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How Can I Get My Child to Read?

How to Get My Child to Read

How Can I Get My Child to Read?

“How can I get my child to read?” is probably the question that I am asked most by parents. I’m Mark Pennington, M.A. Reading Specialist, teacher, and author of Teaching Reading Strategies. Variations of the question tend to include “My child hates to read!” and, sadly, “My child doesn’t understand what she (or often he) reads.” Don’t worry, parents. You are not alone. These are also the questions that your teachers ask me privately (never in front of their colleagues).

As a dad of three boys, I’ve dealt with the same questions. Despite the fact that we have a literate household with books galore, book gifts for birthdays and Christmas, places to read with good lighting… Despite the fact that my wife and I are voracious readers… Despite the fact that I am a teacher (and reading specialist)… The boys did not like reading.

Yes, we read every day with each of our boys. Yes, all three were reading quite fluently before entering kindergarten. As an aside, the kindergarten teacher (now retired) of our youngest son now lives in our neighborhood. She told me recently how Kenny was such a pain because he knew all of his letter, sounds, and spellings on Day 1 and was frustrated that every other child did not. The teacher told me that one day she asked a student to tell her the sound that the letter m makes. As she waited patiently for the child’s response, Kenny shouted out, “He needs to be in that special group you have.” How embarrassing!

But, aren’t the teachers supposed to get my child to read? Isn’t this their job?

They certainly did so, in class. But independent reading was another matter entirely. My wife and I can’t remember any teachers from kindergarten through sixth grade who did not assign nightly independent reading (usually 15 or 20 minutes) for our three boys. I still think it’s the best homework to assign. However, I can’t remember any accountability attached to this reading, except for the required parent signature to indicate that the reading was done. Three unfortunate exceptions were reading response logs from one teacher that were graded with check marks for completion (not read), a few oral book reports, and a couple of dreaded book projects–one a paper maché mask representing the theme of the book (Yes, really) and a few shoebox dioramas. The take-away is that the assigned reading and few attempts at accountability did not increase my boys’ love of reading.

And, I’m going to be a bit harsh here… The nightly independent reading assignments did not improve the reading fluency and comprehension skills of my boys. My wife and I had to do that.

I remember watching, okay spying, on my oldest son (unknown to him) doing his independent reading in a terrific book, which he chose, when he was in third grade. I watched him stare at the same page without turning to the next page for twenty solid minutes. The microwave beeper went off, and he dutifully closed the book and got up from his desk chair as I appeared in his bedroom doorway.

“All done?” I asked.

“Yep, 20 minutes,” he replied.

I had to do something.

About the same time as the incident described above, I had enrolled in a masters degree program reading specialist program at Cal State Sacramento. One of my professors surprised me (and the class) with the research regarding self-questioning strategies. What surprised us was not that the internal reader-author dialogue was important, but that reader-generated questions of the text produced greater comprehension than did teacher or publisher-generated comprehension questions. Wow!

I wondered if question prompts might help my son and my students generate questions as they read and would these questions increase concentration and reading comprehension.

I designed the SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies to permit the reader to explore and question a text independently, instead of being solely dependent upon author subtitles, publisher, or teacher questions and/or study helps. I also designed these question prompts to work with both expository and narrative text. Finally, I crafted the strategies to provide a language of instruction between children and their parents at home and students and teachers in the classroom. Yes, you can try them out. Get five free lessons and bookmarks at the end of this article.

Having earned my masters degree as a reading specialist, I moved from my high school teaching position to that of an elementary reading specialist. Assigned to several elementary schools, I began sharing my SCRIP Comprehension Strategy Questions with teachers.

Teachers commented on how the SCRIP method increased reader engagement with the text. Kids said that asking questions of the text “made the authors seem like they were talking to us.”

I loved walking around with principals during class visitations and hearing the words Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict in teacher questions and, especially, in student questions and answers. The language of instruction was really catching on!

Teachers loved how the method worked for both expository and narrative texts. Being teachers, they starting creating. Soon I saw SCRIP questions as part of marginal annotations (margin notes). A perfect application! Next, I saw SCRIP questions added to Cornell Notes templates. Fantastic… it works with lectures, too! Teachers also began using the SCRIP questions in literature circles and in online book clubs.

