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Posts Tagged ‘reading fluency’

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #6

Ah… the final episode of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts. Will they or won’t they kill off the hero? Of course, in the movies or on television, a final episode may or may not be the last. With the plethora of reunion shows (Roseanne last year and Murphy Brown this year) we all take the word final with a grain of salt. If you’ve missed one of the following got-to-see episodes, check it out after you watch this one.

In case you were up in the lobby for part or all of the previous five episodes, we’ve previously covered the following assessment topics in Episodes 1–20:

Episode 1

  • Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples. 
  • DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. 
  • DO use diagnostic assessments. 
  • DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” 

Episode 2

  • DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses). 
  • DON’T assess what you can’t teach. 
  • DO steal from others. 
  • DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).

Episode 3

  • DO analyze data both data deficits and mastery.
  • DON’T assess what you haven’t taught.
  • DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments.
  • DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.

Episode 4

  • DO let diagnostic data do the talking. 
  • DON’T assume what students do and do not know. 
  • DO use objective data. 
  • DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

Episode 5

  • DO think of assessment  as instruction. 
  • DON’T trust all assessment results. 
  • DO make students and parents your assessment partners. 
  • Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

*****

ELA and Reading Assessments

Do’s and Don’ts: Assessments

Today’s topics include the following: DO use both diagnostic and formative assessments. DON’T assess to determine a generic problem. DO review mastered material often. DON’T solely assess grade-level Standards.

Let’s kick your feet up (if you’re in one of those new theaters) and grab a handful of popcorn to read further. And make sure to stay until the end to download our FREE reading fluency assessment with recording matrix.

DO use both diagnostic and formative assessments.

Good teaching begins with finding out what students know and don’t know about the concept or skill before instruction begins. So often we assume that student do not know what we plan to teach. We start at the beginning, when a brief diagnostic assessment might better inform our instruction. You wouldn’t hire a contractor to remodel a bathroom without seeing the existing bathroom. Nor would you think much of a contractor who insisted on building a new foundation when the existing foundation was fine and ready to build upon.

When teachers complete a diagnostic assessment and find that 1/3 of their class lacks a certain skill, say commas after nouns of direct address, they have three options: 1. Skip the comma lesson because “most (2/3) have mastered the skill.” 2. Teach the whole class the comma lesson because “some (1/3) don’t know it and it won’t kill the rest of the kids (2/3) to review.” 3. Provide individualized or small group instruction “only for the kids (1/3) who need to master the skill” while the ones who have achieved mastery work on something else. As a fan of assessment-based instruction, I support #3.

However, if we just use diagnostic assessments, we miss out on an essential instructional component: formative assessment. Formative assessment checks on students’ understanding of the concept or skill with the context of instruction. Following instructional input and guided practice, brief formative assessment informs the teacher’s next step in instruction: Move on because they’ve got it. Re-teach to the entire class. Re-teach to those to have not mastered the concept or skill.

Need an example of an effective formative assessment?

Write three sentences: one with a noun of direct address at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end of a sentence.

DON’T assess to determine a generic problem.

Let me step on a few toes to illustrate a frequent problem with teacher assessments. Most elementary school teachers administer reading fluency assessments at the beginning of the year. Yes, middle and high school ELA teachers should be doing the same, albeit with silent reading fluencies. However, teachers select (or their district provides) a grade-level passage to read. Teachers dutifully compare student data to research-based grade level norms. Some teachers will re-assess throughout the year with similar grade-level passages and chart growth. All well and good; however, what does this common assessment procedure really tell us and how does it inform our reading instruction? Answer: The fluency assessments only tell us generically that Brenda reads below, Juan reads at, and Cheyenne reads above grade-level fluency norms on a grade-level passage. 

All we really know is that Brenda has a generic problem in reading grade-level passages. What we don’t know (but would like to know to inform our instruction) are the following specific data: Brenda has a frustrational reading level with grade 5 passages, but is instructional at grade 4 and independent at grade 3. Brenda. That specific data would inform our instruction and pinpoint appropriate reading resources for Brenda’s practice (as well as for Juan and Cheyenne).

Of course, you could follow the initial assessment with other grade level assessments to get the specificity, but why would you if an initial assessment would give you not only grade-level data, but also instructional level data? You’ll love our FREE download!

In other words, if you’re going to assess, you might as well assess efficiently and specifically. Knowing that a student has a problem  is okay; knowing exactly what the student problem is is much more useful.

DO review mastered material often.

The Common Core State Standard authors speak often in Appendix A about the cyclical nature of learning. Beyond the normal forgetting cycle, students often require re-teaching. Once mastered, always mastered is not a truism.

