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Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

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

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

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

But the problem that I have is that…

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

A few definitions…

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

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

Historical Perspective

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

Reader Response Theory

 

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

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

The New Criticism Movement

 

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

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

Text Complexity

Mortimer Adler

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text Dependency

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

Classroom Application

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice,

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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

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

 

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Reading Fluency Homework

What’s the best homework? Reading!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Select the Right Book for Fluency Practice

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

Modeled Readings

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

Choral Readings

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

Repeated Readings

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

Fluency Assessment

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

Other Reading Fluency Homework Options

Word Fluency

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

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

Multi-Speed YouTube Modeled Readings

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

The Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

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

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

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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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

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Perfect for guided reading.

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

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Context Clues in Reading and Writing

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

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

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

Get the Context Clues Worksheets FREE Resource:

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

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

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

FP’S BAG SALE

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

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

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

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

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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

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

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

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Teaching Reading Comprehension

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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

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

    1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets for Grades 4-8 Teachers

    Every teacher needs back-up!

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

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

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New Teacher Resources: 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets

Veteran ELA and reading teachers learn to expect the unexpected. After all, things don’t always go as planned in the classroom. But, if you’re new to the profession, it may be helpful to remember the Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared.”

For example, a seventh grade ELA colleague ran into our staff workroom a few months back, screaming “Oh s___! They’re done.” Believe me. It will happen to you.

Students do finish early or take more time than planned. Sometimes students need more practice, while others do not.

Also, stuff happens. The projector bulb burned out and no one ordered any. It wasn’t supposed to rain today. I just can’t teach with this headache, and there’s no one to cover for me. “Ring, ring. Sorry to interrupt, but Johnny’s mother called and he will be on vacation for two weeks. She wants to pick up his work in an hour.” “Yvette needs more challenging work. Do you have something we could do to support her at home?”

All teachers need back-up. Wouldn’t it be great to have something ready to go just in case? And something good−not drill and kill like “Circle the 400 nouns in this story”; not lame busy work like a word search or crossword.

1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets for Grades 4-8 Teachers

Every teacher needs back-up!

How about 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets? Independent content and skill worksheets for grades 4−8 with easy to follow directions, clear definitions and examples, concise practice sections, writing applications, and answers for students to self-correct. Plus a short formative assessment for you to evaluate whether the student has mastered the content or skill in a mini-conference when things get back to normal. Standards-based, quality instruction in grammar, usage, mechanics, reading skills, spelling patterns, writing skills, study skills, and critical thinking. No prep and no correction. Perfect for both veteran and new teachers. Use the free assessments on our website and assign these worksheets to individualize assessment-based instruction.

Also, new teachers need answers to their questions. And you will have questions! However, at this point, you may not know what you don’t know. Student teaching helps, but every class and teaching situation is new. Talk to any veteran teacher. We all have butterflies about the first day of school. Many of us have a few nightmares as well. Here are a few things you might think of… Don’t get overwhelmed, but it’s good to know new teachers and veteran teachers are in the same boat. Just don’t be up a creek without a paddle. Get those worksheetsJ.

Matt Davis has put together a great set of new teacher resources on Edutopia:
New (Middle School) Teacher 911 From MiddleWeb
: Great for middle school teachers. I’m one of them!
National Education Association’s New Teacher Resources: Great collection from our collective teacher voice.
Scholastic’s New Teacher Survival Guides: Something new teachers need for every month of your first year, Check outand the The New Teacher’s Guide to Creating Lesson Plans.
Teaching Channel’s New Teacher Survival Guide: Plenty of advice and discussion here for new teachers.

What makes these 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets so special? Each worksheet has been designed for individualized instruction with formative assessments and most include answers for students to self-correct in order to learn from their own mistakes. Each worksheet has been field-tested in grades 4−8 teacher classrooms as part of the author’s comprehensive programs: Teaching the Language Strand, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Teaching Essay Strategies, Teaching Reading Strategies, Essential Study Skills, and Critical Thinking Openers Toolkit. But don’t my word for it. Check out the previews for yourself and what other teachers have to say.

Written by a teacher for teachers and their students. It shows. You write like I teach.