I developed SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks (you’ll get these in your free download… don’t worry) to serve as nice prompts. Parents begin noticing the bookmarks and asked how to use them to supervise independent reading. I started doing more and more parent workshops to teach them how to provide accountability for nightly independent reading homework. The SCRIP comprehension strategy questions gave parents and their children something specific to talk about regarding the child’s schoolwork and reading. At last! Something better to discuss than the dreaded “How was your day at school?” Teachers even began reducing the amount of in-class independent reading because the parents were doing at home with their child what the teacher could not do with thirty or so kids. Accountability need not destroy a child’s love of reading. In fact, parents even told me how much more their children are enjoying reading, now that they understand what they are reading.

 

Try the SCRIP Comprehension Strategy Questions with your children (or students). Get five one-page fairy tales, each introducing the SCRIP strategies, and a nice SCRIP bookmark to print.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

Literacy Centers, Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading Comprehension Questions

SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

SCRIP Comprehension Strategy Questions

A reader of my Pennington Publishing Blog asked me to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of my SCRIP Comprehension Strategy Questions. Having used these for years in both elementary and middle school settings in English-language arts and reading intervention classes, I can add some personal testimony that these reading comprehension questions really do improve reading comprehension.

Background

While earning my masters degree as a reading specialist at Cal State Sacramento, one of my professors surprised me (and the class) with the research regarding self-questioning strategies. What surprised us was not that the internal reader-author dialogue was important, but that reader-generated questions of the text produced greater comprehension than did teacher or publisher-generated comprehension questions. Wow!

I had used and taught the classic SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review) method of textbook reading for years and so I asked the reading professor about the technique, which has reader-generated questions as one of the steps. He stated that considerable research had demonstrated the efficacy of the S and Q steps (Survey and Question); however, no empirical research seemed to warrant using the last two R’s (Recite and Review).  By the way, the related PQ3R strategy simply substituted Preview for the anachronistic Survey.

I asked our professor what follow-up to self-generated questions during and/or after the reading process would be research-based. He paused and said, “Looking for the answers to your own questions as you read.” Brilliant.

I went home and over the next few days hammered out my PQ RAR reading-study strategy (Preview-Question-Read-Answer-Review). I added on the last R, Review, to the professor’s suggestion of A, Answer, because not all of the reader’s self-generated questions will be answered by the text. Some were answered by the author, but were not noted by the reader during the initial reading; some were not addressed by the text; some require additional research. A nice into-during-beyond reading strategy if I do say so myself.

As an elementary reading specialist, I shared the PQ RAR reading-study strategy with quite a few teachers at seven different sites and through professional development. Although the method did assist readers, I found the How, What, and Why questions a bit too dependent upon textbook subtitles. Plus, the method did not work for narrative texts.

So, back to the drawing board.

I designed the SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) comprehension strategies to permit the reader to explore and question a text independently, instead of being solely dependent upon author subtitles, publisher, or teacher questions and/or study helps. I also designed these question prompts to work with both expository and narrative text. Finally, I crafted the strategies to provide a language of instruction within the classroom. Yes, you can try them out. Get five free lessons and bookmarks at the end of this article.

Teachers commented on how the SCRIP method increased reader engagement with the text. Kids said that asking questions of the text “made the authors seem like they were talking to us.”

I loved walking around with principals during class visitations and hearing the words Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict in teacher questions and, especially, in student questions and answers. The language of instruction was really catching on!

Teachers loved how the method worked for both expository and narrative texts. Being teachers, they starting creating. Soon I saw SCRIP questions as part of marginal annotations (margin notes). A perfect application! Next, I saw SCRIP questions added to Cornell Notes templates. Fantastic… it works with lectures, too!

Teachers also began using the SCRIP questions in literature circles and in online book clubs. Later, I developed the Reading Academic Literacy Center with reading fluency practice and comprehension worksheets (with, you guessed it, the SCRIP strategy questions–five per each of the 48 expository animal articles). Teachers also applied them to Close Reading templates.

I developed SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks (you’ll get these in your free download… don’t worry) to serve as nice prompts. Parents begin noticing the bookmarks and asked how to use them to supervise independent reading. I started doing more and more parent workshops to teach them how to provide accountability for nightly independent reading homework. The SCRIP comprehension strategy questions gave parents and their children something specific to talk about regarding the child’s schoolwork and reading. At last! Something better to discuss than the dreaded “How was your day at school?” Teachers even began reducing the amount of in-class independent reading because the parents were doing at home with their child what the teacher could not do with thirty or so kids.

Advantages?

The SCRIP comprehension strategies are beneficial for building comprehension of both narrative and expository text. These self-questioning strategies engage the reader with the text and promote the reader-author dialogue which increases comprehension and retention. Five strategies seemed about the right number and Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict work nicely for textbooks, articles, documents, stories, and poetry.