Additionally, Summer Brain Drain is all-too-often a reality teachers face with a new set of students each year. Frequently, last year’s assessment data provided by last year’s teacher may seem to indicate starting points higher that what the students indicate on even the same assessments given on Day One. Sometimes the new teacher may assume padded results from the previous year’s teacher to impress parents and administrators. However, who loop with their students are often surprised by how much re-teaching must be done to get students up to where they were.

The Test-Teach-Test-Teach-Test model is what assessment-based instruction is all about.

DON’T solely assess grade-level Standards.

I once taught next door to an eighth grade teacher whom the kids adored. He was funny, bright, and cared about his students. He was also glued to the Standards. So much so, that he only taught grade-level Standards. Irrespective of whether students were ready for the individual Standard; irrespective of whether students were deficit in much more important concepts or skills (such as being able to read); and irrespective of whether students already knew the Standards.

His philosophy was “if every teacher taught the grade-level Standards, no remediation would be required.” He said, “I’m an eighth-grade teacher and I teach the eighth-grade Standards, nothing more and nothing less.”

One day I got up the nerve to ask him, “Wouldn’t it make more sense if your philosophy was “if every student learned the grade-level Standards, no remediation would be required”?

His middle and upper kids did fine, although I suspect they had some significant learning gaps. The lower kids floundered or were transferred into my classes.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

*****THE FREE READING FLUENCY ASSESSMENT*****

The “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage permits the teacher to assess two-minute reading fluencies (a much better measurement than a one-minute timing).

Get the The Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

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

Flexible Phonics Instruction

I’ve been spending time on the International Literacy Association (ILA) website. Notice the name change. As I suggested in a related article, “There appears to be a new sheriff in town.”

As a reading specialist, I once was quite involved with the affiliate California Reading Association of the International Reading Association (the old name for the ILA). I dutifully attended both organization’s conferences, was involved in my local council, and even served on the secondary board for the California Reading Association. However, I eventually decided to drop my membership and involvement in the late 1980s. Others did as well. The California Reading Association conference used to draw 20,000 to its annual northern and southern state conferences, but attendance dwindled to less than 3,000. My take is that the organizations’ advocacy of “balanced literacy” (an updated branding of “whole language”) was simply out of step with the findings of the National Reading Panel and the back-to-phonics movement.

Fast forward 30 years. Reading specialists, reading intervention teachers, and parents may be surprised to learn that new position papers published on the ILA website uphold the last thirty years of reading research and validate the findings of the National Reading Panel. The venerable institution now supports direct instruction of phonological awareness (phonemic awareness) and phonics. Plus, the organization’s position paper on reading fluency properly re-focuses fluency instruction on accuracy and warns against too-much attention to reading speed. Check out my article titled “Reading Fluency ILA Position” for more.

Now to the phonics issue…

The ILA website also includes a position paper with addendum regarding dyslexia. In “Dyslexia: Response to the International Dyslexia Association,” the ILA questions

Dyslexia Does Not Exist

Dyslexia Is Not Real

whether dyslexia is, indeed, a diagnosable condition and advocates abandoning the term, dyslexia, altogether.Wow. At last I can come out of the shadows on this issue. Check out my summary of the debate and my own position in”Dyslexia Is Not Real.”

Additionally, the ILA challenges the dyslexia organization’s interpretations of the research-base on explicit, systematic phonics instruction. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) claims that “Dyslexia is a neurological condition caused by a different wiring of the brain. There is no cure for dyslexia and individuals with this condition must learn coping strategies (https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-at-a-glance/). The key coping mechanism, according to the IDA, is explicit, systematic phonics instruction. The IDA does not advocate a specific phonics program, but the Orton-Gillingham Approach is clearly a favorite. After all, Orton coined the term, dyslexia, as early as 1925.

International Literacy Association’s Critique on Explicit, Systematic Phonics (See Research Advisory Addendum)

The writers of the ILA addendum agree with the the authors of the National Reading Panel (2000) that “The conclusion supported by these findings is that various types of systematic phonics approaches are significantly more effective than non-phonics approaches in promoting substantial growth in reading” (2-93).

Interpretation: The ILA supports systematic phonics instruction for developing and struggling (remedial) readers.

However, the ILA addendum states, “The (National Reading) Panel compared three different approaches to phonics instruction (synthetic, larger unit phonics, and miscellaneous phonics approaches) and found no difference between them—thus the approach advocated by IDA (explicit, systematic phonics) cannot be claimed to be preferable: There is no certifiable best method for teaching children who experience reading difficulty.

Interpretation: The reading research does not support only one approach to phonics instruction as the dyslexia association claims.

