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Assessment-based Individualized Learning

Every educational movement needs a catchy new acronym. ABIL will have to do: Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Simply put, it’s the supplemental instruction students need to catch up  while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

What It’s Not

  • ABIL is nothing new. Teachers have been doing it forever.
  • It’s not about creating individual educational plans for every student.
  • It’s not a replacement for rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • It’s not funky differentiated instruction.
  • It’s not one teaching methodology: small groups, lit circles, writers workshop, learning centers, etc.
  • Impossible or unmanageable.

What It Is

  • Foundational content, concepts, and skills that every student needs to access rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • Reliable and valid diagnostic assessments to determine individual student mastery and deficits in those prerequisites. Assessments which are comprehensive and teachable–not random samples. For example, what reading and English-language arts teacher cares about learning that Johnny has some sight word deficits? Good teachers want to know precisely which sight words Johnny kn0ws and does not know to be able to efficiently teach to Johnny’s specific needs.
  • Reading assessments: upper and lower case alphabet, syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, sight syllables, word recognition level, short vowel sound-spellings, long vowel sound-spellings, vowel digraph sound-spellings, vowel diphthong sound-spellings, silent final e, consonant sound-spellings, consonant blend sound-spellings, consonant digraph sound-spellings. Reading fluency level, word recognition level, instructional reading level.
  • Previous grade-level spelling assessment: Every spelling pattern and conventional spelling rule.
  • Previous grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments.
  • Curriculum which directly corresponds to each assessment item with progress monitoring matrices to ensure student mastery and is conducive to concurrent instruction in grade-level Standards.
  • The key ingredient of RtI (Response to Intervention) besides quality, accessible grade-level instruction.
  • What special ed and ELD students need most.
  • How you would want your own child taught with rigorous grade-level instruction and individualized learning to remediate any relative weaknesses.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, provides assessments and curricular resources to implement Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Want to check out the curriculum? Click here. Want to download the assessments, answers, and recording matrices described above for your students?

ELA/Reading Assessments

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Quick Reading Assessments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reading Intervention

As a reading specialist, I have seen reading intervention programs come and go. The one thing I have learned is that no matter how good the program, the program will not be successful if teachers will not teach it. Rarely do teachers teach only a reading intervention program. Elementary teachers are responsible for teaching every other academic subject; secondary teachers are teaching subject area classes with multiple preps. A successful reading intervention program must be both “user-friendly” for teachers and address the needs of diverse learners.

Serving as a district reading specialist, I worked with dozens of teachers and their students over the years to design a program that really works for you and your students. We have no cookie-cutter students and a cookie-cutter instructional approach just doesn’t work.

Teaching Reading Strategies provides a comprehensive reading intervention program which will both meet the meets of a diverse group of students with diverse reading needs. The 13 whole class reading and spelling diagnostic assessments will help you tailor the program to what your students need to learn, not what a canned reading program wants you to teach.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading StrategiesThis program emphasizes assessment-based instruction and is extremely flexible. You could spend thousands on Read 180, Language Live, etc. each year and not get the results that you will get by using these Teaching Reading Strategies resources.

New reading teachers will love the scripted day to day plans to teach reading A-Z in a half-year intensive or full-year program.

Experienced teachers will pick and choose from the myriad of resources.

The mix of great direct instruction, small group phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight word workshops, and individualized instruction (including fluency practice with modeled readings at three different speeds, sound-spelling, syllabication, comprehension, and phonics worksheets) will help you cater instruction to the needs of each student. Plus, the only computer-assisted component in this program consists of the online modeled readings. Even this reading fluency practice has an effective work-around instructional approach that does not require computers. No technology nightmares! No unsupervised instruction. Less expense, too.

AND THIS PROGRAM IS EASY TO TEACH WITH VERY LITTLE PREP!

I also highly recommend the Sam and Friends Phonics Books to get your non-readers reading right away at Book 1, while more advanced students will begin reading at higher levels. The perfect take-home books for guided reading and homework! Each book includes five reading comprehension questions and a 30 second fluency practice/assessment.

Finally, the FUN part of this program is the Reading and Spelling Game Cards with tons of engaging games that both beginning readers and more advanced readers can play. The cards are included in the Teaching Reading Strategies digital download from TpT.

Check out the introductory video and see if Teaching Reading Strategies makes sense for you and your students.