Disadvantages?

The only disadvantage that I see is that each genre has additional strategies which don’t work for both. For example, author’s purpose and research questions work primarily for expository text, while plot structure questions work only with narrative text.

Try the SCRIP Comprehension Strategy Questions with your students. Get five one-page fairy tales, each introducing the SCRIP strategies, and a nice SCRIP bookmark to print for your students.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

Literacy Centers, Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Short Vowels for Big Kids

Teachers who use my 13 FREE diagnostic reading assessments often ask me why a student does not master a reading skill on one assessment, but seems to on another assessment. Following is a typical question and my answer regarding our article topic, Short Vowels for Big Kids:

Short Vowels for RtI

Short Vowels for Big Kids

I’m a fifth grade teacher and I recently gave two of your reading assessments. I’m confused about some of the results. Why have seven of my students not mastered the short vowels section on your Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment when they don’t seem to make mistakes on the short vowel words on your Pets Fluency Assessment?

An excellent question! And a seeming discrepancy which actually points to the validity of both assessments and also provides important diagnostic information on those seven students.

The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment is a nonsense word test. The nonsense words are used to isolate the testing variable of student sight word knowledge. For example, the test is designed to see if students can apply their knowledge of short vowel sound-spellings to unknown (usually academic, multi-syllabic) words, not words which struggling readers have unfortunately often memorized as sight words. The Pets Fluency Assessment uses real words and so does not specifically test for short vowels.

The diagnostic information the teacher gains from using both tests is important: the seeming discrepancy probably points to the fact that the seven students did not have a solid phonics background and have been developing compensatory survival skills such as sight words and context clues to read easy narratives. When they get to the more complex academic vocabulary of your fifth grade social studies and science textbooks, their survival strategies just don’t work. Make sense? Suggest you use the rest of the assessments to confirm this diagnosis and then purchase my Teaching Reading Strategies program for the resources to teach to these diagnostic deficits.

How to Teach Short Vowels to Big Kids

The first step is to determine what is missing from the foundation. Teachers have used my reading assessments for years to pinpoint phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight words deficits. For the purposes of this article, the Vowel Sounds Ph0nics Assessment pinpoints which short vowels students have not yet mastered.

The second step is to follow a research-tested instructional scope and sequence. Most all explicit, systematic phonics programs begin with short vowels. As compared to long vowels, the short vowels are much more consistent in their pronunciations and spellings. Of course, teachers also introduce consonants along with the short vowels. Following are the instructional sequence from the author’s reading intervention program and the short vowel animal sound-spelling cards used to introduce the names, sounds, and spellings. Note that only the short /e/ has more than one often-used spelling. Again, the short vowels are quite consistent.

Short Vowels Instructional Phonics Sequence

Short Vowels Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards (Short Vowels)

The third step is to group students who have demonstrated that they have not yet achieved mastery with the short vowels. Teachers use a variety of small group formats. Literacy centers have become a popular option to provide remedial instruction within some centers (stations), while offering grade-level and/or accelerated instruction in other centers.

The fourth step is to set aside the necessary time to teach the short vowels. Initial instruction takes longer; however, remedial instruction can be accomplished quite quickly, because gap-filling builds upon some degree of prior knowledge, albeit a shaky foundation. Typically, five 20-minute workshops will facilitate mastery as indicated by formative assessments.

The fifth step is to provide effective instruction and practice for the five short vowels and to use a formative assessment to determine mastery. Teachers need to have back-up lessons in case the student does not master the short vowels on the formative assessment. A solid foundation will allow students to learn additional reading skills.

Teachers who would like to use my short vowels lessons and formative assessment to remediate short vowels are welcome to download this workshop from my Teaching Reading Strategies program:

Get the Short Vowels Phonics Workshop FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

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

Close Reading

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

The close reading strategy is beneficial for building comprehension of both narrative and expository text. However, we do need a mid-course correction. As with many instructional strategies, teachers latch onto the “new and improved” and sometimes forget the “tried and true.”

In the following articles, MA reading specialist, seventh grade ELA teacher, and author Mark Pennington piles on the reading research and in-class experience to help teachers use the close reading strategy properly and apply the concurrent reading strategies to help their students access challenging text.

Each article includes at least one got-to-have freebie: from sample lessons to narrative and expository close reading templates.