The addendum continues, “In their report on the effects of specific programs, the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) program had the lowest average effect size (0.23). The remainder of the programs ranged from 0.35 to 0.68 (2-160). Looking further, only two of the O-G studies assessed comprehension, and the average effect size on comprehension was -0.03. Only one study reported a delayed assessment of comprehension, and the effect size was -0.81 (six months after the completion of the intervention). That is minus 0.81—thus participation in an O-G program appears to have had a large negative impact on reading achievement in comparison with other intervention methods evaluated in the study”

Magic Elixir for Reading Problems

Snake Oil Cure-All for Reading Problems

Interpretation: The pet program of many dyslexia advocates, Orton-Gillingham, is ineffective when used as the only component of reading instruction. However, the National Reading Panel Report, itself, adds an important caveat:

As with any instructional program, there is always the question: “Does one size fit all?” Teachers may be expected to use a particular phonics program with their class, yet it quickly becomes apparent that the program suits some students better than others. In the early grades, children are known to vary greatly in the skills they bring to school. There will be some children who already know most letter-sound correspondences, some children who can even decode words, and others who have little or no letter knowledge. Should teachers proceed through the program and ignore these students? Or should they assess their students’ needs and select the types and amounts of phonics suited to those needs? Although the latter is clearly preferable, this requires phonics programs that provide guidance in how to place students into flexible instructional groups and how to pace instruction. However, it is common for many phonics programs to present a fixed sequence of lessons scheduled from the beginning to the end of the school year. Finally, it is important to emphasize that systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program. Phonics instruction is never a total reading program.

Interpretation: The Orton-Gillingham, Wilson, Slingerland, Open Court, etc. explicit, systematic phonics programs may be ideal instructional components as part of a total reading program to some, but not all students in a class, but not as the only solution to all reading problems and to all readers.

Evaluation: The Need for Flexible, Assessment-based Phonics Instruction and More

There is no doubt that explicit, systematic phonics instruction has its place in reading instruction. As a reading specialist and reading intervention teacher, I have found much greater instructional continuity and success with an A to Z scope and sequence of comprehensive phonics instruction than with hodge-podge synthetic, analytic, embedded, or onset-rime approaches. However, explicit, systematic phonics instruction has to be quick and to the point with both developing and older remedial readers.

Additionally, good phonics instruction is assessment-based and flexible. As the National Reading Panel Report Conclusion points out, learners have different skill-sets. How does individualized instruction mesh with a comprehensive phonics program? In my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program, the teacher begins each class with 5-minute sound-spelling blending practice in a 16-week instructional sequence to learn all the sounds and spellings of the alphabetic code. Students continue in 15-minute assessment-based phonics workshops. Some students need practice in diphthongs; some don’t. Diagnostic and formative assessments drive instruction.

Other students need phonemic awareness activities; most need work on syllabication, conventional spelling patterns, and fluency practice.

All students need reading comprehension practice. My expository comprehension articles and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books provide the means.

In other words, the teacher is front and center in my program and should be in whatever amalgamation of reading resources a good teacher uses to meet the needs of her students. Phonics instruction? Absolutely. Flexible phonics instruction? Even better.

Want a FREE treasure-trove of reading assessments, including audio files and recording matrices, for struggling readers? Click this article on reading assessment. Once you check out these comprehensive assessments, you’ll want the assessment-based resources to make a difference for your struggling readers.

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dyslexia Is Not Real

Dyslexia Does Not Exist

Dyslexia Is Not Real

The International Literacy Association (ILA) recently (2016) released a position paper on dyslexia. The paper is mildly critical of those who tend to attribute reading difficulties to dyslexia. The paper, like many organizational position statements, pitches a few softballs at the International Dyslexia Association (IDA).

The IDA fired back with its own critique of the ILA’s position paper. In its response, the IDA criticizes what it perceives as misinterpretations of the research studies regarding dyslexia.The game quickly changed from softball to hardball.

The ILA had its ducks in a row (Was the organization anticipating a response from the IDA?) and tore into the ILA’s critique with an addendum to its original position paper: “Dyslexia: Response to the International Dyslexia Association.” In the addendum the ILA questions whether dyslexia is, indeed, a diagnosable condition, disputes the IDA’s advocacy of a one-size-fits-all solution to reading problems, i.e., systematic, explicit phonics instruction, and advocates abandoning the term, dyslexia, altogether. Quite a strong position paper from such a venerable reading institution!

As a reading specialist, I whole-heartedly agree with the International Literacy Association, even though I provide a strand of systematic, explicit phonics instruction in my own reading intervention program (among other approaches to reading remediation).

Why dyslexia is not real and why educators should stop using the term.

The International Dyslexia Association offers a variety of definitions regarding dyslexia (bolded terms mine):

“Dyslexia is a neurological condition caused by a different wiring of the brain. There is no cure for dyslexia and individuals with this condition must learn coping strategies” (https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-at-a-glance/).