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Reading Program Placement

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

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

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

Common Sense Criteria and Pitfalls to Avoid with Reading Program Placement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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

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Teaching Reading Strategies and RtI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Program Components

Whole Class Instruction (18−23 minutes per day)

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

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

Phonemic Awareness

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

Phonics

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

Fluency

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

Individualized Instruction (15−30 minutes per day)

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

Training Modules

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

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

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High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

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

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

Jessi

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

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

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

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

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

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

First of all, a few important caveats… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

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

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Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preview This Book

Check out the introductory video.

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Expository Fluency Practice for Reading Intervention

Much of the reading wars dust has settled in the last decade. By now we have some consensus about what makes a good reader and some levels of understanding about what limitations or deficits a struggling reader does face. One of these areas of consensus involves reading fluency. Reading fluency includes rate, accuracy, and prosody (the music of oral language; the expression of voice; the attention to syntax and punctuation). The reading research conclusion that improving reading fluency is highly correlated with higher reading comprehension (Benson, 2008; Flood, Lapp, & Fisher, 2005; Klauda & Guthrie, 2008; M. R. Kuhn et al., 2006; Rasinski et al., 2009) is now largely uncontested.

Several reading strategies have been found to be effective in improving reading fluency in the past decade. Modeled and repeated readings have proven helpful for many primary and intermediate readers—especially when these strategies have been coupled with systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, and spelling. But these same strategies seem to have fallen short for older remedial readers. Still, only one in six remedial readers reading two or more grade levels below their age ever catch up to grade level reading.

Why is reading so difficult to remediate in older, struggling readers?

“One of the consistent findings in our remedial research for children who begin the intervention with moderate or serious impairments in word reading ability is that the interventions have not been sufficient to close the gap in reading fluency. Although the students increase in fluency in an absolute sense (they become more fluent within passages of the same level of difficulty), the interventions do not bring the students to average levels of fluency for students their age, nor are students’ percentile or standard scores for fluency nearly as high as they are for accuracy.”

So the rich get richer and the poor get richer, but at nowhere near the same relative rates or levels.

“…Thus, it is not easy for these students to become “fluent readers” if the standard of
reading fluency is based on the ability to fluently identify almost all of the words in text
appropriate for their age.”

from Joseph K. Torgesen and Roxanne F. Hudson, Florida Center for Reading Research at
Florida State University http://learningovations.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Fluency_chapter-TorgesenHudson.pdf

So, Torgesen and Hudson are arguing that increasing reading fluency remains a key to reading remediation, but only when coupled with the ability to access complex text.

When we talk about more difficult text, we are not only talking about lexile reading levels. We are also talking about types of text and levels of text complexity. Most would agree that expository text is qualitatively more difficult to read than narrative (with the possible exception of our favorite Russian authors).

The Shift from Narrative to Expository Text

In the introductory pages of the Common Core State Standards, the authors cite the Distribution of Literary and Informational Passages by Grade in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP framework to set the following distributions of text: 50% literary/50% information (4th grade); 45% literary/55% information (8th grade); 30% literary/70% information (12th grade).

With the shift from narrative to expository reading in the Common Core State Standards, it would certainly seem to make sense that we abandon past reading intervention practice of using primarily narrative passages to help students practice reading fluency. This would especially be true for upper elementary, middle, and high school remedial readers. It would also make sense that practice with expository passages would particularly benefit these students as they read social studies and science texts while concurrently taking a remedial reading course or English class with an RtI tiered intervention model.

The problem has been finding short expository passages that will help students push through their current reading levels to higher reading levels. Too often with leveled reading passages, students are assigned texts at their lexile levels and continue to practice at these levels. This does makes sense if our purpose is to help students independently access content at that level of text complexity; however, if our goal is to improve reading ability, then reading exclusively at the same diagnostic level will not produce growth in reading fluency, nor the ability to comprehend more complex text.

It’s a bit like getting into shape. If you pay your dues to join the local fitness club with the expectation that you will improve both cardiovascular ability (reading fluency) and strength (academic language and more complex syntactical structures), your personal trainer will probably suggest a weightlifting component to your personal fitness plan.

The trainer may diagnostically assess your ability to complete a certain number of reps on 20 pound free weights in a minute and determine that you can complete 15 curls.

If the trainer establishes a personal goal for you to improve to 20 reps per minute on the same 20 pound weights after a month of practice and you meet your goal, you will have achieved some cardiovascular benefit. However, you will not have measurably increased your strength.