If you haven’t yet perused Pennington Publishing’s grades 4-8 assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources, each article with include a short promo to entice your exploration. While in mind, you should certainly check out the free downloads of ELA and reading intervention diagnostic assessments as well as the other Pennington Publishing blog articles neatly categorized according to your interests. At last count I’ve written over 600 articles in the ELA and reading field and have been overly-generous (so say my colleagues) is equipping teachers with free downloads to help teachers better serve their students.

Your comments are certainly welcome on any of the individual articles. Mark… Oh, my email is mark@penningtonpublishing.com

Close Reading Articles from the Pennington Publishing Blog

Close Reading Casualties

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/close-reading-casualties/ 

This article explains how the over-emphasis of the close reading strategy has decreased Tier 2 vocabulary acquisition and reading fluency. The author provides suggestions regarding how to practice reading fluency and independent comprehension strategies (including self-generated questions). At the end of the article, a free download sample of the author’s Reading Academic Literacy Center is available.

Close Reading Narrative Worksheet

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/close-reading-narrative-worksheet/

The author tears into the counterproductive practice of close reading advocates, who in their desire to promote reader independence, actually achieve the converse by prohibiting pre-reading strategies designed to both access prior knowledge and pre-teach key vocabulary and concepts. Citing years of reading research, the author brings out the big guns to suggest that close reading needs a bit of tweaking to remain a viable reading strategy. Teachers will be able to download a free narrative close reading template.

Close Reading Expository Worksheet

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/close-reading-expository-worksheet/

The author provides historical perspective on the close reading strategy (actually a recycled strategy from the 1950s and 1960s) and argues that there are four key components of the close reading strategy that teachers need to keep on doing. However, there are also three key reading strategies which need to supplement close reading to increase reader comprehension and independence. Teachers will love the free download of an expository close reading template.

Independent Close Reading

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/independent-close-reading/

In this article the author faults of exclusivity of the text-dependent questions (a key component of the close reading strategy). While agreeing with the authors of the Common Core State Standards that the old reader response strategies of the whole language movement led teachers and students to go beyond the text into the relatively irrelevant and tangential world of focusing on what the reading means to me, the close reading fanatics have dumped decades of solid reading research, which proves the validity of reader self-generated questioning strategies. Those who adhere to text-dependent publisher or teacher questions at the expense of reader questions return students to reading to answer questions, rather than reading to find out what the author means. Teachers will be able to download a useful set of resources: The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies resource includes posters for each of the five comprehension strategies to prompt self-generated questions, SCRIP comprehension bookmarks, and five lessons to teach these strategies.

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/close-reading-dont-read-too-closely/

This article has produced quite a response. The pin associated with the article went semi-viral, indicating a backlash against close reading. The author goes out of his way to state his support of the close reading strategy as one of many effective reading strategies, but cites the key reading researchers who see close reading as a good thing that needs to be better. If you’re interested in cited reading research on close reading with all the links, this article is for you. The focus of the article is historical: how close reading developed as a strategy to access challenging text. Sometimes it helps to know where something comes from to understand what it is.

English-Language Arts and Reading Intervention Articles and Resources 

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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Close Reading Casualties

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

With the “Great Shift” from fiction to non-fiction reading since the advent of the Common Core State Standards, many teachers are finding that the academic rigor of expository text is challenging for readers of all ages. The predominant reading strategy to access rigorous text has been the widely-used close reading. The popularity of close reading has been chiefly beneficial as a means for readers to dig into these three components of text: 1. Key Ideas and Details 2. Craft and Structure and 3. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. However, there have been some unintended casualties.

As is often the case in our profession, teachers dropped many of the effective reading practices they had been using for years to make room (and time) for time-consuming close readings. In a related article, I concur with the criticisms of noted reading researcher, David Pearson, who values the benefits of close reading, but says, “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind…” (Pearson).

Specifically, I agree with Dr. Pearson that the close reading ban on pre-reading strategies is counterproductive. Additionally, I argue that the stated goal of close reading advocates (to develop reader independence in rigorous text) is undermined by the focus on teacher and publisher produced text-dependent questions… not that external questions are at all bad… but that the internal questions developed by the reader to dialog with the author have been largely replaced. The research regarding self-generated question strategies has a long-validated history. Again, in our concern that external questions must be text-dependent (a good thing), we have reductively dismissed the practice of encouraging internal reader engagement with the text (a better thing).