“Dyslexia is, above all, a condition that impedes reading acquisition” (https://dyslexiaida.org/ida-urges-ila-to-review-and-clarify-key-points-in-dyslexia-research-advisory/).

Essentially, in these two definitions the IDA uses condition as if dyslexia is an identifiable, measurable reality. It is not. When advocates of dyslexia trot out brain scans of struggling readers purportedly with this condition and compare to different-looking scans of good readers, they beg the question. In other words, they assume what has not yet been proven. We know so little about the brain and to attribute brain abnormalities to dyslexia is simply poor science.

And such a strange use of the term, condition! By way of contrast, sunburn is a good example of a real, identifiable, and measurable condition. It can be diagnosed with reliable and valid measures. It is positively correlated with overexposure to ultra violet rays. It has predictable effects: pain, increased body temperature, and sometimes chills. It can be treated with aloe vera (some claim) and heals over time. It can be prevented by using sunscreen. Sunburn has all the qualities of a real, identifiable, measurable condition; dyslexia does not.

Following is another more detailed definition of dyslexia, adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002 (bolded terms mine):

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge (https://dyslexiaida.org/definition-of-dyslexia/).

Notice the multiplicity of reading problems purportedly attributed to dyslexia. Any first year grad student knows the unlikelihood of establishing a statistically significant correlation between a single cause and more than one effect. Just as any savvy consumer knows how to spot an invented condition by its wide variety of effects (effects which just so happen to be shared by many of us).

For example,

In 1990, E. Denis Wilson, a medical doctor in Florida invented what he modestly called “Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome” –a new condition he claimed was widespread, and causing a huge array of symptoms: fatigue, headaches, irritability, fatigue, dry skin, asthma, allergies and more. Wilson claimed his condition could be diagnosed by measuring body temperature. A lower than normal temperature confirms the diagnosis. According to Wilson, it was the slight reduction in body temperature that apparently causes the body’s metabolic pathways to function-sub-optimally, causing the vague symptoms reported. Your medical doctor doesn’t diagnose Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome because it’s a fake disease (https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/naturopathy-vs-science-fake-diseases).

To popularize invented conditions, proponents frequently promote simplistic diagnostic tests. Of course, I tested positive (as will most people) on the “Wilson Temperature Syndrome” test. By the way, I also tested border-line positive on the International Dyslexia Association’s “Dyslexia Self-Assessment for Adults” (Fran Levin Bowman, M.Ed. & Vincent Culotta, Ph.D., Copyright, 2010, All Rights Reserved).

Such tests lend credence to the notion that the condition is more prevalent than many would believe. The “you are not in this alone” assurance tends to be a key marketing strategy. The International Dyslexia Association claims that “Dyslexia affects 1 in 10 individuals, many of whom remain undiagnosed and receive little or no intervention services” (https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-test).

Wilson recommended the use of thyroid hormone (T3) to treat his syndrome. Note that an invented condition always seems to have a snake-oil cure-all.

Magic Elixir for Reading Problems

Snake Oil Cure-All for Reading Problems

The International Dyslexia Association has systematic, explicit phonics instruction as its treatment and plenty of resources in its website’s bookstore.

But why not simply agree to use the term, dyslexia, as a catch-all word for reading problems? Indeed, many reading teachers and reading specialists have chosen to adopt this definition to make peace with their special education colleagues (who tend to view dyslexia as a learning disability). As an aside, many in the homeschooling movement have also bought into the dyslexic diagnosis as a key reason why some students have not achieved reading or math success in the public schools.

It would be tempting to do so; however, continuing to use this term, dyslexia, is counterproductive. The IDA’s classification of dyslexia as an incurable learning disability precludes using the term as a convenient synonym for reading problems. Although many struggling readers are certainly well-served with the explicit, systematic phonics approach advocated by those in the dyslexic camp, this instructional remedy and others should not be promoted as mere coping mechanisms. Reading specialists and reading intervention teachers know that targeted, assessment-based instruction can cure reading problems, not just provide simple band-aids.

To close, I agree with the conclusion of the International Literacy Association in its position paper addendum responding to the criticisms of the International Dyslexia Association:

“In other words, there is no empirical basis for the use of the term dyslexic to distinguish a group of children who are different from others experiencing difficulty acquiring literacy (“Dyslexia: Response to the International Dyslexia Association“).

Reading is a complex and multi-faceted process. Let’s abandon the use of dyslexia–an artificial and counterproductive construct with no research base.