To increase strength, your trainer would need to increase the weight, to say 25 pound free weights, then 30 pound weights, etc. If you just increased weight without increasing reps per minute you would not improve cardiovascular ability.

Of course, you need both increased reps plus progressively heavier free weights to accomplish both of your personal fitness goals. Likewise, struggling remedial readers need both practice in reading fluency and practice in reading increasingly difficult text. Older readers need to both “catch up” and “keep up” with grade level text.

Teaching Reading Strategies Provides Expository Fluency Practice for Reading Intervention

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program

*****

Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly 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.

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Debunking Speed Reading Myths – Is Speed Reading for Real?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good Reading Fluency, but Poor Reading Comprehension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work

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

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

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

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

1. Reading Research Does Not Support SSR

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

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

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

2. There is Not Enough Class Time for SSR

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

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

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

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

4. SSR is Not Teaching

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

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

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

5. SSR Does Not Hold Students Accountable for Reading

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

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

6. SSR Provides No Opportunity for Reader Response

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

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

7. SSR Turns Recreational Reading into a School Thing

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

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

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

Independent Reading Text Selection

Students choose any reading text that meets these criteria:

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

Independent Reading Accountability

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

Advantages of This Model

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

What Kind of Results Can Teachers Get?

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

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

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

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

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

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Free Teaching Reading Resources for ELA

Effective English-language arts teachers teach both content and process. It’s a demanding job, but ELA teachers bear the primary burden of teaching not only the what of reading, but also the how of reading. Reading instruction begins, but does not end, in the elementary classroom. Secondary ELA teachers teach the advanced reading skills that are so critical to success in academia and in the workplace.

Most ELA teachers are quite prepared to teach the reading and writing content of their courses. Their undergraduate and graduate courses reflect this preparation. However, most ELA teachers are ill-prepared to teach reading strategies. Most credential programs require only one or two reading strategy courses.

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding how to teach reading in the ELA classroom from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/

Download free phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, sight word, rimes, sight syllables, fluency, grammar, mechanics, and spelling assessments. All with answers and recording matrices. A true gold mine for the teacher committed to differentiated instruction!

The Problem with Dialectical Journals

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-problem-with-dialectical-journals/

Dialectical journals have been teacher favorites since literature-based reading pedagogy was popularized in the 1980s. However, this reader-centered instruction creates more problems than it solves. In lieu of dialectical journals, teachers should help students learn and apply the five types of independent reading strategies that promote internal monitoring of the text.

How to Teach Main Idea

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-main-idea/

To Read or Not to Read: That is the Question

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/to-read-or-not-to-read-that-is-the-question/

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.

Learning to Read and Reading to Learn

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/learning-to-read-and-reading-to-learn/

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. This pedagogical philosophy has clearly failed our students. We need to re-orient to a learning to read focus for all K-12 students.

Into, Through, but Not Beyond

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/into-through-but-not-beyond/

English-language arts teachers and reading experts certainly agree that “into” activities help facilitate optimal  comprehension. Additionally, teachers need to use “through” activities to assist students in reading “between the lines.” However, at the “beyond” stage many English-language arts teachers and reading experts will part ways.

How to Increase Reading Comprehension Using the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-increase-reading-comprehension-using-the-scrip-comprehension-strategies/

Research shows that the best readers interact with the text as they read. This is a skill that can be effectively taught by using the SCRIPS comprehension strategies. These strategies will help improve reading comprehension and retention. With practice, students will self-prompt with these five strategies and read well independently.

How to Use Think-Alouds to Teach Reading Comprehension

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-use-think-alouds-to-teach-reading-comprehension/

Developing an internal dialogue is critical to self-monitoring and improving reading comprehension. This is a skill that can be effectively taught by using the Think-Aloud strategy. This article shares the best strategies to teach students to develop an internal dialogue with the text.

How to Read Textbooks with PQ RAR

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-read-textbooks-with-pq-rar/

Many teachers remember learning the SQ3R reading-study method. This article provides an updated reading-study method based upon recent reading research. Learn how to read and study at the same time with this expository reading-study method.

The Top Ten Inference Tips

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-top-ten-inference-tips/

Many readers have difficulty understanding what an author implies. Knowing the common inference categories can clue readers into the meaning of difficult reading text.