A further casualty of the expository-focused pendulum swing has been the decline of class novels and independent reading. As a case study, my middle school in Elk Grove, California has a large staff of ten ELA teachers. Since the advent of Common Core, the number of core novels has been cut in half and the emphasis on independent reading eliminated. Of the ten teachers, only one other teacher provides time for independent reading (10 minutes per day). I’m a lone ranger, still assigning 30 minutes per day as homework with accountability procedures. And, no… it’s not Accelerated Reader. Check out my independent reading plan and my dialog with others (including Dr. Stephen Krashen) HERE.

So, what have been the unintended consequences of the “Great Shift” and universal popularity of the close reading strategy? Less reading.

1. LESS VOCABULARY ACQUISITION With less reading, students are exposed to fewer Tier 2 academic language words. Reading a rigorous, vocabulary-dense article of, say 600 words (frequently filled with infrequently-used Tier 3 domain-specific words), exposes students to between 15 and 25 unknown Tier 2 words in a 45-minute close reading lesson. Whereas, reading a less vocabulary-dense grade-level novel in or out of class for the same amount of time would expose students to between 200 and 400 unknown Tier 2 words at a 95% word recognition level.

2. DECREASED READING FLUENCY Less reading means less fluency practice, which is highly correlated with better reading comprehension. None of my colleagues are administering fluency assessments and providing fluency practice as they did before Common Core, except Yours Truly. It’s not that these teachers were unconvinced by the merits of reading fluency. Far from it! As seventh and eighth grade teachers would say, “I hope that elementary teachers are still practicing fluency… we don’t have the time anymore.” As fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers would say, “I hope that primary teachers are still practicing fluency… we don’t have time anymore.” Etc.

My three recommendations?

1. Get back to pre-teaching both expository and narrative reading texts. Build accessibility into rigorous texts.

2. Provide more time for independent reading (I prefer homework, so as not to waste class time. After all, you have your close readings to do :))

3. Practice reading fluency and independent comprehension strategies (including self-generated questions).

Academic Literacy Center for Reading

Reading Academic Literacy Center

For those of you who are using literacy centers (stations), check out my full-year grades 4-8 Reading Academic Literacy Center. This twice-per week 20-minute center provides the reading fluency and reading comprehension practice your students need with expository text. Students read 43 informational articles about common and uncommon animals. Each article has between 350–450 words and provides a physical description of the animal, its habitat, what it eats, its family life, interesting behaviors, and the status of its world population.

The articles are leveled in a pyramid design: the first two paragraphs are at an adjusted third-grade (Fleish-Kincaid) level (after deleting a few key multi-syllabic words such as carnivores or long animal names such as armadillos); the next two paragraphs are at the fifth-grade level; and the last two are at the seventh-grade level. The reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language and sentence length. The same text is used for both the reading fluency and reading comprehension articles.

The reading fluency articles include difficult pronunciations in boldface to pre-teach in the upper right corner. Word counts are listed in the left margin for fluency timings. Timing charts are provided to help students track their cold (unpracticed) and hot (after choral readings) readings.

Additionally, if tablets, phones, or computers are available, students may access and practice reading along with the YouTube modeled readings for each article. Each of the reading fluency articles has been recorded at three different reading speeds ((Level A at 95-115 words per minute; Level B at 115-135 words per minute; and Level C at 135-155 words per minute) for optimal modeled reading fluency practice at your students’ individual fluency challenge levels.

Unsure about the optimal fluency practice level for your students? The Reading Literacy Center provides a diagnostic screening assessment.

The reading comprehension articles include five comprehension questions–one question for each of the five SCRIP Comprehension Strategies. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. The questions are placed in the right-hand margin to help students read interactively with the text. Students learn to use these SCRIP prompts to self-generate their own questions of the text, creating the reader-author dialog, which is so critical to reading comprehension. Additionally, three key vocabulary words are boldfaced within the article. Answers to the five questions are provided following the comprehension worksheets.

Get the Reading Academic Literacy Center Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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Close Reading Narrative Worksheet

Close Reading? A helpful, time-tested reading strategy, which was brought back to life in 2009 with the advent of the Common Core State Standards and the evangelical zeal of Common Core lead authors of the English-language Arts Standards, David Coleman and Susan Pimental. For those still getting re-acquainted with close reading, this definition should suffice from noted U.C. Berkeley reading-rearcher David Pearson (now a constructive critic of how the close reading strategy is currently being implemented) and co-author Margaret Gallagher:

Close Reading of text involves an investigation of a short piece of text, with multiple readings done over multiple instructional lessons. Through text-based questions and discussion, students are guided to deeply analyze and appreciate various aspects of the text, such as key vocabulary and how its meaning is shaped by context; attention to form, tone, imagery and/or rhetorical devices; the significance of word choice and syntax; and the discovery of different levels of meaning as passages are read multiple times. The teacher’s goal in the use of Close Reading is to gradually release responsibility to students—moving from an environment where the teacher models for students the strategies to one where students employ the strategies on their own when they read independently

P. David Pearson and Margaret C. Gallagher, “The Instruction of Reading Comprehension,” Contemporary Educational Psychology 8, no. 3 (July 1983) 317-344.