Jeanne Alread

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. The worksheets are fantastic. I’m teaching each Standard in the Language Strand and remediating previous grade level Standards.

Julie Villenueve

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Research-Based Vocabulary Worksheets

The two most often-used methods of vocabulary instruction include passing out a vocabulary list to be memorized for the Friday quiz and pre-teaching a few vocabulary words prior to reading. Each method has its limitations. Retention of rote memorization without reinforced, deliberate practice is minimal. Exposure to a key word in a reading selection without context provides minimal understanding.

Whereas the Common Core State Standards have been widely criticized in some academic areas, I’ve never heard a parent, student, or teacher criticize the vocabulary Standards detailed in the Language Strand. Whether states re-write, re-name, or simply re-number the Common Core State Standards, the essential components of vocabulary instruction are retained. As an MA reading specialist, both vocabulary acquisition and retention are the keys to the kingdom. But minds are not simply empty vessels to be filled with ACT/SAT vocabulary; minds are also to be trained to acquire and retain words on their own. The latter is not the natural process that some describe (or hope for). Surely the process of vocabulary growth can be made more efficient and accurate with training. That’s where good teaching comes in… and one important instructional strategy is the research-based vocabulary worksheet.

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a vocabulary worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

Most of the Tier II academic (not content-specific) language is gained through widespread reading of challenging text, Reading lots of words matters, but reading at a word recognition level of about 5% unknown words, coupled with context clues instruction and practice maximizes the amount of vocabulary acquisition and retention. According the writers of the Common Core, text complexity really matters. Research-based vocabulary worksheets can help provide deliberate practice in how to independently grow vocabulary.

The second key to vocabulary development is deep instruction in the words themselves. Passing out the vocabulary list to memorize is not “deep instruction.” Let’s take a look at the Common Core Vocabulary Standards to understand. Following are the eighth grade Standards. Highlights are my own to facilitate skimming and to provide your own vocabulary check-list of “Do that,” “Don’t do that, but need to” self-evaluation. After the Standards follows research-based vocabulary worksheets from my grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the grades 4-8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit (slices of the aforementioned programs) to see how each of the Language Strand Vocabulary Standards L.4, 5, and 6 are incorporated into weekly classroom practice. The examples are from the fifth grade program. Yes, flashcards and tests are included in each program. Each program follows a grades 4-8 instructional scope and sequence and includes the Tier II Academic Words List.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4
Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.A
Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.B
Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., precede, recede, secede).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.C
Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.D
Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.A
Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.B
Use the relationship between particular words to better understand each of the words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.C
Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions) (e.g., bullheaded, willful, firm, persistent, resolute).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
 [pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Vocabulary-Worksheets.pdf”]

Check out the research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheet and the research-based spelling patterns worksheets.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes 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.

The program 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 author’s program.

 
Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

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Research-Based Spelling Worksheets

Years ago at the height of the whole language movement in California, a fourth grade teacher began his first year of teaching. Committed to teaching to the individual needs of his students, he consulted his mom for advice. Mom had recently retired after teaching 35 years as an intermediate and upper elementary teacher. She also had waded into the middle school environment for a few years before settling down in fifth grade for the last ten years of her career. Mom suggested that he assess his students and then assign targeted worksheets to address specific deficits indicated by the assessments. Her son had never heard this in his experiential learning teacher training program. He knew how to do role plays and simulations, but not much about teaching (even in his methods classes).

Mom climbed up into the attic and brought down her neatly packed boxes of teaching files. She dug out hundreds of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and reading worksheets for her son to check out.

The rookie teacher was overwhelmed at the treasure trove of resources. Most of the worksheets fit the fourth grade age level and were quite good. As a veteran teacher, mom had carefully weeded out the “drill and kill” worksheets and had saved the ones that students learned from best. Every worksheet had been field tested and had Mom’s seal of approval. Some of the worksheets were from educational publishers long out of business or bought up by huge educational syndicates, but most of the worksheets were Mom’s own–no doubt revisions of store-bought products. Half of these worksheets were on old mimeograph (ditto) paper (Remember the smell?) Half of them were word processed documents after the advent of cheaper school copiers and duplo machines.