How to Determine Reading Levels

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-determine-reading-levels/

Degrees of Reading Power (DRP,) Fleish-Kincaid, Lexiles, Accelerated Reader ATOS, Reading Recovery Levels, Fry’s Readability, John’s Basic Reading Inventory, Standardized test data. Each of these measures quantifies student reading levels and purports to offer guidance regarding how to match reader to text. For the purposes of this article, we will limit discussion to why these approaches do not work and what does work to match reader to text for independent reading. The answers? Motivation and word recognition.

Five Tips To Increase Silent Reading Speed and Improve Reading Comprehension

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/five-tips-to-increase-silent-reading-speed-and-improve-reading-comprehension/

Increasing reading speed will improve your productivity and allow you to read more. More importantly, increasing reading speed will significantly improve reading comprehension and retention. Want to plow through textbooks, articles, or manuals quickly and effectively? Want to understand and remember more of what you read? This article will help.

Good Reading Fluency, but Poor Reading Comprehension

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/good-reading-fluency-but-poor-reading-comprehension/

Teachers and parents see it more and more: good reading fluency, but poor reading comprehension. Repeated reading practice to build fluency needs to be balanced with meaningful oral expression and internal self-monitoring comprehension strategies.

Why Elementary Reading Instruction is Reductive

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-elementary-reading-instruction-is-reductive/

A growing trend with Response to Intervention models is to expand the reading block to more than two hours per day. Elementary reading is reductive. More time allocated for reading means less time for social studies, science, arts, and writing. This isn’t the answer. Instead, we need more efficient elementary reading instruction, based upon effective and flexible diagnostic  formative assessments, and more content-area and writing instruction at the K-6 levels.

Why Advanced Reading Skills are Increasingly Important

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-advanced-reading-skills-are-increasingly-important/

Without refined reading skills, personal independence and options are severely limited. 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.

Content vs. Skills Reading Instruction

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/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. The debate is not either-or, but the author leans toward the skills side because students of all ages need the advanced reading skills to facilitate independent meaning-making of text.

How to Use Context Clues to Improve Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/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. Learning how to identify context clue categories will assist readers in figuring out unknown words. This article provides a step-by-step strategy to apply these categories and more efficiently use context clues.

How Not to Teach Context Clues

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-not-to-teach-context-clues/

Most teachers are familiar with and teach context clues as an important reading strategy to define unknown words; however, fewer teachers are familiar with the debate over context clues as a reading strategy for word identification. Using context clues for word identification is an inefficient guessing game.

Why Round Robin and Popcorn Reading are Evil

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-round-robin-and-popcorn-reading-are-evil/

Round robin and popcorn reading are the staples of reading instruction in many teacher classrooms. However, these instructional strategies have more drawbacks than benefits.

How to Teach Reading Comprehension

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/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 osmosis. The explicit-instruction teachers teach the skills that can be quantified, but ignore meaning-making as the true purpose of reading. Here are the research-based strategies that will help teachers teach reading comprehension and promote independent reading.

How to Improve Reading Comprehension with Self-Questioning

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-improve-reading-comprehension-with-self-questioning/

Everyone knows that to get the right answers you need to ask the right questions. Asking questions about the text as you read significantly improves reading comprehension. “Talking to the text” improves concentration and helps the reader interact with the author. Reading becomes a two-way active process, not a one-way passive activity…

Dick and Jane Revisit the Reading Wars

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/dick-and-jane-revisit-the-reading-wars/

The whole word Cambridge University “Reading Test” hoax actually points to the fact that readers really do look at all of the letters and apply the alphabetic code to read efficiently. Remedial readers, in particular, need systematic phonics instruction to enable them to read with automaticity and attend to the meaning of the text.

The Dark Side of the KWL Reading Strategy

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-dark-side-of-the-kwl-reading-strategy/

Response journals, such as the KWL reading strategy, 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. KWL and the like are reader-centered, not text-centered.

How and Why to Teach Fluency

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-and-why-to-teach-fluency/

Knowing why and how to teach reading fluency is of critical importance to developing readers. Learn four strategies to help students improve reading fluency.

How to Differentiate Reading Fluency Practice

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-differentiate-reading-fluency-practice/

There is no doubt that repeated reading practice does improve reading fluency. And proficient fluency is highly correlated with proficient reading comprehension. However, practicing repetitive reading passages with one-size fits all fluency recordings does not meet the diverse needs of students. This article details how to truly differentiate reading fluency practice.

