast

Example: He signaled a looey, not a right turn.

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 transition words e.g., such as, for example, like

Example: Adventurous, rowdy, and crazy pioneers all found their way out West.

Download this strategy and two accompanying worksheets with answers.

Get the Context Clues Worksheets FREE Resource:

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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