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. My own snake oil to sell 🙂 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops (explicit, systematic phonics instruction) with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , ,

ESL Reading Assessments

ELL Reading Assessments

ESL Reading Assessments

Let’s get the alphabet soup out of the way up front. By ESL (English as a Second Language), I’m lumping in ELL (English Language-Learners),  ELD (English Language Development), SDAIE (Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English), and EFL (English as  a Foreign Language) programs. If you want 5 more acronyms, check out my favorite ESL forum: Matt Errey’s English Club.

Now, I’m not saying that these categorizations are irrelevant, nor am I claiming that all instructional strategies and resources are appropriate for each group of learners. Nevertheless, I am advocating one common approach.

Yes, I have my California CLAD (Crosscultural Language and Academic Development) credential, but I am also an M.A. reading specialist in a very diverse school district with over 50 spoken languages. Many of these kids wind up in my seventh grade reading intervention classes or in the grades 4, 5, and 6 classes which I used to serve as a district elementary reading specialist. Crazy, fun, and challenging!

The common approach to teach each of these learning groups? Assessment-based instruction.

As everyone knows, ESL students are diverse learners, just as are all students. For example, from a reading perspective a P1 Spanish-speaker from Mexico may have a solid phonics background while a P1 Mandarin-speaker from China may not because of the logographic (non-alphabetic) writing system. As is the case where I teach (Elk Grove, CA), these two kids (plus plenty of others) wind up in the same reading intervention class.

My point is that the best ESL resources are ones which are assessment-based, not program-based. Clearly, one-size-fits-all ESL resources would not work equally as well for the two aforementioned students. Catering resources to the needs of the learner makes sense and reliable assessments can pinpoint relative strengths and specific deficits. With targeted assessments, If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t. I think I made that up years ago. If I didn’t, please correct me 🙂

My Pennington Publishing store provides both the diagnostic assessments (in reading, spelling, grammar, and mechanics) and the corresponding resources to teach to assessed individual needs.

However, these are compensatory resources, i.e. they are designed to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. I think that one’s mine as well, but I’ve said it so often over the years that, again, I might be wrong. Hopefully I won’t start claiming “To be or not to be; that is the question” as I start aging.

In other words, my resources include both remedial and grade-level, CCSS-aligned lessons. To this end, all my resources include classroom management tips to help teachers manage the diverse needs in their classrooms. Teaching to heterogeneous groups is definitely more challenging than teaching to homogeneous (if there is such a thing) classes.

The best ESL resources both remediate (according to assessed needs) and challenge with rigorous grade-level Standards. Ah, but I’m probably “preaching to the choir” in this post.

Over the years I’ve developed and field-tested these comprehensive phonemic awareness, phonics, rimes, spelling, and sight words assessments. Most of the assessments have audio files for easy whole-class (or small group) administration. Recording matrices are included.


Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , ,

r-controlled Vowels for Big Kids

r-controlled Vowels

The r-controlled Vowels

Although r, l, and do control (change from the usual) the vowel sounds, most phonics programs only include the r-controlled vowels. I agree with this approach. Try watching an l-controlled or w-controlled video lesson on YouTube and your head will start spinning. Much better to include the l-controlled vowels in the context of other sounds, such as the /aw/ diphthong for “al” and “all” and the schwa for the “_le” word parts. The w-controlled vowels are so crazy that they are most-easily learned as outlaw words (sight words). I do recommend showing two w-controlled vowels patterns via spelling sorts: the war /or/ as in warm and the wor /er/ as in word. Most speech therapists agree with this balanced approach, and they are the sounds experts.

Following is the explicit, systematic approach to phonics acquisition via small group workshops from my reading intervention program. Download the entire set of r-controlled vowel lessons and assessment at the end of the article. Plus, get the complete set of FREE diagnostic 13 reading assessments to see which of your BIG KIDS need help with which phonics elements.

How to Teach r-Controlled Vowels

The r-controlled vowels of ar, er, and ir.

The r-controlled Vowels

Introductory Definition: When an follows a vowel, the r changes the sound that the vowel makes. The vowel is called an r-controlled vowel. Sometimes teachers refer to the r as the “bossy r” because the r “bosses” the vowel to make the vowel change its sound.

On our animal sound-spelling cards, the names of each card: ermine, armadillo, and orca each have an which controls the vowel sounds. Examples: /er/ as in her, /ar/ as in car, and /or/ as in for. The /er/ ermine has three different spellings, which can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of a syllable.

Teaching Tips

To teach phonics to big kids and adults, we have to teach differently than when we teach phonics to beginning readers. Your big kids and adults are smarter and have more life experience than pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. Intervention students have “heard it all before.” They just haven’t learned all of it.

I suggest a four-pronged approach to teaching r-controlled vowels to your reading intervention students:

1. Use the animal sound-spelling cards (provided for you in a FREE five-lesson long vowels download at the end of this article) to teach the names, sounds, and spellings in isolation.