Interactive Reading-Making a Movie in Your Head

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/interactive-reading-making-a-movie-in-your-head/

Why does everyone understand movies better than reading? By using the interactive strategies that we naturally apply at the movies, we can increase our reading comprehension.

How to Get Rid of Bad Reading Habits

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-get-rid-of-bad-reading-habits/

Getting rid of bad reading habits that interfere with reading comprehension and reading speed are essential. Improve your concentration, reading posture, attention span, and reading attitude and increase your understanding and enjoyment of what you read.

Eye Movement and Speed Reading

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/eye-movement-and-speed-reading/

Recent reading research has found that better readers have less eye fixations per line than poor readers. Multiple eye fixations also slow down reading speed. Speed reading techniques can help readers re-train their eye fixations and so improve comprehension.

How to Skim for Main Ideas

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-skim-for-main-ideas/

Not every text should be read the same way. Good readers vary their reading rates and control their levels of comprehension. Learning how to skim is a very useful reading skill. This article teaches how to skim textbooks, articles, and manuals and still maintain reasonable comprehension.

How to Scan for Main Ideas

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-scan-for-main-ideas/

Not every text should be read the same way. Good readers vary their reading rates and control their levels of comprehension. Learning how to scan is a very useful reading skill. This article teaches how to scan textbooks, articles, and manuals and still maintain reasonable comprehension.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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

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

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Don’t Teach to the LCD

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

These common denominators require some degree of compassion, empathy, and idealism. Admirable and necessary character traits for an educator, if you ask me. However, our penchant for helping individuals can work cross-purpose to our overall mission of helping all students. In fact, we often wind up teaching to the LCD (the Lowest Common Denominator). Perhaps I  had better explain…

Problems

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

Solutions

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

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

R

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

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

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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

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

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

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

Top 40 Pronunciation Pet Peeves

President George Bush, well known for his pronunciation gaffes, once said, “I have been known to mangle a syllable or two myself.” Despite laughing at the plethora of Bushisms over the last eight years, even the best American wordsmiths do mispronounce their fair share of words.

Americans are somewhat tolerant regarding pronunciation errors when the mistakes involve infrequently used foreign phrases, place names, technical terms, dialectical differences, or idiomatic expressions. However, for various reasons, we do demand uniform pronunciation of some words. Following are our Top 40 Pronunciation Pet Peeves in no particular order. Also, make sure to check out the Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves and the Top 40 Vocabulary Pet Peeves. Find out all of your grammatical mistakes and the words you misuse before “You-Know-Who” points them out to you.