Specifically, the first and last C.C.S.S. Reading Anchor Standards address the importance of close reading:

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions
drawn from the text.

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently

As Pearson now notes, “We need a mid-course correction with close reading.”

CLOSE Reading Narrative Template

CLOSE Reading Narrative Worksheet

My criticism of the how a good reading strategy (close reading) needs revision is three-fold:

  1. Pre-reading strategies and pre-teaching are frowned upon in the new permutation of close reading. With our diverse student population, beginning a cold read or rigorous text borders on educational malpractice. Reading comprehension builds upon reading comprehension. The into reading step has a solid research base and can be teacher-led or student-researched. Now I’m not advocating a return to the counter-productive “Give students the Cliff’s Notes version of the reading prior to the first read” practice of the 1980s. We do want to promote Reading Anchor Standard 10 and its focus on developing reader independence.
  2. I do applaud the focus on text-dependent questions to analyze expository and narrative text (Who wants to return to the beyond reading focus of constructing one’s own meaning from the author’s words?); however, in addition to some teacher or publisher questions, we need to return to the emphasis of interactive reading based upon reader (self)-generated question strategies. We need to bring back talking to the text to improve reading comprehension and to develop independence. Even the best teacher-generated questions lead students to a skim to find the answers approach to reading.
  3. Again, I’m thrilled that the Common Core has renewed our focus on expository text. But, narrative has a place, too. And short selections of novels, as well as short stories, can serve as rigorous close readings. Close readings are not confined to articles. At the end of this article, I provide a FREE resource download of a Close Reading Narrative Worksheet.

Will These Mid-course Corrections Be Adopted?

Revision tends to take more time than wholesale change. Whether teachers will gradually buy into some of these mid-course corrections remains to be seen. We teachers can be an impatient bunch, and we often jump onto the bandwagon of new and improved education approaches which are neither new nor improved.

Most teachers have been in professional development settings in which the speaker advocated the necessity of gradual course changes. The speaker may even have trotted out the example of how long it takes an aircraft carrier (or a cruise ship) to turn around in the middle of the ocean. I looked up this metaphor and found an interesting response from a naval seaman assigned to the carrier, George W. Bush.  This quote bears reading closely. He responds to the question of how long it takes a carrier to make a 180 degree turn (emphasis mine):

Few people will notice 1 degree per second which is easy to do at 30 kts, so 180 degrees would take about 3 minutes and operations could continue. This is a very realistic answer as the carrier must counter sea currents which may need 1 degree/sec of rudder. If nothing is loose on deck, MUCH more agressive [sic]turns can be taken as the deck will tilt 30 degrees into the turn. Anything not tied down will roll off into the ocean, i.e. equipment, airplanes, people, etc, and no planes could land or take off with such a turn in progress. These turns are done on first sea trials to prove that the rudder can handle the stress of a tight turn at max speed. Here I would estimate a full U turn (180 degrees) in well under 60 seconds, probably 30 seconds, but you’d want to hold onto something.

Now that we’ve finished our first close read, most of us found the main ideas and key details and were able to answer the BIG question: How long does it take an aircraft carrier to turn around? 

Let’s do our second close read, looking for craft and structure…

The naval seaman crafts his answer beginning with the usual and moving to the extraordinary. He moves from the impersonal “Few” in the first sentence to the personal “you’d” in the last. He uses two cause and effect structures: the first being the slow turn and its results; the second being the fast turn and its results.

Let’s do our third close read and mark up the text with marginal annotations, preparing to apply, discuss, and properly cite the information…

KEY RESULTS OF FAST TURN “Anything not tied down 1. will roll off into the ocean, i.e. equipment, airplanes, people, etc, and 1. no planes could land or take off with such a turn in progress” (Jones).