Mom warned her son not to share the worksheets with colleagues. No, she wasn’t worried about the copyright infringements; she was worried that her untenured son would be accused of not solely teaching the district adopted curriculum. She had heard that State Superintendent of Schools, Bill Honig, had removed workbooks from the approved supplemental resource list and was even reported as telling principals to confiscate any spelling workbooks at school sites. Those were the early days of the National Writing Project in which spelling (and punctuation, grammar, and word choice) were relegated to the editing-only stage of the writing process. Teachers regularly told students not to worry about spelling (or anything smacking of language conventions) during the rough draft stage of their writing because they could “clean up” the language for their final draft. If they chose to complete final drafts.

Of course spelling, grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary scores plummeted during the late 1980s and early 1990s, sparking yet another “Back to Basics” movement. Mom had warned her son about the cyclical nature of educational movements and philosophies. “Been there; done that,” said Mom. “Remember that your first priority is to your students. You will learn what works best. But don’t be dumb. Wait until you’re tenured to share any of these worksheets with your colleagues. They’ll want them… even the ones that have said otherwise.”

In his fourth grade classroom the new teacher faithfully taught the district adopted curriculum, but he found time to “sneak in” worksheets targeted to individual assessment-based skills and concepts deficits. Students completed assigned worksheets, self-corrected and self-edited any errors from the Answer Book, and brought up the graded worksheet to their teacher for review. Each worksheet had a short test (a formative assessment) to see if the student had mastered the focus skill or concept. The test was a short written application to see if the student understood and could use what was learned correctly. Most of the time the student successfully masted the skill. Students loved completing the worksheets and placing the gold star next to their name on the wall poster.

The spring test results came in shortly after school started back up in September. The principal called in the now second-year teacher and asked him why his test scores were so much higher than those of his grade level team. “I just followed the district-adopted curriculum and I had great kids,” he replied.

That night he took Mom out the dinner.

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a spelling worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

As publisher of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction (slices of the aforementioned programs), our company has applied the following research suggestions to create research-based spelling worksheets. Following will state the research suggestions listed as “Dos” in the above article and the specific worksheet applications of the research will follow with the worksheets from the programs listed above. A sample Spelling Patterns Worksheet is provided thereafter.

  1. Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. The Spelling Pattern Worksheets are assigned according to the results of the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (the link connects to the eight grade assessment). Each of the grades 4-8 assessments includes an audio file to make administration simple (great for make-ups as well). Here’s a link to the eighth grade audio file and to the recording matrix for progress monitoring. These whole class assessments perfectly correspond with the targeted worksheets so that students complete only those grade level spelling patterns which students have not yet mastered. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems. Students are motivated to practice by mastering each unmastered concept or skill, marked with an “/” on the data matrix. Once a student has mastered a worksheet, points are assigned and the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. Yes, gold stars work, too!
  2. Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently. Directions are concisely and clearly written so that students can complete the worksheets independently. Each worksheet has been field tested in grades 4-8 classrooms and revised to ensure student success. The applicable spelling rules and examples are provided before the practice section on every worksheet.
  3. Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. The Spelling Pattern Worksheets provide samples (examples) of each focus spelling pattern.
  4. Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it. Students complete a spelling sort to apply the focus spelling pattern. The practice section also includes rhyme, word search, and word jumble activities.
  5. Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedbackStudents complete the spelling sort and practice section and self-correct and self-edit from the Answers Booklet to gain immediate feedback and learn from their own mistakes.
  6. Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. Next, students complete a short formative assessment (a brief written application of the focused spelling patterns) at the bottom of each worksheet and bring up the completed worksheet to the teacher for a mini-conference. The teacher evaluates the formative assessment to determine mastery and quickly checks the practice section to make sure that the student has completed and self-corrected. If mastered, the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. If unmastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches and the student completes the formative assessment once more.
  7. Distribute practice over extended periods of time. Students work at their own pace, completing the Spelling Pattern Worksheets. The teacher provides points for each mastered worksheet.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Spelling-Worksheet.pdf”]

Check out the research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and the research-based vocabulary worksheets.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes 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.

The program 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 author’s program.

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Research-Based Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets

Not all worksheets are created alike. Worksheets need not “drill and kill” students to boredom or busy-work. Good teachers can spot a good worksheet when they see one.