2. Teach whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending for all of the r-controlled vowel spellings. Use a hurried pace, but blend every day until each has been mastered. Reinforce with games, using the diphthong cards to blend with the consonant and consonant blend cards.

3. Diagnose and gap-fill. If we use effective, comprehensive diagnostic assessments to determine what students know and don’t know and target instruction accordingly, students will much more likely buy-in to this individualized instruction (even when you use groups). Want my FREE 13 reading assessments, used by hundreds (or more) teachers to teach assessment-based gap-filling? BTW… the two phonics tests have audio files dictated by Yours Truly!

4. Use targeted practice to do the gap-filling and make sure your students have mastered the diphthongs through formative assessment. The FREE five-lesson download includes a short formative assessment. Be willing and able to re-teach if they don’t get it. After all, reading intervention is all about learning, not teaching.

Get the The r-controlled Vowels Lessons and Assessment FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Diphthongs for Big Kids

Teaching Diphthongs

Diphthongs RtI

Response to intervention reading teachers know that phonics instruction is critically important to fill in the gaps for older readers. Teachers use a variety of approaches to determine which phonics skills are missing from older students’ reading strategies. Diphthongs are quite often among these phonics deficits. Some teachers favor an implicit approach to discover these gaps, such as guided reading running records. Other teachers favor an explicit approach to this data via phonics assessments. I tend to be a broad-brush, cover all the angles kind of reading specialist with a balanced approach to reading intervention. What works for some kids doesn’t necessarily work for all kids.

Assessment

My Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books provide 54 custom running records and word fluency practice to allow teachers to discover reading deficits through reading, i.e. the implicit approach. My Vowel Sounds and Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessments provide the explicit approach to diagnose phonics deficits.

Instruction and Practice

The assessment-based instruction and practice in my comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program uses the implicit and explicit approaches as well. With the modeled expository reading fluencies (129 YouTube videos a 3 speeds) and connected comprehension worksheets, there are plenty of learn to read by reading practice activities. Additionally, the systematic and explicit sound-spellings blending, syllabication worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, and phonics workshops ensure that the reading intervention is targeted to assessment-based, identified student needs. As a sample of this program, a full set of five diphthong workshop lessons with a formative assessment is provided absolutely FREE at the end of this article.

A Balanced Approach to Reading Intervention

Older kids who didn’t get (or never got) phonics instruction the first time around deserve the assessments and practice that will ensure mastery this time. And, as an aside, my assessments and practice for word identification and recognition are balanced as well. In addition to five phonemic awareness assessments (and corresponding activities), the program also includes sight word, rimes (word families), and word part (syllable), assessments and activities.

Again, a multi-pronged approach is needed for the diverse student populations in any reading intervention class at any age. I’ve taught remedial reading and supervised reading programs for elementary, middle school, high school and community college. I’m here to say that reading intervention teachers have to be equipped to teach how students learn and that different approaches are necessary. As a further aside, I’m not talking about learning styles, multiple intelligences, or different modalities; I’m simply talking about varied approaches to reading instruction.

Following is the explicit, systematic approach to phonics acquisition via small group workshops from my reading intervention program. Download the entire set of diphthong lessons and assessment at the end of the article.

How to Teach Diphthongs

Introductory Definition: Unlike vowel digraphs, which say one sound, such as with “ai” as in train, a diphthong says two sounds, such as with “aw” in hawk.

On our animal sound-spelling cards, the names of each card: rooster, woodpecker, cow, koi, and hawk each use two vowel sounds. The diphthongs are written in purple on the cards with slashes (/) before and after to remind us that the diphthongs are sounds, not letters.

Each diphthong has more than one spelling. The most common spellings are listed below the names of the cards. A blank means that a consonant must go in there. A consonant is a different sound than a vowel and can be spelled with one or more letters.

Teaching Tips

To teach phonics to big kids and adults, we have to teach differently than when we teach phonics to beginning readers. Your big kids and adults are smarter and have more life experience than pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. Intervention students have “heard it all before.” They just haven’t learned all of it.

I suggest a four-pronged approach to teaching diphthongs to your reading intervention students:

1. Use the animal sound-spelling cards (provided for you in a FREE five-lesson long vowels download at the end of this article) to teach the names, sounds, and spellings in isolation.

2. Teach whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending for all of the diphthong spellings. Use a hurried pace, but blend every day until each has been mastered. Reinforce with games, using the diphthong cards to blend with the consonant and consonant blend cards.

3. Diagnose and gap-fill. If we use effective, comprehensive diagnostic assessments to determine what students know and don’t know and target instruction accordingly, students will much more likely buy-in to this individualized instruction (even when you use groups). Want my FREE 13 reading assessments, used by hundreds (or more) teachers to teach assessment-based gap-filling? BTW… the two phonics tests have audio files dictated by Yours Truly!