My take regarding the mid-course corrections of the close reading strategy is that a slow turn will produce greater long-term effects than a fast turn and will produce fewer casualties. We’ve made some significant progress in improving reading instruction during the last decade. Far fewer elementary and secondary teachers are solely teaching novels. Less class time is now devoted to unguided, free choice independent reading. More time is now spent on expository reading and research. Less whole language strategies, a.k.a. reader response, which focus on filtering and applying the ideas of text through the lense of personal reader experiences, are being taught, such as with dialectical journals. I’d hate to see close reading change into a passing fad (as it has before in the 1960s).

Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into step” of reading) and/or have students pre-research the topic (if an expository close reading) or the author, context and/or genre (if a narrative close reading), especially with rigorous reading-level close readings. Having students access prior knowledge and gap-filling with our diverse learners via pre-teaching strategies (Marzano) improves comprehension and does not turn our students into teacher-dependent learners. Indeed, comprehension builds upon comprehension and enables students to independently access text. The reading research of the last sixty years is quite extensive regarding the positive impact of pre-reading strategies.

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Check out my SCRIP comprehension strategies HERE, which prompt self-generated questions. This FREE resource download includes posters for each of the five comprehension strategies, SCRIP comprehension bookmarks, and five lessons to teach these strategies. Also, get the Close Reading Expository Worksheet FREE resource download HERE. But first, download your Close Reading Narrative Worksheet below. So many free ready-to-use resources, news, and product discounts available only in the Pennington Publishing Newsletter.

Get the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , ,

Close Reading Expository Worksheet

CLOSE Reading Expository Template

CLOSE Reading Expository Worksheet

At the end of this article, I provide a Close Reading Expository Worksheet for you to freely download and use with the next close reading of an expository article, document, selection from a textbook, etc. You will see a few revisions to what many publishers are selling as the close reading strategy. Even a good thing can use a little tweak here or there.

As of this writing, close reading is the primary reading strategy I now see used in schools across America. Having taught for awhile as an elementary reading specialist, middle school, high school, and community college ELA teacher, I’ve seen quite a few new and improved instructional reading strategies come and go. Close reading is an old reading strategy which was re-popularized with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards back in 2009. Among other reforms, the authors argued for a move to more rigorous expository texts and less narrative texts in both elementary and secondary classrooms. The authors championed the close reading strategy as a means to help students access the meaning of text as independent readers. Additionally, the authors stressed the need for text-dependent questions to improve reading comprehension.

As is often the case when we teachers throw out the old and take on the new, we wind up impulsively replacing what has a solid research-base and worked for students with a brand new shiny wrapped package may or may not have a solid research-base and may or may not work for students.

My take is that close reading does have the solid research-base and can work for our students. However, instead of a this or that mentality, we do need to hang onto some of the old research-based strategies. What we need a mid-course correction with the close reading strategy. I’m not alone in this assessment. Noted reading researchers David Pearson (who coined the term mid-course correction for close reading), Isabel Beck, Tim Shanahan, and others such as Grant Wiggins (Understanding by Design) agree that close reading is helpful, but needs fixin’. The Close Reading Expository Worksheet which follows keeps everything good about the close reading strategy while revising what is not so good.

Now mid-course corrections can be tough to pull-off in education. I think back to the early 2000 at the heyday of the differentiated instruction (DI) movement-think conferences with 20,000 attendees, best-selling books, rock star authors, etc. As a reading specialist, I bought into so much of the DI mission, especially teaching according to individual needs. However, so much of the DI focus on multiple intelligences, learning styles, etc. was simply philosophical and certainly not research-based. I tried to re-define DI for my own teaching and books and nudge DI adherents toward assessment-based individualized instruction, keeping the wheat and discarding the chaff. Not much success with my efforts, I’m afraid to say.

Whether teachers will adopt the necessary tweaks to the close reading strategy which will prevent it from becoming just another passing fad, only time will tell. Download the Close Reading Expository Worksheet to see if this mid-course correction makes sense to you and your students.

What Needs to Change

In a related article I provide details about two necessary revisions to the close reading strategy: 1. Eliminating the prohibition on pre-reading strategies which close reading purists claim stifles reader independence. 2. Reducing the dependence on teacher-constructed, text-dependent questions to help students dig deeply into the text.

A New and Improved Close Reading Strategy (The Close Reading Expository Worksheet)

Let’s keep the three separate readings used in the close reading strategy: 1. Key Ideas and Details 2. Craft and Structure and 3. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Let’s keep the Think-Pair-Share, Small Group Share, and Whole Group Discussion. Let’s keep the focus on text-dependent (not unhelpful beyond-the-text personal application) questions. Let’s keep on identifying the BIG IDEA before the first read.