Research-based worksheets serve any number of important instructional objectives:

  • Worksheets can target practice in a specific skill or help students learn a new concept.
  • Worksheets can serve as excellent independent practice.
  • Teachers can use worksheets to individualize instruction according to the results of diagnostic assessments.
  • Worksheets can also provide purposeful work while the teacher works one-on-one with a student or with a small group of students.

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

As publisher of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook, our company has applied the following research suggestions to create research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets. Following will state the research suggestions listed as “Dos” in the above article and the specific worksheet applications of the research will follow with the worksheets from the programs listed above. A sample Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheet is provided thereafter.

  1. Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. The Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets are assigned according to the results of the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment and the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment. These whole class assessments perfectly correspond with the targeted worksheets so that students complete only those concepts and skills which students have not yet mastered. The teacher monitors progress on a data matrix. The publisher’s worksheet do not teach concepts or skills in isolation. Each is properly contextualized to build upon prior knowledge. Each is taught in the context of writing. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems. Students are motivated to practice by mastering each unmastered concept or skill, marked with an “/” on the data matrix. Once a student has mastered a worksheet, points are assigned and the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix.
  2. Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently. Directions are concisely and clearly written so that students can complete the worksheets independently. Each worksheet has been field tested in grades 4-8 classrooms and revised to ensure student success. Definitions of key academic language (and grammar lingo) are provided.
  3. Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. The Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets provide samples (examples) of each instructional application of the focus concept or skill.
  4. Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it. Students complete a practice section that is not too long, and not too short. The practice sections have been carefully designed to be comprehensive, yet not repetitious. Every instructional component of the focus concept or skill has at least one deliberate practice opportunity.
  5. Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedbackStudents complete the practice section and self-correct and self-edit from the Answers Booklet to gain immediate feedback and learn from their own mistakes.
  6. Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. Next, students complete a short formative assessment (a brief written application of the concept or skill) at the bottom of each worksheet and bring up the completed worksheet to the teacher for a mini-conference. The teacher evaluates the formative assessment to determine mastery and quickly checks the practice section to make sure that the student has completed and self-corrected. If mastered, the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. If unmastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches and the student completes the formative assessment once more.
  7. Distribute practice over extended periods of time. Students work at their own pace, completing the Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets. The teacher provides points for each mastered worksheet.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Grammar-Usage-and-Mechanics-Worksheet-1.pdf”]

Check out the research-based spelling patterns worksheets and the research-based vocabulary worksheets.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes 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.

The program 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 author’s program.

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Drill and Kill Worksheets

Teachers are no different than most people. They say one thing, but often do another. Most teachers (I certainly will include myself) have at one point in their teaching careers derided the use of drill and kill worksheets as a waste of valuable instructional time. We have slandered rote memorization and isolated skills instruction. We have rolled our eyes and whispered derogatory comments in the staff room about lazy and uncreative Mr. Worksheet. Isn’t it time for him to retire?

However, if you google “grammar worksheets,” you get 2,970,000 hits; if you google “vocabulary worksheets,” you get 8,250,000. Clearly more teachers other than Mr. Worksheet like their worksheets and see the value of deliberate, targeted, independent practice. Thought I’d dig into the educational research a bit to see whether what teachers say or what teachers do makes more sense.

In a 2016 article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” for the American Psychological Association, researchers present the case for deliberate practice: “It doesn’t matter what subject you teach, differences in students performance are affected by how much they engage in deliberate practice… Deliberate practice is not the same as rote repetition. Rote repetition — simply repeating a task — will not by itself improve performance. Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills. Although other factors such as intelligence and motivation affect performance, practice is necessary if not sufficient for acquiring expertise (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

Although deliberate practice is not solely reserved for worksheets, it would certainly seem that targeted, independent worksheets can certainly provide deliberate practice that involves “attention, rehearsal, and repetition” and need not succumb to rote repetition. Worksheets can also introduce and help students practice “new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills.”

Math teacher, Robert Evan Foster, discusses the difference between deliberate practice and rote repetition on math worksheets in an interesting article: “There is a paradoxical problem in teaching math. Students need to know certain mundane facts so they can move on to problem solving. A student who has to look up every multiplication fact on a cheat sheet lengthens their homework algebraically. On one hand, a teacher needs to make sure the students know their math facts. On the other hand, the teacher risks mind numbing boredom on the part of the students doing the homework.”