  1. Library is pronounced “lie-brair-ee,” not “lie-bear-ee.” [No, it’s not libarian either]
  2. Nuclear is pronounced “nook-lee-er,” not “nUke-U-ler.” [Ode to Bush]
  3. February is pronounced “Feb-roo-air-ee,” not “Feb-U-aire-ee.” [Frequently misspelled, as well]
  4. Orange is pronounced “or-anj,” not “are-anj.” [Orange you glad you know this?]
  5. Prostate is pronounced “praw-state,” not “praw-straight.” [Unless you are lying down]
  6. Height is pronounced “hite,” not “hite with a ‘th’.” [That “e-i” or “width” must confuse us]
  7. Probably is pronounced “praw-bab-lee,” not “prob-lee.” [Or some say “praw-lee”]
  8. Ask is pronounced “ask,” not ” ax.” [Please tell me before you ax me.]
  9. Pronunciation is pronounced “pro-nun-see-a-tion,” not ” pro-noun-see-a-tion.” [But pronounce]
  10. Athlete is pronounced “ath-lete,” not “ath-ah-leet.” [Despite the ath-ah-leets foot commercials]
  11. Strategy is pronounced “strat-uh-gee,” not “stra-ji-dee.” [Though we never say “stra-ji-jick”]
  12. Aluminum is pronounced “uh-loo-mi-num,” not “al-U-min-um.” [Brits have their own version]
  13. Et cetera (etc.) is pronounced “et-set-er-ah,” not “ek- set-er-ah.” [Not “ek-spe-shul-lee” either]
  14. Supposedly is pronounced “suh-po-zed-lee,” not “su-pose-ub-lee.” [Or “su-pose-eh-blee”]
  15. Difference is pronounced “di-fer-ence,” not “dif-rence.” [Often misspelled due to this error]
  16. Mischievous is pronounced “mis-chuh-vus,” not “mis-chee-vee-us.” [You’ll look this one up]
  17. Mayonnaise is pronounced “may-un-naze,” not “man-aise.” [“Ketchup-catsup” is another matter]
  18. Miniature is pronounced “mi-ne-uh-ture,” not “min-ah-ture.” [Who drives an Austin “min-uh”?]
  19. Definite is pronounced “de-fuh-nit,” not ” def-ah-nut.” [For define, it’s “di-fine” not “dah-fine”]
  20. Often is pronounced “off-ten,” not “off-en.” [Probably just sloppy pronunciation]
  21. Internet is pronounced “In-ter-net,” not “In-nur-net.” [Not “in-ner-rest-ing either]
  22. Groceries is pronounced “grow-sir-ees,” not “grow-sure-ees.” [It’s not “grow-sure” either]
  23. Similar is pronounced “sim-ah-ler,” not “sim-U-lar.” [But Websters says “sim-ler” is fine]
  24. Escape is pronounced “es-cape,” not “ex-cape.” [It’s not “ex-pres-so” either]
  25. Lose is pronounced “luze,” not “loose.” [Think “choose,” not “moose”]
  26. Temperature is pronounced “tem-per-ah-ture,” not “tem-prah-chur.” [Cute when kids say it]
  27. Jewelry is pronounced “jewl-ree” or “jew-ul-ree,” not “jew-ler-ree.” [More syllables won’t get you more carats]
  28. Sandwich is pronounced “sand-which,” not “sam-which.” [Or “sam-mitch” either]
  29. Realtor is pronounced “real-tor,” not “real-ah-tor.” [Similarly, it’s “di-late,” not “di-ah-late”]
  30. Asterisk is pronounced “ass-tur-risk,” not “ass-trik.” [It’s not called a star, by the way]
  31. Federal is pronounced “fed-ur-ul,” not “fed-rul.” [Use all syllables to ensure all federal holidays]
  32. Candidate is pronounced “can-di-date,” not “can-uh-date.” [It’s not “can-nuh-date” or “can-di-dit”]
  33. Hierarchy is pronounced “hi-ur-ar-kee,” not “hi-ar-kee.” [It’s not “arch-type”; it’s “ar-ki-type”]
  34. Niche is pronounced “nich” or “neesh,” not “neech.” [This one drives some people crazy]
  35. Sherbet is pronounced “sher-bet,” not “sher-bert.” [I’m sure, Burt]
  36. Prescription is pronounced “pre-scrip-tion,” not “per-scrip-tion.” [and prerogative, not “per”]
  37. Arctic is pronounced “ark-tik,” not “ar-tik.” [Not “ant-ar-tik-ah either]
  38. Cabinet is pronounced “cab-uh-net,” not “cab-net.” [Likewise, it’s “cor-uh-net,” not “cor-net”]
  39. Triathlon is pronounced “tri-ath-lon,” not “tri-ath-uh-lon.” [Not “bi-ath-uh-lon” either]
  40. Forte is pronounced “fort,” not “for-tay.” [But Porsche does have a slight “uh” at the end]

And for the culinary snobs among us… It’s “bru-chet-tah” or “bru-sket-tah,” but definitely not “bru-shet-tah.” And it’s “hear-row,” not “gear-row” or “ji-roh.” If you’re eager for more of the same, check out the 20 Embarrassing Mispronunciations that I have been guilty of over the years.

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 lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also 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 PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components. Check out the entire instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Grades 4-8 Common Core Standards.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

How and Why to Teach Fluency

First of all, let’s get on the same page about what we are trying to teach when we talk about fluency.

What Fluency Is Not

Fluency is not the ability to read fast. A fluency score does not determine grade level reading. A high fluency score is not a guarantee of good reading comprehension. Fluency practice does not consist of a read-around or popcorn reading.

What Fluency Is

Fluency is a measure of the reader’s competence at decoding and recognizing sight words with automaticity at a specified reading level. Fluency is also a measure of how well the reader attends to punctuation and the inflection of words in the manner that the author intended. Students need both oral and silent fluency instruction until mastery has been achieved.

Why Should We Teach It and How Much Time Should We Spend On It?