4. Use targeted practice to do the gap-filling and make sure your students have mastered the diphthongs through formative assessment. The FREE five-lesson download includes a short formative assessment. Be willing and able to re-teach if they don’t get it. After all, reading intervention is all about learning, not teaching.

Get the Diphthongs Phonics Workshop FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mastery Learning in RtI

Foundation of Mastery Learning

Fix the Foundation with Mastery Learning

I just finished watching a TED TALK by Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy. Sal was talking about mastery learning and the importance of building strong learning foundations before layering on additional information.

As I watched the video, I was thinking about why a stubborn 25% of most students in the upper elementary, middle, and high schools are reading two or more years below grade level.

Sal cites the example of a child who scores an average grade of 75% on a unit test. Most educators would accept 75% as an average score, and in fact most diagnostic assessments would accept 75—80% as mastery level; however, Sal points out the not knowing 25% of the test components is problematic. From the student’s perspective: “I didn’t know 25% of the foundational thing, and now I’m being pushed to the more advanced thing.”

When students try to learn something new that builds upon these shaky foundations, “they hit a wall… and “become disengaged.”

Sal likens the lack of mastery learning to shoddy home construction. What potential homeowner would be happy to buy a new home that has only 75% of its foundation completed (a C), or even 95% (an A)?

Of course, Sal is a math guy and math lends itself to sequential mastery learning more so than does my field of English-language arts and reading intervention. My content area tends to have a mix of sequential and cyclical teaching learning, as reflected in the structure of the Common Core State Standards. The author of the School Improvement Network site puts it nicely:

Many teachers view their work from a lens that acknowledges the cyclical nature of teaching and learning.  This teaching and learning cycle guides the definition of learning targets, the design of instructional delivery, the creation and administration of assessments and the selection of targeted interventions in response to individual student needs.

At this point, our article begins to beg the question: What if a shaky foundation is what we’re dealing with now? We can’t do anything about the past. Teachers can start playing the blame game and complain that we’re stuck teaching reading to students who missed key foundational components, such as phonics. All-too-often, response to intervention teachers are ignoring shaky foundations and are trying to layer on survival skills without fixing the real problems.

Instead, teachers should re-build the foundation. Teachers can figure out what is missing in the individual student skill-sets and fill the gaps… this time with mastery learning.

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies with the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. A key component of the program is our 13 diagnostic reading assessments. These comprehensive and prescriptive assessments will help response to intervention reading teachers find out specifically which reading and spelling deficits have created a shaky foundation for each of your students. I gladly share these FREE Reading Assessments with teachers and welcome your comments and questions.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Elizabeth Lewis

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fluency Assessment Problems

The Problem with Reading Fluency Assessments

The Problems with Fluency Assessments

The heart of effective reading intervention, whether in a comprehensive Response to Intervention (RtI) program, individual remedial reading classes, reading tutoring, or in-class literacy centers, guided reading, readers workshop, etc. is assessment-based instruction. The devil is in the details, especially with respect to the diagnostic (and placement) reading assessments. This article focuses on reading fluency assessments.

Background

As a reading specialist, I’ve worn three different hats in four different grade-level settings. My first hat has been worn as a district trainer of trainers and professional development instructor for elementary, middle, and high school teachers. My second hat has been worn as a site-level reading program diagnostician and supervisor at the eight elementary schools and one high school. My third hat has been worn as a reading intervention teacher in grades 4–6 elementary, grade 7 middle school, grade 9 high school, and the reading lab at a community college.

What I Learned

After earning my M.A. as a reading specialist, I began my three-hat, four grade-level setting career. I quickly learned that my grad school experience provided the theoretical framework, but not the tools (specifically the assessment tools) to ply my trade. As I learned and developed those assessment tools in the real world of teachers and their classrooms, I found that teachers were more than willing to try some new tools, but the tools had to be on their terms and conditions

Teacher Terms and Conditions

1. Minimal expenditure of assessment time including testing, correction, data recording, data analysis, progress monitoring, and grade-level or school-wide meetings.

2. Minimal expense for testing tools. Teachers prefer spending school and personal money on teaching, not testing, resources. After all, teachers got into the business to teach, not to test.

3. Teachable assessment tools. Teachers love meaningful and simple test data, but only quantitative data. Teachers don’t like the random sample tests that university professors produce. Teachers prefer comprehensive test data which identify learning gaps that teachers can tackle in their instruction. 

4. No evaluations based upon progress monitoring. Teachers are at different places on their learning curves and are teaching uncontrolled variables, that is their students, with behavioral issues, language challenges, soci0-economic issues, and school structures, such as time allotments for reading instruction, training, supplies, and administrative support.