“I think that the root of the dilemma is found in the length of the worksheets. I was asked the question, ‘If a student can demonstrate that they know how to divide a three-digit number, by a two-digit number 100% of the time with five problems, why do they have to do an additional 45?’ Teachers don’t have to assign more problems than necessary for the student to demonstrate mastery of the math skill. Five problems will do just as well as 50. You have students who are learning their basic math facts. In turn, they aren’t wilting in the field out of boredom doing the last 45 problems.”

So, besides deliberate, targeted practice (avoiding rote memorization) of new knowledge or skills, what do the American Psychological Association researchers suggest? I’ve weeded out a few of their suggestions and focused in these key ones. See the article for the entire list.

Research (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993) suggests several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance. Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction:

  • Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems.
  • Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedback.
  • Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it.
  • Distribute practice over extended periods of time.
  • Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria.
  • Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently.
  • Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies.
  • Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills.

Considering these research suggestions, it certainly seems to me that targeted, independent worksheets can provide effective practice if they are “carefully designed” to apply the educational researchSo maybe what teachers do for their students (using worksheets) actually does make sense.

The author of this article has written English-language arts and reading programs for grades 4-8 teachers and their students which include assessment-based worksheets, designed according to the above research-based suggestions. For examples of worksheets providing deliberate practice according to research suggestions, check out Research-Based Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets, as well as Check out the Research-Based Spelling Patterns Worksheets and the Research-Based Vocabulary Worksheets for examples. Visit the author’s website for product information.

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

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!

Teaching Reading Comprehension

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/teaching-reading-comprehension/

As more teachers are teaching reading strategies (all helpful) to help students access, understand, and analyze text independently, let’s not overlook the obvious: How to Improve Reading Comprehension. As a reading specialist, I am constantly surprised by teachers who tell me that they have never learned how to teach reading comprehension or think that reading strategies alone will do the job. If you’ve never learned how to teach reading comprehension, the following advice and FREE Resources are just what the doctor ordered. Despite what many believe, reading is not a natural process; it needs to be taught, and not just caught.

Context Clues in Reading and Writing

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/context-clues-in-reading-and-writing/

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

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

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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

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

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

Free Independent Reading Resources

As an MA reading specialist and English-language Arts teacher, I know the value of independent reading. Despite our wonderful instruction in Greek and Latinates, context clues, and vocabulary in literature, students make their greatest vocabulary gains through independent reading at their instructional levels. Not to mention gains in reading comprehension. Teachers are understandably reluctant to allocate much class time to independent reading. Teachers are also unconvinced that their students really will read independently for homework.

However, learning how to teach students to select readings at their instructional level and providing accountability within the home and class community can improve students’ success rates and achieve our goals of turning teacher-dependent readers into truly independent readers. We might just even create a few life-long readers in the process.

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding how to develop an effective independent reading program from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Independent Reading

Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-sustained-silent-reading-ssr-doesn%E2%80%99t-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? SSR just is not an effective use of class time. Why so? Here are 8 reasons Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work.

Straight Talk with Stephen Krashen on SSR

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/straight-talk-with-stephen-krashen-on-ssr/

In response to my article titled “Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work,”Dr. Stephen Krashen responded numerous times. Given the richness of Dr. Krashen’s gracious responses to my persistent challenges and questions, I felt it would be helpful to post the unedited exchange.

Independent Reading Homework

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

I developed an independent reading program based upon “reading discussions.” Students read at home and lead a literary discussion with their parent for three-minutes per day, four days per week to offer flexibility to families. I devolved the accountability for these assignments to the student-parent partnership. In other words, parents grade their children on the quality of the discussion and I count the points.

How to Select Books for Independent Reading

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-select-books-for-independent-reading/

Teachers, students, and parents recognize the importance of independent reading. No thinking activity better builds content knowledge, improves vocabulary, or exposes the learner to the world and its ideas. The practical question is which reading materials most efficiently help readers access this world of knowledge? Because reading is an interactive process, the abilities and interests of the readers must also be considered to maximize the learning process.