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

The amount of time spent on direct fluency instruction and practice should correspond to the diagnostic fluency levels of the readers. In short, students with higher fluency levels should have less fluency practice than those with lower fluency levels. I suggest three days a week of 15-20 minutes fluency practice for elementary school readers and the same amount for middle school and high school remedial readers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instructional Fluency Strategies

1. Modeled Repeated Readings- Repeated readings of high-interest passages at diagnosed student reading levels, along with modeled readings. Ideally, the modeled reading would be reading at a rate 20-30% faster than individual student’s fluency rate with 95% accuracy. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies does just that with three different reading speeds for each expository article.

Program Materials

Read Naturally® is the largest publisher of fluency passages and accompanying modeled readings. The program’s Brief Oral Reading Screening does a good job of quickly assessing student reading levels and the teacher can certainly adjust levels of difficulty with the graded reading passages. The passages do come with a few comprehension questions; however, comprehension is not the focus of these reading intervention materials. The passages are high interest and only one page in length. The program comes with fluency timing charts to help students measure improvement of “cold”(unpracticed) and “hot” (practiced) timings. Gimmicky, but motivating, although the students always inflate their timings unless directly supervised.

Teaching Reading Strategies provides another affordable option for fluency practice. A diagnostic fluency assessment gives the teacher a baseline for each student. Each high-interest passage is an expository article on an animal-its habitat, description, role in the food cycle, family characteristics, and endangered species status. Uniquely, each article begins with two paragraphs at the third grade reading level, followed by two paragraphs at the fifth grade reading level, and concluding with two paragraphs at the seventh grade reading level. This organization helps readers “push through” to higher reading levels through repeated practice. Another unique feature of this program is the accompanying YouTube fluency passages. Each passage is read at 90, 120, and 150 words per minute. These levels provide optimal reading practice for the challenge rate of 20-30% higher than the baseline rates. Lastly, a comprehensive reading comprehension program for expository reading is tied into and uses the same fluency passages. Using the SCRIP comprehension strategies, students learn to internally monitor and improve reading comprehension. Three vocabulary words per passage are also featured with context clue strategy sentence practice. Three levels of fluency timing charts to help students measure improvement of “cold”(unpracticed) and “hot” (practiced) timings. The price of the Teaching Reading Strategies Program is certainly more affordable to that of the Read Naturally® program.

2. Choral Reading with Modeled Repeated Readings- Students feel comfortable reading along with their peers. Led by the teacher, choral reading can be an effective means of fluency practice if student fluency rates are roughly the same. Plays, poetry, literature, and readers theater are all good sources for choral reading.

3. Fluency Groups with Modeled Repeated Readings- Students are divided into, say, four groups based upon similar fluency baselines. Along to modeled readings, each group practices within its own zone of promixal development. Timings are taken whole class and students chart their progress. See the complete article on differentiated fluency instruction for complete details and the behavioral management plan.

4. White Noise Read Alouds- John Sheffelbine, professor at California State University at Sacramento, advocates having the whole class read individually and out loud with six inch voices, each at his/her own pace. This produces a “white noise,” which permits individual concentration. Repeated readings could certainly be added to this fluency practice.

5. Silent Reading Fluency- A number of techniques to support better silent reading fluency are found at these articles: Eye Movement Read-Study Method Poor Silent Reading Habits Silent Reading Speed

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!), 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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How to 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 , , , , , , , , ,

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.

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How to Skim for Main Ideas

Skimming is a speed reading strategy used as either a pre-reading technique to familiarize yourself with expository reading text before you read in depth or as an end in itself to quickly comprehend the essentials of a reading passage.

As a pre-reading technique, skimming helps to connect the text with any prior knowledge of the reader. Skimming also helps the reader to access the story schema so as to provide a referential context for the reading. In other words, skimming helps the reader to learn in advance what the gist of the reading passage is, while reminding the reader of any background information and knowledge of how the writing is organized that will assist the reader in understanding the text. Used as a pre-reading technique, skimming helps prepare the reader for scanning (reading at 50% comprehension) or further in-depth reading.

As an end in itself, skimming is a very practical and useful skill. As a speed reading technique, it saves time and allows the reader to get the flavor of a reading passage without all of the details. Skimming also permits broader reading, if time is a factor. For example, a reader can certainly skim many articles in the daily newspaper in the time that it might take to fully read a few. Many books can be skimmed for enjoyment or information now and then read later at a more leisurely rate.

To skim, readers should first search for the expository text clues and signposts for key ideas of the reading passage. Textbooks usually provide important study helps that can build comprehension. The unit and chapter titles give information as to the overall focus of the reading passage. Many times, key chapter ideas are listed in bulleted form or as key questions.In social studies texts, timelines are often helpful.