I started making an impact on teachers and on my struggling readers when I accepted and applied these conditional terms for assessment-based instruction.

Brief Critique of Popular Fluency Assessments

To my mind, the most popular fluency assessment programs fail to meet some or all of these teacher terms and conditions: Dibels, aimsweb, and Read Naturally®. Their products are 1. Time-consuming 2. Expensive (Dibels being a partial exception) 3. Not simple, nor teachable (explanation follows) and 4. Too-amenable to evaluation of teachers, rather than their students.

The two aims of these diagnostic reading fluency assessments are to determine baseline data with regard to grade-level fluency scores and to establish a subsequent instructional fluency level to provide practice at the student’s proximal zone of development (Vygotsky). In other words, find out how the student compares to other grade-level reading fluency norms and figure out the reading levels that provide the optimal practice.

Sounds great in theory; however, I have doubts (as do most teachers) about the validity and practicality of these approaches to diagnostic fluency assessment. First, giving a grade-level fluency passage to a struggling reader introduces too many variables: vocabulary, multi-syllabic decoding, sentence length and construction to name a few. True that a sixth grader reading a sixth grade passage at 65 WCPM (words correct per minute) does have reading problems. However, to say that the data indicates a reading fluency deficiency is an over-reach and useless as a teachable tool for the teacher.

Jan Hasbrouk, co-author of the widely-used grades 1–8 fluency norms research labels diagnostic reading fluency assessments as a “canary in a coal mine.” She comments:

A score falling more than 10 words below the 50th percentile should raise a concern; the student may need additional assistance, and further assessments may be needed to diagnose the source of the below-average performance. Depending on the age of the student and any concerns about reading performance noted by the teacher or parents, such additional testing might include assessments of oral language development, phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, and/or comprehension (Hasbrouk).

I would agree that a diagnostic reading fluency assessment can be an important “canary,” but not a grade-level fluency.

Secondly, the time-consuming (even with computer software) task of determining the right fluency practice levels rests on some unproven assumptions. Since when does practicing the same thing (grade-level passages) over and over again (even at so-called challenge levels) prepare the student for something more difficult (the next reading grade level)? For example, if I asked my math specialist friend about how she would remediate students’ multiplication deficits, I sincerely doubt if she would advise a third grade teacher to solely require students to practice the 1–5’s repeatedly (even with the challenging 4 x 5) until mastery before moving on to the 1–10’s. At some point the teacher needs to help students practice the next level before or they never are going to get to the rest of the table, nor make sense of the whole.

As an aside, the same criticism and caution can be applied to the use of leveled readers. Controlled vocabulary may provide a certain level of access to students, but it also limits progress. Plus, don’t even get me (and other teachers) started about the scientific differences (Lexiles) for short fluency practice passages. Lastly, my take is that expository diagnostic reading fluency assessments present a much better picture of the reading most grades 3–adult students are exposed to in the classroom.

An Alternative Diagnostic Fluency Assessment

The Pets Fluency Assessment: 1. Quick 2. FREE 3. Simple and Teachable 4. Non-Evaluative Expository Article

The “Pets” fluency passage is an expository article leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second-grade level; the third paragraph is at the third-grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level that builds confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language through successive approximation. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity.

1. Quick: Although two-minutes, rather than the traditional one-minute, no follow-up instructional level assessments need to be administered, graded, and recorded. Experienced teachers recognize that two minutes provides a much better indicator than a one-minute timing. One itch or word stumble can ruin a one-minute score.

2. FREE: Click below and I will send you the directions, student copy, and teacher copy with word counts.

3. SIMPLE: When I look at the directions for the popular reading fluency assessments critiqued above, I am shocked at the grading complexity. I’ve used them and find them difficult to mark while concurrently paying attention to the students’ prosody (qualitative factors such as expression, intonation, attention to punctuation). The directions for the Pets Fluency Assessment are simple. Para-professionals and parents can certainly administer this assessment with fidelity.

TEACHABLE: The  two-minute timing allow teachers to see how students read increasingly difficult text and to gain a good gut level feel for the students’ independent reading levels, as well as other reading deficits, such as sight words and phonics. After all, there’s no better reading assessment than reading.

4. Non-Evaluative: The Pets Fluency Assessment is diagnostic and teachable. It’s design is one and done. Teachers rightly complain that other fluency programs using increasingly difficult benchmark reading fluencies (typically monthly or quarterly), compare apples to oranges. If the teacher (administrator or parent or reading coach) is curious about reading progress, the reading sub-skills to fluency (such as decoding) are much better indicators.

Check out the author’s reading intervention program resources, including the Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

The Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

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

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

Get the Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

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