The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-18-reasons-not-to-use-accelerated-reader/

Accelerated Reader (AR) is a simple software concept that was at the right time (late 1980s) and right place (public schools during a transition from whole language to phonics instruction) that has simply grown into an educational monolith. Following are short summaries of the most common arguments made by researchers, teachers, parents, and students as to why using AR is counterproductive. Hence, The 20 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader.

Schoolwide Independent Reading Program

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/schoolwide-independent-reading-program/

I take a balanced approach and recommend such in the development of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). On the one hand, we want our students to become lifelong readers. We want them to intrinsically enjoy reading and choose to read on their own. However, I do see the value in some marketing and promotion of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). Students work well when pursuing goals and everyone likes rewards. No, I’m certainly not advocating the AR program: See my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article.

High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/high-fluency-low-reading-comprehension/

What can we, as parents and teachers, do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension? Check out the six actions steps designed to address this problem and download the helpful instructional strategies and free resources.

Independent Reading: The Meeting of the Minds

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/independent-reading-the-meeting-of-the-minds/

Using the format of  the old television show, Meeting of Minds, some of the greatest thinkers from different eras to discuss the subject of independent reading in the classroom.

How to Determine Reading Levels

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

Learn how to use word recognition and motivation to determine reading levels for your students or for your own children.

How to Get Students to Read at Home

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-get-students-to-read-at-home/

Teachers and parents recognize the important role of independent reading in developing reading comprehension, vocabulary, and a lifelong love of books. Learn how to promote independent reading at home and help students achieve these desired benchmarks.

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!

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

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

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

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

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

Free Reading Intervention (RtI) Resources

As the mandates of the Response to Intervention (RtI) process continue to transfer to public schools, special education and classroom teachers are hurrying to find appropriate resources to differentiate literacy instruction for their students. What these teachers find is that one-size-fits-all canned reading, writing, and math programs simply do not match the needs of all of their students. Additionally, many intervention teachers find that scripted programs tend to ignore teacher experience, judgment, and expertise. Instead, RtI teachers need the resources that will allow them  to differentiate literacy instruction without becoming robots. The three-tiered RtI model looks good in the triangle diagram, but quality resources are essential to make these delivery models address the needs of their students.

Most special education and classroom teachers are very prepared to teach the reading and writing content of their courses. They know how to teach. Their undergraduate and graduate courses have adequately prepared them for these tasks. However, most teachers are less prepared to teach reading, writing, and math intervention classes. For example, most credential programs require only one or two reading strategy courses. So, choosing appropriate instructional resources that will facilitate differentiated instruction, according to diagnostic and formative data are critically important.

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding how to teach reading and writing intervention within the RtI process from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Bookmark and visit us often. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Response to Intervention

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!

Ten Reasons Teachers Avoid RtI Collaboration

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/ten-reasons-teachers-avoid-rti-collaboration/

If your school and/or district is moving toward a Response to Intervention (RtI) model, knowing the ten reasons why some teachers and administrators avoid RtI collaboration will help those committed to the RtI process make fewer mistakes and get more buy-in from stakeholders.

Are You Ready for RtI?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/are-you-ready-for-rti/

The RtI model presupposes collaboration from all stakeholders in a school and/or district. All-too-often, this presupposition has doomed RtI at some school sites and in some districts from the get-go. Jumping into RtI and the three-tier instructional delivery model without first addressing legitimate concerns and before gaining stakeholder consensus has given a black-eye to a promising means of delivering a truly first-class education to all children.

Teaching Reading Strategies Audio Resources

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/animal-name-sound-and-spelling-chants/

The 13 classroom-tested diagnostic reading assessments provided in the Teaching Reading Strategies program are administered in the first two weeks of instruction and assess all reading skills—each in multiple choice format. That’s right. No individual time-consuming testing—use Scantrons® or Grade Cam® if you wish. Plus, 8 of the 13 tests include convenient audio files for easy test administration. Each of the 13 assessments is comprehensive and prescriptive. Unlike most reading assessments, none of the assessments (other than the phonemic awareness tests) is based on random sample. Everything you need to teach (or not teach) is assessed. Download these mp3s to up the level of your assessment-based instruction and get corresponding activities and worksheets in Teaching Reading Strategies and the Sam and Friends Phonics Books

What to Teach in Reading Intervention

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/what-to-teach-in-reading-intervention/ 

Key instructional components are needed in any successful Tier II and III reading intervention programs. A balanced approach of decoding, encoding, syllabication, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency development will achieve significant results in minimal time. Check out these instructional resources and improve the quality of reading instruction in your classroom.