Next, read the first paragraph of the text. The first paragraph  frequently provide an introduction of the chapter main ideas.

Then, read the subtitles and bold print of key terms throughout the reading selection. These act as newspaper headlines to tell the “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” and “Why” of the reading. Graphics, such as pictures, photographs, charts and drawings are particularly important to examine. Indeed, “a picture can be worth a thousand words.”

Finally, read the concluding paragraph(s) or summary. This paragraph(s) will emphasize the key concepts.

Use these expository text clues or signposts for effective skimming. This speed reading technique is well worth practicing to perfection.

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 Scan for Main Ideas

Scanning is an important speed reading technique that all good readers should have in their reading repertoire and works with all modes of writing. Scanning is used to locate specific information for a clearly defined purpose. For example, if a reader needs to know the performance of a particular baseball player in the World Series, it is not necessary to read an entire book on that World Series to find out everything that the one player did in that series. The reader could simply look for the player’s name and read the surrounding sentences or paragraphs that pertain to that player.

Although this sounds like “common sense,” it is actually a learned reading skill. Effective teaching can significantly improve scanning accuracy. Print awareness, knowledge of expository structure, and directed eye movement are the keys to this instruction.

First, readers need to select the key word(s) and possible synonyms to search before they begin to scan. Next, readers must carefully examine what these search items look like. Are they long or short words? Is there a capital? Are there quotation marks or hyphens? Are there noticeable prefixes or suffixes? Readers should then impress the key word(s) into their memories by tracing the letters with their fingers or writing them down. After this, readers should close their eyes and visualize the word(s).

Second, readers should examine the mode of writing and adjust their key word(s) search according to the particular organization of that writing mode. Is it narrative? If so, the organization of the reading passage will normally be chronological and will follow story schema. Chapter titles can also be useful. Is it expository? If so, the organization of the reading passage might be by concept, comparison, cause-effect, or order of importance. The graphics of the text such as subtitles, charts and pictures can narrow the search. Book study helps, including the index, study questions, and the summary, can help pinpoint where information is developed.

Third, readers should run their index finger down the center of each page, using their peripheral vision to search for key word(s) on the left and right sides of each page. How comprehensive the search must be will determine how fast the finger moves. Readers should read the sentence in which the key word(s) appears.

The quality and effectiveness of scanning can be improved with the appropriate use of this speed reading strategy and a good amount of practice. Combined with skimming, scanning can reduce a heavy reading load and still help the reader achieve about 50% reading comprehension.

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

Eight Great Tips for Teaching Writing Fluency

With the inclusion of essays on high-stakes tests such as the SAT® and ACT®, as well as many state standards tests and high-school exit exams, the need to improve writing fluency has recently surfaced as a desired goal. Which approaches to writing fluency work best?

1. Teach students to read a variety of writing prompts. Expose students to different content area and writing domain prompts. For example, using social science, literature, and science content with informational, expository, analytical, and persuasive domains. Teach students to read the writing prompt twice—the first time for understanding and the second time to circle the subject and highlight key words.

2. Give students ample practice in turning writing prompts into effective essay topic sentences. “Thesis Turn-Arounds” can be a productive “opener” to any lesson in any subject area. For example, if the prompt reads “Analyze the causes of the Civil War,” students could begin their theses with “Many causes contributed to the Civil War.”

3. Give students practice in developing quick pre-writes to organize a multi-paragraph writing response. Teach a variety of graphic organizers and review how each is appropriate to different writing prompts.

4. Give students practice in writing introductory paragraphs after pre-writing. Give students practice in writing just one timed body paragraph to address one aspect of the essay after pre-writing.

5. Provide immediate individual feedback to students with brief writers conferences.

6. Use the overhead projector to use critique real student samples. Write along with students and have them critique your writing samples.

7. Teach how to pace various allotted essay times. For example, the SAT® essay is only 25 minutes. The Smarter Balance and PAARC tests provide unlimited writing time. Brainstorm and allocate times before a full essay writing fluency for the following: analysis of the writing prompt, pre-write, draft, revisions, editing.

8. If a brief reading passage is part of the background for the writing task, teach students to annotate the passage with margin notes as they read.

Teachers may also be interested in these articles by Mark Pennington: How to Write an IntroductionHow to Write a Conclusion, and How to Use Writing Evidence.

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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