In addition to these strategies, let’s go back to using pre-reading activities and pre-teaching (Marzano) to improve comprehension. No educator should believe that a tabular raza (empty slate) reader is preferable to an informed reader. Comprehension builds from comprehension.  Building prior knowledge can be teacher or student-driven. A brief lecture on the subject or student research before the first reading can make all the difference in comprehension. This revision to close reading is especially important with our diverse student populations.

Let’s go back to encouraging students to develop their own text-dependent questions as they read. The reading-research actually indicates that reader self-generated questions produces greater comprehension than teacher (or publisher)-generated questions. Download my SCRIP Comprehension Strategies with posters, bookmarks, and five introductory lessons at the end of this article.

Let’s go back to a balance between reading both expository and narrative reading genre. Close readings can be highly effective in texts other than articles.

So let’s revise a good thing make it close reading a better reading strategy to develop independent readers. Interested in resources to help you do just that? Check out  the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE resource download HERE. But first, download your Close Reading Narrative Worksheet below. So many free ready-to-use resources, news, and product discounts available only in the Pennington Publishing Newsletter. But first let’s download the Close Reading Expository Worksheet.

Get the Close Reading Expository Worksheet FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

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

Independent Close Reading

I hesitate to criticize a good thing too harshly. We teachers tend all-too-often to abandon something that works for the new latest and greatest educational fad.  This is certainly not my intention in criticizing aspects of the close reading strategy and suggesting revisions.

By way of reminder, close reading is a multi-level strategy to encourage readers to access meaning independently.  Close reading advocates achieve this end by avoiding pre-reading strategies and using text-dependent questions to complete three reading tasks: during the first read, students focus on gleaning key ideas and details. In the second read, students focus on how the author has designed the text (craft and structure). In the third reading, students focus on the integration of knowledge and ideas, such as preparing to use the text in discussion, writing, and comparisons with other texts. Close reading is certainly nothing new and is only one means of helping students become more analytical readers, as I describe in a related article., “Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely.”

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Since the advent of the Common Core Standards and the concurrent re-popularization of the close reading strategy by the Common Core authors, teachers have been teaching more rigorous, expository text (a good thing). Teachers are training students to dig deeply into text and read for meaning (a great thing). Teachers have abandoned pure reader response, a.k.a. whole language, activities which focus more on what the reader brings to and gets out of the text rather than what the author has to say (a radical paradigm shift). Wahoo!

However, as noted U.C. Berkeley reading researcher, David Pearson, comments about close reading : “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind… (making) sure that it applies to several purposes for reading (and will) encompass literal, interpretive, and critical reading tasks” (Pearson).

Mid-course Corrections: Two Proposals

1. Close reading advocates are wrong about avoiding pre-teaching. Cold reads in-them-of-themselves do not develop independent readers. Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into step” of reading) and/or have students pre-research the topic (if an expository close reading) or the author, context and/or genre (if a narrative close reading), especially with rigorous reading-level close readings. Having students access prior knowledge and gap-filling with our diverse learners via pre-teaching strategies (Marzano) improves comprehension and does not turn our students into teacher-dependent learners. Indeed, comprehension builds upon comprehension and enables students to independently access text. The reading research of the last sixty years is quite extensive regarding the positive impact of pre-reading strategies.

2. Close reading advocates over-emphasize the value of text-dependent questions. Now, I certainly agree that we don’t want to return to non-dependent text questions, such as “How does this make you feel?” “How does this apply to your life?” How does your life apply to what the author says?” Aargh! My point is that text-dependent questions foster teacher-dependence during the reading process itself. The goal of reading becomes answering the teacher’s questions. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t add insight and provoke relevant reader response with some of our teacher questions. However, if we are to create truly independent readers, we need students to develop self-generated question strategies. This interactive talking to the text has a solid research base and is key to improving reading comprehension.

So let’s tweak a good thing (close reading) and make it a better reading strategy that truly helps teachers develop independent readers. Let’s use Independent Close Reading to accomplish that end. Interested in resources to help you do just that? Check out the Close Reading Expository Worksheet FREE resource download HERE and the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE resource download HERE. But first, download your Close Reading Narrative Worksheet below. So many free ready-to-use resources, news, and product discounts available only in the Pennington Publishing Newsletter.

The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies resource includes posters for each of the five comprehension strategies to prompt self-generated questions, SCRIP comprehension bookmarks, and five lessons to teach these strategies.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

Reading , , , , , , , ,