Reading Program Placement

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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.

How to Teach Reading Intervention

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Teaching reading intervention is qualitatively different from teaching beginning reading. By definition, the initial reading instruction did not “take” to a sufficient degree, so things must be done differently this time around to improve chances for success. This article defines the key ingredients for a successful reading intervention program and provides an instructional template.

Student-Centered Reading Intervention

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So many teachers look at the Response to Intervention literature and try to apply Tier I, II, and III models to their own instructional settings. Square pegs in round holes more often than not lead to frustration and failure. While reading specialists certainly support the concept of tiered interventions, the non-purists know that implementation of any site-based reading intervention is going to need to adapt to any given number of constraints.

Instead of beginning with top-down program structure, I suggest looking bottom-up. Starting at the instructional needs of below grade level readers and establishing instructional priorities should determine the essentials of any reading intervention program. In other words, an effective site reading intervention program begins with your students.

Teaching Reading Strategies and RtI

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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).

Schoolwide Independent Reading Program

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I take a balanced approach and recommend such in the development of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). On the one hand, we want our students to become lifelong readers. We want them to intrinsically enjoy reading and choose to read on their own. However, I do see the value in some marketing and promotion of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). Students work well when pursuing goals and everyone likes rewards. No, I’m certainly not advocating the AR program: See my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article.

High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/high-fluency-low-reading-comprehension/

What can we, as parents and teachers, do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension? Check out the six actions steps designed to address this problem and download the helpful instructional strategies and free resources.

Read 180 Foundational Reading Assessment

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/read-180-foundational-reading-assessment/

The Foundational Reading Assessment (designed by Dr. Richard K. Wagner as a K-2 test and published as such for another program) consists of a short random sample 12 rhymes, initial, final, and medial sounds (3 each). I can hear kindergarten teachers cringing at the sample size and components. The take-away from my article is that the test assesses only part of what constitutes phonological or phonemic awareness and is not teachable because it is not comprehensive.

READ 180 and Phonemic Awareness

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In this article I’m taking a look at the phonological awareness component from one of the two assessments in the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI): The Foundational Reading Assessment. The second assessment is the Reading Comprehension Assessment. In my first article on these two reading intervention programs, I noted my concern that no encoding (spelling) test was included as part of the screening and placement assessments for READ 180. Jane Fell Greene’s encoding test has always been part of the competing Language!® program.

Comparing READ 180 and Language! Live

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/comparing-read-180-and-language-live/

As money has finally started to creep back into education, districts are now turning their attention and dollars into purchasing reading intervention programs. My district has decided to “speed pilot” two reading intervention programs for our secondary schools: Language!® Live is the re-vamped Language!® program from Voyager Sopris with new contributing author Louisa Cook Moats; and READ 180 Next Generation is the thoroughly revised offering from mega publisher Scholastic/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with new contributing authors Kevin Feldman and Kate Kinsella. Which is better for your students, and are there any low cost alternatives to these expensive computer-based programs?

Word Families (Rimes) Activities

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Learning the common word families (rimes) can help beginning or remedial readers recognize common chunks of letters within words. For example, if students learn to recognize the “ack” rime, they will be able to use that chunk to learn words with different single consonant onsets, to form “back,” “hack,” “jack,” “lack,” “rack,” “sack,” “tack,” as well as words with different consonant blend onsets, such as “black,” “crack,” and “stack.” Check out the most common rimes and some fun rimes activities to use at home or in the classroom.

Sight Word Activities

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Most every reading teacher places some value onsight wordsinstruction; however, just what teachers mean by sight words varies more than the flavors at the local ice cream parlor. Reading specialists describe two methods of “word attack”: word identification and word recognition. Sight words are the word recognition side of the coin. These words break the law, that is they break the rules of the alphabet code and are non-phonetic. Words such as the and loveare Outlaw Words because readers can’t sound them out. Unfortunately, many of our high frequency and high utility words happen to be non-decodable, so they need to be memorized. Here is a list of the essential Outlaw Words with some fun practice activities and an Outlaw Words reading fluency to assess mastery in the reading context.

Phonemic Awareness Activities

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Phonemic awareness is the basic understanding that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds. We call these speech sounds phonemes. Both beginning and remedial readers may need to learn these phonemic awareness skills: rhyme, alphabet, syllable, phonemic isolation, blending, and segmenting. Check out the list of phonemes, six whole-class phonemic awareness assessments, and six corresponding activities to teach phonemic awareness in the home or in the classroom.

How to Teach Phonics

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Teaching phonics is an essential ingredient to effective reading instruction. Learning the phonetic code teaches the beginning or remedial reader to make efficient and automatic judgments about how words are constructed. Mastery of the basic sound-spelling correspondences will also pay significant dividends once the student begins reading multisyllabic expository text. Check out the colorful Animal Sound-Spelling Cards, the Names, Sounds, and Spelling Rap (Mp3 file), the Consonant Blend Cards, whole-class phonemic awareness and phonics diagnostic assessments, the Sound by Sound Spelling Blending Instructional Sequence with accompanying teaching script, and some great phonics games ALL FREE in this article.

What Effective and Ineffective RtI Look Like

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Response to Intervention (RtI) is a K-12 site-level decision-making process designed to facilitate and coordinate early and flexible responses to student’s learning and behavioral difficulties. RtI promotes data-based decision-making with respect to service placement and on-going progress monitoring. Following are a few indicators of what effective and ineffective RtI can look like.

Eight RtI-Reading Intervention Models

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As administrators, special education teachers, EL coordinators, reading specialists, and teachers are scrambling to see how new Response to Intervention (RtI) guidelines will work with resources, personnel, schedules, and student populations, it may be helpful to examine eight of the many intervention models with proven track records. After all, why re-invent the wheel? Each of the following models is described and analyzed in pro-con format.

Response to Intervention: What Just Won’t Work

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/response-to-intervention-what-just-wont-work/

With the newly released RtI document and as states and districts scramble to conform to Race to the Top carrots and sticks, voices of experience need to begin shouting quickly and boldly to be heard. Although I commend the International Reading Association (IRA) for assigning reading assessment a prominent role in their Response to Intervention (RtI) document, the language of the document betrays certain pedagogical presuppositions and is, at points, flat unrealistic.

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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How to Teach Reading to Children, Youth, and Adults

Teaching children and adults how to read is one of the most rewarding life experiences. Reading is the gateway to knowledge and success. By teaching someone how to read, you are literally changing someone’s life. But, do you use the same strategies to teach readers or pre-readers at every age level? Yes and no.

How to Teach Reading to Children, Youth, and Adults: What’s the Same?

1. You’re going to need effective diagnostic assessments that are quick, efficient, reliable, and easy-to-use to determine what is already known. My free multiple choice diagnostic assessments
and recording matrices will serve this purpose (See Free Assessments).

2. You’re going to need to teach these curricular components: spellingsyllabication, phonics, fluency, sight words, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension.

3. You’re going to need a balanced instructional approach, but one targeted to the diagnostic needs of individual students. Each reader or pre-reader is a unique snowflake. Each has existing strengths and weaknesses in phonemic awareness, auditory and visual processing, cognitive ability, life experience, language experience, self-concept, and learning attitude/motivation.

4. You’re going to need lots of books, appropriate to the interest and reading levels of the reader.

5. You’re going to need to be patient.

How to Teach Reading to Children, Youth, and Adults: What’s Different?

1. Reader and pre-reader age levels will determine how you teach reading: See articles under Study Skills for age level learning characteristics.

2. Youth and adults will usually have significantly better oral language skills, so vocabulary instruction may be less of a focus for these readers.

3. Children lack print awareness; whereas youth and adults generally do not. Children need to be taught how to hold a book and the left to right spelling and word patterns.

4. Adults probably have phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness’ skills; whereas most children do not.

5. Children need reading from scratch instruction; while most youth and adults will progress nicely with targeted, gap-filling reading instruction.

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, 586game 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 , , , , , , , , , , ,